Mark Steyn’s book, America Alone, is a disturbing read, but I saw one glimmer of hope in it: namely, that he tends to assume that trends go forever in a straight line. But trends zig and zag. Perhaps Europe is going to start halving its population every few decades, but isn’t it also possible (though it seems improbable) that large families might come back?
Joshua Livestro has a nice piece in The Weekly Standard about an upsurge in Christian faith in, of all countries, heavily secular Holland:
In his living room in the old university town of Leiden, Kees Westhuis, 41, explains the essence of the house church idea: “We don’t want to goto church, we want to bea church.” Westhuis was raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition, but found himself increasingly frustrated with the worldly concerns of his local church: “During one meeting of the church elders, debate turned to the cost of refurbishing the church buildings. I found myself wondering whether, instead of spending all this money on bricks and mortar, we wouldn’t be better off spending it on evangelizing in the community.”
The Dutch house church movement, according to recent studies, has witnessed remarkable growth over the past decade or so: from a mere handful in the 1970s to just under 20 in 1990 to around 100 in 2000, and continuing upwards since then. Henk Vink runs a website offering support and facilities to budding home churches. He estimates that most of Holland’s 200 cities now have at least one home church in them. The first time Vink realized something big was happening was when he organized a series of regional conferences for people interested in house churches. He’d expected small groups of maybe 10 people per meeting; instead more than 50 people showed up at each of the 12 regional meetings: “It’s evidence of a growing spiritual hunger in society. People are really searching for truth.”
He may well be right. The question, though, is whether Christianity is best placed to profit from this development. For better or for worse, Dutch Christianity is now largely an underground phenomenon. If an average Dutchman has any picture of Christianity, it is of empty pews and derelict church buildings. Dutch Christians have increasingly withdrawn from the public sphere, either voluntarily—as in the case of the house churches and the youth church movement—or because they lack the confidence to speak publicly about their faith to an unbelieving audience. If they do enter the public sphere, as in the case of the Alpha course, they do so under a neutered, de-Christianized guise: not imposing their views, merely inviting people to come along, have a meal, and ask any questions they like. They may be successful, but a city upon a hill they are not—more like a city in wartime, its lights hidden behind thick dark curtains. Any genuine seeker might stumble past it without knowing it was even there.
The whole article is a worth a read, and Livestro does deal with the rise in Islam. It looks like Christian Europe might not be finished yet. I know that I tend to be too optimistic, and that one swallow does not make a Summer, but perhaps Christianity is emerging from Winter nonetheless.
‘Tis the season for honey on sugar, so I thought I’d point out some wonderful squirts of vinegar in the press. Everybody has been so generous to Gerald Ford lately—he was so nice and so wonderful and so sweet—that Robert Novak and John Podhoretz gagged. First, Novak:
I had been tipped that House Republican Leader Ford was performing a confidential mission at President Richard Nixon’s request: to ask Republican members of Congress how they would react to presidential clemency or even a pardon for Lt. William Calley, sentenced a day earlier for the murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians. I called Ford to ask whether Nixon had met with him to pursue that endeavor. Ford replied that was incorrect. I had covered Ford for 14 years, and I accepted his word.
Thirty minutes later, Ford called me back. “Bob, you asked me the wrong question,” he said. He had not met with Nixon, but the president had phoned him from San Clemente to make the improper request. No news source ever bailed me out the way Ford did that day. But why did he not give me a straight answer in the first place?
The incident foretold ambivalence in Ford’s two-year presidency. Declaring after succeeding Nixon that “our long national nightmare is over,” Ford soothed his troubled fellow citizens. The accidental president seemed on the brink of great achievements. In fact, his tenure was plagued by blunders and occasional pettiness.
Podhoretz elaborate in the NY Post about what was so bad:
Ford was a fine man and a distinguished public servant, and he deserves to be remembered warmly. But the idea that his presidency saved America is ahistorical sentimentality.
Through no fault of Ford’s, the man from Michigan presided over two of the worst years in American history. It would not be fair to call his presidency a failure, since he found himself in an impossible situation and managed as best he could. But there’s no sense pretending that the 30 months between August 1974 and January 1977 were anything but dire.
The inflation rate skyrocketed. The nation’s largest city, this one, went broke. The national crime wave continued to wreak havoc. In September 1975, Ford himself was the subject of two separate assassination attempts.
The most notable, and most awful, moment of the Ford years came on April 30, 1975, as the last American helicopter seemed to scurry into the sky off the roof of an apartment building in downtown Saigon days after the city fell to the Communists.
If you want to kick around some other Republicans, how about King George the Incompetent? No, not Bush—Pataki:
Those who first engineered Pataki’s victory eventually concluded they had made a terrible mistake. Nobody was more important in first electing Pataki than then-U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, who recently said this about Pataki to a friend: “What he did broke my heart.”
The magnitude of Pataki’s betrayals—of his allies, of his obligations as a government administrator and, most importantly, of the people of New York—is hard to capture in a single column. Indeed, it’s hard to believe unless you’ve seen it first hand.
Here are some more unvarnished truths that help explain why this three-term governor’s departure is widely welcomed at the Capitol:
* Rarely did Pataki work at his job. When he could no longer avoid making a decision, he resorted to late-night cramming sessions. Friends calculated Pataki averaged about 15 hours a week of real work.
That left most of the work of actually governing New York to a ragtag collection of private-sector political consultants and public-sector political hacks, whose often-ignorant and abusive treatment of the state workforce destroyed a once-proud corps of professional administrators.
* He further alienated many in the press and political classes by walling off historically public hallways at the Capitol. This “Fort Pataki” served to deny public view of the stream of lobbyists, political consultants and other special interests that regularly trooped into the governor’s office.
* He held no more than three Cabinet meetings during his entire 12 years in office. He frequently didn’t know the names of his commissioners and occasionally mispronounced them, even in public.
* Pataki broke virtually every political promise he ever made.
Before taking office, he said he wouldn’t put his name on state Transportation Department signs that greet motorists entering New York because it was wrong to use public monies for self-promotion. Instead, he put his name, face and voice in more than $100 million worth of state-financed TV and radio ads.
He pledged to sell the state aircraft fleet, then expanded and used it like never before; said he’d send his kids to public schools, then never did; insisted he’d never have the state take over the Long Island Lighting Company, then did; attacked his predecessor for making paid speeches, then did so himself; said he’d never serve more than two terms, then did.
* His much-acclaimed use of public money to buy or restrict development on 1 million acres of rural land turned the historic rationale for conservationism on its head.
Pataki acted not to forestall the damaging effects of industrial expansion and population growth but to do just the opposite, to make sure there would be no industrial expansion or population growth that could encroach on the enclaves of the super-wealthy whose company he kept.
Pataki helped turn much of upstate’s rural population into a new form of peonage—servants to the Manhattan and Westchester leisure classes—to a degree even the smug Dutch Patroons would never have imagined.
* Pataki’s wife, Libby—the first lady of New York—regularly took hundreds of thousands of dollars from breast-cancer and wheelchair charities as a “consultant.” And the governor himself was notorious for his de minimus contributions to charity. Is that what’s known as leading by example?
* Pataki ruined the long tradition of public disclosure and government transparency that was taken for granted before he took office. He was to public information what Jack Kevorkian was to medicine.
At least there’s still some good invective around this holiday season.
Update: I missed Slate’s Hitch-slap to Gerald Ford:
To have been soft on Republican crime, soft on Baathism, soft on the shah, soft on Indonesian fascism, andsoft on Communism, all in one brief and transient presidency, argues for the sort of sportsmanlike Midwestern geniality that we do not ever need to see again.
Christopher Hitchens is a bit harsh—I think the Mayaguez incident was handled better than he gives Ford credit for—but on the whole, a useful corrective to the schmaltz.
On television, on bloggingheads and in lengthier pieces of writing he seems so much more reasonable than he does on his blog, when it seems his emotions and impulse for winning the argument at the expense of being right seem to hurt him.
Unlike most bloggers, Andrew Sullivan can make a living and get his ideas out in the book and magazine world.
Hence my advice: give up the blog, and stick with mediums better suited to your strengths, and less vulnerable to your weaknesses.
conor friedersdorf posted this at 7:14 AM CDT on Monday, December 25th, 2006 as Uncategorized
The so-called war on Christmas is overblown and thereby misses the point. If Christianity can survive Jacobins and Bolsheviks, it can certainly withstand the yipping of the ACLU. The more serious point is that a double standard is tolerated in the treatment of religions. Compare America’s reluctance to bomb during Ramadan with Islamists’ suicide bombs during Advent (or Islamists’ launching of wars during Yom Kippur). One could write a thesis about the arguments over happy holidays and merry Christmas, so I’ll attempt to get it down to a thesis statement: be equally sensitive or equally insensitive to all religions, but don’t be sensitive about one and obnoxious about the other.
It is appropriate [for an atheist] to celebrate Christmas. A national holiday, in this country, cannot have an exclusively religious meaning. The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property (though it is supposed to be part, but is a largely unobserved part) of the Christian religion.
She may consider O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi to be a “sadistic horror story,” but Rand at least got this one right. Sometimes I think Rand is as perceptive as one can be without love.
“This woman is totally out of control,” he told the Daily News. “I’m worth billions of dollars, and I have to listen to this fat slob?” Trump’s outburst came after O’Donnell ripped him on ABC’s “The View” as a philandering blow-hard who had no business letting hard-partying Miss USA Tara Conner keep her crown.
This morning, they showed part of this interview on Fox and Friends, and I nearly choked on my oats. It starts off with Trump saying, “Well Rosie is a loser. Rosie’s been a loser for a long time.” Lots of good lines, a solid investment of 3:34 of your time, but the best comes about twenty seconds from the end: “Rosie is a very unattractive woman. But as unattractive as she is on the outside, she’s even worse on the inside.”
I’d watch The View to see what Rosie says today, but then I’d be watching The View.
Three years ago, a party of bird-watchers walking along the eastern Everglades’ Anhinga Trail stumbled upon a death match of super predators — python versus alligator. The gator, it appeared, had the upper hand: Its jaws, capable of a bite pressure of more than 3,000 pounds per square inch, were clenched on the snake, and for hours the gator carried its prey about, waiting for the python to go limp.
But it didn’t; after nearly 30 hours the python wriggled free of the alligator’s jaws and swam off into the high grass. “We looked for buzzards feeding on a snake carcass,” Snow recalls, “but we never found any.”
That a python could survive a gator attack was a red flag, and it was soon followed by others.
In February 2004, tourists at the Pa-hay-okee Overlook watched, stunned, as a python wrapped itself around an alligator, which countered by rolling over and grabbing the snake in its mouth and swimming off. And then, last fall, the carcasses of a 13-foot python and a 6-foot gator that had squared off were found later floating in a marsh, the gator’s tail and hind legs protruding from the split-open gut of the python.
“Sometimes,” says Snow, “pythons swallow things they shouldn’t.”
Tom posted this at 9:33 PM CDT on Wednesday, December 20th, 2006 as Uncategorized
A couple of weeks ago I noted a case in Virginia of an murderer’s execution being put off for a reason completely unrelated to his guilt. I went on about the incredibly small chance of a murderer actually being executed. Since then, a governor in Florida and a court in California have stopped their states’ executions out of concerns that lethal injection–lethal injection!–is inhumane. We now see an inmate’s right to die pain-free (not just humanely, but pain-free) is more sacrosanct than his actual right to life.
Yesterday Maryland’s Supreme Court ruled the state’s letha injection system illegal because—wait for it…wait for it…the Post doesn’t get to the actual reason until the 9th graph, so I’ll linger here longer to help simulate the experience of reading the Post—”the process was developed by state prison authorities without legislative oversight and thus was not adopted, as regulations are supposed to be, in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act.” Maryland has executed five people in the last 30 years, and has eight waiting to die, so I’m not sure this matters much as a practical matter.
Apollo posted this at 3:48 PM CDT on Wednesday, December 20th, 2006 as Brave New Worlds
We wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting to our friends, colleagues and readers, but it is so difficult in today’s world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So we met with our attorney yesterday, and on his advice we wish to say the following:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, nonaddictive, gender neutral celebration of the solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.
We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted Gregorian calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that The United States of America is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.
By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:
This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.
Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the sending of this message; however, a significant number of electrons were slightly inconvenienced.
Best Wishes to you all.
The Snarky Bastards
Jamie posted this at 2:45 PM CDT on Wednesday, December 20th, 2006 as Humor
Read this piece by bitter leftist Harold Meyerson to learn why those who take relgion seriously have a difficult time associating themselves with the Left. For the amount of time he spends on the theology of the matter, Meyerson might as well be decrying a local social club. Which, actually, seems appropriate for an article about the Episcopal church.
For a sample of this categorical error, here’s Meyerson’s final graph:
The founders of the [Episcopal] church believed, within the context of their time, that all men were created equal. Today’s defectors have thought it over in the context of our own time, and decided that they’re not.
Rules are for fools; equality uber alles. Though even the mainstream, loosey-goosey Episcopals don’t ordain non-Episcopals. I’m guessing Meyerson’s next column will decry that violation of the Declaration’s promise of equality.
Apollo posted this at 12:22 PM CDT on Wednesday, December 20th, 2006 as Faith, Journalism
I cannot end the year — and with it my regular weekly column — on a pessimistic note. Yes, the Iraq war seems a mess; yes, government still spends too much money badly, and yes, the culture ain’t what it used to be. But if you think things look bleak now, you weren’t around when I started writing a column in the early 1980s.
Crime, illegitimacy, and drug use were spiraling out of control. Oil prices, in inflation-adjusted terms, had recently been even higher than they are now. The country was still suffering the lingering effects of double-digit inflation and unemployment. In my hometown of Detroit, Ford Motor Co., then as now, was said to be on the brink of bankruptcy.
President Reagan and Pope John Paul II had both been shot, and Prime Minister Thatcher had narrowly escaped a terrorist bomb. Huge anti-American demonstrations, fanned by Soviet propaganda and cash, were taking place in Western Europe over the issue of whether to allow deployment of modernized missiles. Japan was thought to be in the process of replacing America as the planet’s leading economic power.
And the intellectuals were approvingly reciting to each other the glum lines from the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, William Yeats, in the wake of the slaughter of World War I: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. … The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
As we now know, however, the center did hold. The missiles were deployed, and it was the Soviet Union, not the Free World, which collapsed. The American economy not only recovered, it went on to nearly a quarter-century of robust expansion interrupted by only two mild pauses. The social fabric finally began to show signs of repair, helped along by a welfare reform bill signed into law by a Democratic president.
He gives the “no permanent victories” cliche a good twist:
There may be no permanent victories. But neither are there any permanent defeats.
So, as John Paul told the Poles in a much darker time than this, “be not afraid.” There are good reasons to think that even better times lie ahead.