Saturday, December 27, 2008

Grow Up!

An Obamafied American Idol Christmas.

By Mark Steyn
December 27, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

I was at the mall two days before Christmas, and it was strangely quiet. So quiet that, sadly, I was able to hear every word of Kelly Clarkson bellowing over the sound system “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” Don’t get me wrong — I love seasonal songs. “Winter Wonderland” — I dig it. “Rudolph” — man, he’s cool, albeit not as literally as Frosty. But “Grown-Up Christmas List” is one of those overwrought ballads of melismatic bombast made for the American Idol crowd. It’s all about how the singer now eschews asking Santa for materialist goodies — beribboned trinkets and gaudy novelties — in favor of selfless grown-up stuff like world peace.

Which is an odd sentiment to hear at a shopping mall.

But it seems to have done the trick. “Retail Sales Plummet,” read the Christmas headline in the Wall Street Journal. “Sales plunged across most categories on shrinking consumer spending.”

Hey, that’s great news, isn’t it? After all, everyone knows Americans consume too much. What was it that then Senator Obama said on the subject? “We can’t just keep driving our SUVs, eating whatever we want, keeping our homes at 72 degrees at all times regardless of whether we live in the tundra or the desert and keep consuming 25 percent of the world’s resources with just 4 percent of the world’s population, and expect the rest of the world to say you just go ahead, we’ll be fine.”

And boy, we took the great man’s words to heart. SUV sales have nosedived, and 72 is no longer your home’s thermostat setting but its current value expressed as a percentage of what you paid for it. If I understand then Senator Obama’s logic, in a just world Americans would be 4 percent of the population and consume a fair and reasonable 4 percent of the world’s resources. And in these last few months we’ve made an excellent start toward that blessed utopia: Americans are driving smaller cars, buying smaller homes, giving smaller Christmas presents.

And yet, strangely, President-Elect Obama doesn’t seem terribly happy about the Obamafication of the American economy. He’s proposing some 5.7 bazillion dollar “stimulus” package or whatever it is now to “stimulate” it back into its bad old ways.

And how does the rest of the world, of whose tender sensibilities then Senator Obama was so mindful, feel about the collapse of American consumer excess? They’re aghast, they’re terrified, they’re on a one-way express elevator down to Sub-Basement Level 37 of the abyss with no hope of putting on the brakes unless the global economy can restore aggregate demand. What does all that mumbo-jumbo about “aggregate demand” mean? Well, that’s a fancy term for you — yes, you, Joe Lardbutt, the bloated disgusting embodiment of American excess, driving around in your Chevy Behemoth, getting two blocks to the gallon as you shear the roof off the drive-thru lane to pick up your $7.93 decaf gingersnap-mocha-pepperoni-zebra mussel frappuccino, which makes for a wonderful cool refreshing thirst-quencher after you’ve been working up a sweat watching the plasma TV in your rec room all morning with the thermostat set to 87. The message from the European political class couldn’t be more straightforward: If you crass, vulgar Americans don’t ramp up the demand, we’re kaput. Unless you get back to previous levels of planet-devastating consumption, the planet is screwed.

“Much of the load will fall on the US,” wrote Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, “largely because the Europeans, Japanese and even the Chinese are too inert, too complacent, or too weak.” The European Union has 500 million people, compared with America’s 300 million. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are advanced economies whose combined population adds up to that of the United States. Many EU members have enjoyed for decades the enlightened progressive policies Americans won’t be getting until January 20th. Why then are they so “inert” that their economic fortunes depend on the despised moronic Yanks?

Ah, well. To return to Kelly Clarkson — and Barbra Streisand and Michael Buble and Amy Grant — the striking thing about their “Grown-Up Christmas List” is how childish it is. The concerned vocalist tells Santa that what she wants for Christmas is:

“No more lives torn apart,
That wars would never start…”

Whether wars start depends on the intended target’s ability to deter. As to “lives torn apart,” that, too, is a matter of being on the receiving end. If you’re in an African dictatorship, your life can be torn apart. If you’re in a society that values individual liberty, you’ll at least get a shot at tearing your own life apart — you’ll make bad choices, marry a ne’er-do-well, blow your savings, lose your job — but these are ultimately within your power to correct. The passivity of the lyric — the “lives” that get “torn apart” is very revealing. A state in which lives aren’t torn apart will be, by definition, totalitarian: As in The Stepford Wives or The Invasion Of the Body Snatchers, we’ll all be wandering around in glassy-eyed conformity. “Lives” will no longer be “torn apart” because they’re no longer lives, but simply the husks of a centrally controlled tyranny. To live is messy but liberating: Free societies enable the citizenry to fulfill their potential — to innovate, to create, to accumulate — while recognizing that some of their number will fail. But to attempt to insulate free peoples from moral hazard is debilitating and ultimately fatal. To Martin Wolf’s list of a Europe “too inert, too complacent, too weak,” we might add “too old”: Healthy societies recharge their batteries by the aged and wealthy lending their savings to the young and eager. But Germany is a population of prosperous seniors with no grandchildren to lend to. Japan is a society of great invention with insufficient youth to provide a domestic market. That’s why if you’re Sony or Ikea or any other great global brand, you want access to America for your product. That’s why economic recovery will be driven by the U.S., and not by Euro-Japanese entities long marinated in Obamanomics.

One final thought on “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” The first two lines always give me a chuckle:

“Do you remember me?
I sat upon your knee…”

When was the last time you saw a child sit upon a Santa’s knee? Rod Liddle in the British Spectator reports that at a top London department store Santa sits at one end of the bench while a large “X” directs the moppet to a place down the other end, well out of arm’s reach. For even Santa Claus is just another pedophile in waiting. Naughty or nice? Who really knows? Best not to take any chances. That’s another way societies seize up — by obsessing on phantom threats rather than real ones.

Are free peoples now merely vulnerable infants in need of protection from the pedophile Santa of global capitalism? This is the issue that will determine the future: Euro-style state-directed protectionist sclerosis vs. individual liberty in all its messiness. I know what I want on my “Grown-Up Christmas List.”

© 2008 Mark Steyn

Theodore Roosevelt Was No Conservative

There's a reason he left the GOP to lead the Progressive Party.

DECEMBER 26, 2008, 10:59 P.M. ET

We know that Barack Obama and his allies identify themselves as "progressives," and that they aim to implement the big-government liberalism that originated in America's Progressive Era and was consummated in the New Deal. What remains a mystery is why some conservatives want to claim this progressive identity as their own -- particularly as it was manifested by Theodore Roosevelt.

The fact that conservative politicians such as John McCain and writers like William Kristol and Karl Rove are attracted to our 26th president is strange because, if we want to understand where in the American political tradition the idea of unlimited, redistributive government came from, we need look no further than to Roosevelt and others who shared his outlook.

Progressives of both parties, including Roosevelt, were the original big-government liberals. They understood full well that the greatest obstacle to their schemes of social justice and equality of material condition was the U.S. Constitution as it was originally written and understood: as creating a national government of limited, enumerated powers that was dedicated to securing the individual natural rights of its citizens, especially liberty of contract and private property.

It was the Republican TR, who insisted in his 1910 speech on the "New Nationalism" that there was a "general right of the community to regulate" the earning of income and use of private property "to whatever degree the public welfare may require it." He was at one here with Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had in 1885 condemned Americans' respect for their Constitution as "blind worship," and suggested that his countrymen dedicate themselves to the Declaration of Independence by leaving out its "preface" -- i.e., the part of it that establishes the protection of equal natural rights as the permanent task of government.

In his "Autobiography," Roosevelt wrote that he "declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it." The national government, in TR's view, was not one of enumerated powers but of general powers, and the purpose of the Constitution was merely to state the narrow exceptions to that rule.

This is a view of government directly opposed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 84. Hamilton explains there that the fundamental difference between a republican constitution and a monarchic one is that the latter reserves some liberty for the people by stating specific exceptions to the assumed general power of the crown, whereas the former assumes from the beginning that the power of the people is the general rule, and the power of the government the exception.

TR turns this on its head. In his New Nationalism speech he noted how, in aiming to use state power to bring about economic equality, the government should permit a man to earn and keep his property "only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community." The government itself of course would determine what represented a benefit to the community, and whether society would be better off if an individual's wealth was transferred to somebody else.

We can see the triumph of this outlook in progressive income taxation, which TR trumpeted in his speech (along with progressive estate taxes). We may also see this theory in action when a government seizes private property through eminent domain, transferring it to others in order to generate higher tax revenues -- a practice blessed by the Supreme Court in its notorious Kelo v. New London decision of 2005.

Some conservatives today are misled by the battle between TR and Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. But Wilson implemented most of TR's program once he took office in 1913, including a progressive income tax and the establishment of several regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission.

Others are misled by TR's crusade against an activist judiciary. But unlike our courts today, the judiciary during the Progressive era properly struck down legislation that violated our bedrock rights to liberty of contract and private property. TR hated the judiciary precisely for standing up for the Constitution; this is certainly no reason for conservatives today to latch on to his antijudicial rhetoric.

Many who respect individual liberty and the free market believe that the electoral tide has turned, and that an era of big government is inevitable. But recall that John McCain gained traction in the closing days of his campaign only when he attacked Mr. Obama's desire to "spread the wealth" through higher tax rates on the upper-income earners. His attack clearly resonated among the public. But it came too late, and truth be told, his heart wasn't really in it.

Looking ahead, conservatives hardly need to look back to progressives for inspiration. If there is a desire to "conserve" or restore something about our political tradition that has been lost with the rise of modern liberalism, how about the American founding as a model? It is with the founders that we can find the patriotic promotion of America as an exceptionally great nation -- a notion that attracts some conservatives to TR.

The difference is that, with the founders as a model, we get the idea of American greatness, but without the progressives' assault on the very enduring principles that justify America's claim to greatness in the first place.

Mr. Pestritto is the Shipley Professor of the American Constitution at Hillsdale College and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. Among his books are "Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).

The End of Art

by Roger Kimball
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (June/July 2008).

Nearly everyone cares—or says he cares—about art. After all, art ennobles the spirit, ­elevates the mind, and educates the emotions. Or does it? In fact, tremendous irony attends our culture’s continuing investment—emotional, financial, and social—in art. We behave as if art were something special, something important, something spiritually refreshing; but, when we canvas the roster of distinguished artists today, what we generally find is far from spiritual, and certainly far from refreshing.

It is a curious situation. Traditionally, the goal of fine art was to make beautiful objects. The idea of beauty came with a lot of Platonic and Christian metaphysical baggage, some of it indifferent or even hostile to art. But art without beauty was, if not exactly a contradiction in terms, at least a description of failed art.

Nevertheless, if large precincts of the art world have jettisoned the traditional link between art and beauty, they have done nothing to disown the social prerogatives of art. Indeed, we suffer today from a peculiar form of moral anesthesia—as if being art automatically rendered all moral considerations ­gratuitous. The list of atrocities is long, familiar, and laughable. In the end, though, the effect has been ­anything but amusing; it has been a cultural disaster. By universalizing the spirit of opposition, the avant-garde’s ­project has transformed the practice of art into a purely negative enterprise, in which art is either oppositional or it is nothing. Celebrity replaces aesthetic achievement as the goal of art.

Leo Tolstoy

The situation tempts one to sympathize with Leo Tolstoy. In a famous passage from What Is Art? Tolstoy wrote that “art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost.”
And that was in the 1890s. Just imagine Tolstoy strolling through New York’s Chelsea galleries or London’s Tate Modern. He would not, I suspect, have thought much of Andy Warhol as an artist, but he would have admired his candor and perception—for, as Warhol observed in 1987, “Art is what you can get away with.”

These days, the art world places a great premium on novelty. But here’s the irony: Almost everything championed as innovative in contemporary art is essentially a tired repetition of gestures inaugurated by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, creator of the first bottle-rack ­masterpiece and the first urinal fountain.

Of course, not all the news from the world of art is bad. There is plenty of vigorous, accomplished art being produced today, but it is rarely touted at the Chelsea galleries, celebrated in the New York Times, or featured in the trendier precincts of the art world. The serious art of today tends to be a quiet affair, off to the side and out of the limelight.

But this would have done nothing to cheer Tolstoy. Indeed, even though it is easy to concur with his ­judgment that art has been “perverted,” his own view of “what art really is” must give us pause. Tolstoy was very strict about the feelings he thought it proper for art to convey. In his view, the “upper classes” of his own society, “as a result of unbelief,” favored art that was “reduced to the conveying of the feelings of vanity, the tedium of living, and, above all, sexual lust.” Art for Tolstoy is “a spiritual organ of human life,” which sounds plenty reassuring. But his conception of what counts as legitimately spiritual is so narrow that it excludes not only the Damien Hirsts of the world but also most of the world’s great artists.

Of the literature of his own time, for example, he seems to have approved some simple folk tales and fables about peasants, but he approved little else. ­Anything that ­traded in mystery or symbolism he abominated. Baudelaire (“crude egotism erected into a theory”) does not pass muster, nor does Verlaine (“flabby licentiousness”) or Mallarmé (“devoid of meaning”). A Beethoven piano sonata is “only an unsuccessful attempt at art,” and the Ninth ­Symphony fails “without any doubt.” Kipling and even Dante fail to make the grade, and watching Hamlet makes Tolstoy ­shudder. Art, in his eyes, is either a handmaiden to a certain species of moral pedagogy or it is corrupt.

Tolstoy’s wary attitude is far from exceptional, for the traditional attitude toward art and beauty has been characterized as much by suspicion as by celebration. There has been a recurrent worry that the attractions of beauty will lead us to forsake the good for the sake of a good. “The eyes delight in beautiful shapes of different sorts and bright and attractive colors,” Augustine wrote, warning against the temptations of visual pleasure. “I would not have these things take possession of my soul. Let God possess it, he who made them all. He made them all very good, but it is he who is my Good, not they.”

The Platonic tradition in Christianity invests beauty with ontological significance, trusting it to reveal the unity and proportion of what really is. Our apprehension of beauty thus betokens a recognition of and ­submission to a reality that transcends us. And yet, if beauty can use art to express truth, art can also use beauty to create charming fabrications. As Jacques Maritain put it, art is capable of establishing “a world apart, closed, limited, absolute,” an autonomous world that, at least for a moment, relieves us of the “ennui of living and willing.” Instead of directing our attention beyond sensible beauty toward its supersensible source, art can fascinate us with beauty’s apparently self-sufficient presence; it can counterfeit being in lieu of revealing it.

Considered as an end in itself, apart from God or being, beauty becomes a usurper, furnishing not a foretaste of beatitude but a humanly contrived substitute. “Art is dangerous,” as Iris Murdoch once put it, “chiefly because it apes the spiritual and subtly disguises and trivializes it.”

This helps explain why Western thinking about art has tended to oscillate between adulation and deep suspicion. “Beauty is the battlefield where God and the devil war for the soul of man,” Dostoevsky had Mitya Karamazov declare, and the battle runs deep.

When deploring the terrible state of the art world today—Tolstoy’s word perverted is not too strong—we often look back to the Renaissance as a golden age when art and religion were in harmony and all was right with the world. But for many traditional thinkers, the Renaissance was the start of the trouble. Thus Maritain charges that “the Renaissance was to drive the artist mad, and to make of him the most miserable of men . . . by revealing to him his own peculiar grandeur, and by letting loose on him the wild beast Beauty which Faith had kept enchanted and led after it, docile.”

Thus, along with the shattering of the medieval ­cosmos and the flowering of Renaissance humanism, “prodigal Art aspired to become the ultimate end of man, his Bread and Wine, the consubstantial mirror of beatific Beauty.” How seriously should we take this rhetoric that fuses the ambitions of art and religion? No doubt it is in part hyperbole. But, like most hyperbole, talk of the artist as a “second god” is exorbitant language striving to express an exorbitant claim—a claim about man’s burgeoning consciousness of himself as a free and creative being.

We have to wait for Romanticism and the flowering of the cult of genius for the completion of this discovery. But the apotheosis of artistic creativity began long before the nineteenth century. With the rise of fixed-point perspective, which Alberti’s fifteenth-century On Painting first systematized and made generally available, the artist had entered into a new consciousness of his freedom and creativity. As Erwin Panofsky pointed out, the achievement of fixed-point perspective marked not only the elevation of art to a science (a prospect that so enthused Renaissance artists) but also “an objectification of the subjective,” a subjection of the visible world to the rule of ­mathematics:

There was a curious inward correspondence between perspective and what may be called the general mental attitude of the Renaissance: the process of projecting an object on a plane in such a way that the resulting image is determined by the distance and location of a “point of view” symbolized, as it were, the Weltanschauung of a period which had inserted an historical distance—quite comparable to the perspective one—between itself and the classical past, and had assigned to the mind of man a place “in the center of the universe” just as perspective assigned to the eye a place in the center of its graphic representation.

In this sense, the perfection of one-point perspective betokened not only the mastery of a particular artistic technique but implied also a new attitude toward the world. Increasingly, nature was transformed from God’s book of human destiny to material for the play of the godlike artist.

The closer one moved toward the present time, the more blatant and unabashed became the association of the artist with God. Thus Alexander Baumgarten, writing in the mid-eighteenth century, compared the poet to a god and likened his creation to “a world”: “Hence by analogy whatever is evident to the philosophers regarding the real world, the same ought to be thought of a poem.” And Lord Shaftsbury, who exerted enormous influence on eighteenth-century aesthetics, asserted that, in the employment of his imagination, the artist becomes “a second god, a just Prometheus under Jove.” Of course, as Ernst Cassirer noted in his gloss on Shaftsbury, “the difference between man and God disappears when we consider man not simply with respect to his original immanent forming powers, not as something created, but as a creator. . . . Here man’s real Promethean nature comes to light.”

Man’s real Promethean nature: If the artist in the modern age emerges as a second god, his divinity tends to close itself off from reality in order to clear a space for art’s fabrications. As such, the artist tends to draw close to the demonic, which Søren Kierkegaard astutely defined as freedom “shutting itself up” apart from the good. (“Myself am Hell,” Milton’s Satan declares in a moment of startling self-insight.) If, as Paul Valéry put it, “the artist’s whole business is to make something out of nothing,” then, unable to meet this demand, he will find himself wandering alone among the shadows cast by the world he forsook in order to salvage his freedom and creativity. Divinization gives way to demonization. The impulse behind this development has its roots in the demand for freedom in a world where freedom is increasingly eclipsed.

There is, in all of this, an implicit analogy between beauty and beatitude. Understood as a foretaste of beatitude, beauty affirms its place in an integrated ontological order; as the radiance of being, beauty ­subordinates itself to what it reveals. But emancipated from that order, beauty threatens to displace the ­totality it once illumined, conjuring a rival order of its own.

We do not need Nietzsche to tell us that the disintegration of the Platonic-Christian worldview, already begun in the late Middle Ages, is today a cultural given. Nor is it news that the shape of modernity—born, in large part, from man’s faith in the power of human ­reason and technology to remake the world in his own image—has made it increasingly difficult to hold the traditional view that ties beauty to being and truth, investing it with ontological significance. Modernity, the beneficiary of Descartes’ relocation of truth to the subject ( Cogito, ergo sum), implies the autonomy of the aesthetic sphere and hence the isolation of beauty from being or truth. When human reason is made the measure of reality, beauty forfeits its ontological claim and becomes merely aesthetic—merely a matter of feeling.

At the end of his book Human Accomplishment (2004), Charles Murray argues that “religion is indispensable in igniting great accomplishment in the arts.” I have a good deal of sympathy with the intention behind Murray’s argument, but my first response to his claims for the indispensability of religion for art might be summed up by that Saul Steinberg ­cartoon in which a smallish yes is jetting along toward a large BUT. Murray has done a lot to insulate his ­argument: By religion, he doesn’t mean churchgoing or even theology, and thus he is right to say that classical Greece, though secular (one might even say pagan) in a certain sense, was nonetheless a religious powerhouse for the “mature contemplation” of “truth, beauty, and the good.”

I wonder. Is such contemplation necessarily religious in any but an honorific sense? Noting that our own culture is aggressively secular—the names Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Einstein stand as beacons in humanity’s progressive self-disillusionment—Murray suggests that our modern disillusionment is essentially ephemeral, merely a stage in mankind’s spiritual maturation. The period from the Enlightenment through the twentieth century, he suggests, may well “eventually be seen as a kind of adolescence of the species.” Who can say? Kant thought that maturity came with the Enlightenment: Enlightenment betokened man’s coming of age, his “leaving his self-caused immaturity,” where by “immaturity” Kant meant the “incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another.” The primary lack that forestalled full enlightenment was therefore not intellectual but moral: It was, Kant thought, a lack of courage to face up to the way the world really is.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation (1430-1432)

There is plenty to criticize about the Enlightenment (just as there is plenty to celebrate), but my point is merely to question whether the symbiotic relation between great art and religion is as close as Murray ­suggests. Fra Angelico, a deeply religious painter, was a great artist, but then so was Titian, a conspicuously worldly one. Bach was a pious soul and was possibly the greatest composer who ever lived, but what about Beethoven? If he was religious it was in a vastly different sense. Jane Austen was conventionally religious in her personal life, but her novels achieve greatness through their secular wit and wisdom. Art and ­ religion are both eulogistic words: Calling something a work of art endows it with a nimbus of value; the same is true of religious. But is that the same sort of value?

The twentieth-century Welsh Catholic poet David Jones had it right when he suggested that “no integrated, widespread, religious art, properly so-called, can be looked for outside enormous changes in the character and orientation and nature of our civilization”—changes, I think, that would be deeply at odds with our commitment to liberal democracy. Jones agrees that it would be nice if “the best of man’s creative powers” were “at the direct service of the sanctuary.” But that can happen only “if the epoch itself is characterized by those qualities.” It is not, he goes on to note, a matter of will: What is possible to the artist in the way of creating religious art “has little or nothing to do with the will or wishes of this or that artist.” Be a painter ever so pious, he cannot “change himself into an artist of some other culture-sequence.” Some things were possible in the Middle Ages that are not possible today.

The real threat to the arts, Jones thought, was the modern world’s increasing submission to technocracy, to a thoroughly instrumental view of life that had no room for what Jones called the intransitive—for the freedom and disinterestedness traditionally thought the province of religious experience, on the one hand, and aesthetic experience, on the other.

The disjunction is crucial. The priest and the artist, he says, might both be consigned to the catacombs, but they are separate catacombs. Religion aims at the perfection of the soul; art aims at the perfection of a work. We have no specifically Catholic art, Jones argued, any more than we have “a Catholic science of hydraulics, a Catholic vascular system, or a Catholic equilateral triangle.” W.H. Auden thought likewise: “There can no more be a ‘Christian’ art than there can be a Christian science or a Christian diet. There can only be a Christian spirit in which an artist, a scientist, works or does not work.”

We live at a time when art is enlisted in all manner of extra-artistic projects, from gender politics to the grim leftism of neo-Marxists, poststructuralists, and all the other exotic fauna who congregate around the art world and the academy. The subjugation of art—and of cultural life generally—to political ends has been one of the great spiritual tragedies of our age. Among much else, it makes it increasingly difficult to appreciate art on its own terms, as affording its own kinds of insights and satisfactions. Critics who care about art—even those who want to insist on art’s religious depth—are forced to champion art’s distinctively aesthetic qualities against attempts to reduce art to a species of ­propaganda.

At the same time we lose something important when our conception of art lacks a spiritual dimension. If this is what Murray meant when he suggested that religion, or at least serious attention to the ends of human life, is “indispensable in igniting great accomplishment in the arts,” we would have to agree. That is to say, if politicizing the aesthetic poses a serious threat to the integrity of art, the isolation of the aesthetic from other dimensions of life represents a different sort of threat. The principle of “art for art’s sake,” T.S. Eliot observed, is “still valid in so far as it can be taken as an exhortation to the artist to stick to his job; it never was and never can be valid for the spectator, reader, or auditor.”

By the nineteenth century, art had long been free from serving the ideological needs of religion, and yet the spiritual crisis of the age tended to invest art with ever-greater existential burdens—burdens that ­continue to be felt to this day. In Wallace Stevens’ words, “After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.”

The idea that art should serve as a source—perhaps the primary source—of spiritual sustenance in a secular age is a Romantic notion that continues to resonate powerfully. It helps to explain, for example, the special aura that attaches to art and artists, permitting such poseurs as Andres Serrano, Bruce Nauman, and Gilbert & George to be accounted artists by otherwise sane persons. This Romantic inheritance has also figured, with various permutations, in much avant-garde culture. We have come a long way since Dostoevsky could declare that, “incredible as it may seem, the day will come when man will quarrel more fiercely about art than about God.” Whether that trek has described a journey of progress is perhaps an open question. My own feeling is that Eliot was right when he disparaged the efforts of such moral aesthetes as Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater to find in art a substitute for religion, “to preserve emotions without the beliefs with which their history has been involved.”

This much, I think, is clear: Without an allegiance to beauty, art degenerates into a caricature of itself; it is beauty that animates aesthetic experience, making it so seductive; but aesthetic experience itself degenerates into a kind of fetish or idol if it is held up as an end in itself, untested by the rest of life.

It seems to me that there are as many opportunities for confusion as for enlightenment in linking the ambitions of art and religion. There is much to bemoan about the state of art and culture today. Above all, there is a lack of seriousness underwritten by a lack of traditional skill. But in this sense, the emancipation of art from religion is less an impediment than an opportunity. As Auden noted in his reflections on Christianity and art: “We cannot have any liberty without license to abuse it. The secularization of art enables the really gifted artist to develop his talents to the full; it also permits those with little or no talent to produce vast quantities of phony or vulgar trash.”

The triumph of the latter does nothing to impeach the promise and the achievements of the former. Man is the sort of creature whose nature is to delight in art and aesthetic experience; I believe that he is also, by nature, a religious animal—a creature who becomes who he really is only by acknowledging something that transcends him. These different aspects of humanity will often conspire, but we do both a disservice if we blur or elide their essential difference.

- Roger Kimball is co-editor of the New Criterion, publisher of Encounter Books, and author of several books, including The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art. An earlier version of this essay was presented at the American Enterprise Institute and published in the newly released volume Religion and the American Future (AEI Press).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Feliz 'dinejad!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
[Mark Steyn]

Further to Michael Portillo's bleak assessment that "Britain has lost the stomach for a fight", here's a reminder that the mangy old British lion still has some teeth: On Christmas Day 2007 in Afghanistan, the Royal Marines were in the middle of their al fresco carol service when the Taliban attacked and they found themselves having to return fire in their Santa hats. It's an episode in the storied tradition of slightly dotty imperial elan which courses through The Daily Telegraph's military obituaries.


Queen Elizabeth II

One of the interesting questions since 9/11 has been whether prosperous but desiccated post-national states can in effect outsource the remnants of national will entirely to a professional military. Ever since King George V's first radio broadcasts to the Empire in the 1930s, it has been a tradition every December 25th for the Sovereign to deliver a Christmas message to the Commonwealth. These days, the Queen's thoughts are mostly the usual "celebrate diversity" multiculti pap, she having been well nobbled by her courtiers in this respect (her husband is another matter). Inevitably, even this PC boilerplate is felt to be "exclusive" and so in recent years Channel 4 has invited someone every Christmas Day to deliver an "alternative Christmas message". It's generally the familiar stillborn provocations to a no longer extant "mainstream" - a gay activist, a woman in a burqa, etc.

This year, it's the head of a state that issues bounties on British subjects and kidnaps British sailors:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran will give a message of seasonal goodwill on Christmas Day as an alternative to the Queen's traditional broadcast.

12/24 11:09 AM

Related Links
The Daily Telegraph-

The Associated Press-


By Ann Coulter
December 24, 2008

Is it just me, or does Kwanzaa seem to come earlier and earlier each year?

This year, I believe my triumph over this synthetic holiday is nearly complete. The only mentions of Kwanzaa I've seen are humorous ones. Most important, for the first time in eight years, President George Bush appears not to have issued "Kwanzaa greetings" to honor this phony non-Christian holiday that is younger than I am.

Maulana Ron Karenga, founder of Kwanzaa, officiates at a 1990s celebration.(AP)

It is a fact that Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by a black radical FBI stooge, Ron Karenga, aka Dr. Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a founder of United Slaves, a violent nationalist rival to the Black Panthers and a dupe of the FBI.

In what was probably ultimately a foolish gamble, during the madness of the '60s the FBI encouraged the most extreme black nationalist organizations in order to discredit and split the left. The more preposterous the organization, the better. Using that criterion, Karenga's United Slaves was perfect. In the annals of the American '60s, Karenga was the Father Gapon, stooge of the czarist police.

Despite modern perceptions that blend all the black activists of the '60s, the Black Panthers did not hate whites. They did not seek armed revolution. Those were the precepts of Karenga's United Slaves. United Slaves were proto-fascists, walking around in dashikis, gunning down Black Panthers and adopting invented "African" names. (That was a big help to the black community: How many boys named "Jamal" currently sit on death row?)

Whether Karenga was a willing dupe, or just a dupe, remains unclear. Curiously, in a 1995 interview with Ethnic NewsWatch, Karenga matter-of-factly explained that the forces out to get O.J. Simpson for the "framed" murder of two whites included: "the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, Interpol, the Chicago Police Department" and so on. Karenga should know about FBI infiltration. (He further noted that the evidence against O.J. "was not strong enough to prohibit or eliminate unreasonable doubt" -- an interesting standard of proof.)

In the category of the-gentleman-doth-protest-too-much, back in the '70s, Karenga was quick to criticize rumors that black radicals were government-supported. When Nigerian newspapers claimed that some American black radicals were CIA operatives, Karenga publicly denounced the idea, saying, "Africans must stop generalizing about the loyalties and motives of Afro-Americans, including the widespread suspicion of black Americans being CIA agents."

Now we know that the FBI fueled the bloody rivalry between the Panthers and United Slaves. In one barbarous outburst, Karenga's United Slaves shot to death Black Panthers Al "Bunchy" Carter and Deputy Minister John Huggins on the UCLA campus. Karenga himself served time, a useful stepping-stone for his current position as a black studies professor at California State University at Long Beach.

(Sing to "Jingle Bells")
Kwanzaa bells, dashikis sell
Whitey has to pay;
Burning, shooting, oh what fun
On this made-up holiday!

Kwanzaa itself is a nutty blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. Indeed, the seven "principles" of Kwanzaa praise collectivism in every possible arena of life -- economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch.

When Karenga was asked to distinguish Kawaida, the philosophy underlying Kwanzaa, from "classical Marxism," he essentially explained that under Kawaida, we also hate whites. While taking the "best of early Chinese and Cuban socialism" -- which one assumes would exclude the forced abortions, imprisonment of homosexuals and forced labor -- Kawaida practitioners believe one's racial identity "determines life conditions, life chances and self-understanding." There's an inclusive philosophy for you.

Coincidentally, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are the very same seven principles of the Symbionese Liberation Army, another charming invention of the Worst Generation. In 1974, Patricia Hearst, kidnap victim-cum-SLA revolutionary, posed next to the banner of her alleged captors, a seven-headed cobra. Each snake head stood for one of the SLA's revolutionary principles: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani — the exact same seven "principles" of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa was the result of a '60s psychosis grafted onto the black community. Liberals have become so mesmerized by multicultural nonsense that they have forgotten the real history of Kwanzaa and Karenga's United Slaves -- the violence, the Marxism, the insanity. Most absurdly, for leftists anyway, is that they have forgotten the FBI's tacit encouragement of this murderous black nationalist cult founded by the father of Kwanzaa.

This is a holiday for white liberals -- the kind of holiday Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn probably celebrate. Meanwhile, most blacks celebrate Christmas.

Kwanzaa liberates no one; Christianity liberates everyone, proclaiming that we are all equal before God. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Not surprisingly, it was practitioners of that faith who were at the forefront of the abolitionist and civil rights movements.

Next year this time, we'll find out if our new "Halfrican" president is really black or just another white liberal. If he's black enough to say the "brothers should pull up their pants," surely Obama can just say no to Kwanzaa.

Ronald Reagan's 1981 Christmas Address

(Click on title to play video)

Christmas: The Feast of the Nativity

Hebrews 1:1-12
John 1:1-14

On Christmas, this Feast of the Nativity, the hidden revelation we celebrate on the Feast of the Annunciation becomes visible.

"Then the babe, the world's Redeemer

First revealed his sacred face

Evermore and evermore."

I never tire of the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. This is the Gospel for the first Mass of Christmas, which is also the last Gospel of almost every High Mass. These words are hakadesh hakadeshim- the holy of holies- in all of scripture.

I have no need this day to stand here and relate any personal story, or any tale of fiction. The finest and most entertaining story cannot begin to compare with these words which we have heard from scripture. Though we hear the opening of St. John’s Gospel on every Sunday outside of Advent and Lent, we cannot hear it enough. It cannot become tiresome though we were to read it daily. In fact, listen to the words of our hymns this day. In Hark the Herald, look at Charles Wesley’s words, especially the second verse (the verse beginning Christ by highest heaven adored). Such words as these can never become tiresome either.

A Roman Catholic priest of my acquaintance via e-mail, Fr. Joseph Wilson, wrote, in an article, that it is impossible to overemphasize the Incarnation. How right he is. Many heresies come about by overemphasis on one little part of Christian truth at the expense of the rest of it. This cannot happen to the doctrine of the Incarnation, for it contains all of the truth in itself. This truth, that Christ is God the Son come to us in the fullness both of His Divine Nature, and of His human nature, is the truth, the central doctrine, of Christianity. Take it away and we have nothing. Keep it, and we have everything. No wonder St. John also tells us that this simple true statement, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is the one doctrine that the spirit of Antichrist refuses to permit.

The doctrine of the Incarnation contains all of the truth of Christianity. The full revelation of the Trinity becomes necessary for God is the Son, and God is the Father; but the Son is not the Father. And the Son is present with us by the Holy Spirit. But, the Son and the Father are not the Holy Spirit. Yet, every Jew always knew that there is only One God- sh’mai Israel... The truth of the Incarnation opens more questions than it gives answers; the questions are because God is revealed fully by Jesus as being, in His words, The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. He leaves us this new name for God, and teaches us that we can spend eternity asking questions about the infinity of the True and Living God because He will always be beyond our full comprehension. Yet, because He can walk among us as a man, in the person of the Son, we can know Him. He is beyond us forever; He is with us forever. His name is called Emmanuel- God with us.

The truth of the Incarnation tells us that we are sinners, lost because we are lost in sin. The light shines not against lesser light, but in the very darkness itself, a darkness that neither understands nor can solve the problem of this bothersome light. The darkness comprehended it not, the darkness into which we have fallen, and in which we were blind. Even many of the very chosen people themselves received not this Light; no wonder then that most of the world cannot receive Him either. Those who can receive Him do so because they face the light. This light hurts our eyes at first; for it tells the truth, the truth about ourselves which we wanted never to see nor hear.

The writer to the Hebrews wastes no time in telling us that this Man, the Son of God who is the very icon of the Father, in Whom the glory of God is perfectly seen, has purged our sins. The Gospel we read in the second Mass of Christmas is from St. Luke. In it the words of the angels are heard, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” What peace is this? Is it some magic that makes sinful and fallen men stop waging war, as if the cessation of violence is actually worthy in itself to be called peace? Is not the greater war shown to us in scripture? That God has a right to wage war upon man because of our sins? As early as the story of Noah’s flood we see that God accepted the sacrifice of Noah after the flood- a sacrifice that pointed to Christ’s own death on the cross as did all the sacrifices. We are told that God hung up His bow as a sign in the heavens. He hung up what we call the rainbow, His bow of warfare, and promised not to destroy mankind from the face of the earth. This is the peace of which the angels speak. The sacrifice that had been offered in the story of Noah, after he came out of the ark, was only a type and shadow of the cross, the shadow of which hung already, over a newborn infant Son lying asleep in a manger. This night is answered by "the night in which he was betrayed." Only by his cross, by his sacrifice, is peace made between God and fallen mankind.

“Nails, spear shall pierce Him through

a cross be borne for me for you,

hail, hail the Word made flesh,

the Babe the Son of Mary.”

All of the events to come, right up to His dying and rising again are foretold in these words of the angels. We do not see goodwill among men, as some misinterpret the angelic words, but goodwill toward men, from God. The whole revelation that God is Love is thus given to us, also, by the Incarnation. This is the great gift of love, that He would give His own Son; He offers the sacrifice that He would not allow our father Abraham to make. Abraham was ready to obey God, and prepared to offer his son, his only son Isaac whom he loved, upon whom had been laid the wood of the altar while they had climbed Mount Moriah.

Abraham was spared this terrible agony of slaying his beloved son, because God used this dramatic means to teach His people that He would never accept the sacrifice of their children, such sacrifices as the pagans made to what were no gods. But, God in His love gives His only begotten Son Whom He loves. This is the goodwill toward men. This goodwill was seen that night in the manger in Bethlehem; this goodwill was seen on the cross many years later on a Friday afternoon.

Caravaggio. Nativity with Saints Francis and Lawrence., 1609.
Oil on canvas. San Lorenzo, Palermo, Italy.

In the Incarnation, now revealed, we see that God would call a people to be His children, adopting them in the very Person of His only begotten Son; for as St. Paul tells us, we are in Christ. It is because we are in the Beloved, in the Son Himself, that we are chosen by God for salvation, instead of having been abandoned to the fate we had deserved for ourselves.

We see also that He would establish His Church, and give to it His Word and Sacraments for the salvation of all who believe the Gospel. St. John, in opening his First Epistle, tells us that he had been among those whose hands had handled, and whose eyes had seen the Word of Life; and he goes on to tell us that we too are called to fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ through the invitation of the apostles. St. John is telling us that in the Church the sacraments are given and God’s Word is spoken, that we may know Him. Without the Incarnation the apostles have no word to tell, and there is then no Word from God, nor any sacraments. Because of the Incarnation we are given the Word of His truth. And the sacraments stem from His own coming in the flesh, and are given to us only because He was given to us when He came in our own nature, a created nature that was alien to His uncreated Person as God the only Son, eternally begotten of the Father.

In his classic, On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius said that while Christ walked the earth as man, He still filled the heavens as God. The Council Of Chalcedon taught us that He is fully God, being of the same nature as that of the Father, and fully human, being of the same human nature as ourselves, like us in every way except for sin, having human nature from his mother Mary, the Virgin, the Theotokos- which means that God the Son has a mother; and he is "like us in every respect apart from sin."

None of this is explained to us. How is it that God is made man, that the Word is made flesh and that He dwelt among us, that we beheld His glory? We do not really know all the answers- which is part of the revelation. God cannot be figured out, dissected and explained. He cannot be understood, analyzed and described. But, He can be known through Christ, the Only Mediator Who Himself is God and Man.

How do sacraments work? How is bread and wine made into the Real Presence of the Living Christ? How does water, with the right words, give new life when applied to human flesh? How can priests, themselves men, forgive sins? How did Christ’s death take away the sins of the world? How does His resurrection save us from death? If we needed to know the answers in some mechanical way, then salvation would be reserved only for people far too clever for the likes of me. The point is to know that it is beyond our understanding, because we are not God. We know not the how of it. But, what we do not understand we can know; we can know the love of God shown to us in the coming of Christ into the world. “For God so loved the world,” and that is the why of it.

I will close with words written in 1765, by Christopher Smart, words which made it into our hymnal, and which work equally well for this Feast of Christmas and also for the Feast of the Annunciation which was nine months ago:

O Most Mighty!

O Most Holy!

Far beyond the seraph’s thought,

Art Thou then so mean and lowly

As unheeded prophets taught?

O the magnitude of meekness!

Worth from worth immortal sprung;

O the strength of infant weakness,

if eternal is so young.

God all bounteous, all creative,

Whom no ills from good dissuade,

Is Incarnate and a native

Of the very world He made.

Now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever. Amen

Posted by Fr. Robert Hart at 6:58 AM
December 23, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Today's Tune: Emmylou Harris - Little Drummer Boy

(Click on title to play video)

Be Not Afraid

Christian Resistance and the meaning of Christmas.

By Joseph Morrison Skelly
December 23, 2008, 2:00 p.m.

O that tellest good tidings to Zion, lift up they voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid. Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
— Isaiah, 40:9, 60:1

An angel of the Lord stood over the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone round them. The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born; he is Christ the Lord.”
— Luke, 2:9-11

Freedom comes only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing. Faint not, nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action. . . . Freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Stations on the Road to Freedom”

Fra Fillipo Lippi, Nativity, 1459

When the prophecy foretold by Isaiah came to pass in Bethlehem, a light illuminated the world. Some men, however, preferred the darkness — including Herod, the Roman-backed King of Judea. Sensing a potential threat, he ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, the execution of all infant boys aged two and younger. Alerted by an angel during his sleep, Joseph led the Holy Family to safety in Egypt.

Thus the first part of a pattern was established. For two millennia, tyrants have suppressed word of the birth of Christ or religious commemorations of it. Herod feared for his throne. In the modern era, dictators have realized that the potential for human freedom inherent in this divine event threatens to undermine their authoritarian rule. Liberty, not servitude, is the logical outcome of a process whereby men and women channel their allegiance not simply to a secular leader but ultimately to a heavenly being, and, at the same time, governments accept the principle that temporal power must take account of a higher moral law. In the recent past, and today, despots in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Nazi Germany, China, Cuba, North Korea, and elsewhere have sought to suppress man’s relationship with God. Their attacks on Christ and news of his birth have formed part of a broader onslaught against religious freedom, which is an integral component of human freedom. As such, their actions are assaults on liberty itself.

But the light will not be extinguished. Christians in unfree lands — including places where religious extremists restrict their rights, such as Saudi Arabia — have enacted the second part of this historical pattern: they have resisted oppression by celebrating Christmas, often in secret, sometimes in open defiance, frequently without fear. This year will be no different, as they commemorate Christ’s birth and so defend religious freedom, not only for their coreligionists, but for men and women of all faiths, for Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists alike.


Throughout the 20th century, which unleashed a furious ideological campaign against organized religion by both communism and Nazism, Christians frequently marked the passing of the Christmas season as political prisoners. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn writes about Baptists in the Soviet Union who received 25-year sentences in the gulag but would not forsake their faith. In Nazi Germany some Christians stood up to evil and thus ended up in concentration camps. One man who understood the true nature of Adolf Hitler from the beginning was Dietrich Bonhoeffer — and so he resisted.

A gifted writer, Lutheran minister, and one of the most significant theologians of the 20th century, Bonhoeffer joined with Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth to establish the Confessing Church, which broke away from the official German Evangelical Church after it sided with the Nazi Party in 1933. He emerged as a leading figure in the nascent German resistance that coalesced in the 1930s, writing a series of books and essays that were critical of Nazi policies. His most famous volume from this period is The Cost of Discipleship. He met often with fellow Christians throughout Europe and North America to inform them of the dangers that Hitler posed. In the summer of 1939, he traveled to the United States on a lecture tour and could have remained there as war clouds gathered on the horizon, but returned home to continue his work with the Confessing Church. In 1940, he was banned from speaking in public; in 1941, he was forbidden to publish his works.

His activities were not without controversy, however. He went to Sweden during the war to discuss a draft peace treaty that included a request for the Allies to drop their demand for unconditional surrender. While fervently opposed to Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies, and known to have financed the escape of Jewish families to Switzerland — all at the risk of his own life — some theologians question whether he ever abandoned the doctrine that salvation for non-Christians, including Jews, depended upon conversion. Still, he was an implacable foe of the Nazis. Refusing to moderate his stance, he was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1943 and incarcerated in the Tegel military prison in Berlin, where he managed to maintain his secret contacts with the resistance.


Bonhoeffer also continued his voluminous writings while in jail. Much of it is reprinted in the collection, Letters and Papers from Prison. In late 1943 he reflected on the pending arrival of Christmas in several missives to his friends and family. His note on November 21 to a close colleague in the Confessing Chuch, Eberhard Bethge, expressed a glimmer of optimism leavened by a dose of reality. Next week “comes Advent, with all of its happy memories,” he remarked. “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other — things that are really of no consequence — the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside. . . . ” He developed some coping mechanisms, but promised, with a touch of humor, not to take them too seriously. “I have found that following Luther’s instruction to ‘make the sign of the cross’ at our morning and evening prayers is in itself helpful. There is something objective about it and that is what is particularly badly needed here. Don’t be alarmed; I shall not come out of here a homo religiosus! On the contrary, my fear and distrust of ‘religiosity’ have become greater than ever here. The fact that the Israelites never uttered the name of God always makes me think, and I can understand it better as I go on.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A few of Bonhoeffer’s epistles to Bethge depart from the topic of Christmas to recount Allied air raids on Berlin and even the prison compound itself, which was a military target. On November 23, he wrote that the previous night’s attack “was not exactly pleasant. . . . At such times prison life is no joke.” The next day he was somber: “[a]fter yesterday’s raid I think it only right that I should tell you briefly what arrangements I have made in case of my death.” Three days later he properly saw in the Allied bombings a measure of divine retribution for Germany’s transgressions and drew appropriate lessons for his countrymen to be applied once the conflict ended. The “fact that the horrors of war are now coming home to us with such force will no doubt, if we survive, provide us with the necessary basis for making it possible to reconstruct the life of the nation, both spiritually and materially, on Christian principles. So we must try to keep these experiences in our minds, use them in our work, make them bear fruit, and not just shake them off. Never have we been so conscious of the wrath of God, and that is a sign of his grace. . . . The tasks that confront us are immense, but we must prepare ourselves for them now and be ready when they come.”

On November 28, Bonhoeffer returned to the theme of Christmas, discussing some of the rituals he had been able to observe behind bars. “The first Sunday in Advent — it began with a peaceful night. Early this morning I held my Sunday service, hung up the Advent wreath on a nail, and fastened [Filippo] Lippi’s picture of the Nativity in the middle of it.” He recalled the hymns sung at the Confessing Church’s clandestine seminaries in Pomerania. On December 18, he shifted his tone slightly, suggesting that a measure of simplicity was in order. “At midday on Christmas Eve a dear old man is coming here on his own suggestion to play some Christmas carols on a cornet . . . [in the circumstances, a] sentimental reminder of Christmas is out of place. A good, personal message, a sermon, would be better.”


Bonhoeffer’s communications to his parents, Karla and Paula, are especially poignant. His first reference to the holidays was on November 28. “Although I don’t know how letters are getting through at present, I want to write to you on the afternoon of the first Sunday in Advent. [Albrecht] Altdorfer’s painting, ‘Nativity,’ is very topical this year, showing the Holy Family and the crib among the ruins of a tumbledown house. How ever did he come to paint like that, against all tradition, four hundred years ago? Perhaps he meant that Christmas could and should be kept even in such conditions; in any case, that is his message for us.”

On December 17, he sent another letter that has since become well known. He opened on a positive, almost defiant, note. “Above all, you must not think that I am going to let myself be depressed by this lonely Christmas; it will always take its own special place among the other unusual Christmases that I have kept in Spain, America, and England, and I want in later years to think back on the time here, not with shame, but with a certain pride. That is the only thing that no one can take from me.”

He then recalled family memories, while linking them to the wellsprings of Christian tradition. “I need not tell you how I long to be released and to see you all again. But for years you have given us such perfectly beautiful Christmases that our grateful recollection of them is strong enough to put a darker one into the background. It is not until such times as these that we realize what it means to possess a past and spiritual inheritance independent of changes of time and circumstance. The consciousness of being borne up by a spiritual tradition that goes back for centuries gives one a feeling of confidence and security in the face of all passing pains and stresses.”

Bonhoeffer’s next passage encapsulates for him the true meaning of the holiday; in it he eschews all hints of self-pity. “From the Christian point of view there is no special problem about Christmas in a prison cell. For many people in this building it will probably be a more sincere and genuine occasion than in places where nothing but the name is kept. That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God from what they mean in the judgment of man, that God will approach where men will turn away, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn — these are things that a prisoner can understand better than other people; for him they really are glad tidings, and that faith gives him a part in the communion of saints, a Christian fellowship breaking the bounds of time and space and reducing the months of confinement here to insignificance.”


In several of his dispatches, Bonhoeffer discussed the possibility that he might be released before Christmas. On December 22, he reported to Bethge that this would not be the case, but he remained unbowed. “They seem to have made up their minds that I am not to be with you for Christmas, though no one ventures to tell me so. I wonder why; do they think I am so easily upset?” No, was his answer. “I am not so much concerned about the rather artless question whether I shall be home for Christmas or not.” He even reassured his friend that all would be well should the situation deteriorate. “Don’t worry about me if something worse happens. Others of the brethren have already been through that [i.e., sent to concentration camps]. But faithless vacillation, endless deliberation without action, refusal to take any risks — that is a real danger. I must be able to know for certain that I am in God’s hands, not in men’s. Then everything becomes easy, even the severest deprivation.”

Bonhoeffer then addressed his decision to return to Germany on the eve of the war, which the two had discussed previously, exhibiting no remorse whatsoever. “Now I want to assure you that I have not for a moment regretted coming back in 1939 — nor any of the consequences, either. I knew quite well what I was doing and I acted with a clear conscience. I have no wish to cross out of my life anything that has happened since, either to me personally or as regards events in general. And I regard my being kept here (do you remember what I prophesied to you last March about what the year would bring?) as being involved in the part that I had resolved to play in Germany’s fate.”

Albrecht Altdorfer, Nativity, 1507

Finally, on the night of December 25 he sent a brief note to his parents, ending his seasonal correspondence with references to kith and kin. “Christmas is over. It brought me a few quiet, peaceful hours, and revived a good many past memories. . . . I lit the candles that you and Maria [his fiancée] sent me, read the Christmas story and a few carols that I hummed to myself, and in doing so I thought of you all.”


Bonhoeffer was incarcerated at Tegel well into 1944. Alas, following the failure of the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944, the Gestapo zeroed in on the suspected conspirators and their network of sympathizers, including Bonhoeffer. At the end of the year he was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp, and, later, to Flossenburg, where the S.S. executed him and other members of the resistance on April 9, 1945, a month before the end of the war. He was a martyr for his faith. Before he died he passed along a message to his British friend, Bishop George Bell of Chichester: “This is the end, but for me the beginning of life.”

At Christmas time in 1942 Bonhoeffer had circulated a long letter to his closest colleagues assessing a decade of resistance, later reprinted as the essay “After Ten Years.” In it he asks the question, “Who stands firm?” Today, there are Christians who quietly stand up to tyranny. On the morning of December 25, they will acknowledge the day’s significance. In Beijing, a husband will wish his wife “Merry Christmas.” In Havana, a family will exchange gifts. A minister in Riyadh will read the Gospel. A priest in Pyongyang will silently say Mass. These men and women, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, resist without fear. They grasp a fundamental fact about the intersection of freedom and faith, as true for Christians as it is for men and women of all religions. They understand that to be human is to know God; to be human and free is to know God fully.

— Joseph Morrison Skelly, a college history professor in New York City, writes frequently about international affairs and international terrorism.

Whither European Catholicism?

By Joseph D'Hippolito
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

As Christians throughout the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, European Catholics face an internal battle over the essence of their faith.

On one side stand high-ranking prelates and professional theologians, including some in the Vatican. Opposing them is a prominent convert who seems to know more about their own theology than they do.

Pope Benedict XVI baptises journalist Magdi Allam during the Easter Vigil Mass in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Saturday night.

The conflict revolves around the Catholic Church’s response to Islam. The prelates and professionals favor dialogue to the point of accommodation, if not collaboration. The convert warns them about the truth of his former Islamic faith – and about the danger of diluting foundational Catholic beliefs.

Advent began with several news reports detailing how Catholic prelates are responding to Islam’s growing influence in Europe.

On Nov. 28, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran – president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Interreligious Affairs – praised Muslims for injecting religious questions back into debates on public policy.

"Muslims, having become a significant minority in Europe, were the ones who demand space for God in society," Tauran wrote in the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, citing the controversy over headscarves for women in France as one proof.

On Nov. 29, Monsignor Bernard Nicolas Aubertin, the Archbishop of Tours, France joined other dignitaries witnessing the laying of the cornerstone for the city’s new grand mosque. Ironically, Tours was the place where Charles Martel defeated a Muslim army in 732, thereby forestalling Islam’s attempts to dominate Europe.

On Dec. 2, the Daily Mail in London reported that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales asked Catholic schools to open prayer rooms for Muslim students and to adapt bathroom facilities to make ritual cleansing before prayer possible.

"The demands go way beyond legal requirements on catering for religious minorities," wrote the Daily Mail’s Simon Caldwell, who added that the bishops "want to answer critics who say religious schools sow division."

The bishops’ study, "Catholic Schools, Children of Other Faiths and Community Cohesion," specifies:

"If practicable, a room (or rooms) might be made available for the use of pupils and staff from other faiths for prayer. Existing toilet facilities might be adapted to accommodate individual ritual cleansing which is sometimes part of religious lifestyle and worship. If such space is not available on a permanent or regular basis, extra efforts might be made to address such need for major religious festivals."

On Dec. 4, Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi – president of the Pontifical Council on Culture – said that Muslims should be allowed to have as many mosques as they need, as long as those mosques concentrate on worship.

"The place of worship must have its own cultural and spiritual identity, as well as its own religious identity which is a fundamental element," Ravasi said. "The mosque carries out a charitable function which is a special quality so that religion also has a social function."

Ravasi made his remarks two days after two Moroccan Muslims were arrested for plotting to destroy Milan’s famed cathedral on Christmas. The suspects allegedly conspired in a mosque and in an Islamic cultural center. As a result, Italy’s foreign minister and the anti-immigrant Northern League demanded an end to further mosque construction.

"If (the mosque) becomes something different, civil society has a right to intervene," Ravasi said. "Here we are talking about a western society that distinguishes between religious and political spheres…The mosque cannot turn into a center for other means because it loses its function."

On Dec. 5, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan, supported Ravasi.

"We need places of worship in every neighborhood of the city," Tettamanzi said. "People belonging to faiths other than Christianity need them even more urgently, especially Islam. We also need cultural initiatives that promote reflection, not provocation that only creates dead-end debates and sensationalism."

The rationale for this genteel approach emerged from the Second Vatican Council, designed to help Catholicism confront modern issues – such as its relationship to other religions. The council rejected the church’s previous adversarial attitude toward Islam for a conciliatory approach emphasizing similar beliefs, as the encyclical, Nostra Aetate, enumerates:

"The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting."

Another encyclical from the council, Lumen Gentium, states that "the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind."

Reinforcing the church’s approach is the Vatican’s geopolitical agenda. Enzo Pace, sociology professor at the University of Padua and president of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion, elaborated on that aspect in his paper, "The Catholic Church and Islam."

Because of European Communism’s collapse during Pope John Paul II’s tenure – and because of his pivotal role in that collapse – "the Church believes it has acquired an unquestionable authority in Europe," Pace wrote. "Consequently, now that the time has come to build political unity, it considers itself the depositary of a moral message which could form the solid foundations of the new Europe.

"The Church is aware that it can offer a sort of new civil religion to the United States of Europe. The search for moral unity…represents for the Church a reconfirmation of its central role in history and, at the same time, the opening of a dialogue with other religious cultures of the Old World."

Islam represents one of those cultures.

"Islam thus becomes the most important moral interlocutor because the Church sees it as a well-structured religion which is on the increase in contemporary Europe," Pace wrote. "The real object of this consideration of Islam is the social and cultural integration of Muslim groups in the new Europe.

"To ensure this integration, the Catholic Church believes it is necessary to accept the idea of recognizing Islam as a universal religion, while, at the same time, inviting Islam to accept at least the basic moral and juridical principles of the European Christian culture (the rights of man). In the language of the Catholic Church, what is called ‘a dialogue of values’ is aimed at ‘protecting life and the promotion of justice and peace.’ "

Among those principles is religious freedom, which the Vatican calls "reciprocity" with respect to Islam. If nations with Christian cultures allow Muslims to worship freely, then Muslim nations must grant the same liberty to Christians – though Muslim nations have yet to do so.

Magdi Allam begs to dissent from the prevailing attitude. Allam, a deputy editor at Italy’s best-known newspaper, Milan’s Corriere della Sera, converted to Catholicism from Islam during the Easter Vigil in March – and was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI himself. As a result, Allam received death threats from Muslims.

In describing his conversion in detail to the Vatican’s Zenit News Agency, Allam contrasted his new faith with his old:

"…as my mind was freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimates lies and deception, violent death that leads to murder and suicide, the blind submission to tyranny, I was able to adhere to the authentic religion of truth, of life and of freedom. On my first Easter as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus; I discovered for the first time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason.

"I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive."

Allam reemphasized those points before Benedict met with Islamic scholars in early November. On his own Web site, Allam posted an open letter to the Pope, warning of "the serious religious and ethical straying that has infiltrated and spread within the heart of the church."

Specifically, Allam criticized Tauran’s characterization of violence in Allah’s name as betraying Islam:

"The objective reality, I tell you with all sincerity and animated by a constructive intent, is exactly the opposite of what Cardinal Tauran imagines. Islamic extremism and terrorism are the mature fruit (of) the sayings of the Quran and the thought and action of Mohammed."

While various European prelates expressed collaborationist sympathies as Advent began, Allam provided a strong counterpoint.

"The very acts of Mohammed, documented by history, and which the Muslim faithful themselves do not deny, testify to massacres and exterminations perpetrated by the prophet," he told Zenit on Dec. 1. "Therefore, the Quran is incompatible with fundamental human rights and non-negotiable values.

"There is a greater and more subliminal danger than the terrorism of ‘cut-throats.’ It is the terrorism of the ‘cut-tongues;’ that is, the fear of affirming and divulging our faith and our civilization, and it brings us to auto-censorship and to deny our values, putting everything and the contrary to everything on the same plane: We think of the Sharia applied even in England."

Yet the forces of accommodation refuse to retreat. Paolo dall’Oglio, a prominent Italian Jesuit who won the Euro-Mediterranean Award for Dialogue, criticized Allam in the Jesuit monthly Popoli in an article entitled, "Eclipse of the Sun":

"The moon of urgent concern for freedom of conscience and religion has blocked the sun of charitable discretion, of respect for Muslim feelings, and of the renunciation of proselytism. It has overshadowed the Copernican Revolution of the Second Vatican Council which also went in favor of Islam, and the renewal of official dialogue between the Holy See and important Muslim organizations.

"It discouraged numerous efforts to construct harmony and friendship, in the quarters of European cities as well as in the countries, for secular and peaceful Islamic-Christian coexistence. It neutralized attempts to defuse inter-religious violence and to show how far the Church is from the neocolonialist logic of the Western hegemonic powers, and how a great majority of Muslims are opposed to the logic of hostile confrontation."

If dall’Oglio is right, then where are the fatwas condemning Islamist terrorism from the sheikhs and imams of al-Azhar – the most prestigious center of Muslim learning in the Sunni world? Where are the Muslims condemning Iran’s stated goal of obliterating a sovereign state for the Greater Glory of Allah?

Moreover, how has all this dialogue helped Middle Eastern Christians who experience ever-increasing persecution from Muslims? Did such dialogue save one life in Mumbai, Madrid, London, Bali, Beslan, New York, Washington or on the plains of Pennsylvania? Does it do anything to protect the innocent, let alone promote justice and peace?

As the founder of Christianity might have put it, what does it profit a church to gain an entire continent yet lose its own soul?

- Joseph D’Hippolito is a columnist for, whose main focuses are religion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Christmas spending spree always in season for Yankees

By Mike Lupica
New York Daily News
Tuesday, December 23rd 2008, 10:17 PM

Mark Teixeira brings big bat and Gold Glove to new Yankee Stadium as Bombers pull fast one on Red Sox and Angels.

It would have been ridiculous for the Yankees not to go after Mark Teixeira, to not pay him and his bag man, Scott Boras, whatever they wanted. But then it was ridiculous, and phony, of Brian Cashman and the Yankees to pass on Carlos Beltran at $100 million a few years ago. At the time the Yankees wanted you to believe that they had some kind of budget. They don't.

Maybe now they have finally spent enough money, after eight years of the greatest financial advantage in the history of professional sports, to finally buy back the World Series.

If not, Manny Ramirez is still out there. You can never be too sure. The last time the Yankees were sure they had put the Red Sox away by getting the hitter the Red Sox wanted was with Alex Rodriguez nearly five years ago.

Teixeira is younger and a switch-hitter and a better buy than Ramirez and he gets his money from the Yankees the way C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett did. Really: The Yankees would have been stupid not to do it, even if the Yankees now commit more than $400 million in future salary - for three baseball players - at a time when Cashman wants to still tell you how much money he had coming off the books.

But then if you were the Yankee general manager those are the books you'd want to talk about, too. Last winter, Cashman and the Yankees committed around $270 million to A-Rod when they were bidding against themselves, then another $100 million to Mo Rivera and Jorge Posada. Rivera and Posada, you may recall, were around here when the Yankees could beat everybody without outspending them two or three times to one.

"Re-investing" is the way team president Randy Levine described his team's spending the other day. This, of course, at a time when Levine expects New York City to re-invest in the Yankees by giving them $259 million more in tax-free bonds so they can finish building their new stadium.

But this is who the Yankees are. This is what they do. And all they do. Yankee fans, at least the ones who can still afford to go to the ballpark, love it. Bag men like Boras love the system most of all.

There were two teams being hit with a luxury tax the other day for the 2008 season: Yankees and Tigers. Neither one made the playoffs. The Yankees, of course, paid a lot more in taxes because they were more than $60 million clear of the Tigers. And Cashman thinks he gets to be thin-skinned because people point out his team spends money like this year after year and hasn't been in the World Series since 2003.

So now the Yankees try to get back there, win their first Series since 2000, with a payroll that is way more than twice what the Phillies spent to win the World Series last October. Maybe after $180 million on Teixeira and $161 million for Sabathia and $82.5 million for Burnett the Yankees can not only get back into the playoffs but get out of the first round for the first time since 2004.

A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia

"You keep swinging for the fences," Cashman said the other day, when Sabathia and Burnett were the latest free agents to show up for Yankee money and talk about how it was always their dream to wear the Yankee pinstripes.

Cashman sure does swing for the fences. He's a sultan of swat, just from the baseball Brunei.

Cashman talks constantly about a farm system that is supposed to start producing young talent any day now. Just not today. Never today. Developing young talent is something the riffraff are supposed to have to do. The Yankees write checks and want to be carried around the room for keeping their payroll at around $200 million when nobody else in baseball is close. It must have been a hardship in the old days, winning with guys such as Brosius and O'Neill.

The total outlay of new Yankee money spent in the last two baseball winters is now nearly $800 million. Now the Yankees will try to save money on people such as Andy Pettitte so that they can say that they signed all these big-ticket players and kept their payroll under what it was last year. It is absolutely essential for Cashman to look as if this makes him some kind of numbers cruncher.

Even as he now has four players on his roster making more than $20 million per season: A-Rod, Sabathia, Teixeira, Jeter. They have about as much money invested in those four as the Phillies do in their entire baseball team.

You cannot do this in professional football, as much as owners such as Jerry Jones would like to. You cannot do this in the NBA, because even when teams such as the Knicks go wildly over the salary cap, they aren't out-spending the competition the way the Yankees do, year after year after year. Again: There is no sport where one team, if it has the resources, can attempt to buy this sort of edge.

The Yankees don't have to apologize. The way they do business, it would have been insane for them to pass on Teixeira. But it takes no genius, or vision, to do this, for Cashman or anybody else. Just deep pockets and owners desperate to look big.

So maybe the Yankees have finally spent enough money to win, after spending a couple of billion on salaries and revenue sharing and luxury taxes and somehow managing not to win a World Series since Mike Piazza's ball ended up in Bernie Williams' glove in October of 2000.

Maybe, at long last, they are back to being the best team money can buy. But if they still think they might come up a little short, why not buy Manny, too?

Yankee approach is on the money as Bombers avoid Boras bonus

By Bill Madden
New York Daily News
December 24, 2008


Once again the Evil Empire has trumped the Red Sox for a high-profile player. And in landing Mark Teixeira in such stealth, last-minute fashion Tuesday, you have to give the Yankees credit for playing their hand brilliantly and signing the switch-hitting, Gold Glove first baseman for their price and not Scott (Avenging Agent) Boras' "one dumb owner" price.

After sitting on the sidelines acting like nothing more than casual observers as the Red Sox, Angels and Nationals engaged in active and aggressive bidding for Teixeira, Brian Cashman & Co. waited for Boras to come to them when the time had come to make a decision. In recent days the Yankees had gotten hints that Teixeira really didn't want to go to Boston, and that became even more evident when the Red Sox hierarchy flew down to Texas - at Boras' behest - in anticipation of making a deal only to be told there were higher bidders and they would have to increase their offer.

In the end, the Red Sox were at eight years/$170 million and Boras tried to convince them he had $200 million from another team, while there were unconfirmed reports that the Nationals upped their offer to nine years, $180million.

Then, when the Angels, who topped out their bid at eight years/$160million, announced they were no longer in on Teixeira, Boras knew the game was over, and if he wanted to get his client to a place where he really wanted to be, he had to call the Yankees. Just like he did at the last minute with Carlos Beltran back in January 2005, before agreeing to the center fielder's $119 million offer from the Mets.

This time, however, the Yankees were interested - to a limit.

At the beginning of this free-agent process, Boras was talking about a 10-year deal for $250million for Teixeira and only in the last couple of weeks, when he realized the flagging economy really is having an effect on clubs' spending in baseball, did he lower his ceiling to $200million. But all along, the Yankees' premise was that if they could get Teixeira for eight years at $22.5 million per - as they did with an eight-year, $180million deal - it would work for them for a lot of reasons.

No.1: They had already been paying 37-year-old Jason Giambi $23million to play a bad first base for them and at the end of Teixeira's deal he'll be a year younger than the departing "Giam-balco." In the meantime, Teixeira is a far more consistent hitter who is in his prime and will provide Gold Glove-caliber defense. For them and not the Red Sox.

No. 2: They realized they had no bona fide, middle-of-the-order power hitters coming in the system and that there are none foreseeable coming onto the market in the next couple of years.

No. 3: Even though they have now spent $423.5 million in long-term contracts this winter on Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, added $6million with the acquisition of Nick Swisher and given Chien-Ming Wang a $1million raise, the Yankees' payroll will still be coming down from last year's $222.2 million (which cost them an additional $26.9 million luxury-tax assessment, courtesy of Commissioner Bud Selig). That's because $88million came off the books in the expired contracts for Giambi, Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, Pudge Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte. And, with the Teixeira signing, Pettitte can pretty much forget about coming back to the Yankees now after failing to respond to Cashman's in-person urgings two weeks ago that he accept their one-year, $10 million offer. It's fairly evident no other club will offer him that much, and now neither will the Yankees.


Still, there will be undoubtedly be a hue and cry from the small-market clubs and the commissioner's salary police about the Yankees' spending, and I suspect even Cashman's preference would have been to improve his team more creatively than just by using the Steinbrenners' checkbook. But after missing the playoffs following 13 straight postseason appearances and not having drafted, developed and delivered a certifiable top-of-the-rotation pitcher or impact position player in nearly 15 years, just what were they supposed to do?

Say what you want about the Steinbrenners being baseball's Evil Empire - as Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino so famously put it after they out-maneuvered the Sox for pitcher Jose Contreras in a similarly stealth manner five winters ago - but nobody can say they don't put their money back into their team. They are moving into a new stadium next year, charging exorbitant amounts of money for a lot of the seats there and, unlike the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates, they are doing what they can to make sure their fans get their money's worth.

It would be nice if the Yankees had done as good a job as the Red Sox in developing their own so all this crazy free-agent spending wouldn't have been necessary. But they haven't. Not by a long shot. And even after bagging the three biggest free agents on the market, there are still no guarantees the Yankees go back to the postseason next year.

For now, they and everyone in else in baseball should at least take satisfaction that Boras, for once, didn't get near the number he had sought for his premium free agent. And in the process, he lost the one team that could potentially have generated the very limited market for his second high-profile client, Manny Ramirez.