Fee Fi Foe

Did I jump the gun in mocking Psychological Reports for its author charges? Commentator Lance Gritton thinks so:

Actually most journals charge the author a per page fee

That hasn’t been my experience in the humanities, but a bit of digging around on the net has brought up some other examples. For example, The Office of Scholarly Communication at the University of California charges for its open access journals; in 2001 science publisher Jan Velterop argued that “Author Charges are the Future“. I also found journals that have submission fees, but that’s a bit different. There is, though, a sense that academic publishing is in financial crisis, as articles in the journal Learned Publishing suggest.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows a bit more about charges for scholarly publications.

(Not that this does anything for Paul Cameron. Lance goes on:

…the stats brought up are totally bogus. It appears that the author calls any abuse by the same sex parent “homosexuality”, when it should say “pedophilia”. When you look at child abusers the official FBI profile is white middle aged heterosexual men. The author substitutes his own terms and definitions to match his own prejudices. The scary thing is that this was supposed to be peer reviewed. Another reason that I think psychology is more pseudo science than substance.

And of course, even with the terms used by Cameron we’re still looking at a tiny fraction of foster carers overall. There’s also a comprehensive article on the topic in the latest Wall Street Journal; see the update to my entry for yesterday.)

Of course, in relation to general publishing, self-publishing makes more sense than it did a few years ago: an individual can distriubute his or her work on-line, and we all know that thanks to Murdoch and other media consolidation forces it can no longer be assumed that a decent book must get picked up by a “normal” publisher.

UPDATE: By coincidence, Terry Krepel is currently investigating a dodgy conservative science journal over at ConWebWatch.

Adams Family Values

Christian news source Agape Press asks us to “please think of the children” as it celebrates an amendment in Texas that bans child-fostering by homosexuals:

According to Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum, a study done in Illinois provided good reasons for that amendment.

While opponents of the bill might try to question the relevance of the out-of-state study, its findings are clearly pertinent since the research indicates that children “are eleven times more likely to be sexually abused if they are in homosexual foster-parent homes,” Adams says. “So we’re talking about the same situation here — apples and apples. Homosexual homes in Texas we don’t think are probably very different.”

This is typical Agape Press journalism: never question anything your conservative source gives you, and never look for an opposing view (hence the impression the site gives that evolutionists have all been struck dumb by the brilliance of Ken Ham).

So, what is this study? No details are given, but it must be the same one that was noted by WorldNetDaily last month (hyperlink added):

An article in the March issue of the peer-reviewed publication Psychological Reports presented data analyzed by Dr. Paul Cameron, chairman of the Colorado-based Family Research Institute.

…The study found 966 foster parents violated their charges. Of those who engaged in both physical and sexual abuse, eight of the 15 abused children of their own sex.

Is that it? Unfortunately, the report itself does not appear to be available on-line, although the “peer-reviewed” Psychological Reports has published plenty of other stuff by Cameron. The journal has a curious way of conducting its business, according to its “Publication Arrangement” page:

…There are three publication arrangements.

(1) Regular articles. These are articles which require from 2 through 20 printed pages. Charges are $27.50 per page in multiples of four pages, plus special fees for composition (e.g., tables, figures).

…(2) One-page articles and notes…The author submits a one-page summary of a study accompanied by the full report for filing with the Archive for Psychological Data. Charge is $27.50.

…(3) Monograph supplements…Charges are $27.50 per page in multiples of four pages, plus special fees for composition (e.g., tables, figures).

An academic journal that charges for publication? Is this a joke? However, there does appear to be some real academics on the list of associate editors.

But I’m hardly breaking new ground here. Various gay rights groups and other concerned individuals have been tracking Cameron for some time. Critiques can be found here and here, and there’s this piece from Andrew Sullivan.

UPDATE: Was I wrong to mock the journal’s author charges? See today.

UPDATE 2: The Wall Street Journal, of all places, has an article on the topic by Carl Bialik. Salient paragraphs:

Besides his lack of data about same-sex couples in Illinois, researchers pointed out Dr. Cameron’s flawed assumption that the gender of pedophiles’ victims correlates to adult sexual attraction; that he applied nationwide data on homosexuality to a predominantly Chicago-based population of foster homes; and that he cited many of his own studies, including two previous ones that attempted to calculate the proportion of sexual abuse that is same-sex based on small sample sizes of six and 25 cases of abuse, respectively.

…I also interviewed Douglas Ammons, co-editor of Psychological Reports, the Missoula, Mont.-based journal that published Dr. Cameron. He said that the journal uses more reviewers than usual for Dr. Cameron’s submissions — from four up to as many as 21 — but ultimately, “We don’t put limits on people’s creativity on how they may or may not interpret stuff.” Dr. Ammons added, “We try to come down on the side of one of the basic tenets of science — free speech for the author.” He said the importance of the issue and lack of competing data merited publication. “When you are in a difficult situation without much data, it’s OK to use data that’s…not as exact or exacting as we would like it to be,” he said. Dr. Ammons invited Cameron critics to submit rebuttals to the journal and said he has published rebuttals of Dr. Cameron’s prior work.

…The best available study I could find on this subject, led over a decade ago by Brown University pediatrics professor Carole Jenny at a Denver hospital, found that only two of 269 cases of sexual abuse over a year’s time could be traced to a perpetrator who was identifiably gay…But her study itself is hampered by several factors, including its age and limited geographical scope, and that the overall proportion of same-sex households in Denver wasn’t known.

As Dr. Jenny and her co-authors wrote, a better study would track a randomly selected, large group of either children or of adults and measure incidence of sexual abuse. I asked her if she thought it would be worth conducting such a study. She replied, “Would a big, expensive research project convince folks that gay people are not an unusual threat to children? I don’t know, but research hasn’t done much to inform the debate on evolution.”

(WSJ tipped from World O’Crap)

Fundamental Injustice?

The Connecticut Journal Inquirer reports on a possible case of academic persecution:

MANCHESTER – A professor who claims he was unjustly removed from teaching a non-credit class titled “Understanding Militant Islamic Fundamentalism” at Manchester Community College said Friday that the American Civil Liberties Union has taken up his cause.

Michael Abdelmessih taught only one class before the college assigned another instructor to teach it.

MCC officials are not commenting on his removal, but Abdelmessih claims he was replaced because two of his students, who are both Muslim and MCC faculty members, disagreed with his definition of “jihad.”

The story was first broken by Michael Meunier‘s US Copts Association; it has since been picked up by Frontpage, which declines to mention the ACLU connection. According to the Journal report, Abdelmessih gives two reasons for his firing:

in a handout to students, he said the Muslim religion does not forgive but seeks revenge, and that there were grammatical errors in the handouts.

Abdelmessih also alleges that Fatma Antar, a faculty member who took his class

threatened him during the first class, saying she would work to ensure he did not continue teaching the course. Abdelmessih said Antar, who also is Egyptian, threatened to contact authorities in Egypt to report him.

Frontpage, as expected, tries to find further evidence against Antar:

According to Jerry Gordon, a pro-Israel activist with several Connecticut Jewish organizations, the Antars were involved in 2002 in a dispute with the local Jewish community.

What precipitated the feud was the Antars’ insistence on using anti-Israeli literature as part of a 2002 seminar called the Teachers’ Institute on Middle Eastern Studies. The seminar, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Connecticut Humanities Council, was intended to teach Connecticut public school teachers about the history, culture, and religions of the Middle East. Jewish groups charged that the accounts of the Middle East provided by Antar singled out Israel for opprobrium while maintaining a comparative silence on the faults of other Middle Eastern countries.

Gordon is also himself a contributor to Frontpage and CampusWatch; the Journal mentions him in passing as a friend of Abdelmessih. A Columbia alumnus, his name also pops up on sites in connection with attacks on Joseph Massad and Edward Said. Meanwhile, Antar’s position on Israel/Palestine is hardly extremist. In 2001 she co-wrote a piece for Common Dreams, arguing that:

We believe that a peaceful, long-term and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires security for both Israelis and Palestinians. This should include the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state, the removal of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, a negotiated resolution of the status of Jerusalem in which all alternatives are open for discussion, and an equitable resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. We also believe that most people are yearning for such a peace and are ready to accept its terms.

Israel as a nation must be rooted in fundamental principles of justice and democracy. To continue its policies of occupation, retaliation and collective punishment will not only undermine the genuine security of Israel, but also poison it from within. Rather than inflame the war, now is the time to use every instrument of law, diplomacy and negotiation to find a way to peace. The Palestinian Authority must do its job to prevent violence. The United States should support negotiations, as an impartial party, and not encourage military escalation.

I look forward to seeing how Antar will respond to Abdelmassih accusations (if they are false, I’d be heading for a lawyer). And, if Abdelmassih really has a case, I hope the ACLU will pursue it vigorously. Certainly, he will be better off being championed by them than by hypocritical ideologues whose idea of academic freedom is to persecute critics of Israel.

(Tipped by Agape Press)

Did the Bishop Run Away?

The Sunday Times reports on an objection to Ridley Scott’s new film about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven:

Many of the resulting reviews have been poor. Bob Waliszewski, director of Plugged In Film Review, a programme heard on 300 US radio stations, said the film depicted Christians as “mean-spirited”, while Saladin, the Muslim leader, was shown as a chivalrous knight.

“The Bishop of Jerusalem is a coward who deserts his flock, and most of the crusaders are driven by greed rather than piety,” he said. “This is not how Christians I know see each other, nor will we want to see this film.”

So which bishop would that be? The cast list doesn’t make clear, but given the other characters, I suspect that it is supposed to be the Roman Catholic Patriarch Heraclius. That would be historically unfair, assuming Wikipedia to be accurate (I’m currently short on access to authoritative sources on the subject). Although a hostile source paints Heraclius as worldly and corrupt, he did defend the city from Saladin (hyperlinks in original):

Heraclius returned to Jerusalem in 1185 and supported the accession [to the Kingship of Jerusalem] of Guy of Lusignan, a relative newcomer to the kingdom. In 1187, Saladin invaded the kingdom, and when Guy marched out to meet him, he asked Heraclius to march along with him at the head of the army with the relic of the True Cross (Heraclius, however, was ill, and the bishop of Acre took his place). The relic did not save them, as Saladin inflicted a crippling defeat on them at the Battle of Hattin on July 4. In Jerusalem Heraclius helped lead the defense of the city against Saladin, but it was finally forced to capitulate on October 2. Heraclius personally negotiated the surrender with Saladin, who allowed him and the other Christians to leave the city unharmed; Heraclius stripped the gold from the churches and was said to carry away cartloads of treasure with him.

On the other hand, patriarchs “deserting their flocks” is not an unknown phenomenon. Here’s a bit from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia (an old public domain work). Remember, when the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem, there were indigenous Orthodox Christians as well as Muslims. This was just a few decades after the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking churches had fallen out:

The crusaders naturally refused to recognize the claims of the old, now schismatical, patriarchal lines [i.e. the Greek Orthodox and other Oriental Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem and elsewhere], whose representatives moreover in most cases fled; so they set up Latin [i.e. Roman Catholic] patriarchs in their place. The first Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was Dagobert of Pisa (1099-1107); the Orthodox rival (Simon II) had fled to Cyprus in 1099 and died there the same year (for the list of his successors see Le Quien, III, 1241-68). It was not till 1142 that the Orthodox continued their broken line by electing Arsenios II, who like most Orthodox patriarchs at that time lived at Constantinople. At Antioch, too, the crusaders had a scruple against two patriarchs of the same place. They took the city in 1098, but as long as the Orthodox patriarch (John IV) remained there they tried to make him a Catholic instead of appointing a rival. However, when at last he fled to Constantinople they considered the see vacant, and Bernard, Bishop of Arthesia, a Frenchman, was elected to it (the succession in Le Quien, III, 1154-84).

Note that these patriarchs are actually fleeing the murderous Roman Catholic Crusaders, not the Muslims – not that I blame them. And, the way things are going, we might get to see a fleeing Patriarch again before too long, albeit for a different reason. From the AP:

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, dozens of Palestinians heckled the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land, Eireneos, as he led the Palm Sunday procession, demanding his resignation and holding up signs reading “Shame on you.” Police said protesters also threw empty water bottles.

The protesters, many of them Christians, want the patriarch to step down because of allegations that he was involved in the sale of church property in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem to Jewish organizations.

But I digress. Meanwhile, Muslim News reports:

WASHINGTON, D.C., CAIR – A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group said today that the new 20th Century Fox epic “Kingdom of Heaven” is a “balanced” portrayal of the Crusades, despite earlier concerns that the film might offer stereotypical portrayals of Islam or Muslims.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) based its judgment on a private screening of the Sir Ridley Scott film at Fox studios in Los Angeles. “Kingdom” is scheduled to open in theaters nationwide May 6th.

I remember that Terry Jones made a very entertaining documentary series about the Crusades a few years back for the BBC. The jocular style annoyed some, but I recall that many of the series’ contentions – that the Crusader leaders were often younger sons looking for new domains, or that the whole thing was a barbarian invasion by the west of the higher Muslim and Byzantine cultures of the east (although there was also a real religious motivation among many who took off to kill the infidel) – was hardly controversial (although Catholic historian Thomas Madden offers a revisionist view). But that was back in the 90s, before Christian conservative lobbies had fully realised the power of resentment…

UPDATE: Alt.Muslim has more.

(Tipped from MediaWatchWatch)

Law of the Letter

When Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday I was surprised, but on reflection I realised it probably had to be. Ratzinger has been running the show for the past few years anyway, so it would be odd to continue “John Paul’s legacy” by ditching his closest adviser. And, I thought, as a Vatican bureaucrat he was unlikely to have made poor pastoral decisions about child-abusing priests that might come back to haunt him. But was I mistaken on the latter point? From today’s Observer:

Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night he had ‘obstructed justice’ after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church’s investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret.

The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.

Erm…that would be the “confidential letter” that has been available on-line since at least the end of 2003 here. But back to the Observer:

It asserted the church’s right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as John Paul II’s successor last week.

…It orders that ‘preliminary investigations’ into any claims of abuse should be sent to Ratzinger’s office, which has the option of referring them back to private tribunals in which the ‘functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests’.

The letter was passed to the Observer by lawyer Daniel Shea, who previously revealed a 1962 Vatican instruction on the subject to the newspaper.

For those of us unversed in canon legalise, the 2001 letter is a dense and difficult read. The relevant passages seem to be:

The more grave delicts [“wilful wrongs”] both in the celebration of the sacraments and against morals reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are…

A list follows, ending with:

…A delict against morals, namely: the delict committed by a cleric against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue [the commandment against adultery, here meant I suppose to encompass sexual sin more generally] with a minor below the age of 18 years.

Only these delicts, which are indicated above with their definition, are reserved to the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As often as an ordinary [i.e. a church official] or hierarch [e.g. bishop] has at least probable knowledge of a reserved delict, after he has carried out the preliminary investigation he is to indicate it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which unless it calls the case to itself because of special circumstances of things, after transmitting appropriate norms, orders the ordinary or hierarch to proceed ahead through his own tribunal.

Of course, nothing here excludes the “ordinary or hierarch” from co-operating with local police forces in his “preliminary investigation”. No doubt the letter’s defenders will say that the procedure it lays out is merely for the purposes of church discipline: it is not meant to be a substitute for a secular criminal investigation and prosecution [UPDATE: Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Houston makes this defence today]. But nothing commends the investigators to work with law enforcement agencies either, and the facts of the church scandals speak for themselves. The Observer also carries an unhappy old quote from Ratzinger’s co-author, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone:

In my opinion, the demand that a bishop be obligated to contact the police in order to denounce a priest who has admitted the offence of paedophilia is unfounded.

Bertone argued that putting such an obligation on bishops would undermine the “professional secrecy” of the priesthood, and would prevent priests from “confiding” in their bishops. Why these concerns trump the need for justice to be done and to be seen to be done is not explained; but I’ll bear them in mind the next time I hear (literal!) pontifications on the evils of relativism. The 2001 letter also has this passage (numbers in brackets refer to footnotes):

It must be noted that the criminal action on delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is extinguished by a prescription of 10 years.(11) The prescription runs according to the universal and common law;(12) however, in the delict perpetrated with a minor by a cleric, the prescription begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age.

According to the Observer:

Daniel Shea, the lawyer for the two alleged victims who discovered the letter, said: ‘It speaks for itself. You have to ask: why do you not start the clock ticking until the kid turns 18? It’s an obstruction of justice.’

Father John Beal, professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, gave an oral deposition under oath on 8 April last year in which he admitted to Shea that the letter extended the church’s jurisdiction and control over sexual assault crimes.

Ratzinger was also responsible for shelving a sex abuse investigation into Marcial Maciel Degollado, who founded Legionaries of Christ in Mexico. That church investigation (the allegations are too old to interest the Mexican police) was recently reopened. The NY Times reports:

It remains unclear why Cardinal Ratzinger changed his mind and reopened the investigation. He has never commented on the matter. Among those who have raised the complaints and others who are closely following the case, one theory suggests that he knew he would be a candidate for pope and did not want the matter hanging over his head when the conclave was held. Another suggests that Cardinal Ratzinger did not want Pope John Paul II’s reputation to be tarnished by allegations that the pope had done nothing to pursue charges against a friend. It is also possible that Cardinal Ratzinger received new information.

Weigelling In

Once again, George Weigel provides a hack with a column-load of neo-con platitudes masquerading as scholarship. Over the last week his new book has been puffed by critically-challenged reviewers in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post (discussed by me a couple of days ago); now Rod Dreher shows the readership of the Dallas Morning News how to fawn, in an exclusive interview. Weigel sits on the board of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, with which Dreher is greatly enamoured: when the IRD published a wretched report last year denouncing mainline Christian criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, Dreher was the chief cheerleader for this obnoxious attempt to silence any support for the Palestinians.

But enough ranting. Over to Weigel, in apocalyptic mode:

Europe is dying in the most literal sense. Europe is depopulating itself in a manner not seen since the Black Death of the 14th century.

What, you mean people are developing huge buboes, coughing up blood and dropping down dead in the streets? Or do you mean that the population of Europe has a declining birth rate? I would call the latter “depopulating itself in a different manner from the Black Death”. But then, I’m not a best-selling author and pundit. Let’s look at some more sensible rhetoric from an EU report (bearing in mind that EU does not equal Europe, and that an EU-wide average must obscure big regional differences):

The EU’s fertility rate fell to 1.48 in 2003, below the level needed to replace the population (2.1 children per woman). The paper shows that the EU’s population will fall from 469.5 million in 2025 to 468.7 million in 2030. By contrast, the US population will increase by 25.6 per cent between 2000 and 2025. However, demographic decline is already here: in one third of the EU regions and in most of the regions of the new member states the population was already falling in the late 90s.

Hardly the end of the world, especially in the context of global overpopulation. Another factor in European demography is a declining death rate – making Weigel’s “Black Death” analogy even less appropriate. So, what’s the cause of this European non-fecundity? According to the EU report:

It is the result of constraints on families’ choices: late access to employment, job instability, expensive housing and lack of incentives (family benefits, parental leave, child care, equal pay). Incentives of this kind can have a positive impact on the birth rate and increase employment, especially female employment, as certain countries have shown.

But why have all that when you can just hark back to a religious culture that makes it duty for women to have lots of children? That seems to be Weigel’s solution, as he ponders causes of his own:

A useful place to start is the 19th century, when European high culture jettisoned the thing that had formed its culture for nearly two millennia, namely the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Jesus. Europe chose instead a set of ideas that centered around the notion that the God of the Bible was an oppressor, and only by overthrowing him would humans be free, mature and capable of creating a truly human future.

Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences. One of the results of this bad idea was the dramatic secularization of Europe, and within that I think you’ll find the sources of Europe’s contemporary malaise, its despair, its profound cynicism.

It’s the same old tired narrative. Why is it that Europeans appear to have different, and fewer, religious beliefs than the USA? Answer: because the morally inferior Europeans have decided to set themselves against the obvious truths of Christianity out of moral perversity. Europeans (and implicitly, European women?) are selfish:

If you are focused on me, myself and I all the time, you are eventually going to bore yourself to death. It’s only when we understand – and this is part of what becoming an adult means – that living outside of ourselves, to live for the well-being of others, that we fulfill ourselves. Cultures and societies can forget that, too.

Dreher of course fails to ask Weigel for data to back up the claim of American Christian generosity versus European atheist self-centredness. Instead, having imbibed these deep thoughts, Dreher invokes another overrated neo-con, Bernard Lewis, and prods Weigel in the direction of European Islam. Weigel:

I was in the Galleria Borghese in Rome in December, looking at four fantastic sculptures by Bernini. And I had the odd thought, “Is this going to be here in 60 years?” What is going to happen to all this fantastic representational art if Europe is overrun by a religious conviction that finds representational art unacceptable?

Perhaps the more threatening aspect of this is it seems that the forms of Islam taking hold in Europe right now are not pacific but aggressive. The interaction of Islamic immigrants with European culture is not producing a softer form of Islam, and it’s not forcing Islam to grapple with questions like, Can there be an Islamic case for religious tolerance, for social pluralism? It’s doing precisely the opposite. It’s hardening the edges.

Yes, the Taliban are about to take over Europe. But why does the phrase “Yellow peril” suddenly come to mind? No one would deny that there is a real problem with Islamic fundamentalism in Europe, but Weigel is merely parroting a stereotype for an American audience. Does he know anything about the different kinds of Islam to be found in Europe? Or how much nominalism there is among immigrants with a Muslim background (a factor Weigel is likely to have overlooked, since irreligion is immoral)? Or how Muslim immigration needs to be compared with non-Muslim immigration?

But it’s not just Europeans who are letting the side down: what about all those blue Euro-Americans?

…a lot of our high culture and a lot of blue America is European. It’s far more secularized than the rest of the country and far less confident in the capacity of biblical faith, be it Jewish, Protestant or Catholic, to inform and shape the great public issues of the day. It’s more materialist, more consumption-driven and, frankly, less reproductive. All you have to do is look at the demographics of red-state America and blue-state America to see who’s having more kids. What we see in Europe today may be a preview of our own challenges maybe in the second quarter of the 21st century.

So the blue states are “less confident” in “biblical faith” (liberal religion doesn’t count, since it’s bad). And that’s nothing to do with bullying creationists, arrogant theocrats, venal televangelists, racist Christian Zionists…etc., etc. And what about the red states’ rejection of the European Greco-Roman legacy (recently noted by Camille Paglia in Salon), including the Enlightenment? Is not that a “bad idea”? And since when did being “consumption-driven” become a blue-state vice? Just how are conservatives (including conservative Christians) substantially less “consumer-driven”?

In conclusion, Weigel takes refuge in self-righteousness:

…if we do not tend to our own cultural seed corn, if we continue to think that democracy and the market are machines that can run by themselves and all you have to do is keep the machinery straight. It takes a certain kind of people possessed of certain virtues, certain habits of mind and heart, to make freedom and democracy work.

Excuse me? Do Freedom and democracy “not work” in Europe? And just how are these the virtues of the US Christian right?

This is too much. But with Weigel singing the same tune as Pope Benedict, his distortions and sensationalism will likely be the stock-in-trade of conservative hacks for a long time to come.

(Dreher link tipped from Christianity Today)

UPDATE: Timothy Garton Ash has a more thoughtful article in the Guardian that addresses some of the same issues as Weigel. His conclusion:

[Benedict] could live to see the European Union in 2015. This Europe would probably be more Islamic than now in its poorer parts, and more secular than ever in its richer ones. Whether that would also be a better Europe is a subject for another column.

Whether I end up agreeing with him or not, I have hopes that Ash is preparing a rather more nuanced assessment than Weigel’s efforts.

Rise of the House of Ussher

WND reports on “one of the most significant Christian publishing events of our era”: a new edition, in modern English, of Archbishop James Ussher’s Annals of the World, first published in 1658:

Integrating biblical history (around 15 percent of the text is from the Bible) with secular sources, Ussher wrote this masterpiece. Considered not only a literary classic, but also an accurate reference, “The Annals of the World” was so highly regarded for its preciseness that the timeline from it was included in the margins of many King James Version Bibles throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

However, WND fails to mention sole reason for which the work is (perhaps unfairly) remembered today: it is the book in which Ussher made his claim that the universe was created on October 23 4004 BC. In fact, WND‘s ad for the book is an expurgated version of one that appears on the publisher’s website:

Considered not only a literary classic, but also an accurate reference, The Annals of the World was so highly regarded for its preciseness that the timeline from it was included in the margins of many King James Version Bibles throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, calling to mind the fact that the earth is only around 6,000 years old. The fact that Ussher’s chronology has been deleted from Bibles is evidence of the Church’s backsliding into the deceptive ideas of evolution.

The publisher is Master Books, an imprint of New Leaf Press

In 1996, New Leaf Press bought Master Books, which was also established in 1975. Henry Morris and Tim LaHaye founded what has come to be known as the only publishing house in the world that publishes creation-based material exclusively. Since coming in under the New Leaf Press umbrella, Master Books has had a 300% growth over its best previous year. I feel that my father would be very pleased with this purchase and with the mission statement of promoting creationism that Master Books upholds. Together the two companies publish around 35 titles a year.

The publisher does not tell us who is actually responsible for the new edition, but other sites give the honour to Larry and Marion Pierce. Larry Pierce is a long-time champion of Ussher, as in this article from the Answers in Genesis magazine Creation:

Ussher was neither charlatan nor naive; in fact, he was one of the most learned men of his day. Understanding the assumptions with which he began his calculations (particularly the one we should all begin with, namely that God’s Word is true and reliable), we can readily understand how he arrived at his date for creation. In fact, if one assumes that there are no deliberate ‘jumps’ or gaps in the later genealogies (for which the evidence in my view is inadequate), then his date is a perfectly reasonable deduction based on his detailed knowledge of and reverence for the Word of God.

Shame that reverence included a belief in religious persecution in Ireland:

The Protestants were alarmed and at the installation of the new Deputy (Sept. 1622) James Ussher, then Protestant Bishop of Meath, taking as his text, “He beareth not the sword in vain,” preached a violent sermon in favour of religious persecution. Primate Hampton wrote immediately to the preacher, reproving him for his imprudence, asking him to explain away what he had said about the sword, and advising him to spend more of his time in his own diocese of Meath, where matters were far from being satisfactory.

But actually, assuming that the Pierces have done a competent job, the new edition of Ussher’s Annals may well be a decent resource for seventeenth-century studies. Could it be that the Creationists have finally managed to produce a volume of some use?

Up From the Dump

The late Carl Sagan, musing on the twilight of the ancient world after the murder of the pagan philosopher Hypatia in 415CE:

The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia’s death. It was as if the entire civilization had undergone some self-inflicted brain surgery, and most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions were extinguished irrevocably. The loss was incalculable. In some cases, we know only the tantalizing titles of the works that were destroyed. In most cases, we know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Cariolanus and  A Winter’s Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.”

Well, here’s some consolation at last, via The Independent:

For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure – a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

…The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye – decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a “second Renaissance”.

Works by Sophocles, Euripides and Hesiod have been recovered, and there is the inevitable speculation about “lost Gospels” popping up. However, Oxford University’s Oxrhynchus Papyri Project (unhappily called “POxy” for short) site does not yet appear to have been updated to reflect the breakthrough.

(Tipped from The Light of Reason)

UPDATE: Rogue Classicism has a less-dramatic account of the new discoveries; it seems our Independent hack may have got carried away a bit.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times has a piece on the subject by Sarah Lyall, and suggests that the Independent over-hyped the story.

Canada Free Press Ponders Saddam’s Stargate

Judi McLeod’s Canada Free Press has another scoop on Iraq. A few months back it was all about how Saddam Hussein performed human sacrifices in Satanic rituals; now it’s Saddam’s belief in reincarnation:

Saddam believes he is the “literal reincarnation” of King Nebuchadnezzar II, according to “investigative mythologist” William Henry and others. (Stephen Wagner, Your Guide to Paranormal Phenomena Newsletter).

…In geographical terms, Saddam didn’t have to go far to find himself a “literal reincarnation”. Babylon is Iraq today.

“Saddam is saying he is the reincarnated Nebuchadnezzar,” writes Henry in Saddam Hussein, the Stairway to Heaven and the Return of Planet X. He is attempting to recreate and outdo the feats of the biblical king.”

It is well known that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has connected himself with Nebuchadnezzar. It was more than $500 million he spent in the 1980s on the reconstruction and the re-establishment of ancient Babylon–the capitol of Nebuchadnezzar. Then there are the over 60 million bricks, fashioned to place in the walls of Babylon. Each one engraved with the inscription, “To King Nebuchadnezzar in the reign of Saddam Hussein”.

Actually, the inscriptions read “The Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar was reconstructed in the era of Saddam Hussein”, but let’s not get bogged down with mere details just as we’re about to fly:

Henry also believes there is a connection between Saddam and Planet X, the alleged “12th Planet”. This phantom planet, Nibiru maintains Zecharia Sitchin in his many books on the subject, was the home of the Elohim–the gods of antiquity and Genesis–who created humanity through genetic manipulation.

(An assessment of Sitchin can be read here. Here’s his website)

“Saddam controls an asset infinitely more important and powerful than oil, or even nuclear weapons,” writes Henry. “He controls access to the temples that housed the history (of) humanity’s origins, and potentially, the secrets of stargates. Buried deep beneath the sands if Iraq are the secrets of the Shining Ones of Planet X. Saddam’s actions reveal that he knows the political value of these secrets.”

What? The piece concludes:

Canada Free Press founding editor Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experience in the media. A former Toronto Sun and Kingston Whig Standard columnist, she has also appeared on Newsmax.com, the Drudge Report, Foxnews.com, and World Net Daily.

“30 years experience” and just parroting some crap from a newsletter? Is this a joke? And just who is her source, William Henry?

Henry’s complete crackpot masterwork (written before the war, it seems) can be seen here. Here’s a bit more:

While it is uncertain if Planet X is headed this way in the immediate future, one thing is certain. The return of this planet centers on the recovery of a technology once housed at Solomon’s Temple that is used to open a gateway linking Earth with far off regions of space. Recent military and political activity suggests that the world powers are jockeying for position as if the return of Planet X is imminent. The stakes are high. This planet is at the center of a biblical prophecy known as the “Day of the Lord.”

Maybe McLeod is in some sort of competition with Joseph Farah to find the most deranged wacko to puff: Henry is clearly on the same level as WND favourite Patrick “Nephilim” Heron. Website Empire of the Odd has more:

William Henry dosn’t bother to disclose where he received his degree or even what kind of degree it is. That is almost unprecedented and gives (me) reason to doubt that he is formally trained in the field.

OK, so he’s an amateur mythologist? That’s cool, so am I!

Not so long ago he mentioned something about the venerable Subliminal Research Foundation in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he supposedly worked with a team of psychiatrists and psychologists to develop “self help technologies.” Thankfully (and probably since the Subliminal Research Foundation doesn’t really exist) he pulled that text off of his web page. Kudos for doing that at least!

There are a few other sites linking Henry with the Subliminal Research Foundation. It seems to be an old business name of The Joe Land Company; Land is a subliminal-message self-help guru who is also based in Albuquerque (SRF is listed as co-author of Land’s 1987 Program Yourself For Success on a couple of second-hand dealer websites).

Henry’s other articles include:


Gosh, this could keep McLeod going for weeks…

(Tipped from Cult News Network)

UPDATE: Commentator Geoff notes that McLeod is so stupid that a few weeks ago she repeated a story about Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga that had originally appeared in The Onion.

Weigelly Woo

Religion commentator George Weigel (who sits on the board of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy) has a new book out on the evils of secular Europe, The Cube and the Cathedral. Brian Carney at the Wall Street Journal offers a largely uncritical appraisal, in which all the typical neo-con anti-European obsessions are laid out as if they passed for common sense. Over to Carney, who begins with a visit to Amiens Cathedral:

At Mass last Sunday, Amiens’s gothic cathedral, the largest in France, was virtually empty…Europe’s largest churches are often unused these days, reduced to monuments for tourists to admire.

Nice to see the whole of Europe extrapolated from France. And how different is this from the decline of mainline Christianity in the USA?

In “The Cube and the Cathedral,” George Weigel describes a European culture that has become not only increasingly secular but in many cases downright hostile to Christianity. The cathedral in his title is Notre Dame, now overshadowed in cultural importance by the Arc de la Defense, the ultramodernist “cube” that dominates an office complex outside Paris.

Well, it’s certainly physically overshadowed. But is this sort of thing unique to France or Europe? Big business likes big buildings – I didn’t think this was unknown in the USA. All a bit vulgar, perhaps, but is the Arc really culturally more important? Are state funerals held at the Arc? Has someone published The Hunchback of the Arc de la Defense? And how do either the Arc or Notre Dame compare with Paris’s EuroDisney (famously termed “cultural Chernobyl” by Ariane Mnouchkine in 1992)? But to mention EuroDisney might imply criticism of American pop-culture and consumerism; far easier to invoke some mysterious and sinister “ultramodernism”.

“European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular,” Mr. Weigel writes. “That conviction and its public consequences are at the root of Europe’s contemporary crisis of civilizational morale.”

“European man” means “France”. And “contemporary crisis of civilizational morale” means “not as religious as the USA”, apparently.

Carney/Weigel then turns to the European Constitution:

“By the time the draft constitution was completed in June 2004, a grudging reference to ‘the cultural, religious, and humanist inheritance of Europe’ had been shoehorned into the preamble’s first clause,” Mr. Weigel notes derisively. This was about as much religion as Europe could stand in a constitution that runs, by Mr. Weigel’s count, to 70,000 words.

Well, seeing as the constitution is really a rather dull managerial document (that’s modernisation and bureaucratisation for you) I wouldn’t expect to see much religion in it. I know that the American Christian Right finds it offensive when official documents are not used as a bully pulpit for their imagined “Judeo-Christian tradition”, but that’s their problem, not Europeans’.

What is the deeper source of European antipathy to religion? For Mr. Weigel, the problem goes all the way back to the 14th century, when scholastics like William of Ockham argued for “nominalism.” According to their philosophy, universals–concepts such as “justice” or “freedom” and qualities such as “white” or “good”–do not exist in the abstract but are merely words that denote instances of what they describe. A current of thought was set into motion, Mr. Weigel believes, that pulled European man away from transcendent truths. One casualty was a fixed idea of human nature.

“If there is no such thing as human nature,” Mr. Weigel argues, “then there are no universal moral principles that can be read from human nature.” If there are no universal moral truths, then religion, positing them, is merely a form of oppression or myth, one from which Europe’s elites see themselves as liberated.

There always has to be a villain whose malign influence can explain in one easy sentence why it is that Europe detests all that is true and good (and disagrees with the USA on various matters, which amounts to the same thing). Rocco Buttiglione recently blamed Jacques Derrida; now we have William of Ockham, of all people, cast in the Faustian role. Why is religion less popular in Europe than it was? Don’t blame consumerism. Don’t blame modernisation. Don’t even blame the history of religious conflict in Europe. And, although attacking liberal religious figures is probably OK, don’t blame the possible shortcomings of religion itself when faced with science or critical deconstruction. And never concede the possibility that secular European values (such as, say, support for gay rights) might also be the result of moral reasoning, rather than its absence.

This is a big argument for a small book, and much more could be said to make it wholly convincing. One place to go for a fuller discussion is Richard Weaver’s “Ideas Have Consequences,” which Mr. Weigel slyly alludes to but does not cite. “The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a course of truth higher than, and independent of, man,” Weaver explained a half-century ago, “and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind.”

This actually exposes the hollow utilitarian heart of the neo-con defence of religion. Religion is useful because it gets people to behave well; criticisms of (“Judeo-Christian”) religion, or alternative ways of organising human affairs, should therefore be dismissed as “immoral” rather than engaged with intellectually. Weigel then turns lurid:

Mr. Weigel is on firmer ground when he analyzes Europe’s present condition, with its low birth rates, heavy debts, Muslim immigration worries and tendency to carp from the sidelines when the fate of nations is at stake. In what is certainly the most attention-grabbing passage in an engagingly written book, Mr. Weigel sketches the worst-case scenario–the “bitter end”–for a Europe that is religiously bereft, demographically moribund and morally without a compass: “The muezzin summons the faithful to prayer from the central loggia of St. Peter’s in Rome, while Notre-Dame has been transformed into Hagia Sophia on the Seine–a great Christian church become an Islamic museum.”

“Heavy debts”? Unlike the USA? And does secularisation have no effect on immigrant minorities? But even Carney thinks Weigel is laying it on a bit thick here:

One need not find this scenario especially plausible to feel persuaded by Mr. Weigel’s more measured arguments about Europe’s atheistic humanism. Without a religious dimension, Mr. Weigel notes, a commitment to human freedom is likely to be attenuated, too weak to make sacrifices in its name. Europe’s political elites especially, but its citizens as well, believe in freedom and democracy of course, but they are reluctant to put the “good life” on hold and put lives on the line when freedom is in need of a champion–say, in the Balkans or, especially, in Iraq. (Mr. Weigel is at pains to emphasize, however, that his analysis is not born of disenchantment over European popular opposition to the Iraq war.)

So, Europe is “too weak” to make sacrifices for freedom. But has the USA rejected mass consumerism in the name of the war effort? Are Americans demanding higher fuel prices and alternative energy sources in order to lessen dependence on Middle Eastern oil? Is there a massive revulsion against the very idea of using torture in the “war on terror”? Why is the USA open to criticism on those accounts, when American religion is supposed to be a sign that the USA is so much morally stronger than Europe?

I’m not arguing that a secular Europe has to be the glorious end point of history; and I have particular problems with the way secularisation plays out in France. But it would be nice to see American commentators discussing the phenomenon of European secularisation rationally, considering both the pros and cons. Hysterical and self-righteous screeds such as Weigel’s may make American conservatives feel good, but they do little to increase understanding.

UPDATE: Commentator David notes that Weigel’s book has also been reviewed by George Wills in the Washington Post. Wills includes a question mark in his headline as a substitute for any effort at critical thinking.

UPDATE 2: More Weigel today.