Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I'm thinking about it...
What am I thinking about? Wait and see. It's a pip, believe you me.
MY DAD IS TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE. Yeah, it was Brizoni who once opined that he liked InstaPunk except when we were indulging in Christian apologetics. Sorry, B-Boy. This time we ran into a kind of perfect storm -- separate hints that it was time to mention the dreaded C-word once again.
It started with a TV show I watched on behalf of all our sci-fi junkies here. Stargate Universe. I work my fingers to the bone for these kids, lemme tell ya. Well, it wasn't all altruism. The producers had the wit to engage Robert Carlyle, the brilliant Scottish actor whose presence could probably make me watch even the brainless sitcom Two and a Half Men (No effin' way. I exaggerate sometimes. You don't?) So I watched the first four episodes of Stargate Universe, though I had never watched the various other Stargate TV things after catching my first glimpse of the trans-gendered Oprah clone with the bar code on his forehead. He gave me the creeps. Like this does (absitively NSFW but posilutely funny).
Where were we? Oh. Stargate Universe. Not a rave review but not a pan either. Anything Carlyle is in is worth watching, unless, you know. The extreme outer limits of the universe and a crazy Scot go together somehow, if you know what I mean. The pilot episode was an hour and a half long and resolved nothing, except for killing off Agent DiNozzo's senator dad.
Live-wire NCIS agent and a dead senator. With me so far?
I had all kinds of problems with the pilot. Who really thinks that a bunch of marooned people in immediate danger of losing their lives can't see what's most important in spite of all their soap opera bullsh_t? And who believes that even (er, especially) in a life-and-death situation, military discipline would simply melt away into an ugly "me, me, me" style tantrum of dim-witted resistance against the one Scot who just might be able to find a way out? I mean, I know Scots are all a__holes and like that, but come on. If they're the only guy who can understand the ship's ancient alien command consoles, wouldn't you stop hating him long enough to listen when he says, "Stop pushing every f___ing button you find!" Or at least the colonel in command might listen? uh, no.
But I dutifully plowed onward. (Such is my devotion to my flock.) And then, in Episode 2, I thought I was going to have to pull the plug. You see, the cast was marooned on an ancient spaceship that was running out of oxygen scrubbers (?!), and so the ship (hmmm) aimed them at a desert planet that just might have the lime they needed to replace the scrubbers (Yawn. I know. Beam us down, Scotty.) And the gung-ho lieutenant in charge starts hallucinating the way people in the desert do, only his hallucinations are religious, focused on a drunken priest. "Here we go," I thought. Because -- and this may surprise the flock -- I have become cynical about show biz depictions of religion... BUT.
But the Catholic lieutenant turned out to be the hero. The drunken priest wasn't finally an evil corruptocrat but a too-good man disappointed by the sins of the lieutenant he had raised like his own son. And the hallucinations weren't. Hallucinations, I mean. When the lieutenant had pushed himself as far and as hard as he could in pursuit of his vision of Christ on the cross, the hallucinations intervened directly, bubbling the water up under his passed-out nose so that he could wake up and see the saving limestone sea a hundred yards away.
Hmmm. Now I'm starting to pay attention to the fact that this ship, which sent our hardy band of idiots to this desert planet, is, despite all the excellent design reasons to the contrary, a stylized cross. Double hmmmm. The ship itself knows something. What?
In the next episode, doom awaits. All power in the ship's systems goes away. The colonel (who by my count has committed only four or five career-ending court-martial offenses to date) decides that he'll offer life to about a third of the cast by conducting a lottery for the fifteen seats a surviving shuttle can ferry to a planet in the nearest star system. One of the many (all) undisciplined enlisted men objects to the lottery and gets cold-cocked by our favorite other undisciplined enlisted man when he sees what's going on. When mutiny boy wakes up he goes looking for his erstwhile cheering section. They're playing cards in the dark and tell him they're the "fun" ones. The "not" fun ones are gathered at the ship's vast windows, watching their approach to the sun that will kill them and reciting the Lord's Prayer. Yes, you read that right. The Lord's Prayer. (Earlier in the same episode our sinful lieutenant recited the 23rd Psalm.) What the hell is going on here? Are the writers of Stargate Universe making a statement about God?
Possible. The only character more arresting than the charismatic Scot, Carlyle, is the ship itself. The doom the lottery was intended to forestall consisted of flight directly into the sun of the star system the ship had aimed them at. Turns out, the ship is impervious to the heat of a star and simply uses it to replenish its power. Discovery of this fact causes the colonel to register even greater suspicion of the only Scot on the scene. Obviously.
But the rest of us are left to wonder... why is this massive ancient cross flying through space, toward the ends of the universe? What are the SyFy writers trying to pull off here? Don't they know they'll never get away with it? Or are they on a mission of their own?
Still don't know what I'm thinking about, do you? There was, while I was ignoring the Stargate Universe review I wasn't going to do, another annoying piece by atheist Christopher Hitchens. Annoying because, well, I'll explain later.
This week sees the opening on various cinema marquees of the film Collision: a buddy-and-road movie featuring last year's debates between Pastor Douglas Wilson, who is a senior fellow at New St. Andrew's College, and your humble servant. (If I may be forgiven, it's also available on DVD, and you can buy our little book of exchanges, Is Christianity Good for the World?)
Newsweek's reviewer beseeches you not to go and see the film, largely on the grounds that it features two middle-aged white men trying to establish which one is the dominant male. I would have thought that this would be reason enough to buy a ticket, but perhaps she would have preferred the debate held in London last week featuring me and Stephen Fry (two magnificent specimens of white mammalhood) versus  a female member of Parliament who is a Tory Catholic convert and the Roman Catholic archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria. It filled one of the largest halls in the city, and many people had to be turned away. For a combination of reasons, the subject of religion is back where it always ought to be—at the very center of any argument about the clash of world views.
Ever since I invited any champion of faith to debate with me in the spring of 2007, I have been very impressed by the willingness of the other side to take me, and my allies, up on the offer.  A renowned scholar like Richard Dawkins, who is quite used to filling halls wherever he goes with his explanations of biology, is now finding himself on platforms with dedicated people who really, truly do not believe that evolution is anything more than "a theory." I have been all over the South, in front of capacity and overflow crowds, exchanging views with Protestants most of the time, but also with Catholics and, in New York and the West Coast and Canada, with—mostly Reform—Jews in large and well-attended synagogues. (So far no invitations from Orthodox Jews, Mormons, or Muslims.)
I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a "script" that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However,  I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe. I haven't been asked to Bob Jones University yet, but I have been invited to Jerry Falwell's old Liberty University campus in Virginia, even though we haven't yet agreed on the terms.
Wilson isn't one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just "metaphors." He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn't waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he "allows" it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners.  I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing. (Incidentally, just when is President Barack Obama going to decide which church he attends?)
Usually, when I ask some Calvinist whether he is really a Calvinist (in the sense, say, of believing that I will end up in hell), there is a slight reluctance to say yes, and a slight wince from his congregation. I have come to the conclusion that this has something to do with the justly famed tradition of Southern hospitality: You can't very easily invite somebody to your church and then to supper and inform him that he's marked for perdition.  More to the point, though, you soon discover that many of those attending are not so sure about all the doctrines, either, just as you very swiftly find out that a vast number of Catholics don't truly believe more than about half of what their church instructs them to think. Every now and then I read reports of polls that tell me that more Americans believe in the virgin birth or the devil than believe in Darwinism: I'd be pretty sure that at least some of these are unwilling to confess their doubts to someone who calls them up on their kitchen phone. Meanwhile, by any measurement, the number of those who profess allegiance to no church (I am not claiming these as atheists, just skeptics) are the fastest-growing minority in America. And don't tell me that warfare increases faith and that there are no unbelievers in foxholes: Only recently I was invited to a very spirited meeting of the freethinkers' group at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where there has been a revolt against on-campus proselytizing by biblical-literalist instructors.
 Thanks to the foolishness of the "intelligent design" faction, which has tried with ignominious un-success to smuggle the teaching of creationism into our schools under a name that is plainly stupid rather than intelligent, and thanks to the ceaseless preaching of hatred and violence against our society by the fanatics of another faith, as well as other related behavior, such as the mad attempt by messianic Jews to steal the land of other people, the secular movement in the United States is acquiring a confidence that it has not known in years, while many of those who put their faith in revelation and prophecy and prayer are feeling the need to give an account of themselves. This is a wholly good development, and it is part of the pluralism and polycentrism that distinguish the sort of society that we have to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.[boldface added by me]
First, a word about the boldface sections.  Hitchens is laughing about the idea of a female theologian. He's an a__hole.  Neo-Darwinian evolution is a theory. The fact is that species change is observable and a fact. However, the specific description of how that change occurs -- um, meaning Neo-Darwinian Evolutionary Theory -- is a theory. Sorry Chris.  Of course they're more polite and hospitable. They're Christians.  Me too.  uh, doubt is not lack of faith. It's rather the proof that people of faith are intelligent, intellectual, and curious. DUH.  The usual nonsense. See the next paragraphs.
My weariness with atheists is the weariness the smart always experience with the dull. Sorry to break it to y'all (to use an Obama locution...) This insistence that "intelligent design" is synonymous with "creationism" is nonsense, a priori dismissiveness invoked as a defense of an indefensible position. It's evolutionists who insist they have the right to separate the legitimate question about the source of life from the subsequent change in life forms we see in the fossil record. Any fool can see that they're the same question. Denouncing those who see that they're the same question is akin to Hitchens's famous pseudo-sophisticate diktat that the most overrated experiences in life are champagne, lobster, and anal sex. Most people know he's dead wrong about all three. Others know he's wrong about at least one if not two of the three. But the lesson is the same. People who play at being God are playing the fool.
Let me repeat that. People who play at being God are playing the fool. Awful. (This still isn't the reason for the title and the pic, so bear with me.) I'd had it in mind to do a post about the real separation of powers -- between God and man -- but I wimped out because I'm sick of hearing from the millennial clowns who think they know everything and do know absolutely nothing in truly obscene detail. (To put 'obscene detail' in focus for you, these are the guys who believe absolutely that all college girls on 'Spring Break' spread their legs and flash/screw/pee on camera because they're 'emancipated,' and have, themselves, never gotten laid or seen a bare breast or a, gulp, vagina, shaved or hairy.)
Pretty much like Hitchens. And Allahpundit. Very very tired of these condescending jerks. Their unremitting insistence that we Christians are all fundamentalists at heart, all creationists, all dumber than their Big Ten (or Oxbridge) natural science majors. All they are is lawyers. Lawyers of philosophy. Cain couldn't have killed Abel because there were other people in that other place who would have arrested his ass, and besides there aren't any 'giants' or 'arks.' And 'Christ' was probably a community organizer who offended the mayor of ChicagoJerusalem and got his ass kicked for being a disobedient Jewactivist.
I'm only going to say this once. And tersely. The separation of powers in the Constitution that matters is the separation between God and Man. The framers understood that their real ace in the hole was belief in a Christian God who would always stand in the way of Mankind's smartypants conceit that it could divine what was best for all the dumb ones.
The role of God was Intercession. Thomas Jefferson was smarter than everyone else. Why didn't he assert his right to rule? If he were here today, you think he wouldn't trounce Obama in every possible venue? What Jefferson understood was that men needed God as a shield against government. Each man's personal relationship with God was a proof against tyranny by government. Right is right and Government is, er, more of the same old corruption, men masquerading as divinity.
Which brings me to the final point. The Pope is willing, he says, to let me keep the holiest book in the world next to the King James Bible.
Now. Finally. As I said, I'm thinking about it.
For an Episcopal Parish, a Path to Catholicism
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
ROSEMONT, Pa. — When the Vatican announced last week that it would welcome groups of traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church, leaders of one Episcopal parish celebrated as if a ship had arrived to rescue them from a drifting ice floe.
“We’d been praying for this daily for two years,” said Bishop David L. Moyer, who leads the Church of the Good Shepherd, a parish in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia that is battling to keep its historic property. “When I heard the news I was speechless, then the joy came and the tears.”
This parish could be one of the first in the United States to convert en masse after the Vatican completes plans for a new structure to allow Anglicans to become Catholic while retaining many of their spiritual traditions, like the Book of Common Prayer and married priests.
The arrangement is tailor-made for an “Anglo-Catholic” parish like this one, which has strenuously opposed the Episcopal Church over decisions like allowing women and gay people to become priests and bishops. Mass here is celebrated in the “high church” style reminiscent of traditional Catholic churches, with incense, elaborate vestments and a choir that may sing in Latin.
“The majority of our members will be on board with this,” the Rev. Aaron R. Bayles, the assistant pastor, said as he finished celebrating a noon Mass devoted to church unity in a small side chapel lighted with blue votive candles.
He said he was exultant when he heard the news from the Vatican because he had always hoped to see the unification of Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christianity.
“This may be a step in that direction,” said Father Bayles, the parish’s new curate and a chaplain in the Air National Guard Reserve. (The previous curate left to become a Roman Catholic.)
The Church of the Good Shepherd has long been at loggerheads with the Episcopal Church, the American branch in the global Anglican Communion. This year, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania sued to take over the church’s building, a magnificent stone replica of a 14th-century English country parish that was built in 1894. The church’s property is estimated by its accounting warden to be worth $7 million.
For 17 years, the parish has refused to allow the local Episcopal bishop to come for a pastoral visit or confirmation, and then stopped paying its annual financial assessment to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
Even the parish priest’s title and status are a sign of the conflict. Bishop Moyer is not a bishop in the Episcopal Church, but he uses that title because he was made a bishop in the Traditional Anglican Communion, a conservative splinter group that played a crucial role in persuading the Vatican to welcome the Anglicans.
In his office sitting room, where he keeps framed photographs of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Moyer said he was one of the 38 bishops in the Traditional Anglican Communion who signed a petition to Pope Benedict XVI in October 2007 asking for an arrangement that would unite Anglicans with the Catholic Church.
He said the bishops even ceremonially signed a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to signify their full acceptance of Catholic doctrine. Meanwhile, the global Anglican Communion, with 77 million members, struggled to stay intact as conservatives splintered off or protested from within. Some were Anglo-Catholic, but others were evangelical Anglicans, dedicated to a conservative interpretation of Scripture but wary of Rome and papal authority.
Under the arrangement, the Vatican said it would allow married Anglican priests, but not married bishops. Bishop Moyers, a father of three, said he was waiting to hear whether he and other bishops could be “grandfathered in.”
Bishop Moyer acknowledged that some of his parish’s 400 members would choose to leave rather than become Catholic. Some are former Catholics who may not want to go back. Others feel loyalty to the Episcopal Church, despite the conflict.
But Lynn Shea, a member of Good Shepherd for 10 years, said she hardly cared what denomination the parish belonged to as long as the worship service was reverential, the community was supportive and the pastor was a genuine teacher.
“It doesn’t matter to us that much what exactly the church’s title is, it just matters how people are to other people,” Mrs. Shea said. She lost her 15-year old son to suicide this year and felt the church embrace her family.
She said she did know some parishioners who would resist because they had bad memories of strict Catholic churches and schools, or bad impressions because of the sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests.
Bishop Moyer said he had become increasingly eager to jump as the ground underneath him became more and more shaky. In 2002, his former diocesan bishop, Charles E. Bennison, defrocked him for refusing to submit to the bishop’s authority, but Bishop Moyer remained in place. (Bishop Benniso n himself was defrocked in 2008 after a church trial found that he had covered up years before for his brother, a priest, who sexually abused a girl.)
Even as their disputes escalated, the Church of the Good Shepherd never formally left the Episcopal Church, unlike many other conservative parishes and four dioceses. A big part of the reason is that Good Shepherd did not want to be evicted from its property. Other conservative parishes have lost court battles to keep their properties when they tried to leave the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Moyer lives in a rectory on the church’s property. He said he hopes to resolve the church’s “legal quagmire” over the building before they decide to jump to the Catholic Church.
He opened the wooden door onto the circular driveway in front of the church. On a glorious fall day, the scene looked like a tourist postcard from Kent.
“It’s a beautiful church,” he said. “I hope we can keep it.”[boldface added, with hosannas aplenty, by me, the OTHER Scot on board this ship.]