Saturday, July 11, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, July 11

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


This geopolitical analysis of the relationship between Russia and Greece by Robert Kaplan gets a lot right in its interlocking history of the two countries. Greece's overwhelming vote of "no" on July 5, 2015, was an expression of confidence in a left-wing nationalist Prime Minister (Alexis Tsipras) against the soulless technocrats of the E.U. Greek nationalism has a strong leftist bent because of the heroic role of the Greek left during WWII  in the resistance against the occupying Axis powers. The left earned their nationalist credentials and have a real claim on Greek national memory. That religious memory will be awakened on the 200th anniversary of Greek Independence on the feast of the Annunciation -- March 25, 1821 -- when under the  flags of Orthodoxy, Greek patriots began their war of liberation from the Muslim rule of the Ottomans. Orthodox Russia helped them in their victory then and appear ready to help them again two centuries later.


The Joint Chiefs of Staff published a 17-page document, The National Military Strategy of the United States of America in June 2015. Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are all named as "states attempting to revise key aspects of the international order and are acting in a manner that threatens our national security interests." These "revisionist states" and violent extremist organizations (VEOs) are the major threats to be countered. A major difference in this document from the National Military Strategy 2011 is the addition of Russia to the list of revisionist states. This depiction of our enemy list has basically surveyed the globe and named the major regional powers of Europe, Asia and the Mideast as threats to our national security.

In 2011, "violent extremism" was the term used for the multiple branches of salafist Sunnis who led the 9-11 attacks in 2001 and are now based in multiple territories from ISIS in former Iraq/Syria, to Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Pennisula in Yemen, to Al Shabaab of Somalia, to ISIS executioners in Libya. In the 2015 document, VOE (violent exteremist organizations) is the term of choice. Defining the enemy distinguishing such terms as Islam, Sunnis, salafist, and Shia was left undone again. This is a rather serious deficit in a national strategy document which includes a section called "the strategic environment."


ISIS after a year.

It is unfortunate that so many secular scholars refer to religious clashes as sectarian strife. This underplays these most fundamental loyalties as secondary to such western categories as representative democracy or pluralistic nation-states. Two scholars of the Shia-Sunni divide in the Gulf States are Frederic Wherey and Toby Matthieson, author of Sectarian Gulf. That is an important book we will review soon. The author's writing skills are more developed than his oratory and interviews.

The role of honor and humiliation in international politics helps explain a lot more than the narrow "realism" of balancing national interests. An annoying essay by a political scientist not quite up to his very important subject: the role of humiliation in the post 9-11 world order.

(Obergefell v. Hodges: decided June 26, 2015) 

The most depressing response to the Supreme Court discovering in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution a right for homosexuals to marry was the spectacle of "conservatives" arguing that redefining marriage as a same-sex institution was more properly a power of the states or the people. Can we really describe this modern Intolerable Act as simply a mistake in finding the right level of government to compel the legal sanctioning of an abomination against law, nature, and nature's God?    

There were better arguments from Catholics Joe Sobran (deceased - article from 2004), Sobran 2003, Pat Buchanan, Anthony Esolen, and Paul Kengor. All of these men understand that the rudiments of marriage are given by God in nature. Constitutions and statutes can refine and regulate marriage practices but they cannot redefine a reality which precedes them. The sweetest Christian voice against this mockery of the Christian civil rights movement was given a surprisingly sympathetic ear by the LA Times.


There is a lot of moaning about Pope Francis giving in to the Al Gore theory of the environment. At one level he has accepted a considerable "scientific consensus" about the origins and effects of rising CO2 levels. But can we not agree that there is a widespread consensus as there is a respectable opposition? Should those of us who disagree with the consensus not admit it is widespread? Much more importantly, the Pope argues for the role of man in the overall ecology of nature and the sacred differences between man and woman as central to the created order. I cannot imagine any American bishop - including any American "conservative bishop" - making these statements about why women will not lead Vatican departments: Pope Francis on the nature of woman and functionalism.


On June 1, 2015, the Episcopalian bishops changed the wording in their canon laws on marriage to remove gender specific notions of marriage. They allow priests to officiate at homosexual marriages or refuse to. Bishops of particular dioceses may refuse to allow their priests to officiate. Terry Mattingly of Get Religion tells the story and contrasts the AP report from the much more informative work of George Congar at the Washington Post. Get Religion is an excellent website that watches for religious "ghosts" in news stories. The name of their site is from a quote: "The mainstream press doesn't get religion."


David Brooks of the NY Times suggests Christians should work on "renewing the sinews of social bonds" in this formless society. That is good advice from the well-spoken secularist. We suggest that we start with the social bond of men as the social protectors of the city and nation. That would mean that we Christians expect to have as much say in policing our cities and determining foreign policy as the atheist-neoconservatives who now dominate these discussions on the Right. Brooks would assign Christians the soup kitchens, hospitals, and schools which we have already built. We accept those tasks as well, but we cannot forgo the public bonds of protective brotherhood which emanate from an apostolic church and are so essential to the spread of Christendom and the founding of the American nation.


An interview with Spanish Catholics. Note the persistence of the hermandades, sacred brotherhoods, in local life. More than attendance at Mass, these fraternities are being perpetuated through male generations. Once the "new evangelization" adopts Public Brotherhoods as a fundamental form of Christian life, maybe the liturgy and the local brotherhoods will reconnect. All of us await the miracle and genius of the Holy Spirit in breathing life into the Latin church in Spain, Portugal, and the Americas.


Rod Dreher, the excellent columnist at American Conservative, often speaks of "the Benedict option" which he explains here. Christopher Dawson reminds us of the difference between a crumbling Roman empire and the omnipresence of the modern state. Thus, following the example of Benedict today will necessitate a more integrative nature with the larger body politic as John Zmirak warns in the Dreher article. I would add that American Catholic parishes and schools provided a place and network of relationships where Catholics actually did solidify our doctrine in our practices. Our restoration strategy is to gain those two institutions back from dissident nuns, priests and bishops. We did not lose them to a flawed America but to deeply corrupted clergy and convents. Those corrupted Church employees in fact played no small part in furthering the agenda of the sexual left through the Catholic tribe's primary political arm: the Democratic Party.

A real Benedict option is not a retreat but the establishment of all-male communities of prayer and work that take some hillside and reform a town or county by force of communal personality. They pray together regularly and do physical productive work and are active protectors and models for the young men of the local community. They are Catholics. They unabashedly love the whole country as Americans and manifest that love through acts of local patriotism. The Benedict Option is masculine and fraternal. It combines physical work with prayer; otherwise it is not Benedict. He is the father of Europe as a Christian civilization flowering into similar male communal forms called nations. Benedict built masculine religiously ordered publics. His men were part of whatever land they worked. Benedict was not the patron saint of Mennonites. Let us honor his feast day by remembering what he did long ago and praying that men in our country will imitate his fraternities of orare et laborare today.


While the State and Defense Departments keep pushing women up their ranks, there are other sources  of American intellectual reserves. We have a  strong untapped bench in our military command centers and small colleges staffed by men who know the geography, languages, and battle lines of the Mideast. We must hear more from them. Professor Joshua Landis of Oklahoma is a reliable source about Syria with many excellent contributors to his site. Here is an analysis of the alliance of Syria and Iran which is not quite the "Shiite crescent." There is also a very revealing Iranian self-view as pan-Islamic, not sectarian. That perspective fundamentally differs from the salafist Sunnis of Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda, and ISIS.

Here is an excellent NYTimes/Mpls StarTribune article by an Iranian expatriate about different generational takes on the nuclear deal with Iran.

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