Saturday, December 31, 2011

"His architecture was not in stone but in nations"

The 13th century was the highest of the High Middle Ages.  Saint Francis of Assisi died in 1226; the previous year baby Thomas -- the future Angelic Doctor -- was born to the Count of Aquino.

Far to the East, Genghis Khan was coming to the end of his long career of conquering.  He had founded the Mongol Empire in 1206 (would endure for a couple centuries) -- which at its height was twice as large as the Roman Empire, spanning 6000 miles.
Prime Minister Nehru of India called Genghis Khan [1162 - 1227] "the greatest military genius and leader in history... Alexander and Caesar seem petty before him."  The Mongol Khan believed in "the unchangeable law for ever and ever, and no one could disobey it.  Even the emperor was subject to it."
It is fascinating to browse through Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford (2004).  All the folks today who loudly lament the demise of the American Indian should take a break from their sentimental dancing with wolves, drop their 'dream-catchers,' and pick up this book.  Genghis was a leader of noble savages worthy of high acclaim.

The Mongol army overran everything from "the Indus River to the Danube, from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea... Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus [knelt] before the dusty boots of illiterate young Mongol horsemen."

"The Mongol was ideally suited to travel long distances; each man carried precisely what he needed, but nothing more... Each squad of ten carried a small tent.

The movement and formation of the Mongol army were determined by two factors that set them apart from the armies of every other traditional civilization.  First, the Mongol military consisted entirely of cavalry, armed riders without a marching infantry...

The second unique characteristic of the Mongol army was that it traveled without a commissary or cumbersome supply train other than its large reserve of horses that always accompanied the soldiers.  As they moved, they milked the animals, slaughtered them for food, and fed themselves from hunting and looting.  Marco Polo [who worked for Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis] alleged that the Mongol warriors could travel ten days without stopping to make a fire or heat food...

The decimal organization of Genghis Khan's army made it highly mutable and mobile... The only permament structures he erected were bridges... They sought not merely to conquer the world but to institute a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all languages.

Crushing the will of the enemy was always the top priority... [Trying through propaganda] to win the battle before the first arrow was shot across the battlefield, to defeat the enemy by first creating confusion and then instilling fear to break his spirit...

Above all else, Genghis Khan waged war with this strategic purpose in mind: to preserve Mongol life... On and off the battlefield, the Mongol warrior was forbidden to speak of death, injury, or defeat... Winning by clever deception or cruel trickery was still winning and carried no stain on the bravery of the warriors...

As lifelong nomads, the Mongols learned early to fight on the move... It mattered not at all whether he killed the enemy while attacking toward him or fleeing from him."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Russia's defeat in the mid-19th century Crimean War

"More than any other power, the Russian Empire had religion at its heart."

Orlando Figes is a young London professor who has written extensively on Russia. In his book on the Crimean War, he refuses to marginalize religion. "The tsar, Nicholas I, the man more than anyone responsible for the war... above all believed he was fighting a religious war, a crusade to fulfill Russia's mission to defend the Christians of the Ottoman Empire."

Figes treats as crucial what most historians dismiss in a footnote -- the long tradition of Russian pilgrimages and stewardship of the Holy Land -- resulting often in pitched battles between Eastern and Latin monks for control of shrines and churches such as the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Russia was "a civilization built upon the myth of Orthodox succession to the Byzantine Empire... [with dreams] of the conquest of Constantinople and its resurrection as the Russian capital." Russians felt deeply betrayed by the decision of France and England to ally themselves, not with another Christian state, but with the Turkish Muslims. Dostoevsky (a soldier at the time) portrayed this as the 'crucifixion of the Russian Christ.'

Maybe we in America have shut our ears to the Holy Spirit's challenge to start a religious initiative to Russia, to unite as protectors of beleaguered Christian minorities around the world -- and for both nations to do all in their power to steer China and India to become Christ-bearers. (Francis Fukuyama on today's China: "The regime no longer has any guiding ideal around which it is organized.")

One of the consequences of the Crimean War was the decision of the Tsar to emancipate the serfs in 1861. Professor Figes says:

"Freedom of a sort, however limited it may have been in practice, had at last been granted to the mass of the people, and there were grounds to hope for a national rebirth. Writers compared the Edict to the conversion of Russia to Christianity in the tenth century."
[From a British newspaper story a few days ago:

"It's become something of a Christmas tradition: the annual ecclesiastical punch-up at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This year the Palestinian riot police had to be called in after it all kicked off again, with a hundred or so Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks bashing seven bells out of each other with brooms..."]

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Protecting Our Lady by punishing Judas

Pence writes:

"Guidelines, therapeutic counseling, statute of limitations" --  none of this is our language. Catholics use a biblical language of sin, repentance, metanoia, acceptance of punishment and penance -- all of these must accompany a firm purpose of amendment not to sin again.

Waiting for civil authorities to find crimes, asking victims if they wish to press charges -- none of this is the practice of our own justice system. We have neglected the duty to punish, as Pope Benedict said.  Our inquisitorial justice system provides (Canon 1430) that a promoter of justice be appointed for cases which can endanger the public good. Such a promoter functions as our investigator and public prosecutor.  What diocese in America could not use such a special prosecutor? The churchmen who have done crimes against the liturgy, the creed and morality are NOT the Church. We must never say “the Church has sinned” or “the Church must repent” or “our Diocese is sorry and we are all sad.”

"Look not on our sins,” we ask God, “but the faith of thy Church.” Now too many bishops say, “Look not on my faults but the sins of the Church." The personal-injury lawyers want to sue the Church, not the criminal who betrayed both the victim and Holy Mother Church. The Church and the particular dioceses are on the wrong side of these cases. She too has been aggrieved. She too cries for justice. The Church is Mary; she is spotless. The local Church is Christ’s Body, and He once again has been betrayed.  The offending churchman is Judas. He has sinned and the prosecutorial offices of the Petrine Church are meant to wash out the Judas priest and the Judas bishop from the apostolic bond. This is not an optional task, but the Mandatum of Christ issued to Peter and the remaining ten apostles on the evening when the priesthood and Eucharist were instituted.

After the mid-sixties, however, it [ecclesiaistical penal law] was simply not applied any more. The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish. Thus the awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist. This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.

Today we have to learn all over again that love for the sinner and love for the person who has been harmed are correctly balanced if I punish the sinner in the form that is possible and appropriate. In this respect there was in the past a change of mentality, in which the law and the need for punishment were obscured. Ultimately this also narrowed the concept of love, which in fact is not just being nice or courteous, but is found in the truth. And another component of truth is that I must punish the one who has sinned against real love.”

(Pope Benedict XVI,  Light of the World interview 2010)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday BookReview: Lynch on Dinesh D'Souza

Andrew Lynch at 'Orate Fratres' blog offers this analysis of one of the books by the president of King's College in New York City:

Dinesh D’Souza is best known for going head-to-head with atheists in public debates. This Catholic scholar from India, however, also has a knack for connecting faith to global affairs, foreign policy, and cultural reform on the domestic front. Indeed D’Souza’s book, The Enemy at Home, struck a cord among liberals and conservatives alike, calling out the secularists and making the case that our own moral depravity, sponsored by the secular Left, was the root cause of 9/11. D’Souza argues that conservatives have missed a perfect opportunity to link the culture war with the war on terror – that radical Muslims do not hate democracy, free markets, or new technology, but rather our permissive culture. Contrary to the Left, no Middle Easterner believes America is seeking a new hegemonic, territory-based imperialism. What struck fear into bin Laden was the new “cultural imperialism” of the radical Left which poses an existential threat to Islam.

As a native of India with a long history of relations with Indian Muslims, D’Souza quickly rids us of the liberal-conservative dichotomy which laces our discussions on politics, culture, and religion. Islam is not made up of liberals and conservatives but rather of traditionalists and radicals. The traditionalists are neither moderates nor conservatives; they simply live out the core beliefs of Islam, have high moral standards, and raise strong families. On the flip side, neither “Islamo-fascism” nor “fundamentalism” adequately describes the radicals, for the former term is only an attempt to recycle World War II imagery, painting Muslims as modern Nazis, while the latter term could describe any Muslim who follows the fundamental five pillars of Islam – none of which include terrorism. In the end, the ally we need to defeat the radicals is neither secular France nor the radical liberals in America.

The Enemy at Home argues that we need to win over the Islamic traditionalists.

D’Souza warns us, however, that the radicals are trying to win over the traditionalists as well, and the way they are doing it is by showing the traditionalists the moral bankruptcy of America and Europe. While the vast majority of traditional Muslims have never been to America or Europe, it is noteworthy that almost all the leaders of radical Islam were born here, lived here, or were educated here. As D’Souza says: “The Muslims who hate us the most are the ones who have encountered Western decadence… their hatred was not a product of ignorance but of familiarity; not of Wahhabi indoctrination but of firsthand observation.” It is here that pious Muslims witness radical individualism as the worship of the self, the renunciation of moral standards, and the celebration of those who frequently exercise a “right” to blaspheme God...
[Read more]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Man is called to a different vocation than the angels

Question for Pence

Here is Pastor John Piper on C.S. Lewis:

In his book on the Psalms, he says, “The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.”
Many Christians assume that is man's central duty in this vale of tears. But you contend that this is a slightly skewed perspective -- corporate humanity was meant to replace the fallen angels, and to wage battle against Satan. How did we lose sight of that?


The old Baltimore Catechism answered the query "Why did God make me?" with “To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world; and be happy with Him in the next.”

To read the Piper/Lewis emphasis is to wonder: "Is man, then, an angel?" For the duty to glorify and enjoy was certainly the primal purpose of the higher ranks of angels, the Cherubim and Seraphim. But Adam was not meant to simply stay in the garden and worship. He had an "out-of-garden" mission to order the Earth where a serpent reigned.

So there is something in man’s nature and original mission that involves a purgative task before he enjoys and worships God forever. It is a task which is intrinsically related to man’s nature as a material being with a spiritual soul who is meant to struggle and suffer to restore justice. "To serve Him in this world" means to carry out a peculiar mission assigned to Adam and renewed by Christ. The purpose of human nature and the fullness of man was only made clear by the life of Christ. To understand Christ is to understand man; not just in his fallen nature, but in his original mission and ultimate purpose. Christ came to restore justice—so did Adam. Blessed are those who thirst after justice! This restoration of justice is not simply atoning for original sin—that is too anthropocentric a view of the history of sin.

There has been a great offense by an angel against the Creator; and the particular role of the spiritual but non-angelic soul of man is to act as a lower creature in defeating the higher sinner. The accuser will be forever deceiving us and accusing us of having no such high function since we too have sinned.

The Calvinists, indeed, define their destiny in angelic-like terms -- but their historical practice of Christianity is anything but “angelistic.” They manifest a unique powerful public element of struggle. They thought their own personal salvation was already decided. To give glory to God they entered a struggle as free churches and civic communities to manifest His Glory. They shaped masculine protective Christian-ordered commonwealths from Geneva to Massachusetts in order to give glory to God. From Cromwell to Winthrop to Jackson, they understood armed brotherhood as a necessary manifestation of Christianity in history.

Christopher Dawson reminds us that the vocation of Abraham as a friend of God was as head of a chosen people. Dawson says nations have vocations as well as individuals -- that individuals have vocations as part of communal bodies.

The missions of Adam required communal forms for their fulfillment. He needed Eve to fill the earth, as Abraham needed Sarah to be the father of nations. To subdue the earth, Adam needed his sons; and to establish a Promised Land and a People of the Law, Abraham needed every male willing to shed his blood for the covenanted community. For Christ to drive out demons and baptize the nations he called into being the masculine apostolic communal body.

Christ did not let Peter set up permanent worship tents at the Transfiguration. There was a cross to embrace and prisoners to set free.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Napoleon crowned himself emperor on this day

Or, as Pence describes the 1804 ceremony: "The distant precursor to taking Holy Communion in the hand!"

[Here is a sample of the march composed for the occasion by Jean-Francois Le Sueur, music director at Notre Dame Cathedral].

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jansenism: the gift of grace requires no human assent

"Jansenism doesn't seem to breed so much a love of God as a love of asceticism."
                                                     (Flannery O'Connor)

Pius XI in the 1920s mentioned one of the ways the Church countered the heresy that is often termed 'Catholic Calvinism':

"... the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, which had made their hearts grow cold, and shut them out from the love of God and the hope of salvation."

The Jansenists -- unlike their Jesuit opponents -- discouraged frequent Communion.  Their main base was the Port-Royal Abbey in Paris.

Blaise Pascal is often cited as one of their most renowned followers.  But Peter Kreeft insists that Pascal was neither a Jansenist nor a Protestant.  (He says the 17th-century Frenchman -- along with Saint Augustine and C.S. Lewis -- is among the most powerful ecumenical bridges between Catholicism and Protestantism.)

"Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God, or of ourselves."   (Pascal)

The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski (d. 2009) on the bitter polemics between the Jesuits and the Jansenists:
"Good arguments may be advanced to show that both sides were right in their accusations.  Jansenists were on firm ground in saying that they were faithful to the Augustinian teaching, and quite justified in scenting Pelagian errors in the Jesuit theology. The Jesuits were no less right in demonstrating the fundamental conformity of Jansenist tenets with Calvin’s theory of predestination."
Sacré-Cœur Basilica, on the highest point in Paris, was consecrated in 1919.
The following year in the month of May, Margaret Mary
(who had done so much to advance devotion to the Sacred Heart)
 was canonized -- a few days before Joan of Arc.

UPDATE -- Pence sent this regarding the good of sharing masculine protective duty:
BENEDICT XV (1914-1922) …"inaugurated a reconciliation with France. Ironically he was helped here by the war he hated so much. The abrogation of the Concordat had meant the French clergy and seminarians lost their immunity from military service. Twenty-five thousand French priests, seminarians and religious were called up and went to the trenches, and their participation in the national suffering -- in sharp contrast to the non-combatant status of chaplains in the British army -- did a great deal to dissolve inherited antagonisms between Church and nation. The Pope signaled the new spirit of reconciliation by canonizing Joan of Arc in 1920, a highly imaginative symbolic gesture: 80 French deputies attended and the French government sent official representatives.” (from SAINTS AND SINNERS: A HISTORY OF THE PAPACY by Eamon Duffey)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Don't throw the sin of Lucifer into the teeth of Adam

Pence writes:

Animals and plants have souls (which is a characteristic of living things) but the souls of the non-human die with the being. Humans were not meant to die, but animals and plants were.

It is the devil who introduced death to the world. The created order is a physical sign of a great battle, so there is contest and death in the order BEFORE Adam was born and before Adam sinned.

Let us quit accusing man of the consequences of Satan's sin. Man joined the forces of death by his sin. Creation became disordered with his sin, because the being meant to bring order to the primordial chaos now joined forces with the instigator of the chaos.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Instant forgiveness, instant potatoes -- it's all one big mash

The journalist Rod Dreher writes:
A few years ago, when I was still a Catholic, I was at mass in a parish of the Baton Rouge diocese on the first Sunday after the diocese issued a statement saying that a previous bishop, now deceased, had molested a teenager for four years. That parish had a substitute priest for the mass I attended. He read a statement from the then-bishop, as instructed. Then that priest ordered everyone in the parish not to think about this or to talk about it.

I remember very well exactly where I was sitting when I heard that disgusting instruction from the pulpit. I was so furious I nearly stood up and walked out. I thought for a split-second, “I need to say something! This is outrageous!” But of course I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to stand out. Nor did I say anything after Mass, when I ought to have confronted that priest. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’m still ashamed of myself. I could have changed exactly nothing, but I’m ashamed that I didn’t at least say, and say out loud, "You’re wrong, Father. Shame on you.”
Reminds me of the Minneapolis parish I attended for a year, which helped fund an area parochial school -- that is, until the principal embezzled enough funds to force its closure. When the pastor announced this to the congregation, he strongly cautioned us against any ANGER, JUDGEMENT, BITTERNESS (or any other natural human reaction that might possibly delay our immediate descent into a warm bath of compassion).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Concluding segment: Pence on the Christian Nation

This essay by Pence is the second of two parts:

While the nation as a form of masculine military agreement is as old as the biblical Israelites, the worldwide organization of men into nation states -- including present day Israel -- is a development of the last several centuries. This is not so with the other sacred institution which the Christian nation is sworn to protect. Monogamous and consensual marriage is written in the natural law of human nature and predates all known political communities. However, precisely because it is such a deep radiating source of Light illuminating the spiritual character of human nature, marriage has always been a sacred bond attacked and in need of defense. It is the usual triad that attacks: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Satan triumphed in desecrating the matrimonial bond of Adam and Eve as they lost the purity of their sacral union by turning against the Will of God. For men today, the flesh and world did most of the damage quite handily. The attempt to sacralize homosexuality, however, betrays an author beyond the weakness of the flesh and the workings of this fallen world.

Marriage has shaped the structure of domestic life, familial loyalty, and the private property of homestead. Traditional legal strictures against sexual activity have been drawn to fence in the sacral and reproductive nature of sexual intimacy reserved for the matrimonial bond. Tearing down those fences in thought, word, image, and legal deed now threatens the temple of intimacy itself.

This bond is necessary for the maturation and education of the extended dependency of human offspring. It is the basis of trans-generational work, capital accumulation, and wealth creation (Economy = ”oikos nomos” = "ordering the household"). Marriage is fitted to natural necessity, but its real origin and purpose as taught by Christ reveals the spiritual dimension of our human nature, which was “present from the beginning.” There is a unique human capacity for an intimate form of love in which a man and woman become one flesh. This sexual union reflects the spiritual capacity of man for unity, and the context in which God creates the human soul. It portends our final communal destination incorporated in the Body of Christ. No matter how diluted the civic or cultural definitions, that generative oneness of physical and spiritual being known by man and woman in the married covenant of love cannot be counterfeited in the eyes of God or men of faith. It is a sacral covenant worth fighting for in 1860 -- and worth fighting for today.

A Christian Nation to Defend the Sacred

We are a Christian nation because our loves are Christian and our protective customs are Christian. If we relinquish these forms of protection or substitute abortion and homosexuality as the “sacred” goods we promote to the world, then our Christian character will be fundamentally compromised. We fight for God, the liberty of our worship communities, the flag of our nation, the homesteads of married love, and the lives of all our children. Our worship of God is our most sacred duty, our marriages are sacred covenants, and human life is a gift from God. All these sacred goods must be protected.

We are engaged in a battle against Princes, Powers, and Principalities. The structure of our public and private bonds reflect this continual state of war. We are not clamoring for more rights. We are assuming our stations for duty. Our mothers love and protect their babies, and we men bind as one man to defend the nation. Christian personalities accept the gender-determined protective duties which are the received customs of a Christian nation. Not all Americans are Christians, but the forms of our agreements emit from the Light of the World: Jesus Christ. Like our Blessed Lord, Christian nations allow men the freedom to follow Him, and thus our national union requires no profession of faith. But the nation does entail a kind of religious oath—the adult men are bound in protective union to sacrifice our lives for the goods we hold sacred. Our sacred goods of marriage, public worship, and God’s Name are being desecrated. The protective bonds of our male groups are being polluted by a very different kind of agreement. But the fog of war is clearing and the lines of contest are made more clear. Shall we be worthy of our tradition and accept our duties as God-fearing men and women? Or shall we sing the atheist anthem of autonomy and become a genderless people deserving a different fate?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tell me Christian! Where was your God?

[Published 12/18/12]

Pence writes:

The slaughter of innocents is not a new event in Christian history.  It is a recurring reality set in contrast to the rule of the Father, the protection of just men and the embrace of mothers.  The death of innocents like the desecration of beauty is always a triumph of Babylon over Jerusalem.  It motivates our petition that “Thy kingdom come… on earth as it is in Heaven.”  For now the earth is a place contested, and no serious Christian confuses the purchased veneer of the alienated rich for the tranquility of God’s rule on earth.

We know that long ago before there were humans, long ago before there was a material universe, a deep and tranquil peace was burst asunder by a powerful self-absorbed Liar and Murderer. Since that primal act of evil – the origin of sin before original sin – God has bided His time in delivering the final judgment of separation. It is man’s fate (Adam’s original mission) that our species was created to play some central role in the final disposition of justice for that Angelic Demon and his followers.  We were born on a battlefield. Sometimes we have stripped large parts of that battlefield and the souls of men from the grip of Satan.  Too often, he has set us back, even retaking lands and cultures we once held for Christ.

We remember at our beginning when a woman tried to confront him on her own. We asked: where was her husband? Adam was missing from his protective station between the Serpent and his wife.  At Bethlehem, at another slaughter, Joseph the silent workingman was at his post. The patriarch obeyed his order, showed his mettle and for one baby boy… Herod and the devil did not get their way.

In Connecticut at the sound of armed men, the one who had been entered by evil turned his weapon on himself. We remember the greatest betrayal of innocent blood on that Good Friday morn. We remember that “Satan entered into Judas” before he did his evil deed.  Judas, too, turned coward after confronting a just man. He, too, showed the contempt that suicide adds to murder.

Every second that those brave school mothers bought for their children in their planning preparations during a quiet time and their personal courage in a violent moment, saved a life. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God and praise those valiant women.

Everywhere the rule of the Father is broken, the Evil One slithers up to prowl about for the ruin of souls.  We have ceded him too many broken homes and twisted minds and naked public squares where he displays his tyranny.

God was there in the beautiful and brave women who protected their children.  He was there in the armed men who quickly stopped the slaughter. We know too well what foul things emerge where His rule has been abandoned. Let us extend His rule.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Ordered Loves and Protective Customs of a Christian Nation

This essay by Pence is the first of two parts:

To “fight for the homes of our wives and children, the graves of our fathers and the temples of our gods”—so the poets described the patriotism of the ancients.

Francis Fukuyama, in The Origins of Political Order, credited religious rites honoring the tombs of ancestors as the communal acts which bound men in the wider loyalties and group identity of territorial allegiance. Authoritative states emerged only when men moved beyond family, friends, and immediate blood ties to the wider-scale loyalties of religion, sacral duties, and large territorial claims. This new hierarchical order subordinated the blood ties of kin to deeper claims binding the communal lives of men to the highest spiritual realities of nature and the cosmos.

G.K. Chesterton put it this way: “Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, ’I will not hit you if you do not hit me’; there is no trace of such a transaction. There is a trace of both men having said, 'We must not hit each other in the holy place.' They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous."

The blood shed by men defending the nation and territory was a sacred seal which ordained the blood of kinship to the higher bond of countrymen. The honor code of the living and the souls of the dead were thus bound in remembrance rites and maturation rituals shaping the masculine communal identification needed for a man to risk his life for the group.

Nations are a necessary natural form of protective masculine agreement in a world of beasts, pestilence, and earthquakes. Existence is dangerous and brutish, and yet nations are not formed by calculations of self-interest. Nations are adult masculine communal acts of defending the sacred—the graves of ancestors whose souls are not dead, the tombs of soldiers, the churches where we worship God, and the homes of our wives and children. What defines a nation is what goods it holds sacred; and with what vigor and effect it can defend such goods.

Protestant churches, Baptist meeting houses, and Evangelical storefronts fill America’s cities, towns, and countrysides. It was in such churches that America’s civic bonds were first forged in the Biblical commands of preachers passing on Christ’s command: “Love God and love your neighbor."

The men who were shaped into a common brotherhood by the Biblical preaching on Sunday went out to re-make their towns and counties into a righteous political order that would give glory to God. These were men of the outdoors. They knew that the bountiful land of mountains and streams featured in landscape art, sung about in patriotic hymns, and predicted by age-old psalms was a gift from God. Gifts call forth thanksgiving, praise, and obligation. This posture of giving thanks and praise for the gifts of Life and Land was the soil that nourished civic characters willing to sacrifice for God and country. When they protested to the King they were jealous of their rights, but when they built together a city on the hill they were mindful of their duties.

Since the original designation of the Samaritan as a neighbor, the public bond of Christian love has never excluded obligations to extra-territorial and extra-ecclesial humanity. This breadth of Christian love did not compromise its depth. Christian love of neighbor was the fertile soil in which a patriotic brotherhood from sea to shining sea was made incarnate among fellow citizens in local, state, and national communities. When Christ told the story of the good Samaritan and linked the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, and the watering of the thirsty to salvation, he did not abrogate the bond of the nation or the deeper bonds of the Church. He died for all because he was the new Adam. He picked twelve apostles because He was the Messiah of Israel. He became flesh in the Virgin Mary and incorporated the baptized into His Body because he was the Son of God.

The great enlightenment which Christ brought to mankind was to order our loves in a deeper and wider matrix. His love draws men into the deepest bond of the Body of Christ, the intimate bond of male female marriage, the civic bonds of fellow countrymen, and the universal bond as sons of Adam.

Public-ordered love in America was expressed by a common shouldering of military obligation, obedience to the law, acceptance of established territorial identities, and proper manners. These civic loves and duties have been passed down and deepened over several centuries—they are not chosen by us but received from our forefathers. Similar bonds with different traditions, martyrs, and remembered battles bind Christian men of other nations.

Christian men are also tied by a common duty to fight the one being we are allowed to hate -- the Old Deceiver -- the murderer from the beginning, the perennial enemy of the sacred. He is our common enemy, and when he rears his head at home or abroad those of us bound in defending the sacred are also obligated to wield a sword against the Evil One. In the division of roles between Church and State, the messy tasks and sharpened swords of war and capital punishment are now held exclusively by the nations.

Protestants rejected the established male form of the Catholic clergy, and yet they accepted the form of masculine sacrificial love as the basis of male citizenship and local church governance. It is no accident that a nation under God, built on a religious code and strong local authority, would be born in the Protestant milieu of the American East Coast. What a blessed fruit of the Protestant Rebellion is the American nation!

Muslims, the sons of Ishmael, never relegated religious duties to the pinched familial concerns of women and children. They are as ready as any culture to forge the bonds of nation and live under a rule which allows them communal expression without a confessional state. The Muslim difficulty in distinguishing caliphate from nations under God has been in the Mideast where secular nationalists divorced the “palace of the Arabs” from their religious identity. The confusion of a nebulous pan-Arab identity, the Islamic religion, and the unsettled borders of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel are not problems inherent to Islam and need not be imported to America. There is a similar confusion among Europeans today who trade their particular and substantial national and religious identities for the more formless spatio-temporal abstraction -- "the Modern West." Mideast Arabs and today's western world are soon to give way to the more natural and robust public identities of religion and nation. American Christians will find much more commonality with devout Muslim Americans than with atheist Canadians and Europeans enlisting us to save the “modern West” from religious traditionalists.

Mormons play a peculiar role in this drama. Like Muslims, they have a different Christology than Catholics and mainline Protestants. But like Catholics (and unlike Protestants and Muslims) they accepted Christ’s structured order of a male priesthood. The Mormons instituted Aaronic and Melchizedekian forms with stunning communal success in maintaining masculine religious identity. The Mormons are a peculiarly American form of responding to the Christic event. A Protestant nation with two million men in prison might learn a good deal from the male socialization lessons of the Mormon sacral form. It has shaped Mormon men as serious permanent participants in a national brotherhood committed to defending the sacred.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Who will wield the Christian sword?

Pence writes:

In October 2011 young Coptic Christians were killed demonstrating for government protection against escalating church burnings and anti-Christian violence in Egypt since the February 2011 resignation of 30-year President Hosni Mubarak. The militancy of the Christians and the tank response of the Egyptian military assure this matter will be settled by some combination of reason and force leading to exodus, protected communities, or a massive bloodletting against close to ten percent of Egypt’s population. A secular state where religion doesn’t matter is not on the option list.

One way to understand the “Arab Spring” of the last forty years is a religious and democratic revolt against the authoritarian secular nationalist party rulers who dominated the 20th century after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk in Turkey, Nasser/Sadat/Mubarak in Egypt, Pahlavi in Iran, Assad in Syria, the Hashemite Kings in Jordan, and Hussein in Iraq considered themselves modern nationalist leaders -- not new caliphs of Islam. The secular nationalists have all been challenged by movements calling for democracy for the people and a more authentic Islamic culture.

Christians as minorities in all of these countries had supported the earlier secular nationalist movements (including laws at times against the public expression of majority-religion practices). Christians played important roles in government, education, and commerce beyond the strength of their numbers. Similar minority roles were played by Jews in Muslim-dominated Spain, Tutsis in German-Belgium colonial governments of Rwanda, and Indians in the former British colony of Uganda.

Sirhan Sirhan, on the one-year anniversary of the Six Day War, assassinated Robert Kennedy for his support of Israel during that conflict. Sirhan was raised in a Christian Arab home and said on arrest he did it for “his country.” He meant Palestine -- the still imagined secular nation to be born even now as the others pass from history. But secular nationalism will not be the shape of Islamic nation states or the future of the Mideast. The era of the strong secular party leader protecting the freedom of cooperative Christians is over.

What will become of the Christians? The Jews have been expelled. They had one place to go and one defender who would evacuate them. When the Christian Orthodox Russians proposed themselves as guardians of beleaguered Mideast Christians in the pre-nationalist Ottoman era, they were stopped by Protestant Britain and Catholic France in the Crimean War (1853-6). The Papal temporal sword was broken militarily in 1870 and surrendered by Concordat in 1929. The Popes of the last forty years have properly accepted their own disarmament. But can it be fitting and proper to advocate the same for the Christian nations? Our churches are burning. Who will wield the Christian sword?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The dumbest angel & the wisest animal

Peter Kreeft is among those helping confused post-conciliar Catholics recover a true anthropology of man:

"Yes, this is the age of man, of self-consciousness, of psychology. And therefore it is crucial to 'know thyself' accurately today. The major heresies of our day are not about God but about man.

The two most destructive of these heresies—and the two most popular—are angelism, confusing man with an angel by denying his likeness to animals, and animalism, confusing man with an animal by denying his likeness to angels.

Man is the only being that is both angel and animal, both spirit and body. He is the lowest spirit and the highest body, the stupidest angel and the smartest animal, the low point of the hierarchy of minds and the high point of the hierarchy of bodies.

More accurately stated, man is not both angel and animal because he is neither angel nor animal; he is between angels and animals, a unique rung on the cosmic ladder.

But whichever way you say it, man must know angels to know himself, just as he must know animals to know himself, for he must know what he is, and he must know what he is not."

Jefferson's admiration for the Anglo-Saxons

The reaction of Pence to a magazine column on the Anglo-Saxons:

From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents [a book by David Gress that Pence will review this winter] has a very good section on the Anglo-Saxons. It was new to me. He says a lot of that thinking influenced John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Everybody in those times had some theory of more advanced or vigorous races. The Anglo-Saxon story was another tie to Germanic tribes and the warriors bonds from which came liberty.

The 'Forbes' writer talks about individuals and families -- then later, churches -- as part of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. But that is much less communal than the reality which Jefferson and Adams saw...

Again, the 'Forbes' guy greatly reduces the military communal link of Anglo-Sazon tribes to liberty. The cult of hardy tribesmen (think of William Tell kind of men) is much closer to our Founding Fathers than the "leave me alone" libertarianism of Ron Paul and the rest of the "Washington is the enemy" crowd.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dawson's choice of the truest son of St. Thomas Aquinas

Biographer Bradley Birzer says that Christopher Dawson -- the great Yorkshire Catholic and historian who died in 1970 -- had an Augustinian mind and reveled in the saint's emphasis of the moral imagination. But this certainly did not constrain him from having a deep love for Aquinas:

"According to Dawson, St. Thomas completed the work of St. Augustine, the other Latin church fathers, and the neo-Platonists on grace by sanctifying Aristotelian thought as well as incorporating Eastern Orthodox notions of Christification and the sacraments as means for deification."
Dawson called Thomas' reconciliation of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics his greatest achievement.

"By combining Eastern Orthodox thought with Augustinian thought, Dawson contended, Thomas dramatically changed the western notion of grace... 'It is not merely a power that moves the will but a light that illuminates the mind and transfigures the whole spirit.' It was this new East-West synthesis that the Protestant Reformers fought in the sixteenth century..."
Dawson, while revering the master, had nothing but contempt for the post-Thomas Scholastics. By turning Thomism into a rigid system which rendered "the imagination impotent," the opponents of Scholasticism responded with their own rigidity... and the Reformation was off to the races.

Dawson counseled students to temper their instruction in Thomism with some doses of the less brilliant St. Bonaventure [both he and Thomas died in 1274] -- but a man who emphasized the creative workings and imagination of the Holy Spirit.

The man, though, whom Dawson believed to be the most sublime heir of Thomism was the poet whom his Anglican father taught him to love: Dante.

Dante (who was 9 years old when Aquinas died) was the link between medieval and Renaissance cultures.

"For Dante, an objective reality existed. 'There is no subjectivism or idealism in his world,' Dawson claimed; 'everything has its profound ontological basis in an objective spiritual order.' Unfortunately, Dawson lamented, no one of Dante's caliber followed him... This was unfortunate, Dawson wrote; 'otherwise we might have been saved alike from the narrow rationalism of eighteenth-century Classicism and from the emotional debauches of nineteenth-century Romanticism.'"

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pacifism and feminism

There are many bishops sympathetic to pacifism and feminism. What would you tell them if you had a chance -- to read some Solzhenitsyn?


Our all-male priesthood is the world’s oldest fraternal hierarchy—and yet the failures of the abuse scandal and the continued corruption in the exercise of authority are hardly fruits of too much masculinity.

Quite the contrary.

Feminist and pacifist movements always grow best in soil guarded by the Christian sword. These caricatures of peace and justice helped shape much of the post-Vatican II social and moral teaching in the seminaries of the North. Add to these ideologies the insinuation of fawning and cliquish homosexual personality types in the corporate body of the seminary. This communal cast composed a formless plastic depression rather than an iron mold which would shape priestly character for several decades.

This environment spared no one.

Even "orthodox” priests have adapted a kind of diluted Christian language of virtual pacifism, spoken in an apologetic and subjunctive mood. These frames of mind and mood are carried by the personality structure of domestic friendliness where once strode the public manly fraternity of the Twelve.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Question put to Pence about how to view the Church

You argue that it's time for a neo-orthodox understanding of "infallibility" -- the progressives having done their best to toss the notion out the window, while traditionalists seem convinced that each papal press release should come with its own reliquary.


Let us be obedient sons of the Church. The gospel is the first truth which the Church declares infallibly to us. The Bible is not alone in its guaranteed inerrancy. So many of the words and prayers of the liturgy and the sacramental order are similarly without error, that is, infallible.

'This is my Body'... 'Go in peace, your sins are forgiven you' -- to name my own favorites.

Reciting the Nicene Creed is a time when the whole congregation declares truths infallibly. We share in those assertions made infallibly certain by their historical role in the shared prayer life of the Church. The best way for laymen to join the priesthood at the mass is to offer oneself to the Lord in the canon. The best way for the congregation to join in the authority of the hierarchy is to say the prayers properly and infallibly as they are written.

In an age so uncertain, to men so skeptical, isn’t it exactly these authoritative statements which we must emphasize in an ever more convincing and communal manner? Let us re-present Infallibility at the service of both the basic kerygma and the efficacious words of the sacraments.

It impoverishes this guaranteed ecclesial authority to limit infallibility as a “deciding vote by the Pope on a controversial issue.” It can be that, but it is so much more—and it is exercised so much more often about truths not controversial among us but inflammatory to the world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Country of the Week: NIGERIA

"How radically do geographic environments differ -- not just in terms of tropical versus arctic climates but also in the very configuration of the land and how that helps or hinders large-scale interactions among peoples? Consider one statistic: Africa is more than twice the size of Europe, and yet Africa has a shorter coastline than Europe. That seems almost impossible. But the reason is that Europe's coastline is far more convoluted, with many harbors and inlets being formed all around the continent. Much of the coastline of Africa is smooth -- which is to say, lacking in the harbors which make large-scale maritime trade possible by sheltering the ships at anchor from the rough waters of the open sea."                                                    (Thomas Sowell)

Here is an example of the oldest known African sculptures (at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts) -- from the Nok civilization which flourished in central Nigeria from about 500 BC to AD 200:

One in six Africans lives in Nigeria; and its glut of oil makes it, by far, the most affluent nation on the continent. It is the world's 7th most populous country.

Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Situated just north of the equator, it is more than twice the size of California. Though English is the official language, "the three most widely used languages are those of the three largest ethnic groups -- Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo... The northern Hausa are solidly Muslim, the eastern Igbo are Christian, and the Yoruba are equally divided between the two faiths."

About half the people are Muslims; 40 percent are Christians.

The Muslims are mostly in the north, which is drier; the semi-arid Sahel borders the Sahara Desert. Camels are common, and horse racing is popular. [The Sahel is a wide belt across Africa, from the Atlantic to the Red Sea].

Most Christians live in the east and south. Portuguese monks were the first to bring the faith to Nigeria around the year 1500. (Biafra was a southeastern state that attempted to secede in the 1960s. Large-scale Igbo Christian exodus from northern sharia-inspired pogroms in 1966 -- as well as the economic potenial of an oil rich Ibo-Christian independent country in the Southeast -- were significant causes of the Biafran war. The fighting lasted more than two years, ending in early 1970. The Biafran capital was Enugu, until it was captured. As many as three million people may have died in the civil war, most from disease and famine).

Violence nowadays frequently breaks out in northern Nigeria between Muslims and the Christian minority. Here is an account of how a Christian pastor's wife and children were slain by Muslim attackers (after the U.S. military killed Osama bin Laden); and how churches were burnt and Christians killed (after the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, was re-elected over his Muslim opponent in April).

Cardinal Francis Arinze (b. 1932) is an Igbo. Appointed a Catholic bishop at a very young age -- in time to attend the final session of the Second Vatican Council -- he later served as a top advisor to John Paul II. His analogy for modern atheists: "If a child refuses to accept its father or mother, that child is not a liberal, that child is a brat. And how much more important is God to us than a parent to a child?" Arinze, who was mentioned frequently as a possible pope in the months leading up to the election of Ratzinger from Germany, had written his doctoral thesis on 'Ibo Sacrifice as an Introduction to the Catechesis of Holy Mass.'

The Anglican bishops of Nigeria have taken the lead against their liberal colleagues in Great Britain and America: abortion & contraception, feminism & homosexuality not sounding entirely Biblical to them. Most well-known is Peter Akinola who retired last year as Anglican primate of the country. (Western progressives had too much at stake in the controversy to show any "preferential option for the poor" -- they shooed that hobby horse far out to pasture).

Lagos, on the coast, is the largest and wealthiest city; it served as the capital for most of the 20th century. In 1950, Lagos only had a quarter of a million people. The metro area today is well over 8 million. In 1991 the new inland city of Abuja became the capital. (The construction of Abuja was directed by a consortium of three American companies, including the Philadelphia urban design firm that had done the Inner Harbor of Baltimore).

In 2002 the Miss World contest was scheduled to be held in Abuja, but had to be moved to London after violence erupted between Muslims and Christians -- one of the causes was controversy over a native woman sentenced to stoning after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. More than a third of Nigeria's states have imposed sharia law.

Islam first came to the region in the 11th century.

The current trial of Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha (right-hand man of dictator Sani Abacha who held office 1993-1998), after nearly 14 years in prison, demonstrates the tribal and religious undercurrents in the country. Abacha was from the Muslim Hausa north, but was much more a kleptocrat than a man of sharia. The Muslim sharia revival in the northern regional governments combines honest reform against such tryants as Abacha, with a murderous approach to indigenous Christians. This relationship of radical Islamists as an antidote to corruption is similar to the Palestinian Hamas "reformers" ousting the PLO kleptocratic "sons of Arafat." Al-Mustapha is accused of ordering a security agent to kill the wife of Moshood Abiola, the Muslim winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election. Mustapha has support in the north primarily because the Muslims there view his imprisonment as reprisal by a national government now led by a Christian.

Nigeria is one of the fastest-growing world economies, but plagued with much corruption. About half of the adults can read and write.

The Niger River (many crocodiles and hippos) is the third longest in Africa. Its main tributary is the Benue River. The two rivers are symbolized in the center of Nigeria's coat of arms:

Flooding has often been a problem in the Niger delta, the swampy area where vast oil reserves were discovered in the late 1950s. "Prior to the discovery of oil, Nigeria's wealth derived from agricultural products from the south, and minerals from the north [today mining is less than one percent of GDP]. The north, up until around 1965, had had low-level demands to secede from Nigeria and retain its wealth for northerners. These demands seemed to cease when it became clear that oil in the southeast would become a major revenue source."

Nigeria had strong Israeli support in the 1960s. From the middle of that decade until 2000, the country was ruled most of the time by military dictators.

Playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured), who led protests against the government for environmental damage in the Niger delta from the petroleum industry, was hastily tried by a military court in 1995 -- and was executed by hanging. The U.K. then expelled Nigeria from the Commonwealth for several years.

The army only has about 70,000 soldiers; service is voluntary.

Nigeria produces about 75 percent of the world's yams. Nigerian food uses many chili peppers (originally from South American traders) and cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg (these came from India and other parts of Asia).

"Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands."  (Nigerian proverb)

Monday, August 8, 2011

"All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world"

Those are the words of writer E.B. White.


It's fascinating to read the opening pages of Charlotte's Web -- written some twenty years before the Supreme Court's abortion decision:

   "Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
   "Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."
   "I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight.
   "Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it."
   "Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?"
   Mrs. Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. "Don't yell, Fern!" she said. "Your father is right. The pig would probably die anyway."
   Fern pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grass was wet and the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers were sopping by the time she caught up with her father.
   "Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."
   Mr. Arable stopped walking.
   "Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to control yourself."
   "Control myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life and death, and you talk about controlling myself." Tears ran down her cheeks and she took hold of the ax and tried to pull it out of her father's hand.
   "Fern," said Mr. Arable, "I know more about raising a litter of pigs than you do. A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!"
   "But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?"
   Mr. Arable smiled. "Certainly not," he said, looking down at his daughter with love. "But this is different. A little girl is one thing, a little runty pig is another."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Country of the Week: INDONESIA

On the left is Sukarno (d. 1970), Indonesia's first president. He is talking with Suharto (d. 2008), the military leader who would later oust him and rule the country for more than thirty years. [The kind of cap worn by Sukarno is called a "peci" by Indonesians].

Japan occupied Indonesia for most of World War II. Independence from the Netherlands was achieved in 1949.

By 1965, with the encouragement of Sukarno, the Communist Party was becoming more and more powerful, and showing its influence at all levels of government. The army was deeply split. In late September there was a coup attempt in which half a dozen senior generals were kidnapped and killed. General Suharto led the fightback, eventually taking the governmental reins of power, and had more than half a million leftists executed. "As a result of the purge, one of Sukarno's three pillars of support, the Indonesian Communist Party, was effectively eliminated by the other two, the military and political Islam."

As America ramped up the war in Vietnam, the evidence was clear that one of the biggest dominoes was not going to fall... The march of scientific socialism turned out to be a bit less inevitable than the Soviets and Chinese claimed.

[When Suharto came to power, all Indonesian students studying overseas were called home. Among them was the stepfather of Barack Obama -- so from age 6 to 10 he went to school in the capital city of Jakarta, before returning to Hawaii in 1971.]

Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago, with more than 17,000 islands straddling the equator -- about a third of which are inhabited. The two largest are Java (the world's most populous island) and Sumatra. Indonesia is roughly halfway between Australia and Vietnam.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population (over 200 million of 245 million total). Its northern neighbor Malaysia is also Muslim but had a British colonial history. Its most eastern neighbor East Timor is one of Asia's two majority-Catholic nations. In late 1975, East Timor declared its independence; but later that year was invaded and occupied by Indonesia, and was declared Indonesia's 27th province the following year. In 1999, East Timor became independent. The war for independence was bloody. The active Catholicity of the island owes more to the role of the Church in that conflict than its Portuguese history.

Though Indonesian Chinese make up just 4 percent of the population, they have traditionally dominated the economy. In recent years they have been subjected to many violent attacks.

Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

There are more active volcanoes in Indonesia than any other country. The most famous is Krakatoa, which in August 1883 exploded with such a bang that people heard it three thousand miles away.

The Komodo dragon -- the largest species of lizard -- is found on several islands of Indonesia. The males can grow as long as ten feet. They eat wild pigs and buffalo, deer, snakes, and dead fish.

Muslim traders worked their way eastward across Asia, journeying from India -- but there were no large conversions to Islam until the end of the 13th century in northern Sumatra. The Islamization of Indonesia was very slow, with much adaptation and syncretism. By the time the Dutch arrived at the start of the 17th century, though, most of Indonesia was Muslim (the only Hindu area was the island of Bali; east of Java, it is today the most popular tourist destination in the nation).

'La Serenissima' -- the serene Republic of Venice -- enjoyed a stranglehold over the spice trade in Europe from 1200 to 1500. (They were supplied by Arab traders who never revealed the exact source.) Everyone else of course was irascible at having to hand over so much lucre to the Venetians, which finally led to the Age of Discovery: "We'll find our own bloody route to the Spice Islands!" In 1512 Europeans began making contacts with Indonesians. The Portuguese explorer, Francisco Serrao, tried to take over the control of nutmeg and other spices in the Maluku Islands (Moluccas). [At the time, the small Banda Islands there were the world's only source.] Serrao's letters to his cousin, Ferdinand Magellan, helped persuade the Spanish king to finance the famous circumnavigation. In the 17th century the Dutch forcibly took control of the spice trade.

Today Indonesia still produces 75 percent of the world crop of nutmeg. The nutmeg tree provides both mace and nutmeg (slightly sweeter.)

UPDATE -- From a George Will column years ago on the subject of Krakatoa's 19th-century explosion: "Three months after the eruption, firemen in Poughkeepsie, New York, scrambled in search of what they thought was an immense conflagration that caused the sky to glow. Actually, the glow was light refracted by Krakatoa's debris."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Country of the Week: INDIA

"[India] is America’s most natural strategic ally in the 21st century, but most of the people in the two countries have only the vaguest ideas about their prospective new partners. This vast and diverse country with its thicket of cultures and religions is in some ways more like a continent than a nation state." (Walter Russell Mead)

With approximately 1.6 million employees, Indian Railways is the world's single largest employer.
Q: What's your preferred mode of travel?

Travel writer Paul Theroux: "The train—because I can read, walk around, sleep, talk to people, enjoy a sort of cultural experience, and get off anywhere I wish."

Q: In your writing, you tend to focus on individuals that you meet. Why?

Theroux: "I can't describe places in great sweeping generalizations. I need to speak person-to-person. I describe India and other places as having 'the accessible poor.' This is not the case in many other places. America, among others, has inaccessible poverty. I often ask Indians and Thais and Burmese and others: What's your name? Where do you live? How many children? How much money do you make? And so forth. Try asking those same questions in Appalachia; Jackson, Mississippi; East St. Louis; or areas of Los Angeles or Brooklyn."

An Indian school bus

The average age of people living in India is 26 (in Japan it is 45).India is mostly Hindu (80 percent), with Muslims making up 13 percent of the population. Buddhism, even though it originated in India, has less than one percent. [Thailand and Cambodia are about 95 percent Buddhist].

What is the most populated river basin in the world? The Ganges: the sacred waters for Hindus (but among the most polluted on earth). "The Ganga is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are intertwined her racial memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India's age-long culture and civilization, ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga." (from the will of Nehru, India's first prime minister, d. 1964)

Take a look at this map of the Ganges -- think northeast India, near Bangladesh. Mother Teresa's adopted city of Calcutta (Kolkata) is situated in its mouth.

The Mughal (Mogul) Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries was the high point of Islamic rule in India. The most famous of the 'Grand Moguls' is Akbar the Great, warrior and patron of the arts, who married a Hindu woman and rolled back some of the strict sharia laws. When Akbar [pictured below] died in 1605 his domain -- which began as a number of fiefs around Delhi -- covered most of northern and central India.

Another famous Islamic emperor in this era was Shah Jahan, who is buried in the Taj Mahal... which he built for the love of his life: dear Mumtaz ('cradle of excellence') who perished in giving birth to their 14th child. "With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven Coveted her and me."

When the first Muslim traders started traveling in the 7th century, they often made landfall in the Gujurat area of northwestern India -- part of the Indus River Valley (one of the world's most far-flung and earliest urban civilizations). The king of Gujurat allowed them to build a mosque there.

Today one of the nation's industrial states, Gujurat is India's fastest growing economy. It is the area where Mohandas Gandhi grew up.

In the summer of 1947 the British Indian Empire was dissolved into what turned out to be a violent partition: India and Pakistan. [Pakistan is now predicted to become the largest Muslim country by 2030.] In 1971 East Pakistan -- separated by a thousand miles -- broke away from the larger West Pakistan. The new nation, assisted militarily by India, called itself Bangladesh ('Country of Bengal.')

Currently, India is the world's leading importer of arms, most of which come from Russia.

[Among the men who served as American ambassadors to India were Daniel Patrick Moynihan and John Kenneth Galbraith. The latter, a few years before his death, told an Indian journalist: "I have no doubt whatever that if you had to have an imperial master, it better be England. It was the good fortune of all the countries that have been part of the British empire." That from a progressive who increasingly viewed 'national sovereignty' as a pejorative...]

Monday, July 18, 2011

Country of the Week: CHINA

"The history of mankind is the history of people and water."

The longest river in China is the Yangtze, beginning in the far western Plateau of Tibet and emptying into the East China Sea just north of Shanghai. It has plenty of rainfall all year round. The most impressive section of the river's 4,000-mile course is the gorges -- stunning precipitous valleys. The Three Gorges Dam, completed several years ago despite social and environmental upheaval, has increased the shipping capacity of the river.

The Yangtze Delta by Shanghai has its own problems; it has been called "the biggest cause of marine pollution in the Pacific Ocean."

The second longest river, the Yellow ("cradle of Chinese civilization"), has always had a high silt concentration; in its lower reaches it is essentially a river of mud. Nowadays it is very polluted as well. The Yellow River ends about 120 miles southeast of Beijing -- its course is much farther north than the Yangtze.

In other words, the Yellow River traverses a region with far less rainfall -- close to the expanding Gobi Desert and subject to droughts. The underground aquifers are no longer sufficient to supply Beijing and the rest of the nearly 500 million residents of the north China plain. A story last month in the 'NY Times' began: "North China is dying."

Almost a third of the land in China is desert, and the rapid industrialization may greatly increase that figure. The per capita water volume is only 1/4 of the world average.

The South/North Project is a massive government effort to divert water from the Yangtze to the Yellow River. One of the ways they will do this is to upgrade the Grand Canal. (Sections of it were built long before the birth of Christ; today it covers more than a thousand miles).

Two troubles which are slowing the South/North diversion project: environmental worries and escalating costs -- so far, twice as much as the massive Three Gorges project.

Take a look at this physical map of China.

Also a map of the Grand Canal showing how it connects the two big rivers and where they empty into the sea.

Below is a statue of the Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci who used the canal on his way to Beijing in 1598, and wrote: "So great is the number of boats that, frequently, many days are lost in transit by crowding each other, particularly when water is low in the canals... During the hot summer season much of the foodstuffs, which are perhaps a month or two in transportation, would spoil before reaching Beijing, so they are kept in ice to preserve them."

(Father Ricci was the first Westerner to be invited into the Forbidden City. He established the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the oldest Catholic church in Beijing.)

[In America we are used to saying "south-west" or "north-east," but in China they put the east or west first -- for instance, "east-south" or "west-north."]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The four forces of nature

Pence writes --

"There are four fundamental forces in nature:

The strong nuclear --- an attractive force that acts only at very very short distances -- holds together neutrons and protons in the nucleus of atoms.

The electromagnetic force -- the attractive force and repulsive force between unlike charges and like charges. It keeps electrons in discreet energy shells around the positively charged protons of an atom.

Gravity -- an attractive force acting at small and great distances keeps planets orbiting the Sun and drew together Hydrogen and Helium atoms into the stars that populate the universe.

Weak nuclear force -- a force that governs radioactive decay. 

The physicists say all these forces were united in a single force and then broke open at the appearance of energy and matter.  These four forces can explain almost all chemical and physical processes but not the big bang itself and the force needed for the continual expansion of most matter in the universe today. 

Neither do these forces account for the movement toward interiority, agency, and hierarchy we see in life.

I call God the 'Fifth Force.' God explains the fundamental fact of the expanding universe and the obvious countervailing tendency toward life and ultimate cephalization and communal formation of humans.
Men need and seek causes. The 'fundamental' forces give us causes for all the details except the most important. How come all matter is going boom-boom out into the cold lonely outer-space: and what is drawing back some of matter into the interiority of life and human consciousness?"

Friday, January 7, 2011

Women leaders and the conservative philosophy

Pence was asked his reaction to the growing talk of both Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann as presidential contenders in 2012:

"If we believe that the fundamental bonding matrix of public life is a communion of men who share the same duties -- precisely because they are men -- then what are we to make of female leaders and personalities in the conservative movement or national public life or church history? Will we join the English invaders and demand that Joan of Arc be burned at the stake for cross-dressing?  Are we dismayed that Catherine of Siena traveled to Avignon?

"Let us begin by remembering that the call of Joan of Arc was not for more female soldiers but rather: 'Men of France, do your duties!'

Catherine of Siena did not offer herself as a new female chancellor to the Vicar of Christ residing in southern France.  She urged Gregory XI (elected pope in 1370) to do his duty in the proper city for the Bishop of Rome: 'Fulfil what you have promised to God.'

"These are more measured responses than Sarah Palin putting herself next in line as commander-in-chief of the US military. She should have had the good judgment and prudence to refuse the cynical maneuver of John McCain to 'energize the base.' While so much of the media sniping at her is mean-spirited and unfair, that does not make her acceptance and John McCain's offer any less a colossal error in judgement. Sarah Palin should be the Oprah Winfrey of the Right, not a military leader.  She could play a valuable role; but I see no understanding by either her (a new mother) nor Senator McCain (a septuagenarian) that the office of the Presidency is a place for matured judgement, not a platform for 'mavericks.' Think what a victory it was for the adolescent culture: this spectacle of two perfectly fine people, so utterly out of place and ill-suited as the representatives of tradition."