Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Back when we sang introits, the sixth Sunday of Easter was called Cantate, from the opening of Psalm 98.  It was often set apart for a celebration of the arts, inspired by the idea of singing "a new song."

Sadly, there are few hymns that make much use of the image, and one of them is Herb Brokering's Earth and All Stars!, the exclamation point being part of the title.  This is one of those hymns you either love or hate, and we at the Egg don't love it.  We emphatically don't love it.  For those lucky enough never to have had the pleasure, here's a sample:
Classrooms and labs! Loud boiling test tubes!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band! Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song.

To get it right, you really need to pronounce "Lord" with four syllables.

To our delight, we have just stumbled upon the blog of an Episcopalian layman, Lionel Deimel, who feels as we do about Earth and All Stars, and who has posted -- along with some insightful comments about why the hymn is so bad -- a clever parody.  We won't spoil it all for you; please visit his blog.  But here's a taste:

iPods and Droids, loud clicking keypads,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Blackberry phones, loud sounding ringtones,
Sing to the Lord a new song!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chuck Colson, RI [not too much] P

So Chuck Colson kicked off, at the age of 80.  The guy was living proof that, when F. Scott Fitzgerald said that thing about there being no second acts in American lives, he was full of pretentious malarkey.  (Drinking with Hemingway again, weren't you Scottie?).  Colson's second act was long and influential.

Needless to say, the press was quick to remind us all about the first act, as the guy who volunteered to walk over his own grannie if it would re-elect Nixon, and who served time for same.  And needless to say, our friends at GetReligion were quick to jump on the press for being stuck in the 70s, so deeply enthralled by the glamorous tale of Woodward and Bernstein that it couldn't see past Watergate to admire Colson's second act, as the pious prison reformer, the "towering figure" who "shaped the state" of modern evangelicalism.  Such and injustice!

They actually had us going for a while there.

Fortunately, Gawker just responded with a blistering diatribe by pseudonymous blogger "Mobuto Sese Seko."  It's not really journalism, in the conventional sense of the word; there's no pretense of balance or objectivity.  We can't even call it a think piece or an editorial.  It's pure, snarling, savage catharsis.  And it's just what we needed.

Calling Colson by a name we can't use in a family blog -- okay, fine, twist our arm:  God's Own Ratf*****r -- Seko speaks as much ill of the dead as we have ever seen.  As for the "towering figure" reshaping evangelicalism, he snorts:
His anti-gay, anti-liberal rhetoric—and unscientific and ahistorical demonization and smears—never veered from the toxic and odious, but one could hear it lustily reaffirmed by almost every GOP primary candidate this season. His Manhattan Declaration, that devout Christians should reject laws at odds with the Bible, is merely the most prominent articulation of unconstitutional Dominionist hogwash. Further, this kind of personal rejection of the rule of law is overwhelmed by a current GOP climate where it's been translated into a war on birth control for women, while public officials muse unapologetically about secession and nullification.
So there.

Is Seko reaching when he draws a line from Colson to Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer?  Probably.  Okay, definitely.  But Colson was a key figure in the development of modern conservative politics, as well as of modern politically-active evangelicalism.  So if you aren't wild about either of those things, or the antics of their advocates, consider Seko's curt analysis:
Colson left a snowball on a hill, and there were no shortage of people willing to help push it down.

Forest and Trees

Dear Amnesty International:

That big green thing in front of you?  The one with some brown lines running up and down, and the furry animals moving in and out?  Yeah, that's the forest.  The one you seem to have a little trouble seeing through the trees.

In your recent report, Choice and Prejudice, you presented a strong case that some Muslims in Europe are discriminated against on the basis of their religion.  Some countries have laws against headscarves, one doesn't want mosques with onion domes.  All true; and all, as you rightly point out, a violation of the right to a free exercise of religion, and of any number of European Union standards for human rights.

So you're right.  As far as you go.

But can we be serious here?  Three things need to be said, loud and clear:

1.  The discrimination against Muslims in Western Europe pales by comparison to the discrimination against non-Muslims in virtually all of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.  Some Spaniards won't build a prayer room in a public school?  How does that compare to, say, the death penalty for a religious conversion?

2.  Some of the discrimination you complain about is aimed at people of all faiths, and not only Muslims.  The French and Belgian laws which ban headscarves in school also ban crucifixes.  We Americans may think that Gallic laicism is misguided but, in its own cultural context, it makes an important kind of sense. Britain and Europe were devastated by two centuries of bloodthirsty religious warfare, and in response they have developed systems to limit the direct influence of religious institutions in the public square.  Given the current state of affairs in Africa and the Middle East, in which religious warfare is often presented as an acceptable and even desirable state of affairs, it is quite reasonable for them to strengthen those systems.

3.  Your report only makes sense -- indeed, it is only possible -- because of the extraordinary religious tolerance of the Western legal tradition and of modern Western societies.  You judge the West against its own standards, and find it wanting, which is certainly fair.  But those standards have rarely been lived out, and indeed rarely even been held up as valuable, outside the West.  The very idea of human rights that you promote developed in the countries you criticize, and to this day has little currency outside their cultural family.

So, sure, you're right.  Many European countries could treat Muslims better.  Incidentally, many European countries could treat their other religious minorities better; this includes, for what it's worth, Protestants in Romania.  For that matter, many officially Muslim countries could treat their Muslims better, too.  And let's not even talk about China.

On the other hand -- and this is the forest that we would like to make out through the trees -- Muslims in Europe don't do so badly.  A lot of them seem to like the place; some could probably make more money in Bahrain, but choose to stay in Berlin or even Brighton.  And why?  Because nobody in Europe (except other Muslims) cares if they are Shiite or Sunni.  Because in Europe, they can grow their beard or cut their beard without being assigned to a political party.  Because even with a little discrimination in the workplace and some skinheads in the next neighborhood, their lives and incomes are more stable in England than Egypt.  Because the countries you beat up in your report are among the very small number anywhere on earth that believe a right to religious freedom exists, or should exist.

Oh, Amnesty.  We love you, and we love your work.  But ... seriously.  This is like picking on the Pope because he isn't Catholic enough.  The guy should at least get credit for trying.

Whisper, Whisper

Another note about the Canterbury sweepstakes:  reports in the York Press and the Telegraph claim that Archbishop Sentamu (Ugandan-born, but the second-ranking bishop in England) has been the victim of a racially-tinged whispering campaign.

We're not sure how to separate signal from noise here; another nation and another church, after all.  But at the moment, the bookies put him in third place, after Coventry and Norwich.

This Just In: Anglicans Still in Crisis

As the CofE prepares itself to choose John Senatamu somebody as its new Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems that some of the colonials are getting restless.

Per the Telegraph, a coalition of "traditionalist" bishops (the headline's word, not ours) from "Africa, the Americas and Australasia" is arguing that Canterbury ought to lose its central place in what's left of the Anglican Communion.  The story goes on to make these guys sound like Edward Said, crusading against the current structure for its "Anglocentric view of the world" and outdated colonial structure.

The Telegraph article is written with an abominable lack of clarity, and may well leave non-Anglican readers confused.  Herewith, some clarification.

The bishops are members of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which the BBC labels "a dissident movement."  That may be a bit strong; they dissent principally from the gay stuff as embraced by the (D&FMS of the) PECUSA and, less warmly, the CofE.  The FCA General Secretary, Archbishop Jensen of Sydney, is quoted as saying that the FCA "is the mainstream" which "represents the vast majority of Anglicans."  We have no idea how true that may be.  

In any case, the FCA grew from the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON.  It's central confession is "The Jerusalem Declaration," a 14-point document which lists many of the usual Anglican things (it likes the 1662 BCP, the Ordinal, and -- ahem -- "the four Ecumenical Councils"), but fires two distinct shots across the Anglo-American bow:
[Article 8] We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
[Article 13] We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.
In short, gays should keep their pants zipped and Episcopalians are anathematized.  So far as we can tell, these are the only points in the Jerusalem Statement which set it apart from the sort of thing Anglicans always say; therefore, it is fair to argue that they are the distinctive burden of the document, and that insofar as the FCA is "traditionalist," its traditionalism resides in a claim to conservatism in sexual matters and a disavowal of those who disagree with it.  Whether and to what degree these are in fact traditional values is open to debate, but that's for some other post.

Nothing new here, of course.  What is somewhat new, though, is the attack on Canterbury's historic centrality.  It has been building for a while, as the FCA Chairman, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, explains in his keynote address:
It is now generally recognized [i.e., within the FCA] that the instruments of [Anglican] Unity[,] e.g. the Primates Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth conference … no longer command general confidence.
Subsequently, when the Global South Movement Primates gathered in China last September felt compelled to state in a communiqué that;  ‘the Anglican Communion’s instruments of Unity have become dysfunctional and no longer have the ecclesial and moral authority to hold the communion together’.
Archbishop Jensen puts it more bluntly in a different (and better) Telegraph article:
 ... the route to heaven does not go through Canterbury.
These are all strong words.  Nor, to Lutheran ears, are they unreasonable, in the sense that they make unity in doctrine -- rather than, say, unity in ceremonies -- the sine qua non of church relations. 

And yet it is not entirely clear that this is what traditionalism looks like, least of all Anglican traditionalism.  While there may be no binding reason that the Primate of All England ought also to be the figurehead of worldwide Anglicanism, it is both historically true and symbolically fitting -- and neither history nor symbolism should be lightly discarded.  This is the most basic statement of traditionalism, and those who do not subscribe to it must be viewed with caution.

Moreover, such primacy as Canterbury enjoys within the communion is itself largely symbolic and administrative, rather than executive.  Rowan Williams has negotiated, albeit without much effect, not because he loves negotiation but also because his position gives him no power over the church leaders with whom he must negotiate.  In contrast to, say, the Pope, the archbishop of Canterbury really is primus intrer pares, with emphasis on the pares. 

So, to be blunt, these guys don't sound especially "traditionalist" to us, nor even -- to use the word they generally prefer -- "orthodox."  They sound, to be frank, like people who are so exercised over one comparatively minor point of moral theology that they have raised it up above all the other elements of their church's teaching and practice.  Mind you, this is how Luther must have sounded to some of his critics, and indeed it is precisely the way some Anglo-Catholics have portrayed him. So history may judge the FCA more kindly than we are inclined to do. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Naughty Nuns

As readers surely know, the Vatican has announced a crackdown on the naughty nuns of America.  At least that's the way the press is playing it.  Our favorite headline is from AddictingInfo: Pope Tells Nuns To Forget About Feeding The Poor And Focus On Hating The Gays.

Obviously, the popular narrative is that the nuns are too liberal for Ratzinger's church.  That's a nice, easy-to-grasp story of the sort that the press likes, and which conforms to a wide range of preconceived notions.  It has, we regret to say, the added virtue of being true.  Or at least true-ish, because these things are always more complicated than they seem.

A couple of points need to be clarified.  The supposed crackdown is in fact a "Doctrinal Assessment" delivered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after more than two years of study.   You can read it here.  The DA emphatically not directed toward all women religious, nor even all women religious in America, but rather toward "a particular conference of major superiors," meaning the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States.  Meaning it is the LCWR which has been examined and the LCWR -- not any particular house or order -- which is to be restructured.

So what are the particular problems revealed by the DA?  It's a little hard to sort through the Vatican-speak, but here are a couple of the most notable ones.

1.  Genital theology.  Easily the most quoted passage in the DA is this one, which we will break up a  little for easier reading:
The documentation [provided in 2010 by Bishop Blair to the CDF] reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.  
Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching.  
Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose. 
Let's think this through.

First, let's be fair:  the sisters are praised for "promoting ... social justice."  So we can ditch the canard about feeding the poor.  The Roman church -- like any other church worthy of the name -- is serious about feeding the poor and housing the homeless.  That's as true of the CDF as of the LCWR.

We are shocked, however, by the continuation of that sentence:  the CDF complains that the LCWR is "silent" about abortion and euthanasia.  So what?  Silence is not dissent.  Silence on the part of a large umbrella organization may indeed indicate that opinions differ, suggesting that some elements of the LCWR can't in conscience articulate their church's teaching.  But so long as they do not publicly contradict it, we think this is silly.  Let them keep silent and move on.

The bit about "family life and sexuality" brings us closer to "hating the gays."  Again, if the LCWR is actively trying to undermine the official teachings of its church, then the sisters are in trouble; they should consider joining a different church (and we have one to offer, incidentally).  But if the objection is simply that they aren't doing enough to promote the wildly unpopular and widely ignored Roman Catholic teachings about birth control and homosexuality, then -- as we used to say in the third grade -- tough noogies.  Becoming a nun does not mean becoming a publicity agent for the Curia. Let them keep silent and move on.

2. Leadership Training. The DA offers a critique of the LCWR which is far too complex for the press to cover; unfortunately it also looks a little too complex for the CDF.  Basically, the DA suggests that the LCWR produces training materials which fail to "[lead] sisters into a greater appreciation or integration of the truth of the Catholic faith."  Clear as mud, right?

The underlying objection seems to be that the LCWR promotes a "neutral" model of leadership, meaning one that isn't as top-down as, say, the Curia.  The example to which the DA points is document entitled An Invitation to Systems Thinking: An Opportunity to Act for Systemic Change, and which the DA calls The Systems Thinking Handbook.

You can read it here; we did, and weren't especially impressed.  It's a none-too-clear restatement of the ideas that stretch from Gregory Bateson to Murray Bowen to Edwin Friedman, with applications to the lives of the religious orders.  (For the record, we admire those three guys, and think that the handbook would have been greatly improved by a deeper acquaintance with their work, especially Friedman's Generation to Generation.  Also for the record, this sort of thinking has become a mainstream tool used to understand and manage many organizations, ranging from large corporations to small parishes.)

The DA, however, singles out one particular example to support its claim:

As a case in point, the Systems Thinking Handbook presents a situation in which sisters differ over whether the Eucharist should be at the center of a special community celebration since the celebration of Mass requires an ordained priest, something which some sisters find “objectionable.” According to the Systems Thinking Handbook this difficulty is rooted in differences at the level of belief, but also in different cognitive models (the “Western mind” as opposed to an “Organic mental model”).  These models, rather than the teaching of the Church, are offered as tools for the resolution of the controversy of whether or not to celebrate Mass.

Well, okay.  Most of that is in there, especially the phony "Western mind/Organic mind" stuff.  But the DA offers a superficial and misleading glimpse at a rather long case study.

The DA is superficial because it misses the real point of the case study, which is not intended as a discussion of the Eucharist, but of collective decision-making.

It also glides over the significant detail that one of the principal anxieties expressed by the sisters is that "a small number of those who object to priest led liturgies is determining how we worship."  In other words, the case study is occasioned in part by the resistance of many level-headed sisters to the demands of an over-anxious few.

Much worse, though, is that the DA seems to be intentionally misleading, in that it picks out an especially provocative example.  Nuns who don't want the Eucharist!  Nuns who don't like priests-led liturgies! All of which, to many readers, equals:  Blasted radical feminist nuns who say that if they can't be priests, nobody can!  And we expect that there are some of those in the ranks; but that's not the point, either of the case study or (ostensibly) of the DA.  If the CDF wants to argue that church doctrine is being flouted, let it do so; if it wants to argue that there is something inherently un-Christian about systems thinking, let it try.  But let it not attempt to suggest, without offering a proper argument, that the use of a widespread analytical tool for understanding organizational conflict is ipso facto a declaration of doctrinal dissent.  Because that's nonsense.

3. Christology.  There are hints, especially in the opening of the DAS, that the LCWR has lent its support to the various forms of radical feminism which are "characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a 'constant and lively sense of the Church' among some Religious."  This would be a pretty serious charge, if it were supported by any evidence.  Weak Christology is pretty typical of a lot of theological liberalism, certainly of Tillich, and feminist theologies have a special interest in separating "Christ" from the physical person of Jesus, as well as in finding novel ways to speak of the Trinity.

But, really, so what?  If the nuns are also teaching theology, or re-writing the church's liturgies, there are ways to deal with that on a case-by-case basis.  But if they are just talking ... even if this sort of talk becomes a distinctive feature of one house's spirituality ... well, how bad is that, really?  We're not sure.

So what's really going on here?

The fact is that there are, surely, a fair number of American nuns who aren't solidly behind the public teaching of their church.  We'll wager that a lot of them are older, and probably have found their way into leadership positions in the LCWR and similar organizations.  Up to that point, the visitation by the CDF makes sense, and the remedies it proposes are at least ... comprehensible.

However -- and it's a big however -- the DA is a foolish document.  It fails to make the case that the LCWR is doctrinally off-base in any meaningful way.  Worse yet, its release is yet another tone-deaf Vatican PR disaster.  It looks heavy-handedly authoritarian, not least because one of its key complaints is that the sisters aren't authoritarian enough.  From the perspective of propagating the faith -- which is, we grant you, another department's brief -- it would surely have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, or at least to handle any necessary discipline cases more discreetly.

Most serious of all, though, is what looks to us like a fundamental misunderstanding of how the lives of religious sisters are lived.  Even in the middle ages, monastic communities offered very nearly the only forms of self-determination available to women; it no wonder that they have been so historically resistant to taking orders from outside.  Picking a fight with them is rarely a winning proposition.

Deeper still, though, is the question of whether and to what degree nuns -- or any other laypeople -- ought to be required to promote the teachings of the church, even when they privately disagree with those teachings.  To expect this of a priest or, especially, a bishop is one thing; to demand it from the laity is another.  They disagree?  Let them disagree.  Or at least, let them disagree so long as they do not actively undermine the bishops' magisterium.  And if they have been doing that, the document at hand doesn't show how.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Search of Bat-Methodism

One of our favorite comic books is called "Batman: Holy Terror." That's it up top, courtesy of Mother Gillian and her mad librarian skillz. Set in an alternate reality, one on which some odd form of Christianity -- a highly liturgical Calvinism, we believe -- runs the government, the comic features a masked vigilante whose secret identity is a priest. It is quite possible that the page reproduced here, drawn by Norm Breyfogle, is our all-time favorite page of any comic book ever published: the ordination of Bruce Wayne.*

We mention all this because the United Methodist Church is struggling to discern its organizational future, and some voices seem to argue that what it really needs is a Dark Knight, a la Christopher Nolan -- an individual who, when the system fails, is willing to do whatever needs to be done, even if that means looking like the villain.

At least that's the interpretation of Jeremy Smith, in this article describing the four proposed models for restructuring the UMC's national leadership. Smith himself doesn't seem to think that the Dark Knight model -- meaning, somewhat anticlimactically, no more than a powerful executive -- reflects "the Methodist way." He believes that, just as Roman Catholics in trouble turn to their monastic orders, so Methodists ought to turn to representative democracy.

We don't know enough about Methodism to comment. But we do hereby offer our service to the first church body that actually elects Batman as its bishop.
*Where credit is due: "Holy Terror" was written by Alan Bennett and drawn by Norm Breyfogle; the scan here is lifted from Scans Daily.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"The Wednesday After Never"

That, apparently, is when North Korea will be able to strike the US with one of its missiles.

Perhaps you've heard that Pyongyang recently announced one more demonstration of its awe-inspiring military power. Along with sinking South Korean navy boats and then saying "Who, us?," it also periodically fires off a rocket, to keep the neighbors on their toes. And it usually works; the neighbors, including America, get antsy. There is something about a crazy guy next door firing off big guns that inspires antsiness.

The good news is that the most recent North Korean rocket launch was a failure -- their fourth consecutive dud since 1998. Wired's Danger Room blog sums it all up:

“The way they’re going,” says Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterrey Institute, “they’ll be able to hit us the Wednesday after never.”

Now for the caveats. It’s not that the North Koreans couldn’t hit the United States. It’s that launching rockets is hard. The U.S.’ Cold War-era Redstone rockets failed repeatedly. That’s why you test your rockets.

But North Korea doesn’t test their rockets. It holds demonstrations of their rocket capabilities, making them seem like fearsome world events. And they either lie about the results or keep silent about the failures. ...

There’s also reason to believe, with this latest failure, that Pyongyang is getting worse at their launches. “If the North Koreans were making progress with their missile program, you would expect to see them fixing problems after each failure and fine-tuning the technology,” says Brian Weeden, a former officer with the U.S. Air Force Space Command. “Instead, you see a range of different failure modes, indicating they are not really making much progress and actually may be going backwards as they keep making changes without truly understanding what went wrong in each case.”

So, basically, the crazy guy next door is belligerent and threatening. That's a real problem, but it's offset at least a little by the fact that he's a lousy shot who never practices.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

So ... What'd We Miss?

How was our Lenten break, you ask? Don't ask; we've had better. As we've said so many times before in our life, for so many reasons, Thank God for Easter.

Sadly, the earth refused to stand still around us for forty days; this was a surprise and a disappointment. Though tempted, we blogged not, and although there is no way to catch up, we can at least review a few of the posts that were never posted. Here, in nor particular order, are a couple of things that happened during Lent, upon which we might have been inclined to write, had we not been so busy reciting the Litany:*

1) Breaking our heart, Newt Gingrich failed to sew up the nomination. Seems that Republican voters don't care as much as we had hoped about colonizing the Moon. Instead, they are going to run Mitt Romney, a candidate whom their rabid base despises for his Mormonism, Massachusettsism, and ability to speak French. After an expensive and destructive few months spent denying every reasonable, moderate, good-government impulse he has ever had, Romney will lose to a not-terribly-popular incumbent. And we, it seems, will never found the first Lutheran parish on Moonbase Alpha.

2) Rush Limbaugh said some very bad things about a law student named Sandra Fluke. This is a problem for Rush's advertisers, who scrambled to drop their support for his program. It is a delight for us, though, since it gives new life to our favorite early-90s joke: "Q: What's the difference between Rush Limbaugh and the Hindenburg? A: One is a flaming Nazi gasbag, the other is a blimp."**

3) The worst bishop's chair in the world became available when Rowan Williams resigned as Archbishop of Canterbury, beating a retreat back to academia. The second-worst chair also came open, when Pope Shenouda, primate of the embattled Coptic church in Egypt, died. When the body was exposed for public viewing, two of his followers were crushed to death; the transitional government has announced plans to crush the remainder as soon as possible.

4) Trayvon Martin was stalked, beaten, and killed, all for the apparent offenses of walking while black and unlicensed possession of Skittles. The story is appalling to any sensible person, and while it appears that his killer will finally be prosecuted, there is no way the predict an outcome. What the incident brings to light, apart from the familiar questions of race and class and gun ownership, is the very strange phenomenon of "Stand-Your-Ground" laws, which apparently empower any citizen with a gun to use lethal force against anybody who scares them. Frankly, we're astonished that, when it heard about this, the entire GOP establishment didn't lure then-Candidate Gingrich to Florida with evil intent.

5) John Edwards, the wealthy lawyer who cheated on his cancer-stricken wife while running for president as an advocate for the common man, is reported to have visited an expensive prostitute. He denies the report. And heaven knows, we trust John Edwards.

6) This terrorist is afraid other terrorists may hurt him. Poor baby. Funniest part is that he's American. Hope he's not waiting for the cavalry to come save him.

7) Some vast number of atheists marched on Washington, to stand up for ... well, atheism. Richard Dawkins, whose devotion to reason has long since rendered him unreasonable, encouraged them to mock Christians. We've said before that we like and respect many atheists, but it does begin to seem that their militant wing is as eager to create a stable, tolerant, pluralistic society as the Taliban.

8) An American soldier, apparently brain-damaged and probably suffering from PTSD, snuck out of his barracks to murder 17 Afghan civilians, the majority of them children. The damage to US/Afghan relations, and therefore to the battle against Muslim extremism, is likely to be grave. The reflection upon our military's grasp of emotional health matters is grim. What shocked us far more, though, were the responses of some Americans, as reported by a colleague: "They just don't seem to care about what happens to 'the enemy.' " Setting aside the fact that the Afghans are our supposed allies, the very people our soldiers are there to protect, this pitiless response reminded us of what Aquinas says: "The proud are without pity, for they despise others, and think them wicked, so that they account them as suffering deservedly whatever they suffer." (ST 2:2, Q.30, Art. 2)

9) And we stumbled over this tidbit. The Danbury Baptist Association's letter to Jefferson is famous principally for his response, about the wall of separation between church and state. But it might also be remembered on its own merits, for this blessing:

May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you - to sustain and support you and your Administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.
How few are the American Christians, and how pitifully few are the Baptists, who would sign off on such a mission today?

* Seriously, that's what we were doing with the extra time. Nerdy or what?
** Technically, we are honor-bound to point out that the Hindenburg was in fact a dirigible. The difference is the rigid superstructure.