Notes on Christianity
and Ideas

Issue 15
December 2001

Published by Theodore Plantinga

In this issue ....

Mary Elizabeth Plantinga, who was my wife for 33 years, died in October. Click here to read what I had to say about her at her memorial service held on November 24.

Practicing ahimsa is not like riding a bicycle: it's harder than it looks. Click here to read "Making Room for Ahimsa."


Don't take the term literally. I don't plan to turn pages for you. What I mean to do in this space is comment on materials in the world of the printed page -- brief book notes, observations about periodicals, and perhaps a comment on an event.

On the road to fascism? That's what Eric Kierans fears. Kierans is a politician, an economist, a professor, a businessman, and a man given to minority reports. His memoir, entitled Remembering (Toronto: Stoddart, 2001), composed with some help from Walter Stewart, is a thoughtful mix of autobiography and commentary on Canadian political events, including many in which Kierans was himself involved, and some that have come to pass since he left the public stage.

Kierans served in a Liberal cabinet of Jean Lesage in Quebec, and then in a Liberal cabinet in Ottawa, presided over by Pierre Trudeau. One of the threads that runs through his book is his long-standing friendship with René Levesque, Quebec's first separatist premier.

The book closes with a chapter on social, political and economic philosophy, inspired in good measure by his Roman Catholic convictions about man and society. Kierans tell us: "When economics separated itself from political science, it died from want of purpose." [p. 264]

Since Kierans was born 1914, one might be tempted to look upon him as a voice from yesteryear -- nothing more. The truth is that he has his eye on the future as well as the past. And what he sees in the future distresses him -- perhaps chaos, perhaps fascism (see p. 253).

He is no defender of the now-fashionable globalism: "We are not born to live in a corporate globe, yet that is the world that we are moving toward." [p. 253] He ends the book with the following warning: "As a liberal, I reject any global order or commercial worldview. Globalism and corporatism block intellectual growth and cultural and political freedom. An open-ended future for humankind demands the pluralism and diversity that are the hallmarks of a true liberalism." [p. 269]

Keeping out of trouble. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is surely a man of rectitude. It is hard to imagine him have been naughty in his youth. In a recently published memoir about his early years, entitled An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001) we get a fresh slant on youth and waywardness. If Carter was well-behaved as a stripling, it was in good measure because his father kept him so busy with a bewildering but nevertheless interesting round of tasks around the various farms over which the senior Carter presided. All in all, this memoir is a delightful look at an America that is no more, an America in which people did for themselves much more than they could today, when we depend do much on institutions and technology.

Carter demonstrates an amazing memory when he gives detailed accounts of how farm tasks were performed, and also acquaints us with a great many terms which by now must be obsolete. One wonders how the young man ever found time to go to school, and school, indeed, does not come into the book until we are near the end. Yet we are informed that he somehow managed to read Tolstoy's War and Peace when he was in the fifth grade! Kids who work as hard as the young Jimmy Carter and while reading War and Peace on the side have no time for juvenile delinquency.

Wage slaves. Have you ever wondered how people who hold minimum-wage jobs in expensive urban centers manage to make end meet? I have, but I've never looked into the matter systematically. Barbara Ehrenreich, a well-established writer sporting a Ph.D. in biology, wondered the same thing and set about to find out. She did so by undergoing only a modest identity change and entering the underclass of the underemployed, applying for those plentiful minimum-wage jobs and struggling to find affordable housing (only such-and-such a percentage of one's wages should go to housing costs). She tried her experiment in three separate parts of the USA (Florida, Maine and Minnesota), and in the course of her "research" took on various different lines of work.

The results were sobering and have been recorded for the benefit of all of us in a fine book called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2001). While this title doesn't quite say it all, it does get across to us the main thesis, namely, that these wage slaves are not really making it. Perhaps the USA is not quite the land of opportunity ("start at the bottom and work your way up") that so many people take it for.

What's to be done? Ehrenreich gives us some concluding reflections. But apart from awakening in the reader some compassion for the army of the underemployed, and perhaps making us more sympathetic to them when we receive their services (e.g. in restaurants), her book pretty much leaves the world as it is -- which is not to say that it is not worth reading. I recommend it highly. Her stories and her portraits of the dispirited underemployed are hard to forget.

General information

This electronic journal is my way of keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, former students, and so forth. It does not have a regular publication schedule. Feel free to download it and pass it around. You may even wish to send me a comment; I do not guarantee a response to each communication. If you wish to repost anything in this journal, please let me know. If you care to print something in paper form, this can also be arranged, provided that I retain the copyright so that I will remain free in my use of the material. Please regard the materials in Myodicy as copyrighted by me, except in the case of articles written by someone else. What is written in Myodicy should not be regarded as reflecting any official position or policy of Redeemer University College.

Theodore Plantinga
E-mail: [email protected]

To read Myodicy:
Please pass on this address, or include a link to it in something you have posted yourself.