Saturday, January 30, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 30

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE VISITS SYNAGOGUE IN ROME - A JEWISH PLEA FOR THE FEAST OF THE CIRCUMCISION: One of our favorite feast days in which Christ was enrolled in the Jewish nation gets a plug at Pope Francis' Rome synagogue visit from a Jewish elder brother.

POPE ALLOWS WOMEN IN THE FOOT-WASHING: Meanwhile the Pope shows he is no longer taking marching orders from his loyal and cheering sons at AOA. He says, as did Pope Benedict before him, that the foot washing on Holy Thursday is a sign of universal service. If that is true, then washing men and women (as well as non-believers) would make lots of sense as a sign of the missionary Church serving all of humanity.

We have made a much less recognized argument that the foot washing was a priestly apostolic act aimed at washing clean a Satan infected priesthood. We think the ritual should return to the Chrism Mass and be centered on bishops and their priests.This ritual is very old, but its reintroduction into the Holy Thursday liturgy is recent (1955) -- and significant theological discussion of its meaning is surprisingly scant. The Pope is following the example of Peter who also thought it was an act of service and tried to forbid Christ from washing him. The best theological-scriptural argument we have seen that Christ's washing of the apostles' feet was an exorcism of the priesthood, not a sign of universal service, can be found here. This disagreement with our Holy Father about the primary meaning of the ritual is no disrespect to him. Many parishes and priests have opened the foot-washing to males and females, though the 1955 instructions was clear about men. Most of those insistent that the washing be male-only have never made a convincing argument that the gesture is about something other than humble service. Pope Francis is bringing the gesture in line with the present teaching.

It turns out that the previous rules of the ritual were carrying a truth which our present teachings have not yet discovered. We all live in a day that the anthropological arguments for the masculine character of the priesthood and the distinct corporate duties and identity of men are quite weak. In fact, one might venture that suppressing the ancient feast of the Circumcision (which is a male-only incorporation into a national bond) and missing the masculine priestly character of the foot-washing stem from a similar blind spot.


EGYPT - A NON-ELECTED PRESIDENT, BUT HE OFFERS RELIGIOUS RECONCILIATION: He overthrew an elected Islamist government. He courageously defends and befriends the Christian Copts. Is Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi the Sunni ally we must cultivate? Is religious liberty more crucial than democratic elections?

PAKISTAN - FORCES WITHIN FOR REFORM: Pakistan is different than Saudi Arabia. Can it divorce itself from the Salafist movement that runs its intelligence and military? Can they break the Saudi alliance? Pakistan is 5 to 15 percent Shia, so the Salafist movement promises civil war if instituted at home.

PEW 2009 REPORT ON SHIA AND SUNNI MUSLIMS BY COUNTRY: 1.6 billion Muslims. What are the big four (each with over 100 million believers)? Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh.

IN LEBANON TWO COMPETING CHRISTIAN FACTIONS HAVE ALLIED UNDER ONE CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT WHO ALSO WOULD BE FAVORED BY SHIITES: The next battleground against Salafist Sunnis will be Lebanon, and Christians there do not see Hezbollah as their enemy. A new Christian alliance paves the way for a Shiite-Christian alliance. To understand the coming fight for Lebanon, we must understand there is a battle  among Sunnis for the soul of Sunni Islam. Meanwhile Christians and Shiites must unite to oppose Salafist Sunni groups and ally with Sunnis who are not salafist. The US is unfortunately propping up the two governments who institutionally support the terrorist/jihadist type Sunnis. Those States are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

IN SUDAN THE RISE OF SALAFIST GROUP MEANS TROUBLE FOR SHIITES: Sudan's  new line against Shiites -nothing to do with their old ally Iran.

ISIS MAGAZINE - A WHOLE ISSUE TO WIPING OUT THE SHIA; A LESSON HERE FOR CHRISTIANS ABOUT OUR NATURAL ALLIES? The latest issue of ISIS magazine is centered on the Rafidah - eliminating the Shia. All the multiculturalism courses we have taken, and no one can see that one branch of Sunnis,the Salafists, is waging a religious war against a religion called Shia Islam! There is no significant branch of Shia Islam that calls for the purification of Islam by eliminating the Sunni non-believers.

SOUTHERN SUDAN - BREAKING APART BY MEN, TRIBE AND LAND: Christianity and a new national identity are not as deeply embedded as the older loyalties that split the country again. Southern Sudan (12 million population Christian and animist) became independent from Sudan (population 33 million Islamic and Arab) in 2011. The South Sudanese Civil War began in December 2013. It is drawn along tribal fault lines.


“We are going to protect Christianity. I don’t have to be politically correct. From Two Corinthians: 'Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.' Isn't that the one you like - isn't that the one? I love it. We are going to protect Christianity and if you look at what is going on around the world; you look at Syria ,where if you are a Christian, they are chopping off heads. You look at the different places and Christianity is under siege. I’m a Protestant, Presbyterian to be exact and very proud of it and we have to protect because bad things are happening. Very bad things are happening and I don’t know what it is. We don’t band together maybe. And frankly other religions are banding together and using it… here we have, if you look at this country its gotta be 70%, 75% , some people say even more. The power we have to band together, we have to unify. We have to really in a very large version what they have done at Liberty. Somehow we have to unify… Liberty has banded together and created one of the great universities…"
Entire one hour video of speech: Religion comments are at the 19:00 to 21:00 minute mark.

BE A NATIONALIST, NOT A CONSERVATIVE: Advice from an old conservative, Sam Francis, twenty years ago in a Chronicles article to Pat Buchanan seems to be the campaign strategy of Donald Trump. The key loyalties of men are Religion, Nation, and Family. The Trump campaign appeals to corporate identities as Americans and Christians. He is not running as the best Christian, but as the candidate who will defend Christians the best (and we mean the Christians being beheaded, not those disputing insurance coverage policies).


TO RESET RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA, REMEMBER THE LESSONS OF ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN: Excepts from the 'CWR' article, Revisiting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's warnings to the West:

"Following writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and N.M. Karamzin, the Russian conservative tends to interpret modern history as a struggle between those who would preserve Russia’s spiritual integrity and those who would impose Western culture upon the motherland. It is no coincidence that the most frenzied and destructive characters in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov, and Demons are those most intoxicated with trendy European ideas. Nor is it a coincidence that in his Memoir On Ancient and Modern Russia Karamzin, fervent monarchist though he was, ventured to make a negative evaluation of the celebrated Peter the Great [died in 1725 at the age of 52]. “We became citizens of the world,” said Karamzin regarding Peter’s campaign to Westernize his empire, “but ceased in certain respects to be the citizens of Russia.” To Karamzin the Europhile sovereign’s heavy-handed attempt “to transform Russia into Holland” reflected more zeal than prudence. 
Solzhenitsyn went further and openly detested the reformist tsar, for he doubted that Peter had really appreciated anything about Western culture aside from its most superficial trappings: wealth, glamour, gunpowder. The Petrine program had caused Russian elites to abandon their roots, and had even set the stage for Bolshevism. How could those incapable of relating to their own people hope to understand those of faraway lands?"
"Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life."
THE UNIVERSITY AND THE ORGANIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE - HUBRIS OR WORSHIP: An essay on the organization of the disciplines and the overweening hubris of the modern empiricists by a young Villanova teacher of literature and religion, James Matthew Wilson. In Practicing Catholics, Educational Reform we make a similar argument that the Catholic school is centered on worship, and then organizes the disciplines of study. The Catholic University should breathe a very different spirit than the German research university. That mighty institution of Germanic intellectual hubris crowned the atheistic enlightenment, and prepared the way for the militarization of that hubris in German empire and Reich.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Map on Monday: RUSSIA (PART 3)

Russian Geopolitics: The Political Geography and Foreign Policy of Russia

by A. Joseph Lynch

Russia's regional military commands: the structure of Russia's military ground defenses (compare to a map of the US commands)
In this third article of a three-part series on Russia, we discuss Russia's political geography and geopolitics. To read the previous articles, follow these links: Russia: Part 1, Russia: Part 2.

Russia is the world's largest nation by land area, while also having the world's third longest coastline. This brings Russia into physical contact with fourteen different nations and makes it a major player across the northern hemisphere and Eurasia. The following sections will examine Russia's relationship to neighboring nations and regions.


The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 witnessed a stunning defeat of Russia at the hands of the rising Japanese. The Battle of Mukden - Japan's most decisive land battle - inflicted some 80,000 Russian casualties; while the renowned Battle of Tsushima Straits - an equally decisive naval battle - annihilated the Russian fleet, sending eight Russian battleships to the bottom. These battles had many long-term consequences: the most fundamental was a sensibility among the dark skinned colonized people from Egypt to Vietnam to India that a white military power could be decisively defeated by one of them. It is striking how many leaders of national liberation movements that would come out of WWII pinpoint the defeat of the Russians by the Japanese as the battle that turned the world of white invincibility upside down.  Despite Japan's defeat in the Second World War, Russia and Japan never settled their border dispute (see a map of the disputed Kuril Islands from Stratfor) or signed a formal peace treaty. As Japan, today, reemerges from its pacifist slumber to face a nuclear North Korea and a growing China, its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, looks to end the border dispute with Russia and even help Russia re-enter the G8. Abe's forward-thinking policy towards Russia - like his policy towards re-armament - will necessitate the re-shaping of his people's views on Russia. A 2010 survey showed that 72% of Japanese hold an unfavorable view of Russia (thus making the Japanese the most anti-Russian people surveyed). For more information on Japan, see our previous Map on Monday: JAPAN.


The relationship between Russia and China has improved since the near war of 1961. Both had sought at the time to be the leader of the communist world movement and their rivalry eventually drove China into closer relations with the United States. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, China and Russia have forged stronger ties in the face of American power. Russia's smaller population 143.5 million versus China's 1.36 billion, and weaker economy (China exports four times the value of Russia's exports, and China's GDP is five times higher than Russia's GDP) mean that in the new Russian-Chinese partnership, Russia plays a junior role. China certainly values its relationship with energy-rich Russia, and a peaceable border allows both nations to divert military forces elsewhere. Russia does, however, fear Chinese influence in its Far East where Chinese immigration and investment could reorient Russia's eastern extremity towards its southern neighbor. China - seeking to build a "New Silk Road economic belt" - has become the largest trading partner of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. Russia's history and current relations with the region (both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan belong to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union while Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russia's variant of NATO) bring Russia and China into some regional competition.


Russia is giving military support to the Assad regime in Syria, recognizing his legitimate rule over the nation. From their Syrian naval base and several air bases, Russia has launched air and missile attacks on ISIS and Syrian opposition forces. Russia sees itself as a protector of Christians and established states in the region. It, therefore, sees the bonds between Syrian Christians with the Assad regime as yet another reason to support Assad while attacking ISIS. Russia's involvement in Syria has led to some significant tensions for Russia with the region's Sunni powers opposed to Assad: Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in November 2015 (to which Russia has asked Turkey to return the Hagia Sophia to Christians), and overproduction of oil by Sunni regimes such as Saudi Arabia have driven the price of oil - along with Russia's oil revenues - spiraling downward. Russia has a strong regional ally in Iran. Russia has invited Iran to join its Collective Security Treaty Organization. Member nations have the same defense pact as NATO: an attack on one member is an attack on all - an undoubtedly alluring promise in the face of Shiite Iran's tensions with its Sunni neighbors waging a fierce religious persecution of Shiites. Here Russia has come to the defense of the Shiites in Yemen in addition to Iran and Syria, supporting the Houthi rebels (who are trying to fight off the Saudis and al Qaeda) by both diplomatic and military means. Russia is also very involved with the Caucasus region, Russia's land bridge to the Mideast. Here Russia has strong historic ties to the Christian nations of Armenia and Georgia. While Russia would undoubtedly side with Armenia in any dispute with Turkey or Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia have been at a loggerheads for years with Russia supporting breakaway regions within Georgia. Russia has also had to face counter-terrorism activities against Salafist Sunnis in the region, with fierce fighting in Chechnya. Russia stemmed the terror in Chechnya largely by winning the support and action of Chechen Muslim leaders like the Sufi-Sunni, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is the current President of Chechnya (see also this story on Chechen support of Kadyrov and this BBC profile of Kadyrov)

For more information on the nations of the region, see our previous 'Map on Monday' posts on: IRAN, TURKEY, SAUDI ARABIA, SYRIAYEMEN, JORDAN, THE GULF STATES, EGYPT, and THE NATIONS OF THE CAUCASUS.


Russia's relationship with Europe has been deeply shaped by geography. As a land power with its core region on the European side of the Urals, Russia has sought to anchor its defenses in the south by the Caucasus and Carpathian Mountains, and in the north by the Arctic and Baltic Seas. The North European Plain to Russia's west, however, is a 300-mile gap in the this defensive arc. Having faced invasions through this passage from France in 1812, and Germany in both 1914 and 1941, the Russians occupation of eastern Europe during the Cold War was seen a geopolitical necessity by the Soviets. At the conclusion of the Cold War, Russia withdrew its military from eastern Europe with the promise that NATO would not spread to the east. Rather than accepting peace and partnership with Russia, however,  NATO broke its word and spread across eastern Europe. The spread of NATO to the Baltic states now puts NATO troops on Russia's borders. A future addition of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO would create three invasion routes into Russia in any future war between Russia and NATO. Russians universally view the era of President Boris Yeltsin not as the coming of democracy but as a national disgrace for the Russian nation when they were ruled by a drunk; and the economic assets of the state were stripped by capitalist opportunists from the national treasury. Russia has acted to secure influence in a special fraternity of Orthodox nations such as Ukraine (where the E.U. and the U.S backed a coup against an elected President sympathetic to Russia) and Georgia. For hundreds of years Russia has considered Crimea part of Russia as a Russian-speaking naval base with a long history of blood shed for the motherland (AOA on Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea) For an excellent examination of Russia European geopolitics, watch this short Caspian Report video.


Given the United States' role in NATO, tensions between Russia and the United States have increased significantly in recent years. In fact, Russia has named the US and its allies as a strategic threat to Russian security. Russia has given a decided "no" to Hilary Clinton's reset button - since "reset" meant a return to the days where a weak Yeltsin and a weak Russia were taken advantage of by Mrs. Clinton's husband. Indeed, the bombing of Belgrade during the Kosovo War was a major civilizational blow against the Orthodox nations poisoning any reintegration of  Russia and the European nations. American politicians on both the Left and Right generally speak of Russia as a threat to American security, and there are many who advocate increasing the tensions with Russia and use this position as proof of their strong leadership skills on foreign policy. Russia has retorted by announcing plans to build a memorial in front of the US Embassy in Moscow dedicated to those killed in the Native American Genocide.  Besides the war of words, America and Russia are competing in a physical theater: the Arctic. Americans may think of the world as a flat map, but the Russians have a keen understanding of a spherical world with a northern pole. As new waterways have opened in the far north, Russia has begun building up its Arctic defenses (see this map of Russia's bases across the Arctic) and naval presence (Russia has 40 icebreakers in the Arctic compared to the two icebreakers of the US). Russia has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world with its total weaponry more than the combined forces of the seven other nuclear armed states.


Russia has also looked beyond its neighboring regions to Africa and South America. Russian investment in Africa has quadrupled in the past decade from under a billion dollars to now over 4 billion dollars. Russian investment in Africa has also led to an expansion of Russia's control over European energy while also building up strong allies in the continent (many African countries, for example, abstained from voting for Russian sanctions over Crimea). In the face of American involvement in Russia's geopolitical neighborhood, Russia has decided to become more involved in Latin America. In 2015 Russia and Argentina entered into a strategic pact in which Russia offered support to Argentina regarding the Falkland Islands.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 23

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch 


VATICAN CULTURE AND GAY CAMP: On the strangely mourned death of David Bowie. Behind the bureaucracy, there is a deep sickness which Pope Benedict knew he could not alter and Pope Francis has decided can only be reformed by sidestepping and establishing alternative councils of authority.

A CARDINAL SPEAKS ON THE GAY LOBBY: Cardinal Rodrigues of Honduras is the head of the nine-cardinal council that Pope Francis established to clean up the Curia. The council is an example of a SYNODAL FORM that Francis has introduced to restore the apostolic order to Church governance. Here is his top cardinal explaining there really is a gay lobby in the Vatican. Just think for a minute why this is so significant. Can we imagine Cardinal Wuerl or his Washington predecessor Cardinal McCarrick ever acknowledging this fundamental problem in the religious orders and chanceries of the US Catholic Church? Can we imagine Cardinal Burke on the problem of homosexuals in high positions? Can we imagine the intellectuals at First Things magazine seeing that there is an orthopraxy problem more than orthodoxy which is affecting the New York presbytery as much as the Vatican? It is hard to do. It means reforming priestly male relationships into brotherhoods under God instead of individualism that serves the progressive and intellectual right in much the same way favoring careerists, sycophants, celebrities, and small coteries of "friends."

SUSPENSION OF EPISCOPALIANS: The primates of the worldwide Anglican church met for four days (January 11-15, 2016). The initial speculation was that many African bishops who represent ten times the number of Anglicans as US bishops were going to walk out of the meeting because one cannot pretend communion with churches that treat sodomy as a marital act. Much better than a walkout by the faithful, the worldwide communion suspended the offenders in the American Church. "It was," says the Archbishop of Canterbury, "a consequence not a sanction." The primates also allowed the head of the Anglican Church of America to participate in the meeting. The ACA was formed as an alternative for Anglicans in America who resisted the abdication of their church to the reigning gender ideology of America's media and educational elite. A summary from Christianity Today. For all those who mistake the passing aberration of gender confusion for the future of mankind, this worldwide meeting provides a cold splash of reality.  Human nature and Christianity are potent worldwide allies against a  geographically narrow middle class deviance projecting itself as the inevitable fulfillment of progressive history. In fact, gender ideology is an endpoint in a historical process: it is the final decay of human relations launched by the enlightenment project against tradition and sacral authority .

BRAGUE AND DAWSON OUTLINE CHRISTIAN HISTORY: A good synthesis at Imaginative Conservative - Dawson and Brague.


ABOUT THE SHIITES: The yearly commemoration in Karbala shows the centrality of Shiite history and customs in Iraq. These kind of public religious commemorations are anathema to the Salafist Sunnis.

THE JEWISH ISIS: There are lessons to be learned from studying the small and violent anti-state Israeli Hilltop Youth. Members of this organization were recently found to be behind the fires at the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes last summer (a beautiful 5th century church marking the place of the biblical miracle).

We read so often that Islam must be cleansed by the fire of Enlightenment, or that modernity must win out over tradition. But that is perhaps too simplistic when we consider that Islam’s past was so much more enlightened, and its traditional writings at times more modern, than the current theological discourse. Goethe and Proust, Lessing and Joyce were not out of their minds, after all, to have been fascinated by Islamic culture. They saw something in the books and monuments that we no longer perceive so easily, brutally confronted as we often are by contemporary Islam. Perhaps the problem of Islam is less its tradition than its nearly total break with that tradition, the loss of its cultural memory, its civilisational amnesia.

All the peoples of the Orient experienced a brutal modernisation imposed from above in the form of colonialism and secular dictatorships. The headscarf – to name one example – the headscarf was not abandoned gradually by Iranian women: in 1936, the Shah sent his soldiers out into the streets to tear it from their heads by force. Unlike Europe, where modernity – in spite of all the setbacks and crimes – was ultimately experienced as a process of emancipation and took place gradually over many decades and centuries, the Middle East experienced it largely as violence. Modernity was associated not with freedom, but with exploitation and despotism. Imagine an Italian president driving his car into St Peter’s Basilica, jumping onto the altar with his dirty boots and whipping the Pope in the face: then you will have a rough idea of what it meant when, in 1928, Reza Shah marched through the holy shrine of Qom in his riding boots and responded to the imam’s request to take off his shoes like any other believer by striking him in the face with his whip. And you will find comparable events and pivotal moments in many other Middle Eastern countries which, instead of slowly leaving the past behind, demolished that past and tried to erase it from memory.
THEOCRACY - NOT JUST THE MUSLIMS - ONLY THE MODERNS ARE EXCEPTIONS: An illuminating essay by Remi Brague. We are at war with a movement in Islam, but it isn't theocracy which is alien to us. Living in accordance with Divine Law is not an Islamic aberration. It is the language of the entire Christian natural law tradition.


REPUBLICAN DEBATES AND A RELIGIOUS NATIONAL GEOSTRATEGY: If we understand that the Cold War was about fighting armed atheism, then we can better see how the single demon of Marxism-Leninism has morphed into the unarmed atheism of the gender ideology in the West and the armed religiosity of Salafist Sunnis in Africa, the Mideast, and Asia. How we get at reformulating this situation and the role of America as a Christian nation will take an appreciation of President Obama's foreign policy and Donald Trump's rejection of political correctness. Here is Dr. Pence on Rubio, Cruz, and Trump.

TERRITORY, PARENTAGE AND NATURAL-BORN CITIZENS: The place of birth is more than your Mama. Another view from the Law of Nations written before the Constitution. It was actually good advice from Donald Trump that Mr. Cruz should get this settled by the Supreme Court. Mr Cruz was born in Canada of American citizens. His mom is from Delaware, and his father fled Cuba in his late teens to settle and receive citizenship in Texas. Mr Cruz has a powerful argument; natural law and parentage are deeply linked. This is why we have courts, and it can only help him to have this defined.


REFLECTIONS ON NATIONS BY BENEDICT ANDERSON: Benedict Anderson wrote "Imagined Communities," a quasi-Marxist interpretation of nationalism. This excerpt of his memoir from the London Review of Books has a lot of interesting intellectual history as he talks about how he came to his formulation. Here is a terrific summary:
Almost all the important theoretical works written on nationalism after the Second World War were written and published in the UK (Miroslav Hroch’s pioneering comparative study of ‘small nationalisms’ in Central and Eastern Europe, written in German in Communist-governed Prague, had to wait a long time to be translated into English). Almost all were written by Jews, though of widely differing political outlooks. On the far right was Elie Kedourie, who was born and raised in the old Jewish community of Baghdad, moved to London as a young man, and came under the influence of Michael Oakeshott, then Britain’s best-known conservative political philosopher. On the moderate right was Anthony Smith, a British-born practising Orthodox Jew, who taught history in London throughout a long career. Convinced that the Jews were the most ancient of nations, he consistently argued that modern nationalism grew out of long-standing ethnic groups. On the liberal left was the philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Ernest Gellner, a Czech Jew brought up in Prague, who made his way to London just after the end of the war. A sturdy Enlightenment liberal, he pioneered the so-called constructivist view of nationalism, arguing that it was strictly a product of industrialisation and modernity. On the far left was the grand historian Eric Hobsbawm, of partial Jewish descent, born in colonial Egypt and substantially educated in pre-Nazi Austria. Hobsbawm was a constructivist as well as a communist, and made a striking contribution to the growing debate on nationalism in the UK with 'The Invention of Tradition' (1983), a collection he compiled with Terence Ranger. The odd man out was Tom Nairn, strictly Scottish.
All these people more or less knew one another. All except Nairn were very attached to the UK, partly because it was largely uncontaminated by fascism and violent anti-Semitism, and partly because the state, including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, was felt to be more like supranational (if now defunct) Austro-Hungary than standard European nation-states such as France, Italy and Sweden.

CHINA TAIWAN: ONE NATION OR TWO? Taiwan elected a female President representing a political party that has demanded formal independence from China. At this point she is not pushing the matter. China and Taiwan have each argued since 1947 that there is one China and each claims to be the legitimate government. When Nixon recognized mainland China, they took the China seat in the UN. Taiwan is not recognized by the UN as an independent nation, though they have a separate currency and 24 million people. They went from holding a powerful seat on the Security Council as China, to no representation. Their population would make them about the 50th largest of 194 countries. This is the kind of sensitive issue that is best not debated in a Republican primary.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday BookReview: DANTE in this Year of Mercy

(This was first published June 26, 2015. 

Pope Francis is urging Catholics to pick up The Divine Comedy as a way to contemplate the everlasting mercies of our Father in heaven.)


Dante was born in Florence (c.1265), where he achieved literary renown and political power... but was forced into exile for twenty years, and died in his mid-50's in Ravenna on the east coast of Italy.

Here is a brief video introduction to his DIVINE COMEDY. 

The journalist Rod Dreher has a new book on how that classic work lifted him out of illness and the 'slough of despond' -- and renewed his heart to appreciate the glory of the eternal Lord.
The thing that jumped out at me in Dreher's musings was his insistence that Dante Alighieri (d. 1321) kept two things in balance -- he absolutely loved Holy Mother Church, while he shook with hatred toward clerics who had made their peace with the stench of deep corruption:
"The poet was able to stare down the evil of the clergy, including its Supreme Pastors, condemn them as devils, and yet affirm the goodness of God through the Church, despite its rotten state. This astounded me."    (page 157)
Rod Dreher told a friend: "Dante decided that his wrath was keeping him from doing what he needed to do to get back on the straight path. Virgil told him to use good memories, peaceful memories, to fight off the ones that provoked him to wrath."

I wasn't expecting so much of the tale told by Mr. Dreher to revolve around his family in rural Louisiana, but it works well as a vehicle to gradually draw the reader into the medieval world of Italy and to appreciate the poet's imaginative limning of what awaits each of us when "the roll is called up yonder."

Dreher came to realize that when he moved back to the small town of his parents, he "made false idols of family and place" -- not making those goods subservient to "the ultimate good, which is unity with God." Hoping for a deep reconciliation with his father, Rod ended by realizing that he was "searching for unconditional love where it cannot be found... I had enthroned family and place -- and their personification, my father -- in my heart in the place of God. This was the greatest sin that led me to the dark wood in the middle of the journey of my life."

Mr. Dreher is also blessed to have a wise pastor (a former cop who got burnt out) instructing him:
"The Church is a spiritual hospital... Grace is the medicine that will heal us. Prayer and fasting open our souls to grace."

How did Dante Alighieri view sin? As a metaphysical phenomenon.
Mr. Dreher explains: "To sin is to introduce disharmony into the system... [T]he entire universe runs on the power of love. Sin, therefore, can be thought of as being like a blood clot that disrupts the smooth flow of love... Sin is not an abstract idea but something that is woven into the fabric of reality."    (page 130)

The historian Christopher Dawson called Dante the "truest son of Thomas Aquinas." In the poem, the Florentine genius encounters the Angelic Doctor who urges humility and patience on him -- to rein in his judgment of others, to "affirm the goodness of life despite its injustices." Exile is the human condition; thus, begging mercy from God -- and being merciful -- is our only hope.

Guided by Virgil (L), Dante visits the gluttons in Purgatory

Rod Dreher praises the audio teaching series on Dante's classic by Bill Cook and Ron Herzman. A listener's review included this anecdote: 
"[The two men have had] extensive experience in teaching Dante (a) at the university level, (b) in the Attica maximum security prison [in western New York], and (c) to a group of monks. One of the fascinating revelations was how the young university students preferred reading 'Inferno'; the prison inmates preferred 'Purgatorio'; and the Trappist monks preferred 'Paradiso.' 
But what about Dante's original readers in the Middle Ages? ... [They] would have embraced the totality of the mystical experience, as opposed to any single portion of the poem."

The character Dante says: "Then it was clear to me that everywhere in heaven is Paradise, even if the grace of the highest Good does not rain down in equal measure."
(All forms of Procrustean egalitarianism -- along with mindless libertarianism -- will forever cease, along with so much else, when we depart this vale of tears.)

Here is a remarkable EWTN interview with Mr. Dreher.

UPDATE: An excerpt from an essay that Mr. Dreher wrote for 'Intercollegiate Review' --
For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.This is countercultural, for we live in an individualistic, libertine, sensual culture in which satisfying desire is generally thought to be a primary good.  

For contemporary readers, especially young adults, Dante’s encounter with Francesca da Rimini, one of the first personages he meets in Hell, is deeply confounding. Francesca is doomed to spend eternity in the circle of the Lustful, inextricably bound in a tempest with her lover, Paolo, whose brother—Francesca’s husband—found them out and murdered them both.
Francesca explains to Dante how she and Paolo fell into each other’s arms. How could she have controlled herself? she says. 

"Love, that excuses no one loved from loving, / Seized me so strongly with delight in him / That, as you see, he never leaves my side. / Love led us straight to sudden death together." 

She ends by saying that reading romantic literature together caused them to fall hopelessly and uncontrollably in love—unto death, at the hands of her jealous husband.
To modern ears, Francesca’s apologia sounds both tragic and beautiful. But the discerning reader will observe that she never takes responsibility for her actions. In her mind, her fate is all the fault of love—or rather, Love. We know, however, that it is really lust, and that her grandiose language in praise of romantic passion is all a gaudy rationalization. It’s a rationalization that is quite common in our own time, as everything in our popular culture tells us that desire is the same thing as love, and that love, so considered, is its own justification.

Bishop Barron of Los Angeles offers his tribute to Dante.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 16

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


THE EUROPEAN JIHADISTS AND THE SOCIALIZATION OF MALES: Oliver Roy has for decades argued that de-territorialized Muslims are radicalized because they are not socialized in a living cross-generational religious community. He says establishing a Muslim identity among expatriate males as a brotherhood in a foreign land is vastly different than going to mosque with your grandpa in a small village. Here he argues that Islam is the face of a generational, almost Oedipal, conflict in France which has no transmissible culture to pass on to its progeny and socialize young males.




 Understand our identity as Americans as a religious nation fighting the "godless West" and a Salafist jihad. This suggests an alliance with Orthodox Russia and a reconfiguration or dissolution of NATO. We do not have a good historical understanding of the religious nature of the Cold War. Nor do we see that our allies in that war have become our enemies and our old enemies can become friends. The same phenomenon happened after WWII when allies Russia, China and India became our foes and Germany and Japan became our allies. We are fighting a war against atheistic gender ideology and jihadist salafist Sunnis---the centers of these movements were our allies in the Cold war (Europe, Saudis and Pakistan).

Protecting the religious liberty of Shia to defend themselves with states in Iran, Syria, Iraq. and Yemen. The enemy is the Salafist Sunni movement not radical Islam.The Shiite states will be central players in a Mideast fighting force that will destroy ISIS.

Help the Israelis break from their Saudi alliance (and their Wahhabi ideology) and be recognized as a legitimate religious state in the region.

Ally with India, China, and Afghanistan against the Salafist movement in Pakistan.

TWO ARGUMENTS ON REALISM IN FOREIGN POLICY: We need more by Stephen Walt. We need less by Roger Cohen.

COMMUNISM VS CAPITALISM? OR WAS IT CHRISTIANITY: Getting the enemy straight, and defining oneself in one's own terms in the course of war,  has been an American problem long before 9/11. Capitalism is Marx's name for us, not ours. An excellent essay by Russell Kirk on the imaginative failure of fighting the Cold War as Capitalism vs Socialism.

EDWARD SAID, AUTHOR OF ORIENTALISM, ON HUNTINGTON'S CLASH OF CIVILIZATION: Professor Said lecture on Huntington's Clash of Civilization. Does the presence of different civilizations mean there must be a clash? The solutions of Said (denationalizing education) is less helpful than his critical analysis of the deficiencies of Huntington's celebration of the West against the Rest.

Dr. Pence on the Republican debates.


CATHOLICS FROM YEAR ZERO: An excellent reflection by Rod Dreher of American Conservative on Ross Douthat of NYTimes arguing with a progressive priest at America. It then turns out, though, that sacramental time-keeping is the real division between Catholics and modernist Christians.

INTO THE BREACH: On the feast of the archangels this past September, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of  the Diocese of Phoenix called on the Catholic men of his diocese to step into the breach:
" sons and brothers in Christ: Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes."
Bishop Olmsted's full apostolic exhortation can be heard in audio and there is also a short promotional video for the exhortation which every man should view.

THE JEWISH FOUNDING: A Biography of Menachem Begin (1913-1992) by Rabbi Daniel Gordis. Gordis argues that Begin was the first "Jewish" Prime Minister (1977-83) of the State of Israel (refounded 1947). Most of the founders of Israel were socialists, as well as the peculiar nationalists of Zionism. This talk, and Begin's life, reminds us that a man who believed all men are God's creatures can also believe that God chose the Jews for a particular mission among the nations. For those of us who posit that nations are the sacral covenants that bind men to God, the land, and one another, Begin is probably the best man to study. His sensibility is ours in seeing that God calls men into transgenerational unions called nations, so that Providence might work His way in history.

ORTHODOX JEWS AND CHRISTIAN FRATERNITY: Towards the Christians an unusual reconciling statement of Orthodox rabbis, ending with hopes for a coalition against "Satanic jihadism."

Friday, January 15, 2016

Doc Pence on Cruz, Rubio, and Trump

You say, that of the three men, you are rooting for Mr. Trump?

David Pence: One of the big reasons why, is that Trump has shown himself to be a moderating influence on foreign policy decisions.

All the other guys  want to show how tough they are -- and what a wimp Obama is.

Senator Cruz had an impressive performance last night, though he started abysmally by decrying that we got ten men back (with an apology) when they went into Iranian waters. He would have made sure America never apologized, and we would have "stood up to them".  Why he thinks his ability to turn a resolved dispute into a shooting war is a qualification for the Presidency is troubling.

We are in a war already, and Mr. Cruz wants to pick a fight with Iran and China. He has been a little more reasonable about Russia.

Trump believes in deals, believes in diplomacy.

What we need in the Mideast and South Asia are coalitions -- deals, not bluster! Senator Rubio is the worst when it comes to that. He is like the women in the race, in that he has to compensate for his youth by being the toughest rhetorical guy in the room at the expense of the American military. I liked where he was on immigration two years ago, and that's where he should have shown how tough he is by standing up to Trump on the mass-eviction plan... but he fought the countries (China, Russia, and Iran) who were not on the podium, and let the man at center-stage pretty much alone.

You argue that our nation's long ties with Saudi Arabia and with Pakistan have become indefensible, and that President Obama has at times led the way in re-thinking new alliances.

Pence: I, obviously, think the confusion of President Obama on religion, race, and gender is a disaster... but he is just carrying out the feminist zeitgeist to its logical conclusion. Even Republicans are so tied to that zeitgeist that none of them ever take on the sexual revolution that happened under the Obama presidency. But the Almighty has his purposes.

President Obama's opening to Iran has given the next president a real opportunity to ally with Russia and Iran against the salafist Sunnis who are the major jihadists. There was a question last night to Rubio and to John Kasich on Saudi Arabia (home of 15 of the 19 hijackers), but their answers didn't betray too much study of the Saudi role. Each political party tells a story of the Mideast which is a cartoon, with the other party's president as the villain. It's either 'George Bush started it all with the Iraq invasion' or 'Barack Obama created ISIS by leaving Iraq too early.' You have to tell the Mideast story in terms of the countries and religions of that region, and how our national actions interplay with deeper currents.

Trump says, "We have to figure out what's going on." I hate to use the word humble with him, but he actually has a more humble position about the conflict than his more rabid opponents. Carly Fiorina, the two-week wonder woman, said she would not even talk to Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump said if Russia wants to fight ISIS -- let 'em help us! But for a few weeks, all we hear is how great and wonderful a debater is Carly, and how brash and uncouth is the Donald. Did anyone hear what they said?

Are the debate moderators leading the discussion into the right areas?

Pence: There were no questions in the debate about Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and China. That is definitely a journalism problem. In this South Asian theater, also, President Obama and his chief advisors have been much more realistic about the source of our troubles: Pakistan, not Afghanistan.  The Obama administration has been cultivating India. We need to jettison the Cold War alignment of allies and enemies for our new situation. I think we have to ask the journalists and candidates to sharpen the discussion about overall strategic plans. It's early in the game; we will get there. I am quite sure we will have a more honest deep discussion with Mr. Trump in the race, than if he isn't.  He is not the Cicero I seek; but, for now, he is getting us closer to the national straight talk we need to reform ourselves.

Friday BookReview: A Torah teacher is gathered to his fathers

Last month in Boston one of the leading lights of Orthodox Judaism, Michael Wyschogrod, died at age 87.

Browsing through his most famous book, one is soon captivated:
God's nature is spiritual -- but it is "untrue to man's nature" to attempt to completely spiritualize our relationship to Him. Why? Because our nature is largely carnal.
Man is not an artificial bifurcation of body and spirit. We are a unity. What is circumcision but "a searing of the covenant into the flesh of Israel and not only, or perhaps not even primarily, into its spirit. And that is why God's election is of a carnal people."
Abraham is wrenched from his natural setting -- "commanded to leave his land, birthplace, and father's house and follow God to a place that he will show him... But the divine command does not stop there. After commanding Abraham to leave, it promises to make a great nation of his seed. The natural is now reinstated, projected into the future instead of rooted primarily in the past, and, above all, sanctified as a natural community."
On the national order: "No one who has read the prophets of Israel can be unaware of the extent to which Israel's faith fears the arrogance of the collective. But the question is, What to do? Shall the domain of the state be written off as the domain of the Devil, beyond the hope of sanctification...? 
"To believe that the individual can be lifted out of his nation and brought into relation with God is as illusory as to believe that man's soul can be saved and his body discarded. Just as man is body and soul, so man is an individual and member of a nation... By sanctifying the nationhood of Israel, God confirms the national order of all peoples... In addition, by taking the national order seriously, redemption of the historical order becomes a possibility. History pertains to nations and if only the the individual is real, history is not real. Purely spiritual religions do not take history seriously."

Some excerpts from a 2007 review of the book:

Wyschogrod is a Modern Orthodox Jewish scholar-philosopher, born in Germany, who taught at Baruch College, at the University of Houston, and at a number of other institutions in the USA and abroad. He is perhaps the closest the Jewish community has to a biblical theologian, and for this reason, is more accessible to Christian readers than most.

He holds for the priority of election as a category that must be recovered by the Jewish community. He sees the entire seed of Abraham and Sarah as elect and as one, despite ideological variations and differences. All Jews are obliged to live out the meaning of their election through maintaining Jewish communal cohesion and intergenerational survival. Despite denials and avoidance of all kinds, Jews are meant to live lives of Torah faithfulness as a context and manifestation of authentic relationship with the Living God. He sees the Jews as "the abode of the divine presence in the world. It is the carnal anchor that God has sunk into the soil of creation." As such, Jewish survival and fulfillment of its communal mission is important not simply to the Jews, but to the entire world—for God has chosen to make Hiself one with this people, and to join His name to theirs.

Chapter 1, 'A Partial Knowledge,' discusses the eclipsed role of philosophy in Judaism... Chapter 2 continues the discussion of philosophy, and how the Christian theological tradition has embraced a philosophical approach alien to Jewish epistemology. Christian theology and philosophy abstracts principles, while Jewish revelation and experience are in the nature of story... Israel’s election is communal and corporeal, and this people coheres as an extended family rather than in ideological mutuality. "The foundation of Judaism is the family identity of the Jewish people as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . the seed of Abraham elected through descent from Abraham, This is the crux of the mystery of Israel’s election."

Chapter 3, 'The Personality of God,' further confronts the divide between the Jewish and biblical revelation of God and that of philosophical theology. God is seen as a character in the great story in which Israel plays a central role. He is a person who, by creating a real world of real actors, and by becoming part of the story, freely takes on a certain vulnerability...

Chapter 4, 'Created Being,' is even more philosophical than the foregoing, and examines the relationship between being and God. "The chapter argues that nonbeing is the necessary corollary of being and that nonbeing, expressed in action, is violence."

Chapter 5, 'Ethics and Jewish Existence,' considers the issue of the nature and purpose of law, especially God’s law. Again, philosophical theology is seen as concerned with generalities and overarching principles, while Judaism concerns itself with particulars... The Jewish people and the reality of God are seen to be prior and other than principles and philosophy. The reality that is Israel partakes of the unassailable otherness of existence itself: "God appears in history as the God of Israel and there can therefore be no thought about God that is not also thought about Israel."

Chapter 6, 'The Unrealized,' speaks of the apocalyptic... He advocates for a Judaism open to the future, one that preserves the Jewish people, faithfully awaiting a surprising consummation.

For its scope, clarity, and brilliance, The Body of Faith stands alone, a tour de force that welcomes us into the mind and soul of a great man and profound thinker who, in Abraham and like Abraham, stands before God. Bold and courageous, he confronts comfortable assumptions, Jewish and Gentile, secular and religious. He challenges the Jewish world to live out the meaning of its corporeal election, and the Christian world to recognize that its supersessionism is not only inappropriate, but that any dismissal of the continuing election of Israel removes God from the world.

Wyschogrod’s language is unfailingly careful and precise. His voice is authoritative without self-aggrandizement. He comes across as a humble man, who, out of his service to the truth, has had to speak prophetically to communities that may not like what they hear. While some books must be reread because they are obscure, this one warrants rereading because Wyschogrod calls us to greater depth and breadth than we are accustomed to.

UPDATE: Here is a 2009 essay by a well-known New York rabbi, who did his Princeton doctoral thesis on Wyschogrod's theology.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Map on Monday: RUSSIA (Part 2)

Russia's Communal Loyalties: Russian History, Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

by A. Joseph Lynch

An old ethnic map of "Soviet Russia" - but one that conveys a rough idea of Russia's ethnic diversity
I. A Brief History of Russia

The Russian nation has its origins in the confluence of Slavic, Viking, and Greek interaction in what is today Ukraine - a fact that will forever intertwine the brother nations in a shared history, culture, ethnicity, and faith. Russian history begins with the formation of the Kieven Rus in 882 by a Viking named Oleg, who conquered Kiev, declared it the "Mother of Rus' cities," and made it his capital. The Rus played an important role in trade and relations between Europe, the Byzantine Christian East, and the Islamic Middle East - a historic role Russia continues to perform to this day. Upon seeing the beauty of the Liturgy celebrated in the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (which the Slavs called "Tsargrad"), Kieven ruler St. Vladimir (r. 980-1015) adopted Orthodox Christianity for the Rus in 988. Ruling with his twelve sons, St. Vladimir brought a Greek religion to a Slavic people under Viking rule.

The Kieven Rus came to an end with the Mongol invasion of 1223. Mongol dominance over the Rus left its inhabitants with a deep awareness of its geographic vulnerabilities - which would one day lead to a rapid expansion of buffer territory, once rid of Mongol rule. Leadership for this endeavor, however, would come not from Kiev but from Moscow. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church - which had already fled Kiev - settled in Moscow in the early fourteenth century, and Moscow led the way in dealing with Mongol rule culminating in a Mongol defeat in 1380 (The thesis of Lev Gumilev on the contribution of Mongol warriors to the Russian personality). The foundations of the Russian state were laid by Ivan III (r. 1462-1505) who tripled the size of Moscow's rule and became known as the "gatherer of the Rus' lands." Ivan married the daughter of the last legitimate claimant to the Byzantine throne - an act that, with the fall of Constantinople ("New Rome") in 1453, made Moscow in Russian eyes the Third Rome and protector of eastern Christians. Ivan IV ("the Terrible"), Russia's first formal Czar, expanded Russian lands eastward to the Urals and into Islamic lands, thus making Russia a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. Russia soon faced problems from military incursions from Catholic Poland and the Islamic Crimea. Crimean Tatars razed Moscow in 1571 and the Poles conquered Moscow and placed their own appointed rulers over Russia in 1605.

The end of the Rurik dynasty (862-1598) led to the Time of Troubles in which
Poles and Polish imposters ruled. While aristocrats squabbled, a cross class alliance led by a  merchant Minin and a faithful Prince Pozharsky took back Moscow and saved Russia from the foreign occupation which followed the loss of a Tsar. This liberation was celebrated on National Unity Day, November 4, a holiday suppressed by the Bolsheviks and reinstated by President Putin in 2005.

In 1612 a popular national alliance liberated Moscow from Polish rulers

After the Poles were driven from Russia and a national assembly elected 16 yo Michael Romanov (son  of Moscow Patriarch Filaret) to the throne in 1613. Romanovs would rule Russia for the next 304 years, ending with the Communist Revolution of 1917. Under the Romanovs came an unprecedented expansion of Russia eastward (see map above). Russian rule reached the Pacific by 1689 and gradually expanded south and west during the 19th century. Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725) defeated Sweden to capture the territory on the Baltic upon which to build a new capital: St. Petersburg. With eyes to the west, in 1721 Peter claimed the title of emperor over a new Russian Empire, forging a new state based on the absolutist model of western Europe. Peter, however, sought to weaken the Orthodox Church. He abolished the Patriarchy and replaced it with a Holy Synod (comprised increasingly of Ukrainians rather than Russians) and declared that no man could enter the monastery until the age of 50. Russian wars with Persia and the Ottoman Empire continued Russian expansion south through the 18th century and 19th century. Russia's status as Christian protector state was challenged by France and Britain after the Russians destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Sinope.  Russia saw its war against the failing Ottoman empire as an expansion of Christian freedom (See our Dec 30, 2011, on the Crimean War and Religion). The British and French entered the war to challenge Russian naval expansion. The Crimean War (1853-56) in which Christian European states allied with a Muslim State to limit Russian predominance  reverberates today as Turkey flaunts NATO alliances when engaging the Russians.

Wars with Napoleon's France, Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany, and Hitler's Nazis led to two major invasions and a Communist Revolution for Russia. In 1812, 1.5 million Russians (mostly peasants) died during Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Russia (and conquest of Moscow). Hitler would launch his own invasion in 1941, never capturing Moscow but leaving over 20 million Russians dead in the attempt. Around 3 million Russians died during World War I - which led directly to the atheist communist conquest of the nation by Lenin and Stalin (the latter of whom killed as many Russians as did the Nazis). Fearing a future invasion, the Soviets kept close control over eastern Europe. The end of the Soviet rule came in 1989 with an agreement that NATO would not inch its way towards the Russian border. After a decade of troubles under Yeltsin and the continued eastern encroachment of "the West" during the 1990s, the rise of Vladimir Putin in 2000 came as post-Soviet Russia seeks to reclaim its past while looking to the future.

II. Russian's Ethnic and Language Groups

Although Russia is home to over 185 different ethnic groups, Russia's overall population of 144 million is about 81% ethnic Russian. The Russian ethnicity is part of the Slavic ethnic group, with Russians worldwide comprising about 150 million of the world's 350 million Slavs. The top ten non-Russian ethnic groups include: Tatars (5.3 million), Ukrainians (1.9 million), Bashkirs (1.6 million), Chuvashs (1.4 million), Chechens (1.4 million), Armenians (1.2 million), Avars (900k), Mordvins (744k), Kazakhs (647k), and Azerbaijanis (600k). Of these, only one ethnic group (the Kazakhs) lives outside of European Russia or the Caucasus region.

Russia internal organization, however, gives political expression to its ethnic diversity. Russia is politically divided into 85 federal subjects. These federal subjects might seem at first akin to US states, but some federal subjects are cities (like Washington D.C.), others provinces - and 22 are considered semi-autonomous republics. These republics within the Russian Federation are rooted in an ethnic group which gives the republic its name (i.e. Chechnya or the Chechen Republic is named after its dominant ethnic group: the Chechens). Each republic has the right to institute its own official language and has wide latitude in establishing its own laws. These republics have been prone to separatist movements, but  some ethnic groups no longer fully reside within their geographic republic and thus diminish their capacity for union, organization, and revolution.

The map below (click here for a larger version) is demographically dated, but it does show the various republics within the Russian Federation while giving the reader a good idea of Russia's various ethnic groups and where they are to be found on a map. Unlike the map at the very top of this post (though also a good ethnic map), the map below connects ethnicity with polity. For an updated set of numbers pertaining to the modern population percentage of the titular nationality versus the ethnic Russian population, see this demographic chart (scroll down the page to see the demographics chart). The chart also includes information about each republic's language and dominant religion.

Dominant language groups in Russia, besides Russian itself, include Turkic, Caucasian, Uralic, and Mongolic languages. As their names suggests, the Caucasian and Uralic languages are prevalent in and around the Caucasus and Ural mountain regions. Turkic and Mongolian languages - both historically spoken by steppe peoples (the steppes running across Russia's south) - are found in the Caucasus region, along Russia's south, and in the Russian far east. Mongolic, for example, is dominant in the Caucasus region republic of  Kalmykia and the far eastern republic of Buryatia. See also our Map on Monday: The Turkic Peoples for a map displaying the broader Turkic-speaking world.

III. Religion in Russia

Religion in Russia is dominated by Russian Orthodoxy. Almost 60 million Russians identify as practicing Orthodox Christians (see this map of Russian Orthodoxy throughout the country). Although the Russian Orthodox faithful amount to only 41% of Russia's population, the faith is slowly rebuilding after decades under atheist communist rule. Rebuilding the faith also means more than simply bringing back the faithful - Putin is also seeking the reconstruction of two monasteries and a church within the Kremlin itself. Russia's 140,000 Catholics look to Pope Francis while the Orthodox in Russia are led by Patriarch Kirill. According to Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion, the two great Church leaders are getting closer each day to a future meeting.

Islam is the second largest religion in Russia. The 9.4 million Muslim Russians comprise about 6.5% of the Russian population (compared to 3.3 million Muslim Americans or about 1% of the US population). Most Russian Muslims live in the Caucasus region (click here for a map of Islam in Russia and note that all of the highlighted regions are semi-autonomous republics included in the ethnic-political map above). Within Russia's Islamic population, Sunni Islam is the most prevalent with Sufi Muslims found also in Chechnya and Ingushetia (both found in the Caucasus region). In September 2015, Moscow opened its largest mosque (with room for 10,000 praying pious Muslims). Putin himself was present for its dedication. While building a place of worship for Muslims, Putin and Russia's government have meanwhile reached out to Turkey about giving the Hagia Sophia back to the Christians.

Russia is also home to about 700,000 Buddhists (see population map) and 140,000 Jews.

In our third and final part of this series, we will address Russia's foreign policy and geopolitics. Click here to re-read part one of this series regarding Russia's physical ecology.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 9

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


THE SAUDI WAR AGAINST SHIITES - IRAN VS THE HOUSE OF SAUD: The Saudi regime has accelerated its religious oppression of Shiites throughout Saudi Arabia and in its southern neighbor, Yemen. All of this is abetted by US policy which turns a blind eye to this repression as long as the excuse that all Shiites are Iranian proxies is repeated enough times. Christians who desire an American foreign policy that protects Christians in the Mideast and Africa must begin by defending the religious liberty of the Shiites against the brutal tactics of the regime that nurtured 15 of our 9-11 hijackers. Saudi Arabia executes leading Shiite cleric. Protesters in Iran burned the Saudi embassy.  Hopefully, American statesmen will begin to make arguments of how the US should relate to this conflict.

A Primer on Sunni-Shiite differences. Two states joined Saudi Arabia in cutting ties with Iran: UAE (along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia the only state to recognize the Taliban in their pre-9/11 existence) and Bahrain (the only Shiite-majority country ruled by Sunni tyrants). See our short revealing profiles (Gulf States Communal Loyalties). Once again, Pat Buchanan tells the most complete story on being dragged into war by our "allies" before us. But suddenly there are articles aplenty looking at our Saudi alliance. This is a development all Americans can cheer, though what is needed now is a candidate or group of congressmen who become associated with a true re-set with Russia, alliance with India against Pakistan-inspired terrorism, and a defense of Shia religious freedom against Salafist Sunnis. King Salman and his Deputy Crown Prince son have severely narrowed their ruling base in the royal family so they must depend on the Wahhabi  religious base for support against their estranged relatives. They solidify this support by accelerating the salafist war against the Shiites in Yemen, in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, and in Iran.

NORTHERN AFRICA - THE SALAFIST SUNNIS HAVE MORE THAN A BEACHHEAD: A short excellent article, with a good map, on the expansion of the African Salalfist jihadists. Our African Command suffers greatly from the dominance of strategic thinking in the Mideast that highlights the anti-Shiite goals of our allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. However, it is jihadist Salafist Sunnis who are proposing a new set of non-national Muslim loyalties throughout Northern Africa. To their north they can infiltrate the porous borders of Europe; while to their south they militarily terrorize the politically weak African Christians.


NGO AS NEW MISSIONARIES - THAT'S NOT A COMPLIMENT: A critical look at NGOs and African Development.

RUSSIA AND THE JEWS: Another perspective that Putin's Russia seeks a very different relationship with Russian Jews than Stalin's Soviet Union.

CHINA - THE RETURN OF TRADITION AND THE PERSISTENCE OF THE BUREAUCRATS: A fascinating interview on Chinese meritocracy and a good reminder of the enduring strategies of bureaucrats depending on the strength of leaders.

REALISM AND KISSINGER, RELIGION AND MAHAN: John Bew teaches history and foreign policy at Kings College London War Studies Department. This excerpt on Henry Kissinger and Foreign Policy is from his book, Realpolitik: A History (2015).

The most influential thinker in the development of 20th century American sea-power is Alfred Thayer Mahan. The review makes me eager to read this unique book on Mahan's religious life. It feels like there is more in the book than the reviewer may have seen, but maybe there is more spiritual content in Mahan's geopolitical worldview than the author could find. It is certainly true that only when an author studied the religious life of Ronald Reagan did we get a coherent view of his role in history.

RACE IN AMERICA: In DC a chasm in school achievement.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Map on Monday: RUSSIA (PART 1)

Russia's Physical Ecology: The Natural Resources and Physical Geography of Russia

by A. Joseph Lynch

An Overview of Russian Geography

Russia is by far the largest nation in the world. Divided between Europe and Asia by the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea, Russia's European lands make it the largest mainland European nation while its Asian lands make it the largest Asian nation. Russia's land area makes it about twice the size of both the United States and Europe and equal to one-eighth of the world's inhabited landmass. Most of Russia, however, is located above 50 degrees north latitude, putting it closer to the north pole than to the equator. This, in turn, leaves Russia with icy tundra in the extreme north; and long, cold winters throughout the country. Siberia - a word that encapsulates the Russian cold - comprises around 77% of Russia, yet comprises a meager 40 million inhabitants (28% of Russia's total population).

Russia's extensive land borders - running 12,577 miles - face south and west. The vast majority of Russia's southern-facing borders are with Kazakhstan (4,254 miles), China (2,240 miles), and Mongolia (2,165 miles). Each of these southern borders is longer than the 1,933 miles of border between the southern United States and Mexico. Almost 2,000 miles of the approximately 4,000 remaining miles of Russian border are shared with Finland and Ukraine in the west. Russia has another 23,396 miles of coastal borders, with the vast majority of this facing north to the Arctic or east towards American Alaska, the Kuril Islands, and northern Japan. Its remaining coastal areas in the west face the Baltic and Black Seas - both of which have difficult access to the larger ocean - and the land-locked (but oil-rich) Caspian Sea.

Physiographic Regions of Russia

Russia can be divided into eight distinct physiographic regions (see map at the top of this article):
1. The Russian Plain (also known as the East European Plain): At the heart of the Russian nation, the Russian plain includes the capital city of Moscow and over 100 million of Russia's 143 population. The Russian plain is located at the extreme west end of Russia, with the Caucasus Mountains to its south, the Ural Mountains bordering its east, and the Barents Sea in the arctic north. To the west, from north to south, are Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea, mainland eastern Europe, and the Black Sea. The physical geography of this region is diverse, with the mountainous south giving way to steppe-grasslands (running from Ukraine eastward across Turkic Asia). Further north are found temperate forests, the boreal forests of the taiga (Russian for "forest"), and finally arctic tundra in the far north. Running through the core of Russian Plain is the Volga River, Europe's second longest river. Emptying into the Caspian Sea, the Volga's watershed (drainage basin) includes eleven of Russia's twenty largest cities.

2. Ural Mountains: Together with the Caspian Sea to its southwest, the 1,600 mile-long Ural Mountains act as a divider between Russia's European and Asian land areas. Though separated by sea, the Novaya Zemlya archipelago is a continuation of the Urals into the arctic. The Urals are home to important mineral resources, such as coal, oil, natural gas, potassium salts, chalcopyrite, nickel oxide, gold, platinum, chromite, magnetite ores, bauxite, talc, and fireclay, along with emerald, amethyst, aquamarine, jasper, rhodonite, malachite and diamond. As Russia expanded into this resource-rich region during the 16th century, the Urals acted to dramatically aid in Russia's industrial development. 
3. West Siberian Plain: On the east side of the Ural Mountains is the great West Siberian Plain. At almost 1 million square miles and mostly under 330 feet elevation, it is the world's largest unbroken lowland. The Yenisei River (the world's 5th longest river) acts as its eastern border while the Ob River (the world's 7th longest river) flows through the heart of the region (originating in the Altai Mountains in the south). Poor drainage, combined with the region's elevation and river systems, makes the West Siberian Plain home to the world's largest swamps and floodplains. This, combined with the harsh winters and mild summers, has made much of the area inhospitable to agriculture (see this map for a better understanding of agriculture across Russia). The region is, however, rich in oil and natural gas and was an important center of energy production during the 1970s-80s. The region borders the Kara Sea in the arctic north while most of the population lives in the south. The city of Novosibirsk (population 1.5 million), sitting along the Ob River in the region's southeast, is Russia's third largest city (after Moscow and St. Petersburg).
4. Central Siberian Plateau: Across the Yenisei River from the West Siberian Plain is the rising Central Siberian Plateau. This region is bordered in the north by the Putoran Mountains and Laptev Sea, the Lena River in the east, and by the Eastern Sayan Mountains and the Baikal Mountains in the south (the source of the Lena River). The southeastern portion of the region is home to Lake Baikal, the world's deepest, oldest, and largest freshwater lake. In fact, there is more fresh water in Lake Baikal than all the waters of the American Great Lakes combined. The Central Siberian Plateau faces harsh winters, but is another resource rich region of Russia. Natural resources include: coal, iron ore, gold, platinum, diamonds, and natural gas.

5. Yakutsk Basin: Flowing north from Baikal Mountains, the River Lena and its tributaries form a river basin exiting into the Laptev Sea. The Lena is Asia's third longest (and the world's 11th longest) river. The area takes its name from the Russian city of Yakutsk founded in 1632 (the same year the charter for the Maryland Colony was created, and construction began on the Taj Mahal). Today almost 300,000 live in Yakutsk and it remains the coldest major city in the world and the only city built on continuous permafrost. Yakutsk is an important diamond supplier, and the region as a whole is another mineral-rich area for Russia. 
6. Eastern Highlands: At the Russian Far East is the Eastern Highland, an area of mountains and volcanic/seismic activity lining the Pacific Ring of Fire. The region shares southern borders with Mongolia, Manchurian China, and North Korea and looks towards North America and Japan across the Sea of Japan, Sea of Othotsk, and the Bering Sea. Its arctic north in turn faces the East Siberian Sea. The Verkhoyansk Mountains form an arc dividing the region into a northeastern half and a southern half. Although these mountains contain important deposits of coal, silver, lead, and zinc, harvesting these resources requires dealing with some of the lowest recorded temperatures on the planet. Jutting south at the extreme eastern edge of the region is the Kamchatka Peninsula wedged in between the Pacific to its east and the Sea of Othotsk to its west. Kamchatka has 19 active volcanoes with Klyuchevskaya Sopka (15,584 ft) being the largest active volcano in the Northern Hemisphere. Off the southern coast of Kamchatka is a string of islands leading to Japan called the Kuril Islands. These islands essentially form an eastern peripheral boundary to the Sea of Othotsk and are thus important to both Russia and Japan (see also our Map on Monday: JAPAN). In the region's southeast along the coast of the Sea of Japan lie the Sikhote-Alin Mountains. This mountain chain anchors Russia's border with North Korea and its easternmost border with China. At its extreme south is the city of Vladivostok (population 600,000), home port of Russia's Pacific Fleet and the end of the Tran-Siberian Railroad. The Amur River (the world's 10th longest river) forms much of the region's border with China. 
7. Central Asian Ranges: The eastern and western Sayan Mountains form much of the Central Asian Ranges. The mountains have also acted historically as a natural border with Mongolia to the south (see also our Map on Monday: MONGOLIA). The Sayans are also rich in both mineral resources and forests.   
8. Caucasus Mountains: Just south of the Russian Plain in Russia's European area are the Caucasus Mountains forming a natural border with the Islamic Middle East. This mountainous area is also an isthmus between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Europe's highest mountain, Mt. Elbrus, is located in the Russian Caucasus. The region is shared with three nations: Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. For more information on this region, see our Map on Monday: NATIONS OF THE CAUCASUS.

In the next of this three-part series on Russia, we will address her communal loyalties by examining Russian language, ethnicity, religion, and history.


Visit this link for a map of Russia's vast mineral resources. Strafor has a short video explaining Russia's geographic challenges with excellent information about the North European Plain as Russia's weakest point of defense from European invasion. You can also find more information on Russia by visiting its page on the CIA World Factbook.