Saturday, December 27, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, December 27

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:

Catholics must wake up in formulating who are our allies and who are our enemies in the Mideast. Catholic World Report explains Syria in a way the generally Republican-leaning neoconservatives are missing. We must get Assad and Christian protection right.

In a stunning rebuke of clerical corruption, Pope Francis listed the 15 sins of the Curia in his Christmas address to the deeply corrupted governing body of the institutional Church. His devastating unexpected speech was mindful of the rebuke of the cowardly priest Don Abbondio by the holy reforming cardinal, Federigo Borromeo, in one of the Pope's favorite novels -- The Betrothed. The initial actions the Pope has taken against "the double lives" of so many high Vatican officials has been cast as a purging of traditionalists because one of the first personalities he deposed was Cardinal Raymond Burke. But the duplicity and self-aggrandizement that the Pope is aiming at comes in the silky lace of the Tridentine as well as the sophisticated high life of "progressives." None of us have ever seen such a rebuke from cleric to cleric since Jesus washed out Judas from the apostles at the Last Supper. May other bishops in their own dioceses begin the purification of the clergy so necessary for the Church to carry out her mission to the world. What the Pope has started with these words is just a beginning but this is why Pope Benedict resigned and another has filled his office.

Pope Francis and the Vatican played an important intermediary role but President Obama can take well deserved credit in the opening of relations between Cuba and the USA. This does not discredit the previous policy as much as recognize we are in a new era, and the categories of the Cold War must no longer straitjacket relations between the nations of North and South America and the Caribbean. This tremendous opportunity will be squandered if American Christians cast this as "an opportunity for free markets." This is really an opportunity to put away the communism vs capitalism paradigm, and work to restore Cuba, the United States, and other southern Catholic nations to a deeper understanding of the spiritual and communal nature of all nations and the possibility for a Christian fraternity of nations throughout the Americas.

In India the question of conversions -- forced and otherwise -- is a fundamental cultural and political dilemma. While the firestorm in the Indian parliament this month was against the "coming home" conversions of Muslims to Hinduism, the real target of many Hindu nationalists is to stop conversions of Hindus to Christianity or Islam. They are daring the critics of the latest mass conversion ceremony to make a law against conversions. This would not be good Muslim or Christian policy.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Map on Monday: The Roman Empire

The map above (click to enlarge) is of the expansion of the Roman Empire from 44 BC (the death of Julius Caesar) through the reign of Emperor Trajan (d. 117 AD). Although much of the expansion depicted stemmed from military conquest - along with the notable loss of territory in Germania resulting from the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in which Arminius ("Herman the German") annihilated three Roman legions - the era of this map is often considered part of the Pax Roman or Peace of Rome. It was during this period of relative peace within the empire that Christ would be born in the Roman province of Judea.

The Roman genius for political organization and citizenship, however, was just as important as its armies for its expansion. Unlike the Greeks, whose city-states prided themselves on exclusive citizenship laws which placed great limitations on incorporating new members, the Roman system sought to expand the citizenship of Rome across its vast territories. Over time, as new lands were incorporated into the Roman world, peoples inhabiting these lands became Romans even though they may have lived hundreds of miles from the heart of the empire at Rome.

A crisis of imperial succession soon followed the end of the Pax Romana. This period, from 235-284 AD, is known as the third century crisis. In less than fifty years the Roman senate would give the imperial throne to twenty-six men. These men, mostly generals, found that the man with the strongest army could defeat and kill the current emperor in order to make himself emperor. This period ended with the rise of Diocletian in 284 AD. Diocletian returned stability to the empire and sought an administrative division of the empire that would allow for peaceful succession. This division, called the Tetrarchy (or "Rule of Four"), separated the empire into an eastern and western half wherein the senior rulers reigned as Augustus while their eventual successors ruled nearby lands as Caesar (see map below for territorial divisions and their rulers during the time of Diocletian).

The Tetrarchy lasted twenty years until the rise of Constantine and the legalization of Christianity in the year 313. With the construction of the new capital of Constantinople (originally entitled "New Rome"), the empire began to take a decidedly eastern shift away from the city of Rome and the empire of old.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, December 20

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:

When we think of the Vikings of old and the Scandanavians of today, the story of Catholic rulers disciplining the warrior spirit may not spring to mind. Here is a short well-told tale of religion, history, and the nations of the North Sea. Only the splendor and the glory of God could capture the hearts of men such as the Vikings and redirect their rather successful lifestyles to more sublime ends. It is the liturgy of the Mass that communicates such splendor as this essay eloquently explains. One characteristic of the glory of God, the majesty of the Mass and the authority of a good man is gravitas. The reason we need gravitas and an understanding of the warrior kings is that we humans are like Hobbits amidst a great spiritual war of principalities and powers. Over the years we have learned there are two great embarrassments to Catholic intellectuals and much of our clergy: the reality of a singular set of human parents (Adam and Eve); and the reality of conscious active angelic beings in the workings of everyday life and history. The weekly Sunday liturgy is "a theophany," says Pope Francis; and the practice of ending the Eucharistic theophany with a prayer to the angels is returning.

Here is an excellent essay on the Church and the meaning of nations and immigration by John Zmirak at 'Chronicles' magazine. George Friedman of Stratfor (a global intelligence firm) spent a week in Russia, and has an excellent summary of some realities we sometimes forget in our sanctions strategy (understanding Russia from the inside.) Friedman is usually single-minded on geographic and balance of power analysis. This is a change for him, and shows he is an intelligent observer as well as a strategic thinker.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday BookReview: "Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow" by David Chappell

(first published August 5, 2011)

Here are excerpts from David Pence's review of A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow:

Faith in God allows a man to see more clearly into the reality of things but apparently it has taken [the atheist] David Chappell to write this penetrating book defining the civil rights movement as a religious revival. He plays the righteous pagan Virgil in guiding Christian Dante through the biblical prophetic theology and working of the Spirit which signaled the civil rights movement as the third American Awakening...

Education was NOT the key to prophetic religion. God, judgment, conversion, sin, demons, and miracles constitute the vocabulary of the prophets. Reverend King's God was a highly personal God -- the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, not the god of the philosophers. He could be trusted in times of travail and prayed to in times of danger. Andrew Young was quoted: "The civil rights movement brought a resurgence of religious feeling in the South. When folks start shooting at you, you do a lot more praying." When Bayard Rustin was asked if King believed in the fundamentalist active personal God, he answered: "Oh, yes, profoundly; it always amazed me how he could combine this intensely philosophical analytical mind with this more or less fundamental -- well I don't like to say fundamentalist -- but abiding faith." As Thomas Gilmore, another civil rights veteran said: "The Holy Spirit guided us. I got strength facing the sheriff; he was the biggest man in the county, but I felt we were walking next to someone bigger. God is real, man." Years later Gilmore became the first black sheriff of his county.

Chappell has little time for the flatteners of history who in the name of "people's history" try to paint the civil rights struggle as the ever-present but under-reported fight of the common man against oppression. Chappell argues that something happened here that was extraordinary indeed; and the people who stepped out of the routines of their everyday lives to enter the political arena and national historical narrative were extraordinary people. He found the source of their courage and hope (that "stone of hope" they somehow chipped from the mountain of despair). What is unique about his study is that he does not stress the easy lesson that the biblical prophetic tradition was a foe to racism. He instead contrasts prophetic religion as a more effective and truthful actor for justice than position-paper rationalistic liberalism. What did those Baptist preachers (Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King, and Fred Shuttlesworth) know and do that eluded Gunnar Myrdal, John Dewey, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Lionel Trilling? Chappell's answer is that the civil rights movement was not the inevitable maturation and triumph of philosophical liberalism. It was not education for progress. Rather it was a Spirit-driven melding of characters and events living out the biblical narrative by confronting the soul of a nation. This prophetic witness employed a "coercive non-violence" necessary to confront evil and the men wedded to it. Such nonviolence is much more like war than pacifism, and is grounded in a realistic Christian anthropology which saw both struggle and an embrace of "unrequited suffering" as the redemptive route to justice. It was a stunning paradox of this fitting time that there was no group more convicted by this witness -- not into joining the cause but chastened to inaction -- than Southern evangelicals who were also seeking a renewal of lived-out religion in the daily life of the nation.

Returning military veterans of WWII and Korea -- as well as preachers -- infused the civil rights movement with the intersecting language and claims of religion, patriotism, and righteous warfare. The charismatic soldier-preacher Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham said in 1958: "This is a religious crusade, a fight between light and darkness, right and wrong, fair play and tyranny. We are assured of victory because we are using weapons of spiritual warfare." In 1964 the fire still burned in the man whose eloquence was only surpassed by his courage. "We have faith in America and still believe that Birmingham and Alabama will rise to their heights of glory in race relations. And we shall be true to our ideals as a Christian nation."


The civil rights movement "carried the Constitution in one hand and the Bible in the other." This crucial book by an atheist historian should challenge American Christians to distinguish the great religious awakening of the civil rights movement from the contrary spirits of black power and the sexual revolution. These profane pretenders have hobbled our national gait. Black and white evangelicals are now religious brethren separated into the voting army "bases" of two opposing parties. How long asked Elijah can Israel keep hobbling, divided between Baal and Yahweh? Can the third Great Awakening stir American Christians to be united again, promising a second Reconstruction more just than the first? Chappell's book gives no answer but he has led us to the question.

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

"This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."
                    (Reverend King, 28 August 1963)


Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Russians' strength is that they can endure things that would break other nations"

George Friedman makes the wise point that Mother Russia -- having survived so many wrenching changes and privations -- resides in a vastly foreign sphere, with strengths and weaknesses alien to our own.


This excerpt from Archbishop Sheen (from a post several years ago at Mundabor website) sublimely illuminates the point:
“The modern world, which denies personal guilt and admits only social crimes, which has no place for personal repentance but only public reforms, has divorced Christ from His Cross; the Bridegroom and Bride have been pulled apart. What God hath joined together, men have torn asunder. As a result, to the left is the Cross; to the right is the Christ”. […] Communism comes along and picks up the meaningless Cross; Western post-Christian civilization chooses the unscarred Christ.”
“Communism has chosen the Cross in the sense that it has brought back to an egotistic world a sense of discipline, self-abnegation, surrender, hard work, study, and dedication to supraindividual goals. But the Cross without Christ is sacrifice without love. Hence, Communism has produced a society that is authoritarian, cruel, oppressive of human freedom, filled with concentrantion camps, firing squads, and brain-washings.”
“The Western post-Christian civilization has picked up the Christ without His Cross. But a Christ without a sacrifice that reconciles the world to God is a cheap, feminized, colorless, itinerant preacher who deserves to be popular for His great Sermon on the Mount, but also merits unpopularity for what He said about His Divinity on the one hand, and divorce, judgment, and hell on the other. This sentimental Christ is patched together with a thousand commonplaces. […] Without His Cross, He becomes nothing more than a sultry precursor of democracy or a humanitarian who taught brotherhood without tears."
“The problem now is: Will the Cross, which Communism holds in its hands, find Christ before the sentimental Christ of the Western world finds the Cross? It is our belief that Russia will find the Christ before the western world unites Christ with His Redemptive Cross."


                      - Lyubov Glukhova

"Ye who have gone into deep, dark forests,
Taking no sword, but only a cross,
Ye who have built such mighty churches,
Solely by virtue of ardent faith,
Ye the creators of Holy Russia,
Champions strong of its holy truth,
Its intercessors in God’s high kingdom,
Fathers on earth of its Orthodox Church,
Ye who have burned with the fire of purity
All through the narrow and somber ages,
Rise as a wondrously shining banner
Over the sadness of native woods!
Having lost the shrines of our homeland,
We wander in sweat and dust of despair…
Pray for us sinners, o dear holy hierarchs,
O holy saints of the Russian land!"


Monday, December 15, 2014

Map on Monday: The British Empire

The map above (click to enlarge or click here to see the original map) depicts the territories once belonging to the vast British Empire. Declared as "the empire on which the sun never sets," the British Empire ruled over one-fifth of the world's population in 1922 (458 million people) and covered almost a quarter of the globe's land areas (13,012,000 square miles). A casual glance at the map reveals the global impact of the English language long predates the postwar rise of the United States.

Although its expansion began much later than that of the Spanish and Portuguese empires, the British Empire began to catch up by establishing colonies in North America and the Caribbean. The rise of the joint-stock companies of the colonial era in Britain and the Netherlands led both nations to challenge Portuguese dominance in Asian trade and territorial control. American independence further pushed the British Empire to the Far East and Pacific. During the 19th century, the British Empire gained impressive influence in Africa and the Mideast.

Despite its impressive military, economic, and territorial might, Great Britain found itself bankrupt following the two world wars (indeed, it only finished repaying a multi-billion dollar postwar loan to the United States in 2006). Today Great Britain controls fourteen, semi-autonomous areas entitled the British Overseas Territories. Below is a map of these territories (click to enlarge):

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, December 13

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:
India's Narenda Modi is a very different leader of the second most populous nation on earth. Deeply religious and eminently practical, he is a harbinger of the new nationalists who will emerge not only amidst the Asian nations but in Europe and South America as well. The post-Cold War international landscape is a multipolar world. Nations and their leaders will define many of the new magnetic poles of gravity.

The House resolution on Russia seems bad history and bad policy. That old cold warrior Pat Buchanan has a crusty constitutionalist objection.

Immigration is foreign policy too. An article by Minneapolis StarTribune writer Doug Tice asks just those questions that might foster a pivot to the Americas in national policy.

A historical question that must inform future policy: Did NAFTA help Mexico? Here is an unbiased but negative reply.

The drop in oil prices we notice at the gas pump affects the nations in diverse ways. Oil producers like Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria and Mideast states are hurt. Large agricultural countries (China and India) are helped. Here's a good summary.

Written by an American diplomat in Russia at the time of the the dissolution of the Soviet Union, here is a brief review of the missed moment in US strategy during the Bush senior and Clinton years.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, December 6

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:
The cardinal rules of policing are a good place to start in any discussion of Ferguson and New York. The police are the public and the public are the police.

Before Hitler established the German Reich on blood and soil, Alfred Rosenberg's Myth of the 20th Century alluded to ridding the multinational empires of extra nationalities. His book was considered an intellectual cornerstone of Nazi ideology. The new German Reich would annex Austria but not take in all the warring nationalities which caused WWI Germans to describe their alliance with the Austrian Empire as "being tied to a corpse." The young Turks who emerged from the multinational Ottoman Empire would define their new nation in more restricted ethnic terms. They cleansed the Orthodox Armenians and Hitler noted their methods decades before his own nation-building by racial cleansing. The emergence of Turkey was more a secular racial nationalism than a quest for an Islamic identity. Pakistan was the one truly deliberately Muslim nation, just as Israel was a deliberately Jewish homeland. Interestingly, the founders were not as religiously motivated as they were building national walls that would protect them from their enemies. Whether Saudi Arabia can be considered a state built to protect Islamic holy lands or a family exploiting the holy sites of Mecca and Medina is considered here.

The most disastrous foreign policy error of the baby-boomer presidents has been the failure to normalize relations with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here is a good one year review of the aftermath of our Ukraine policy.

Here is a very helpful essay in understanding the historical ups and downs of the Islamic understanding of the Caliphate -- not surprisingly, a far cry from the reverberations of today's media.

On November 30, the Feast of St. Andrew, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I signed a joint declaration regarding their wishes for full communion between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Preceding the signing, both the Pope and Patriarch addressed each other in terms of the apostolic fraternity in Christ that bound the brothers Peter and Andrew more deeply than family. Here are the texts of the two addresses and the joint declaration.