And I thought Civics were cars…

ISI has just released the results of its American Civic Literacy Quiz. Apparently the average score for college seniors was 50.4%. Couldn’t be that bad, I thought. So I took the test.

Yikes. It’s a little tougher than those Jay Leno, “man on the street” quizzes. I thought I aced the thing, only to find I got 85% correct.

I guess it’s better than the 69.56% that Harvard seniors scored, and far better than the 53.40% score by University of Florida students (hey I’ve got to take my Florida victories where I can get them!), but it still highlights well the gaps in American education, including my own.

So how well do you do stack up against today’s college seniors in Civics? Take the quiz and find out.

Burger King tricks the kids

“Here little Johnny, eat your fries.”

“There’s something fishy about these mommy…”

In the biggest masquerade since candy cigarettes, Burger King is now attempting to fool kids into thinking that apples are really French fries:

The fast-food chain is also developing what it calls BK Fresh Apple Fries. The red apples are cut to resemble french fries and are served in the same containers as fries, but they are not fried and are served skinless and cold.

“We not only want to better inform parents and kids about these new menu options but also to demonstrate through product innovation that better-for-you foods can be fun and taste good,” said John Chidsey, Burger King’s chief executive.

Hmmm. I’m betting that the tiny little detail of the apples being “not fried and served skinless and cold” is going to cause a few problems. Not that kids dislike apples on their own account, but the BK marketing team apparently haven’t had much experience in the fine art of fooling children. Even when you get a baby to fall for the “airplane into the hangar” routine of eating the Gerber mush, it doesn’t last long. Kids are smart.

I imagine, however, that the next step is to fool the adults, who are generally much more easily manipulated. It won’t be long until we’re eating salads that look like Whoppers.

In Memoriam, 9/11/2001

Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?

They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.

But the LORD has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the LORD our God will wipe them out.

Psalm 94:20-23, ESV

Whence evangelical art?

In a brilliant essay in this month’s Touchstone magazine, Donald T. Williams examines an obvious missing product of evangelical writers: good literature.

Viewing this problem through the lens of one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, Williams observes:

O’Connor complained that too many Catholic writers were too utilitarian in their approach, but at least their theologians thought art a topic worthy of attention. Indeed, Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar made it the organizing principle of his systematics, with series entitled The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics and Theo-Drama.

So it is not surprising that, with no such emphasis coming from its leaders, the popular Evangelical subculture seems even more addicted to pragmatism in its approach, as a brief trip through the “Christian bookstore” will show. Fiction can only be justified if it has an overt evangelistic purpose; works of visual art must have a Scripture verse tacked under them.

Rather than merely griping about absent evangelical excellence in literature, Williams proposes, following O’Connor, that doctrine and dogma hold the key. Living by the whole counsel of the word of God can better train evangelical artists to better display these lost aspects of God’s glory.

Like I said, it’s a brilliant piece, and worthy of a read if you’re interested in evangelical Christianity and the arts.

The swing of the pendulum

No non-profit has a better fundraising letter than does Mars Hill Audio. Typically 3-4 pages each, I usually save the thoughtful, essay-like letters by Ken Myers for my personal library. This summer’s letter examines the nature of Christian hope, and how many in the church have substituted an empty optimism for the solid hope offered by Christ. One aspect that is affected by this is the church’s attitude toward the world:

When I was a boy, many American Christians assumed that an alliance with the world was a bad thing. From [John 14:27], from Romans 12:1f., from James 1:27, from I John 2:15, and from many other less explicit biblical texts, they knew that worldliness was a condition fervently to be avoided by faithful disciples. Unfortunately, they believed that worldliness was adequately defined by delighted participation in almost any kind of cultural activity; movies, card-playing, alcohol, and tobacco were especially singled out, but the general principle was that “worldly” meant “bodily.” Since that time, the gnosticism implicit in such attitudes has been abandoned by many Christians, a change for which we must be grateful. But it seems as if American Christians have moved from assuming that all cultural activities are inherently suspect to assuming that all cultural activities are inherently innocent and beyond criticism. Rejecting a bad definition of worldliness, we exhibit almost no collective concern whatsoever about avoiding worldliness rightly defined.

In short, many Christians have swung the proverbial pendulum too far in the opposite direction, leaving just as far from the biblical mandate as they were before. Read the rest of the letter [PDF] for what Myers sees as a solution to the American Church’s missing of the mark.

I’ve mentioned it here before, but I’ll mention it again: a subscription to the Mars Hill Audio Journal is worth its weight in gold, although an MP3 subscription is only $30. Unlike other “talkies” (radio, podcasts, etc.), MHAJ has a long shelf life, and an uncanny ability to make you listen to some segments again and again to mine them for all their worth.

Dr. Death visits the Gators

Apparently the University of Florida is paying $50,000 to have suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian speak at their campus. Kevorkian has to obtain the permission of his parole officer in order to attend the event, but Gator students are excited nevertheless:

While many pro-life students are upset by the appearance, [UF student Ashley Emans] says “Kevorkian will be greeted here in Gainesville, Florida with open arms from many students and professors.”

Apparently Gatorade has been replaced by Kool-Aid as the official drink of the university.

Truth vs. Humor

Ever wonder why conservatives have such a difficult time in getting their message across in the marketplace of ideas? One reason might be that we’re not fighting with the same artillery:

So, how can you criticize someone who makes no positive assertions to criticize? Or even more difficult, how do you do it when his or her negative judgments are funny? Much of the power of cynicism comes through wit and humor. To question truth claims of cynical judgments often requires an unnatural shift of your whole state of mind or of the momentum of any given conversation. Imagine questioning the truth of some of the claims of the political satire on Saturday Night Live. You may not object that this is just light entertainment, and so of course you cannot “agree” with caricatures as if it was serious political discussion. But that is just the point. It is entertainment, but nonetheless it is powerful in communicating ideas and impressions about important subjects and people. Presidential candidates have altered their campaign strategies as a result of watching the way they were being satirized on Saturday Night Live. (p.14)

So says Dick Keyes in Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion — a book that’s giving me much pause as I read it. The point here is that it’s often fruitless to argue truth against cynical satire. It doesn’t mean that truth shouldn’t be argued and proclaimed, but it shouldn’t surprise us when completely rational arguments are summarily dismissed.

Thumos in Washington

We had the privilege tonight of attending the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 2007 Jefferson Lecture, given this year by the inestimable Harvey C. Mansfield. Mansfield spoke at the historic Warner Theater in downtown D.C. on the topic, “How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science.”

Mansfield did a great job of showing how the concept of thumos, ever-lacking in science, rears its head in the various disciplines of the humanities. If that sounds complicated, believe me, Mansfield makes it work.

One of the best lines of the night was, “The demand for more civility in politics today should be directed toward improving the quality of our insults, seeking civility in wit rather than blandness.”

I’ll say more on the lecture later, but if you’re in Washington next spring, I highly recommend it. Previous lecturers include Walker Percy, David McCullough, and Tom Wolfe.

UPDATE: I updated my memory of the quote from the text of the lecture, which is now online.

1st Person

So now there’s iGoogle. Add that to My Documents, My Computer, MyYahoo, the iPod, the iMac, and the iPhone — and of course, one can’t forget MySpace. I guess YouTube is the odd man out, unless of course it really means MyTube…

Anyway, in light of all the apparent concern for me and mine, this quote from Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. is apt:

In an ego-centered culture, wants become needs (maybe even duties), the self replaces the soul, and human life degenerates into the clamor of competing autobiographies. People get fascinated with how they feel — and with how they feel about how they feel. In such a culture and in the throes of such fascination, the self exists to be explored, indulged, and expressed but not disciplined or restrained.

A disciplined or restrained self puts the first person second. While I don’t expect to be browsing “Your Documents” or listening to a HerPod anytime soon, it would be refreshing to see a little bit less of the “i” around…

21st Century child abuse

“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17:2

For centuries, the abuse of children has been considered one of the worst crimes a person could commit. Child molesters often find themselves outcasts even in prison. Societies look harshly upon those who endanger their children. It’s a standard that’s nearly universal.

That’s why it is so chilling to see the ABC television network air an episode of its 20/20 news magazine that features and celebrates transgendered children. Barbara Walters interviews with gushing sympathy the family of a 10 year-old boy who thinks he is a girl. The boy’s parents have encouraged him to live as a girl for the last three years:

This past Christmas, Riley Grant received a present that can be described as bittersweet — a video game that allowed her to morph a digital body into anything she wanted. Almost immediately, Riley, a 10-year-old transgender girl who is biologically a boy, adopted a virtual female persona. If only life were so easy, that she could punch a button and turn into a girl.

“She has a birth defect, and we call it that. I can’t think of a worse birth defect, as a woman to have, than to have a penis,” Riley’s mother, Stephanie, told Barbara Walters. “She talks about the day she’ll have a baby. That’s not in her future. But she sees herself as growing up to be a woman.”

According to the parents, the child first informed them that he was in the wrong body when he was 2 years old. That’s right, two years old. Just today my own two year-old informed me that he was a turtle. He even swam at me with a sinister turtle voice. I called his bluff, yet these parents wouldn’t think of denying their child the right to be who he/she really is.

I have no doubt that this child has serious problems — much more so than my son’s turtle identity disorder. I have no doubt that it is difficult raising such a confused child. I also have no doubt that what these parents have done is a dereliction of their duty as guardians of their child. God can redeem even the deadest of us, so I pray that before it’s too late, they will realize what they have done. For they have sacrificed their child upon the altar of the spirit of the age.

May God help them.