Notes on Christianity
and Ideas

Issue 26
June 2006

Myodicy homepage

Published by Theodore Plantinga

In this issue ....

Is the reformational movement losing its sense of itself as a separate stream because of the rise and use of new technologies? Or is verzuiling still alive and well? Click here to read the third installment of Theodore Plantinga's informal history of the reformational movement, in which verzuiling is explored.

Can anything whatsoever be questioned? Or does a community have the right to place certain beliefs beyond the bounds of debate? What is the Dutch Reformed understanding of this issue? Click here to read "It Goes Without Saying: Reflections on Vanzelfsprekendheid."

What did Evan Runner teach his students back in the 1960s? Click here to read the third installment of Theodore Plantinga's notes on Runner's Introduction to Philosophy class.


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.

The rise and fall of the castrati. John Ralston Saul's new book has nothing to do with opera. The "castrati" he refers to are the political leaders in the Western world who have been assuring us for some decades now that we are in the grip of powerful economic forces that we really cannot resist. We used to say: "You can't fight city hall." More recently we have been saying that you can't fight global markets and economic pressures. Therefore let's sign some more "free trade" agreements and dismantle more of our labor legislation and environmental-protection measures.

This mentality, usually called "globalism," places economic norms and considerations above all others. Once accepted, it leaves government leaders thinking there is little they can do to set economic conditions for the territory they govern, and so they begin singing the song of the castrato. But Saul's account is actually quite optimistic, for his theme is the bankruptcy of globalization rhetoric and the gradual return to sound thinking on the part of government leaders. Hence he entitled the book The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2005). We read: "Thirty years into an ideology of deregulation, the move to reregulation grow stronger every day." [p. 241]

The notion of the government leader as castrato is actually just a passing image in the book, but it caught my eye (see pp. 92, 155, 221-222). Of particular interest is his discussion of China and India as demonstrating that globalist inevitability thinking is out of place (see pp. 205-209).

Worth Reading. Sheila Copps, a longtime member of Canada's parliament, serving a constituency in Hamilton, Ontario, seems to be out of politics. Her departure from the national stage was not entirely voluntary, for it had a good deal to do with her clash with Paul Martin, who served as Prime Minister during the time of her demise. In a memoir entitled Worth Fighting For (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2004), Copps reveals that her political principles mean more to her than being on the inside. And so I came to the book looking for details about bitter struggle with Paul Martin and his supporters.

The account is certainly there to be read. On the war with Iraq she observes: "There is no doubt in my mind that if Paul Martin had been the leader [TP: Prime Minister when the decision had to be made whether to accompany the USA into Iraq], we would have gone to war with the United States." [Page 182] She faults Martin for not being able to work with his rivals within the Liberal camp and regards it as poor politics on his part. After the book went to press, Mr. Martin lost the second election campaign in which he led the Liberal Party. On the other hand, she does give him credit (as I would also do) for his work as finance minister, when he served under Prime Minister Jean Chretien: "... Paul Martin did a fabulous job in Finance." [Page 173]

What I liked best about the book is her account of what she did when serving as the minister responsible for preserving and promoting "Canadian heritage" (see Chapters 9 and 10). The challenge, of course, was to safeguard Canada's identity and defining institutions from the overwhelming cultural influence of the USA. In her own words, she wanted to promote "cultural diversity" (see p. 167). In the course of her work, she managed to open the eyes of leaders in other nations who seemed to have all but given up on the cause of remaining culturally distinct from the ever-pervasive USA. What she told them is worth repeating here: "I explained that in our country the proximity to the U.S. left us no alternative; either the state was involved, or our broadcasting system would become an adjunct of the United States'. I explained how the situation was even more serious in English [TP: than in French] because the common language and geographic proximity were a recipe for cultural annexation if we sat by and did nothing" (p. 168). Well said -- worth reading, and worth fighting for.

Easier said than done. David Frum and Richard Perle would like to see an end to evil, and so they wrote a book on the subject: An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (New York: Random House, 2003). They have been much criticized as apologists for President George W. Bush and his policies in relation to Iraq. But when I read the book, I found it to be more moderate than I had expected; part of the problem, I suppose is that the title promises too much. Put an end to evil? I'm all for it, but it's easier said than done.

On the other hand, regardless of how one feels about President Bush, one must confront the link between terrorism and one of the great world religions. And so what I liked about the book was its plain-spoken sobriety on this topic, the discussion of which is unduly hampered by political correctness norms. Frum and Perle disregard those norms as they tell us: "The lax multiculturalism that urges Americans to accept the unacceptable from their fellow citizens is one of this nation's greatest vulnerabilities in the war on terror. American society must communicate to its Muslim citizens and residents a clear message about what is expected from them. The flow of funds to terror must stop. The incitement in schools and mosques must stop. The promotion of anti-Semitism must stop. The denial and excuse-making must stop." [Page 93] To which I can only add: Amen and amen.

Still sterner stuff. For those who would prefer more of an intellectual's take on the problem we currently confront in relation to Islam and terrorism, I can recommend Sam Harris's book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2005). Folks with roots deep in religious soil (like the undersigned) could easily be angered by this book, for it is an attack especially on the moderates within the Christian and Islamic camps. I am recommending that we set our anger aside and do some careful reflection on what Harris has laid before us.

There is far too much in the book for a summary characterization to make any sense to the reader. Harris has written a book that demands to be read, for it is about both the future of organized religion and the prospects for peace on earth in the twenty-first century.

Harris breathes something of the spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. He has great confidence in what he characterizes as reason. But he is also sympathetic to what Buddhism is trying to teach us about peace and the inner life. I trust we will hear from Harris again before long. If he has still more to say, I'd like to hear it.

General information

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Theodore Plantinga
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