You are currently browsing the daily archive for September 9, 2008.

Although I am loathe to comment on political campaigns here in general, I just cannot help relaying this little gem (You can clicky through the link to see the video.):

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) says that if Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) becomes the first female vice president it will be a “backward step for women.”

Asked by a local television reporter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin if electing Palin would be a step forward for women, Biden said, “well look, I think the issue is what does Sarah Palin think? What does she believe?”

“I assume she thinks and agrees with the same policies that George Bush and John McCain think,” Biden added. “And that’s obviously a backward step for women.”

No comment necessary, I believe, other than “Heh”. As they say in legal circles, res ipsa loquitur.

A glass of wine with Jonah.

(Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune)

From the Your-Tax-Money-At-Work File comes this story of a guv’mint printing snafu fraught with considerably more interesting than some upside down airplane:

The federal government says it has no choice but to reluctantly keep distributing to millions of waterfowl hunters a toll-free phone-sex-service number that features a breathy woman promising callers that they can “talk only to the girls who turn you on” for $1.99 per minute.

About 3.5 million federal “duck stamps,” featuring artwork by a Plymouth artist, are affixed to a card that bears the misprinted number, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday.

Rachel Levin, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, called the misprint, which connects callers to a phone-sex service, “an unfortunate typographical error” that her agency “really regrets.” She adds that the agency will keep selling the $15 stamps with the naughty number because reprinting the card would cost too much.

According to Ms. Levin, the typo appears to have been an accident and no, ah, fowl play is suspected. (Oh, I slay me.)

I note that the Star Tribune is good enough to print not only the correct Fish & Wildlife number, but also the number of the sex service as well. Just in case there’s some pimply teenager out there who couldn’t figure it out for himself, I suppose.

A glass of wine with Gail at Scribal Terror!

Might I suggest that Andy Murray’s loss to Roger Federer this week at the U.S. Open was due in part to the fact that Mr. Murray was dressed as if he were going bass fishing instead of playing tennis?

I hope that somewhere the Tennis Gods, enfeebled though they may be these days, shared a malignant smile amongst themselves.

By the bye, this reminds me of one of the nicest things Mrs. R ever said to me.  She was the varsity captain of her college team back in the day.  And while I have never pretended to any kind of skill, I used to go out and hit with her on a fairly regular basis, always consciously wearing my whites.  One day she and I were watching a fellah on the next court.  He was bare-chested and wearing brightly colored shorts.   When I bemoaned the fact that he was infinitely better at the game than me, Mrs. R turned and said, “Look, he plays tennis.  But you are a tennis player.”

That was….let me see….about 18 years ago now, but it still makes me smile.

Captain (later Vice Admiral) William Bligh was born this day in 1754 at St. Tudy, Cornwall. Bligh was a good seaman, an extraordinary navigator and an unfortunate commander. (Not only did he suffer a mutiny at the hands of the crew of the Bounty, he later suffered another one at the hands of his officers while Governor of New South Wales.)

Also unfortunate is his reputation as a psychotic martinet that has come down in the popular legend of the Bounty. If you want a real story of a desperate crew driven to extremes by a madman of a captain, go read about Hugh Pigot and the Hermione. Bligh was strict, certainly, and had difficulty in what would today be called “people skills”, but he was no villain. Nor were Mr. Christian and his band of mutineers honest but oppressed victims – they simply fell for the lures of Tahiti and became ruthlessly lawless as a result.

By the bye, I believe it is incorrect to refer to Bligh’s most famous command as “H.M.S. Bounty“. Although the naming convention was not really formalized until a few years later, the prefix “H.M.S.” (for “His Majesty’s Ship”) really only applied to rated (with respect to armament) warships. The Bounty was an armed transport. Thus, she is more properly referred to as “H.M.A.V. (for “His Majesty’s Armed Vessel”) Bounty“.

Joseph Bottum has a long article up over at First Things on the decline and fall of Mainline Protestantism in the context of American political development.  Here he is on the sinking of TEC:

Take, for instance, the peculiar case of James Pike, the Episcopal bishop of California in the 1960s. His fame seems to have declined in recent years. Who now remembers much about the man? Still, he deserves not to fade entirely away, for he was an all-American . . . well, an all-American something, though what, exactly, remains unclear. A churchman, certainly, and a public celebrity—but perhaps, beyond all that, a genuine cultural symbol: his moment’s perfect type and figure.

As it happens, Pike’s family was Catholic when he was born in 1913. He didn’t become an Episcopalian until after his second marriage, in 1942, while he was a government lawyer in Washington—and he didn’t enter the seminary until after his service in the Second World War, when he was already in his thirties. From that moment on, however, his rise was meteoric. By 1949 he was chair of the religion department at Columbia University and chaplain of the school. In 1952 he became dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and in 1958 he was elevated to bishop of California—all this as a convert in a church that prided itself on its old-fashioned composure and careful ­discernment.

Many in the denomination mistrusted him, but Pike was the irresistible man, the torchbearer of the time: his face in every photograph, his signature on every petition, and his blessing on every cause. He first achieved fame in the early 1950s (as fame is measured, at least, by praise from the New York Times) with his attacks on the Catholic Church and its opposition to contraception. In the later 1950s, he burnished his image in the fight against segregation. And by the mid-1960s, he seemed constantly in the news—Bishop Pike denies the virginity of Mary! Bishop Pike rejects the dogma of hell! Bishop Pike denies the Trinity!—all while announcing publicly his embrace of Gnostic mysticism and appearing on a televised séance to contact the ghost of his dead son.

In 1969 he and his third wife drove off into the wadis of the Israeli desert, where he died, dehydrated and alone, as his wife hiked ten hours back from their stranded rental car. “It was our first time in the desert,” Mrs. Pike later told the press. “We didn’t take a guide. We were very stupid about that.”

But, in truth, there was something stupid from the beginning about the charismatic and charming James Pike. Oh, he was smart enough to sound intelligent, and he was extremely savvy about the star-making power of the press. In another sense, however, he was merely ­riding his unconscious awareness of the age, discarding doctrine in the name of ethics, and he was always ­ feckless: dangerously irresponsible, ­refusing to think his way through causes and ­consequences.

“Practically every churchgoer you meet in our level of society is Episcopalian,” he wrote in a letter to his mother, urging her to join him in his move away from Catholicism. It is an astonishingly revealing line: unselfconscious, lacking any reference to faith, openly rolling together class and anti-Catholicism to form the great motive for conversion. From there to an Episcopal bishop’s throne was only a few small steps—“barely twelve years,” as Time magazine pointed out in a fawning 1958 story about Pike’s arrival at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

The path doesn’t seem much different today. The Episcopal Church used to be “larger percentagewise,” the current presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, admitted to the New York Times at the end of 2006. “But Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.” Episcopalians, she said, aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children—indeed, “it’s probably the opposite. We encourage ­people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.” Applauding her parents’ decision to leave the Catholic Church and become Episcopalians when she was nine, Bishop Schori added, “I think my parents were looking for a place where wrestling with questions was encouraged rather than discouraged.”

Schori is by no means a radical, as such things are counted these days in the Episcopal Church—the home, after all, of V. Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual bishop of New Hampshire, and John Shelby Spong, the retired bishop of Newark, who has denied even the possibility of meaningful prayer. She seems, rather, a fairly typical liberal Protestant: a rentier, really, living off the income from the property her predecessors purchased, strolling at sunset along the strand as the great tide of the Mainline ebbs further out to sea.

To be saved, we need only to realize that God already loves us, just the way we are, Schori wrote in her 2006 book, A Wing and a Prayer. She’s not exactly wrong about God’s love, but, in Schori’s happy soteriology, such love demands from us no personal ­reformation, no individual guilt, no particular penance, and no precise dogma. All we have to do, to prove the redemption we already have, is support the political causes she approves. The mission of the church is to show forth God’s love by demanding inclusion and social justice. She often points to the United Nations as an example of God’s work in the world, and when she talks about the mission of the Episcopal Church, she typically identifies it with the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.

Her Yahweh, in other words, is a blend of Norman Vincent Peale and Dag Hammarskjöld. And through it all you can hear the notes of Bishop Pike—not the lyrics, perhaps, but always the melody. There’s the same cringe-making assumption of social superiority: “Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates” than the lower classes of Catholics and Mormons. For that matter, there’s the same unselfconscious declaration of superiority even to faith: We’re theologically more advanced precisely because we don’t have a theology—we have “a place where wrestling with questions” is “encouraged rather than discouraged.”

The Mainline, however, shifted to a surprising degree in the fifty years between Bishop Pike in 1958 and Bishop Schori in 2008. Pike was newsworthy precisely because he seemed contrary to type: a chaplain to the establishment who campaigned against that establishment. Schori seems instead a solid, unexceptionable instance of her type: a representative of the moods and politics of the establishment Episcopalians who elected her their presiding bishop.

I must say that being in the peculiar situation of hearing both a Catholic homily and an Episcopal sermon on the same Gospel passage most Sundays has been a stunning eye-opener in this respect.  I had long held deep-seated suspicions about the drift of TEC, but I had never understood the extent of that drift until I finally resolved to get a hold of myself spiritually.  I used to come away from those sermons feeling vaguely dissatisfied.  I now generally come away from them appalled.

However, apparently it is not just the Palies who are sinking into a kind of secular progressivism dusted with a thin coating of Unitarian piety:

Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran—the name hardly matters anymore. It’s true that if you dig through the conservative manifestos and broadsides of the past thirty years, you find one distressed cry after another, each bemoaning the particular path by which this or that denomination lost its intellectual and doctrinal distinctiveness.

After you’ve read a few of these outraged complaints, however, the targets begin to blur together. The names may vary, but the topics remain the same: the uniformity of social class at the church head­quarters, the routine genuflections toward the latest political causes, the feminizing of the clergy, the unimportance of the ecclesial points that once defined the denomination, the substitution of leftist social action for Christian evangelizing, and the disappearance of biblical theology. All the Mainline churches have become essentially the same church: their histories, their theologies, and even much of their practice lost to a uniform vision of social progress. Only the names of the corporations that own their properties seem to differ.

Bottum’s contention is that “America” as a political entity was based on a fundamentally Mainline Protestant view of the world and a complicated socio-political interlocking of the various MP sects.  He wonders what will happen to the country now that these ideas have effectively ceased to mean anything.

Among the names from classical myth, Ariadne has always been one of my very favorites.  I’ve always felt it had very nice…..contours.  (And lest you think I am being completely gratuitous here, I will tell you that the Pater and Mater once had a cat named Ariadne, one of a string of classically named pets that also included Circe, Augusta (“Gus”), Antigone (“Tig”) and Bathsheba (“Bash”).)


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September 2008