Wednesday, April 02, 2003

St Mary’s, Norton, Stockton-on-Tees
My old friend the Revd Phillipp Hamilton-Manon was vicar here 10 years ago (no 'lady priests' then) when I visited this church, which as you can see has a beautiful 1,000-year old building from Catholic England. (Its full dedication, as the site tells you, is to Our Lady of the Assumption, and Benedictine monks once used it.) A good conservative, small-o orthodox (and an ethnic Russian), kind of a war-weary soldier for the faith, he could outcurmudgeon me - a quote: 'Rock music is the modern world laughing at me' - and is something of a Luddite about the Internet (so he'll probably never see this!). You're remembered and missed, amigo!

Parody from The Rockall Times
Hey, don’t know your Special Republican Guard from your elbow?
‘No worries. Kill the right raghead with our cut-out-and-keep guide’

These just came in from David Virtue:

‘Homosexuality is preventable in children’ says leading psychologist
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., March 31 (U.S. Newswire) -- Dr. Joseph
Nicolosi, executive director of the National Association of Research
and Therapy of Homosexuality, joined Focus on the Family President Dr.
James C. Dobson on his national daily broadcast to discuss Nicolosi's
new book, "A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality."

The book, featured on Sean Hannity's national radio show and Fox's
"O'Reilly Factor," challenges the notion that homosexuality is genetic
and offers parents practical advice on how to prevent it. "This book is
about giving parents a choice," said Nicolosi. "Parents cannot prevent
something they do not understand."

Dobson, heard by 8.9 million listeners each week, praised the book,
noting it ought to be read by every parent. "Deception runs deep on the
issue of homosexuality," Dobson said. "It takes a great deal of courage
to say anything about this issue when it does not coincide with the
politically correct view. Dr. Nicolosi is one of those men who has the
courage of his convictions."

In fact, the trade magazine Psychology Today ran a paid ad regarding
the book and was attacked by homosexual activists for doing so. Editor
Robert Epstein, Ph.D., a social liberal and defender of gay rights,
wrote an editorial after the ad appeared saying he received "threats,
insults" and "brutal letters" from gay activists. He noted that after
choosing to run the ad he encountered what he describes as "the dark,
intolerant, abusive side of the gay community."

"A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality," published by
InterVarsity Press, is based on previous research as well as Dr.
Nicolosi's 10 years of treating unwanted homosexuality as a clinical
psychologist. The three-day broadcast addresses specific behavioral
patterns in the parent-child relationship that encourages unhealthy
same-sex attraction, such as a damaged relationship with a father or an
overbearing mother.

In addition to his work as a psychologist, Dr. Nicolosi is a popular
speaker and a regular presenter at Focus on the Family's national Love
Won Out conferences -- one-day seminars designed to help the public
navigate the myths clouding the issue of homosexuality. More than
16,000 men and women have attended these events since its inception in
1998. The conference makes its next stop in Detroit on April 26 at Tri-
City Christian Center.

John Paulk, Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conference host,
concluded: "Thousands of former homosexuals, like myself, have
benefited from the information presented in this book. Activist groups
who promote the inaccurate theory that one is 'born gay' should not be
allowed to monopolize the discussion. In the spirit of tolerance we
hope the message of this book will be promoted as part of the public
debate as well."

James C. Dobson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, radio broadcaster and
the president of Focus on the Family. Founded in 1977, Focus on the
Family is a nonprofit Christian organization committed to strengthening
the family in the U.S. and throughout the world. Focus on the Family's
secular and Christian radio and TV broadcasts are heard or seen by 28
million people a week.

[Me: I respectfully disagree. Like Dr Dobson I oppose the 'gay lifestyle' on Christian grounds but believe the theory adopted by Dr Nicolosi that weak fathers and domineering mothers make boys homosexual is wrong and even a little silly - isn't that theory discredited anyway? (And what about lesbians?) IMO, true homosexuality is a temptation a very tiny minority - far fewer than the unscientific Kinsey Report's 10% - are born with.]

Cliffs Notes for Confession
by Terry Mattingly, who is Eastern Orthodox and a former Protestant
Madonn’! Roman Catholics in America have forgotten how to go to Confession and now the bishops admit it - proves the ballyhooed 'renewal' from 35 years ago is a crock.

Why They Hated ‘Pinocchio’
by Frederica Mathewes-Green

[Me: I didn't see this movie but this article is great! Rubbishes Rousseau. Khouria Frederica is Eastern Orthodox, an ex-evangelical Episcopalian, as is her husband, Fr Gregory. (Khouria is the Arabic honorific for a priest's wife. Actually she was a born Catholic but wasn't really taught it.) Check out the family album on her site, they have a wonderful church! I met the Mathewes-Greenes once, walking alongside me at the 1998 March for Life in Washington, DC.]

I AM the sole member of a very tiny club: as far as I can tell, I am
the only reviewer in America who liked Roberto Benigni's production of
"Pinocchio." I had sat all alone in a theater, thoroughly charmed by
the production, the costumes, cinematography, and performances. And I
wondered why I was alone. Later I checked a website that catalogues
film reviews and did a double take. This site gives films a percentage
score based on the number of positive reviews; the stylish film "The
Hours," for example, was enjoying an 88% rating. The site's editors had
not found a single review of "Pinocchio" they could classify as
positive. "Pinocchio" scored a zero.

As I scanned these reviews I saw a theme emerging. Some showed vehement
hatred and mockery, others were merely cool, but all of them seemed
somewhat puzzled. Reviewers hadn't gotten the Pinocchio they were
expecting. Instead of Disney's chubby-cheeked charmer, Benigni's
Pinocchio is impulsive and exhausting, selfish and reckless. Reviewers
couldn't warm up to him, particularly because he was played by Benigni
himself. They balked at the idea of a grown man portraying the puppet
boy, in some cases expressing revulsion and disgust.

But the character himself wasn't appealing, no matter who played him.
They didn't see Pinocchio longing to become a "real boy." Instead, he
keeps getting into one scrape after another, and having to repent. It
struck reviewers as a series of tedious morality lessons.

The Disney child

It shouldn't be too surprising that moral lessons are unpopular at the
movies (unless they are lessons about tolerance or the ecosystem, I
guess). But I think something else is going on here, which has to do
with the way our culture views childhood, and what we expect a child to

Take a look at that familiar Disney version. In it, a wooden puppet
comes to life, though still made of wood. He longs to be a real boy of
flesh and blood, and after a number of misadventures gets his wish,
tapped by the wand of the beautiful Blue Fairy. He has a cute pet
kitten named Figaro, and a cute pet goldfish named Cleopatra, and his
cute would-be father, Gepetto, dances and plays the accordion.
Everything is lush and round and adorable. The story moves forward
seamlessly with no awkward excess details. It's a Disney movie.

Benigni's version, however, is based on the children's novel by Carlo
Collodi. Already we have a problem. Collodi's novel was serialized in a
children's magazine between 1881 and 1883, and you couldn't call it
"tightly plotted." The story rambles, peppered with touches from
Scripture, moral classics, and Collodi's own bubbling imagination. "His
story verges on the merely episodic - a rogue's tale - but so do our
lives if we think about it," writes Vigen Gurioan in Tending the Heart
of Virtue.

This is the first of three significant problems reviewers had with the
movie, that the form and tone of the book it's based on are exceedingly
strange to us today. Collodi had translated the fairy tales of Charles
Perrault before he wrote Pinocchio, and his story resembles them in
being somewhat bizarre and intense. As a child I read the Perrault
"Cinderella" and was horrified at the scene of evil stepsisters cutting
off their heels and toes to squeeze bloody stumps into the glass
slipper. Today we're used to much blander fare.

Benigni's version has unified Collodi's story somewhat, but it retains
random elements that would be delightful to those who love the book
(the film was a big success in Italy) but confusing to those expecting
a standard children's film. Though I hadn't read the book when I saw
the film, I came prepared to see a "foreign film" rather than a
"children's film," which perhaps made me more tolerant.

A design element in the early scenes helped. The film opens in the
streets of a narrow village, and it becomes obvious that we're
consistently being presented with a box-like view. The screen takes on
the dimensions of a stage, with walls on each side and the action
occurring in the center, with a rear wall behind. Actors appearing
wearing papier-mache masks and bellowing their lines would not have
seemed out of place. In that theater-like context, the oddness of the
story was charming, not unsettling.

A second problem reviewers had is with Benigni himself. He is a very
thin and lithe man with comic genius, kind of like an Italian Jim
Carrey. However, just as Italians might be perplexed at Carrey's
barely submerged hostility, Americans find Benigni hovering on the
border of saccharine. Some people like him despite this, and his gently
optimistic 1999 film, "Life is Beautiful," won many admirers. Others,
however, find Benigni inherently annoying, and the prospect of him
portraying a darling, winsome boy sent some reviewers into conniptions.

That is the third and most significant reason reviewers hated
"Pinocchio." This wooden puppet is not a darling, winsome boy. He is a
terror - crashing into everyone and causing destruction through the
town. He is thoughtless and greedy, and when the Talking Cricket - not
named "Jiminy" - advises him to change his ways, he hits him with a
hammer. (In the book, this smashes the cricket graphically and kills
him; Benigni has him simply vanish, typical of his slight changes.)

Pinocchio has to go through a great many hard lessons before he becomes
real. He has to learn to be responsible, to go to school, and not to
squander his money. He also has to learn to care about others,
particularly his "parents," the Blue Fairy and Gepetto. There is a
great deal of explicit moral instruction in this film, delivered by a
number of characters, and all dedicated to a single proposition:
children are born wild and self-willed, and they must learn self-
control to survive and to be worthwhile.

Real children

This, of course, is the opposite of our contemporary view of children.
We believe that children are born perfect and only this rotten old
world corrupts them. It's the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who
imagined that primitives untouched by horrid civilization lived a
nobler, purer life than we in shoe-leather can know. In this philosophy
the child is wholly pure, and would remain so if only he wasn't

How real human beings with real children can continue to hold such a
view I don't know. It seems to be one of the most immediately self-
refuting notions in history. As any honest person with a baby will
admit, babies arrive completely egocentric. They could hardly be
otherwise; they do not know that other people, with their own needs and
requirements, even exist. Growing up means getting used to the idea
that there are other people around, to sharing with your sister, and
wiping your nose, and chewing with your mouth closed. It's not a lot of
fun, but it is how you become a grownup - how you become "real."

Collodi did not share our modern illusion that children are perfect
little angels. His Italian culture understood that there is such a
thing as Original Sin. So his "Pinocchio" learns through trial, error,
and suffering that he must care about others' welfare and behave with
forethought and self-control. Benigni's movie is a movie about the
natural selfishness and carelessness of childhood being tamed into
productive, responsible adulthood. No wonder Baby Boomer critics hate

A chill wind blew "Pinocchio" swiftly out of theaters, so it won't be
easy to view until it arrives on video. In the meantime, read the book,
perhaps out loud to children. Don't expect that it will be as tidy as a
work by Judy Blume. When Benigni's "Pinocchio" arrives at the video
store, watch it with some folks who are currently engaged in the
difficult task of growing up. I think they'll understand it better than
adults do.

This article first appeared in TOUCHSTONE.

Letters to David Virtue on the war in Iraq
David, often my position is an "outrider" to general public opinion,
and that is the case in regard to this war. My acquaintances usually
think of me as being in the "fundamentalist" camp in politics and
theology, but I believe the Bush administration (possibly the first
really Christian administration in the US in at least 100 years) has
fallen flat on its face in the decision to make war on Iraq.

This war does not pass the Biblical test that wars should be defensive
(based on the 6th Commandment and related laws).
US policy since the
Spanish-American War has tried to effectively circumvent this
restriction, but the facade of having to be attacked first was
maintained. Now empire-building has come almost completely out "of the

The President's predictions of what would happen if Iraq were not
invaded seem to me highly hypothetical and not believable. In any case,
these are only speculations as to what; Iraq might do to us. Thus we
are attacking on the basis of our prophesies, not on the basis of what
someone has done. I think this official stamp of approval on preemptive
war will work to poison sound foreign policy, just as the "outing" of
the homosexual lifestyle has damaged our society.

The just war doctrine served as a restraint on governmental hubris in
foreign policy; now that restraint is greatly diminished.

Of course, leading Christians like Richard John Neuhaus say that this war does
satisfy the just war test. In my opinion that only shows how far the
Christian community has to go in gaining a better understanding the
Bible and its implications for modern life.

Sam Dargan


I don't fall easily into either political camp. Certainly don't take me for granted and assume
that orthodox=political conservative.

William Calhoun

[Me: AMEN! I thought of that yesterday as I browsed and realized I have little in common with what's being passed off as the American right, from CIA shill William F. Buckley to the warmongering of Rush Limbaugh. Mr Calhoun also reminds me of a cool quotation I once read from Martin Sheen, whose liberalism I might disagree with: 'People ask if I'm a Communist. I tell them I'm something more dangerous: I am a Catholic.']

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