Category: General

Blog author: jballor
Monday, March 9, 2009
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The World Freedom Atlas, “a geovisualization tool for world statistics,” looks like a very powerful and compelling complement to something like the Gapminder Trendalyzer tool.

Blog author: eschansberg
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
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A staggering piece by Stephen Baskerville in Touchstone…

I’ve written at length that marriage has been damaged much moreso by divorce than by calls for (or movements toward) “same-sex” marriage. Baskerville expands on that and discusses the initial “grand experiment” on marriage– the policies behind the move toward easier divorce.

G. K. Chesterton once observed that the family serves as the principal check on government power, and he suggested that someday the family and the state would confront one another. That day has arrived.

Chesterton was writing about divorce, and despite extensive public attention to almost every other threat to the family, divorce remains the most direct and serious. Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes that “divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays.”

Most Americans would be deeply shocked if they knew what goes on today under the name of divorce. Indeed, many are devastated to discover that they can be forced into divorce by procedures entirely beyond their control. Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth, and incarcerate parents without trial. Comprised of family courts and vast, federally funded social services bureaucracies that wield what amount to police powers, the divorce machinery has become the most predatory and repressive sector of government ever created in the United States and is today’s greatest threat to constitutional freedom.

Some four decades ago, while few were paying attention, the Western world embarked on the boldest social experiment in its history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family. The government can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve a marriage over the objection of the other….

This startling fact has been ignored by politicians, journalists, academics, and even family advocates. “Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,” wrote Gallagher. “The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.” No American politician of national stature has ever challenged involuntary divorce….

For more on this post, click here.

Blog author: hunter.baker
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
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I’ve been reading America’s Secular Challenge by NYU professor and president of the Hudson Institute Herb London. The book is essentially an extended essay about how elite, left-wing secularism undercuts America’s traditional strengths of patriotism and religious faith during a time when the nation can ill afford it. The assault on public religion and love of country comes in a period when America faces enemies who have no such crisis of identity and lack the degree of doubt that leaves us in semi-paralysis.

The best compliment I can pay the book (by a Jewish social critic) is that it reminds me of the outstanding work of John Courtenay Murray (the great Catholic church and state scholar) who wrote:

And if this country is to be overthrown from within or without, I would suggest that it will not be overthrown by Communism. It will be overthrown because it will have made an impossible experiment. It will have undertaken to establish a technological order of most marvelous intricacy, which will have been constructed and will operate without relations to true political ends: and this technological order will hang, as it were, suspended over a moral confusion; and this moral confusion will itself be suspended over a spiritual vacuum.

An awesome piece from Mary Eberstadt in First Things

She starts with a description of the intellectual elite’s thoughts about communism before the fall of the Berlin Wall– despite the evidences. She then cites Jeane Kirkpatrick’s contemporary analysis in her essay of the title echoed by Eberstadt: “The Will to Disbelieve”. From there, Ebestadt draws an analogy to “the sexual revolution”– “the powerful will to disbelieve in the harmful effects of another world-changing social and moral force governed by bad ideas”.

As Eberstadt notes about “the benefits of marriage and monogamy” and the impact of single-parent homes on children:

…the empirical record by now weighs overwhelmingly against the liberationists…an empirical record has been assembled that is beyond refutation and that testifies to the unhappy economic, social, and moral consequences….Yet in both cases, the minority of scholars who have amassed the empirical record and drawn attention to it have been rewarded, for the most part, with a spectrum of reaction ranging from indifference to ridicule to wrath.

…[their] words and formulations like them have been fighting words among sociologists, with the majority lining up, sometimes ferociously…It’s not that they are unaware of the evidence. It’s just that they feel forced to explain it away. Such is the deep desire to disbelieve that shapes—and misshapes—so much of what we read about sex today….

Eberstadt continues by noting a few ironies and making suggestions on language and tactics (creatively borrowing from a provocative source)– before concluding with an appropriately hopeful note.

For more on this, click through to my blog &/or to Eberstadt’s piece.

In case you’re interested, I wrote and just posted a five-part review of Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God.

enjoy! eric

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, January 15, 2009
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It’s usually good to steer clear of apocalyptic predictions of any sort, but as temperatures struggle to break the 10 degrees fahrenheit mark under full sun here in the Great Lakes region, talk of a “demographic winter” feels more compelling than warnings of global warming.

More seriously, the release of a new film by that name is the occasion for Jenny Roback Morse’s reflection on the economics of population. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field and I am skeptical of any argument simplistically connecting population growth (or decline) with economic growth (or decline). But I am convinced that something as fundamental as demography must play a significant role in economic trends, and it does seem that, in general, economists and policymakers alike have neglected or at least failed to appreciate the importance of the issue. (For a counterexample, see Oskari Juurikkala’s analysis of pending pension crises: Pensions, Population, and Prosperity.)

It is hard to see how strong economic growth can be sustained in the face of a declining population: it’s just asking too much of technological advance and productivity gains.

Blog author: eschansberg
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
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A friend persisted in asking me to read The Shack. Although it has been a “#1 New York Times Bestseller”, it came on the radar when I was in a busy season, so I’m not sure I would have read it or even noticed it– without his encouragement.

I’m really glad I read it. Beyond enhancing my “cultural relevancy” (LOL!), The Shack was thought-provoking. Although I’m not sure I agree with everything in it– especially where one must speculate a good bit to draw inferences– I’m a wheat & chaff guy. And for whatever chaff Young delivers, he brings a lot of wheat to the table as well.

Young’s book is well-crafted and an easy read. On occasion, the conversations come off as stilted, but that’s difficult to avoid in a book so dominated by dialogue. And the book might not be easy to handle emotionally or theologically for some people– an important point to which I’ll return shortly.

In a nutshell, comparing it to some other relatively famous books, I’d say it’s:

1.) 50% The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis;
2.) 30% The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee or The Saving Life of Christ by Ian Thomas; and
3.) 20% Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen.

1.) The Shack is a cousin of Lewis’ book on Heaven and Hell in that it speculates on biblical topics that are vital but not clearly delineated in the Scriptures…

And like Lewis, Young works (effectively) to give himself wiggle room within his artistic portrayal. (Young uses basic literary devices at the beginning and the end of the book.) This is absolutely key because it indicates the speculative nature of his work– and it signals that Young does not take himself or the details of his picture too seriously.

2.) The Shack points to the importance of the “Spirit-filled life” within “sanctification”. I benefited tremendously from more traditional, straight-forward works like Nee and Thomas. But Young is trying to communicate some of the same principles through narrative/fiction.

This is both vital and vastly under-sold within the Church. Too often, people try to “live out the Chistian life” in their own power– “the flesh”. The result is sub-optimal in terms of outcomes, motives, perseverance, energy, and so on. But it isn’t meant to be that way. Christ himself said that it was for our own good that He would leave the Earth– so that the Spirit would come to empower believers to live that life through us (Jn 14:26, 16:7)….

3.) Young’s work is like Osteen’s in that it can be misread by some– and is, at the same time, especially relevant for certain audiences. I’ve already argued this in my review of Osteen’s book. I would recommend both books to most people who have been “wounded” by circumstances, a church, or the Church– especially if they can read it alongside a mature believer.

That said, the book could easily be misunderstood and misapplied by those who tend to read things (too) literally. Despite the ample praise the book has received, I think that’s the reason for the bulk of the criticism launched at it….

Derek Keefe provides a nice overview of the debate on the Christianity Today blog….

Among other things, this growing backlash broaches important questions about the proper relationship between art, theology, and the Church for evangelicals and their close kin….Switching directions, we must also ask what it means for Christian traditions and communities to be faithful to artists and their craft. This, too, is a theological question: How does the Church show good faith toward those sub-creators in God’s human economy whose very creative inclinations are evidence that they bear the image of a God who delights in creating?…My hunch is that we probably see a failure to keep faith on both sides here, and that it would be a good thing for all of God’s Church to discuss the when’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s of our mutual infidelities.

In a word, I’d recommend The Shack to those who are mature in their faith, those who have seen Christianity as duty and religion, those who are not prone to take things to literally/seriously, those who have endured profound pain and disappointment, and those who have been “burned by the church”.

In any case, may God use The Shack as a blessing to those who read it.

For the full review, click here.

After finals, I cranked through some books! Among those, one of G.K. Chesterton’s fictional works, The Flying Inn.

Chesterton was a prolific author. He’s well-known in some circles for his fictional work, particularly his “Father Brown” mystery series. (I haven’t tried those yet.) In this realm, I had read (and enjoyed) the classic The Man Who Was Thursday.

His non-fiction is oft-quoted but rarely read (like Dorothy Sayers and to a lesser extent, C.S. Lewis). That’s a shame, because it is a real pleasure to read. (It is a bit challenging– think Lewis’ thicker stuff.) He’s a gifted writer with a sharp pen and wit for the ideas he’s challenging and inspirational in the things he describes. In that arena, I have read Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Everlasting Man, and most recently, an edited volume of his writings on family.

The Flying Inn was an easy read and a fun romp. Along the road– and the travels of the primary characters– Chesterton takes a number of funny/serious pokes at prohibition, legalism, bureaucracy, power vs. authority, the limits of law, class-based hypocrisy on entertainment and “art”, “progressivism”, Islam, Nietzsche, political correctness, “higher biblical criticism”, and pompous individuals….

For excerpts of interest from TFI itself and excerpts from a review of TFI, check out the longer blog entry on SchansBlog

Blog author: hunter.baker
Friday, January 9, 2009
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Part of the reason Richard John Neuhaus will be remembered is for his impact on Christians in higher education. There is no question that his seminal book The Naked Public Square and then his journal First Things changed the way many of us think about religion and culture. He also did something I think is nearly impossible with FT. He created a serious journal that causes many people (a great many of them professors) to do a little dance when they find it in their mailbox.

First Things is not an academic journal, but it is close and better. Instead of dividing knowledge up into a million little pieces and then writing ad nauseum about those subcompartments. First Things invites strong minds to contribute big essays about the intersection of religion, culture, law, politics, art, music, etc. The result is readable and edifying. When I was younger, I knew it was above my head, but I pursued it for improvement, just like a gangster listening to a pronounciation soundtrack to improve his speech. First Things took me places. Today, when I meet a fellow reader, I meet a friend.

Enough of the unsolicited advertisement. I saw a snippet of an email exchange about Neuhaus that is worth reproducing here. I won’t include the name in case the person wants that to remain private:

Converted (to Catholicism) about 1990 or 91. He is one of those Missouri Synod Lutherans who had a tremendous early education in their prep schools and liberal arts college…then a fine seminary education. It was the old German gymnasium system where young guys went off to prep school at 14 and learned German, Greek, Latin, church history, the confessions even before they got to college. The college at Fort Wayne gave them a terrific liberal arts education—classics, literature, history, languages—and then off to seminary. Pelikan, Wilken, Neuhaus, Marty, and many lesser lights came through that system. Valparaiso’s golden age occurred when these highly educated pastors also went into other fields and got doctorates. They had dual educations that made faith and learning engagement a natural thing. M.Divs with a degree in law, economics, literature. Very erudite types who occupied many positions at Valpo. But that has all disappeared….a great but probably necessary loss. How many families would send their boys off to prep school at 14 and what church could afford to run prep schools all over the country for their young men?

But Richard was one of that group….didn’t really need a doctorate.

No, he didn’t really need that doctorate. Wish we could reproduce that system for young people from families without tremendous means.

Richard John Neuhaus is dead. We’ve lost some big ones in the last year. Many of you will not realize how big this one was. I pray Jody Bottum and some of the others in the First Things (Neuhaus’ hugely influential journal) world can carry on his legacy. Though Neuhaus’ death leaves a chasm to be filled, I think Dr. Bottum is the right man for it.

Anthony Sacramone is a former managing editor of First Things. He is also one of my favorite writers. So, I’m happy to bring you his wonderful tribute to Neuhaus. Here’s a taste:

Woody Allen said that 90% of life is just showing up. Richard John Neuhaus showed up. Whether it was at civil-rights marches in the 1960s or pro-life marches of the 1980s, Richard John Neuhaus showed up. Whether it was at the altar as a parish priest or at the bedside of a dying friend, Richard John Neuhaus showed up. As writer, lecturer, editor, raconteur, counselor, teacher — Richard John Neuhaus showed up. Every day. Until today.

And by the way, the New York Times didn’t do badly, either. I give them credit, particularly since Father Neuhaus spent part of his last column writing about how his desire to read the NYT had continued to slip.