Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Culture Wars, Round II

The Triumph of Unbelief in the West

The Christian faith declares that all power and authority belongs to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. His authority embraces all reality: both material and immaterial realms; all nations, all cultures, and all societies. He is the Alpha and Omega. The past, the present and the future are His and He is their Lord. Consequently, all Unbelief—wherever it be found—is doomed to fail. Resistance is not only futile, it is evil.

Of course, to Unbelief it does not seem this way. Non-Christians would insist that they are on the winning side, that the Christian faith is a relic of a by-gone ignorant and superstitious age. They would point to the triumph of Enlightenment rationalism in the West, the decline of belief in Christ, and the ebbing of His (mythical) Kingdom. They would refer to the decline of influence of Christian beliefs and of the Christian Gospel everywhere in the West. And they would have recent history on their side. They will find no argument here—at least as far as the West is concerned (the Southern Hemisphere being another story).

Christians, however, see the long run very differently (as you would expect). To Christian eyes, the post Christian, pagan West appears like an outpost of Unbelief across the centuries and generations. It is like a primitive tribe which is celebrating because, with its spears and clubs, it has fought off an enemy scouting party, unaware that just over the ridge sit a division of M1 Abrams tanks about to unleash. Or, to change the figure (with apologies to Byron), the Believer knows that the might of the Western Gentile, unsmote by the sword, shall melt like snow in the glance of the Lord.

But Christians also know that the decline of the faith in the West did not come about by accident. It is Jerusalem, and the Church within her walls, that is largely responsible. And for this we weep and mourn, and like Daniel of old, confess the sins of our fathers in praying for the restoration of Jerusalem. It is we in Jerusalem who have been unfaithful and so the Lord has made us face the consequences. The strength of the post-Christian pagan West is a story of the infidelity of Jerusalem, not a story of the merits or powers of Unbelief.

By the end of the nineteenth century our fathers had decided that Christianity, if it were to prosper, needed modernising to make it more relevant to the world around it. This meant taking up the concerns and aspirations of the surrounding culture and joining with them.

The nineteenth century ended in Europe amidst a blaze of glorious optimism. Universal peace and prosperity was about to break out upon mankind. Progress was inevitable. Unending prosperity was just around the corner. The response of the Church, in general, was to agree. The so-called triumph of Man and of human reason meant that Man could now exercise control over God and His Christ, and His Bible. Modern Man could see flaws, faults, mere imaginations, and prejudices in the Bible that rude and crude scholars could not see before. “Scientific” criticism had exposed all kinds of errors and weaknesses in the Bible. Just as all now needed to be subject to Reason and rationalistic criticism, Christianity was no exception.

Unbelief triumphed in the West in the nineteenth century because of the defalcation of the Church. The critical point of the apostasy was to agree with Unbelievers that human reason was the ground of all truth, and that God needed to be subject to it. “Fair enough”, said the Church—and in so saying, parroted the reasoning and speech of Eve when she had turned away from God. Did God really say that? and, Do I agree with it? was at the heart of sin in the Garden. It was also at the heart of the sins of the Church in the West at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Church had agreed with Unbelief that if God and the Bible and the Christian faith was to have any credibility and integrity at all, it had to be made reasonable to fallen men. For human Reason had become the measure of all truth and reality in the community at large. The leaders and teachers of the Church concurred--and so exchanged the Living God for an idol.

The apple had not fallen far from Adam's tree.

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Culture Wars, Round I

Phony Culture Wars

The rubric “culture wars” has entered our lexicon. In vulgar parlance it refers to the clash between the world-view or social vision of the Left versus the Right. Rudely put, the social vision of the Left is for a society organised around and cascading down from the prior rights of the collective, the state, and the community. The Right's social vision is a society cascading down from the prior rights of a human individual, and, therefore, voluntary groups and free associations.

The conflict is pretty much total in the sense that confrontation between the two views is experienced right along the entire front of human activity. We, however, view this conflict as one between members of the same family. In an estranged family, it is not uncommon for the members to disagree on practically everything—but members of the same family they inescapably remain. In the vulgar use, the term “culture wars” must definitely be written in lower case. In the end, the conflict between Left and Right represents a mere disagreement, and a relatively minor one at that. Describing it as a “war” is certainly colourful, definitely emotive, but nothing more than a hyperbolic figure of speech.

Consider the deeper level of pervasive agreement between these two camps. Both presuppose from the outset that the Living God does not and cannot exist. Both assume the final authority of Man in determining truth, meaning, together with the goals, motives, and standards of existence itself. Both presuppose the ultimacy of chance and that in the final analysis meaningless wins. Any "gods" or "higher powers" there may be have their existence only by warrant of human reason. Both agree the "rational" is the real. Both deny the existence of infinite ethical values. Both camps are therefore moral relativists, with all ethics being nothing more than an expression of mere preference, not in any sense a reflection or application of an absolute, eternal value. Both agree that meaning is what Man says it is.

Therefore, in our view the culture wars are phony. They resemble the stage managed conflicts of the WWF, or Survivor. They provide entertainment value for the credulous. But anyone who seriously believes the disputes, the fights, and the wrangles are genuine is a sucker. As soon as it dawns on the punter that the conflict is stage managed and choreographed, the lustre goes.

But that does not mean that genuine culture wars do not exist. They do. It is just that the front lines and the trenches are in a different place. The real culture war exists between those who believe and know for sure that the Living God is, and those who have presupposed that He cannot be and that Man is the ultimate self-determiner of all things. And what a war it is! It embraces the heights of heaven and the depths of Sheol.

The ascended Lord commands and demands that everything in heaven and upon earth, even every thought and intention and act of every human being, be subject to Him. Unbelieving Man asserts that if any god were to exist, it would only do so if it were subject to the dictats of human reason--which is to insist that Man remains sovereign over all deities and "higher" powers. This is a religion the Devil endorses and encourages with all his might and main. It is the religion he subtly preached to our first parents and to which they became the first converts.

Since culture is nothing other than an outward manifestation of human thoughts, words, and deeds, particular cultures are either predominantly subject to Him or they are not. Those who do not believe in Christ, reject His reign. They are rebels. They resist, resent, and ultimately hate the idea that all that they are and all of their being must be subject to the risen Lord. Everything that they do manifests this committed rebellion.

Although forced by the exigencies of being a feeble and severely limited creature to act in particular ways, they wish it were not so. If God makes them breathe or eat or reproduce or clothe their children they insist that it is not He, but they who are in control. This is the precise point of thermo-nuclear fission in the cosmic culture war. Who is Lord? The Unbeliever insists that Man is the measure of all things, and mastered by none. The Believer insists that the Lord Jesus Christ is the measure of all things and Master of everything.

Because the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of all lords and King of all kings, He has something to say about everything. And what He says is infallibly true and bears totalitarian authority. There can be no neutral ground between the lines. Because literally there is no square inch of creation, no sub-atomic particle of reality, no instant of time, that is not controlled and ordered and commanded by Him there cannot be any “middle ground” between Belief and Unbelief, as if there were some place Christ's realm was not operative. You are either for Me, or against Me, He said.

The real culture war, then, is between Christ and those whom He has redeemed and called as His people, on the one hand, and those who remain fighting a hopeless, desperate rearguard action against Him, on the other. But in this war, no quarter will be given, nothing will be uncontested, nothing will be left to Unbelief. It is this infallible and relentless certainty that lends urgency and passion to the merciful cry to Unbelief and unbelievers: “turn to Me, turn to Me, for why would ye die, O house of Israel.”

In the series of posts to follow we will endeavour to trace, in general outline, how this great culture war has played out in the West over the past one hundred years. We will do this in an attempt to gain some insight into what contribution we need to make in our generation. Like our fathers of Issachar of old, we seek an understanding of the times so that we might understand better what we ought to do.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

There's a Thief in Town

Creditors Learning Harsh Lessons

We all know that socialists do not give a fig for property rights. Those who advocate taxing and extorting property from citizens to pursue their reckless visions of utopia through the oppressive power of government are contemptible. Their prorogation of the commandment, Thou shalt not steal, is comprehensively unjust.

Those who suspend the application of the eighth commandment to governments, restricting its application to "private" ethics, may be legion but they are flat out wrong. If governments can murder they can also steal. Socialists proceed on the assumption and assertion that the State has a prior right to the ownership of all property. But the Law of God gives property ownership rights to those who have worked for it, earned it, produced it, bought it, or traded it via free contract. Those (including the organs of State) who take property by force--whether by fiat, tax, extortion, standover tactics, or debasing the currency are thieves, pure and simple.

In the forced nationalisation of Chrysler, one of the former Big Three US auto companies, President Obama deliberately overrode and ignored property rights. Worse, he used his bully pulpit to hector those bond holders who opposed his will, calling them self-serving, venal speculators.

All he did, however, was steal property from one group to bestow it upon others. In law, the secured creditors were supposed to have first claim upon Chrysler's assets. Obama ignored the law and flicked them off. Instead, he gave the company to the union of autoworkers. When Chrysler emerges from bankruptcy as intended it will be owned by a union healthcare trust, the US government and Italy’s Fiat.

Now some of the bondholders are taking the matter to the courts. Initially browbeaten into submission they have had another think. The Financial Times reports:
Chrysler, with backing from the US Treasury, had offered its secured creditors just under 6.9bn. Four big banks, holding the bulk of the claims, accepted the offer following political pressure from Washington.

However, the Indiana State Teachers’ Retirement Fund said on Wednesday that it had a fiduciary responsibility to its members to continue the fight. The fund stands to lose $4.6m under the current settlement proposal and has teamed up with Richard Mourdock, Indiana state treasurer, to try to recover those losses.
These terrible, venal speculators were actually Indiana teachers (amongst others) who had loaned Chrysler money in good faith. They had secured the lending. Obama rode roughshod over the property rights of teachers in Indiana in favour of the autoworkers union, to whom he has granted stock. He robbed Peter to pay Paul. The President has added a new title to his Office. Not only is he Commander-in-Chief, he has also made it the Office of Larcener-in-Chief.
In a court filing on Wednesday, the Indiana funds accused the government of adopting a strategy of “the ends justify the means”.

They also said the Treasury “has taken constructive possession of Chrysler and is requiring it to adopt a sale plan in bankruptcy that violates the most fundamental principles of creditor rights – that first-tier secured creditors have absolute priority”.

The Indiana funds say the current plan will strip their collateral into the new company, benefiting more junior creditors. The funds also allege that Tarp funds were meant to be funnelled only to financial institutions.
The end justifying the means is a hallmark of all socialist property ethics. Obama is no exception.

Meanwhile the lesson is being learned. Some pension funds and fiduciary financial institutions in the United States have been reported to have taken a decision not to invest any more in US government paper. In the light of the Chrysler scandal, they have decided that the US government is untrustworthy and deceptive: therefore, regardless of what the credit rating agencies say, the risks of lending money to the government are unacceptably high.

How long will it be before foreign governments or their captive sovereign investment funds draw similar conclusions, and stop funding the US deficit? China has already moved away from buying US debt--and for good reason. It has carefully watched Obama casually flick property rights and the rule of law aside and have drawn the obvious conclusions. No doubt lenders will now start demanding much higher interest rates to compensate them for the risk of lending to a government that has shown such scant regard for property rights and the laws of contract.

The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, Richard Fisher said that on a recent trip to China he was asked over and over about the risk of the US Federal Reserve simply printing money to pay for the huge government debt into which the US is sliding. Printing money debases the currency. It is just another form of larceny. The Daily Telegraph reports:
Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, said: "Senior officials of the Chinese government grilled me about whether or not we are going to monetise the actions of our legislature."

"I must have been asked about that a hundred times in China. I was asked at every single meeting about our purchases of Treasuries. That seemed to be the principal preoccupation of those that were invested with their surpluses mostly in the United States," he told the Wall Street Journal

His recent trip to the Far East appears to have been a stark reminder that Asia's "Confucian" culture of right action does not look kindly on the insouciant policy of printing money by Anglo-Saxons.
But, let's get this straight. The reason there is a Larcener-in-Chief in the White House, together with lots of subaltern larceners in the Congress, is because society in general wants the State to steal. To solve its problems the populace authorizes the State to steal from some citizens and dispense to others (particularly to those in its employ.) As Fisher went on to argue, if you think the situation is bad, blame yourself.
"This situation is of your own creation. When you berate your representatives or senators or presidents for the mess we are in, you are really berating yourself. You elect them," he said.
One is reminded of the bumper sticker: "Don't steal! The Government doesn't like competition."

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Fighting Racism

It's Not OK

Discrimination on the basis of race is odious, but sadly instituted and protected by the law. In New Zealand racism is now institutionalised, so interwoven into the legal and government fabrics that virtually everyone just accepts it. We feel good about it though. It is OK--because it is "positive" racism.

We would wager that few have heard of John Roberts. Adam Smith of Inquiring Mind has kindly pointed us to an article in the New Yorker which profiles Mr Roberts. It is an entertaining read. It is an extensive profile of the Chief Justices of the US Supreme Court. Go one, admit it. You had never heard of him.

One reason you have probably never heard of him is alluded to in the sub-heading of the New Yorker article. It refers to Roberts as the stealth hard-liner. One of the things that caught our attention is Roberts's sterling opposition to racial discrimination in the law--which means largely that he is opposed to using the law for positive racial discrimination.

Apparently Roberts has made a name for himself in breaking with Supreme Court tradition and actually engaging in aggressive inquisitions of plaintiffs. The New Yorker describes just such an interchange when the Justice Department was arguing that laws positively discriminating in favour of blacks in Southern States should be extended.
“I disagree with that, Mr. Chief Justice,” Katyal said. “I think what it represents is that Section 5 is actually working very well—that it provides a deterrent.” According to Katyal, the fact that the Justice Department cleared almost all electoral changes proved, in effect, that the South had been trained, if not totally reformed.

Roberts removed his glasses and stared down at Katyal. “That’s like the old elephant whistle,” he said. “You know, ‘I have this whistle to keep away the elephants.’ You know, well, that’s silly. ‘Well, there are no elephants, so it must work.’ ”

Roberts was relentless in challenging Katyal: “So your answer is that Congress can impose this disparate treatment forever because of the history in the South?”

“Absolutely not,” Katyal said.

“When can they—when do they have to stop?”

“Congress here said that twenty-five years was the appropriate reauthorization period.”

“Well, they said five years originally, and then another twenty years,” Roberts said, referring to previous reauthorizations of the act. “I mean, at some point it begins to look like the idea is that this is going to go on forever.”

And this, ultimately, was the source of Roberts’s frustration—and not just in this case. In a series of decisions in the past four years, the Chief Justice has expressed the view that the time has now passed when the Court should allow systemic remedies for racial discrimination. The previous week, the Court heard a challenge by a group of white firefighters in New Haven who were denied promotions even though they had scored better than black applicants on a test.

Roberts was, if anything, even more belligerent in questioning the lawyer defending the city. “Now, why is this not intentional discrimination?” he asked. “You are going to have to explain that to me again, because there are particular individuals here,” he said. “And they say they didn’t get their jobs because of intentional racial action by the city.” He added, “You maybe don’t care whether it’s Jones or Smith who is not getting the promotion,” he said. “All you care about is who is getting the promotion. All you care about is his race.”
In one opinion on the issue, Roberts wrote (unusually directly for a Supreme Court justice) “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.” In another case, he delivered what is his most famous expression thus far in his tenure as Chief Justice: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

In New Zealand we have racial discrimination everywhere. A recent manifestation has been the call for separate Maori seats on the new Auckland Super City council. It is racial discrimination pure and simple. It would place Maori in a privileged position not open to any other race, ethnic group, or people. In Roberts's words, it is a sordid business.

We listened to Maori Party leader, Pita Sharples rationale for separate Maori seats. He observed that Maori were not well represented in local body councils. This justified separate Maori seats, apparently. "We are not getting our fair share," was the implication. Well, work harder like everybody else has to. Stop rent seeking. Don't seek special privilege through the law and through government structures to promote yourselves. Surely you are better than that?

Racial discrimination is now pervasive throughout New Zealand. It is legal. But that does not make it any less sordid, any less degrading, any less divisive, any less destructive, or any less lawful.

Maori talk a lot about mana. They say that it is important to them, and they cannot function well without it. The irony is that the more they agitate and argue for racial discrimination in their favour in pursuit of mana, the more it diminishes. The more they grasp at it by deploying racist arguments and schemes, the more it eludes them. They evidence by these very acts that they actually are inferior, and they themselves believe it. In a perverse way their actions justify racism and racial discrimination. It is an odious business.

Moreover, the wider community is complicit in the promulgation of laws discriminating in favour of Maori. The rest of the community tolerates the racial discrimination and "feels" good about it only because of a deeply prevailing cultural paternalism and racist condescension on its part. Maori has not worked that out yet. It has not worked out how degrading to them such "positive" discrimination actually is.

So, the bottom line is that Maori show they believe in their own inferiority. The rest of the community agrees and condescends to positive discrimination as a superior toward an inferior. The whole sordid edifice is built upon implicit racial denigration, specious appeals to the Treaty of Waitangi notwithstanding.

The wisdom and rectitude of the words of John Roberts, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court ring out: the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Eschewing the Cowards' Option

True Courage

The pagan non-Christian culture celebrates courage in the face of adversity and suffering. It lionises self-sacrifice. It uses memorials like Anzac Day to remember the heroic sacrifice of fallen soldiers who have died in the line of duty.

Yet, when it comes to the most defenceless and vulnerable amongst us, it not only approves, but actually insists on appalling cowardice. For the issue of the about-to-be-born abortion is always the easy way out.

The Washington Times recently ran a piece celebrating those who have decided to act with quiet courage. They are those who have chosen not to abort their babies diagnosed with disabilities. These are the true heroes of our cowardly age. We salute them.
Nancy Mayer-Whittington remembers it as though it were yesterday; the joy of learning she was pregnant followed by the news that her daughter's first day of life would be her last. Nearly 15 years later, she still weeps at the memory of how on the afternoon of Nov. 17, 1994, her gray-eyed daughter Angela lived barely 10 minutes, the victim of Trisomy 18, a fatal genetic defect. Pictures of the dark-haired little girl, robed in a white christening gown, are still scattered about her suburban Maryland home.

She was the first woman her doctor knew who had decided to keep her pregnancy. All his other patients in similar situations had aborted. "I was so happy I did what I did," she says of her decision to bring Angela to term. "You get to see your child's birth and death all collapsed in one time frame. What most people want for their kids is for them to go to heaven. You get to complete that journey with them. As a parent, that is unbelievable. Life is about relationship to God. You know that when you literally pass them from your hands to His."

Mrs. Mayer-Whittington is part of a growing network of mothers and medical professionals who are providing support groups, medical advice and Web sites for pregnant mothers of children with disabilities. She has written a book, "For the Love of Angela," about her experiences and co-founded a support group, Isaiah's Promise (www.isaiahs promise.net).

Trish Stone, a mother who lives in Kensington, was given a copy of that book after she was told in her 20th week that one of her twin boys had hydrocephaly. She was encouraged to undergo a "selective reduction," a procedure causing the child to die in the womb.

"If you continue this pregnancy, you may compromise your healthy son," doctors told her. Desperate for support, she sought out Isaiah's Promise. Twins Mark and Patrick were born a year ago. As for Mark, "We were told he may not see nor hear, but he sees and hears and claps and makes sounds," Mrs. Stone says. "He plays with toys. We feel he is doing very well with his cognitive and language skills."

These parents' moral dilemmas were rarely publicized until last fall, when then-Republican vice-presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin talked of refusing to abort Trig, her son with Down syndrome.

Congress had just passed the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act, which provides pregnant women with accurate information about their child's condition and support services. Signed by President George W. Bush on Oct.8, it also provided for a national registry of families willing to adopt such children.

It is unclear whether this legislation has had much effect in the typical hospital.
The article goes on to discuss the complicit cowardice of the medical community.

"The medical community has not been aware of alternatives," says Dr. Byron Calhoun, vice president of the obstetrics and gynecology department at West Virginia University in Charleston. "The only alternative parents are given is termination of pregnancy or they're told they are on their own."

He is involved with the perinatal hospice movement, which supports parents of stillborn babies or children expected to die soon after birth. It offers nurses, chaplains, neonatologists, social workers, bereavement counselors and even a photographer to capture brief moments. All the typical hospital needs, he explains, is a few extra rooms for these families.

"Time with the baby is extremely important to these moms," he says. "Families want a live birth, a baptism, a chance to hold the baby; to give as much love a child can have in their brief life."

There are 74 such hospices across the country (plus two in Canada and four in Europe) listed on www.perinatalhospice.org. But there are only three in Virginia, one in Maryland — Howard County General Hospital — and none in the District.

And these are a drop in the bucket when measured against the 3.3 million babies who are stillborn each year worldwide or the nearly 4 million others who die within a month.

Filling in the gap is a corps of women trying to whittle down the current high rates — estimated at 80 percent — of women who abort at-risk children.

They range from Monica Rafie, a Chicago-area mom of five who in 2001 was told her second child, Celine, would likely die of an underdeveloped right heart ventricle, to Anna Lise "Cubby" LaHood, a Silver Spring woman who learned in the spring of 1988 that her unborn son, Francis, would only live briefly outside the womb.

Both women were encouraged to terminate their pregnancies but refused.

Cubby and husband Dan LaHood decided that while their son may die, it would not be at their hands. Reaction was swift; her family disinherited Mrs. LaHood and refused to see the child. The couple transferred their care to Georgetown University Hospital, a Catholic institution that encouraged her to continue her pregnancy.

"The pressure from the medical community to abort was severe," she said.

On Oct. 6, 1988, Francis was born with polycystic kidney disease. He was held by his parents, quickly photographed and baptized before he died a few minutes later.

Today, the LaHoods are lay Missionaries of Charity, the group founded by Mother Teresa, whose photos decorate the walls of their Silver Spring home. On a small $100,000 annual budget, they operate St. Joseph's House, which provides respite and day care for children with severe disabilities.

"People think your life is over when you have a handicapped child," Mr. LaHood says. "It's a cultural view to eliminate them as undesirable. They don't know what the demands are and what the rewards are."

Elsewhere in the world, "they're doing abortions over sex choice and eye color, and it's coming here," he adds. "If you don't defend the most vulnerable life, it's inevitable people will have abortions over preferences."

And then there is the problem of misdiagnoses.

Celine, now 7, survived a condition known as Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, which means only half of her heart is functioning. She is a lively brunette who enjoys Irish dancing.

Her mother is a Catholic who oversees www.benotafraid.net, a Web site that encourages mothers with dire in-utero diagnoses to keep their children. It gets about 3,500 visitors a month.

When pregnant with Celine, "I started going on pregnancy message boards and noticed women talking about terminating once they got a bad amnio report," she says, referring to amniocentesis, the surgical withdrawal of amniotic fluid that reveals genetic disorders.

However, "there is a possibility you can make a wrong diagnosis," Dr. Calhoun says, adding the 5 percent of maternal blood tests for Down syndrome can be "false positives," meaning the child may be at risk but not have the defect.

"If the chromosomal analysis is done badly, people who get the blood work for the risk of Down's may get a positive screening, have an abortion but the baby was normal," he adds.

Now the mother of five, Mrs. Rafie lists common birth defects on her site — ranging from anencephaly, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, Down syndrome, spina bifida, skeletal dysplasia to Trisomy 13 and Trisomy 18 — and stories of families who allowed these handicapped children to be born. She also has four stories under a "misdiagnosed" category of women who resisted the advice of their doctors to abort, only to deliver a healthy child.

She says most women with problem pregnancies quickly become discouraged and overwhelmed. "People hear these callous, insensitive remarks, things like 'Why do you want to carry a baby like this?' or 'Are you religious or something?'" she says. "The genetics counselors uniformly will hand out support information that assumes you'll terminate."

And then there is the hate mail.

Some women are fighting back, she says. "They're moms with a holy fire … We feel this is part of our mission. We've been through this and have the credibility." Among them is Myah Walker, a 23-year-old Canadian from Moncton, New Brunswick, whose daughter, Faith, was born Feb. 19 with anencephaly, or no brain. Her story, posted at http://babyfaithhope.blogspot.com, is replete with Scripture quotes and photos of a tiny girl with a woollen cap on her head.

Because the child coos, cries, sucks milk, can lift her head and reacts to the presence of people, amazed doctors ordered a CT scan to insure that indeed, she is missing much of her brain.

"They have no explanation as to how Faith is even alive and breathing, let alone functioning on a conscious level," Miss Walker wrote. "It may seem like all doom and gloom if you get this diagnosis, but trust me," she added, "there is more hope and joy in store than you could ever imagine."

However on April 21, she removed her e-mail from the blog.

"I have been getting a slew of hate mail recently," she wrote. "I don't understand why these people are attacking me. I don't know how people can be so full of hatred for a mother and her baby."

The popular culture favors abortion, says Madeline Nugent, a Rhode Island Catholic who came across a popular book distributed by many obstetricians to women with dire prenatal diagnoses.

"Except for a couple of pages, the book was all about terminating your pregnancy," she says. Most hospitals encourage the mother to induce the pregnancy at about 20 weeks, causing the pre-viable child to die.

In response, last year she published "My Child, My Gift," a book she is trying to get into the hands of hospitals and geneticists.

"We can deceive ourselves that early induction is the loving thing whereas it's really making things easier for ourselves," she said. "There is an awful lot of pressure and manipulation and withholding of information. Doctors will tell you babies with anencephaly cannot hear, that when they kick in the womb, it's simply reflex movements."

One couple she met were told they had to abort one anencephalic twin to save the life of the other.

"They didn't know they could simply go through the pregnancy and deliver both," she said. "Women in many cases have to fight to continue their pregnancy. If there a severe disability, the medical protocol is to terminate. They think it's better for that child to be dead."

She also operates a Web site, www.mychildmy gift.com. Others, such as www.livingwithtrisomy13.org and www.prenatalpartnersforlife.org, come with photos, music and testimonies from parents who either regret their choice to abort or who brought their pregnancies to term. There is also www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org, a Web site of photographers nationwide willing to show up at all hours to photograph stillborn or soon-to-die babies.

For parents who did abort, Theresa Bonapartis, a Bronx resident, operates www.postabortion help.org under the aegis of Lumina, an organization that helps crisis pregnancies.

"A lot of couples feel such anger and grief because of the pressure put on them," she says. "One woman was told their child would be put in a home and sexually abused if anything happens to them.

"Then there is the clergy who tell them it's OK to have these abortions. It's like a false compassion. Sometimes it's a priest, other times it's a rabbi, but they are not doing people any favors.

"They are told their baby is going to be deformed but when they see the baby, there's been a mistake and the deformity is not bad. One woman told me, 'Everyone told me it was going to be a monster, but it was just a baby girl.'"

The medical community unnecessarily puts pressure on parents to terminate quickly, says Dr. Calhoun, who is also a board member with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

"The mom is not going to die. The baby already has a lethal anomaly, so waiting a few days is fine," he said. "You need to allow the family to process this. The only time it's an issue is if you are approaching 24 weeks, after which a lot of states do not allow terminations. Most of these diagnoses are between 16 to 20 weeks, so you've got plenty of time."

Tracy Winsor, a volunteer in a perinatal support "Elizabeth Ministry" at St. Mark Catholic Church in Huntersville, N.C., is working to form "Serving Our Sisters," a "shotgun blast" of Catholic women nationwide to whom mothers with problem pregnancies can turn.

"Even the pro-life community is unaware of how many people are terminating because of fetal defects," she says. "But there is no research that suggests that terminating a baby saves you any grief. The parents think it will be better if it's over sooner; in fact, they are more likely to have maternal depression and depression issues."

Which is why women like Mrs. Mayer-Whittington encourages women to persevere until the natural birth.

"You recognize everyone has a right to life," she says. "They are entitled to have that life. It's not your choice to end it, it's God's choice."

Isaiah's Promise, which she and Cubby LaHood co-founded 12 years ago, still bring them into contact with couples who agonize over poor prenatal diagnoses.

"We tell them our stories; that this was one of the best experiences of our lives," Mrs. Mayer-Whittington says. "I am happy to walk that path with them. We also say this is the toughest thing you'll do and we do not sugarcoat this."
These people are true heroes. But no doubt, like all genuine heroes, they would resile from the term. They would doubtless say they were merely doing what was right, what was their duty. True. But we honour them greatly, nonetheless.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Understanding the Times

Comfort, O comfort My people, says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her that her warfare has ended, that she has received for the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
Isaiah 40: 1,2
God's covenant faithfulness never ceases. It never dies or passes away. No matter how faithless or treacherous God's people have been, He never forgets His covenant bonds and His oaths. He turns to His people again and restores them. This wonderful reality is revealed repeatedly in the Scriptures, not more forcefully so than in Psalm 103: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His anger forever.”

The day of His anger and wrath most certainly will come to an end.

Now it is important to remember that God's wrath toward His people comes only and always because of their persistent and prolonged disobedience and rebellion. Moreover, His anger is both particular and general—it can be directed both to individuals or to the Church or His covenant people corporately. (The variation of messages, commendations, and warnings respectively to the seven churches in Revelation 1--3 shows both how how precise and detailed, yet how comprehensive the Lord's focus is.) It follows that a vitally important issue for the covenant people in any generation is to discern whether God's people as a whole are living in a time of His wrath towards them, or in a time of His good pleasure.

It is clearly the case that in times of anger towards His people as a whole, individual believers and families can yet know and experience the blessings of God, His mercy, His closeness, and His abiding lovingkindness. They can know the blessings of being in Christ. So Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel walked closely with the Lord and knew His blessings towards them—even as they experienced the consequences of His wrath towards the covenant people as a whole during the terrible days of Babylon's enmity.

So the question remains for every age: are we living amidst an age or generation where God's anger is upon His people as a whole? It is one of the most important questions to ask, for it affects greatly how we are to live and serve.

At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther proclaimed that the Church in the West as a whole had been living under a Babylonian captivity. God had turned His back on an unfaithful people. It is our view that we, in the West, are likewise living in a time of the Lord's wrath towards His people, and that it has continued for over a hundred years. Collectively and corporately, the Church in the West turned its back upon God and His holy Word, and preferred the approbation of Unbelief to the blessing of God. We, like Luther, are living in a Babylonian captivity. (We will be blogging more on how this came about in coming days.)

Such periods can last several hundred years, as the time of the Judges attests. But the point is that such times always come to an end. The Lord does not hold His anger forever. He turns again to His people and restores them. Our text is one of the great affirmations of this most gracious and encouraging truth. The first half of Isaiah's prophecy is an account of the last days of the Kingdom of Judah before the captivity in Babylon. The second half opens with these glorious words, which announce that the time of the Lord's wrath had passed; Israel's warfare had ended.

The day will come that the Lord will apply the truth of this text to Jerusalem in the West. He will turn to us once again. It may not be in our lifetimes. It may be in the times of our children's children. But it will most certainly come, for “He will not keep His anger forever.”

It was during the time of the Babylonian captivity that one of the greatest revivals in the history of the Church occurred. Four things are critical to know of this period. Firstly, as a group, the hearts of the exiles in Babylon were initially as adamant stone against God and His holy Covenant. (You can read the account in Ezekiel 2.) Secondly, some time while in captivity, during the ministry of Ezekiel to them, the hearts of the exiles broke and they were repentant before the Lord. The dry bones began to live again. The Spirit of God came to them as Ezekiel prophesied over them. We are not told precisely when, where, or how. But we are told of its fruit. The famous lament, for example, of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion,” is one of the fruits of this revival of true faith amongst the exiles.

Thirdly, the depth and extent of the reformation was breathtaking. It provided the impetus for a remnant to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. It established such a faithful covenant community in Babylon to where it became one of the greatest halls and seats of service and learning for centuries. Most of the greatest and most famous rabbis came from Babylon, sent as a stream to Israel to keep them more faithful to the Word in the post-exilic period, right down through the period of the Maccabees, even to the days of our Lord. Moreover, from this time onwards, Israel was never again troubled with idolatry as it had been prior to the judgments of Assyria and Babylon. It seems that the punishment of the exile, and the subsequent revival had broken the hold of this sin in the heart of corporate Israel forever.

Finally, the restoration of the covenant community in exile was a significant step forward in redemptive history, for it established the pattern of living successfully and faithfully amongst the Gentiles, as a minority in Gentile lands which became the norm after the Day of the Lord at Pentecost.

The warfare was over. The Lord remembered again His covenant oaths and His people. Once again He lifted up the light of His countenance upon them, and blessed them. And so it will come to pass for us in the post-Christian West. Let us do all we can to prepare ourselves and our children and their children for the day when the Lord says once again, “Comfort, comfort ye my people; your warfare is over.”

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Bowing to the Idol

Ali-G Has Become A Patron Saint

Carl Trueman Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. has recently published on the pernicious tendency of some in Jerusalem who want to curry favour with Athens in an attempt to get respect.

Firstly, there is the case of those in academia, who are reluctant to face down the liberal-academic-media complex. He writes:
I have always been amazed at the infatuation of so many orthodox academics with their reputation in the secular universities and liberal departments. A few years back, I edited a book with Paul Helm on the doctrine of scripture. At the time I was on faculty at the University of Aberdeen. One colleague - a friend but one of distinctly liberal leanings -referred matter-of-factly in a public lecture to the upcoming book as representing the tradition of Warfield, of which he himself did not approve; but the comment was not a sneer; rather it was a simple statement of his impression of the book.

Within a couple of days I received an email from one of the contributors, asking if this was the case and saying that, if so, he wanted to withdraw from participation. Now, it was not actually the case: the book addressed the issue of scripture from a different direction to the concerns of Warfield; but what puzzled me - no, what disappointed me, for I understood exactly what was going on - was that this person was so terrified of being associated with Warfield.

I wonder to this day if he would have been so concerned if he had been invited to contribute to a collection of essays that someone said pointed in a Barthian or Bultmannian direction. Probably not - because those options would not be so embarrassing to mention to friends at cocktail parties in the Senior Common Room or at the next meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature.

Now I worked in secular universities long enough to know that liberal colleagues are bright enough to spot a conservative at five hundred feet. Just because you avoid contributing to certain volumes or using certain words, or because you choose to laugh when certain people to the right of you are mocked, does not win you respect from the secular academy. It is a sad fact but, as far as biblical studies and theology go, only giving up all that is distinctive about the Christian faith will ultimately do that for you.

The individual to whom I referred above no doubt liked to think he was taken seriously by mainstream colleagues, but I sat as a junior faculty in enough coffee room discussions to know the real thoughts of liberal colleagues about conservatives who try to fly under the radar. They despise them for their theology; and they despise them for the fact they try to hide or minimize it. A double whammy. Given the choice - and there is always a choice -- I'd rather just be despised for being a brazen conservative with looney theology, than a duplicitous conservative with looney theology. That way one can still be of use to the church and still look in the mirror with some degree of self-respect.
Another manifestation of the psychosis of genuflecting to Unbelief is much of what passes for public worship
in our day. Trueman describes having to endure a politically correct worship service.
. . . . Next, instead of a pulpit prayer, we all had to sit and listen to a tape recording of waves crashing on a beach. This was followed by the second scripture reading. Thankfully, this one was not from the oppressive Bible translation used by the previous reader. In fact, it was not from the Bible at all but taken from a collection of poems written by African American slaves. Now, the poem was moving and thoughtfully constructed, a piece of literature; and knowing its original context gave it a certain emotional power; but it was not scripture in any shape or form and had no obvious place within a church service.

Onward we went, and ever downward. Now came the sermon, which was a five minute homily on the end of slavery, full of platitudes about imperialism and oppression, all of which may have been true, and to much of which I was not actually unsympathetic, but God was conspicuous only by his absence, presumably having nothing to say about the subject in hand. And then finally, the pi├Ęce de resistance, the moment to which the whole service had been leading, the climactic moment when the congregation was taken to the very gates of heaven: the service ended, not with a benediction or even a prayer, but with another chance to meditate, this time not to waves crashing on a beach but to a recording of Kenny G playing `Amazing Grace.'

Words almost fail me in the narrative at this point. After all, not being a Kenny G fan, I found myself oppressed, marginalized, and excluded all at once. The best I can say is that it was probably a better option than Barry Manilow singing `Copa Cabana.'
And again:
When you attend the churches of liberal colleagues, you will soon realize you have no reason to be ashamed. The embarrassment that is a liberal theological service has to be experienced to be truly believed; and almost any orthodox alternative is a better bet. After all, while I am no Eastern Orthodox, there is no comparison between a service conducted according to the hidebound, unchanged, reactionary, outdated, orthodox, creedal liturgy of St John Chrysostom and a service involving Kenny G, a tape recording of waves, some person stating the obvious about slavery, and a befuddled chap trying to avoid oppressing women by improvising a politically correct paraphrase of the Living Bible.

Even so-called conservative and orthodox churches have been suborned by this idolatry of wanting to please Athens.
What are surprising, therefore, are accounts of services where the theology is supposedly orthodox but the content is sheer trivia. If God is awesome, sovereign and holy; if human beings are small, sinful, and lost; if Christ died and rose again by a most miraculous and costly act of grace, then this should impact the way things happen in church. This is not to argue for a one-size-fits-all-my-way-or-the-highway approach to church. Context and culture are important; but what is expressed through the idioms of particular cultural manifestations of the church should be awe, reverence, and, above all seriousness - not a colourless and cold miserable seriousness but a fitting amazement at the greatness of God and his grace.

A church service involving clowns or fancy dress or skits or stand-up comedy does not reflect the seriousness of the gospel; and those who take the gospel seriously should know better. Frankly, it is more appropriate to liberal theology which does not take the gospel, or the God of the gospel, seriously. Serious things demand serious idioms. I heard recently of a church service involving dressing up in costume and music taken from a Tom Cruise movie. Now, if I go for my annual prostate examination, and the doctor comes into the consulting room dressed as Coco the Clown, with `Take my breath away' from Top Gun playing in the background, guess what? I'm going to take the doctor out with a left hook, flee the surgery, and probably file a complaint with the appropriate professional body. This is serious business; and if he looks like a twit and acts like a twit, then I can only conclude that he is a twit.
Shakespeare taught us that a rose by any other name is still a rose. Equally, a twit is a twit is a twit. Trueman concludes by applying the lesson to the fawning, lust for respect, so powerfully mocked by Ali-G.
You can tell a lot about someone's theology from what they do in church. Involve Kenny G's music in your worship service, and I can tell not only that you have no taste in music but also that you have nothing to offer theologically to those who come through the church doors; indeed, what you do have can probably be found better elsewhere.

Why certain academics hanker for the approval of the people who, when they leave the lecture theatre also abandon any semblance of adulthood or intelligence, beats me. More seriously, however, why certain orthodox churches strive to look like them, worries me intensely. Look, it's rubbish. So let's just call it rubbish, shall we?
Yes. Let's indeed.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Ouch

Jeremy Clarkson Reviews the New Honda Insight

Spare a thought for Honda which must be writing off some investment after the Clarkson kiss of death. The full review was published in The Times.
Much has been written about the Insight, Honda’s new low-priced hybrid. We’ve been told how much carbon dioxide it produces, how its dashboard encourages frugal driving by glowing green when you’re easy on the throttle and how it is the dawn of all things. The beginning of days.

So far, though, you have not been told what it’s like as a car; as a tool for moving you, your friends and your things from place to place.

So here goes. It’s terrible. Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It’s the first car I’ve ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive it any more.

The biggest problem, and it’s taken me a while to work this out, because all the other problems are so vast and so cancerous, is the gearbox. For reasons known only to itself, Honda has fitted the Insight with something called constantly variable transmission (CVT).

It doesn’t work. Put your foot down in a normal car and the revs climb in tandem with the speed. In a CVT car, the revs spool up quickly and then the speed rises to match them. It feels like the clutch is slipping. It feels horrid.

And the sound is worse. The Honda’s petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else’s crying baby on an airliner. It’s worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you’d have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.

So you’re sitting there with the engine screaming its head off, and your ears bleeding, and you’re doing only 23mph because that’s about the top speed, and you’re thinking things can’t get any worse, and then they do because you run over a small piece of grit. . . .

There’s more. Normally, Hondas feel as though they have been screwed together by eye surgeons. This one, however, feels as if it’s been made from steel so thin, you could read through it. And the seats, finished in pleblon, are designed specifically, it seems, to ruin your skeleton. This is hairy-shirted eco-ism at its very worst. . . .

In a Prius the electric motor can, though almost never does, power the car on its own. In the Honda the electric motor is designed to “assist” the petrol engine, providing more get-up-and-go when the need arises. The net result is this: in a Prius the transformation from electricity to petrol is subtle. In the Honda there are all sorts of jerks and clunks.

And for what? For sure, you could get 60 or more mpg if you were careful. And that’s not bad for a spacious five-door hatchback. But for the same money you could have a Golf diesel, which will be even more economical. And hasn’t been built out of rice paper to keep costs down.

Of course, I am well aware that there are a great many people in the world who believe that the burning of fossil fuels will one day kill all the Dutch and that something must be done.

They will see the poor ride, the woeful performance, the awful noise and the spine-bending seats as a price worth paying. But what about the eco-cost of building the car in the first place? . . . .

The nickel for the battery has to come from somewhere. Canada, usually. It has to be shipped to Japan, not on a sailing boat, I presume. And then it must be converted, not in a tree house, into a battery, and then that battery must be transported, not on an ox cart, to the Insight production plant in Suzuka. And then the finished car has to be shipped, not by Thor Heyerdahl, to Britain, where it can be transported, not by wind, to the home of a man with a beard who thinks he’s doing the world a favour.

Why doesn’t he just buy a Range Rover, which is made from local components, just down the road? No, really — weird-beards buy locally produced meat and vegetables for eco-reasons. So why not apply the same logic to cars?

At this point you will probably dismiss what I’m saying as the rantings of a petrolhead, and think that I have my head in the sand.

That’s not true. While I have yet to be convinced that man’s 3% contribution to the planet’s greenhouse gases affects the climate, I do recognise that oil is a finite resource and that as it becomes more scarce, the political ramifications could well be dire. I therefore absolutely accept the urgent need for alternative fuels.

But let me be clear that hybrid cars are designed solely to milk the guilt genes of the smug and the foolish. And that pure electric cars, such as the G-Wiz and the Tesla, don’t work at all because they are just too inconvenient.

Since about 1917 the car industry has not had a technological revolution — unlike, say, the world of communications or film. There has never been a 3G moment at Peugeot nor a need to embrace DVD at Nissan. There has been no VHS/Betamax battle between Fiat and Renault.

Car makers, then, have had nearly a century to develop and hone the principles of suck, squeeze, bang, blow. And they have become very good at it.

But now comes the need to throw away the heart of the beast, the internal combustion engine, and start again. And, critically, the first of the new cars with their new power systems must be better than the last of the old ones. Or no one will buy them. That’s a tall order.

And here’s the kicker. That’s exactly what Honda has done with its other eco-car, the Clarity. Instead of using a petrol engine to charge up the electric motor’s batteries, as happens on the Insight, the Clarity uses hydrogen: the most abundant gas in the universe.

The only waste product is water. The car feels like a car. And, best of all, the power it produces is so enormous, it can be used by day to get you to 120mph and by night to run all the electrical appliances in your house. This is not science fiction. There is a fleet of Claritys running around California right now.

There are problems to be overcome. Making hydrogen is a fuel-hungry process, and there is no infrastructure. But Alexander Fleming didn’t look at his mould and think, “Oh dear, no one will put that in their mouth”, and give up.

I would have hoped, therefore, that Honda had diverted every penny it had into making hydrogen work rather than stopping off on the way to make a half-arsed halfway house for fools and madmen.


We wish that Clarkson would be a little more clear and definitive on his likes and dislikes! The metaphor of sitting a dog on a ham slicer invoked an involuntary belly laugh.

As always, underneath the dripping sarcasm and the ability to skewer idiocy at a hundred paces with unerring accuracy, he makes some very serious points. Clarkson understands the reality of market forces. He also understands that behind every free market lies the countless and incalculable preferences of millions of individual people. That is why the market is so powerful. Commerce, if it is to prosper, can only do so in the long run by serving the market--which is to say, it must put its customers first.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

"Little By Little I will Drive them Out"

Understanding The Needs of the Hour

[Cross-posted at MandM]

The Kingdom of God is gradualist in nature. By this we mean that it comes bit by bit. Whilst in principle and in essence it is utterly revolutionary, in practice and human service it is not. The completely revolutionary nature of the Kingdom is of course alluded to in expressions such as, “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17). However, the gradual nature of the Kingdom is illustrated in God's appointment of a lifetime process of incremental growth for Christian believers.

This “radical, yet gradual” nature of the Kingdom needs to be understood in two ways. Firstly, when a person is converted out of darkness into the light of Christ, profound and totally radical change occurs, both in heaven and upon earth. His name is indelibly written in the Book of Life. He is born again by the Spirit of God. He is united into Christ. These realities mean that in time he will be transformed totally and made perfectly conformed to the Son of Man. He will end up being like Jesus (I John 3:2).


Yet, existential reality is somewhat different. The believer continues to sin; he lives in weakness; he is subject to many temptations; his life is full of ups and downs. He is afflicted with sicknesses. Eventually he dies. Through this process of weakness, struggle and suffering he becomes sanctified. He grows in grace. He is changed from one degree of glory to another until he becomes like Christ. In other words the actualisation of Christlikeness is gradual. This is what theologians call the grace of sanctification. It is a gradual, slow, bit-by-bit transforming into greater holiness.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sanctification as follows:
Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
Shorter Catechism, Question 35
A good analogy is that of a child growing to maturity. Upon birth, all the potential of the adult is present, nascent within the child. As the grows and matures, more and more of the potential is realised. But the process is gradual.

The Kingdom of God, similarly, comes upon the earth gradually. It has to be this way, because the Kingdom is not divorced from the elect—their number, degree of understanding and obedience to the Word of God, levels of sanctification and obedience, and influence throughout the culture. Even as the Kingdom comes within and upon them gradually, so the Kingdom comes in nations and cultures slowly and gradually, even as the Church and as the elect come to greater and greater maturity.

This also implies that sanctification should be to an extent intergenerational. A person brought up in a godly Christian home, instructed and trained by sanctified parents, ordinarily starts off on the process of sanctification well ahead of someone who has just been converted out of the extremes of a dissolute, violent, and drug-enslaved family. (This, of course, does not imply that the one is less intrinsically sinful than the other, for the Scriptures declare that whoever observes the whole Law but slips in one point, is guilty in every respect. However, it does mean that to whom much has been given, much is expected.)

As we seek to extend the Kingdom of God in this life, we are concerned to apply God's Word not only to our own individual lives and responsibilities, but also to corporate and institutional life. We wish to develop sound, biblical Christian schools. We want to see hospitals, voluntary institutions, and businesses acting consistently with biblical precepts and directions. We want to see the rules and constitutions of these structures conformed to Christ's law and commands. Part of service in His Kingdom is working to bring these things about in an appropriate fashion. It will only occur as those ruling and working in each respective institution covenant together to serve the Lord in holiness.

We also want to see the government conformed to Christ, limited to His mandate, and acting appropriately as His minister. This means that we work to see that progressively the law of the land conforms to the commands and directions of the risen Lord.

It is at this point that many Christians become confused. Imbued with a deep conviction of the absolute nature of God's commands, they find themselves unable to accept anything less than complete conformity to God's commands in the public sphere. They think that to accept anything less than the absolute would be to compromise the faith and disobey the Lord.

Take abortion for example. So convicted are many Christians that any and all positive efforts to kill an unborn child is murder, they cannot bring themselves to support measures which would only make abortion more difficult or more restricted. A mere step forward is not just insufficient, it is seen as permissively supporting something that is wicked. The only thing they would support is a total proscription of all abortion, at all times, in all conditions and places. Anything less they would regard as an ungodly compromise.

But this denies the gradualist nature of the Kingdom. It also denies how God deals with them in their own process of sanctification.

John Quincy Adams, a staunch Christian, was for many seventeen years a US Congressman, after having served as President. For all that time he, year after year, sought leave to introduce a Bill into the House to restrict slavery. He was refused year after year. But he kept at it. His Bill was a gradualist measure. It called firstly for the outlawing of all slavery in Washington DC. Secondly, it called for all the children of slaves born in the United States to be freemen. Adams argued that in time (since slave ships were already illegal) these measures would mean that slavery would die out in all the States of the Union.

His biggest opponents were the Abolitionists who were so committed to opposing slavery as an absolute evil that they could not support any measure that did not immediately and totally end the practice. Adams was a gradualist. The Abolitionists were radicals and revolutionaries. Adams understood the gradualist nature of the Kingdom of God; the Abolitionists did not. Their intransigence indirectly led to the death of 620,000 soldiers, and untold civilians a few years later as a result of the Civil War.

Amongst the strongest opponents to gradualist measures introducing partial restrictions upon abortion in our day are Christians. They have not understood the gradualist nature of the Kingdom. They have not understood that supporting of gradual measures is not ungodly compromise. It is rather a programme that is not only entirely consistent with the gradualist nature of the Kingdom of God, but in fact a service demanded by the King Himself.

When Israel went into the land of Palestine, the destruction of the pagan tribes in the land was to be complete. There was to be no compromise. There was to be no mingling of paganism and idolatry with the true and pure worship of God. But, at the same time, the process was to be gradual.

I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.
Exodus 24:29,30


This meant that Israel was to put up with a lot of rubbish in the “hood” until the pagan cultures were finally overcome. “Little by little” is the rubric. Christians are to be radicals in principle, but gradualists in practice. That is the way God deals with every one of His children. It is the way, we, as God's called servants, are to deal with the culture and community around us.

(Cross-posted at MandM

More on the Families Commission

Marital Careers and the Rankin Rule

The genie if out of the bottle. Several days ago, we blogged on the atrocious coverage in the NZ Herald and the Dominion Post attacking Christine Rankin. We suggested, in an open letter to the respective editors, that if the exposure of these matters was in the public interest, then surely the marital careers of the current and existing Commissioners should likewise be publicly exposed, debated, and discussed. Presumably those Commissioners with marital form should be pilloried in similar fashion in the Press as being unsuitable to serve on the Families Commission.

We note that the Dominion Post has taken the point--which no doubt was made by fair minded folk far more eloquent and persuasive than we at Contra Celsum. (The Herald, however, must have decided that the whole thing was beneath its dignity, and has ignored the call. This justifies a fair presumption that The Herald has not been acting in the public interest all along in this matter, but was primarily interested in the gossip and titillation.)

Returning to the Dominion Post, they have run a piece on how Families Commissioners are refusing to comment on the marital career of Mz Rankin.

The piece opens with this gem:
Members of the Families Commission are supporting or refusing to give their personal views on the Government's appointment of four-times married former welfare chief Christine Rankin.

The twice-married chief commissioner, Jan Pryor, was not available for comment.

Alright. Good start. What we need now is a breathless, panting follow-up piece on whether Jan Pryor is fit to be the Chairman of the Families Commission. What do you think? Has Jan led an impeccable life which shows her commitment to families? How about comments from Peter Dunne, Phil Goff, and Mz Sue Bradford on whether they, in the light of the marital career of Jan Pryor, think she is fit to be a member of the Commission in the light of the Rankin Rule. Oh, and while we are at it, can we have comments from Pryor's former husband, her former husband's friends, and from any children from the first relationship, plus insight from the family cat, on whether they think her appropriate for the role. We can hardly wait.

But there are other questionable appointments as well.
Auckland lawyer Sandra Alofiae, who is married and a mother of three - including one informally adopted son - and justice reformer Kim Workman, who described himself as a divorcee with four children from his first marriage and two adopted children by his second marriage, did not want to comment.

Former race relations conciliator Gregory Fortuin said: "There is no way I can make judgment about rumours." He separated three years ago after being married for 32 years and has three daughters and one son.

Lyn Campbell would not comment or provide information on her marital status.

Commissioner David Smyth could not be contacted.

Tons of "public interest" questions are begging away here. For example, what on earth is an "informal adoption". Surely that undermines the integrity of family law? Has the Family Court been consulted and ruled on that arrangement? Has this "informal adoptee" been denied rights? Has CYFS been consulted. What does WINZ think? Engaging in "informal adoption" clearly suggests that Sandra Alofiae may not have due regard for the law, despite the fact she is a lawyer. There has to be a story in there somewhere for a good investigative reporter. After all, it's public interest, guys.

Now, Lyn Campbell is clearly a suspect. Don't the antennae go up over her. Murky. Very murky. In refusing to provide information on her marital status, she evinces the tendency of the guilty to cover up. She must be hiding something. Maybe she has had five husbands, tipping Mz Rankin's marital career. And as for David Smyth, who could not be contacted--he must have the most to hide. Plenty of work here for intrepid, febrile reporters.

With respect to Commissioners Fortuin and Workman, obviously their commitment to marriage and families must be equally suspect, if the Rankin Rule is applied. Let's hear what Mz Bradford thinks about those guys. And while we are at it, let's hear about Mz Bradford's marital career; and Phil Goff's; and Peter Dunne's. Let's see if they are competent to comment on who should be a Families Commissioner, using the Rankin Rule.

The Dominion Post has taken the first step in proving to us all that it is a paper of professional integrity. It has broached the subject of the marital careers of the current Families Commission. But in order to give the full and equal Rankin Rule treatment, much more remains to be done. So many public issues raised. So many questions begged. Get to work.

And when it is all done, no doubt everyone will say, "What was the point of it all?" Precisely. But you started it--and as they say, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Clearly that has rapidly dawned on the existing Commissioners: in their hands there is not a stone to be seen. Good for them.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Muldoon: A Harbinger of Our Times

Jatropha: Another Man Made Disaster Looming

There are few left who remember the colossus that was Robert Muldoon, former Prime Minister of New Zealand. Faced with the "oil shocks" of the seventies, he committed vast sums of the public's money to Think Big projects. Think Big was all about borrowing and spending prodigious amounts to create energy alternatives out of nothing. Of course, almost every project was a failure and eventually was bankrupted or written off.

But the spending and the economic dislocation was real enough. It led eventually to the economic crisis of the eighties, where the New Zealand economy had become more state controlled than Eastern Bloc communist countries, wage and price controls had become a permanent fixture, and the entire country was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. The seeds of this calamity were sown in Think Big which led to huge, persistent, structural deficits and which eventually brought the country to its knees.

Energy crises may tend to bring forth mini-Muldoons. But when energy crises are married to global warming hysteria we see the emergence of maxi-Muldoons. The rule of thumb is that every economic project governments get involved in to produce alternative energy, clean energy, or assuage global warming ends up being both an exorbitant waste of people's money and dislocating to the economy. Everyone ends up poorer and weaker as a result.

Environment 360 has just given us another case study of the syndrome. Remember the jatropha bush, which has been hailed as the wonder shrub which will produce vast quantities of bio-diesel. Even Air New Zealand got sucked in, telling us that it was going to source aviation bio-diesel from jatropha bushes. It made a big PR test flight of one of its planes over Auckland to try to built green brand credibility. The plane was powered by biofuel--and we were told, the airline had plans to source biofuel from the miraculous jatropha bush.

Jatropha has been said to have significant advantages as a miracle biofuel:
The widespread publicity surrounding a seeming wonder-plant called Jatropha curcas began in earnest in the mid-2000s. A good-news story, it went like this: In the mildly toxic, oval-shaped, oily seeds of this hardy, shrubby tree was a near-miraculous source of biofuel. Since jatropha could grow on arid, barren lands, cultivating it would avoid displacing food crops such as corn and soybeans — a major drawback of so-called first generation biofuels. The world’s thirst for combustible fuels could be slaked, according to the buzz surrounding jatropha, with energy harvested from wastelands rather than from fertile fields.
So went the hype. Think Big swung into action.
Fast forward a couple of years. By 2009, governments from China to Brazil, along with several major biofuel companies, had planted — or vowed to plant — millions of acres of jatropha. In India alone, the government has announced plans to subsidize an intensive program to plant jatropha for biofuels on 27 million acres of “wastelands” — an area roughly the size of Switzerland. And the jatropha push is on in other countries such as Myanmar, Malaysia, Malawi, and Brazil. (Emphasis, ours)
What is the problem? Well, for a start it turns out that the ability of jatropha to grow in non-fertile soils has been grossly exaggerated. Thinking Big will do that to you. If it stays in non-fertile soils, its yield is, well, small. In order to get a decent, economic yield, it has to be planted in fertile soils, well irrigated and fertilised. In order to get the required quantity of bio-diesel vast swathes of fertile land have to be planted in the thing.

Enter the curse of land-substitution. Food is now being squeezed out by jatropha production, as land use goes away from food into jatropha.
Consider India’s great push to plant jatropha. According to the Indian environmental group, Navdanya, government foresters have drained rice paddies in order to plant jatropha in the poor and mostly tribal state of Chhattisgarh. As early as mid-2007, protests broke out in the mostly desert state of Rajasthan over a government scheme to reclassify village commons lands — widely used for grazing livestock — as “wastelands” targeted for biofuel production, primarily jatropha.

On Mindanao, the second-largest of the Philippine islands, protests erupted in late 2008, with indigenous leaders insisting that jatropha plantations had begun to displace needed crops of rice, corn, bananas, and root vegetables.

A striking symbol of jatropha’s pitfalls can be found in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Late in 2005, Myanmar’s military dictatorship — newly enamored with what’s been called “the biofuel tree ” — ordered all of that nation’s states and other political divisions to plant about a half-million acres each. In a predominantly agrarian country where child malnutrition is rampant, entire plantations have sprung up where food crops once grew.

Not that all is bad. On a micro-level (that is, when governments are not Thinking Big) it would appear that jatropha has some very real contributions to make.
It’s not all bad news. In the West African nation of Mali, on the southern edge of the Sahara, jatropha had long been grown as a sort of living fence to keep wildlife from crops, and sometimes as a source of handmade soap. In recent years, often with the help of nonprofit groups like the Denmark-based charity Folkecenter, local jatropha processing mills have appeared in hundreds of villages, providing fuel for lamps, cookstoves, and generators. The biofuel is not only cheaper than conventional oil and diesel, but it is available during rainy seasons, when impassable roads can block conventional fuel delivery. Even the solid “press cake” left over after the oil is squeezed out of the seeds has value as either an organic fertilizer or, if processed to neutralize the natural toxicity, animal feed.
Get the picture. When governments stay out and stop trying to save the planet, when they relinquish "Think Big", some great micro-solutions can emerge that are truly win-win for those concerned and bring economic and social progress for smaller communities.

"Think Big" jatropha is a disaster in the making--and the making is by politicians and voters wedded to the idea of the omni-competence of governments, and to opportunistic, unscrupulous capitalists who line their pockets on gargantuan government projects. It will all end in waste, failure, and tears.

One can almost hear the spectral cackle of our former Prime Minister who showed the world what can truly happen when government Thinks Big.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Thy Kingdom Come

The Weak and Despised

We recently came across a piece highlighting some of the evidences of God's grace, mercy, and power in Rwanda. That country, you recall, has been ravaged by tribal genocide. Well beneath the radar screen of the secular media, it seems that there is a day of visitation taking place in Rwanda--a visitation from Him, Who invites all who weak and heavy laden to come to Him, that He might give them rest.

The article was an interview with one Catherine Claire Larson who has written a book entitled, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. She reports on the reconciliation that it taking place in that nation as Hutu and Tutsi hear about and believe upon Him who breaks down every dividing wall and creates one new mankind.

In the first place, the number of orphans now approaching adulthood in that country is large (as one would expect.) Many of these orphans are coming to experience the grace of God's adoption into His family. Larson says:
Imagine for a moment the loneliness that a thirteen year-old would feel having lost every member of his extended family, except his sister. Claude (an orphan she got to know) had been walking around for years with this incredible sense of loneliness. I think in part, the desire for vengeance, was a coping mechanism to keep him from feeling the depths of this profound sadness.

When he learned that he was adopted by God—and when he had that spiritual reality really re-enforced through the real tangible expression of the embrace of what he describes as “the family” Solace (a Christian ministry) became for him, I think it enabled him to begin the journey of healing.

She goes on to explain how Claude first got involved with a non-Christian "Survivor's Club" where people sought strength and consolation in their common bond of suffering. It was destructive:
Well, according to Claude, the Survivors Club was a place where people simply went to vent their grief and their pain. And the experience seemed to only foment his rage as he heard other people’s experiences of horror. But the group called Solace, a Christ-centered group of widows and orphans, took it a step beyond simply sharing their grief. This group taught Claude how to pray and told him about Christ. Becoming involved with Solace, a group that became like a second family to him, was really the turning point for this young man who had been so full of vengeance.
But does the Gospel of Christ really make a difference? Larson writes about a school established for orphans by one Bishop John. Hutu and Tutsi orphaned youngsters lived together in harmony, evidencing the "one new mankind" being created by Christ, our Lord. But at times this has been put to the ultimate test.
I think in certain places, Rwandans have definitely made that connection (of being reconciled into one new mankind). In one of the stories I tell about a school that was attacked by rebels three years after the genocide; many of the students inside had really latched onto this sense of higher identity in Christ.

When these rebels demand that the students separate into Hutu and Tutsi, all of them, without exception refused. When asked if they were Hutu or Tutsi, they replied, “We are just Rwandan.” The rebels finally threw grenades into their classroom and many of them were killed. But the more significant wall that came down that day was a living picture of that dividing wall of hostility among the students. The wall was gone because so many of them understood their higher identity in Christ. They were willing to face death rather than betray their classmates. And many of them did.

Now, that is a power not of this world.


Monday, 18 May 2009

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.
Look upon me in my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25: 1618
The Kingdom of God is surely not of this world. We do not mean to imply by this some platonic heresy which sees the Kingdom as an ethereal, other-worldly, cosmic abstraction. Rather, we mean that the Kingdom of God is utterly unlike anything which the fallen world of sinful man could conceive, let alone create.

The kingdoms, the principalities and powers of this world—to the extent they refuse to kiss the feet of the exalted Son of God—are of this world in the ethical and spiritual sense. They are of sin and evil. The Kingdom of God, whilst in this world, is instituted and established and ruled by the Son of God, and is not of this world and its systems. Consequently, the Kingdom is unlike anything else the world has ever seen.

One of the distinctives of the Kingdom is portrayed in our text. Its subjects and people are lowly of heart, afflicted, weighed down. They are troubled and distressed. They are burdened with the consciousness of their sins and disobedience and unfaithfulness. In pronouncing the arrival of the Kingdom, the Son of God declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In the Kingdom of the Son, this mourning is not just an affectation, a mere public mask of hypocritical humility; it is deeply and genuinely known and felt.

The kingdoms of this world of Unbelief are based on mana, power, and gravitas. The Kingdom of the Son is one where its subjects—even those holding high office—know and confess themselves in truth to be lowly, humbled, and wretched. Their hope is in God Who saves and forgives their sin for the sake of the Son who was punished in their place. They do not look to the mana or power of men.

So, David, in this Psalm—one of the greatest kings of all time, one of the few whom Christ honoured by acknowledging that He was and is David's son—confesses his weakness and affliction. He was far from the man he ought to be.

In his life, David suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at the hands of wicked men. Even Michal, his own wife, despised him. Some of his sons hated him so much they sought to kill him. But His enemies had “just” cause to conspire against him. They had grounds for slander, ridicule, and calumny against him. For his sin and shortcomings were not mere foibles or slips: they were extreme and gross. David was the ultimate hypocrite, non?

Here is where the Kingdom is utterly unlike the principalities and powers of this world. The Kingdom of God is made up only of gross sinners. It is a Kingdom made up of the vilest of characters, the most evil of men. It is also a Kingdom of men who know this to be true for a fact. It is a Kingdom full of ashamed and broken people, without exception.

But, in confessing this truth about themselves to God, and in looking to Christ alone as the satisfaction for their evil thoughts, words, and deeds, God declares them holy, sinless, and righteous. God declares them to be a people of mana and power. They become the holy and righteous ones, in whom He delights. Since God is now for them, for Christ's sake, who can prevail against them? Nothing and no-one, says He.

John Bunyan, in his peerless Pilgrim's Progress, introduces several characters to us who have determined to enter the Kingdom by “another way” than the wicket gate. But that narrow way is the only way. Only those afflicted by their sinfulness can enter. That is what makes the gate so narrow. And the gate is low. To enter, one is forced to bow down. Those who wanted the Kingdom to be different or who sought to negotiate via another entrance were lost.

This is what makes the Kingdom utterly unlike any power or principality of this world.

Full Disclosure

An Open Letter

Dear Sirs:

We have been treated to high profile exposure on the part of the papers you edit, The Herald and The Dominion Post to Mz Rankin's marital career. The focus of national daily newspapers into such matters can only be due to your professional and considered opinion that canvassing such matters is "in the public interest."

You may well be right--and it would be charitable to extend to you the benefit of the doubt. There may well be something odd about a recently appointed Commissioner for Families being married four times. Hardly conducive to stable family life, one would have thought.

But this begs the question. Since you deem the reporting on such matters to be in the public interest, the marital careers of the other Family Commissioners must likewise be of similar public interest. We note that the Families Commission website provides the following profiles on the current Commissioners:

Current commissioners

Jan Pryor (Chief Commissioner)

Dr Pryor is the Director at the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families at Victoria University and a Family Psychology professor. Prior to that she was a specialist report writer for the Family Court in Auckland for 10 years. She has an extensive background in family research, and has had numerous papers and books published.

Sharron Cole (Deputy Chief Commissioner)

Ms Cole has a long history of community service and participation. Her strengths include advocacy, practical bioethics and close involvement with families.

Sandra Alofivae

Ms Alofivae is a senior family law practitioner in Auckland. She has worked closely with Pacific families and has been actively involved in the community and voluntary sector. Sandra is of Samoan descent.

Lyn Campbell

Ms Campbell has broad experience in community development with a focus on advocacy for families. She has worked extensively in senior management in education and local government.

Gregory Fortuin

Mr Fortuin has a wide breadth of community experience in the public and private sectors. Previous roles have included: Race Relations Conciliator for New Zealand, Director of New Zealand Post Ltd, Founding Director Kiwibank, and Chair of the Youth Suicide Awareness Trust.

David Smyth

Mr Smyth was a Deputy Commissioner in the State Services Commission. He has broad experience in governance and management in the state service and in social policy development in the health, housing and justice sectors.

Kim Workman

Mr Workman has had extensive involvement with the Prison Fellowship New Zealand, from which he retired as director in June 2008. He has previously held positions with Kim Workman and Associates Ltd, Ministry of Health, Departments of Justice and Maori Affairs, State Services Commission, Office of the Ombudsman, and New Zealand Police.

Now that you have raised the issue, we would like to know how every Family Commissioner stacks up on this particular standard. Would you please research and publish a marital history of the existing commissioners, so that we can make an assessment about their respective fitness for the Commission.

Moveover, the publication of such personal material will help assure us that you have acted in this matter with integrity, and that you believe truthfully that the discussion and presentation of Mz Rankin's marital career in the pages of your respective newspapers was indeed in the public interest in your respective professional opinions.

In addition, this will help convince us that your high profile expose on Mz Rankin's personal marital career was not a descent into gutter journalism nor the subborning of your newspapers into becoming organs for trafficking in titillation and gossip.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Self Deception

Right Wing Libertinism

Some might get the impression that Contra Celsum is a right wing blog. We can see how it would be easy to draw that conclusion. But things are rarely that simple. Actually we find that many right wing folk rely too much on slogans and shibboleths. They tend to be blind to their own lacunae. Often times the right lacks hard headed, self-critical awareness of the weaknesses of their own position.

A good example of that to which we refer is on display at No Minister, in a post by Fairfacts.


We are told by our intrepid blogger that the "real" culture war is over capitalism. Okay . . . The "ism" on the end of capitalism would imply that the ultimate entity and determining reality is property. Is that what is meant? Well, no. It turns out that the "real" war is over human freedom and its enemies. Apparently capitalism and human freedom go hand-in-hand. Approbating P. J. O'Rourke, Fairfacts writes:

PJ O’Rourke has been one of the many players in the ‘Culture Wars’ that has divided America and Australia in recent years. However, his focus has been more on liberty, rather than moralistic religion and ‘family values’ seen from others.

Indeed, this is where the right needs fight, on freedom and capitalism, rather retreat into a creationist Christian backwater as Little Green Footballs fears for the US Republicans.

As Obama seeks to socialise the US economy, something that is happening too in Britain and Australia, and happened here under Helengrad, we ‘righties’ must fight for the freemarket and enterprise.

Who cares if two guys want to get it together? Who cares if someone wants to smoke some dope in their home? Does it really matter? There are bigger issues at play.

Such issues include the right to live your lives how you see fit, the right to spend your money as you see fit, rather than some nanny state telling you what to do, or some government grabbing the bulk of your hard-earned cash.

Fairfacts seriously would have us believe that a social ethic of personal liberty is not moralistic in the sense that it does not impose an ethic upon people. How superficial.

Fairfacts proceeds and in almost the same breath contradicts what he has just asserted. The complete self-contradiction within one paragraph must surely draw the attention of Mr Guinness. Citing Arthur C. Brooks, he writes:

Arthur C Brooks notes the ‘tea party’ protests and them having a moral dimension.
It is wrong to get into too much debt and expect a bailout from those who did not borrow too much.
The "moralism" of religious people is narrow and not acceptable. Abjugating homosexuality is not the issue. But the moralism of "tea party" protests is? Really. It is apparently morally wrong to get into too much debt and expect a bailout. Really. Why? Starting from Fairfacts's premisses, why on earth would that be wrong? In fact it seems rather clever to us. The ultimate value and ethic is liberty, which is doing what we'all want to do. If we are clever enough to get other people stupidly to fund what we want to do, how can that be wrong? But no . . .

It is wrong to expect honest hardworking people to subsidise mortgage fraud and corporate criminals.

It is also wrong to land our children a legacy of debt to renationalise a car company, or dream up all kind of crazy ‘environmentalist’ schemes and expect the taxpayer to fund them.
It is also morally wrong to expect taxpayers to support too much welfare that is leads to dependency, as well as entrench a voting block of beneficiaries to keep the left in power.
Once again, why would these possibly be wrong in the right wing ethical morass? On what basis are they beyond the pale? If we are smart enough to use our liberty to lie and secure a loan which we will never be able (nor finally required) to repay, so what? We are exercising the ultimate ethic of liberty and human freedom. As for the sucker who lent us the money--caveat emptor. Isn't that how a libertine market should work?

A fundamental problem with right wing, libertarian, private property ethical systems is that they incessantly employ a kind of special pleading for the imposition of their particular cluster of ethical mores, even whilst opposing the imposition of any other system of ethics. They ground their opposition by appealing to "liberty". It would be far more honest just to admit that right wing libertarians advocate the imposition of their particular ethical system by law upon all men. The real and more meaningful debate would then be over the merits of their particular imposition against others.

At this blog we draw the fundamental line of distinction between Christian Belief and Unbelief. We charactise the civilisation of Christian belief as Jerusalem, and the civilisation of Unbelief as Athens. Athens has many suburbs and quarters, but in the end each is part of the same city.

The right wing libertarians are no exception. They build their particular suburb within Athens by digging their foundations upon Lockean property rights as The Fundament, or individual liberty as the Final Goal, or individualistic rationality as the Ultimate Standard. But their argument against the collectivists, or the leftists, or the socialists, comes down to one of preference for their one suburb as opposed to their neighbour's. All alike agree that Athens is the City set on a great hill. The glory of the city is Man, rationalistic Man.

The debates between the suburbs in Athens would be a lot more useful, and no less entertaining, if the right wing libertarians stopped trumpeting their shibboleths and engaged in some far more rigorous and intellectually honest self-criticism of their own position. Who knows. Some of the empty slogans might be retired to the knackers yard. Not before time.