What’s Wrong with the World

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The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

July 10, 2019

Is this the end for Vincent Lambert?

There has been yet another reversal by the French courts, this time in the direction of Vincent Lambert's death. He is now, according to news stories, being dehydrated to death, and his parents have given up hope. May God have mercy upon him and his parents, and may divine justice eventually overtake those who have sought his death.

On a more mundane note, I wish someone with the relevant knowledge would write about the precise legal situation in France and about what sort of precedent this is likely to set. How will Vincent's death be likely to change things? What would it take legislatively in France to prevent future killings of this kind? I have been impressed by the amount of support for Vincent's life among the French and would like to know more about where things are at both legally and culturally in the areas of euthanasia, death by dehydration for the disabled, and related issues.

July 8, 2019

The prophecy dilemma for literary device theorists

Recently Esteemed Husband and our friend Tom Gilson did a webinar for Apologetics Academy. I watched some of the livestream on Youtube. During such livestreams there is always some chat going on "on the side" in the comments, and this time a skeptic commentator was throwing in various questions, many of them irrelevant to what Tim and Tom were actually saying. One of his comments was something to this effect: Since the Gospel authors believed that Jesus fulfilled prophecy, wouldn't this have motivated them to invent things that never happened in order to be able to say that prophecy was fulfilled?

Since he is an outright skeptic, presumably he would have no qualms about saying that a Gospel author who did that was simply lying and was motivated by the desire to serve a religious cause by deceiving his audience. Still, one might ask him in that case why the evangelists believed in Jesus themselves, and in particular in his fulfillment of prophecy, if they knew that they had to invent things in order to "make" him fulfill prophecy. The skeptic would, one guesses, at that point have to fall back upon some generic statement to the effect that people, especially religious people, don't always think rationally about these things and may simultaneously believe in their religion and also believe that they are morally justified in lying to further it. Bart Ehrman has said this in so many words about early Christians. To my mind it is an unconvincing answer, particularly about the evangelists who were writing the very first memoirs of Jesus and claimed to have known him. At the founding of a religious movement, the distinction between "charlatan" and "sucker who listens to charlatan" is more stark and obvious, even to not-always-rational human beings. And if the evangelists were charlatans, their motivation is extremely difficult to figure out, given the initially low status and persecution of Christianity and the fact that they could have avoided much trouble for themselves had they not accepted and promoted Christianity.

But matters are difficult in a different way for the Christian literary device theorists whose work I am critiquing in my forthcoming books, The Mirror or the Mask and The Eye of the Beholder.

Continue reading "The prophecy dilemma for literary device theorists" »

June 29, 2019

The Lydia McGrew scale of Not-So-Niceness

We're bedeviled in every area of life by ambiguity. It seems as though everybody from the scholar to the pundit to the guy at the corner deli is unable or unwilling to make distinctions. One area out of innumerable areas where such ambiguity reigns is that of niceness. What does it mean to say that civility is optional, that someone is too nice, or that someone is not nice enough? You'd think that context would make it clear, but sometimes that's just what context doesn't do. When I hear someone saying chest-thumping things like, "We've been civil long enough. Civility is optional. So-and-so [some general] was not a nice guy! We need to stop being nice, because the other side is not nice," I can't help wondering if he means to endorse the vile things that are being done by those who self-identify with his political side and who use the very same rhetoric. Or does he really mean to say that moral failings in a leader such as cruelty, sexual promiscuity, or lack of conscience provide an inherent advantage in effective leadership? Sneering, "Nice guys finish last" is not very informative, and it does not inspire confidence in the good judgement of the speaker.

But on the other hand, when someone accuses (say) me of being mean in scholarly dispute and of personally attacking those I disagree with, I know that this isn't true. Sometimes the person making that complaint is using some conveniently hyper-sensitive definition of meanness and personal attack, engaging in grievance-mongering, and distracting attention from my scholarly arguments. Others have "caught" an unfortunate difficulty in handling straightforward language in analytical debate, so that they think that even saying, "This argument is completely wrong" is in and of itself unkind.

So I propose that we develop a scale of "not-so-niceness" and rank either our advocacy or accusations of not-niceness accordingly so that people know what we are talking about. Some of these categories shade into each other, and my examples are made up more or less off the top of my head, but some (particularly the two ends of the scale) are quite clearly distinct from each other.

Although I present this scale light-heartedly, I do seriously suggest that we shouldn't just go around either recommending or condemning vague categories like not-niceness but should use more specific terms and examples to be clearer.

Continue reading "The Lydia McGrew scale of Not-So-Niceness" »

June 25, 2019

Choice (almost) devours itself--UK version

If you are on social media and pro-life, you have probably by now heard of the case in the UK in which an 11th-hour appeal has (for now) prevented a forced abortion. The pregnant mother is a mentally disabled African woman of the Nigerian Igbo tribe. Some news reports say that she has the mental capacity of a 6-9-year-old. Her mother cares for her and strenuously opposed the abortion, stating that she (the grandmother of the unborn child) is willing to care for the baby.

Apparently some "do-gooders" from the NHS, upon discovering the pregnancy, went to court for permission to carry out an abortion. Their rationale was that the pregnant woman's mother has her hands full caring for the woman herself and that it was plausible that the baby might be "taken into care" after birth--forcibly removed from the home to be placed into the foster system. The idea was that this would be more psychologically traumatic for the mentally disabled woman than having an abortion now. (She is 22 weeks along.) Hence, they alleged, an abortion was needed for her "psychological health."

Judge Nathalie Lieven agreed, ordering an abortion as in the mother's "best interests." The grandmother of the unborn baby immediately appealed, and a three-judge appeals panel has reversed the decision. Since abortion is legally harder to obtain in the UK after 24 weeks, it seems plausible that the baby's life has been saved.

Continue reading "Choice (almost) devours itself--UK version" »

June 18, 2019

What if Jesus wants you to die?

On my drives to and fro around town I listen to a fundamentalist Christian radio station broadcast from Pensacola, FL. Long-time readers know that I love Southern Gospel music and hymns. The news at the heads of the hours is pretty objective and, at most, tends to report more on religious liberty trends worldwide. And the extremely conservative talk show I occasionally run into is actually rather interesting, if occasionally weird. (Like there was the time when they spent an entire show explaining that the earth is not flat. Good to know, but...) It certainly doesn't fit the stereotype of conservative talk radio as crude and abusive.

The dramatizations vary. I confess to a liking for Adventures in Odyssey, made by Focus on the Family. Some of the other children's drama shows are more than a bit cloying and mostly serve as a source of (unintentional) entertainment. My imitation of faithful Frisky's water lapping noises when he recovered after nearly dying for the children had my entire family in stitches.

I was listening to one of these latter in the car yesterday. We had gotten to the point where an escaped convict was said (by an announcer on one boy's transistor radio) to be in the vicinity of the boys' campground, the sort of thing that seems to happen all the time in these shows. The protagonist, a boy named Alfie, had recently become a committed Christian. When the others asked him if he was afraid of the possibility that the convict would show up at their camp, he said, "A little." Asked why only a little, he took the opportunity to tell them about his recent decision to ask Jesus into his heart. (I really have no problem with this language of asking Jesus into your heart. I gather some theological sticklers of a Reformed persuasion deplore it because it isn't found in the Bible. But we'd never get anywhere in theology without metaphors and analogies, and we'd get nowhere even faster in describing the phenomenology of religious experience and conscious religious commitment without inexact metaphors, and this particular one has been serviceable to generations of truly good and pious evangelicals whose shoes the young sticklers are probably not worthy to unlatch. So I'm inclined not to knock it. End of digression.)

I was more or less in agreement with Alfie's theology concerning forgiveness of sins and accepting Jesus, but here's the odd part: It had very little to do with the question at issue, which was, "Why are you only a little bit afraid of the escaped convict?"

Continue reading "What if Jesus wants you to die?" »

June 13, 2019

Missionary syndrome

One hears occasionally about closed-minded people who say that one should never interact with seriously incorrect ideas lest one come to hold those ideas oneself. These warnings sound, on the face of it, hysterical and wrong-headed. How can we possibly counteract bad ideas if we don't understand them and present rational arguments against them?

And of course there is important truth in that reaction to obscurantism. As a philosopher I'm not going to downplay the importance of answering bad ideas. But in reflecting lately I've come to understand better why someone might be concerned about potential ill effects of trying to "go out to" those who hold bad ideas and "reach them."

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June 4, 2019

Philip Zodhiates update

I have ended up (through an indirect process that I can't now reconstruct) signed up for e-mail updates on the status of Philip Zodhiates in prison. Zodhiates is one of our U.S. true prisoners of conscience, as was Kenneth Miller. These men, and Timothy Miller (not related to Kenneth) have all spent time in federal prison for the "crime" of helping Lisa Miller (also not related) to escape with her daughter Isabella from having to turn Isabella over to Lisa's former lesbian lover, Janet Jenkins. I have written extensively about the case over the years. See the tag here. Not all posts have been tagged, but the earlier posts link to yet earlier posts. Lisa and Isabella remain "at large" in Nicaragua. I believe Isabella is now almost sixteen years old. Some conjecture that Lisa may come back and serve prison time when Isabella is eighteen and can no longer be forced to live with Jenkins. I hope that Lisa does not do that, but the idea is that she will do so because she would not want the men who helped her to "do time" while she goes free.

Zodhiates sends updates on how he and his wife are doing to be sent out via e-mail list, but my understanding is that there is no objection to the posting of these updates more widely. The most recent one is particularly informative, in the form of a Q & A, so I thought I would post it here. (Since I'm blogging less these days, I try to post things that readers are unlikely to see elsewhere.)

If you want to sign up for e-mail updates on this case, e-mail info@419fund.com and ask to be added to the e-mail list on Philip Zodhiates.

Philip also posts Scriptural and other musings from prison at a blog here.

The crowdfunding site for the case is here.

Note the mention of the civil case. I don't know why it has been at a standstill for so long, but Philip believes that that aspect of the persecution will start back up again in December.

Continue reading "Philip Zodhiates update" »

May 20, 2019

Blaming the losers

It is a common though unfortunate characteristic of human nature to want to blame the losers in any war for their loss. What did they do wrong? They must have done something wrong, or they would not have lost.

A different approach is much more open to seeing losses as glorious and heroic. Small bands of patriots or heroes fight to the best of their ability, in the face of overwhelming odds, and are overcome at the last by sheer force or even by treachery. They are to be praised, not blamed. Their names go down in history as an inspiration to those who come later and serve what they served, bringing life out of the ashes once more. To quote Mr. Smith, lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.

Of course, in any given real historical struggle, these two options are not mutually exclusive. The losing side may have made strategic mistakes, seen in hindsight, at any point along the way, but they may still be praiseworthy, and treachery or overwhelming force may still be the main cause of the loss.

In politics and history, the desire to blame the losers strongly is for some people almost irresistible, a tendency that I find puzzling. It seems to flow from a desire to have a gigantic Story (with a capital S) to tell about What Went Wrong and how we got where we are. It may also arise from a desire to appear even-handed in hindsight. If one blames one's own side (as it existed decades ago or even centuries ago), this shows one's sapient open-mindedness. The desire to blame the losers also sometimes arises from frustration: "We lost. We were suckers. How can we be sure not to be suckers again now?" It can also arise from some ideological agenda. For example, if one really does believe that the American founding was ill-done and ideologically wrong-headed, then one may try to trace a direct line from, "All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights," etc., to the present abortion holocaust, despite the fact that that is a very hard sell, both logically and historically. On this view, America has fallen morally because America as such was fatally flawed from the beginning. The desire to recast history in literary terms, so that nations become like tragic characters with a fatal flaw, is hard for some to resist.

All of this musing is the lead-up to my rejecting (or at least very greatly qualifying) a certain narrative concerning what has happened to American conservatives in the last one hundred years or so. It looks like we have lost the culture wars, and the temptation to blame "us," or some historical version of "us," is for some people apparently irresistible.

The blame narrative that I want to respond to goes approximately like this:

Continue reading "Blaming the losers" »

May 12, 2019

Vincent Lambert case update

Things are looking grim again for Vincent Lambert, the Frenchman whose wife and some other relatives have been trying to have him dehydrated to death for approximately six years. Thanks to the persistence of Vincent's mother Viviane and her lawyers, Vincent has been rescued from more than one attempt at killing him and is still being fed and dehydrated years after others would have given up.

But now the Supreme Court of France (as I understand it) has ratified the decision of doctors to dehydrate Vincent to death. It's important to understand that the legal situation is somewhat different from that of Terri Schiavo. As I understand it, the matter is left in the hands of the doctors. This is why the Committee to Support Vincent Lambert has tried to get him transferred, but those attempts have been unsuccessful. (A transfer might also have resulted in Vincent's receiving some physical therapy in order to renew or maintain his ability to swallow and be fed by mouth. Expert opinions differ on whether he is in a minimally conscious state or a so-called "vegetative" state, but it is not implausible that he could have profited from some therapy which he has not received while his wife has been attempting to have him killed all these years.) In Terri's case, a court actually ordered the nursing home to withdraw Terri's food and water. The French court apparently has merely allowed this. Doctors could still quite legally make a different decision.

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May 7, 2019

D-Town sports mania

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For twelve straight days now, teams from my beloved hometown have competed in playoff contests: many of them, what with overtimes, interminable commercial breaks and whatnot, extending into the wee hours of the Eastern Time Zone morning. I guess I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

The Denver Nuggets feature the Serbian Doughboy, Nicola Jokić, a singular big man with fantastic touch and court vision; Jamal Murray, a tough Canadian kid with a sweet shot; Gary Harris, a classic Michigan State product who does everything well, especially perimeter defense; the aged veteran Paul Millsap, steady defender with great rebounding intuition who has added an impressive offensive game; alongside a lengthy roster of appealing players who have, all of them, inspired us with their effort and resilience.

The Colorado Avalanche feature one of the best top lines in the National Hockey League. Swedes, Finns and a blue-color Canadian kid named MacKinnon whose extraordinary speed on the ice can be observed easily by even the most novice fans of hockey. Two of the Avs’ best defenders, meanwhile, are only twenty years old, one of whom, Cale Makar, having just finished his UMass collegiate career, showed up in Denver for his first NHL game in the middle of a playoff series. He recorded a goal and an assist.

Last night, at just after 1am Eastern, Gabriel Landeskog redirected a puck into the net for an overtime win against the San Jose Sharks. Picture me, with my whole household catching peaceful zzzzs, silent-screaming into my fists and leaping around in the loudest quiet celebration dance this side of the Mississippi River. That series goes to Game 7 tomorrow night (9pm Eastern start).

Nuggets and Trailblazers go tonight, in a huge Game 5 back in Denver. This game starts at 10:30p Eastern. Sweet soupspoons.

I’m loving every minute of it. Go Nuggs! Go Avs!

May 1, 2019

Antarctic France

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When the Emperor Charles the Fifth beleaguered Algiers, his camps were deluged by a blinding tempest, and at its height the infidels made a furious sally. A hundred Knights of Malta, on foot, wearing over their armor surcoats of crimson blazoned with the white cross, bore the brunt of the assault. Conspicuous among them was Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon. A Moorish cavalier, rushing upon him, pierced his arm with a lance, and wheeled to repeat the blow; but the knight leaped on the infidel, stabbed him with his dagger, flung him from his horse, and mounted in his place. Again, a Moslem host landed in Malta and beset the Cite Notable. The garrison was weak, disheartened, and without a leader. Villegagnon with six followers, all friends of his own, passed under cover of night through the infidel leaguer, climbed the walls by ropes lowered from above, took command, repaired the shattered towers, aiding with his own hands in the work, and animated the garrison to a resistance so stubborn that the besiegers lost heart and betook themselves to their galleys. No less was he an able and accomplished mariner, prominent among that chivalry of the sea who held the perilous verge of Christendom against the Mussulman. He claimed other laurels than those of the sword. He was a scholar, a linguist, a controversialist, potent with the tongue and with the pen, commanding in presence, eloquent and persuasive in discourse. Yet this Crichton of France had proved himself an associate nowise desirable. His sleepless intellect was matched with a spirit as restless, vain, unstable, and ambitious, as it was enterprising and bold. Addicted to dissent, and enamoured of polemics, he entered those forbidden fields of inquiry and controversy to which the Reform invited him. Undaunted by his monastic vows, he battled for heresy with tongue and pen, and in the ear of Protestants professed himself a Protestant. As a Commander of his Order, he quarrelled with the Grand Master, a domineering Spaniard; and, as Vice-Admiral of Brittany, he was deep in a feud with the Governor of Brest. Disgusted at home, his fancy crossed the seas. He aspired to build for France and himself an empire amid the tropical splendors of Brazil. Few could match him in the gift of persuasion; and the intrepid seamen whose skill and valor had run the gantlet of the English fleet, and borne Mary Stuart of Scotland in safety to her espousals with the Dauphin, might well be intrusted with a charge of moment so far inferior. Henry the Second was still on the throne. The lance of Montgomery had not yet rid France of that infliction. To win a share in the rich domain of the New World, of which Portuguese and Spanish arrogance claimed the monopoly, was the end held by Villegagnon before the eyes of the King. Of the Huguenots, he said not a word. For Coligny he had another language. He spoke of an asylum for persecuted religion, a Geneva in the wilderness, far from priests and monks and Francis of Guise. The Admiral gave him a ready ear; if, indeed, he himself had not first conceived the plan. Yet to the King, an active burner of Huguenots, Coligny too urged it as an enterprise, not for the Faith, but for France.

In secret, Geneva was made privy to it, and Calvin himself embraced it with zeal. The enterprise, in fact, had a double character, political as well as religious. It was the reply of France, the most emphatic she had yet made, to the Papal bull which gave all the western hemisphere to Portugal and Spain; and, as if to point her answer, she sent, not Frenchmen only, but Protestant Frenchmen, to plant the fleur-de-lis on the shores of the New World.

Two vessels were made ready, in the name of the King. The body of the emigration was Huguenot, mingled with young nobles, restless, idle, and poor, with reckless artisans, and piratical sailors from the Norman and Breton seaports. They put to sea from Havre on the twelfth of July, 1555, and early in November saw the shores of Brazil. Entering the harbor of Rio Janeiro, then called Ganabara, Villegagnon landed men and stores on an island, built huts, and threw up earthworks. In anticipation of future triumphs, the whole continent, by a strange perversion of language, was called Antarctic France, while the fort received the name of Coligny.

Villegagnon signalized his new-born Protestantism by an intolerable solicitude for the manners and morals of his followers. The whip and the pillory requited the least offence. The wild and discordant crew, starved and flogged for a season into submission, conspired at length to rid themselves of him; but while they debated whether to poison him, blow him up, or murder him and his officers in their sleep, three Scotch soldiers, probably Calvinists, revealed the plot, and the vigorous hand of the commandant crushed it in the bud.

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April 21, 2019

Easter 2019: Some Personal Reflections

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As we sat in the sanctuary on Passion Sunday, my daughter of seven asked me again what was the meaning of all the purple shrouds about the altar. Why would we cover everything that was most beautiful? "What am I supposed to look at?" It was one of those penetrating questions children ask, simple in its innocence but hard to answer, when you come to the point. I stumbled through a quick explanation that her face told me was not very helpful. It was something both too complicated and too pat, about remembering the time Jesus lay in the tomb, and the importance of faithful prayer.

Nothing else came to me until she started fidgeting, as she always does, with her little pearl-colored mantilla. Already that morning she had asked, why should she wear it? I had replied that we always veil the things that are truly sacred, and reminded her of the tabernacle. Again, this had not seemed to satisfy, but it did inspire me to consider more deeply the significance of the season at hand.

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April 19, 2019

The Mental Sufferings of Our Lord

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Strictly speaking, the text excerpted below finds its source in meditations upon certain events of commemorated yesterday, Holy or Maundy Thursday: the latter a title strange to many ears, said to be a loose derivation of the Latin for “command.” Among many other reasons, this Thursday is holy because on it Christ gave his disciples his own lapidary summary of the Christian call to service: “love one another, as I have loved you.”

Having delivered this new commandment, the Nazarene in due course set aside the righteous almighty command that was by nature His from all eternity, and took up instead obedience “to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

Jesus Christ’s obedience commands our sustained attention on Good Friday. A renowned sermon by John Henry Newman, portions of which follow, may supply aids for sustaining that attention, especially in this distracted age when even the eyes of the faithful, and even on this most sacred of days, drift off in pursuit of fleeting things. Instead, I invite readers to secure 30 minutes of quiet, in order to consider, by means of Cardinal Newman’s powerful words, such imperishable things as “The Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion”:


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Every passage in the history of our Lord and Saviour is of unfathomable depth, and affords inexhaustible matter of contemplation. All that concerns Him is infinite, and what we first discern is but the surface of that which begins and ends in eternity. It would be presumptuous for any one short of saints and doctors to attempt to comment on His words and deeds, except in the way of meditation; but meditation and mental prayer are so much a duty in all who wish to cherish true faith and love towards Him, that it may be allowed us, my brethren, under the guidance of holy men who have gone before us, to dwell and enlarge upon what otherwise would more fitly be adored than scrutinised. And certain times of the year, this especially, call upon us to consider, as closely and minutely as we can, even the more sacred portions of the Gospel history.

[. . .]

You know, my brethren, that our Lord and Saviour, though He was God, was also perfect man; and hence He had not only a body, but a soul likewise, such as ours, though pure from all stain of evil. He did not take a body without a soul, God forbid! for that would not have been to become man. How would He have sanctified our nature by taking a nature which was not ours? Man without a soul is on a level with the beasts of the field; but our Lord came to save a race capable of praising and obeying Him, possessed of immortality, though that immortality had lost its promised blessedness. Man was created in the image of God, and that image is in his soul; when then his Maker, by an unspeakable condescension, came in his nature, He took on Himself a soul in order to take on Him a body; He took on Him a soul as the means of His union with a body; He took on Him in the first place the soul, then the body of man, both at once, but in this order, the soul and the body; He Himself created the soul which He took on Himself, while He took His body from the flesh of the Blessed Virgin, His Mother. Thus He became perfect man with body and soul; and as He took on Him a body of flesh and nerves, which admitted of wounds and death, and was capable of suffering, so did He take a soul, too, which was susceptible of that suffering, and moreover was susceptible of the pain and sorrow which are proper to a human soul; and, as His atoning passion was undergone in the body, so it was undergone in the soul also.

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April 16, 2019

The saved and the lost

This morning there are reports listing relics and works of art known to have been saved or lost, and those whose fate is unknown, from the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday.

Astonishingly, the three great and ancient stained glass rose windows appear to have survived the fire, despite the collapse of the roof.

The name of Jean-Marc Fournier should be widely known and praised. The same report states that the priest helped the firemen to save relics and works of art and also the consecrated Host.

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April 4, 2019

The denial of reality must be totalitarian

I was recently asked in an interview, "What's Wrong With the World?" based upon the name of this blog. I answered that the denial of reality is what's wrong with the world. One could argue that the root of all sin is the denial of reality of some kind or other.

The serpent says to the woman, "Thou shalt not surely die." The woman decides that eating the fruit is good for her and desirable to make one wise, so she does.

In our own day, the very ones who talk of Christianity as "anti-science" deny the humanity of the unborn child in order to kill him. And they order us to say that a man is a woman and that a woman is a man. And they silence any dissent.

The denial of fundamental and obvious reality must be totalitarian, for if it is not, someone brave child will come along and say the obvious. Little whispers of truth will get out. And we can't have that.

Canada has not had free speech for a long time, but the latest outrage on this front is so striking that it gets the attention even of those jaded by such things. Bill Whatcott in Canada has been fined $55k for passing out flyers referring to a male political candidate as a male. It hurt "her" feelings, you see. And the tribunal said that truth is no defense. He refused to refer to the man as "she" during his kangaroo trial, which is part of what racked up the fines. He's been ordered to pay interest in the meanwhile until he gets together enough money to pay the fines. He says he's going to keep speaking out and that he isn't going to pay the fines. Whatcott has guts.

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March 29, 2019

Jesus' rejection at Nazareth and Miracles at Capernaum

March 24, 2019

Was Jesus Buried in Joseph of Arimathea's New Tomb?

March 18, 2019

Did Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple stand at the foot of the cross?

February 24, 2019

(Guest Post) Was there a guard at Jesus’ tomb?

February 12, 2019

"Like nothing I've ever seen."