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Most "scary movies" I dislike. They are what I think of as "shockers": the visual equivalent of jumping out of the dark and yelling BOO!, or worse, "gorefests" that shock in the same way the sight of a bad car wreck with its blood and death grabs the attention and causes the audrenaline to pump. To these movies I say, So what.

I do like "suspense" movies: the kind that induce sustained apprehension, like Jaws. And I like "weird" movies, that mess with my mind, challenge my thinking and perceptions, and disturb me at a deep level. Like The Exorcist. But mostly, I think the realm of The Weird is better done in literature.

So this Halloween, if you must watch a movie, I recommend The Exorcist, or the original 1925 Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney, or perhaps the 1922 Nosferatu, or maybe the 1932 The Mummy with Boris Karloff, or if you can find it the 1932 Freaks.

But, I recommend you read this Halloween. (more below)

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My favorite atheist Democrat cultural observer (no, really) has an interview in Salon covering Democrats, Republicans, Mark Foley, the media and about anything else her brilliant mind chooses to dissect. She is always worth reading.
I had meant to comment on this story in the Daily Mail when it came out, but one thing led to another and none of them back to this article, till now. Hat tip Drudge.

The lead paragraph:

One of the country's leading hospitals is throwing aborted babies into the same incinerator used for rubbish to save only £18.50 each time, it has emerged. Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, said it was no longer able to afford the dignified disposal at a local crematorium of foetuses from unwanted pregnancies. Instead, they are being burnt in the hospital's main incinerator - which is normally used for rubbish and clinical waste.

My intitial reaction was to think--well, it has finally happened, the logic of the abortion position has led to consistent action. If an unwanted baby is thought of as something to be rid of like waste, then dispose of it like waste.

The next paragraph got me thinking:

The revelation sparked anger and distress among church leaders and pro-life groups, as well as women whose pregnancies were terminated at the hospital.

I would expect anger from church leaders and pro-life groups, but am not accustomed to seeing the feelings of "women whose pregnancies were terminated" mentioned. (more below)

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The New York Daily News is reporting that "transgendered" men may now use the Women's Restrooms legally. Article here.

The line for the girls' room just got longer.
Men who live as women can now legally use women's rest rooms in New York's transit system under an unprecedented deal revealed yesterday.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to allow riders to use MTA rest rooms "consistent with their gender expression," the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced yesterday.

We are talking about men, guys with penises, free to use the Women's Room because they dress like women and act like women.

We live in strange times. (more below)

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Earlier I wrote about President Bush's millennial hope--a time of peace and prosperity brought about by democratization and free markets. here and here I labeled him a postmillennialist, because this view of history in Christian thought is known as postmillennialism: Jesus will return after a lengthy period of peace and justice brought about by the spread of the gospel. (Ironically, our chief adversary in the world today is the Iranian president who has his own millennial ideas involving an apocalypse and the return of the Hidden Imam. post here)

Responding to a query from Joab, I promised here to engage in a series of posts explaining (and defending) each millennial position. My explanation and defense of postmillennialism, an extremely influential world-view among American evangelicals in the 19th century, is here. Below is my explanation and defense of amillenialism.

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Our friend Toqueville has made his prediction already on the ruling, and on its political fallout here. The Newark-Star Ledger here provides a bit of background plus a link to the NJ Supreme Court website where the decision will be posted.

Update: the link provided by the Star-Ledger does not seem to work. Here is the website. As of 3:37pm Eastern Time I have not found a ruling.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
How well do you know the beliefs of celebrities? Take this quiz from the Dallas Morning News.
My wife and I have three grown children. As they were growing up, we decided that they would participate in certain activities. For example, a mandatory few years of piano lessons and summer league baseball, swimming lessons until they were safe in the water, etc. We did not overschedule our children (or at least tried not to), but wanted them to have some breadth of experience.

One of the things we required was participation in Cub Scouts and Brownie Scouts (we have a daughter and two sons). It was then up to each child whether to continue in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We wanted them to do this for many reasons including: (1) being part of a group with some members outside our church [I was and am a pastor as well as teacher], (2) learning a variety of skills and having a variety of experiences resulting in greater self-confidence, (3) benefiting from the care and guidence of adults other than their parents, (4) being part of an organization that promotes traditional values. My wife and I are happy with this choice for our children. I also learned and grew serving in various capacities including Cub Scout Den Leader.

But, as most of you know, Scouting has been under attack for several years now. Jay Nordlinger in today's National Review has these thoughts.

It may be too much to speak of a war on the Boy Scouts, but they are certainly being . . . hampered. A couple of items: In Berkeley, Calif., “a Scouts sailing group lost free use of a public marina because the Boy Scouts bar atheists and gays.” (I’m quoting from a news story.) Okay, that’s Berkeley — Berserkley, whatever.

In Connecticut, “officials dropped the group from a list of charities that receive donations from state employees through a payroll deduction plan.”

Okay, that’s Connecticut, land of nutmeg and nutters.

And in Philadelphia? “The city is threatening to evict a Boy Scout council from the group’s publicly owned headquarters or make the group pay rent unless it changes its policy on gays.”

Just a little more quoting: “On a separate matter, federal judges in two other court cases that are being appealed have ruled that government aid to [the Scouts] is unconstitutional because the [organization] requires members to swear an oath of duty to God.”


No, it’s too much to speak of a war on the Scouts. But should I say “too much” or “too early”? Will there come a day when the Scouts will be some kind of underground organization?

These are weird times, my friends.

Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
My home state of Missouri is in the midst of a campaign to prevent the state legislature from curtailing stem cell research. Proponents of this research are pushing an amendment to the state constitution granting a sort of "right" to do stem-cell research, within Federal guidelines. Article here, portions below.

Proponents of Missouri constitutional amendment to protect embryonic stem cell research have broken every record on political spending for statewide races, with one billionaire couple bankrolling nearly all of the $28.7 million campaign.
. . .

The Nov. 7 vote asks voters to amend the Missouri constitution to protect all forms of stem cell research that are legal under federal law. The measure would limit the Legislature's ability to regulate controversial forms of embryonic stem cell research.

My thoughts below.

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In Plato's Republic the participants discuss the creation of a just city (society). One of the first suggestions is that the stories told to children are powerful, shaping souls/minds. It is agreed that not any set of stories will do if the members of a just society are to be shaped properly. For example, the old myths of the gods inculcate too many bad ideas and attitudes, therefore new stories must be created to shape souls/minds to virtue. These new stories, "fables," may be literally untrue, but must convey truth about ultimate reality (God).

Plato--and the human mind does not get much better--recognized that we are shaped by the stories we tell one another. These stories may shape us badly (injustice, lack of virtue) or well (just, virtuous). For a just and virtuous society to be formed, attention must be given to the shared stories, the shared mythology, of the society.

I am using the word "myth" in this post to mean "significant story," that is, a story that is intended to signify truth: a story intended to locate us within the universe and within society. "Myth" in this sense is the story that tells us who we are as individuals and as a society. For example, my primary source of insight into the purpose of Jesus' parables is from Amos Wilder (Thornton's brother) in his book Jesus' Parables and the War of Myths. In the parables Jesus is telling his followers who they are, and what the world is really like. He is giving them stories with signifying power.

In his recent and excellent post Immigration and Acculturation, Farmer concluded by writing (cont. below)

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Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
We seem instinctively to favor other humans over all other animals.

I was raised on a farm around animals, and can be without human companionship for a long time without feeling lonely if I have animals around. But, I have hunted and killed and eaten wild animals, and have killed and helped butcher domesticated animals. I have looked at a fat squirrel in a pecan tree and thought--you'd taste good after I fried you up. I've never had carniverous thoughts about another human being. And I'm not alone. We have now and have had lots of human cultures around the globe, but relatively few cannibalistic ones. We seem naturally to distinguish human from non-human life.

Without reflection, we hold humans to a different standard than we do non-human animals. Even the most fervent vegetarian environmentalist (say a Vegan) does not condemn beavers for building dams across streams, but may condemn humans for building our dams. Logically, the only reason one may condemn a human-built dam as an artificial interference with nature, and admire a beaver dam as an expression of nature, is if humans are placed in a different category than beavers. If a tiger mauls a stage magician, we do not arrest the tiger and try it before a jury of fellow tigers. We unreflectively differentiate the human from the nonhuman.

Even the Jain, the religion that most stresses a prohibition against the taking of any life (the First Great Vow: "I renounce all killing of living beings, whether movable or immovable. Nor shall I myself kill living beings nor cause others to do it, nor consent to it."), has as its majority the Lay-Folk who do not take the Five Great Vows, but instead take 12 lesser vows, which include avoiding directly taking sentient life. But even the Jain privilege humans above other living beings: one cannot attain salvation until one is born human (for some Jain sects, born a man).

The point I am trying to make is that we instinctively differentiate, and give privilege to, human beings as somehow set apart from other living creatures. And we do this in a wide variety of cultures and religions. (more below)

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Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Willow Creek Named Most Influential Church
According to the Church Report magazine, Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, Illinois, is the most influential church in America. The annual list of the nation's influential churches is based on a survey sent to 2,000 pastors nationwide that asked participants to recommend up to ten churches they considered most influential.
Other churches in the top five included Saddleback Church in California, North Point Community Church in Georgia, Fellowship Church in Texas, and Lake Wood Church, also in Texas. (EP) From the Church Herald., the magazine of the Reformed Church in America.

Here are links to these congregation's webpages.

Willow Creek

Saddleback Church

North Point Community Church

Fellowship Church

Lake Wood Church

Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Jeffrey Weiss writing in the Dallas Morning News has an article on the flurry of interest in Hollywood and outside Hollywood in making movies with religious themes. Studios want to make money, and The Passion of the Christ incited a desire to reach a church-going audience. Religiously-based independents are using movies to spread their message.

I'll try to get around to a list of movies with Christian themes that I think are worthwhile.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Premillennial: believing that when Jesus Christ returns he will usher in a long period of peace and justice (the millennium). In other words, there is a radical discontinuity [the return of Jesus] between present human history and the evident reign of God on earth in human history (Shalom). After the millennium comes the fulfillment.

Amillennial: believing that Jesus will return and then usher in the fulfillment, without a period of God’s evident reign within human history. In other words, hope for Shalom will be met only beyond human history.

Postmillennial: believing that the return of Jesus will be preceded by a period of peace and justice in which God’s reign on earth will be seen. Then comes the return of Jesus and the fulfillment. In other words, there will be a continuity between present human history and the establishment of Shalom.

A while back, in the context of some posts on George Bush’s postmillennial theology, I mentioned that postmillennialism had been the majority opinion among evangelical Christians of the nineteenth century. Given the beliefs of contemporary evangelicals, holding to a postmillennial position seems unimaginable. In response to a comment by Joab, I promised to attempt a defense of each of these major positions. (Personal disclaimer, I am not a fully persuaded believer of one position; I tend to alternate between amillennialism and postmillennialism.)

All Christians are optimistic in an ultimate sense: we believe that Jesus will return and triumph over his foes, and ours, including death and suffering. But is there reason for optimism before the End? In other words, do Christians expect there to be any real, overall progress within human history? The answer given to this question will vary between Christians holding differing millennial views.

Answering “No,” are amillennialists and premillennialists. While there may be material progress within human history in areas such as technology, there is no actual human progress in a moral sense. All technological advances, for example, simply will allow us to kill one another in greater numbers. The amillennialists expect that the human history will continue a mixed-up mess of sin with some virtue, without real progress, until Jesus comes again. The premillennialists, most of them, expect that human history will continue a downward course getting worse and worse, a retrogress in effect, at least near the end of time. On the contrary, answering “Yes,” are the postmillennialists. The history of the human race, through the work of the Holy Spirit, does and will show moral progress as the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads over the world.

One’s attitude toward the progress, or lack of progress, within human history will affect political attitudes. (Wondering out loud: Reagan was postmillennial down to his bones, Carter?)

The American attitude, traditionally, has been optimistic regarding the future: we have thought of history in terms of progress. One of the roots of this optimism has been the influence of Christian postmillennial thought, the understanding of the majority of American evangelical Christians until some time in the twentieth century. Even today, though, I would venture to say that most Americans reject the idea that evil can triumph within human history until the End. In other words, I would say that most Americans reject the idea that God would allow a Hitler or a Stalin to envelope the world in a horror of tyrannical evil for centuries or millennia until Jesus comes again. We Americans seem to have a postmillennial heart, whatever doctrine is in our heads.

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Katie Couric arrived at CBS News a few weeks ago in a big way, making news as well as reading it. Her ratings initially spiked, then dived, then leveled and now may be inching up. We will continue to watch as the story unfolds, but the decision to hand over the CBS Evening News franchise to Couric exists within a larger framework of the Feminization of American News Culture.

I suppose I embody a problem demographic. I do not generally watch the network newscasts anymore. For the most part, I know the news of the day from C-SPAN, the internet, conservative talk radio and NPR. In Waco, the national network news broadcasts begin at 5:30, which is a busy family time for me. Having said that, if something really interesting is going on, I will generally try to catch a few bites of The Newshour with Jim Leher. The Newshour generally offers more depth and an expert (or newsmaker) opinion on the topic of the day.

Some positive observations on Katie Couric (although, admittedly, I have not watched her newscast much):

1. The voice over of Cronkite. I am thrilled every time I hear Walter Cronkite say: "the CBS Evening News..."

2. The "Free Speech" segment. It is innovative. At least it is something new in the way that everything old is new again. The commentary at the end of the newscast hearkens back to the days of Eric Sevareid adding his perspective to Cronkite's newscast. Of course, the segment is designed to be light and popular; thus far, it certainly lacks the erudition and penetrating analysis of Sevareid.

3. The leg shot at the end of the show. One of these days, undoubtedly, we will look back and all agree that Mary Hart was a great pioneer in broadcast journalism. Although I am distressed that Couric seems to be wearing more pant-suits.

Some cranky (crankier) observations:

1. Couric contorts her face into an uncomfortable and unattractive mask when she segues into serious news.

2. The good news in that regard is that serious news is not nearly as prevalent as you might think on a network evening news broadcast. There is a lot of time for good-natured banter and teasing of colleagues and cute cajoling of newsmakers. In an interview with New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Tom Kean, in the midst of Democratic scandals in the state, Couric focused on Kean and whether he wanted President Bush to visit him. "Come on now," she giggled, persisting in several humorous attempts to portray Kean as running away from the President in a blue state. It was all very cute--but not very Cronkite-ish.

3. Some of the copy seems better suited for a satire of a bad news program. For example: After watching a four-year-old drum phenom on You Tube, Katie intones: "drums not your bag? [cue film of a bagpiper] Maybe these are. More after we pay the piper."

Serious question: Why not just cut to the chase and offer Oprah Winfrey the franchise?
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Here is a link to an extremely provocative essay on the fortunes of traditional family life, and associated politics, in Industrial America. I will be so bold as to label this essay must reading for informed discussion of traditional family issues. I probably will respond to some of the points raised in the future, but for now want to mull over things.

Read this. From Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. Hat tip The Layman.
Perhaps in the light of Foley's habit of cultivating relationships with teenage boys, then moving into sexualized relationships, the Boy Scout position barring homosexual Scout leaders will look more rational to some people.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Rachel Swarns has a superb article in the New York Times about the slow and tentative growth of friendship between a black pastor and a Hispanic pastor in Willachoochee, Georgia. Hispanic immigration is changing the racial dynamics of the South, and blacks and Hispanics often deride each other from across this new racial divide. In a poor and working class small town, two Christian ministers are becoming friends, and perhaps may be able to take their congregations on the same journey. Read the whole article. Hat tip Religion Headlines.

Christianity's record on race relations is not pure. Antebellum Southern Christians justified slavery, and later segregation. But, we should remember that groups of British and American evangelicals led the fight to end slavery, and that some white clergy and churches cooperated with black ministers and churches in the Civil Rights Movement.

02/10: Values TV

Psssst. Don't tell the studio execs, but there actually are some TV shows that reflect values. Rebecca Cusey lists and describes them on National Review.
In spite of the times my devotion has been abused, I don't know how to quit baseball. In honor of the end of another season, Powerline has this great post on Frank Robinson.

I still am disgruntled by MLBs inability to make the sport safe from performance-enhancing drug abuse. I would think that by now the players themselves would want ironclad procedures that would protect them from suspicions such as those now hanging over Roger Clemens as he takes his exit bows.

But, I still love the game. At the risk of self-indulgence I repeat a post from earlier in the season. (With extra quotes thrown in.)

People will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn into the driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. 'Of course we won't mind if you have a look around,' you'll say. 'It's only twenty dollars per person.' They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have, and peace they lack. They'll walk up to the bleachers and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they had dipped themselves in magic waters; the memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers; it has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and raised again. Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again. Oh, people will come Ray. People will most definitely come. From FIELD OF DREAMS

Some of my earliest memories from childhood are of lying in my bed early on twilight summer evenings with the windows open, listening to Harry Carey calling Cardinal’s games over my grandfather’s radio in his bedroom fifty yards north of mine. (We both went early to bed, I because my mom believed children needed their sleep, he because he believed a day had been half wasted if the cows had not been milked by daylight. His radio was turned up loud because he was half deaf as an old man.) I’m not sure I really remember the first time I attended a baseball game I was so young. We went to St. Louis and saw the Cardinals; we went to Kansas City and saw the Athletics. In the car, on the tractor, at home, baseball on the radio has been as much a sound of spring and summer and fall for me as spring frogs and cicadas.
(more below)

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