Monthly Archives: July 2004

Plano Hell

Plano Hell: “While Jesus Christ descended into hell for only three days, Kendall Harmon, it seems, has spent a lifetime there. The canon theologian and communications coordinator in the Diocese of South Carolina immersed himself in the topic during his academic endeavors, producing a Ph.D. thesis on the doctrine of hell in 1993 and a redacted article, ?Nothingness and Human Destiny: Hell in the Thought of C.S. Lewis,? which appeared in The Pilgrim?s Guide: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Eerdmans, 1998)”

Touchstone Archives: As Bad As We Get

Touchstone Archives: As Bad As We Get: “In this debate, one side maintains that homosexual behavior is not compatible with biblical teaching, while the other side holds that it is in harmony with–indeed approval is demanded by–the theme of love and inclusiveness in the New Testament. The latter sometimes claim to side with Jesus against Paul, since Jesus at least does not mention homosexuality while Paul does. But there they have a problem, for Paul makes the case for inclusiveness most explicitly, and Jesus spoke explicitly about what would happen to those who taught against the law. They want to embrace Paul’s teachings on inclusiveness while rejecting his other teachings, and take heart from what the Gospels neglect to mention while ignoring what they do”

Touchstone Archives: Servants of the Day

Touchstone Archives: Servants of the Day:

It is not decorous to insult graduating seniors at commencement. But that is what the typical speaker does. There he stands on the dais, a picture of impudence, telling the assembled young people that they will be the Leaders of Tomorrow. So it is that all the crimes and follies that are to come are laid to the charge of our graduates even before they have the opportunity to commit them.

He cannot be in earnest. He knows full well that not ten miles away, at (to take a well-known example) East Podunk University at Yahoo Springs, the red-eyed graduates are likewise being urged to assume Tomorrow’s leadership, as Tomorrow will not oblige us by arriving on its own, but must be haled out of its den in chains if need be, dragging its scaly claws and snorting its temporal fire.

From coast to coast, in shrinking cities and in sod-carpet suburbs and on recycled farms, the future future of America is instructed by the present future of America, while the past future of America nods like Zeus, in fact like many thousands of Zeus, that they must be the Leaders of Tomorrow. And I imagine just such fervor and just such intelligence in swarms across the tundra of Labrador or the icy cliffs of Norway, Leaders of Tomorrow all, tumbling their way to the sea.

Touchstone Archives: Of Pandas & Men

Touchstone Archives: Of Pandas & Men:

Viewers learned everything they could possibly want to know about the creatures. For starters, after some debate, biologists have concluded that giant pandas are, in fact, bears, not, as previously thought, kin to raccoons. As for the distinctive markings, the most popular theory is that these conspicuous markings help the solitary creatures both avoid each other most of the year and spot a potential mate during breeding season.

The Real Reason

I have my own theory about the markings: They make the creatures so cute that people care about what happens to them. Because, let’s face it, evolutionarily speaking, giant pandas are losers.

Unlike their ursine cousins who will eat almost anything, giant pandas–as you probably know–basically eat one thing: bamboo stems and leaves. Okay, two things. (No one is sure why. It’s not for lack of options. Their home range supports other animals, such as the snow leopard, golden monkey, golden langur, and musk deer, none of whom share the giant panda’s “dietary restrictions.”) If that weren’t bad enough, bamboo ranks just ahead of cardboard and Styrofoam on the nutritional scale. To complete the nutritional trifecta, the giant panda is actually a carnivore with a carnivore’s digestive system. So, at best, it’s capable of extracting only 20 percent of the bamboo’s already meager nutritional value.

Then there’s the giant panda’s reproductive strategy. As one conservationist website put it, giant pandas are “notoriously unenthusiastic about breeding.” Anyone living in the Washington area is familiar with the difficulties the National Zoo has had in breeding the animals: a mating season that seems to last 34 minutes, males who are apparently clueless as to how females should be approached, and other problems that make panda pregnancies relatively rare.

And when female pandas do get pregnant, their bamboo diet leads to a very short gestational period and the smallest infants—as measured by their weight relative to their mother’s, a 1,000 to 1 ratio—of all placental mammals. If mom doesn’t accidentally roll over and crush the infant, there’s still the problem of neglect. Half of all panda births are twins. Almost invariably, the mother will choose one infant and completely neglect the other, resulting in its death. That’s why the Wolong Center had to develop what it calls “swap raising,” whereby the twins take turns being with their mother. It’s as if the species is implementing the recommendations of some prehistoric extinction consultant.

For those who take their Darwinism, as Thelonious Monk might have put it, straight, no chaser, the logical response to the plight of the giant panda is “tough.” Evolution is, if nothing else, unsentimental. It rewards adaptability and punishes, in the medium-to-long term, overspecialization. If your diet and habitat disappear—and that has happened countless times in Earth’s history—then you do, too.

FT June/July 2004: Conciliating Hatred

FT June/July 2004: Conciliating Hatred: “These days, if you announce that the Supreme Court is doing politics rather than law you will provoke more yawns than protests. But what sort of politics is the Court doing? Justice Antonin Scalia frequently charges the Court with stepping out of its judicial role and taking sides in the culture wars. That is eminently plausible. Still, we are admonished to have charity, and a more charitable interpretation is at least possible. Some of the Justices, including some who are most centrally placed on the Court, seem to have a very different self-understanding. They seem to see themselves as performing the political function of national conciliation. “

FT June/July 2004: Opinion: The Passion’s Passionate Despisers

FT June/July 2004: Opinion: The Passion’s Passionate Despisers:

What are we to make of l’affaire Gibson now that his film has turned out to be a huge box-office success? Those who, like me, were deeply moved by The Passion of the Christ and judged it to be not anti-Semitic have no reason to gloat. The cultural clashes over the film opened wounds we thought had healed, and they exposed currents of hostility toward Christianity that one would have hoped had disappeared. The freewheeling commentary in the general media, with a few notable exceptions, was pitched at too low a level to call this a teaching moment. But it certainly was a moment to listen and learn–and, at times, to laugh.

Last summer, it should be recalled, Gibson’s project was on very shaky legs. He had not as yet found a distributor for a film in which he had invested twenty-five million dollars of his own money. After reading a “received” copy of the script, a self-selected group of six scholars, most of them veterans of Jewish-Christian dialogue, complained of un-Biblical and anti-Semitic stereotypes. One of the group, Paula Fredriksen of Boston University, wrote a long and fearful essay, “Mad Mel,” in the New Republic, predicting that “violence” would break out upon the film?s release. Immediately, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, orchestrated a campaign to label the film anti-Semitic. That really got Mel mad, and he responded by showing nearly finished versions of the movie to selected audiences, most of which consisted of politically conservative pundits and evangelical Christians. None of them seemed to find the film anti-Semitic–but then few of them were Jews. To columnists such as Frank Rich of the New York Times, Gibson’s screening strategy was part of a “political-cultural” war pitting Jews against Christians, including the Bush White House and the whole conservative wing of the chattering classes.