Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Iran Now Nuclear Power"

Ooooh, goodie!

What do international law and Methodism have in common?

The answer is Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).

My wife and I have been getting into theological discussions lately, and it's prompted me to look up more on my Methodist theology. Methodism's character was formed by John Wesley (1703-1791), of course, who founded our movement. Wesley's theology was similar to Arminianism, and in fact, he founded the Arminian Magazine (1778-1969, with some name changes; revived 1980-present) for the promotion of Methodist teaching. Wesley, as I understand it, didn't come to his beliefs as a direct result of reading Arminianism, but his theology is closely identified with it.

Arminianism is traced back in a formal sense to Jacobus Arminius (Jacob Harmenszoon; 1560-1609) a University of Leyden professor and Dutch theologian. His theology is often contrasted with Calvinism, especially over the famous "Five Points of Calvinism." Arminian teaching holds that Christ died for all and that there is (in practice) free will.

In the early Dutch Republic, after the overthrow of Spainish dominion and Catholicism, Calvinism grew to prominence. Arminius' views changed, as he studied and rejected some the Calvinist doctrines. Church issues got caught up in politics, there still being an official religion at that time. After his death in 1609, his followers published the "Five articles of Remonstrance" against Calvinism. The national synod he had called for to debate the issue was finally provided in the Synod of Dort (Dordrecht), but it turned out not to be a two-sided debate but a heresy trial for the Arminians. Excluded from speaking or debating, the conclusion was..ahem...predestined, and the Arminians were imprisoned or banished from the country. The "Five Points of Calvinism" were part of the synod's proclamation.

Now, where does Hugo Grotius fit in? Huig de Groot (his Dutch name) was a child prodigy who had lived up to his early promise. When the Arminian "Remonstrants" published their points in 1610, the official government position was to be one of tolerance for the Arminians. Grotius, then a rising star in the government and a protege of statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, was asked in 1613 to write the edict of toleration. Grotius had been developing a theory of church/state relations, holding that "only the basic tenets necessary for undergirding civil order (e.g., the existence of God and His providence) ought to be enforced while differences on obscure theological doctrines should be left to private conscience." (From Wikipedia) The official proclamation didn't exactly end the crisis, unfortunately. The public arguments worsened, the Synod of Dort was convened, and the Prince of Orange saw van Oldenbarnevelt and Grotius as political threats. They were arrested, van Oldenbarnevelt was executed, and Grotius was to be imprisoned for life.

Fortunately, Grotius escaped and fled to France (What--royal France, haven of political and religious toleration? As opposed to those intolerant Dutch?? Well, times change...). There he wrote both a book on Christian apologetics from a Protestant perspective and his works on international law and just war theory.

Grotius is today recognized as the founder of the modern system of international law (as much as I dislike where it's gone these days). His Christian apologetics remained in print through the end of the 1800s (by the way, his Dutch version of this is entirely in verse!). And he further developed Arminian thinking, proposing the now-widespread "Moral Government" theory of Jesus' atonement.

Beyond the person of Grotius himself, I find interesting the frequent emphasis by Arminians on toleration. Grotius published an official edict on this, and he was already developing a theory of church and state that advocated reducing the governmentally-prescribed beliefs to the bare minimum. (Well, the minimum as they saw it.) Move the details of theology into the sphere of private conscience. The Arminian "Remonstrants" as a whole asked for toleration, as well. Maybe partly because they were then in the minority, but it did go along with their belief that people's interpretations of scripture could be debated and change over time. We find the same strain In Methodism, as well. Of course, we started within Anglicanism, which had already sought to achieve the broadest-possible consensus within the denomination and thus holds only to 39 articles of religion (compare this with the catechisms of some other denominations). Then Methodism, with its emphasis on practical application and away from abstract theology, reduced these further to 25 articles. It holds that only the fundamental understandings of salvation and faith need to be agreed upon within the denomination, and everything else left to private conscience.

Well, this went on much longer than I'd planned, but I hope you've enjoyed this tour of a rather winding thread.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A good response to the world-government types

Some of our black-robed would-be masters in the judiciary have tried to apply foreign precedent to interpreting American laws. There are others on the Left who want to subject America to all sorts of multilateral treaties and sign away our sovereignty. I've always held that democracy depends to a great extent on popular sovereignty-the ability of a people to govern themselves, without outside interference.

I was reading the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church this week. The Methodist Church, of course, was born as a movement within the Church of England and only became a separate denomination with the American Revolution. The existing Anglican bishops served under (at least nominal authority of) the King of England. While most of the 25 articles of our doctrine are pared down from the Anglican Church's 39, Article XXIII was added to make something explicit:

The President, the Congress, the general assemblies, the governors, and the councils of state, as the delegates of the people, are the rulers of the United States of America, according to the division of power made to them by the Constitution of the United States and by the constitutions of their respective states. And the said states are a sovereign and independent nation, and ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.

[Emphasis in original.]

I like that. Not only on the foreign issue, but also in how we explicitly mention the states.

"Family" TV, then and now

We're here watching the Disney Channel's marathon of "holiday" episodes. The "Proud Family" just got taught the true meaning of The Holidays by a kindly bunch of black nationalist angels: don't celebrate Christmas, but instead celebrate the "cooperative economics" of Kwanzaa. The "Even Stevens" Hanukkah episode was much better, great, in fact--religion was explicit, with hymns being sung and the story of Hanukkah being recited. Now, for Christmas, apparently, there's the "Lizzie Maguire" episode that seems to be explaining the true meaning of Christmas as something to do with elves. Woah--out of the blue, the annoying little brother character is reciting the nativity story out of Luke (I think Luke)! Didn't see that coming... Aaaand he's done. Those few seconds were the only mention of religion in this show. Well, it was a start, anyway.

But my real point here was to get onto the decline of "family" TV shows over the past two decades. In the 1980s, with us not having cable (and for that matter, only picking up one channel), most nights had an hour or more of prime-time shows that all of the family could enjoy together. I don't mean kids' shows. I mean comedies like, say, "M*A*S*H," "Who's the Boss?," "Growing Pains," "Coach," "The Cosby Show," or "Benson." Mom and Dad watched these, too. Even the dramas were generally fine for kids to watch.

This has been pointed out in more detail by many other people, but there's been a decline in the 8:00 "family hour" of programming, going to more and more adult-oriented shows, or at least adding more bad language and sexual situations. (Someone put the start of the fall with "Rosanne.")

But this isn't the whole story that I'm getting at. At the same time as the prime time shows have changed to aim for adults, there has opened up a cable market for shows kids can watch. Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel come to mind, although I've only seen the latter.

Though these Disney Channel shows superficially remind me of the '80s family sitcoms, they've got a noticeable difference in style and quality. Many of them are nearly unwatchable from an adult's perspective. They're over-acted, the humor is juvenile, and the directing is over the top. Everything is exaggerated. Parents act like big teenagers, with no maturity or self-respect, and they get little respect from their brat kids, who get scripts full of smart-alecky remarks and sarcastic come-backs.

You can debate the quality of the '80s family shows I mentioned above, but at least they had material adults could appreciate. I've enjoyed a couple of Disney shows. "Even Stevens" was pretty good (though now off the air), and "Kim Possible" is an excellent cartoon. But that's about it for me.

The wife has said that "Scrubs" reminds her of a grown-up version of these kids' shows. She's right--there's the same intentional exaggeration, the intentional silliness, and use of sound effects. But it is of far better quality, so we enjoy it.

I wonder if the proliferation of cable channels has led to niche programming [Brilliant insight, genius!--ed.], and the assumption that kids are going to watch shows on their channels, adults will watch their channels, and nobody's going to watch together. Maybe everybody's got two TVs these days, but this kind of fragmentation isn't such a good thing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Re: How not to conduct a religious debate

Sigh. I keep finding more little gems in that discussion on The Nativity I linked to below. Here, commenter "Christopher" says,

You think that we should talk about all this stuff, but the Church after thinking much longer and harder on it than we have, has said we should not delve into too much of the specifics, but should keep it closer to mystery. Don't you think they have a good reason for saying so? Do you really think this was just some arbitrary request of the Church? Do you really think so much of your opinion, that you are unwilling to admit that maybe the Church is the one that is right?

Sigh, part 2. Shocking how closely that reminds me, by way of contrast, of this statement of Saint Augustine's (Confessions, Book 11, Ch. 12):

How, then, shall I respond to him who asks, "What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?" I do not answer, as a certain one is reported to have done facetiously (shrugging off the force of the question). "He was preparing hell," he said, "for those who pry too deep." It is one thing to see the answer; it is another to laugh at the questioner -- and for myself I do not answer these things thus. More willingly would I have answered, "I do not know what I do not know," than cause one who asked a deep question to be ridiculed -- and by such tactics gain praise for a worthless answer.

It's not that Christopher was making fun of the one who asked the question; he was criticizing him, which is about as bad.

People, we have brains, and to say that discussion and questioning aren't allowed, even in principle, is to turn good people away from their faith.

The reason Christmas is December 25

I got so caught up in reading Mark Shea's blog post on The Nativity that I forgot the reason I surfed over there. Here is his well-written explanation of why Christmas is celebrated on December 25. It's not a revamped Mithraic holiday. The reasoning behind December 25 is faulty, or at least relies on a pious superstition, but it's not to take over the cult of Mithras.

Shea doesn't discuss the Saturnalia, though, which is the one I'd always heard, rather than the Mithraic celebration of the Winter solstice.

How not to conduct a religious debate

Over at Mark Shea's excellent Catholic blog, there's been a lively discussion over the movie, The Nativity Story, and one specific detail of Catholic doctrine. Being a Methodist, I won't comment upon the specifics, but I have been interestedly reading along.

I think, though, that the style of the debate in some places compares unfavorably with that I linked to at Southern Appeal, a few posts below. For example, there's this little gem:
"Unfortunately, in this post Enlightenment Age, people are convinced that their opinion really means something."
And this one, "Back not so long ago honorable men would not dare to disrespect a Priest in such a way for fear, both of God and perhaps of a good whipping behind the shed! " That latter remark came after a priest had said somebody else's comment was a "libel," and a third person asked whether this was what Saint Francis would have done.

And this is a debate within a single denomination. I'm much more impressed now with how that Catholic/Protestant debate was handled over at Southern Appeal.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On the workings of the Holy Ghost

Methodist Bishop Will Willimon has some interesting things to say here, about Christians' involvement in politics, the watering-down of religion, and the driving force of the Holy Spirit. I particularly liked this bit:

Willimon quipped that he sometimes felt that the United Methodist General Conferences were designed "to use Robert's Rules of Order to keep the church safe from the Holy Spirit."

He seems to be somewhere in the middle, politically, and a conservative, theologically. From what I'm reading here, I'd be proud to have him as my bishop. Wonder which Conference he's bishop of?

Reminds me--I was thinking this week about how the Holy Spirit works in the church today, and you get the idea from some people that His inspiration is limited to properly convened meetings, with quorums (quora?) (wait--or is "quorum" genitive plural?), procedures, rules, precedents, and so on... So I particularly enjoyed this quip.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Weird Revelations on the US Bugging Princess Diana

Well, I don't know quite what to say about this post of Mickey Kaus', on the news this week that the Clinton administration had bugged Princess Diana and was interested in her relationship with Ted Forstmann, a New York financier and Republican, who had some political aspirations (he considered running against Hillary! Clinton in 2000). According to aides of both Diana's and Forstmann's, there was a romantic interest, and Diana had dreams of ultimately being First Lady.


Again, ...huh.

UPDATE: Byron York's got more on this at National Review. For me, most articles about foreign royalty fall into the category of trashy celebrity gossip. So I don't really care about it all, except that it's kind of funny, and it involves the Clinton bunch. But I made a mistaken implication above--that the interest in wiretapping her might have been that Forstmann was considering running against Hillary in 2000. Well, Diana died in 1997, so their interest in Forstmann wasn't that he was specifically any rival of Hillary's.

UPDATE 2: "Never mind."

A Government-authorized Protection Racket

Via Instapundit, the Volokh Conspiracy reports on a jaw-dropping case of eminent domain abuse. Here, a city has authorized a private land development firm to do the work, but also to demand what sounds like a bribe (of $800,000) from landowners in return for not condemning their land! At least, I gather that the city authorized them to extort this sort of money.

With my limited knowledge, I don't see that this is necessarily unconstitutional at the Federal level. But you'd sure think it would be outlawed by the state, under corruption laws. At the very least, the citizens of Port Chester, New York, ought to assert their rights as free citizens and demand that their city fathers be accountable to them.

Ilya Somin (who wrote the post) offers much more detail here, in his original post on the subject. It's not clear that the city government authorized this extortion, but when the landowner refused to pay the developer, they certainly authorized the land's condemnation. Even more interestingly, the developer gave the landowner (who wanted to put in a CVS pharmacy) three options: pay him $800,000 outright, let him go in 50/50 on the CVS business, or suffer the consequences of having his land condemned. The owner stood firm...and wound up with option #3.

I agree with some the commenter Joel Mackey on Somin's follow-up post, who says that the developer ought to be charged with extortion, and let that be the end of this.

Scary. The more publicity on this case, the better.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Catholics and Protestants Debating "Unity"

Let me link to this interesting discussion over at Southern Appeal, which was one of the first blogs to link to us here. Hunter Baker was musing about the possibilities for rapproachment (sp?) between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, and he wondered whether any fellow Protestants might be eager to join them if they reunified.

The resulting debate has raised a number of interesting issues that I hadn't realized were lying in wait, there. Your humble correspondent has been participating in this debate, and I've made a number of posts there. I'll probably summarize them here, later.

Some of my questions center on the intent behind Anglican-Catholic discussions that have been going on for some time now. For a critical Anglican's view on these, take a look at Archbishop Cranmner's blog. The latest relevant posts His Grace has made are here and, more usefully, here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Water on Mars? NASA Press Conference Announced

"Water!" is just speculation, but NASA's press release today (link via Drudge) is headlined, "NASA Schedules Briefing to Announce Significant Find on Mars." It's live at 1:00 PM EST and will present results from the Mars Global Surveyor. Global Surveyor completed exactly one decade in space on November 7th, and on the eve of that anniversary...we lost contact. NASA now says that Global Surveyor's mission is likely finished, as a result.

Stay tuned Wednesday to find out what they've found. I don't know for sure whether it's going to be a general mission wrap-up or something more specific, but "significant find" sounds pretty specific!

Interestingly, here's a related report that the new Mars orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has taken photos of the old Viking 1 & 2 landers, which touched down on the surface in 1976.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Movie Review Sunday: Lost Horizon

Another movie we've recently seen is Lost Horizon (1937). This one is a classic and undeniably well-made. My wife and I wholeheartedly disagreed with the entire premise, but we enjoyed watching it. It takes place from 1935-37, as a British diplomat is escaping a local rebellion in China and helping other Englishmen get on the planes to take them to safety. His own plane is instead forcibly taken to some place in Tibet or Nepal, off all of the maps, and he finds Shangri-La. Shangri-La is ruled by a three hundred year-old Belgian priest (the fantastic ages possible here are part of the premise) as the High Lama, and it is a place of peacefulness and harmony. The guiding philosophy (they demurr when asked of their "religion") is one of "moderation in all things." Quite Epicurean, in the true sense of that word.

The film quite nicely represents a liberal (in the modern sense) utopia, not only in outcome, but also in the reasoning behind it. No police are needed because crime is unknown. Crime is unknown because every man has enough of what he wants, and if there is no lack, how can there be greed? The baser aspects of human nature are gone, somehow--rather than being part of human nature, they are seen by the characters as merely social problems whose causes they have eliminated.

The day-to-day leader, Chang, explains the moderation-in-all-things premise to include virtue itself: they only aim to have moderate virtue. I've forgotten some of my college philosophy class, but I remember our discussing whether the Epicureans believed in only moderate virtue, as well. ...and I don't remember the answer.

Hmmm...that "moderate virtue" part may go a long way to explaining why they allow someone to steal another's wife, if he really wants her badly enough. In that case, Chang explains, the husband should simply give the man his wife.

The High Lama and our hero, Robert Conway, discuss the awfulness of war and how to avoid it. MInd you, this is 1937, as tensions are rising with Germany. The Lama says that war can be stopped even in the face of an invading army, if you were to put down your (defensive) arms and welcome the invaders in. And they will say to themselves, "why, what wonderful people these are! Surely we can't shoot them!" And peace will reign. As my father says of such ideas, "There's always the peace of the grave."

I will say, that as foolish as I believe all these ideas to be, Lost Horizon does an excellent job of presenting the liberal argument attractively and without malice, and so it's a pleasure to watch. I think that most viewers today, even liberals, will be amazed at the naivite and silly assumptions that are presented here. We're seeing it with the full experience of the twentieth century. And I think the past hundred years have disabused even the utopians of a lot of their notions.

Still, watch it and see what thinking was considered part of the mainstream of literature, if not politics, seventy years ago.

Movie Review Sunday: The Legend of Zorro

Last weekend, we watched "The Legend of Zorro" on TV. I'd rented it last year but after the Southern-bashing in the beginning of the movie, I got fed up and turned it off. This time, I figured I'd grin and bear it to the end. Well, the anti-Southern bits turned out to be too ridiculous to get worked up over. So I'll get worked up over them here:

Now, our movie takes place as California is voting to join the United States. Specifically, it's 1850, and we know that because at the end of the movie, an act of statehood is passed and signed and dated. So, when early on, we are introduced to P. G. T. Beauregard (yes, General Beauregard), we've got to marvel at his prescience as he says that he's afraid the Confederacy will secede if California joins the union as a "free state." Let's parse that sentence. So before secession, there was a Confederacy? Within the United States? People, the Confederacy didn't exist until after multiple states had seceded. Oh, and this is a full decade beforehand.

Then there is the scene in which Confederate soldiers in gray uniforms are working for the bad guys (of course) and fighting Zorro. Again, this is a decade before they existed!

And finally, let me mention that I had forgotten that part of my Confederate States history in which General P. G. T. Beauregard was killed by a massive nitroglycerin explosion in 1850, as he was about to transport it by the Transcontinental Railroad (completed 19 years later) to aid the Confederate States in destroying Washington, in order to advance the intrests of a secret society bent on ruling the world. That must have been his ghost leading us to victory at First Manassas eleven years later.

I'll end my sarcasm here. I really enjoyed the earlier Mask of Zorro, with the same principal actors. Legend didn't live up to it. Aside from the explicit Confederate bashing, there was also the bad guy with a Southern accent and a cross branded on his cheek who was always spouting off ethnic insults and saying he was doing the "Lord's work" by attacking Mexicans. Hey--they put my preacher in the movie! OK, I'll really end the sarcasm this time.

And aside from my people all made out to be bad guys, it wasn't as exciting a movie as the first. It reminded me a bit of the later episodes of MacGyver, in which he stopped chasing spies and terrorists and South American dictators and started working on after school programs and helping aging boxers and things like that. I think one episode, his only gadget was a cold compress, when the boxer took a hit to the face. Sheesh. In this movie, Zorro's graduated to making public appearances at election sites and saving the ballot box. More exciting than that MacGyver episode, but not very swashbuckling.