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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Structures, part V: grey

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Ash tree at dusk

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Lily buds

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This particular lily plant has special significance to me. I love to see it when I step outside my door and to note its development. I will chronicle this development during the next few weeks...wait til you see what these buds become!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Update, 6/27/05

Intellectuelle will kick off tomorrow, with posts for the first week consisting of introductions.


I have been meaning to post some sort of follow-up to news of Terri Schiavo’s autopsy, but haven’t been able to put the time into it. Perhaps I will post something at Intellectuelle.


My husband and I are in preparation for the 2005 season of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, which starts this week. Each year we very much look forward to this opportunity to play in a great orchestra and see good friends again. My husband and the second bassoonist are the only full-time members of the orchestra who actually live in the area; the rest come from all over the country, even from all over the world.

I also hope to get to some of the lectures at Chautauqua this season. I’ve only been able to catch snippets here and there during the last decade, though last summer I heard most of what Tony Campolo had to say, and I try to read the Chautauquan Daily newspaper to catch summaries. Unfortunately, there is a definite directional leaning to the religion programming at Chautauqua, with little representation in the other direction. There is also a clear preference for social-justice-type Christian speakers. Oh well. I hope to hear Jim Wallis speak on July 4th, and also to catch Martin E. Marty later in the season. Robert Seiple, former president of World Vision, will be at Chautauqua as well.

Chautauqua Institution is a unique place. It’s a self-contained quasi-Victorian village with anything but Victorian ideals! It was originally founded as a sort of summer camp for Methodist Sunday-school teachers, but has always considered itself rather progressive in all areas while attempting to preserve its traditions. It’s been interesting how this has played out, especially recently. Chautauqua is situated on Chautauqua Lake, which contributes a great deal to its appeal. Each summer, Chautauqua becomes a controlled-access cultural community with a nine-week season of high-level arts events, classes, and lecture series.


Paul Winchell, the voice of Tigger, has passed on.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Picking berries

Today I took two of my kids and their friend to pick strawberries. It was a gorgeous day, the berries equally gorgeous. The kids had a great time. Even my three-year-old daughter did a terrific job picking and filled a quart basket all by herself.

What I thought of as we were picking was how much I appreciate this simple occasion that is not really so simple. I think back to the times when, as a girl not much older than my oldest son, I rode my bike down our road to the berry farm, berry baskets bouncing in the handlebar basket. I remember how endless seemed the strawberry fields (and I wasn’t even familiar with the Beatles yet :-) ). The picking was hot, but the reward sweet in withstanding the heat to bring home those succulent berries.

I also thought of a June four years ago when I was on modified bed-rest. I was pregnant with my now three-year-old; things were precarious. It was extremely difficult to avoid quick movements while minding two very active little boys and worrying all the time that -- . The berry picking was forgone that year, which was hard because it was a tradition I’d started with the boys and wanted to pass on – the joy of the harvest, the bounty of God’s earth, of making jam and strawberry pie with one’s own hands at home instead of grabbing it off the shelf at the grocery store. It was the joy of God’s provision, of simple work, of craft: an elemental ritual.

So it was with extra joy that I brought the child who survived that situation four years ago to participate in this year’s annual ritual, mundane and dispensable as it may be in the overall scheme of things. We flushed in the heat of the sun, eagerly plucking and occasionally sampling. The joy held even as said child threw a fit and dumped a basket of berries because I’d already taken the ones she wanted to carry to the car (she didn’t decide this until after I’d made the trek). The kids ate berries all the way home.

My fingers are berry-stained at present and the pie is in the oven :-)

A Rose by any other name...

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

A quiet jingle

Focus on the Family magazine recently invited readers to share about a favorite family heirloom. I was moved by this response:

Our mother wore a set of silver bracelets that jingled quietly as she went about her day. When the Lord took her home in 1998, Mom’s bracelets took on a new significance with her seven kids. We remembered hearing them at different moments in our lives: when she clapped at our concerts, styled our hair, sewed our clothes, polished the silver for company, opened her Bible or hurried down a hospital hallway to comfort one of us.

At the next family reunion, as a reminder of Mom’s legacy, my father presented each of us with silver bracelets – their worth found in the way that each of us practice what Mom taught us through quiet jingles.

Jane Wilson, Newark, Del.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

And the winners are...

Judging the entries to the Intellectuelles contest was anything but easy. There were a great many well-written, thought-provoking posts. Two of my picks made it into the top five (and I didn’t choose Marla’s entry, apparently –- sorry, Marla!)

Thanks again to all the entrants, and congratulations to the winners! I am looking forward to blogging with and getting to know all of these wonderful ladies.

They are:

1) Hannah

2) Lexie

3) Samantha

4) Sarah

5) Marla, of course (she truly earned her way onto the team, though we all know she already had before entering the contest!)

6) Laura, and

7) yours truly

Marla gave “Special Distinctions” recognition to Hannah – the Most Excellent award – for being in the top picks of seven judges, and to Samantha – the Widest Appeal award – for achieving the most People’s Choice votes as well as judges’ votes. Both Hannah and Samantha received the most votes from all sources (the judging panel's picks/alternates and the people's votes)

Samantha's entry tied with Rhea’s as the People’s Choice Winner.

Honorable Mentions went to Sherry and Julie, for having the most votes from all sources except for the winners.

And there you have it!

It's been fun to learn the identities of the entries' authors. All of these authors are worthy of further reading, and if you wish, you may find links to them here.

The Intellectuelles team has a nice mix of similarity and diversity. The blog's possibilities are exciting to imagine! Please pray as it gets off the ground. Right now we are getting some dialogue going and working out logistics.

Intellectuelles will probably launch sometime next week. Apparently our host, Evangelical Outpost, will be changing servers, so once that’s completed, we’ll be off and running! Woohoo!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Consider the lilies...

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Bits and Pieces, 6/20/05

just give me Jesus

In the devotional for June 19th in My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers says:

Jesus did not say to make converts to your way of thinking, but He said to look after His sheep, to see that they get nourished in the knowledge of Him. We consider what we do in the way of Christian work as service, yet Jesus Christ calls service to be what we are to Him, not what we do for Him. Discipleship is based solely on devotion to Jesus Christ, not on following after a particular belief or doctrine.

Today we have substituted doctrinal belief for personal belief, and that is why so many people are devoted to causes and so few are devoted to Jesus Christ.


Are you being called?

Registrations for the GodBlogCon are not coming in so quickly. This is of concern to those who are putting the Con together. Still, we wait upon the Lord, and trust in His good works.

Be sure to check the GBC prayer blog and pray in concert with others for the GodBlogCon. Some good stuff on this blog.


on the edge of my seat...

Winners of the Intellectuelle contest will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday). People’s Choice Awards will also be given to the entrants who receive the most votes from Marla’s readers.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

In honor of fathers...

Grandchildren are the crown of old men,
And the glory of sons is their fathers.
Proverbs 17:6

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
Psalm 103:13

and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked, until you reached this place.
Deuteronomy 1:31

Thanks to all you wonderful fathers out there, for all that you do.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Rick Pearcey on Francis Schaeffer featured a tribute to Francis Schaeffer earlier this month in honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of L’Abri Fellowship. Schaeffer’s writings were highly influential in my own “coming to Christ,” so to speak, as were C. S. Lewis’ and Thomas Merton’s. I appreciated Pearcey’s article very much, as it brought back from distant memory several values of the Schaeffers’ that made a deep impression on me at the time and remain important to me to this day.

A few excerpts from the article:

For Schaeffer, "belief" that such a God exists was not a matter of subjective "faith," but rather a reasoned conclusion based on evidence. As a teenager, and then again later as an adult, Schaeffer had worked through agnosticism and concluded that the Judeo-Christian worldview is objectively true -- that is, that the system of thought and life set forth in the Old and New Testaments answers the basic philosophic questions of life in a way that is rationally consistent, historically verifiable, and existentially livable. (emphasis added)

In addition to taking God seriously, Schaeffer also took students and other searching people seriously as individuals whose questions should not be relegated to "smokescreen" status -- as a front for spiritual rebellion, for example -- but rather respected as the searchings of people who need answers to basic questions.

This is where I can find myself slipping...for shame. I remember how I hated not being taken seriously (and still do!), yet I guess I’ve learned too much about the disingenuousness of people to “believe all things” as I should. Lord, help me.

But, however important, and Biblical, is this emphasis on having solid intellectual grounds for affirming the existence of God, Schaeffer felt something else was needed -- namely, "the demonstration [italics added] that the Personal-Infinite God is really there in our generation"...He realized that people need to see an exhibition that God actually exists.

In the real world of some big-time Christian ministries, fundraising too often makes the world go round, and a financial shortfall might well result not in an honest reexamination of one's methods and a renewed questioning regarding where God may be leading, but rather in firing staff and re-oiling the money machine. Schaeffer regarded such an approach not just as un-Biblical, but also as profoundly ugly and destructive, regardless of how much outward "success" or "influence for Christ" an organization or person might appear to achieve in this life in supposed centers of power.

[The Schaeffers] weren't focused on trying to build a powerbase, create a constituency, lead a huge organization, rehabilitate a reputation, craft an image, recover past glory, carefully manufacture celebrity, or impose a legacy. Rather, they simply made themselves available to God to be helpful to people and decided to let the results take care of themselves. (emphasis added)

Schaeffer did not reject planning per se, but he did specifically reject the practice of allowing human planning to replace the possibility of moment-by-moment leadership from the Lord. For this reason, the third founding principle of L'Abri was that "we pray that God will plan the work, and unfold His plan to us (guide us, lead us) day by day, rather than planning the future in some clever or efficient way in committee meetings."

I find this instructive even as a mom who has a household to manage, children to raise and educate, and a million other things to do. I have tried in the past to be a “scheduler” but always ended up feeling shackled, trapped, confused when things got in the way of the schedule or got “off” (as they invariably did), and frustrated. For awhile I figured I just didn’t have the right mental outlook, or the proper discipline, or something. Then I decided to schedule much more loosely and flexibly, and wow! suddenly I felt able to be truer to what I should be doing at any particular time (or at least to know what that should be, even if I, ahem, chose not to do it...)

I also find this principle applicable to worship service planning. I believe that God can and does work through plans, but sometimes (often?) plans do not take into account the exact circumstances of the time for which the plans were intended, the time in which the Holy Spirit meets us: moment by moment. I think of it as analogous to preparation of a piece of music for performance: one must do one’s homework; i.e., maintain the basics of performance on one’s instrument necessary for execution of the piece, as well as gain proper familiarity with the music. Yet, when the moment for performance comes, there are usually variables that can be known only as they happen. At that point, one must be open to these things and able to adapt on the spot via reliance upon one’s musical gifting (and experience).
But [Shaeffer’s] own life struggles had brought him to a place of understanding that the practice of being alive to God moment by moment is far more crucial to authentic living as a person, to genuine success in ministry, to real victory in the seen and unseen world, than any plan or program devised by the well-heeled, the well-known, and powerful ever could be.

This authenticity regarding people really set Schaeffer apart. Again, not as a perfect person by any means, but as real. (emphasis added)


Thanks to Rick Pearcey himself for tipping me off to this article.

Friday, June 17, 2005


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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Confessions of a guilty mom, part I: clam dinner

We had clams for dinner tonight.

Not the kind that come from the water; the kind from the fridge. You know, plate on bottom, bowl on top, left-over who-knows-what in between.

It was quite a smorgasbord. Kind of like dim sum.

(A dim sum indeed...*sigh*)

But everyone got fed, not much left to throw away.

Too bad we don’t have a dog!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bits and pieces, 6/14/05

I’ve noticed a few posts/articles recently that discuss ends and means: In an entry to the Intellectuelles contest, the author wonders whether there’s much of a cultural pull these days for people, even Christians, to value the ethics of a means over a particular end, or to keep one’s word.

Chuck Colson discusses the actions of Mark Felt during the Watergate scandal in a Breakpoint Commentary.

Jeff Clinton at The Dawn Treader mentions Colson’s piece and sparks quite a discussion in the comment thread.

How far are we willing to go to justify our actions? Do those of us who are Christians truly believe that Christ alone is our justification? In other words, do we take things into our own hands, or leave them in His?


Wittenberg Gate has a most interesting series going titled “Controlling Personalities in the Church.” She discusses many aspects of truly un-loving people, the influence they can have on others, and what to do about them. Part 4 contains links to Parts 1-3.


Catez posts a terrific interview with Nancy Pearcey. Pearcey discusses some of the material from her book, Total Truth, in which she makes the case for a holistic approach to Christian living. I must add this book to my already ridiculous pile-in-waiting!


Congratulations to Elena on the birth of her beautiful baby girl, Maryrose (Rosie).


A moving comment about motherhood and children from a mother I know:

Every time I feel inadequate as a parent, or regretful for my past mistakes...I just look at my kids. What an honor to experience motherhood. It's not because of anything I did or didn't do to deserve them...they are a gift...they don't even belong to me. God knew I'd make mistakes, and it's no coincidence that my kids have the personalities and abilities that they do. God knew what they'd need to survive and thrive in this family.

(quoted with permission)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Rhododendron with bee

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Who wants to be an Intellectuelle?

(No cash prizes involved, sorry ;-) )

Several weeks ago, I asked Marla Swoffer if she had any suggestions to help me get a group blog together. Well, she did, and the Intellectuelles contest was born. Marla most generously offered me a spot on the Intellectuelle team without requiring my application (i.e., submission of a post to be judged) – which was way beyond the call of duty but hey, who’s arguing.

Intellectuelles, a blog for Inkling-type women, will be written by seven bloggers including Marla, me, and the five winners of the contest. Each member of the team will post once per week. The contest (which began May 17th) was originally to be judged by reader vote, but the task of judging has now been given to a panel including me and Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost, as well as several more to be determined. Entries will be received here through next Thursday, June 16th, after which the contest will be closed. Winners will be announced on Tuesday the 18th.

Then the gun will fire and the Intellectuelles will be off and running at – are you ready for this? – the Evangelical Outpost! EO is a premier thought-provoking, culture-engaging evangelical blog. Here’s what proprietor Joe has to say about the prospect of a team blog by Christian women who spend way too much time thinking (and use way too many prepositional phrases): “It’s –
– an excellent idea, one that's been long overdue.

– a step in the right direction for evangelical bloggers.

Thanks, Joe!

If you are a female writer or blogger who seeks to serve God through Christ, who has something to contribute to that realm which searches the Truth for understanding and seeks to relate it to every aspect of life, and who seeks to understand the culture and engage it as well – then we covet your entries! And, since time is running short, the time to get your entry in is: now!

Thanks in advance!

What all this means for me is that, starting in less than two weeks (yikes), I will be doing most of my posting on the Intellectuelles blog. I will, however, keep posting photos here at Off the top. I will also post occasional bits that are of a more personal, anecdotal, or random ( ;-) ) nature than would be appropriate for the team blog. So please, those treasured few of you who do – keep visiting!

Update... ... ...

Marla informs me that the entry quota has been reached, so the contest is now closed. Thanks so much to everyone who entered!

To read the entries, please visit Marla's blog, where most of them are already posted. The rest will be posted by the end of the week.

I will report on progress here at off the Top until Intellectuelles is off the ground.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Evening on the lakeshore

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fishing beach by the Miller Bell Tower, Chautauqua Lake

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I've been tagged...

by now I must tell you about my books...

Total books owned, ever: You really want the answer? Actually I have no idea, but am sure that if set fire to, they would burn down the entire state of New York.

Last book I bought: C. S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life With Joy Davidman by Brian Sibley

(though who knows when I’ll get to read it – my daughter walked off with it and who knows where she put it!)

Last book I read: tie between A Grief Observed by Lewis, and The House at Pooh Corner (read it to the kids)

Five books that mean a lot to me:
(Not an exhaustive list, by any means)

*my NAS Open Bible -- my husband gave it to me years ago & I like its references
*A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
*Selected Poems by Thomas Merton
*Here I Stand by Roland Bainton
*Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz (founder of Starbucks)

Tag 5 people: OK, let’s see... Catez, Chad, David, Kristen, Prof. LaBar, Marla
...gotcha! ;-)

See, this is what happens when I try to do too many things at once...I lose my ability to count! Or keep track of things.

OK, so I tagged 6 people! Count 'em. I really love tag.

Marla: my deepest apologies!!!

(Update #2: my missing book has been a bathroom drawer)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

"The Alien and the Pumpkin" and other stories

A couple years ago, I bought a "Spin-a-Story" wheel for the kids to have fun with in the car during long trips. The wheel consists of three concentric circles stacked one on top of the other, with pictures of various objects, scenes, and people around the edges. The circles can be rotated so that the pictures line up in various combinations, which you are then supposed to use to tell a story.

I've been using this wheel for creative-writing exercises with my budding story-teller/6-year-old son. Here are some of his tales:

The Alien and the Pumpkin

Once there was an alien who flew past the moon. He found a pumpkin sitting on the moon. He picked it up and he took it home and carved it into a jack-o-lantern. He set it in his bedroom and each hour it would light up and go, “Woooo-ooooo.” Then he went to Jupiter, looked at the big red blotch, and then went back to the moon to look for another pumpkin.


The Circus

Once there was a circus on June 25th. A man went to the circus and he bought five hotdogs and six hamburgers. He ate them all, and he went to the games, and he picked the water-balloon game. The water-balloon game you had to take all your clothes off. Then, he got a slingshot and they used the slingshot to put the water-balloons in. Then, when the person who owned the games said, “Go,” they would let go and the water balloons would go flying through the air and they would hit the other person. But if they missed, the person who was lined up next on the other person’s side would get hit instead.


The House and the Rooster

Once there was a house on Strawberry Hill. A boy and a girl lived in it. A rooster came in it. The boy and the girl saw the rooster and they kept it. So every morning, they would go and pick strawberries and blueberries. They came back to their house, and every berry that was rotten they gave to the rooster. And the rooster liked it. So he decided to stay.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Chautauqua kayaks

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

C. S. Lewis on contraception (Contraception, Part IX)

When speaking of Man’s power over Nature in The Abolition of Man,* C. S. Lewis mentions contraception. I did not include this in my review (see sidebar) because (1) I covered the points for which contraception was used as example, (2) I didn’t want to distract from the main discussion, and (3) I wanted to devote a separate post to it. This is the post :-).

In the beginning of Chaper Two, “The Way,” Lewis writes that, having “debunked” rationality as originating in what is absolutely true and can be known to all men, i.e., the Tao, (see part I of my review for further explanation), the “Innovator” must therefore find another basis even more “realistic.” He suggests that this basis might be Instinct – an instinct of self-preservation. Since “[we] have no instinctive urge to keep promises or to respect individual life: that is why scruples of justice and humanity – in fact the Tao – can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species.”

That, again, is why the modern situation permits and demands a new sexual morality: the old taboos served some real purpose in helping to preserve the species, but contraceptives have modified this and we can now abandon many of the taboos. For of course sexual desire, being instinctive, is to be gratified whenever it does not conflict with the preservation of the species. It looks, in fact, as if an ethics based on instinct will give the Innovator all he wants and nothing that he does not want. (p. 46)

Whether or not the ultimate motivating factor of any human endeavor is preservation of the species (or even preservation of oneself in all regards), I think that the latter statement contains great insight. The charge that contraceptives allow consequence of breaking taboo to be avoided and therefore allow men and women to indulge in what they want is something that Pope Paul VI repeated in the Humanae Vitae.

Lewis makes no specific mention here of contraceptive use within marriage. I would assume that the abandonment of taboos he speaks of are fornication and adultery, not contraception within marriage, although I am not sure of this. Perhaps other writings of Lewis’ can shed some light on the subject. One cannot rule out the reading of this particular taboo into Lewis’ statement, although I do not know of anything in Lewis’ background to suggest that he held it.

Later, in Chapter Three, “The Abolition of Man,” Lewis gets into a much pithier argument. He begins by discussing “Man’s conquest of Nature,” something “used to describe the process of applied science.” It represents the hope – indeed the belief – of many that eventually man can conquer nature to the point of greatly reducing or even eliminating its “harmful effects” upon mankind. I have met people who believe this, people for whom technology is the savior of mankind. Lewis wishes to
make it clear that I do not wish to disparage all that is really beneficial in the process described as “Man’s conquest,” much less all the real devotion and self-sacrifice that has gone to make it possible. But having done so I must proceed to analyse this conception a little more closely. In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?

Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men – by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument. (pp. 66-67, italics added for ease of reference)

(This conclusion regarding Man’s power over nature is important to the main thesis of the book.)

Before commenting on the previous quote, I must supply what follows:

It is, of course, a commonplace to complain that men have hitherto used badly, and against their fellows, the powers that science has given them. But that is not the point I am trying to make. I am not speaking of particular corruptions and abuses which an increase of moral virtue would cure: I am considering what the thing called “Man’s power over Nature” must always and essentially be...unless we have a world state this will...mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially over breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones. (p. 67, emphasis added)

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda baed on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. (p. 69)

Lewis uses the airplane, the telegraph, and contraception as illustrations of things whose use, by their nature, is a privilege held by a few and accessible to others only insofar as it can be purchased or allowed. In this way these things are instruments for the wielding of power by some over others. Lewis here does not say that the airplane, the telephone, and the contraceptive are bad in and of themselves, or that all uses of them are bad; he merely shows what they, by their nature, are in relation to mankind.

Lewis suggests that in using any of these three things, a person is not necessarily “exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature.” This is not to say, however, that Lewis is also saying that a person is not ever exercising a proper power by using any of them.

Lewis’ statement that contraception embodies a “paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive” could be taken as an opinion against contraception; Lewis characterizes the power wielded over future generations by contraception as negative. But he is pointing out the paradox here, that, in thinking contraception to be a tool for his betterment, man is actually using it as a power over his heritage, his future progeny – the future of his race. This seems to be more to Lewis’ point than being a specific statement against contraception. He is also illustrating the thesis that “all long-term exercises of power must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.”

That contraception denies the existence of future generations is a concept both practical and theoretical. If every single person on the face of the earth contracepts every sex act from now to forever, and said contraception never fails, then no future generations will be produced. More specifically, contraception may deny a couple future generations of their family lines. But to say that the future generations themselves are denied existence presupposes their existence before appearing on earth. If this presupposition is correct, then what are we to say? That every sperm and every ovum are linked to a soul somewhere? Do gametes already possess the same kind of life as a zygote? Or are only the gametes that would coincide with a fertile act of intercourse linked to a soul? How can someone figure out which ones these would be? Might a marital spat resulting in abstinence during a fertile period (for a couple not using contraception) deny a soul existence on this earth? Might any sort of lack of marital copulation during a fertile period deny a life? What if a person or a couple puts off marriage for weeks, months, or even years, for various reasons? What if a couple puts off the marital act from one day to the next? The available ovum remains the same, but does the sperm? Does it matter? This seems to me to be a insoluble problem, and one that is clearly bigger than contraception itself.

The same presupposition lies behind the statement that one generation decides for another without their “concurring voice.” Whether denial of existence to “someone” who will never exist equates with exercise of power over those who have not yet been brought into existence is difficult to decide: is an act of omission the same as power exercised over those who will in fact exist in the future? Such wielding of power is clearly done “without their concurring voice.”

In speaking of contraception as “selective breeding,” Lewis must be referring to “the power of one nation over others,” of “majorities over minorities,” and of “a government over a people.” This would mean eugenic manipulation of populations. I’m not sure it can be said that a couple’s personal decision to attempt or avoid conception is “selective breeding,” since the kind of selection involved is of timing and numbers rather than of individuals themselves or their characteristics. (A side note: natural family planning makes use of such selective timing, as might someone who for any other reason abstains during a fertile period, even if indirectly. This is one reason I believe NFP to be a form of contraception, although the Catholic definition of “contraception” is based upon something else, namely, the sterilization of the sex act itself.)

Does contraception violate natural law and the Tao? Perhaps in some ways it does, yet in other ways it does not. As a tool for responsible family management within marriage, it cannot be any greater violation than other violations it seeks to avert. That a person or persons may wield a power over the future of mankind by contracepting, I do not deny. However, we all wield power over future members of our race, in many different ways. The real moral question, then, is whether a particular power thus wielded is benevolent or malevolent, and what characteristics constitute benevolence or malevolence. It truly may be an ambivalent thing, as Lewis says. Perhaps a final judgement can be found only in accordance with motives of the heart before God.

I welcome comment! (Please, be nice :-) )

*The book’s text can be read online here.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Structures, part IV: white

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bits and pieces, 6/02/05

Francis Beckwith writes a post at Right Reason titled My Letter to AAUP’s Academe, in which he responds to an article challenging the legitimacy of his appointment at Baylor. This challenge had to do with the fact that Beckwith has paid favorable attention to certain implications of Intelligent Design theory.

The exchange on the comments thread is fascinating. And entertaining.


The lead-off presentation of Meeting of Minds, a new carnival featuring posts on Intelligent Design, is at Telic Thoughts.


Rusty Lopez of New Covenant describes (bottom of comment thread) the only proper way to form views: consider all aspects, and all evidence!

I believe that one should look at the whole picture, noting how (or if) the various arguments gel with one another.

(You wouldn't think this would be asking so much, would you?)

He points out distinctions between religion and bias, evolution and science.


I saw Elvis

I See Jesus in My Taco -- from FoxNews’ Out There and Taco Bell's Food Sightings Museum.