Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Agreeing Only to Disagree on God's Place in Science

There is a line in the movie Creator -- delivered by Peter O'Toole: "I tell you, Boris, that one of these days we'll look into our microscope and find ourselves staring right into God's eyes, and the first one who blinks is going to lose his testicles."

To the scientists, line up fellas, but you may want to keep your legs crossed. Oh, and here's an article about intelligent design in the NY Times: Agreeing Only to Disagree on God's Place in Science


"Christian civilization is over"

The Wall Street Journal takes on biblical illiteracy in The Bible Tells Me So.

I can't help but think that the church in America -- at least at this time -- is an utter failure. We are a nation that, collectively -- while claiming to be Christian, mind you -- knows nothing of God's word. This is not a problem for the public schools, this is on the doorstep of the church.

In full ...

Do we need to know what it says in the Bible? Are we somehow illiterate if we don't? Up until, say, 100 years ago, biblical literacy would have been practically mandatory. If you didn't know what "the powers that be" originally referred to, or where "the writing on the wall" was first seen, or what was meant by "the patience of Job," "Jacob's ladder" or "the salt of the earth" -- if you didn't know what an exodus was or a genesis, a fatted or a golden calf -- you would have been excluded from the culture.

It might be said that a civilization consists, at its core, of these easily transmitted packages of implication. They are one of the mechanisms by which cultures can be both efficient and rich. You don't have to return to first principles every time you wish to communicate. You can play your present tune on a received instrument, knowing that your listener hears not only your own music but the subtle melodies of those who played it before you. There is a common wisdom in common knowledge.

But does this Bible-informed world still exist? I would guess that on the whole, and outside committed Christian groups, biblical literacy is a thing of the past. That long moment of Christian civilization is over. The lingua franca of modern, English-speaking people is not dense with scriptural allusion, just as the conversation of educated people no longer makes reference to classical civilizations. If you dropped the names nowadays of Nestor, Agamemnon or Pericles -- every one of which would have come trailing clouds of glory up to a century ago -- you would, I think, draw a near total blank from even educated listeners.

The references we make today are not to these ancient sources of meaning. That is not to say that we don't have other sources; simply that our models tend to come from more recognizable and more recent worlds: We harken to Jefferson and Lincoln, Nelson and Churchill; to Madonna not the Madonna, to Britney not Brutus.

Does it matter that we have tended to drop the old referential structures? Certainly the people behind a new high-school textbook, released this week, think so. "The Bible and Its Influence" is an exceptionally well-executed introduction to the books of the Bible and the shaping effect that it had on the writers and artists of Western civilization. It is a scholarly, clear and richly illustrated amplification of the stories of the Old and New Testaments. And where else will a high-school student find out that the Eucharist was the inspiration for Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis"? Or that when Hamlet calls Polonius "Jepthah," he is pointing to the willingness of Ophelia's father to sacrifice his daughter for his own advantage?

The textbook's intention is to provide precisely the kind of biblical understanding that has drained out of the culture in the past century. (This sort of book itself has a long tradition: family-accessible biblical exegeses began, in English anyway, with the Geneva Bible, brought to this continent by the first settlers.) But once such understanding is on the slide, is there anything to be done about it?

The Bible Literacy Project, which published the textbook, aims to provide a way for students to read the Bible in public schools without trampling on the rights of religious or secular families. But the reasons that biblical literacy has declined are more deep-seated than any First Amendment restrictions on the teaching of the Bible in public schools. In Britain, where there are no such restrictions, the understanding of biblical references has, if anything, sunk further.

This is not necessarily a disaster. Ignorance of the Bible does not mean that we cannot respond to Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Bach. Just as there is no need to be intimately familiar with the Greek myths to feel the surging power and humanity of Homer, there is no need to know the Bible in order to hear the passionate meanings of Martin Luther King Jr.'s great speeches or the Gettysburg address. These works may be fueled by the Bible, but they are not in code. What they mean transcends their sources.

But if this loss of biblical literacy is not disastrous, it is at least a shame, the fading of an aspect of our civilization that has enriched it. Without the set of archetypes and fount of wisdom in the Bible, our lives would be thinner and poorer. I know my own life would have been immeasurably less if I had never encountered the majestic language of scriptural stories, as told in the King James Version. I think of the Bible as our great joint cathedral, a place where, as Philip Larkin wrote in "Church Going," "someone will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious."

"The Bible and Its Influence" could not have been better made, but its publication is like putting a fence of palings in a river. Change, made up of all sorts of powerful modern forces, will continue to flow whatever high-minded educators do to deflect it. Maybe a few people will be caught and held back from the swift motion of the current by that fence. One can only hope so.

Mr. Nicolson is the author of "God's Secretaries" on the making of the King James Bible.


Where Was God?

Post-Katrina, Time Magazine asks Where Was God?

Mystery does not sit well with us, nor random tragedy, nor helplessness in the face of a ruthless wind, so we place our trust in better sensors and protocols and reinforced concrete and roofs designed to rebuff the gale. The cataclysm of Katrina has been blamed on everything from SUV drivers to coastal developers to the Army Corps of Engineers, in a strange rite of reassurance: if man has the power to cause these calamities, maybe he would have the power to prevent them. The speed with which the commentariat moved from covering an actual storm to a political one—hurricanes don't kill people, inept bureaucrats kill people—suggests which subject is more comfortable discussing. Somehow human nature, even at its most disturbing, is less scary than Mother Nature at her most murderously cavalier, thousands dead in a single deep breath.

Then there is the response of those convinced they know God's Politics and are just as intent on seeing the guilt assigned. An ultraconservative Israeli rabbi declared that Katrina was retribution for U.S. support of the Israeli pullout from Gaza. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam called Katrina judgment for the Iraq war. The Christian Civic Group of Maine noted that the hurricane struck just as New Orleans was planning a huge gay-rights festival. A Kuwaiti official said, "The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah." There was, in other words, broad agreement in some far-reaching quarters that Katrina represented God's punishment, just no consensus on the sin.

There is no consensus, nor will there ever be. The fact of the matter is, God sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike. We don't get to assign blame, in our wisdom, after the fact. Moreover, we should be careful when we ask God to dispense justice because we all deserve death. Perhaps we should ask for grace instead.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

At the Vatican, Exceptions Make the Rule

Fascinating! This New York Times piece outlines the worldview of the Vatican, and contrasts it with our American (predominately Protestant) worldview, all in the context of gay priests. In full ...

At the Vatican, Exceptions Make the Rule

THE forthcoming Vatican document on gays in seminaries will unleash a wrenching debate about Catholicism and homosexuality, but one thing it is certain not to mean is that in the future there will be no gays in the priesthood. The continued presence of gays in the priesthood will be the product not just of difficulties in enforcement, or the dishonesty of potential candidates, but also of design.

Although this is a difficult point for many Anglo-Saxons to grasp, when the Vatican makes statements like "no gays in the priesthood," it doesn't actually mean "no gays in the priesthood." It means, "As a general rule, this is not a good idea, but we all know there will be exceptions."

Understanding this distinction requires an appreciation of Italian concepts of law, which hold sway throughout the thought world of the Vatican. The law, according to such thinking, expresses an ideal. It describes a perfect state of affairs from which many people will inevitably fall short. This view is far removed from the typical Anglo-Saxon approach, which expects the law to dictate what people actually do.

While Italians grumble about lawlessness, fundamentally they believe in subjectivity. Anyone who's tried to negotiate the traffic in Italian cities will appreciate the point. No law, most Italians believe, can capture the infinite complexity of human situations, and it's more important for the law to describe a vision of the ideal community than for it to be rigidly obeyed. Italians have tough laws, but their enforcement is enormously forgiving. Not for nothing was their equivalent of the attorney general's office once known as the Ministry of Justice and Grace.

The British historian Christopher Dawson has described this as the "erotic" spirit of cultures shaped by Roman Catholicism. Catholic cultures are based on the passionate quest for spiritual perfection, Dawson writes, unlike the "bourgeois" culture of the United States, which, shaped by Protestantism and based on practical reason, gives priority to economic concerns. As one senior Vatican official put it to me some time ago, "Law describes the way things would work if men were angels."

This value system means that while Vatican officials often project a stern moral image on the public stage, in intimate settings they can be strikingly patient and understanding. Policymakers in the Vatican tend not to get as worked up as many Americans by the large numbers of Catholics in the developed world who flout church regulations on birth control, for example. It's not that Vatican officials don't believe in the regulations. Rather, they believe the very nature of an ideal is that many people will fail to realize it.

Of course, one can debate whether a ban on birth control, or on gays in seminaries, ought to be the ideal. The point is that although Vatican officials will never say so out loud, few actually expect those rules to be upheld in all cases.

Some in the Anglo-Saxon world see this as a form of hypocrisy: the church apparently issues laws while winking at disobedience. But Vatican officials view it instead as a realistic concession to fallen human nature.

On background, some such officials have said that the point of the forthcoming document is to challenge the conventional wisdom in the church, which holds that as long as a prospective priest is capable of celibacy, it doesn't matter whether he's gay or straight. Vatican policymakers and some American bishops believe that's naïve. In an all-male environment, they contend, a candidate whose sexual orientation is toward men faces greater temptations and hence a greater cause for concern.

That's a debatable proposition, but it does not add up to an absolute conviction that no gay man should ever be ordained a priest. Rather, it means that bishops should take a hard look at such candidates, but in the end, they'll still use their best judgment.

Those determined to apply this decree in uncompromising fashion will be able to do so. But while the Catholic priesthood of the future may include fewer homosexuals - and it will certainly have fewer gay seminarians and priests willing to speak openly about their situation - it will not be "gay free."

On the ground, as bishops and seminary teams make decisions, many will still draw on that classic bit of Italian clerical casuistry: "If the pope were here, he would understand."

John L. Allen Jr. is the Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter.


Monday, September 26, 2005

"Fetal Farming"

Fetal farming ... fetal farming!?!? Let's just close up shop right now. Paging Dr. Frankenstein ... Fetal Attraction In full ...

THE JOURNAL Science late last month published the results of research conducted at Harvard proving that embryonic stem cells can be produced by a method that does not involve creating or destroying a living human embryo. Additional progress will be required to perfect this technique of stem cell production, but few seriously doubt that it will be perfected, and many agree that this can be accomplished in the relatively near future. At the same time, important breakthroughs have been announced by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Texas demonstrating that cells derived harmlessly from placental tissue and umbilical cord blood can be induced to exhibit the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells. ("Pluripotency" is the potential of a cell to develop into multiple types of mature cells.)

One would expect that advocates of embryonic stem cell research would be delighted by these developments. After all, they point to uncontroversial ways to obtain embryonic stem cells or their exact equivalent and to create new stem cell lines that are (unlike lines created by destroying embryos) immediately eligible for federal funding. Yet some advocates seem to be unhappy at the news. Why?

The likely answer is ominous.

Up to now, embryonic stem cell advocates have claimed that they are only interested in stem cells harvested from embryos at the blastocyst (or five-to six-day) stage. They have denied any intention of implanting embryos either in the uterus of a volunteer or in an artificial womb in order to harvest cells, tissues, or organs at more advanced stages of embryonic development or in the fetal stage. Advocates are well aware that most Americans, including those who are prepared to countenance the destruction of very early embryos, are not ready to approve the macabre practice of "fetus farming." However, based on the literature I have read and the evasive answers given by spokesmen for the biotechnology industry at meetings of the President's Council on Bioethics, I fear that the long-term goal is indeed to create an industry in harvesting late embryonic and fetal body parts for use in regenerative medicine and organ transplantation.

This would explain why some advocates of embryonic stem cell research are not cheering the news about alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells. If their real goal is fetus farming, then the cells produced by alternative methods will not serve their purposes.

Why would biomedical scientists be interested in fetus farming? Researchers know that stem cells derived from blastocyst-stage embryos are currently of no therapeutic value and may never actually be used in the treatment of diseases. (In a candid admission, South Korean cloning expert Curie Ahn recently said that developing therapies may take "three to five decades.")

In fact, there is not a single embryonic stem cell therapy even in clinical trials. (By contrast, adult and umbilical cord stem cells are already being used in the treatment of 65 diseases.) All informed commentators know that embryonic stem cells cannot be used in therapies because of their tendency to generate dangerous tumors. However, recent studies show that the problem of tumor formation does not exist in cells taken from cows, mice, and other mammals when embryos have been implanted and extracted after several weeks or months of development (i.e. have been gestated to the late embryonic or fetal stage). This means that the real therapeutic potential lies precisely in the practice of fetus farming. Because the developmental process stabilizes cells (which is why we are not all masses of tumors), it is likely true that stem cells, tissues, and organs harvested from human beings at, say, 16 or 18 weeks or later could be used in the treatment of diseases.

Scientists associated with a leading firm in the embryonic stem cell field, Advanced Cell Technology, recently published a research paper discussing the use of stem cells derived from cattle fetuses that had been produced by cloning (to create a genetic match). Although the article did not mention human beings, it was plain that the purpose of the research was not to cure diseased cows, but rather to establish the potential therapeutic value of doing precisely the same thing with human beings. For those who have ears to hear, the message is clear. I am hardly the first to perceive this message. Slate magazine bioethics writer Will Saletan drew precisely the same conclusion in a remarkable five-part series, the final installment of which was entitled "The Organ Factory: The Case for Harvesting Older Human Embryos."

If we do not put into place a legislative ban on fetus farming, public opposition to the practice could erode. People now find it revolting. But what will happen to public sentiment if the research is permitted to go forward and in fact generates treatments for some dreadful diseases or afflictions? I suspect that those in the biotech industry who do look forward to fetus farming are betting that moral opposition will collapse when the realistic prospect of cures is placed before the public.

The ideal legislation to protect human life and preserve public moral sensibilities would ban all production of human embryos for research in which they are destroyed. Unfortunately, Congress is not prepared to pass such legislation. Indeed, a bill passed by the House of Representatives to ban the production of human embryos, for any purpose, by cloning has been stymied in the Senate. (In this one instance, many American liberals decline to follow the lead of Europe--where many jurisdictions ban all human cloning, including the creation of embryos by cloning for biomedical research--or of the United Nations General Assembly, which has called for a complete cloning ban.) So what can be done?

One possibility is to make a pre-emptive strike against fetus farming by banning the initiation of any pregnancy (whether in a human uterus or artificial womb) for purposes other than the live birth of a child. This has been recommended by the President's Council on Bioethics. Another possible approach would be to add to the safeguards already in the U.S. Code on fetal tissue, stating that it is unlawful for anyone to use, or engage in interstate commerce in, such tissue when the person knows that the pregnancy was initiated in order to produce this tissue. An effective strategy would eliminate what would otherwise almost certainly emerge as a powerful incentive for the production of thousands of embryos that would be destroyed in perfecting and practicing cloning and fetal farming.

My suspicions and sense of urgency have been heightened by the fact that my home state of New Jersey has passed a bill that specifically authorizes and encourages human cloning for, among other purposes, the harvesting of "cadaveric fetal tissue." A "cadaver," of course, is a dead body. The bodies in question are those of fetuses created by cloning specifically to be gestated and killed as sources of tissues and organs. What the bill envisages and promotes, in other words, is fetus farming. The biotechnology industry put an enormous amount of money into pushing this bill through the New Jersey legislature and is now funding support for similar bills in states around the country.

So we find ourselves at a critical juncture. On the one hand, techniques for obtaining pluripotent stem cells without destroying embros will, it appears, soon eliminate any plausible argument for killing pre-implantation embryos. This is great news. On the other hand, these developments have, if I am correct, smoked out the true objectives of at least some who have been leading the charge for embryonic stem cell research. Things cannot remain as they are. The battle over embryonic stem cell research will determine whether we as a people move in the direction of restoring our sanctity of life ethic, or go in precisely the opposite direction. Either we will protect embryonic human life more fully than we do now, or we will begin creating human beings precisely as "organ factories." Those of us on the pro-life side must take the measure of the problem quickly so that we can develop and begin implementing a strategy that takes the nation in the honorable direction.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton. He is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.

Hat tip: 2BHuman


Friday, September 23, 2005

Are You a Man or a Mouse? Blending Humans and Animals

This one harkens back to the very first item ever posted on the 522: Chimera!?! Chalupa!?! Let's Call the Whole Thing Off. Most recently, this ...

Chromosome transplant in mice could provide clue to Down's syndrome illnesses ... quote ...

Scientists have successfully transplanted human chromosomes into mice, a first that promises to transform medical research into the genetic causes of disease. The mice were genetically engineered to carry a copy of human chromosome 21, a string of about 250 genes. About one in a thousand people are born with an extra copy of the chromosome, a genetic hiccup that causes Down's syndrome.

Genetic studies of the mice will help scientists to nail down which genes give rise to medical conditions which are prevalent among people with Down's syndrome, such as impaired brain development, heart defects, behavioural abnormalities, Alzheimer's disease and leukaemia.

... and ...

But according to David King, of the pressure group Human Genetics Alert, the potential breakthrough comes at too high a cost. "Creating organisms with whole chromosomes from another species is genetic engineering taken to another level.

"Before, researchers have said they're not making big changes because they're only inserting the odd gene into animals. If you're talking about creating something with a whole human chromosome in it, you have to ask is this really a mouse any more? Is it starting to be a new species, a hybrid between a mouse and a human? If more chromosomes are put in, are we going to have to start giving these things pseudo human rights?"

Dr King said the research could lead to technologies that would allow humans to be genetically engineered. "Once Britain has a clear ban on human genetic engineering, I'll be much happier for scientists to do these studies with mice. But they're developing techniques that could be applied to human beings and, in essence, that leads to a new form of eugenics," he said.

How far will we go to stave off death and disease? Science seems to be willing to go however far it takes, even to creating manimals.


Rome ... If You Want To

Is this thing on? *tap tap* Anyway, Chuck Colson takes a gander at HBO's mega-spectacle TV series Rome. What he sees is a grand argument for the Christian faith. In full ...

You’ve probably heard about the new HBO series Rome. Costing more than $100 million, it’s the most expensive television production ever. Whether the producers succeeded at re-creating ancient Rome for the viewers or not, they have succeeded in doing something else: making the case for Christianity.

The goal of Rome’s producers was to depict “the complexity and color that was ancient Rome,” which, according to the series co-creator and writer Bruno Heller, had “more in common with [desperate] places like Mexico City and Calcutta than quiet white marble.”

The quest for authenticity went beyond sets and costumes to morals and religion. According to Heller, what makes the Romans so dramatically interesting is that they were “a people with the fetters taken completely off. They had no prosaic God telling them right from wrong and how to behave.” In Rome, “mercy was a weakness, cruelty a virtue, and all that mattered was personal honor, loyalty to yourself and your family.”

Heller’s creation depicts this brand of morality in two ways: the first is through what the characters do. They consistently act and speak like people for whom might makes right. Promises made to others are broken without a qualm, and they are supremely indifferent as to how their actions affect others.

The second way is less subtle: sex. Rome is filled with sex, nearly all of it gratuitous. It shows a culture that was depraved—which, incidentally, Christianity, when it came to Rome, cleaned up.

But, as Rome amply demonstrates, the greatest difference between pagan Rome and the Christian era was ideas that we now take for granted: the sanctity and dignity of human life.

You see, life was cheap in pagan Rome. Even the most powerful Roman could not count on dying peacefully in his bed. Unwanted children were left out in the woods to die in what came to be called “exposure,” and the poor and sick usually went unattended.

Then there was slavery. Rome’s chief way of financing the empire was to invade its neighbors, loot their wealth, and enslave its people. By some estimates, one-third of all those living within the empire were slaves. That’s why slavery is treated in the series so matter-of-factly. There was no moral reason to treat it otherwise.

Finally, there was the status of women. Even if they weren’t slaves, Roman women “belonged” to their husbands or oldest male relative. Men literally held the power of life and death over the women in their lives.

It was Christianity that changed all this and created what we think of as “civilization.” Christianity kept much of the best of the Greco-Roman civilization while purging it of its pagan cruelty and excesses.

By depicting what Rome before Christianity was really like, Rome, the TV series, makes a powerful, albeit unintentional, case for faith in what the film calls the “prosaic God” who tells us “how to behave.” Now, I don’t recommend you watch Rome—it is violent and pornographic. But you ought to know about it, because when you hear people denounce Christianity as the chief source of oppression, tell them that HBO has spent $100 million to prove that’s not the case.

Hat tip: Between Two Worlds


A Purpose Driven Nation?

When I am feeling postmillenial, I often think that China must fall to the Gospel first, then Israel, then Islam, then the world. I forgot about Africa, Rick Warren didn't (or more accurately, his wife). This article is well worth a read: Purpose Driven in Rwanda


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why Did the Jews Reject Jesus?

"Had more Jews accepted Jesus, Mel Gibson today might be praying toward Mecca." So says an Orthodox Jew and former literary editor at the National Review ...

This is actually fairly old (March 2005), but I just ran across it. Q&A with David Klinghoffer on Why the Jews Rejected Jesus on National Review Online.

Several fascinating items in this interview ...

I’m just trying to answer the Big Question when it’s most on Christian minds. On Easter, Christians recall the death and resurrection of Jesus, his saving death, as they believe. The question is, Why don’t Jews understand that they also need the gift of unmerited grace that came with that death? The quickest answer is that Judaism has always understood that we received such a gift, but 1,300 years before Jesus died, at Mt. Sinai. The Christian offer of salvation through Christ’s death is an offer of a gift we already had in exchange for giving up the unique grammar of our relationship with God through the mitzvoth, or commandments. I also hope that my book will remind believing Christians of the most important thing we have in common: a belief that there is such a thing as religious truth in the first place. That idea is under attack from the secular left. In this sense, my book is a battle cry on behalf of both Jews and Christians.

... and ...

... the earliest Christian church was initially hobbled by insisting that new converts adhere to Jewish law — keep kosher, be circumcised, etc. For an adult man to be circumcised was a bummer, let me tell you. The decision was made, however — at a church council in Jerusalem in 49 — to jettison Jewish law as a requirement for new Christians. This was done at the apostle Paul’s insistence, and he explains in Acts that since the Jews were rejecting his presentation of Jesus as savior and messiah, the Christian message would now be taken to the gentiles. Dispensing with Jewish practices like circumcision made this possible. Had the Jews not rejected Paul’s preaching about Jesus, the church likely would have held on to those laws. Had it done so, the church would have remained hobbled, and could hardly have become the world-bestriding institution it is today. Jewish Christianity would have remained a sect in Judaism, and probably would have died out along with other such sects in 70 when the Temple was destroyed by Rome and the Jews scattered. In that case, there would be no Christian civilization, and, among other things, no America as we know it — a country whose founding was deeply influenced by Christian faith. There is a possibility that we would all be Muslims. Had more Jews accepted Jesus, Mel Gibson today might be praying toward Mecca.

... more ...

God’s plans unfold in unexpected ways. Christians are right, in Jewish eyes, in many respects — most notably in bringing the God of Israel to the attention of the world. They have done a much better job of that than we Jews are doing.

Read the whole thing here.

Of course, if Paul was the only author of the New Testament, this gentleman would have this deal nailed. If, as I believe, Paul wrote what he wrote under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, things are much different. Romans 11 seems appropriate ...

The Remnant of Israel
11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

9 And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”

Gentiles Grafted In
11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

The Mystery of Israel's Salvation
25 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: [3] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now [4] receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


Bible Textbook for Public Schools Planned

I could be wrong ... but this sounds absolutely horrible.

Bible Textbook for Public Schools Planned ... quote ...

An interfaith group released a new textbook Thursday aimed at teaching public high school students about the Bible while avoiding legal and religious disputes.

The nonprofit Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va., spent five years and $2 million developing "The Bible and Its Influence." The textbook, introduced at a Washington news conference, won initial endorsements from experts in literature, religion and church-state law.

... and ...

Religious lobbies and federal courts have long struggled over Bible course content. To avoid problems, Bible Literacy's editors accommodated Jewish sensitivities about the New Testament, attributed reports about miracles to the source rather than simply calling them historical facts and generally downplayed scholarly theories — about authorship and dates, for example — that offend conservatives.

Educators know biblical knowledge is valuable — 60 percent of allusions in one English Advanced Placement prep course came from the Bible — and that polls show teens don't know much about Scripture. Yet few public schools offer such coursework, partly due to demands for other elective classes, partly over legal worries. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 decision barring schoolroom Bible recitations said that "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities" if "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education."

When I was little, a friend and I made swords out of broomsticks. We used coffee can lids as the hand guard, tennis tape for the grip and sharpened up the ends real good. Man, they were bad. Then we proceeded to whack the living tarnation out of each other with them. When my friend's dad came home, he took one look at them, took them from us, pounded out the pointy ends -- dulling our beautifully dangerous weapons of warfare -- and gave them right back to us. Frankly, he probably saved the vision of both of us, as we surely would have put our eyes out with those things. However, after that, we completely lost interest in playing with them. No longer were they tools for valiant knights. They were just sticks again.

When you dull a sword -- taking away its sharpness, heaviness and danger -- it is no longer a weapon. What is it? A spatula? It sounds like this is what they are doing to the word of God with this textbook. I hope I'm wrong ... but somehow I doubt it.


Hollywood Marketing Films Through Churches

An almost interesting item about how Christians have become yet another entertainment "niche" for giant corporations to lob promotions dollars at. More interesting was this bit in Hollywood Marketing Films Through Churches ...

Disney is counting on Christian audiences to boost its "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

The film, based on the C.S. Lewis book, is a big-budget fantasy epic and the first in a series Disney hopes will rival the popularity of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Some Christians interpret the book — a staple of children's literature — as an allegory in which the hero, the lion Aslan, represents Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)

wuh? "some Christians??" .... erm ... you mean, like the author??

And then this little part ...

"As good business people, we'd be silly not to tap into every fan of the book and hope they will become a fan of the movie," said Disney's Rice. "We don't believe we're making a Christian movie. We believe we're following the story of the book faithfully and allowing everyone to interpret it how they want depending on how they've connected to the book."

Now, I'm not going to call anyone out for aggressively promoting an entertainment product. Everyone has the right to try to make a few hundred million bucks. However ... "we don't believe we're making a Christian movie???" ... then why did you buy the rights to a Christian book?

The good news is ... even the agnostic Peter Jackson couldn't remove the powerful Christian symbolism from the Lord of the Rings, and Disney won't be able to secularize a wonderful tale like Narnia (which has even more overt and purposeful Christian themes), no matter how hard they try. Aslan is Christ. Get over it, people. Of course, they might succeed in making a lousy movie, but we'll see.


Monkey Trial Redux

The Wall Street Journal gives us Scopes, 2005: 'Design' Theory Faces Legal Test.


Debates about the boundaries of science and religion that marked the famous Scopes trial in 1925 are likely to unfold next week at a Harrisburg, Pa., federal courthouse in the first legal test of an anti-evolution doctrine known as "intelligent design."

Aided by the American Civil Liberties Union, 11 parents of Dover, Pa., schoolchildren have filed a federal lawsuit against that town's school board, accusing it of violating the principle of separation of church and state. The school board requires that at the beginning of the 9th grade unit on evolution, teachers are supposed to read a statement to a biology class: "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact...Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."

Science teachers balked and many Dover parents were angered as well. The plaintiffs are asking the court to void the intelligent-design policy in the class.

... and ...

"The intent [by Dover officials] is to systematically destroy the theory of evolution because the theory tells the students we came from monkeys," said plaintiff Bryan Rehm, who has a daughter in ninth grade at Dover High. "According to them we didn't come from monkeys. God made us as the way we are today...That's fine, but that's not science. That's the book of Genesis. And the last time I checked, the Bible is still a religious text."

The jury at the carnival-esque Scopes trial in 1925 supported a Tennessee law making it unlawful "to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible." But the legal tide since has not been kind to evolution opponents. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the last of the Scopes-type anti-evolution laws in Epperson v. Arkansas in 1968, and lower courts followed suit in scuttling so-called "equal time" laws that required schools to teach creation science. In January, a federal court ordered Cobb County, Ga., to remove evolution warning labels on biology texts, saying they had "an impermissible effect" of promoting religion. That decision is on appeal.

Nevertheless, the anti-evolution forces have pressed on. The Kansas Board of Education voted in August to include greater criticism of evolution in its school-science standards -- which lists all aspects of the subject teachers should present. An outside academic agency is reviewing the proposed curriculum and it comes up for a vote in October. In 2002, Ohio adopted science standards requiring students to examine criticisms of biological evolution.

Anti-evolution forces are marcing on! (Gasp!) All sarcasm aside, I wonder about this tactic. First, my bias: I love all the ID stuff. I love reading about it and rejoicing at God's handiwork. I love hearing about the mussels in the ocean that have a stronger adhesive than anything man has invented, and so on. However, should we be cramming this down the throats of unbelieving, non-covenant children? I'm quite excited about teaching my own (covenant) children about all these wonderful truths, and non-believing children should certainly receive the Gospel. But the public schools seem a bizarre battle ground. Perhaps my apprehension comes from the utter train-wreck that is the U.S. public schools. Should that institution be trusted to present anything about God? Just asking ...


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Passion of the Penguins or Slutty Birds?

At first glance, upon reading this, I marveled that human beings -- especially secularists and believers -- can argue about anything and everything. Then, upon reflection, I realized this was merely a plant by a very clever film publicist. Nothing sells a picture like "controversy." I guess now I have to rent it.

Penguin wars: French wildlife film sparks US religious skirmish ... quote ...

From the Pledge of Allegiance to abortion and the siting of stones inscribed with the Ten Commandments, secularists and the religious right have fought bruising battles for the American soul in recent years.

To this lengthening list, another can be added: the penguin.

The cause is a French wildlife documentary, "March of the Penguins", which has been the surprise blockbuster of the American movie summer.

... and ...

Blizzards, gales and a chill reaching to -40 degrees C (-40 degrees F) are only a few of the obstacles thrown in the penguins' way.

After laying their single eggs, the females trudge in single file to feeding grounds 110 kilometers (70 miles) from their breeding site.

For two months, the male sits on the egg to keep it warm and let the chick hatch, awaiting the return of the female bringing food for their offspring.

Only when the mother returns does the father then make his own trek to the distant coast to ease his own hunger.

... more ...
The movie is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child-rearing," film critic Michael Medved told The New York Times last week.

For devout Christians, he suggested, "This is the first movie they've enjoyed since 'The Passion of the Christ'. This is 'The Passion of the Penguins.'"

"March of the Penguins" has taken at least 37 million dollars, making it the most successful French film in America after the 66 million dollars reaped by
Luc Besson's English-language sci-fi movie "The Fifth Element" in 1997.

One Christian organisation, the 153 House Churches Network, raves over the film as proof of the glory of God. It is organising workshops in which families are invited to homes and cinemas to see the film.

Christians can be inspired by exemplary "dedication, cooperation and affection" between the mating penguins and the loyalty and perseverance of the father, says Mari Helms, reviewing the movie on

... still more ...

Secularists point out that emperor penguins have a freewheeling sexual life and that homosexuality among penguin species is quite common.

"These penguins get around. They switch mates with each new mating season, which makes for some pretty slutty birds ..."

... and ...

"It is hard not to see the theological overtones in the movie... Beauty, goodness, love and devotion are all part of nature, built into the DNA of the universe," said Maggie Gallagher, a columnist with

But, Washington Post columnist George Will asked, "If an Intelligent Designer designed nature, why did it decide to make breeding so tedious for those penguins?"


Friday, September 16, 2005

The Man Comes Around: "A religion based on Johnny Cash"

World Magazine talks about the man in black, and how his presentation of "death, hell, judgment, and the coming of Jesus" appeals to those tired of yippy skippy Christianity.

Man in white: Johnny Cash's stark and honest profession of faith gained a hearing and garnered respect ... quote ...

JUST MONTHS BEFORE JOHNNY CASH DIED, Elizabeth Miller, writing in the highbrow literary magazine McSweeney's, said that "The Man Comes Around"—the title song on his last album—"just might be the best song I have ever heard in my entire life."

The song is a montage of biblical images and quotations about death, hell, judgment, and the coming of Jesus, the Man who comes around. Ms. Miller said that she has no idea what it all means, but that she cannot stop playing it over and over:

"After hearing this song, the song that I listen to every night before I go to bed and first thing every morning when I wake up, the song that made me pick up my guitar and play it so hard that I woke up the next morning with no feeling in the fingertips of my left hand, I know that if there was a religion based on the guitar, the words, and voice of the man who is Johnny Cash, I would write a thousand songs about it."

... and ...

Conventional wisdom says that Christians need to tone down their message to make it more palatable to the culture. Church growth experts exhort preachers to be "positive," projecting a happy, upbeat personality and a "victorious" lifestyle.

Today's young people—and most unbelievers—tend to see right through those facades, dismissing them as shallow and fake. Johnny Cash, though, was real, projecting an honesty about his sins, his suffering, and his failures that made his profession of faith seem real and honest too. Mr. Cash's faith rescued him from a life of drugs, alcohol, and other transgressions, and he knew to depend solely on the grace of God, rather than any worthiness in himself. His portrayal of his faith, void of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, garnered respect and could gain a hearing.

... more ...
... in Mr. Cash's biblical worldview, sin is real, and human beings are in their nature criminals, guilty of senseless crimes and awaiting execution. Love too is real, a gift of God who calls us into relationships and families. His songs to and about his wife June Carter—who died only four months before he did—are genuine and affecting. And the songs about God make sense of all of the rest.


How Sony Courted Christian Audiences For 'Emily Rose'

The Wall Street Journal wonders ...

How does a movie that features a jailed priest, a young girl's convulsions, and a martini-swilling lawyer become a hit among churchgoers?

Apparently, they don't read Brian Godawa's blog, or they'd know.

Read the whole thing: How Sony Courted Christian Audiences For 'Emily Rose'

Is it really so hard to understand that Christians of all stripes would like to see quality entertainment that treats our faith with respect and not scorn?


He Ain't Heavy, He's My Hymnal

How's this for potent symbolism, a hymnal too heavy to hold?

New hymn book puts strain on Christian shoulders

PENSIONERS are up in arms over a new church hymn book which they claim is too heavy to hold.

The latest Church of Scotland hymnary has caused such a stir that even some ministers have questioned the decision to make it a more weighty tome.

They say many churches are now beaming hymns on to overhead projectors to save money and to spare their members the pain of having to hold heavy books.


Will Gnosticism Ever Die?

The Apostles Paul and John did a pretty good job of stomping it to death in their New Testament writings. But apparently some people still think Gnosticism is the cat's meow.

Princeton Professor Gives Speech About Jesus

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was the only begotten son of God, and no one can receive God’s salvation without believing in the divinity of Jesus.

That view, religious historian Elaine Pagels said Thursday, is the picture of Jesus enshrined in the Nicene creed and other orthodox teachings of the Christian church.

But many early Christians had a strikingly different view of who Jesus was, she said. That view was expressed in the Gospel of Thomas, one of a collection of “Gnostic” writings was discovered in Egypt in 1945.

The Gnostic approach to Christianity came to be branded as a heresy, because it taught that individuals could seek wisdom and enlightenment independent of church authority, Pagels said.

... and ...

Many scholars see the Gospel of Thomas and other books that contain collections of sayings attributed to Jesus as possible sources that predate the Gospels in the official canon. In her research, however, Pagels said she decided to study the book as a way to understand the different views of Christianity that were competing in the first two or three centuries after Jesus’ death.

The name “Thomas” actually means “twin,” so the Gospel seems to imply that “you, the reader, are a twin of Jesus,” Pagels said.

“The good news is about Jesus, but it’s also about you and me. … We come forth from that light which offers a link between all human beings.”

By contrast, in John’s Gospel, Thomas is depicted as a skeptic who doubts Jesus is divine or that he has risen from the dead. “The need for Thomas to touch Jesus is a parody of the emphasis in the Gospel of Thomas on experiential truth,” she said.

In John’s Gospel, she said, Thomas finally confesses that Jesus is “my Lord and my God.”

“The good news is that Jesus is God incarnate,” she said. “The bad news, if you will excuse me, is that the rest of us are nothing like Jesus.” And that became the official doctrine of the church.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Jesus = A Wimp in a White Nightie??

Christian charity hopes agitprop art will oust 'wimp' image of Jesus Quote!

The church is to draw on images of two of the most famous Communist revolutionaries of the 20th century in an advertising campaign aimed at ending the perception of Christ as a "wimp in a white nightie".

Bold, red posters featuring Jesus as a baby play on the idea of the infant Christ as the South American guerrilla fighter Che Guevara or the Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Also covered by Christianity Today here.


'Dirty Harry' Christians

"Every dirty job that comes along ... "

'Dirty Harry' Christians. Quote!

Where's the ACLU? This co-mingling of government and religious resources must stop! Church groups, asked by local and state officials to take charge of feeding programs at government shelters like the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, also held worship services and passed out Bibles. Pastors prayed with evacuees, offering spiritual as well as material help. The horror!

Where is the press vigilance?

... and ...

Here's why the usual critics are generally silent: Christians are the Dirty Harrys of social service in today's America. The 1971 film "Dirty Harry" starred Clint Eastwood as a San Francisco cop hated by the liberal mayor but called upon when the going gets rough. In the movie, the Eastwood character gains his nickname because he takes on the most difficult tasks the city can offer. "Now you know why they call me 'Dirty Harry,'" he tells his partner after heroically saving one person from death: "Every dirty job that comes along."

Many people, including Muslims and atheists, are getting their hands dirty in post-Katrina help. So are government and nonprofit professionals. But everyone knows that church groups are key.

... more ...

Advertising posters for Dirty Harry proclaimed, concerning the Clint Eastwood character, "You don't assign him to murder cases ... you just turn him loose." Christians, turned loose, are doing well so far, through God's grace.


Spotlight on Darfur

There is an active, ongoing genocide currently occuring in the African nation of Darfur. No one really seems too interested. One blogger shines a Spotlight on Darfur.


The Pledge and Civil Religion

Interesting post on World Magazine's Zeitgeist blog ... The Pledge and Civil Religion.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Under whose God?

This is a profound question, posted at the fine World Magazine blog.

Under whose God? Quote!

Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was declared unconstitutional today by a federal judge who ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." The ruling, which has important implications for civil religion, will be appealed to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In order to be constitutional, the phrase “under God” must be able to refer to the deity of Hindus, Wiccans, Buddhists, pagans, or any other religion. Since we can’t claim, as Paul did on Mars Hill, that the “unknown god” we are referring to is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, should Christian’s fight to preserve the “Divinity” of our country’s civil religion?

The "god" of Americana is really of no use to Christians. Our God is a consuming fire, and we should have no interest in anything that would give His glory to another. So how should we respond to the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance (which to me has always had the tone of a prayer that swore allegiance, not to God, but to the flag and to "the Republic")? Just asking ...


Pledge of Allegiance Unconstitutional

The 9th Circuit's latest decision.

Judge: School Pledge Is Unconstitutional

A federal judge declared the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools unconstitutional Wednesday in a case brought by the same atheist whose previous battle against the words "under God" was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."

Karlton said he was bound by precedent of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 ruled in favor of Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Why New Orleans?

Why New Orleans: A Meditation on the Hurricane offers another take on Katrina and her aftermath. Quote!

It seems to me that the appropriate Bible verses here are Luke 13:4–5, in which Jesus comments on the collapse of a tower in Jerusalem:

Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

We don’t fully understand why God permits natural disasters: only that this is a fallen world undergoing violent “birth pangs” as it waits for Christ’s return and the renewal of the perfection it had when God first created it. But it does seem clear that one of the purposes of disasters is to call us to repentance.

Are we seeing much repentance? We’re seeing a great deal of finger pointing and buck passing, partisan efforts to fix blame, grandiose plans to rebuild the shattered city, and whatnot. “It’s Bush’s fault!” “No — it’s the fault of corrupt, inept local officials who didn’t have a clue.” We’re blaming everybody but the bossa nova — but I don’t think we’re coming to repentance.

... and ...

We want our autonomy. When disaster strikes, the first thing we look for is someone to blame. That leaves the rest of us to carry on business as usual, look in the mirror, and feel satisfied of our virtue because we haven’t taken part in any street orgies lately.

News flash: You don’t have to revel in “Southern Decadence” to be a sinner. The little sins that we do without even thinking about them are enough to condemn us in the eyes of God’s law. Were it not so, there would be no reason for Christ to have gone to the cross.

Humility is never easy, and repentance harder still. But that’s the only way out. And if we’re too proud to take it — well, it won’t take anything as spectacular as a hurricane to make us perish one by one.

Read the whole thing here


A Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong

A pointed take from a media secularist on the "Christian" nation of America in The Christian Paradox in Harper's Magazine. I don't agree with everything the author says, but he asks some serious questions here.

Hat tip: Reformation 21 Blog who is also running a series of commentaries on this article.


Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

... and ...

Asking Christians what Christ taught isn’t a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation—and, overwhelmingly, we do—it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons; increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.

And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox—more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese—illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.

... more ...

Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity.

... yet more ...

The gospel is too radical for any culture larger than the Amish to ever come close to realizing; in demanding a departure from selfishness it conflicts with all our current desires. Even the first time around, judging by the reaction, the Gospels were pretty unwelcome news to an awful lot of people. There is not going to be a modern-day return to the church of the early believers, holding all things in common -- that's not what I'm talking about. Taking seriously the actual message of Jesus, though, should serve at least to moderate the greed and violence that mark this culture. It's hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq.

... still more ...
The apocalyptics, however, are the lesser problem. It is another competing (though sometimes overlapping) creed, this one straight from the sprawling megachurches of the new exurbs, that frightens me most. Its deviation is less obvious precisely because it looks so much like the rest of the culture. In fact, most of what gets preached in these palaces isn't loony at all. It is disturbingly conventional. The pastors focus relentlessly on you and your individual needs. Their goal is to service consumers - not communities but individuals: 'seekers' is the term of art, people who feel the need for some spirituality in their (or their children's) lives but who aren't tightly bound to any particular denomination or school of thought. The result is often a kind of soft-focus, comfortable, suburban faith."

"A New York Times reporter visiting one booming megachurch outside Phoenix recently found the typical scene: a drive-through latte stand, Krispy Kreme doughnuts at every service, and sermons about 'how to discipline your children, how to reach your professional goals, how to invest your money, how to reduce your debt.' On Sundays children played with church-distributed Xboxes, and many congregants had signed up for a twice-weekly aerobics class called Firm Believers. A list of bestsellers compiled monthly by the Christian Booksellers Association illuminates the creed. It includes texts like Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen - pastor of a church so mega it recently leased a 16,000-seat sports arena in Houston for its services - which even the normally tolerant Publishers Weekly dismissed as "a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals."


Run! Robots! Part II

A story about robots is always a lock to get into The 522 ... not sure why. Haven't these people seen The Terminator? Fujitsu's Robot on Wheels to Go on Sale


Lost in a store? Let Japanese electronics maker Fujitsu's robot help guide your way.

Equipped with voice recognition capabilities, cameras and sensors, the 4-foot tall robot on wheels will go on sale for 6 million yen ($54,000) each in Japan in November — for just such a purpose.


Monday, September 12, 2005

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

I had a feeling Brian Godawa would dig this flick, based on what I had read on it. Read his thoughtful review below and visit his blog at this link:

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Please go see this in the opening weeks to help the box office of this movie written and directed by a Christian, Scott Derrickson. This is a story based on an allegedly true story that occurred in Germany in the 1970s. It’s been updated to today and place in America. It’s the story of a trial of a priest charged with negligent homicide in the death of a young girl, Emily Rose, in the midst of her exorcism. I heard that the NY Times called this propaganda. Well, anything the NY Times hates as propaganda, has to have some truth in it, since the Times is an organ of deception that has been proved a liar itself in its pursuit of agenda. Who is propagandizing whom? Anyway, in our modernist world of naturalism that presupposes the negation of the categories of the supernatural, this movie is a welcome counterbalance to such Enlightenment pseudoscientific bigotry. I enjoyed the unpredictable mixing of genres, horror and courtroom drama. A legal and logical examination of the issues punctuated with the terrors of supernatural experience. Which makes this movie very postmodern. A story that counters reason with experience, and experience is forced upon the rationalism of modernity as something that CANNOT be ignored any longer. Our precious naturalistic assumptions about reality and proud rationalism are just not adequate to address all of reality. This is of course, the good side of postmodernism in challenging modernity. The dark side of the pomo worldview, well, I’ll talk about that in a moment. I know the director and he is a self-proclaimed postmodern Christian. So this is a conscious attempt to break through the ignorance and prejudice of modernity. The heroine, played by Laura Linney, is the attorney who defends the priest and she is an agnostic who decides to use demon possession as a defense in a court of law, not because she believes it to be real, but because her client does, and that this is, in an HONEST court of law, a legitimate consideration, the sincerity of the believers. To assume that the girl’s death (by self-inflicted and other bodily injury) MUST be negligence because “as we all know” demons are simply religious fairy tales, is itself a monumental ignorance of pride. And this is exactly what the prosecutor embodies when he claims that a witness’s testimony of demonic possession should be struck down on the basis of “silliness.” And of course, most audience members at that point would agree with the porsecutor. How can we allow this kind of “faith” testimony in to our system that is supposed to be based on fact? And that very assumption is perhaps the most revelatory ignorance of the modernity we are current victims of: The assumption that EVERYTHING has a natural cause in physical chemicals. As the defense lawyer proves, even science itself is based on faith possibilities. The very claims of Emily’s demonic symptoms being reducible to psychotic fits of epilepsy are shown to be NOT FACTS, but beliefs or guesses of so-called medical scientists. Because the fact is, science and medicine are not only based on faith commitments, but they are merely observational interactions with symptoms. Much of the time, they have no clue how or why a drug is working, they are merely creating explanations that they BELIEVE is the reason. Thomas Szaz has written extensively on the fraudulance of the medical drug culture as well as psychotherapy in The Myth of Mental Illness and Pharmocracy. So the doctors notice a certain drug results in suppression of symptoms, so they theorize that the problem is therefore reducible to physical origins or causes. But the defense gives an entirely legitimate counterfactual that the drugs suppressed Emily’s mental and physical capacity to withstand the demons, thus contributing to her death. What Derrickson does extremely well here is to fairly portray both sides in the courtroom. In fact, he does this so well, that when each side presents its case, you find yourself changing sides in what you think the answer is. This makes for truly good drama. What I absolutely loved about the demon possession was how “realistic” it was. That is, it was not driven by gory special effects but more accurately the kind of effects that have historically been connected with real possessions. And that could be explained through medical physiological explanations as well. Even though there are the usual multiple voices, strange contortions, etc. Scott does the opposite of typical demon possession movies. Rather than the white eyes with a tiny pupil, he has an enlarged pupil which was totally scary in a new way. Surprisingly, there are no foul cuss words that I remember coming from the demons, as is the usual fare with horror movies of demons. Thus proving you can be scary without the foul language. Scott’s scare tactics were all based on simple old techniques of suspense, the shadow we barely see, the noise in the hall, whispering voices. But he does it so well that once again it proves we don’t need more gore and pushing the envelope of impropriety to be scary. Thank you Scott for being able to convince the studios to do this. It must have been difficult. The whole moral of this story is simply spoken through the agnostic lawyer’s summary that this is a story about “possibilities.” A story that makes us consider the reality of the supernatural to widen our understanding of reality. It is not the “believers” who are blind to reality, it is the proud anti-supernaturalist, who assumes so much by faith that he doesn’t even realize it. That he doesn’t see the demon right in front of his face. Of course, this isn’t presented with a propaganda approach because in fact, most every demonic encounter is presented in flashback, testimonial form, complete with some variation, thus reminding us that even this is not absolutely certain. Although I would argue that experience gets a stronger edge here. Which is of course the weakness of postmodernism. The strength of the modernist prioritization of rationality does prove the fact that experience can be interpreted differently depending on one’s worldview, AND ALL PRESUPPOSITIONS ARE NOT EQUAL. Some are provably wrong. And that people can be deceived because of their presuppositions. Let’s face it, the history of medicine does show that certain religious beliefs DID blind some people to the truth of infectious diseases etc. So the good that anti-supernaturalism brought was the unveiling of much superstitious ignorance and even charlatanry. But of course, two wrong extremes don’t make a right. The sword cuts both ways in blindness, and Christianity is the only true balance that started modern science and medicine by acknowledging the lawlikeness of God’s ordered universe without ignoring the spiritual side. But I digress. I like the idea of via negativa, “way of the negative,” that is, proving God’s existence by proving the existence of evil supernatural. If there is an antichrist evil spirit, then there is the ultimate Good Spirit of God. One Roman nun reviewing the movie said that this fear orientation is a medieval means of getting people saved. But of course, this is more autobiographical of that nun and her postmodernity than it is the Bible. So Jesus was medieval when he used fear to scare people into the kingdom? (Matt 10:28; 5:22; 5:29; Luke 12:5) In fact Jesus used fear so much as a motivation in his parables about wailing and gnashing of teeth and eternal darkness etc. that I would wonder if this nun, and those like her, even read their Bibles (assuming she even has one.) And was God himself an irrelevant medieval peasant when he command us to FEAR him over 200 times in both Old and New Testaments – more than he commands us to love him? Well, I would certainly NOT say that fear is the only draw to salvation, but it is certainly a part of the BIBLICAL GOSPEL, though it is not a part of the modern or postmodern gospel. We SHOULD fear hell and love God. Both fear and love are equally ultimate truths in the Bible (sometimes described in the same paragraph or sentence – Matthew 10:26-31). But at the end of the day, one simple movie CANNOT CONTAIN the entire Bible in it’s theology. There are plenty of movies available that do express love as a motivation to salvation (Bruce Almighty). We need some that deal with fear too. So there. What I didn’t like about the movie: Well, there are some serious theological issues I have with it. I do not argue that these are reasons NOT to see it or reasons to reject the movie, but simply reasons for discernment and disagreement. You don’t have to agree with everything in a movie to see the value of it. And it doesn’t have to be theologically perfect to accept the good that it does bring in context with the culture. First, a very minor thing (not theological) was that I thought the appearance of a cloaked figure in the distance was not at all consistent with the heart of this story. It was out of place and a bit too melodramatic and literal. Secondly, the heroine starts as an agnostic and ends as an agnostic very clearly, which makes this an unsatisfying story. It is an elementary necessity of good storytelling to take the hero from one pole to another, the character arc. If a hero starts out an unbeliever, they need to in some way at least, end with a seed of belief. If they start a believer in something, they must end up skeptical of it. If they start selfish, they should end selfless, and on and on. This is the stuff of great storytelling. By the hero’s journey, the truth of the story is incarnated. So the audience can journey with the hero. So to have a hero that does not change is not only anathema in storytelling, it is unsatisfying. But not only that, I would argue it is counterproductive to Derrickson’s own worldview of Christianity. It is fine to have some characters not change, but NOT the hero. They must change or the audience is left hanging. This is perhaps where Scott’s postmodernism gets the best of him. His story INCARNATES the suggestion through the heroine’s story, that making conclusions about this realm is not ultimately important. That it is truly relativism. Religious beliefs are not important, what IS important is her professional ethics. But Agnosticism is not a viable or even good worldview. So if the heroine would have at least made an indication that she saw the world differently now, that would have been enough. I’m not saying she should “accept Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior,” but merely that her life is truly changed because of her journey. But alas, the only thing she changes in is in her professioinal ethics, and this is no doubt good. Yes, she quits and shows character, but the real issue of the movie was NOT the politics of the legal system (that was a subplot), but the reality of the supernatural. In simple terms, she starts ignorant and ends ignorant. Not a satisfying story. One theological difference I have is that the very heart of the Roman Rites of exorcism do not have biblical foundations. Now, I’ve talked to Scott about demon possession and he claimed that there is so little in the Bible that we cannot make dogmatic claims either way. While I acknowledge there is certainly freedom in this area to service the story (I do so in my upcoming supernatural thriller, The Visitation), I nonetheless am persuaded that what the Bible DOES say about it, little as it may be, is still truthful and relevant. And in the only place where exorcism occurs in the Bible is Acts 19, where the sons of Sceva were exorcists and they had no power over demons who ended up beating them up. It seems that everywhere in the New Testament, demons are simply cast out in the name of Jesus Christ by faithful believers (sometimes requiring prayer, but not ritual). I suppose you could make the argument that this movie support s that because they never did exorcise her. She died after all! On the other hand, I certainly admit that ritual is more cinematic and dramatic. In fact, one executive reacted to my movie, that has demons cast out of people, by saying that they cast the demons out too easily. Well, that was because we have been so conditioned by the Roman Ritual view that we don’t realize it is more real (Biblical) for believers to simply cast them out! Anyway, I do acknowledge that the priest does eventually call on the name of Jesus Christ in his attempts and am surprised that the studios let Scott do this. My biggest concern is with the entire purpose of the demon possession. It is portrayed as God’s intent to show the world the reality of the supernatural through having one of his believers (supposedly) possessed by a demon. But it is one thing to have demons taunting believers, that’s true. It is quite another to completely disregard the reality of the Holy Spirit that is supposed to be within the believer themselves! Believers in Jesus Christ possessed by a demon is simply and seriously unbiblical (1 Cor 6:19 ). A contradiction in terms and reality (1 John 4:4). As are visions of the Virgin Mary which is supposedly how she received this purpose. Talking to the dead is strictly forbidden by God (Deut 18:11 ; Isaiah 8:19 ), so it strikes me as odd that this is portrayed as accepted by God in the movie. You know, it’s interesting, I wouldn’t be as picky if this was fictional, because fiction is intended to be metaphors or parables of something else. The reason I would be so picky is because this is claimed to be based on a true story.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Machen’s Warrior Children

Hypocrisy, Depravity and Animal Rights

Brian Godawa comes down with both feet on the Grizzly Man, a documentary about a animal rights activist.

The Grizzly Man. In full ...

A brillianté documentary by Werner Herzog about a loser LA actor turned grizzly bear activist, Timothy Treadwell, who would go up to Alaska every year to spend time with the Grizzly bears of the National Park. This is the most sublime, compassionate, profound and ironic revelation of the complete moronic stupidity of animal rights activists, and by extension other environmental extremists. It is the portrait of a man descending into the depths of self-delusion as he becomes less capable of integrating himself into human social culture, and takes on the self-righteous mantle of “protector” friend and lover of the grizzly bear -- all the way up until a Grizzly bear kills and eats him and his girlfriend. It is touching at times, as we see this sad and lonely man wax eloquent about his lack of a love life and inability to relate to women, wishing he were a homosexual to make it easier without any emotional entanglements. Or when we see his ex-girlfriend, a sorry case herself, pine on about how they started Grizzly People together and how much she misses him. Or when Timothy is able to befriend the local foxes, who do in fact become amenable to petting and following him around. It is at times, amusing, as when we see Timothy rant and rave about how he is the only one to protect these bears, and then we find out they are protected on National Park Grounds. Or when he hear local Park Rangers, scientists and mammal and bear experts talk lovingly yet pitying of Timothy’s delusion. Or when we hear Timothy talk about how lonely it is to be the lone man in the wilderness, and then we see him tell his girlfriend to stay out of the camera shot because he is supposed to be alone in the wilderness. Or when we see him do little cutaway segments of him running in the woods with different clothes on so he will have some action footage to cut into. And it is at times, deadly dark, as we see Timothy cuss and rant at the evil Park Services and the government and people, only to realize that this is indeed how hateful animal rights activists are toward their own species, HUMAN BEINGS, in the name of love of animals. Or when we see Timothy’s dangerous ignorance of the nature and the ecosystem by hanging out closely to the bears and getting them used to his presense. By breaking through the distance that the bears have had with humans for thousands of years, Timothy actually endangers both humans and bears because it makes the bears more aggressive toward humans. At times, it is pathetic, as Timothy weeps over the death and destruction of animal life because of his naïve belief in the harmony of all things with the earth. What he completely disregards is what Herzog explains is the “murder, death and chaos” that is the very essence of nature. This kind of idealistic youthful zeal amounts to pure stupidity. And at times it is downright absurd, as animal rights activists are, when Timothy claims some kind of special connection and relationship to the bears while we see close ups of the bears dull expressionless eyes, showing complete disregard and maybe even annoyed tolerance of the pathetic little human annoyance. And through it all, Herzog is subversive in showing the irony and ignorance of Timothy, but mostly through letting Timothy just speak for himself. The ignorance and irony is self-evident. Yet, Herzog is not mean-spirited. Through it all there is a sense of loving concern, respect for good intentions and sincerity. And that’s what makes this so penetrating and honest, and the finest cinematic debunking of the lunacy of animal rights activism ever. These people are sincere, sincerely deluded in thinking themselves saviors of animals with relationships akin to human relationships. The truth is, nature is red in tooth and bear claw. And that gets me to my big gripe about all environmentalism and animal rights activism. They all, no doubt believe in the myth of evolution. They believe man is not transcendent or special in being created in the image of God, but merely another animal on the evolutionary chain of being. MAN IS JUST ANOTHER ANIMAL. Evolution discredits any appeal to morality because there is no such thing as moral absolutes in an ever-changing universe. Morals are mere social constructions, but they are not actually true in any sense of actual obligation beyond force or power. So if there are no transcendent moral absolutes, and man is just a mere animal, then WHY OH WHY PLEASE TELL ME, DO ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS ALL SCREECH WITH MORAL ANGER AT MAN’S ACTIONS AS IF MAN IS DOING SOMETHING WRONG IN HOW HE TREATS ANIMALS? There is no moral absolute wrong in this worldview! Where does it say in the DNA of the universe that man is supposed to do something other than by his nature? There is no such thing as moral right and wrong absolutes, according to evolution, so you cannot say man is doing WRONG when he treats animals in anyway at all. The Great white shark eats cute little seals, the black widow cannibalizes her mate, the male lion and Grizzly bears, (as illustrated in this movie) kill their own young to be able maintain their power or fornicate more with the females, AND HUMANS MAKE OTHER ANIMALS GO EXTINCT. So what? That’s all part of nature. The second you place some kind of moral obligation on man to behave a certain way towards animals, you have just denied evolution and said that man is higher than other animals because he is obligated to some absolute moral standard that all other animals are not obligated unto. If evolution is true and man is just another animal, then man does by nature what he does, JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER ANIMAL does by nature what they do. You cannot criticize man’s behavior, you can only observe, just as scientists observe the behavior of grizzly bears and great white sharks. Moral judgments and criticisms of human behavior have no place in the evolutionary metanarrative. Now, it just so happens that God has revealed in his Word moral obligations, one of which is to not abuse animals and to be responsible stewards of creation. So with every breath that an animal rights activist or environmental activist spews hatred at God, but then proclaims some sort of moral obligation about proper treatment of animals, he is denying evolution and stealing from Christianity, while at the same moment outwardly denying Christianity. We have a word for this: Hypocrisy. Oh, and another one: Depravity. (Romans 1:17-24)


God vs. Nothing, Part IV

From Gary DeMar's American Vision site ... An Atheist Speaks ... a sampling ...

The American Atheists organization says President Bush should stop urging prayer for Hurricane Katrina victims because it violates the Constitution. Ellen Johnson, president of the group, said Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Bush “should not be violating the Constitution by telling people to pray for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It’s unconstitutional for government officials to be promoting religion; and besides, judging from the speed of some relief efforts, officials should be busy working instead of preaching.”

Read the whole thing here.


Covenant Bastards

Give Doug Wilson credit for his headline writing skills ... Covenant Bastards is a doozy ... but the article within also holds some thought provoking issues about the broader scope of the tragedy of abortion. In full ...
"When our Supreme Court made its infamous decision to allow the slaughter of infants, the Christians of our nation were so covenantally blind that we did not see it for what it was -- the abortion of the covenanted family. This is not to minimize in any way the horrific nature of the abortion carnage itself; God is just and He will judge. But why did we not even see the other problem? Consider the result of this decision. When a woman is considering an abortion, the Court informed us that this is a decision between her and her doctor. As far as our civil order is concerned, whether she is married or not is completely irrelevant. Whether she has a covenant head or not was not worth considering. The fact that a man has taken a solemn vow assuming covenantal responsibility for his offspring was judged by our highest court to be a matter of no legal consequence.

It is difficult to understand what is more tragic, the decision of the Court to slaughter the children or the inability of modern Christians to even notice that the Court had declared every child in the nation to be, as far as they were concerned, a covenant bastard" (Federal Husband, p. 75).


Where Falcons Fear to Tread, Part II

Looks like we've got a dirty, no-good proselytizer on our hands. Boy, that sounds nasty. Air Force Clears General Accused of Proselytizing at Academy Quote!

The Air Force has cleared a brigadier general accused of violating the Constitution by proselytizing non-Christian cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

... more ...

The Air Force Inspector General's office investigated whether Weida violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by "using a religious communicative code to facilitate the proselytizing of non-Christian cadets."

Weida, an evangelical Christian, was investigated for his outspoken promotion of faith and had been criticized for promoting the National Day of Prayer in an e-mail message.

Gasp! Promoting faith and prayer? And in an "outspoken" manner, no less! The lousy trickster. Do these villians have even a shred of common human decency?

Though this sarcasm is fun, I must set it aside. Having a curious and abiding interest in this Air Force kerfuffle I downloaded and read the whole report (an investigation!). The "crimes" in question including leading prayers, being open about their Christian faith and having the gall to defend their faith to unbelievers. Apparently, this is outrageous.

Yawn. As a student at a secular university (Go Aztecs!), I had my faith mocked, derided and otherwise assailed in many of my classes. So what. I got over it. It made me tougher.

Also, as to whether the Establishment Clause was "violated" ... I am no constitutional scholar, but ... the establishment clause reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (emphasis mine)

Please tell me how a Christian General living out his Christian faith violates this.


The Embryo Has Two Mommies

From the UK ... Scientists win right to create human embryo with three genetic parents: Critics claim that watchdog has ignored public opinion to approve experiment for which it changed its own rules

Again, Einstein said God doesn't play dice with the universe. Scientists, apparently, have no such qualms. Dr. Frankenstein, call your office. Quote!

BRITISH scientists have been given permission to create human embryos that will have three genetic parents.

The fertility watchdog cleared a team at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday to conduct an experiment to prevent genetic disease by merging single-cell embryos with donated eggs.

The decision to approve the procedure on appeal, after two previous applications were rejected, is controversial because it could eventually lead to the birth of children who carry genes from two mothers and a father.

It also opens the possibility of “germ-line” genetic engineering, because any children born would carry added genes that would be passed to successive generations.

... and ...

About one in 5,000 people carry defects in the mitochondrial DNA. Most lead only to mild effects, but in rare cases defects can cause miscarriage, or fatal brain, liver and kidney damage in offspring. One patient the team hopes to help has had five miscarriages, and eventually gave birth to a child with profound brain damage.

Mitochondria are inherited from the mother. The team plans to replace defective mitochondria in eggs with working ones from donor eggs.

... more ...
This donated egg will contain healthy mitochondria, but none of the nuclear DNA that makes up most of the human genetic code.

But mitochondria contain 37 genes, so the embryo will have been created with a genetic contribution from three individuals — the father, the mother who provided the nucleus, and the donor who provided the mitochondria.

If the embryo grows into an adult woman, she would pass on the donated mitochondria to any children of her own, raising concerns about germ-line genetic manipulation.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Lest We Forget, Part XI

From the Voice of the Martyrs blog ... Muslims Torch 14 Christian Homes


He Held Their Lives in His Tiny Hands

"Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God" ... from the LA Times ... He Held Their Lives in His Tiny Hands. A sampling ...

In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of refugees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader.

They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2 years old, and one was wearing only diapers. A 3-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love.

Thousands of human stories have flown past relief workers in the last week, but few have touched them as much as the seven children who were found wandering together Thursday at an evacuation point in downtown New Orleans. In the Baton Rouge headquarters of the rescue operation, paramedics tried to coax their names out of them; nurses who examined them stayed up that night, brooding.

... and ...

Late Saturday night, they found Deamonte's mother, who was in a shelter in San Antonio along with the four mothers of the other five children. Catrina Williams, 26, saw her children's pictures on a website set up over the weekend by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. By Sunday, a private plane from Angel Flight was waiting to take the children to Texas.

In a phone interview, Williams said she is the kind of mother who doesn't let her children out of her sight. What happened the Thursday after the hurricane, she said, was that her family, trapped in an apartment building on the 3200 block of Third Street in New Orleans, began to feel desperate.

... more ...

The water wasn't going down and they had been living without light, food or air conditioning for four days. The baby needed milk and the milk was gone. So she decided they would evacuate by helicopter. When a helicopter arrived to pick them up, they were told to send the children first and that the helicopter would be back in 25 minutes. She and her neighbors had to make a quick decision.

It was a wrenching moment. Williams' father, Adrian Love, told her to send the children ahead.

"I told them to go ahead and give them up, because me, I would give my life for my kids. They should feel the same way," said Love, 48. "They were shedding tears. I said, 'Let the babies go.' "

... and ...

The helicopter didn't come back. While the children were transported to Baton Rouge, their parents wound up in Texas, and although Williams was reassured that they would be reunited, days passed without any contact. On Sunday, she was elated.

"All I know is I just want to see my kids," she said. "Everything else will just fall into place."

At 3 p.m. Sunday, DSS workers said goodbye to seven children who now had names: Deamonte Love; Darynael Love; Zoria Love and her brother Tyreek. The girl who cried "Gabby!" was Gabrielle Janae Alexander. The girl they called Peanut was Degahney Carter. And the boy whom they called G was actually Lee — Leewood Moore Jr.

The children were strapped into car seats and driven to an airport, where they were flown to San Antonio to rejoin their parents. As they were loaded into the van, the shelter workers looked in the windows.

The baby gaped with delight in the front seat. Deamonte was hanging onto Robertson's neck so desperately that Robertson decided, at the last minute, to ride with him as far as Lafayette.

Shelter worker Kori Thomas held Zoria, 3, who reached out to smooth her eyebrows. Tyreek put a single fat finger on the van window by way of goodbye.

Robertson said he doubted the children would remember much of the helicopter evacuation, the Causeway, the sweltering heat or the smell of the flooded city.

"I think what's going to stick with them is that they survived Hurricane Katrina," he said. "And that they were loved."