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May 12, 2005
Ake Green is back in trouble. Pastor Green was convicted last year of violating Sweden’s “hate crimes”; law by preaching against homosexuality. The Pentecostal pastor had spoken of homosexuality as sinful, sick, and dangerous as he preached a message from the Bible to his congregation. He was sentenced to thirty days in prison for his offense, but the sentence was suspended. Just a few weeks ago, an appeals court reversed his conviction, arguing that a sermon based in the Bible and delivered before a Christian congregation did not constitute “hate speech.” Now, BBC News is reporting that Sweden’s Supreme Court has announced that it will review his acquittal. During Green’s original trial, Swedish prosecutor Kjell Yngvesson justified the pastor’s prosecution as a criminal: “One may have whatever religion one wishes, but [Ake Green's sermon] is an attack on all fronts against homosexuals. Collecting Bible [texts] on this topic as he does makes this hate speech.” Keep Pastor Green firmly in mind when you hear talk of ‘hate speech’ laws. We’ll follow the case closely.
May 12, 2005
The New York Times published a frightening editorial in its May 11 edition, arguing that the creation of chimeras (human-animal hybrids) is “science, not a freak show.” The paper described chimeras as the “latest focus of apprehension over the headlong rush of biotechnology,” and acknowledged that scientists have raised concerns about “the nightmarish possibility of a human’s brain’s becoming trapped inside an animal form, silently screaming, ‘Let me out,’ or a human embryo’s being gestated by mice.” The next sentence is a monument to editorial glibness: “It is fascinating–some would say terrifying–to contemplate, but these weird, far-out possibilities should not distract us from welcoming more mundane experiments with chimeras that will be needed to advance science.” Some would say terrifying? The editors of The New York Times may find the specter of a human brain trapped inside an animal form to be “fascinating,” but they are surely in rare company. The point of the editorial is this: We should get over any qualms about chimeras and just trust the scientists. Where have these people been for the last century? Here is the real agenda: “Fortunately, real-world scientists have much more prosaic experiments in mind. In the superheated area of embryonic stem cell research, for example, they want to put lots of human-brain stem cells into mice to see how they perform in a real body as opposed to a laboratory culture, possibly shedding light on how to treat neurological diseases. The researchers appear to be proceeding cautiously, and the scientific community is erecting ethical barriers to guide such research. This is hardly a freak show. If stem cell therapies pan out, the Food and Drug Administration will almost certainly require animal experiments before they can approved for the public. Research that some consider scary today may be required by regulators tomorrow.” So, it’s really about embryonic stem cell research. We are instructed to get over concerns about the moral status of the human embryo and accept the “ethical boundaries” now being erected by “the scientific community.” No thanks. Back to chimeras–the paper suggests that we have already come to accept pig valves in human hearts and putting “human fetal tissue into mice.” That’s quite a statement. In reality, there are major concerns about putting human fetal tissue into non-human animals. As for the editorial’s last sentence: “Research that some consider scary today may be required by regulators tomorrow.” That cold statement could have been made in Berlin in the 1930s. Anyone worried?
May 11, 2005
Roger Kimball is out with an interesting new essay in The New Criterion that sugests how the American university can be recovered from postmodern chaos. Kimball, one of today’s most insightful cultural critics, suggests that public outrage over the Ward Churchill affair at the University of Colorado is a sign that recovery might be possible. In “Retaking the University: A Battle Plan,” Kimball acknowledges that reforming the university will not be easy. “It is a peculiar moment in academia,” he admits. “In many ways, things have never been worse. All those radical trends that got going in the 1960s and gained steam in the 1970s and 1980s are now so thoroughly entrenched that they are simply taken for granted.” Yet, he is not willing to throw in the towel. “The chief issue is this: should our institutions of higher education be devoted primarily to the education of citizens–or should they be laboratories for social and political experimentation? Traditionally, a liberal arts education involved both character formation and learning. . . . Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the ‘adversary culture of the intellectuals.’ The goal was less reflection than rejection.” The rejectionists have been in the driver’s seat for decades now, experimenting with every pernicious ideology to come down the pike. Kimball’s article offers both [guarded] hope and insightful analysis. While on the subject of chaos in the academy, consider this paragraph from Kimball’s 1990 book,Tenured Radicals: “With a few notable exceptions, our most prestigious liberal arts colleges and universities have installed the entire radical menu at the center of their humanities curriculum at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. Every special interest–women’s studies, black studies, gay studies, and the like —and every modish interpretative gambit–deconstruction, post-structuralism, new historicism, and other postmodernist varieties of what the literary critic Frederick Crews aptly dubbed ‘Left Eclecticism’–has found a welcome roost in the academy, while the traditional curriculum and modes of intellectual inquiry are excoriated as sexist, racist, or just plain reactionary.” Well said.
May 10, 2005
Columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post is a brave man, and a survivor. He slipped into Oprah Winfrey’s “Live Your Best Life” tour and lived to tell the tale. In his report, “Church of Oprah,” he tells what it was like to see thousands of women, each paying at least $185, sit in awe of their mentor and spiritual guide. The few men present were “corks bobbing in a sea of estrogen,” he informs. The crowd of “well-behaved, beautifully dressed” women “seemed to have a certain light in their eyes as they waited to see a woman who comes into their lives daily through her talk show and monthly through her eponymous magazine, whose every cover she glamorously graces.” Yes, Oprah smiles from the cover of every issue of her own magazine. Her “Live Your Best Life” tour will take her to Denver and Dallas later this year, but the crowd of devotees in the Washington Convention Center was looking for something more than encouragement and advice–they were looking for meaning in life. Robinson says that a little voice in his head starting murmuring, “Cult of Oprah. Cult of Oprah. Cult of Oprah.” Yet, Robinson decided that the cult metaphor was wrong. Instead, “Oprah presides over something grander and more significant. It’s more like a church.” Robinson is on to something here. Consider his analysis of what Oprah means to so many women, and why: “Oprah’s great gift, and the foundation of her lay ministry, is her understanding that even women who have enjoyed great success in their personal and professional lives can still struggle to find meaning and fulfillment, and that they can learn from Oprah’s own search for the same things.” For Oprah, meaning is autobiography. As Robinson relates, “Oprah gets fat, Oprah goes on a diet, Oprah loses the weight, Oprah gains it back, Oprah loses it again, maybe this time for good. Oprah fights an ongoing battle with her hair. Oprah’s relationship with her significant other seems to lack something, since she and Steadman never get married, but she hangs in there with him anyway. Oprah has a best friend, Gayle, who sticks with her through everything. Oprah makes charitable gifts. Oprah promotes books, mostly by women writers or with strong female characters, many of them difficult books that offer not comfort but more questions.” Oprah offers spirituality and meaning without reference to any God in particular. Marriage and motherhood are for other women. Oprah will just sail along on her own quest for the perfect diet, satisfying relationships, and global harmony. She will use her television program and media empire to chide parents who have hang-ups about their children’s desires for sex-change operations and will feature a constant cast of human weirdness. She assures us all that our choices are empowering and that all sexual lifestyles are equally valid and fine. Robinson is a brave man because writing anything even remotely critical of Oprah will bring an avalanche of hate mail. [I can offer personal testimony.] But Robinson is wrong on one count. The Church of Oprah is a cult.
May 10, 2005
A controversy brewing in the Puget Sound region has national implications. Should middle and high school boys be required to compete with girls in wrestling matches? According to a report in The Seattle Times, girl wrestlers and their parents are indignant that some boys are forfeiting matches, refusing to wrestle girls. In particular, boys from Tacoma Baptist Schools and Cascade Christian Schools are at the center of the controversy. Schools in the Rainier Valley League have honored the right of the schools to forfeit matches rather than have a boy wrestle a girl. League President Dan Petersen advises that the current policy allows any wrestler to forfeit for any reason. “If a person chooses not to wrestle, they don’t have to wrestle,” he stated. Now, at least one parent of a girl wrestler is ready to take legal action. Jerry Connors, father of wrestler Meaghan Connors, has filed a complaint charging the league with violating Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination against girls and women in schools. Connors, described in the paper as “a former Episcopal president and one-time pastoral assistant for social justice at St. James Cathedral in Seattle,” says he is just standing up for his daughter: “My daughter’s rights are not going to be bargained away for any reason.” What about the rights of the boys? Girls won the right to compete on school wrestling teams twenty years ago, and a handful of girls participate on wrestling teams in the Rainier Valley League. The Christian schools claim a right to follow their own convictions, arguing that boy/girl wrestling matches fall short of proper behavior or sportsmanship. As Cascade Christian Schools superintendent Don Johnson explained, the school “does not want to put our young men in a situation where they would be inappropriately touching a young lady.” That makes sense to me, and my guess is that this would make sense to most parents. After all, the sport of wrestling requires close–very close–physical contact. The holds and moves required for the sport mean that wrestlers will grab each other and struggle for physical supremacy. That pretty much defines the sport. As Andrew Spradlin, a former All-American high school wrestler, reported on my radio show Monday, wrestling with a girl would require a boy to initiate contact that would be considered sexual assault in any other context. Parents and wrestlers are not supposed to worry about that? Boys are to be encouraged to pin girls down on a wrestling mat? What’s wrong with this picture? This controversy will continue over the summer, and it bears close attention. If these Christian schools can be excluded from competition in the Rainier Valley League for this reason, religious liberty is at stake in a whole new arena.
May 10, 2005
Stephanie Coontz, author of a soon-to-be-released book on marriage, contributed an eye-opening op-ed column to today’s edition of The Los Angeles Times. In “Our Kids Are Not Doomed,” Coontz argues that calls for a return to the traditional family are misguided and unnecessary, since kids have just learned to adjust to new family forms, single parenthood, parental divorce, etc. Coontz promotes a postmodern form of the family–relativizing family structure and eliminating any notion of “normal.” As she paints the picture, statistics indicate that children are coping better than in the past, parents are learning to “handle divorce better,” and parents are spending more time with children. She admits that social pathologies persist, but argues that “it doesn’t help today’s diverse families to be told their children are doomed unless they can shoehorn themselves into a traditional marriage.” Her answer: “It’s time to stop predicting social catastrophe from the transformation of family life and start helping every family build on its distinctive strengths and minimize its weaknesses.” Of course, her utopia of “diverse families” distinguished only by different strengths and weaknesses exists only in her imagination.
May 9, 2005
David Brooks moved to The New York Times in 2003, taking possession of a rare opportunity to serve as a columnist for the nation’s most influential newspaper. Brooks was touted as a conservative who would help bring balance to the overwhelmingly liberal slant of the NYT editorial and commentary pages. A veteran of The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal, Brooks had genuine conservative credentials. Beyond this, he is often a masterful writer, combining deep cultural understanding with a fine reportorial eye. His books, especially Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive, are filled with keen insights and clever anecdotes, even if both suffer from a lack of final judgment. His moral analysis often suffers from the same fundamental failure–no final judgment.
May 9, 2005
Mother’s Day has come and gone, but an article by Dr. John MacArthur of Grace Community Church and Grace to You deserves close attention. Overcoming mere sentiment, Dr. MacArthur gets to the heart of the issue: “For better or worse, mothers are the makers of men; they are the architects of the next generation. That’s why the goal of becoming a godly mother is the highest and most noble pursuit of womanhood. God has specially equipped women for that very purpose, and in Christ, women can experience profound satisfaction in that divinely ordained pursuit. They can be who God created them to be.” Further: “Contrary to popular opinion, the most important characteristic of a godly mother is her relationship, not with her children, but with her husband. What you communicate to your children through your marital relationship will stay with them for the rest of their lives. By watching you and your husband, they are learning the most fundamental lessons of life-love, self-sacrifice, integrity, virtue, sin, sympathy, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Whatever you teach them about those things, right or wrong, is planted deep within their hearts.” Read the entire article–and honor both mothers and motherhood.
May 8, 2005
Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones–one of the great evangelical preachers of the twentieth century–may have died in 1981, but his writings are still coming to light and to print through the work of devoted family and friends. Crossway has just published Seeking the Face of God, a selection of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on the Psalms. The book first appeared in print in 1991, but in Great Britain. This is the first American edition. As always, the great Doctor’s sermons are filled with biblical wisdom.
May 7, 2005
We have been following with great interest the controversy over sex education in the Montgomery County, Maryland public schools. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams issued a temporary restraining order that prevented any implementation of the new curriculum. On Friday, the district’s school superintendent, Jerry D. Weast, announced that the program has been suspended, at least temporarily. The curriculum was truly radical, featuring such outrages as a film showing students how to use a condom–complete with a demonstration using a cucumber. The new program also included outrageous claims about homosexuality and “sexual variance.” Still, much of the public didn’t know just how bad it was until Judge Williams issued his ruling. The most salient point of the judge’s order was its basis–that the proposed sex education curriculum represented a form of religious discrimination. Indeed, the curriculum openly attacked churches that believe homosexuality to be sinful. It seems that the new curriculum includes a “Myths and Facts” handout apparently taken from a pro-homosexuality advocacy group Look closely at these statements drawn from the handout, cited in the judge’s order and memorandum: “The Bible contains six passages which condemn homosexual behavior. The Bible also contains numerous passages condemning heterosexual behavior. Theologians and Biblical scholars continue to differ on many Biblical interpretations. They agree on one thing, however. Jesus said absolutely nothing at all about homosexuality. Among the many things deemed an abomination are adultery, incest, wearing clothing made from more than one kind of fiber, and eating shellfish, like shrimp and lobster. Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression. Less than a half a century ago, Baptist churches (among others) in this country defended racial segregation on the basis that it was condoned by the Bible. Early Christians were not hostile to homosexuals. Intolerance became the dominant attitude only after the Twelfth Century. Today, many people no longer tolerate generalizations about homosexuality as pathology or sin. Few would condemn heterosexuality as immoral–despite the high incidence of rape, incest, child abuse, adultery, family violence, promiscuity, and venereal disease among heterosexuals. Fortunately, many within organized religions are beginning to address the homophobia of the church. The National Council of Churches of Christ, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches support full civil rights for gay men and lesbians, as they do for everyone else.” As you might expect, there is much, much more. Maryland citizens should be thankful for this judge’s ruling. The rest of us should take a closer look at what is at stake.
May 6, 2005
The evolution controversy has hit Kansas again, but not without some strange twists and turns. According to ABC News, a subcommittee of the Kansas State Board of Education is holding hearings in order to consider whether the state’s schools should include Intelligent Design within the curriculum. The hearings were described by ABC News as “trial-like,” painting the event as something like a re-run of the Scopes trial. Interestingly, the evolutionists didn’t show up for the hearings, claiming that their participation would somehow dignify the concept of Intelligent Design. Well, that concept needs no dignity from the evolutionists. The fact is that the Darwinist club is running scared. Their failure to show up in Kansas is evidence of a massive failure of nerve. Sadly enough, confusion abounds. Take this statement from a mother of two Kansas teenagers: “I believe in God, but I’m not sure He created everything. I’m right in the middle.” Right in the middle of what? Just what does she think God did create? Scholars with the Discovery Institute testified on behalf of Intelligent Design. We’ll watch this closely.
May 5, 2005
Today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal features a debate over the so-called “Religious Right.” James Taranto, editor of the paper’s excellent Web site, OpinionJournal.com, defends the involvement of conservative Christiansin national debate. Taranto, who identifies himself as a social moderate who is “not a Christian, or even a religious believer,” makes a strong case: “One can disagree with religious conservatives on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, creationism and any number of other issues, and still recognize that they have good reason to feel disfranchised. This isn’t the same as the oft-heard complaint of “anti-Christian bigotry,” which is at best imprecise, since American Christians are all over the map politically. But those who hold traditionalist views have been shut out of the democratic process by a series of court decisions that, based on constitutional reasoning ranging from plausible to ludicrous, declared the preferred policies of the secular left the law of the land.” Journalist Christopher Hitchens–always ready with sarcasm–cites the late Sen. Barry Goldwater as his model of a secular conservative. As his opposing article makes abundantly clear, Hitchens wants nothing to do with the followers of “the possibly mythical Nazarene.” The Right should disavow Christians and Christianity, he urges, and return to the atheistic views of Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss. And as for Christians, “I have never understood why conservative entrepreneurs are so all-fired pious and Bible-thumping, let alone why so many of them claim Jesus as their best friend and personal savior. The Old Testament is bad enough: The commandments forbid us even to envy or covet our neighbor’s goods, and thus condemn the very spirit of emulation and ambition that makes enterprise possible. But the New Testament is worse: It tells us to forget thrift and saving, to take no thought for the morrow, and to throw away our hard-earned wealth on the shiftless and the losers.” Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair magazine. John Bunyan would understand the irony.