December 25, 2015

The glory of the LORD shall be revealèd

Every Christmas, I make a point of listening to George Frideric Handel's great oratorio, Messiah. So do many people. If you live in a large enough city, you could potentially attend a performance several times each December. And because of Messiah's lengthy performance history (and Handel's habit of modifying the score to suit his performers), the variations are endless: modern or period instruments, professional or amateur soloists, mass choirs or small ensembles—to say nothing of the extensive catalogue of recordings! A more recent tradition is the "sing-along Messiah," in which the choir invites the audience to bring their own scores and sing with them. Paradoxically, this makes the oratorio one of Western art's highest achievements, as well as one of its most accessible.

Messiah is a Christmas institution. So it may come as a surprise to many that its first performance—a benefit in Dublin, Ireland, for the relief of prisoners' debt—took place in April, 1742. (The performance was a success, raising enough money to release 142 debtors from prison.) Its official debut in London took place the following March. Handel himself never had Messiah performed at Christmas; it was for the Easter season. Only the first of Messiah's three parts deals with the birth and ministry of Jesus, telling of the promise of judgment, redemption, and salvation through selected Old Testament passages as well as the birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke. Most of the best-known selections come from Part 1, likely because of its association with Christmas.

However, Part 2 tells of Christ's passion, his death and resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his glorification. It continues by speaking of the beginning of the spread of the Gospel, and its rejection by the world. It culminates in the "Hallelujah" chorus, which declares the absolute sovereignty of God:

Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 16:9)

The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

The words are so closely associated with the "Hallelujah" chorus that you probably think of the music while you're reading them. We hear this chorus every Christmas, but it rightly belongs to Easter! The meaning of Messiah is not "for unto us a child is born"; it's that He is "King of kings and Lord of lords." Hallelujah!

Finally, Part 3 promises eternal life, the Day of Judgment, and the final destruction of sin and death. The oratorio concludes with the exaltation of the Messiah:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, to receive power, andriches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.

Amen. (cf. Revelation 5:9,12-14)

Even less commonly known, perhaps, is that Messiah is as much an apologetic work as it is an artistic one. The libretto (text) was composed by Charles Jennens, Handel's friend and frequent collaborator. Jennens was a devout Christian who was concerned about the rise in popularity of Deism amongst England's intelligentsia. Deism is a philosophical theism that rejects divine revelation as a source of knowledge, concluding that human reason alone is sufficient to establish the existence of a deity. When God created the universe, He established natural laws for its running, but He does not involve himself in its activity. Jennens' brother had lost his faith and committed suicide after corresponding with a Deist. Grieving for his brother, Jennens composed the libretto to Messiah as a response to Deism, compiling Scripture after Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible (paraphrasing here and there) to show that Christ was the promised Messiah and that God took an active interest in the redemption of the world. Jennens was reportedly less than satisfied with Handel's score (which he composed in less than a month), complaining that some parts were "far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the Messiah." The judgment of history has, perhaps, been more favourable.

My favourite selection from Messiah takes its text from Isaiah 40:5:

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

The last phrase is drawn out in long, solemn notes that underscore its significance. It is immediately followed by a bass solo that thunders out: "Thus saith the LORD of hosts" (Haggai 2:6). Jennens draws out the story of Jesus almost entirely from the Old Testament, primarily the prophet Isaiah, drawing from the Gospels only for the annunciation of Jesus' birth to the shepherds by the angles (Luke 2:8-14). The Creator is no mere spectator, and this birth is no mere accident of history. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it; therefore, it has come to pass.

There is a strong relationship between good art and a good message. I have met many Christians who can appreciate many kinds of mediocre art as long as they mention Jesus enough times and are helpful for sharing the Gospel. Yet, in Messiah, a devout Lutheran composer has created one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the Western musical canon, listened to by millions every Christmas. Thanks to his friend, a devout Anglican with a concern for the spiritual state of England, those millions flock into auditoriums and churches willingly to hear the Gospel sung to them.

I wrote last Christmas about why the Incarnation is important. Only God, taking on true humanity, could atone for the sins of, and intercede for, the human race. Without that first Christmas, when "God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4), there would be no Easter—no cross to free us from the penalty of the law. But Charles Jennens and George Handel were right to focus on the work of Christ on the cross, and the blessings that result from it. Without the hope of Easter, there would be no joy at Christmas.

September 01, 2015

September means back down to earth

Welcome to September, everyone!

If you've kept up reading this blog for more than a few years, you know what September means: it's time for my 12th annual Science Fiction Free September. Back in September 2004, I decided that I spent too much of my reading time with science fiction, so I declared a month-long moratorium on the genre, and instead used the time for something I might not read otherwise: classic literature, nonfiction, maybe just even a bunch of books I had started but never got around to finishing. (This year to date I've read three SF novels—about half what I've read in nonfiction. As the years go by the SFFS has either outlived or fulfilled its purpose, but I keep it up anyway, just for fun!)

This year, my big September reading project will be themed around the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. My primary objective is to complete a very long book that I have had for a number of years, but never gotten farther in than, perhaps, one-tenth. This book is the blockbuster history of Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by CBS war correspondent William L. Shirer. This is a popular history rather than an academic one. Shirer was present in Berlin from the Nazis' coming to power to the first year of WWII, when he left after he heard that the Gestapo was trumping up espionage charges against him.

I actually started two days ago, since my last book finished up conveniently on Saturday night (Dolores Claiborne, the latest in my read-all-the-way-through-Stephen-King project). By page count, I am now 2% of the way in, and if I can figure out how to HTML-ize a progress bar, I'll add it to the sidebar.

At ths time I have no secondary objectives, but there's no shortage of unread books in my collection, so I'm sure I'll work something out.

August 05, 2015

Nothing to see here

Today on the Crusty Curmudgeon, we juxtapose, courtesy of Mollie Hemingway:

President Barack Obama told a group of young African leaders on Monday that harvesting organs from humans that are killed as part of an African ritual was "craziness" and a "cruel" tradition that needed to stop. He warned of dehumanizing marginal groups of humans and of the problems that arise when "you are not able to see someone else as a human being."

Meanwhile, back in the States . . .

On the topic of human organ harvesting, President Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest has said that President Obama has chosen not to watch the video footage of Planned Parenthood officials dissecting human fetuses for parts. Nevertheless, President Obama has vehemently defended the abortion group.

[Full Story]

Some humans are more human than others.

July 20, 2015

Victimocracy

The idea that the entire society is supposed to frontally lobotomize itself with regard to basic facts, like what constitutes sex, it's demonstrative of the fact that a victim-run society is unworkable. A society in which we suggest that people who are victims get to redefine reality for everyone, that's not workable. Now notice what I'm saying—I'm not saying that you can't make social changes having nothing to do with the nature of reality, all I'm saying is that you can't redefine reality itself. You can't redefine man-man as as valuable as man-woman in terms of sexual relationships producing children, you can't redefine man as woman, there are certain things in life that you just can't paper over, you can't just gloss over. And the attempts to do so are bound to fail.

Ben Shapiro, The Ben Shapiro Show, podcast audio, July 17, 2015, http://audio.kiroradio.com/seattle/kiro/2015/07/benshapiro071715_2_802.mp3.

July 15, 2015

To vamp out or not to vamp out, that is the question

Today on the Crusty Curmudgeon, we juxtapose:

Sociology researchers are now insisting that we as a society start accepting people who choose to "identify as real vampires"—so that they can be open about the fact that they're vampires without having to worry about facing discrimination from people who might think that that's weird. . . .

"Unlike lifestyle vampires, real vampires believe that they do not choose their vampiric condition; they are born with it, somewhat akin to sexual orientation,' it continues. . . .

[Lead researcher D. J.] Williams explained that no one should be bothered by a person wanting to drink another person's blood because "it is generally expected within the community that vampires should act ethically and responsibly in feeding practices," and it's not their blood-drinking that's the real problem here—it's the fact that they have to worry that other people will judge them for their blood-drinking.

[University Researchers: We Have to Accept People Who "Identify as Real Vampires"]

But meanwhile, in Florida . . .

A Florida man arrested for dancing atop the hood of a patrol car parked in the driveway of a police sergeant told cops that he was seeking the aid of the "Sheriff of Nottingham" to help combat a "woman with fangs" and vampires preparing a human sacrifice, according to court records. . . .

Radecki, a Cape Coral resident, can be seen pulling his 2000 Lincoln Town Car up to the rear bumper of the police SUV. With his car radio blaring, Radecki then climbs atop the vehicle and gyrates to "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates and Supertramp's "Goodbye Stranger." However, by the time the Olivia Newton-John/John Travolta duet "You're The One That I Want" played, Radecki was in custody. . . .

After being taken into custody, cops reported, Radecki explained that he went to Janke's residence because "when he opened his front door, a woman with fangs was threatening him, and that a human sacrifice was about to occur involving vampires." Investigators added that Radecki claimed that he "made the conscious decision to get the Sheriff of Nottingham to help him stop the slaughter of small children."

[Police Release Video of Man's Cop Car Dance]

Now here is a man who didn't get the memo. I wonder if anyone has contacted Supertramp out of concern that their music has been used as an instrument of vampirophobic hate speech?

July 09, 2015

And now . . . this - Jul. 9/15

Meh. It's been done. It's called American light beer.

Nothing is worse than having to use a porta-a-potty at a crowded festival. But a Danish agricultural group wants to put all that urine to good use—by turning it into beer.

[Full Story]

Which does raise an interesting question: Beer looks like urine. So how come the more beer you drink, the less your urine looks like beer?

July 06, 2015

And now . . . this - Jul. 6/15

Remember yesterday's story about the nitwit who killed himself trying to launch a firework off his head?

The mother of a man who tried to launch a firework off the top of his head for July Fourth and was killed instantly said Monday she's advocating for stricter controls about who can use the explosives.

Devon Staples, 22, and his friends had been drinking and setting off fireworks Saturday night in a backyard in Staples' eastern Maine hometown, Calais, when the accident happened with a reloadable fireworks mortar tube, police have said.

[Full Story]

First, it wasn't an "accident." It was reckless behaviour done on purpose, but with an unintended consequence.

Second, you can't regulate stupidity.

Third, as a corollary, if we could regulate stupidity, then banning stupid drunkies from playing with pyrotechnics ought to pretty much solve the problem.

I'm really, really trying to work up some sympathetic feelings, but it's not working. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

July 05, 2015

And now . . . this - Jul 5/15

Hold muh beer an' watch this, part 6.022×1023

Staples placed a fireworks mortar tube on his head and set it off, injuring his head. He died instantly. . . .

[Full Story]

Dear friends, we are gathered here today to mourn the death not only of our friend Devon Staples, but of common sense and sound judgment.

Police say the friends had been drinking.

You don't say.

Meanwhile, in Texas . . .

"Only he didn't say 'Blank' . . ."

A man who apparently mocked alligators, then jumped in the water—despite warning signs—is dead after being attacked in Texas. . . .

"He removed his shirt, removed his billfold . . . someone shouted a warning and he said 'blank the alligators' and jumped in to the water and almost immediately yelled for help," Price said.

[Full Story]

Do not mock the alligators. They will blank you over but good.

July 03, 2015

This week in moral panic

Ever since Dylann Storm Roof allegedly killed nine people in a black church in Charleston on June 17, the United States has been in the grip of mass hysteria. Somehow, the court of public opinion has tried and convicted not merely Roof, but also the Confederate flag, as morally culpable for the shootings, and ever since, everyone has been piling on the bandwagon.

First came the calls to remove Confederate flags from the flagpoles of Southern state capitols. Then, retailers such as Amazon and the Apple App Store banned paraphernalia displaying the flag—the latter going so far as to (temporarily) ban even Civil war-themed computer games. Then, the retro-themed TV Land network halted all broadcasts of The Dukes of Hazzard. Of course, Bo and Luke never did or said anything slightly racist in seven years on the air, though I'm sure the Flag of Evil on their car must have tried more than once to tempt them into a lynching, or something.

And now, golfer Bubba Watson is getting on the bandwagon. He owns LEE 1, one of the original three General Lee cars used for shooting Dukes. He paid $110,000 for it in 2012. Yesterday, he announced on Twitter:

Congratulations, Mr. Watson. I haven't awarded one of these in quite a while, but for a) ignoring the context of the way the Confederate flag is used, and b) converting a valuable and sought-after collectible vehicle into a cheap used car, you are hereby awarded the DIM BULB du jour. Wear it with pride.

In light of racially motivated crimes like the massacre in Charleston, of course it is completely appropriate to start a conversation about the meaning of symbols and their power, for good or ill, to convey a message. However, arbitrarily banning all Confederate flags from public view is not that conversation. Instead, it is emotionalism. Corporations and celebrities are climbing on the bandwagon because they want to be seen as someone who Cares. In their moral panic, they stampede over even the context of the flag and ignore that a Civil War re-enactment (of which a Civil War video game is the electronic equivalent) is precisely the appropriate place for a Confederate flag, or that the General Lee without it is just another old Dodge Charger. They fail to see that with or without the Confederate flag, Dylann Roof would still have committed his crimes. Flag-banning is an empty gesture that saves people from examining the true root of his atrocity: the evil that runs through every person's heart.

Instead, we get an emotional response instead of a rational one. Robert E. Lee's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but hysteria is marching on.

July 01, 2015

Canada: Home of the beaver

It is, once again, Canada Day: the 148th anniversary of Confederation in 1867. We're definitely on the homestretch to our sesquicentennial in 2017.

As I write this—true to form—it's raining. So far, it looks like it's shaping up to be the rainy, drizzly kind of Canada Day rather than the bright warm kind that is punctuated during the day by a brief but heavy downpour. (I've never known a July 1 where it didn't rain in Ottawa at some time.) Either Way, of course, it won't affect the spirits of the massive block party happening on or near Parliament Hill.

Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) was a Canadian poet of English and Mohawk descent. She was born on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario. As an adult she had a profitable stage and literary career; however, as much of her fame rested on her performances, her reputation declined considerably after her death, although in recent years her significance has been re-evaluated.

Today, Johnson's claim to fame arguably rests on one poem in particular, although in a different form that should be nonetheless recognizable to many Canadians, particularly those who spent time in the Scouting movement. The Canadian folk song, "Land of the Silver Birch" has, after all, been sung in the round by many a Cub, Scout, or Girl Guide around a late-night campfire.

The lyrics are perhaps more romantic than nationalistic, as they idealize living in the wild at harmony with nature. (As Johnson loved canoeing and the outdoors, however, it may betrue to her own experience.) Also, the repeated refrain of "Boom diddy-ah da" tends to rob the lyrics of some of their dignity. Nonetheless, "Land of the Silver Birch" also serves as a gentle reminder that the Canadian notion of two founding peoples—English and French—is really a myth. There were peoples here before us, and all of us are equally Canadians: as another of Pauline Johnson's verses put it, "one common Brotherhood / In peace and love, with purpose understood."

June 29, 2015

Dear church: Get your deep and sincerely held beliefs in line

From U.S. President Obama's speech in the Rose Garden on the occasion of the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex "marriage" in all 50 states:

I know change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long. But compared to so many issues, America's shift has been so quick. I know that Americans of good will continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition in some cases has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs. All of us who welcome today's news should be mindful of that fact, recognize different viewpoints, revere our deep commitment to religious freedom. But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shifts in hearts and minds is possible. And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them. Because for all our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone.

Talk about speaking out of both sides of your mouth. For all the talk about "separation of church and state" that you hear from the illiberal Left, it's actually a one-way street. On the one hand, those of religious conviction have no business trying to "impose" their values on society.

On the other hand, it's apparently quite fine for the President to call for those same religious people to amend their "sincere and deeply held beliefs" if they conflict with the values of the current Zeitgeist, and for those same secular Leftists to make a call "to abolish, or greatly diminish, [churches'] tax-exempt statuses" if they won't pile on the gay-rights bandwagon.

These people want a comfortable, inoffensive church that won't rock the boat or tell them that what they are doing might be wrong. The majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges says, "The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths." But the First Amendment doesn't ensure the right merely to "teach" one's religious principles; it ensures the right to exercise them. A conviction held is nothing, if it is not a conviction lived out. That means that all those beleaguered Christian bakers, photographers and florists actually have a constitutional right to act on their convictions and to opt out of taking business that would require them to participate in a ceremony they believe is wrong.

Charles Colson once wrote, "[The church] does not settle into a comfortable niche, taking its place alongside the Rotary, the Elks, and the country club. Rather, the church is to make society uncomfortable."[1] The present animus toward the Christian faith is evidence that, however halfheartedly, we are making society uncomfortable. And the principalities and powers don't like that, one bit.


1. Charles Colson, Loving God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 176.

Chris Squire (1948-2015)

Chris Squire, longtime bassist for the British progressive rock group Yes, has passed away at the age of 67, six weeks after being diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia.

Squire's playing, which had a growling, melodic style, was an essential part of Yes' sound, as you can hear in their track "Long Distance Runaround" from 1973's Fragile:

Yes has recorded 21 studio albums since 1969, and over their rather tumultuous history has had about 20 different members and as many different personnel lineups. Squire was the single constant element throughout. With his passing, none of Yes' founding members remain in the band (longtime guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White joined in 1970 and 1972, respectively).

The music world has lost a major talent. Rest in peace, Mr. Squire.

June 27, 2015

And isn't it high time Wonder Woman was a man?

Another day, another attempt to tamper with established characters to make them more PC:

Peter Parker is Caucasian and heterosexual. That isn’t a description: it’s a contractual obligation, one glittering clause in the solid-gold expanse of a licensing agreement between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios. . . . Certain facets of the man’s character are inflexible. He must not be black. And he must not be gay.

[Why It's Time for a Black or Gay Spider Man]

The author does raise the obvious retort: if you want a black or gay superhero, why not just create a new one from scratch? But he never really answers it. There is a perfectly clear answer, though: the Left creates affirmative-action, token characters like this as vehicles for dropping a Message on audiences' heads like a cartoon anvil. Heavy-handed ideology does not make for good art, and audiences know it. Since they know they can't succeed on their own merits, the Left needs to hijack someone else's already profitable property and repurpose it.

Imagine the howls of outrage if Fat Albert or Charlie Chan were remade as Caucasians.

June 26, 2015

On SCOTUS and same-sex "marriage"

I was contemplating what I could say in response to today's travesty of a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, which legalizes same-sex "marriage" in all 50 states. I decided two things: there's nothing 1) I can add to the conversation that hasn't already been said by better commentators, and 2) given that I'm sitting comfortably in a country that has had legal same-sex "marriage" for the past decade, I'm really not in a position to be offering critiques to the U.S.

So, instead, I'll just refer back to a post I made almost two years ago on the topic. God himself established the institution of marriage along with its attendant social and theological significance. Five judges, or even nine, have no authority to alter its parameters.

June 25, 2015

June 24, 2015

Now racist: White people having white children

Especially other white people having white children.

There was a time in my 20s when everything I learned about the history of racism made me hate myself, my Whiteness, my ancestors . . . and my descendants. I remember deciding that I couldn't have biological children because I didn't want to propagate my privilege biologically.

If I was going to pass on my privilege, I wanted to pass it on to someone who doesn't have racial privilege; so I planned to adopt. I disliked my Whiteness, but I disliked the Whiteness of other White people more. I felt like the way to really end racism was to feel guilty for it, and to make other White people feel guilty for it too.

[I Sometimes Don't Want to Be White Either]

This, Faithful Readers, is what crazy looks like.

June 19, 2015

Good question, actually

"I do not understand why everything in this script must inevitably explode." —Teal'c, Stargate SG-1, "200"

June 18, 2015

Awkward

Brian Williams, the NBC anchor and professional fabulist who was suspended after claiming falsely to have come under fire in a helicopter while covering the Iraq War in 2003, has been moved to MSNBC.

In his new role, Mr. Williams will anchor breaking news stories and special reports for MSNBC and primarily appear in the daytime. MSNBC’s evening schedule is mostly political talk shows.

[Full Story]

Put another way: NBC isn't credible enough with him, and MSNBC isn't credible enough without him.

June 16, 2015

Trans-mania

Nearly two centuries ago, the Scottish poet and journalist Charles Mackay published an influential book titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, in which he recounts the histories of many popular follies, including such topics as financial bubbles, witch mania, quacks, and popular fads. In his preface, Mackay wrote, "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

I imagine that if Extraordinary Popular Delusions had been written today, Mackay would have had a few words to say about our own extraordinary popular delusion: transgenderism.

It's been two weeks since Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner came out as "Caitlyn," posing for an interview and a cover photo for the July issue of Vanity Fair. The reaction from the media and the general public was predictable. Everyone remarked on Jenner's "bravery," and ESPN went so far as to instantly award him the 2015 Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at this year's upcoming ESPYs.

Most interesting, however, is the near-instantaneous switch to female pronouns to refer to Jenner. The usual crowd of social-justice warriors sprang up to offer the usual vicarious outrage at anyone who still insensitively spoke of "Caitlyn" as if he were a man. One person even programmed a bot to scan Twitter and automatically correct anyone who "misgendered" Jenner as male.

I noted this phenomenon last fall when American Atheists staffer David Moscato came out as "Danielle." Despite the evidence of his headshot that he is a balding, hirsute dude, and his position as director of public relations for an organization that supposedly believes in rationalism and the scientific method, hordes of supporters immediately accepted the change of pronouns on nothing more than Moscato's fiat declaration that it was so. The uncritical acceptance of transgender persons on nothing more than their own ipse dixit is, in fact, non-rational. It has a quasi-religious fervour. It's certainly a textbook example of the kind of herd thinking that Charles Mackay was writing about.

I'm a couple weeks late to chime in on the whole Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner thing, and I would have let it pass entirely, had the more recent Rachel Dolezal controversy not offered up a plum opportunity to juxtapose.

Dolezal is the woman who, until yesterday, was the president of the Spokane, WA chapter of the NAACP. Last week, a story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review quoted Dolezal's parents as claiming Rachel was not the black woman she presented herself as: in fact, older pictures of Rachel show her to be a pale Caucasian with straight, blonde hair. It was also discovered that in 2002, Dolezal unsuccessfully sued her alma mater, the historically black Howard University, for anti-white discrimination when she was passed over for a TA position. The controversy escalated over the weekend to the point that Dolezal resigned her position yesterday. Ironically, the NAACP has no rule that its leadership must be black; had Rachel Dolezal simply not pretended to be something she isn't, it's possible she would still be employed today.

I have friends on Facebook who complimented Jenner for being "brave," but then two weeks later, criticized Rachel Dolezal for being "offensive." This is just the mainstream thinking of the average person on the street. But I wonder: Why? If Bruce Jenner can be transgendered, then why can't Rachel Dolezal be transracial? If a man can repudiate an immutable biological characteristic like his sex and declare himself to be a woman in defiance of all his chromosomes, then why can't a blonde woman born to Caucasian parents also defy the immutable biological reality of her skin colour and declare herself African-American?

In fact, what was discussed satirically only a few days ago is already being discussed seriously. A Wikipedia page on transracial identity, created only today, offers an un-ironic discussion of the topic. I wonder whether this is because, positively, advocates for transgenderism realize that the logic of the one applies equally to the other, or negatively, because the illogic of transracialism exposes the folly of transgenderism.

The harsh reality is that all transmania, whether transgender or transracial or anything else, is a form of rebellion against truth and reality. And, therefore, it is a rebellion against the Creator who made us the way we are. As Albert Mohler has said in the past on his podcast:

The Bible says that we are not who we think ourselves to be, but who our Creator made us to be. And that means that no matter how we say we know ourselves, or what we claim about ourselves, the key issue for eternity is what our Creator thinks of us, because he knows us better than we know ourselves, because he made us.

If Bruce Jenner wants to be known as Caitlyn, then I'm OK with that. A name is an identifying label, and it can be legally changed. But while he is entitled to change his name, he is not entitled to change his pronouns, which describe not who he is, but what. Whether Bruce or Caitlyn, Jenner is a man, and no amount of plastic surgery, hormone treatment, lingerie, or Photoshop can change that. Maleness is embedded in his molecules. And Rachel Dolezal might surround herself with black friends, dye and perm her hair, or spray on a layer of can-tan, but that disguise can do nothing to help wish away her ancestry.

May 18, 2015

Tossed to and fro

Michael Coren has crossed the Tiber. Again. He first converted to Roman Catholicism as a young adult in 1985, then converted to evangelical Christianity in the early 1990s, then returned to Rome in 2004. Now, he has announced that a year ago he left the Roman church again and began worshipping with the Anglicans. (If this trend continues, he is due to re-convert to Catholicism in approximately 2024, by which point his personal swimming lane in the Tiber River will be marked off with pool ropes.)

The reason for Coren's departure from Rome is all too predicatable these days, as he notes in an op-ed published Saturday in the Toronto Star:

I gradually came to embrace the cause of same-sex marriage, more liberal politics and a rejection of the conservative Christianity that had characterized my opinions and persona for more than a decade. . . .

The change was to a large extent triggered by the gay issue. I couldn’t accept that homosexual relationships were, as the Roman Catholic Church insists on proclaiming, disordered and sinful. Once a single brick in the wall was removed the entire structure began to fall.

In other words, like so many, he's capitulated to the spirit of the age, and it looks like he's found a church that won't challenge his assumptions: "I quietly and privately drifted over to an Anglican Church that while still working out its own position on many social issues, is far more progressive, open, relevant and willing to admit reality."

Not that it's difficult. The Anglican Church of Canada has been drifting toward the left on this issue for years. Currently ten dioceses are authorized to "bless" same-sex unions, including the Diocese of Ottawa where I live. The 2016 General Synod will vote on whether to authorize same-sex "marriages." Meanwhile, Canon XXI of Anglican church law, as well as the marriage ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer, still presuppose that a marriage consists of a man and a woman.

If you go to a wedding ceremony, you are likely to hear such biblical passages as Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:15-24, or Ephesians 5:21-33 read. Marriage is not merely a license for guilt-free sex. It is a powerful symbol of the relationship of Jesus Christ and his church. That's why, notwithstanding whoever the world says can be married, within the church a same-sex "marriage" is a theological absurdity. It would be interesting to know what Bible verses about marriage are going to be read at Anglican same-sex ceremonies.

I viewed Coren's TV show from time to time and have read some of his books, and found them worthwhile. But this bouncing back and forth from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism and back again every decade is symptomatic of a deep spiritual immaturity. His denominational affiliation is driven by his current likes and dislikes; he is the very definition of one "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 4:14).

Pray for Michael Coren that he finally grows up in his faith and stops swimming.

April 28, 2015

"We played the flute, and you did not dance": thoughts on Saturday's incrementalism vs. immediatism debate

On Saturday evening, I enjoyed a late dinner and viewed a live stream of a debate titled "Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. Abolitionist Immediatism." Gregg Cunningham of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform argued in favour of the incremental position, while T. Russell Hunter of the International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies, and the founder of the Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) movement, argued for the immediatist position. (Henceforth I will call the latter the "absolutist" position: while I have no particular prejudice against their preferred term, I just feel that visually, "immediatist" and "incrementalist" may appear too similar in print.)

The event, which took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was streamed live via YouTube and can still be viewed there.

My first post as a blogger for Faith Beyond Belief was about taking an incremental approach to ending abortion on demand. After viewing the debate, I firmly continue to stand behind that post. Quite frankly, I found Hunter's argument unconvincing.

Both sides made rhetorical missteps, but Russell Hunter came across as unprepared, strident, and preachy. (After Scott Klusendorf paraphrased a well-known legal aphorism while commenting on the debate on his Facebook page, an interesting side discussion ensued about its origin. Although the proverb is by no means original to him, it was Carl Sandburg who most famously quipped, "If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell." Hunter certainly did his fair share of yelling on Saturday night.)

After the debate, someone on the debate's event page posted that Gregg Cunningham "ended up conceding the debate" in his answer to one audience question: "If you had the opportunity, if a bill was presented to you, that would abolish abortion completely, except for one child, you had to let one child die, there was one exception, what would you do?" He replied, "The answer, quite simply, is no. . . . I would say, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.'" His response consciously echoed Hunter's, to whom the question was originally posed.

Supposedly Cunningham conceded the debate to the absolutist side because by his answer he admitted that he could not sacrifice the life of a single unborn child for the sake of the greater good. I didn't see it that way. Rather, I heard what I perceived to be a loaded question intended to manipulate emotions in favour of the absolutist side (the man who posed the question was wearing an AHA shirt). Of course there would be no practical benefit to such a law; the hypothetical was contrived for emotional impact, as if to compel Cunningham to tell that innocent little unborn baby to her face that she must die for the greater good. (I think the questioner must also have confused incremental strategy with utilitarianism.)

I suggest an alternative form of the question, one which I hope will preserve the same moral issue present in the one asked at the debate, but hopefully without the transparent emotional appeal:

If you had the opportunity, if a bill was presented to you that would abolish abortion completely, except that the law would not come into effect until the end of the month and the status quo would remain in the meantime, what would you do?

Of course, I would sign that bill in a heartbeat, because it would mean both a soon and definitive end to the scourge of abortion.

I would be curious to see how an absolutist would answer it, though. I would think that their devotion to ideological purity would catch them on the horns of a dilemma.

And in the final analysis, it's that purism that renders the "abolitionists" (I reject their claimed monopoly on that term) so irrelevant. Incrementalists see victory over abortion on demand as achieved in a series of small steps, some of which have resulted in victories. Absolutists see any sort of partial legal restriction on abortion as implicitly saying "then you can kill the baby" if those restrictions don't apply in his case. If you can't outlaw abortion all the way, they say, you shouldn't go at all. So far, this approach has achieved exactly zero successes. Maybe they should stop calling themselves "abolitionists" and adopt the label "armchair quarterbacks."

Members of AHA spend a lot of time outside abortion clinics, protesting what goes on inside and counseling women not to have abortions there. I have no doubt that they changed many minds, and deserve unqualified credit and praise for the good they have done. Their activities are praiseworthy, but they are not a vindication of the abolitionist strategy. Do sidewalk counselors persuade every woman who comes to the clinic for an abortion not to have one? Do they blockade the clinic to prevent everyone they don't persuade from entering? If not, are they not tacitly acknowledging that women are legally allowed to enter an abortion clinic and kill their baby? How is this not the abolitionists' own "then you can kill the baby"?

We need the absolutists' zeal. We need their calls to the church to awaken out of its lethargy and do something to stop the killing. What we don't need is the kind of almost priggish commitment to an ideology that has thus far probably not prevented a single abortion, and treats allies as enemies.

April 24, 2015

And now . . . this - Apr. 24/15

Here's an instant classic from the chronicles of the Society of the Perpetually Outraged, whose feelings are so tender that even a tongue-in-cheek slutshaming of a fictional superhero suffices to send the social-justice warriors running for their keyboards.

When asked about fans' unmet hopes that Black Widow would get together with their characters, Captain America and Hawkeye respectively, instead of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), [Jeremy] Renner said, "She's a slut." [Chris] Evans laughed and agreed: "I was going to say something along that line . . . A complete whore." Renner also joked that "she has a prosthetic leg anyway."

[Full Story]

Reports are coming in that the Black Widow has been so humiliated by the incident, that she developed an eating disorder. Moll Flanders and Holly Golightly are said to be staging an intervention.

Seriously, when people get upset about someone calling a fictional character a slut (it's probably true, anyway, by design), then the Big One can't come soon enough.

April 17, 2015

Scrubbing the Sin List

My latest post for Faith Beyond Belief is up.

In the aftermath of Indiana's RFRA law, while no one is calling for the lions, some secular thinkers are calling for Christian silence: for example, NYT columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni recently wrote that Christians need to take homosexuality off the "sin list."

(Read "Scrubbing the Sin List.")

February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

When news broke a few days ago that actor Leonard Nimoy had been hospitalized, I feared the worst, and it has happened: he has passed away at the age of 83, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which he attributed to his former smoking habit.

Like many people of a particular generation, I knew that Nimoy had had a long and varied career in the performing arts. However, I knew his work exclusively from one character: Star Trek's Spock, the role that defined his career for almost 50 years. (Nimoy wrote two autobiographies: I Am Not Spock [1975], in which he attempted to distance his own personality from the character's, and then I Am Spock [1995], in which he clarified that he was proud to have played Spock, and never meant to reject the role.) Nimoy also played guest roles on numerous television programs of the 1960s, including Bonanza, The Rebel, Get Smart, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone (as did his Star Trek co-star William Shatner, arguably more famously), and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (in an episode where he and Shatner both appeared as enemies on either side of the Cold War, with Nimoy as the villain). After Star Trek, he had a recurring role on Mission: Impossible. Come to think of it, I may have seen the episode of the Outer Limits revival on which he was the guest, but apart from the various incarnations of Star Trek, that's it.

Three of Trek's seven stars have now passed on; Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig remain.

In addition to television and film acting, Nimoy also pursued other arts: directing, poetry, photography, and music—the last infamously including a novelty song titled "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins."

Leonard Nimoy's final tweet before his death was this:

Or, in the final words of Spock, in Star Trek II: "Remember."

'Nuff said

Technically since it's in the dark, it's ALL black.

January 03, 2015

And now . . . Science! - Jan. 3/15

We begin the 2015 blogging year with this note of brilliance from astrophysicist, Cosmos host, and popular spokesman for Science!, Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

While I'm sure Tyson is eminently qualified as an astrophysicist, it seems to me there are some people who are vocationally better suited to running the planetarium gift shop than opining. When your answer to the world's problems is something like, "Well, why don't they make it so you can't do that?" you may be one of those people.