Category: Public Policy

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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In my Acton Commentary this week, I argued against government funding for stem cell research.

The developments that served as my springboard have unsurprisingly prompted a lot of other reflections from various quarters as well. A sampling:

Joseph Bottum on politics, religion, and stem cells.

Fr. Thomas Berg on the reaction of the scientific community.

Malcolm Ritter on obstacles remaining in the path toward medically useful applications.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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When I first heard that the epic tale of Beowulf was being made into a feature-length film, I was excited. Ever since I had first seen the live-action version of The Fellowship of the Ring from Peter Jackson, I had thought that a similar project could do a wonderful job with the Beowulf epic.

And then when I learned that the Beowulf film was going to be done entirely with computer-generated images (CGI), I was disappointed. Frankly I lost interest in seeing the movie entirely. But as time wore on, enthusiasm for the film from some of my friends, as well as some of the trailers, reinvigorated my hopes for the film version of the Beowulf epic.

And now that I’ve seen the film, I’m crestfallen. To be sure, the movie delivers in the special effects department. I saw the IMAX 3D version, which is projected in 3D throughout the entirety of the film. One of the advantages of using CGI which I had not considered at first, was the quality of the 3D images. In contrast to the climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for instance, the 3D effects were crisp, clean, and stunning.

That’s where the strengths of the film end, however. Far too often the plot deviates from the storyline that made the Beowulf epic a classic for the last millennium. Set in the fifth and sixth centuries of the common era, the Beowulf story includes all the great elements of heroic mythical narrative. The modern retelling departs from the tale’s classic history in at least two major ways, and these departures are most decidedly not improvements.


The first has to do with the treatment of religion, specifically Christianity, in the modern version. While the poem was first composed in the high Middle Ages, it was set in a pagan culture prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia. There is a great deal of scholarly debate on whether the tale is solely about pagan virtues or whether Beowulf is “a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues.”

In the new film version, Beowulf is neither simply a pre-Christian pagan nor a proto-Christian eminent pagan. Christianity plays an explicit and confused role in the film, seemingly brought in to act as a counter-point to Beowulf’s embodiment of the pagan heroic virtues. At one point, Beowulf seems to be reading directly from a text like Nietzche’s The Anti-Christ. In contrast to Beowulf’s heroic humanism, the hero would agree with Nietzsche, “Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it.”

If the attempt to bring Christianity explicitly into the Beowulf tale was an attempt by Hollywood to cater to the newly invigorated evangelical demographic, it fails at the same level of ineptitude as Howard Dean’s attempt to woo Christian voters in his 2004 election run (when asked what his favorite New Testament book was, Dean responded, “Job”).

Besides injecting this curiously modern anti-Christian element into the story, the people responsible for translating the epic poem into a screenplay modify the plot of the story greatly. Without giving away any spoilers to those who insist on seeing the film in spite of my warnings, I’ll only say that the Beowulf epic is conflated with a dynamic from another great hero saga, that of King Arthur and his demise at the hands of his bastard son Mordred.

If you are looking for a modern work recasting the Beowulf epic in a new way that is actually interesting and compelling, check out John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which tells the tale from the monster’s perspective in a quirky twist of existentialist angst. Unless you go to the film solely for the special effects or have absolutely no appreciation for the narrative legacy of the epic, avoid this Beowulf film.

Oh, and there are no fire snakes. Boo!

See also: “Never Mind Grendel. Can Beowulf Conquer the 21st-Century Guilt Trip?”

And: “Anti-Christian Crusade: Beowulf is the latest installment in Hollywood’s attempt to reconfigure history.”

Cross-posted at Blogcritics.org

Blog author: jmorse
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
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Joel Kotkin explains that the fastest growing cities are not the ones that cater to singles, but those that cater to families. Read it all here.

Cross-posted at my blog.

This article at the WSJ reviews a book that purports to be about progressive environmentalism. Doomsday is out. Nobody cares. People need material well-being before they are interested in environmentalism at all.

Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger want "an explicitly pro-growth agenda," on the theory that investment, innovation and imagination may ultimately do more to improve the environment than punitive regulation and finger-wagging rhetoric. To stabilize atmospheric carbon levels will take more–much more–than regulation; it will require "unleashing human power, creating a new economy."

Not perfect, but alot better than what passes for environmentalism most of the time.

Does a good education demand an appreciation for history? It would seem so. What arguments are there to support such a contention?

Neil Postman writes,

There is no escaping ourselves. The human dilemma is as it always has been, and it is a delusion to believe that the future will render irrelevant what we know and have long known about ourselves but find it convenient to forget.

In quoting this passage from Postman’s Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, Ronald Arnett says that history is “the metasubject needed in a good education.”

This contention is a correlate of C.S. Lewis’ opinion that old books are critically necessary to learning. In his introduction to an old book (Athanasius’ De Incarnatione), Lewis writes, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Where Postman praises the study of history for what is constant in human nature, Lewis praises historical study for providing us a perspective from which to judge what is transient and contextual about our own times. Lord Acton, himself a greatly learned and distinguished historian once wrote, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.”

Lewis also makes an important methodological point about the preeminence of primary sources, as compared to secondary sources. That is, when we have a question about Plato or Platonism, the reader should first consult a book by Plato or a Platonist rather than “some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.”

Christians know too that “the human dilemma” is to be understood within the narrative of redemption history (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation).

Those paying close attention to the developments in Christian higher education will take note of the increasing popularity of “great books” programs (see St. John’s College and The College at Southwestern). These are in some sense an extension of the impulse toward a classical academy model of elementary and secondary education.

For more on “what makes a great book,” visit this Scriptorium Daily podcast, which includes the insights of faculty of the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program at Biola University.

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
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Thanks to Rob Chaney at the Missoulian, the touching story of young Caden Stufflebeam is told. Chaney wrote a piece titled, “Rocks to riches: Missoula boy sells stones he finds to buy food for needy.”

Appropriately noted as the top story for the paper in Missoula, Mont., Caden has been collecting and selling rocks and donating the proceeds to the less fortunate. The young boy is filled with an abundance of generosity and spiritual knowledge. Christ declared in Matthew, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Caden noted:

I think I might keep on selling rocks, Then I can buy more bags for the hungry to eat other dinners. I think God has a purpose for me to sell rocks.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
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Regis Nicoll over at The Point notes a WaPo story that is getting a lot of play on the blogosphere about the UN’s downgrade of the estimate of the extent of the AIDS epidemic, “U.N. to Cut Estimate Of AIDS Epidemic: Population With Virus Overstated by Millions.”

Nicoll writes that while of course it is good news that fewer people are infected than were previously thought, “The bad news is that previous estimates were inflated because of politics, bad science, or both.”

Nicoll continues, “While reading the announcement, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with certain climate change proponents and Intelligent Design critics whose tactics involve alarmism, exaggerated estimates and the politicization of science to protect their study grants and mandarin status.”

That’s something I’ve been wondering about a long time, and have previously drawn comparisons between climate change alarmism and the exaggerated claims of the spread of AIDS (as well as between the challenged position that ID proponents and climate change skeptics share).

The financial incentive for governments, the UN, and NGOs to play up potential cash cows for their pet social and scientific agendas is one that cannot be overlooked. And it’s the sort of corruption that those who really want to tackle corruption should take a hard look at.