Saturday, February 27, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 27

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


TURKEY AND SAUDI ARABIA GEAR FOR SUNNI-SHIA SHOWDOWN IN SYRIA: A mistake? A Russian trap? As matters unfold, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates have begun cutting ties with Lebanon while Turkey demands that the Kurds be considered legitimate terrorist targets during the coming ceasefire.

GROWING DISENCHANTMENT WITH PAKISTAN AS AN ALLY: End to blank checks to Pakistan as Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will block most recent military sales to Pakistan.

GETTING SYRIA WRONG - JOURNALISTS HAVE TO HELP TELL THE TRUTH OF LARGER NARRATIVES: Stephen Kinzer of International Institute at Brown University tells why the usual narrative on Syria is wrong and how independent journalists are needed to get foreign policy right.

ISIS AS LATEST INCARNATION OF SALAFIST SUNNI MOVEMENT: ISIS should be understood as the most noxious fruit of a twisted tree.

TRUMP ON WHO REALLY CAUSED 9/11 - NOT IRAQ: This is not being a "9/11 truther." They are a group of conspirators who say the attacks of 9/11 were an inside job with American and or Israeli involvement. That is patently false, but the involvement of prominent Saudis and the willful looking away by some American officials is slowly being revealed as one of the most uncomfortable truths in American foreign policy.


Presidential campaigns are a mix of heavyweight boxing and brothers debating at the dinner table. The debate in South Carolina on February 13 was, by far, the clearest about foreign policy positions to date. A good deal of the credit goes to candidates who made clear statements and the moderator, John Dickerson, who heeded the advice of Pope Francis to the Mexican bishops: "If you disagree, do it like men: argue face to face."

Marco Rubio has three enemies ranking before ISIS and the Salafist Sunnis:
No. 1 is, what are we doing in the Asia-Pacific region, where both North Korea and China pose threats to the national security of the United States.

No. 2 is, what are we doing in the Middle East with the combination of the Sunni-Shia conflict driven by the Shia arc that Iran is now trying to establish in the Middle East, also the growing threat of ISIS.

And the third is rebuilding and reinvigorating NATO in the European theater, particularly in Central Europe and in Eastern Europe, where Vladimir Putin is now threatening the territory of multiple countries.
His threat list is dominated by China and Russia. He sees the Sunni-Shia conflict as driven by the Shia. All of his enemies are fighting Sunni extremism. This mirrors the threat list explained by Ash Carter, the Secretary of Defense, who listed Russia and China as threats one and two.

Jeb Bush represented the same viewpoint as Rubio, but added Assad of Syria. Bush's ideological and  financial backers will make the switch to Rubio comfortably:
...we need to destroy ISIS and dispose of Assad to create a stable Syria so that the four million refugees aren't a breeding ground for Islamic jihadists. It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that Russia could be a positive partner in this. I would immediately create a policy of containment as it relates to Iran's ambitions, and to make it make clear that we are not going to allow for Iran to do what it's doing, which is to move towards a nuclear weapon.
Trump countered:
Jeb is so wrong. You got to fight ISIS first. You fight ISIS first. Right now you have Russia, you have Iran, you have them with Assad, and you have them with Syria. You have to knock out ISIS. They're chopping off heads. These are animals. You have to knock 'em out. You have to knock them off strong. You decide what to do after, you can't fight two wars at one time. If you listen to him, and you listen to some of the folks that I've been listening to, that's why we've been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven't won anything.
Later, Mr. Bush defended his brother:
And while Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe. And I'm proud of what he did.
This led to a back-and-forth between Trump and Rubio:
TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down during your brother's reign, remember that.

RUBIO: I just want to say, at least on behalf of me and my family, I thank God all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore. And again, he kept us safe, and I am forever grateful to what he did for this country.

TRUMP: How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center -- the World -- excuse me. I lost hundreds of friends. The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe.

RUBIO: The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn't kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.

TRUMP: And George Bush -- by the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn't listen to the advice of his CIA.
These are very different foreign policy proposals. On the Democratic side, Senator Sanders is much closer to the Trump perspective than any Republican candidate; while Mrs. Clinton is quite similar to Bush-Rubio.

The key figure in the national security transition from the Clinton White House to the George W. Bush administration was Richard Clarke, the chief counter-terrorism official in the Clinton administration. He was first appointed in 1992 by George H.W. Bush to chair the Counter Terrorism Security Group, and to a seat on the NSC. President Bill Clinton retained Clarke, and in 1998 promoted him to be the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism, the chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council. Under president George W. Bush, Clarke continued in the same position, but the position lost cabinet-level access. He later became the Special Advisor to the president on cyber-security. Clarke left the Bush administration in 2003. Here is his memo to the incoming Bush administration. Here is an interview. Here is Bill Clinton making an emotional, but revealing, argument answering "why he didn't do more to stop bin Laden" to Chris Wallace of Fox News.

At the Houston Feb 25th Republican debate, CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer asked about balancing support for Israel and the neutrality needed to negotiate an Israel/Palestine agreement. Mr Trump said he was the most pro-Israel candidate, but he would try to be a neutral broker. Senator Rubio said there was no neutrality and right now a Palestinian state was not possible. Senator Cruz said he would move our embassy to Jerusalem.

Senator Cruz walked out in the middle of his own speech at a historic meeting of Persecuted Christians in the Mideast in September 2014, when he was booed for assuming that all Christians in the Mideast were unqualified in their support of Israel. Rubio was right that the Palestine/Israel question is yesterday's news and has been eclipsed by the present conflict. The CNN journalist and the candidates, however, missed the much more important question about America's loyalty to Israel. Must our loyalty include approval of  their deepening alliance with the Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi Sunnis who attacked us on September 11, 2001? The election has months to go and Americans need journalists as much as candidates who will reformulate our foreign policy debate in terms of the actual religious and national actors in the present conflict.


ANTHONY SCALIA: R.I.P.: A Catholic man in full. His 2013 New York magazine interview in which he schooled the interviewer on Heaven, Hell, the reality of the Devil, and being out of touch with Americans. Also, his remembrances of his granddaddy and hunting will make you think he died in the right place at the right time. A letter Scalia wrote to a preacher about the purpose of Christian funerals.

THE TRINITARIAN AND COMMUNAL ROOTS OF CATHOLIC EDUCATION: Tracey Rowland's lecture. Here is Fr James Schall's synopsis. "Friendship and Education" - a reflection by a bishop heavily influenced by John Senior and his friends at the University of Kansas.

LOOKING DOWN ON AFRICA: Fr. Rutler catches Albert Schweitzer and present-day German bishops behaving badly toward the darker-skinned sons of Adam.  Americans are much closer to interracial brotherhood than our European cousins.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday BookReview: Graham Greene's "whiskey priest"

(Graham Greene, who died in 1991, was one of the most widely read writers of his century.
Here is a review by Nick Ripatrazone that appeared a couple weeks ago.) 

In the world of Graham Greene’s 1940 novel, The Power and the Glory, it’s a bad time to be a Catholic. The book’s hero is an unnamed priest on the run from Mexican authorities after a state governor has ordered the military to dismantle all vestiges of the religion. Churches are burned. Relics, medals, and crosses are banned. The price for disobedience is death. While many clerics give up their beliefs and accept their government pensions, the unnamed priest travels in secret, celebrating Mass and hearing confessions under the cover of night. Yet he’s also a gluttonous, stubborn, and angry man drowning in vices, and the religious ambition of his earlier years has been replaced with a constant desire to drink, hence Greene’s term for him: the “whiskey priest.” Tired of risking his life, the priest even prays to be caught.

A violent, raw novel about suffering, strained faith, and ultimate redemption, The Power and the Glory received literary acclaim—but not without catching the attention of Catholic censors, who called the book “sad” and denounced its “immoral” protagonist. Despite—or even because of—this vexed history, Greene’s novel is the perfect book to read during the season of Lent... Stereotypically a time for modern Christians to abstain from Facebook or chocolate or alcohol, Lent is the most dramatic time of the liturgical year—40 days of prayer, fasting, and cleaning one’s spiritual house, in hopes that honesty might lead to penance and good deeds. One vision of Lent emphasizes transcendence over struggle: the American Catholic writer Thomas Merton called it “not a season of punishment so much as one of healing.” But Greene’s dark novel and its deeply flawed protagonist offer a richer way to think of faith and self-reflection—one that average Christians might find more accessible and realistic than romantic narratives about belief.

In life and in fiction, Greene was more interested in sinners than saints, and the whiskey priest is no saint—at least not for most of the story. If anything, he’s closer to the modern conception of the antihero. His pride swells his sense of importance. In one village, where the faithful fear retribution from the military officers, the priest hesitates to leave: “Wasn’t it his duty to stay, even if they despised him, even if they were murdered for his sake, even if they were corrupted by his example?” Later, he’s selfish, crude, and heretical in one stroke: He eats a sugar cube that he discovered by a dead child’s mouth, rationalizing “If God chose to give back life, couldn’t He give food as well?” In these and countless other examples, Greene shows how easily dogma can disappear in the face of desperation.

But beneath the darkness of the priest’s actions is faith, which he bears witness to in two pivotal scenes. Arrested for possessing outlawed alcohol, he’s thrown into a small jail cell with a “pious woman,” who later notices a couple having sex in the corner. “The brutes, the animals!” she exclaims. And yet the priest counsels the woman to not think that their action is ugly, “Because suddenly we discover that our sins have so much beauty.” In lines that reflect the lived truth of Lenten struggle, the priest explains, “Saints talk about the beauty of suffering. Well, we are not saints, you and I. Suffering to us is just ugly. Stench and crowding and pain. That is beautiful in that corner—to them.” Greene’s aversion to sentimentality makes for palpable theology. He finds God in dirt and in blood—in the Christian struggle to make faith matter in life.

Ironically, the pious woman is herself the antithesis of Lenten reflection. The priest asks her to pray for him, but she responds, “The sooner you are dead the better.” He thinks about how he can’t see her face in the dark, and uses that blindness as a metaphor for judgment and misunderstanding: “When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.”

Nevertheless, after publication not everyone was convinced of [the novel's] spiritual value, least of all some members of the Vatican, which had been alerted to its questionable content. Greene’s literary celebrity at the time caused some high-level Catholic officials to fear how influential his novel’s depiction of Catholicism would be. One of the consultants appointed to assess the novel concluded that “literature of this kind does harm to the cause of the true religion”...

A self-described “Catholic agnostic,” Greene had believed in “nothing supernatural” until his future wife pointed out his misunderstanding of the Virgin Mary in one of his film reviews. “I was interested that anyone took these subtle distinctions of an unbelievable theology seriously,” he said. After their engagement, he concluded “that if I were to marry a Catholic I ought at least to learn the nature and limits of the beliefs she held ... Besides, I thought, it would kill the time.” Greene “fought and fought hard” against belief on the “ground of a dogmatic atheism,” comparing his struggle to a “fight for personal survival.” In 1926, there was no grand epiphany, but a quiet shift: Greene took the baptismal name of St. Thomas the doubter.
Mr. Greene

So why does [an old] novel about a sinful, alcoholic priest get my vote for the perfect book to read for Lent? Whereas a more optimistic believer might have written a devotional novel, Greene’s novel feels informed by the messy reality of lived belief. (He wrote it after traveling to Tabasco, Mexico, and learning about the brutal anti-Catholic laws imposed by its governor, Tomás Garrido Canabal.) Not despite but because of his sins, the whiskey priest is the prototypical Lenten character. ​Much like how Lenten resolutions—no chocolate! no TV!—are strained with each passing day of the season, the priest expects some degree of failure. But this doesn’t weaken him spiritually.

Dramatizing the Lenten struggle between doubt and faith, complacency and reflection, Greene’s novel examines what happens when an unfit believer is made responsible for the well-being of an entire community. Because the government has destroyed the physical artifacts of Catholicism, the priest must turn inward and confront his own doubts, and as the only remaining face of the church, he’s forced to air his private demons. But rather than reveling in these sins, the priest is crushed by their significance and seeks to replace greed with grace. “It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful,” the priest reflects, before the novel’s tragic end. The world “needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” It’s the novel’s empathy for “the half-hearted and the corrupt”—and its recognition that even those people are worthy of salvation—that makes the story an unlikely but ideal one to revisit in the weeks before Easter.

Holy Communion being distributed in Chiapas, Mexico

Monday, February 22, 2016

Map on Monday: SAUDI ARABIA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Saudi Arabia.

                                         A SHORT PROFILE OF SAUDI ARABIA
by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

Saudi Arabia has a population of 30 million, with 8 to 9 million foreigners. Almost all the physical labor and service work in the kingdom is done by the foreigners. Most are from Muslim countries but there are over a million from the Philippines. Christians are not allowed to worship. Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest military budget in the world after the US, China, and Russia. They have the most oil reserves in the world and are the top oil producer. Over 15% of Saudis are Shiites, but they are clustered in the oil-rich Eastern Province where the Shiites are an oppressed majority (see map at right). Over 50% of Saudi oil is in the Eastern province with its Shiite majority and 20-30% foreign worker population. There is a Pakistani taxi-driver joke that the best proof that Islam is the true religion is that God gave it to the Arabs, and yet it is still here after all their years of misrule.  

Here is how the Saudi Embassy describes the three historical Saudi States:
In the early 18th century, a Muslim scholar and reformer named Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (1702-1792) began advocating a return to the original form of Islam. Abdul Wahhab was initially persecuted by local religious scholars and leaders who viewed his teachings as a threat to their power bases. He sought protection in the town of Diriyah, which was ruled by Muhammad bin Saud.

Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud formed an agreement to dedicate themselves to restoring the pure teachings of Islam to the Muslim community. In that spirit, bin Saud established the First Saudi State, which prospered under the spiritual guidance of bin Abdul Wahhab, known simply as the "Shaikh." By 1788, the Saudi State ruled over the entire central plateau known as the "Najd." That State was displaced by the Ottoman Empire in 1818.

By 1824, the Al-Saud family had regained political control of central Arabia. The Saudi ruler Turki bin Abdullah Al-Saud transferred his capital to Riyadh, some 20 miles south of Diriyah, and established the Second Saudi State. Ottoman armies again forced them out in 1891.

Al-Saud sought refuge with the Bedouin tribes in the vast sand desert of eastern Arabia known as the Rub’ Al-Khali, or ‘Empty Quarter.’ From there, Abdulrahman and his family traveled to Kuwait, where they stayed until 1902. With him was his young son Abdulaziz, who was already making his mark as a natural leader and a fierce warrior for the cause of Islam.

The Modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The young Abdulaziz was determined to regain his patrimony from the Al-Rashid family, which had taken over Riyadh and established a governor and garrison there. In 1902, Abdulaziz – accompanied by only 40 followers – staged a daring night march into Riyadh to retake the city garrison, known as the Masmak Fortress. This legendary event marks the beginning of the formation of the modern Saudi state. After establishing Riyadh as his headquarters, Abdulaziz captured all of the Hijaz, including Makkah and Madinah, in 1924 to 1925. In the process, he united warring tribes into one nation. On September 23, 1932, the country was named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an Islamic state with Arabic as its national language and the Holy Qur’an as its constitution.
Abdulaziz is the father of all the subsequent kings of Saudi Arabia, including present-day King Salman and the Crown Prince Muqrin.

Oil was discovered on the Shiite majority island of Bahrain in 1932, but Standard Oil of California hit the motherload in 1938 just across the Persian Gulf in the Shiite eastern province of Saudi Arabia near the village of Dammam. Over the years the Sauds allied with SOCAL and then  eventually took over all the oil revenues. By 1988 Saudi Aramco completely controlled the country's resources. The Saudis have utilized their dominance in the market to boycott the US, Japan, Britain, and Canada after the 1972 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War, causing the energy crisis of 1973. The Saudis can also glut the market to punish their oil-producing enemies (Russia, Iran, and American fracking companies) as we see today in the precipitous 2015 oil price drops.

Smoke rises from the Grand Mosque in Mecca (1979)
The enormous oil wealth of the Saudis, their original bargain with the most intolerant of all Sunni religious traditions, and their admirable ability to negotiate betwixt allies and enemies -- all combine to place them at the center of the religious and national confusion in the Mideast. As one example of sorting out the confusion, two important events happened in November 1979. The Iranian Shiites began to hold US hostages in our embassy, and the mosque in Mecca was seized by Sunni Salafists.

In response to the mosque seizure, the control of daily cultural life by the Wahhabi clerics tightened throughout the nation. The long memory of the Iranian hostage crisis and the amnesia of the much more consequential Mecca event is a prime example of the Sunni-Shia confusion which has so perplexed American policymakers in the Mideast. Finally, policymakers who take Islam seriously as a religion must not forget that there is another claimant to the holy places in the Sunni world. The Hashemite story of the 1924 Saudi seizure of the Hajiz (the area of Mecca and Medina) is a different narrative than told on the Saudi embassy web page.

For the Jordanians, the story of the holy cities of Islam is not a triumphant  tale of the Saudi-Wahhabi concord. The emir of Mecca from 1908 to 1917 was Hussein bin Ali. The Young Turk revolution in 1908 set an increasingly nationalistic and secular movement against the Arab-friendly Islamic arrangements of the Ottoman empire. Hussein did not think of himself as an Arab nationalist, but he found the young Turkish nationalists to be the enemy of his Arab kinsmen and their religion. Hussein sided with the British against the Ottomans (who sided with the Germans and Austrians in World War I). After leading the great Arab revolt against the Ottomans, the Hashemite clan would be betrayed by the British in Iraq and Syria -- and usurped in the holy cities by the Sauds. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a very different Sunni civilization than their Saudi neighbors. They, too, have been longtime allies of the United States and represent an alternative approach to how Islam and the nations shall be configured.

Saudi Arabia is more than the Saudi clan and the Wahhabi clerics. It is Shiites in oil-rich provinces, as well as foreign workers who do the work but can neither worship nor speak freely. It is other Sunnis with different ideas of an Arab nation or Islamic caliphate. Those Sunnis love God and the Islamic ummah, but they may not feel the same about the House of Saud.  

See January 31st's Religion and Geopolitics Review for many articles examining Saudi Arabia, as well as our book review on the Kingdom.
Originally posted on February 2, 2015

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 20

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch



After a thousand years, the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Russia meet (read the text of the joint proclamation). This is the deepest and oldest of the divisions within Christianity (Catholic vs Orthodox, East-West schism in 1054 AD). The Orthodox Churches do not accept the authority of the Pope, but their bishops are successors of the apostles, and thus they have an apostolic priesthood and the Eucharistic Presence like the Catholics. Hundreds of years later the sundering between Catholics and Protestants led to the many Christian denominations of today. These divisions began in 1517 with the German followers of Martin Luther, and were solidified in the same century with the theology and 'Institutes' of French-speaking John Calvin.

The Pope and the Patriarch began with a proclamation of the Trinity:
By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.
They were  fully aware that it is precisely this Trinitarian formulation for which Christians are being killed in the Mideast.
Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed.
The urgency and drama of this meeting is a response by bishops of Christianity that their disunity is a disgrace in the face of an ecumenism of blood that is occurring in the Mideast, South Asia, and Africa.
We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians.
The implications of this sign of union have been lost on much of the secular media, as well as many "Christian conservative candidates" who in the same breath decry the loss of religious liberty in America and then aggressively call for an atheistic alliance of NATO against the Russians. The Pope and Patriarch have a much more profound historical view. They understood the significance of meeting in Cuba where a Catholic president met the atheist Empire in a great nuclear drama a half century ago. They understand that the fight against communism was not done in the name of capitalism, but by religious nations and movements allied against the armed atheistic superstate. The possibility of true peace for America, the European nations, and Russia which both Gorbachev and Reagan believed in has been squandered by the baby-boomer foreign policy establishment of NATO and the US. 

The Pope and Patriarch see it this way:
In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions.
They present to Europeans a different strategy for union:
The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.
"Religious identities" in this context do not refer to the Muslims, Jews, and Christians of Europe. Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Italy, and Greece -- all the nations of Europe are, in fact, different civic expressions of Christian identities which have been erased in the technological modernist definition of the European Union. The Argentine Bishop of Rome and the Russian Patriarch of Moscow are not leaving the movement to recover the national identities of Europe to the nativist pagans. That was done once before. The different nations are in fact "religious identities."

Though separated for a thousand years, there are some Christian truths about the bonds of human love that are so fundamental, they are still shared;
The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).
This meeting, in direct response to the persecution of Christians in the Mideast, will hopefully stir the political imaginations of Christian men and nations to unite in creating a more just world, with nations who accept the sovereignty of God and liberty of men as fundamental laws. To read the text is to put on the mind of Christ for it is to see humanity as a whole. It is a purifying view that helps a man imagine the role of his own beloved country in the context of this wider drama of all humanity.


When Pope Francis called together bishops for the Synod on the Family, he told them to talk as brothers. They should disagree and contend but do it "face to face like men." In the joint declaration with the Patriarch we see those words again:
It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.
And off the cuff, when Pope Francis addressed infighting among bishops talking with the Mexican bishops, he used the same language:
“If you have to fight, fight. If you have to tell each other off, say it to them. But as men, face to face,” he instructed. “But as men of God, pray together … and if you crossed the line, ask for forgiveness. But be sure to maintain the unity of the episcopate.”
We are brothers. There is a wide-radius public communion at the heart of our relations, but there are disagreements and it is better to contend openly than by back-biting and gossip. How many priests, bishops, and laymen do we know who are always "nice" to a man's face, but then biting behind his back? How much better, how much more masculine, how much more fitting for the tasks of public life that we talk to one another as men, face to face, in the Church and civic life.


Pope Francis prayed before Our Lady of Guadalupe and addressed the Mexican bishops. His vision has always been rooted in the common pious practices of the faithful. Thus, in Mexico his visit was centered around shared devotion to our Lady of Guadalupe.
How could I not come! Could the successor of Peter, called from the far south of Latin America, deprive himself of seeing la Virgen Moronity?
He chastised the bishops not to be "princes," but told civic and ecclesial authorities alike to stand up to the violence of the drug cartels. But, above all, he brought this priestly and fatherly message to the brotherhood of fathers:
God exists and is close in Jesus Christ. Only God is the reality upon which we can build, because, “God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face” (Benedict VI, Address to CELAM, May 13, 2007). Observing your faces, the Mexican people have the right to witness the signs of those “who have seen the Lord” (John 20:25), of those who have been with God. This is essential. Therefore, do not lose time or energy in secondary things, in gossip or intrigue, in conceited schemes of careerism, in empty plans for superiority, in unproductive groups that seek benefits or common interests. Do not allow yourselves to be dragged into gossip and slander. Introduce your priests into a right understanding of sacred ministry. For us ministers of God, it is enough to have the grace to “drink the cup of the Lord,” the gift of protecting that portion of the heritage which has been entrusted to us, though we may be unskilled administrators. Let us allow the Father to assign the place he has prepared for us (Matt. 20:20–28). Can we really be concerned with affairs that are not the Father’s? Away from the “Father’s affairs” (Luke 2:48–49) we lose our identity and, through our own fault, empty his grace of meaning.


In another off-the-cuff airplane interview, Pope Francis' words have been twisted by the liberal media to advance their agenda.  That blatant misinterpretation is then amplified by being faithfully broadcast as more evidence of the pope's perfidy by Catholic conservatives. The latest case in point: "Pope says Trump is not a Christian." But what did Mr. Trump and Pope Francis really say?
MR TRUMP: "It's gonna be a great wall," Trump said. "This will be a wall with a big, very beautiful door because we want the legals to come back into the country."

POPE FRANCIS: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel,”
All living things have an outer covering which must do two things: there must be a barrier and there must be permeability. This is true of cell membranes, national borders, Vatican City walls, and regulations for Catholic Communion. If you only have a barrier, there will be no life. This is not Christ. If it is all permeability, there is no internal identity -- this was the destruction of the Flood. Biologically it is the rupturing death of swelling cells that let in too much water.

A barrier and permeability -- both necessary for life -- a great wall and a big door. The Pontiff (which means "maker of a bridge") and the nationalist (who says there can be no nation if we cannot control borders) will talk face to face some day in fraternity. Meanwhile across South Carolina's Evangelical landscape, it will never hurt any candidate to dispute with a Catholic Pope over Christian credentials.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday BookReview: Jesuit prisoner in the USSR

"Christ Jesus, of his own free will, gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant... He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death -- his death on the cross."                     (Philippians 2:7-8)


Walter Ciszek was born of Polish immigrants in a mining area of Pennsylvania -- but spent much of his life in Soviet prisons. He survived the tortures of interrogation at Lubianka, and the prison camps of arctic Siberia.

Here is a profile of his life in 'Crisis' magazine from a couple years ago.

In the late 1920s, Ciszek studied at the Jesuit seminary in Poughkeepsie, New York. 
[Called St. Andrew's-on-the-Hudson, this is where Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would be laid to rest several decades later. The campus was purchased in 1970 by a fancy culinary school.]

Repatriated to the U.S. in 1963, he died six years after the Polish cardinal of Krakow was elevated to the papacy. It would have been fascinating to witness Fr. Ciszek's reaction to that stunning bit of news from Rome!

Some excerpts from his memoir He Leadeth Me:
"Many a time, as I folded up the handkerchief on which the body of our Lord had lain, and dried the glass or tin cup used as a chalice, the feeling of having performed something tremendously valuable for the people of this Godless country was overpowering."  
"I marveled often at the ways of divine providence and the mysterious workings of grace in perserving the faith in Russia, despite the full might and power of an atheistic system determined to stamp out religion, despite even the all too human failings of the churches themselves." 

One of the best chapters of this small book is on humility; he says it is "nothing more or less than knowing our place before God." Christ's perfect act of humility "reached its crest on the cross, where he died humiliated and deprived of everything." Father Ciszek says that most of us find it incredibly hard to be humble when we're humiliated: "We constantly need to remind ourselves of the humble Christ, the Christ who did always the will of the Father..."
"Then, as the years go by, difficulties increase and there is a constant need for more sacrifice and a renewal of spirit in the initial promise or vow taken. And then it is that the test of one's humility -- the realization of one's place before God -- really begins."  
"No matter how badly the humble man fails, he will reckon his accounts with God and start over again, for his humility tells him of his total dependence on God."  
"That's what humility means -- learning to accept disappointments and even defeat as God-sent, learning to persevere and carry on with peace of heart and confidence in God... And just as surely as we begin to fail in humility, we begin to lose sight of God and his grace, to exclude him to some extent from our lives.
Be thankful then, I thought to myself, that God in his loving care sends humiliations your way. Be thankful for the KGB... You haven't done anything yet in the Soviet Union except by God's grace and his will..." 

Father Ciszek (pictured below during his imprisonment): "Faith, then, is the basis for love; it is in the insight of faith that we understand the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all men. Love, St. John writes repeatedly, is the one thing that fulfills all the commandments and the law. But prior to love, and bolstering it at the core, is faith; we must have faith before we can love, or we will surely end up loving the wrong thing... To increase our love, to love properly, we must strive always to increase our faith, and we do this by means of prayer and the sacraments." 


"Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves."                                                (Philippians 2:3)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Noah and His Sons—The Nations, Natural Law, and the Rainbow

(first published 2/22/15)

by David Pence

    The traditions that flow from the story of Noah and his sons are crucial to the Christian understanding of the unity of the human species and the political authority of the nations. Noah as the righteous grandfather and his seventy grandsons are considered progenitors of the current 200 nations. All humans have a common ancestor refuting the polygenesis racial theory that humans have many origins. The Tower of Babel showed that God would not allow humans to speak a single language nor organize ourselves as a single nation. He “made from one man every nation  of mankind to live on all the face of the earth having determined their appointed times and boundaries.” “When he separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples..”  Men have an obligation to order our different language and ethnic groupings under law and communal authority for the common good in these different bounded communities. The human species is one because of our common origin and destiny but we live out history in the public bonds of accord known as nations. The loyalties of fathers and sons extend beyond kinship groups to these larger God ordained covenants defined by borders and law. This does not mean every border dispute is a theological issue. It does mean that to imagine a world without borders is to imagine a world disobeying the will of God.  

The Jewish tradition defines Seven Noahide Laws as the natural law. All righteous men and primitive societies should obey these laws. When we meet a society that has no sense of them, we can judge they have strayed from a more original sense of justice in their past. This same judgment applies to ourselves. Among intellectuals there is a heavy emphasis on natural law being accessible to human reason-especially the syllogistic reasoning of philosophers. However the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob retains its outdoor wholistic sensibility where the power and the glory of God is apprehended by spiritual faculties other than discursive reasoning. The first two Noahidic natural laws are “Do not deny God” and “Do not blaspheme God.” Maimonides (the greatest rabbi of the last thousand years, who died in Egypt in 1204) insisted, in fact, that men were not following the Noahide law unless they acknowledged it came from above -- and not from man’s reason. He thought men could reason to these laws, but like all the major Asian and Semitic traditions he posited that authority comes from some transcendent order, not man’s intellectual apprehension. In China for instance there is no "founding myth” of the Chinese State but a sense that there was some original order in which men obeyed God and were in harmony followed by a series of wars and dislocations overcome eventually by  a restoration of harmony in conformance with the transcendental order.  
Egyptian statue of Maimonides
The tradition of categorizing the Holy Other--the sacred and the taboo was given to all humans, though it has been lost by different cultures both primitive and modern through the ages. The prohibition of eating live animals distinguished the human meal from the carnivore’s kill. And right after discussing the blood of animals and ordaining a food chain, God showed His profound preference.  "Who so shedeth a man’s blood, his blood by man shall be shed; for in the image of God made He man.”  God does not safeguard life by using the language of human rights as much as establishing a sword to safeguard the Divine Imprint. The culture of life abides in a culture of protection.
The seventh Noahidic law commanded men to establish a state and the rule of law to enforce the commands of the first six laws. There would be no rule of law without a ruler; no community without authority; no keepers of the Law without an enforcer of the law. The Jews saw the necessity of authority as mandated by God and constitutive of the social nature of man. Even apart from Abraham and revelation, there was an ordering of the human species into social bodies of city, tribe, and empire under a king or a khan, a prince or a potentate, an emir or an emperor. This God-centered natural ordering of men into public bodies with prohibitions and taboos against murder and sexual perversion safeguard the interpersonal flourishing of our species. When Christ faced the Roman with the authority to order his execution he did not chant “End the death penalty now!”  He did not “Question authority!” He acknowledged that the authority of the state to execute, embodied in the official of the state, had come from God. Pilate in turn publicly proclaimed that the man he  executed was the King of the Jews.
    The ordering of men (Noah and his sons) into communities of law with just and certain authority to control criminals is a fundamental fact of human nature and our common history.  God promised that he would never destroy the earth by water again. He gave Noah and his sons the order he had given Adam: “To be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” He made this covenant with all living things through the one being who could make public social covenants-- the human father and his sons.  All of men’s attempts to live in distinct communities of law come from our very nature and that ancient command to Noah and his sons. God left a sign of ordered beauty to reflect the ordered loves that are necessary for men to live in peace. Remember God’s plan for properly ordered male unions next time you see a rainbow.

The seven Noahide laws as traditionally enumerated:

1. Do not deny God.
2. Do not blaspheme God.
3. Do not murder.
4. Do not engage in incestuous, adulterous, or homosexual relationships.
5. Do not steal.
6. Do not eat of a live animal.
7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure law and obedience.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 13

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE ON CHINA; CHINA ON MEN: An interview with Asia Times and Pope Francis. Understanding the deep patterns of agreement of Catholic categories and Asian thought - a review of Chan on Asian theologies.

POPE AND RUSSIA AND THE GREAT COUNCIL OF ORTHODOXY: A truly historic meeting of Pope Francis and the Russian patriarch. The need for the Christian nations to unite against Salafist Islam to save the Mideast Christians from erasure, and the African Christians from murder, is driving the Christian East and West back into a communion of dialogue and shared protective mission. The Bishop of Rome and Patriarch of Russia meet in Cuba on February 12, while the patriarchs and autocephalus bishops of Orthodoxy will meet for several weeks (opening June 19, 2016) on the island of Crete. Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican reports on Catholic-Orthodox relations with a special authority. John Chryssavigs in First Things gives a good introduction to the Great Council in Crete.

THE POPE AND THE PATRIARCH MEET IN CUBA: Their common declaration. Our comments next week.


NEOCONSERVATIVES, REPUBLICANS, AND RUBIO: An interesting analysis of why Marco Rubio is now the favored representative of neoconservative war policies rather than the Bush family. Stephen Walt, dean of the "realists," looks at the foreign policy positions of five top candidates. He agrees with the American Conservative article cited above that Marco Rubio is a more reliable (more pliable?) carrier of neoconservative influence.

TRUMP AND ASIA - A REAL DIFFERENCE: From a good source on Asia - the Diplomat. This is one area of foreign policy in which Mr Trump has been very clear and very different.

KASICH - WHICH ANGLICAN CHURCH?: John Kasich is an Anglican. But he belongs to the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) - the group that broke from American Episcopalians over the normalization of homosexuality. He is now aligned more with traditionally Christian black Anglicans of Africa than with white 'gender ideologues' of Canada, the US, and England.

THREE REPUBLICANS DEFEND THE "RIGHT" OF WOMEN TO REGISTER FOR THE DRAFT: Ted Cruz said they were "nuts" in a speech the next day. Two men on a wedding cake and all women registering for military combat are fruits of the same twisted tree. If the point of the the Trump campaign is to rise up from the restricted speech patterns of politically correct 'femspeak,' he was MIA on that question. Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush all were in favor of the inclusion of our daughters in the registration system for the military draft. On the big questions the "Republican establishment" is tongue-tied. They have no religious vision of the sacred sexual order which is foundational to our American political community. 


THE HEADSCARF AND ME - A LESSON FROM A TURKISH LADY: An essay on manners, modernism, and religion in Turkey. And it was in the New Yorker magazine.

WHY IS AMERICA RESTARTING THE COLD WAR WITH RUSSIA?: A question asked by California GOP Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher (chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats) questions cutting in half the military spending to fight ISIS while doubling the spending to raise arms against Russia. His arguments should be strongly considered by our presidential candidates and reported in the broader media.


LOOKING DOWN ON AFRICA: Fr. George Rutler takes us from Albert Schweitzer to modern German bishops in a tale of racial conceit.

NIGERIA - SPLIT AGAIN BY TRIBE: The Igbo tribe of the Southeast again stirs for separatism (mindful of the Biafran War 1967-70). The Christians need a much more robust spiritual basis for the nation to counter these separatist ethnic claims. Southeastern Nigeria is home of the Igbos and 75% of the country's oil.


CHINA AND MALE TEACHERS: The need for masculine role models and masculine character traits is treated like a cultural given - many lessons here as Chinese seek to increase male teachers for boys.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday BookReview: BRIDESHEAD REVISITED -- "I can't shut myself out from His mercy"

(There are thousands of Christians who love Mr. Waugh's 1945 novel about an upper-class Catholic family in 1930s England; but also a great number who find it both perplexing and detestable. If you're one of the latter, call a ten-minute truce and ponder some of the following insights of Charles Hallett, who taught English at Fordham for many years.

The TV serial of "Brideshead Revisited," starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder, aired in 1981):

Charles, a non-Catholic, is both repulsed and attracted by the mysterious force that unites and directs the seemingly disparate members of the Flyte family...

Almost as soon as he becomes the chum of Sebastian Flyte, Charles makes us feel his repulsion for the Flyte family religion and for its chief representative, Sebastian's mother, Lady Marchmain, whose attempts to bring stability to Sebastian's life are viewed as the insidious cause of the decline she wishes to prevent. I have always suspected Waugh of laying a trap for the unsuspecting reader, in that he so deliberately makes us identify with Sebastian and Charles, those free spirits who find Oxford constraining, that we adopt Charles' view of Lady Marchmain. Not until late in the novel do we realize that Waugh continually likens this remarkable lady to the Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows).

Claire Bloom as Lady Marchmain

The mystery that Waugh is rendering is best approached through a survey of the members of the Marchmain family. At one extreme stand three who remain staunchly Catholic. Lady Marchmain's oldest son, Bridey, "massive" in his "rectitude," embodies the "legalistic" side of the Church. Bridey knows all its regulations and never deviates from any. His strict adherence to Catholic precepts, especially at moments of crisis in the family (marriages, say, or deaths) causes spiritual explosions. Waugh uses "Bridey's bombshells" to keep bringing reality into his sister Julia's life and to precipitate the dramatic climax of the novel.

Lady Marchmain is Waugh's tribute to the old Catholic families, England's Recusants. She is charitable, believing that "it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included." Lady Marchmain lives for others, unobtrusively, selfless but not a saint, enduring with fortitude an inner suffering undetected by all but her daughter Cordelia. Chief among her sorrows are the defection of her husband, Lord Marchmain, the miseries her children bring upon themselves by their willfulness, their abandonment of the Faith, and consequentially a "deadly sickness in her body." Waugh associates Lady Marchmain closely with her chapel, which houses the Eucharist. When she died, Cordelia tells us, "the priest came in... blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty." Suddenly, "there wasn't any chapel any more, just an oddly decorated room."

Cordelia, the youngest child, more overtly a touchstone, presents the Faith from the wholesome viewpoints of wisdom and humor. She can baffle both catechumen and priest by mischievously representing common superstitions as articles of the Creed, but lives the Faith selflessly. In Cordelia's confidences to Charles, we hear Waugh's own voice.


At the other extreme are Julia's two lovers. In Julia's husband Rex Mottram, Waugh draws a fascinating portrait of the hollow man: handsome, rich, powerful, and absolutely amoral. Rex "needs setting up solidly" and finds Julia, London's top debutante, "a suitable prize." He is all for a Catholic wedding, because "that's one thing your Church can do... put on a good show," but prefers to waive the instruction. The Jesuit charged with acquainting Rex with Catholic precepts finds that Rex "doesn't seem to have the least intellectual curiosity or natural piety," and Julia learns, over time, that Rex "isn't a real person at all; he's just a few faculties of a man highly developed." She sums him up as "something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory, a tiny bit of a man pretending he was whole."

Charles, the narrator of the story and the proposed second husband of Julia (he and Julia have been living together at Brideshead and at a certain point she decides that they must marry, for she "wants to be made an honest woman"), has greater potential than Rex. Both men are worldly, but Charles's worldliness is civilized... Charles, too, even after his travels to the New World, even after the growth of his love for Julia, is "still a small part of myself pretending to be whole." But unlike Rex, Charles knows it, though he doesn't know yet what he learns later, that a man can be complete only if God resides in him.

In between these two extremes wander the apostates -- Lord Marchmain, Sebastian, and Julia -- those members of the Flyte family who flee from God.

Lord Marchmain embraces Catholicism in the initial stages of his love for Lady Marchmain and says when they are married, "You have brought back my family to the faith of their ancestors," but soon finds the bonds of marriage confining. He flees to Italy, where he sets up with a mistress. His chief characteristic is to hate his wife, and one of the main activating forces in his life is to authorize any action on his children's part that will give her suffering.

In Sebastian, their younger son, a homosexual, Waugh paints a consummate portrait of an [alcoholic]. Seeking to be "free," Sebastian flees all civilizing and restraining forces -- not only the dons at Oxford, Monsignor Bell the bishop, and his mother, but "his own conscience and all claims of human affection" as well. He drinks at first, like Charles, from the pure joy of overflowing spirits, but later to escape from reality. A true Flyte, Sebastian spends most of the novel "running away as far and as fast as I can," to Italy, Constantinople, Tangier, and is finally "found starving and taken in at a monastery near Carthage."

Lord Marchmain receiving the Last Rites

Julia too turns her back on the family religion and embraces instead the magnetic Rex Mottram. When that marriage fails, she [eventually crosses paths with Charles, and he] moves in with Julia at Brideshead, an arrangement that Rex finds utterly convenient.

It is through Cordelia that Waugh introduces the final chapters of the novel that show the mysterious power of the Faith to reclaim those who have been shaped by it. Speaking to Charles at the end of Part I, Cordelia observes that 
the family haven't been very constant, have they? There is Papa gone and Sebastian gone and Julia gone. But God won't let them go for long, you know. I wonder if you remember the story Mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk... Father Brown said something like "I caught him... with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."

And later she reveals to Charles that Sebastian has gone back to the Church. The suffering that Sebastian undergoes, "maimed as he is" by drink -- "no dignity, no power of will," Cordelia declares -- acts as a purgation, making him holy. Sebastian becomes an under-porter at the monastery, "a great favourite with the old fathers," whom he serves, and in his humility he is "very near and dear to God." Waugh portrays the reeling in of Julia and Lord Marchmain in fuller detail.

Bridey's bombshells play a key role in awakening the conscience of Julia. The first of them occurs when he announces his engagement to Beryl, then states that because "Beryl is a woman of strict Catholic principle" he couldn't possibly bring her to Brideshead, where Julia is "living in sin with Rex or Charles or both." Bridey's frank observation sparks in Julia a deep realization of the meaning of her actions, an awareness that she has been "living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out"; that Christ bore her sin too, "hanging at noon, high among the crowds and the soldiers." Julia believes at this point that though "I've gone too far [from God and] there's no turning back now," yet she can still "put my life in some sort of order in a human way" by marrying Charles. And thus does Julia feel the twitch on the thread.

Julia and Charles 

Bridey's next bombshell explodes after Lord Marchmain, driven out of Italy by impending war and a serious heart problem, comes back to Brideshead to die. Bridey announces that "Papa must see a priest," a proposal that brings into focus the spiritual gulf that separates Charles from Julia. Julia leans toward the family's point of view: What is at stake here is the salvation of a soul. Lord Marchmain has not been a practicing member of the Church for 25 years and must before his death be reconciled to God. Charles staunchly opposes summoning a priest, on the grounds (ironically) that Lord Marchmain should be allowed "to die in peace." In Charles's view, the Church will "come now, when his mind's wandering and hasn't the strength to resist, and claim him as a death-bed penitent"; it's all "superstition and trickery"...

Waugh makes it a crucial question of his denouement how Lord Marchmain will respond to the ministrations of Father Mackay. Then he gives an apparent victory to Charles. When Lord Marchmain sees the priest and sternly orders Bridey to "show Father Mackay the way out," Charles feels jubilant: "I had been right, everybody else had been wrong," he exults. But Waugh's plot does not end here. As Lord Marchmain's condition worsens, Julia brings the priest back. Her father seems "nearer to death than life" as Father Mackay begins to administer the sacrament of absolution. Then suddenly there is a change, first in Charles and then in Lord Marchmain -- Charles "knelt, too, and prayed: 'O God, if there is a God, forgive him his sins, if there is such a thing as sin,' and the man on the bed opened his eyes." At that moment Charles feels an intense longing for a sign. Then Lord Marchmain moves his hand to his forehead, to his breast, to his shoulder, and makes the sign of the cross.

Lord Marchmain's deathbed conversion effects Julia's. At the novel's end, Julia faces the inevitable truth -- that a marriage to Charles, legally achievable by his divorce... and hers from Rex, would be no marriage in the eyes of God. It is not this marriage that will "make her an honest woman" but fidelity to the commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Julia knows, finally, that "the worse I am, the more I need God. I can't shut myself out from His mercy." And Charles sees the truth of her choice...

When we last meet Charles, years later, as he revisits the Brideshead estate which has called forth these memories that make up the novel's story, we find that Charles now shares the Marchmain's respect for the Holy Eucharist. He goes straight to Lady Marchmain's chapel, where he discovers "a small red flame -- a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle... burning anew among the old stones," and before the tabernacle he prays. Such are the ways of Grace.

Monday, February 8, 2016


The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Southeast Asia

by A. Joseph Lynch 

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Mainland southeast Asia forms a long, north-south peninsula bordered by (from northeast to northwest) the Gulf of Tonkin, the South China Sea, the Gulf of Thailand, the Strait of Malacca, the Andaman Sea, and the Bay of Bengal. Within the boundaries of these waters may be found the five nations of this regional post: Vietnam,(92mill) Cambodia(15mill), Laos(7mill), Thailand,(68mill) and Myanmar (or Burma)(52mill). At roughly the size of Texas, Myanmar is by far the largest nation in the region. The rest, compared to US states, fall into the following order: Thailand (larger than California), Vietnam (New Mexico), Laos (Minnesota), and Cambodia (North Dakota).

The physical geography of the region is marked by a mountainous north, with ranges extending southwards along Vietnam's border with Laos and Cambodia, and down the Kra Isthmus dividing Myanmar and Thailand. The region's lowlands are generally minimal, with Vietnam's low-lying coastal plains wedged in between the mountains and the sea. Myanmar's central valley region extends southward toward the Andaman Sea with mountain chains running along its east and west. Cambodia and south-central Thailand (the "rice bowl of Asia"), however, enjoy the benefits of the Mekong and Chao Phraya river systems and the low-lying areas for agriculture.

The region's climate is dominated by a monsoon cycle of wet, humid, hot summers and dry winters. Natural resources vary from nation to nation, with Thailand rich in tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, and arable land; while Laos is relatively poor in resources beyond its dense forests, and some deposits of gypsum, tin, and gold. Vietnam's access to the South China Sea makes it a regional competitor for natural energy resources like gas and oil, but it is also rich in coal, iron ore, and copper. Cambodia's limited natural resources include its forests, energy resources in the Gulf of Thailand, along with some moderate amounts of mineral resources. Myanmar is a mineral-rich nation with an estimated ten trillion cubic feet of natural gas off its coast - but its state of extreme low development often leaves its resources untapped.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

With the exception of Myanmar's 135 distinct ethnic groups, the region's nations are each relatively uniform in ethnicity. Roughly 96% of Thailand's inhabitants are ethnic Thais, while 90% of Cambodians are of Khmer descent. About 86% of Vietnamese are of the Viet ethnicity and 60% of the population of Laos are ethnic Laos. Myanmar, despite its vast ethnic diversity, remains 68% ethnic Bamar and 10% Shan (both peoples originate in south China's Yunnan region). Myanmar has seen years of internal conflict with the ill-treated Shan.  Myanmar does not recognize the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group from the state of Rakhine as indigenous natives deserving citizenship.  (See Buddhists expel "historical Muslim invaders" from AOA  and Burma profile Map on Monday of AOA)

The region's majority languages are formed by the Austro-Asiatic Languages ("austro" meaning "south") spoken in Vietnam (i.e. Vietnamese) and Cambodia (i.e. Khmer) and the Tai-Kadai Languages of Laos (i.e. Lao), Thailand (i.e. Thai), and part of Myanmar (i.e. Shan). Myanmar is also home to the Burmese language related to the broader Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The colonial history of Britain and France has also left a lasting French and English presence in the region. Beyond these languages, however, is a host of diverse languages rooted in the region's small ethnic groups.

Theravāda Buddhism is the most practiced religion in the region with 67% of Laos, 80%-89% of Burmese, 95% of Thais, and 97% of Cambodians adhering to the religion. The path to enlightenment and Nirvana in Theravāda Buddhism is marked by a seven-stage Path of Purification: (1) Purification of Conduct, (2) Purification of Mind, (3) Purification of View, (4) Purification by Overcoming Doubt, (5) Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What Is Path and Not Path, (6) Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice, and (7) Purification by Knowledge and Vision. This Path of Purification was written around the year AD 430 by Buddhaghosa, whose works comprise the orthodox understanding of Theravāda Buddhist doctrine and systematized summations of Buddha's teachings. {Update Oct 2018: See Our Map on Monday:Mapping Buddhism}

Almost half of Vietnamese practice "folk religions" while decades of Communist rule have left roughly 30% practicing no religion.There are 6million Catholics and 12 million Buddhists.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Bordering the nations of this regional post are other important actors in the broader southeast Asia: Malaysia (and Singapore), Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, and China.We will look at the geopolitics and military history  of each country in future individual postings. AOA on President Diem and the Vietnam War.

Some Additional Resources 

For more information on Cambodia, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Laos, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Myanmar, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Thailand, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Vietnam, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.

See also the video from Geography Now! on Cambodia.

This post originally appeared on Anthropology of Accord on November 16, 2015

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, February 6

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE ON MARRIAGE:  This beautiful uncompromising papal message to the Rota. For all who think the Pope's reaching out to the many victims of modern sexual immaturity means he does not appreciate the indissoluble nature of Christian marriage - this message should be reassuring. It might also cause self reflection for those so eager to disparage the Holy Father as not quite up to the doctrinal demands of his office.

A PROBLEM THAT WILL NOT GO QUIETLY IN THE CLOSET:  Sympathy for priests coming out. A metropolitan US cardinal in an interview with national news said the "Church has not been as welcoming as we might have been with gays".  During the last 40 years of the 20th century American seminaries opened their doors to a dominating influx of homosexuals in our priesthood. They continue to exert a huge cultural influence as "conservatives" or "progressives."  The American clergy has a huge problem with talking straight about homosexuality and loving like a brotherhood of fathers. Even straight priests are compromised  by their accommodations  and lifelong interrelationships with "brother priests " who cannot relate as brothers or fathers.

RAP GETS RELIGION: Rap and religious themes.Some of us once hoped that the purpose of rap was to bring the WORD back into music which had been destroyed by heavy metal and electronics. That prayer is still to be answered.

ORTHODOXY- CAN IT BE A FORCE FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY? The strength of Orthodoxy should be its Eucharistic local presence in a city or nation (book review of 'Eucharist, Bishop, Church' by Zizioulas). The scandal of Orthodoxy has been its capture by local ethnicities even exporting the "local church" to a new locality where several ethnic Orthodox churches live in not-so-loving harmony. Can the Orthodox meet as Christian brothers? An ecumenical council of orthodox bishops and patriarchs.

CHRIST IN ASIA:  The Buddha is not Christ, nor is he the anti-Christ. The differences between Buddhism and Christianity are not trivial. As the Dalai Lama said: "You believe in a personal God and I do not."   The tradition of Confucius is quite different.  Anthony Clark of the Catholic World Report praises the best introduction to the relationship of a worldview shaped by Confucius and Christianity: Ways of Confucius and of Christ. As Christianity grows in China, Confucius too is making his proper comeback as a source of ethics and worldview beyond materialism. A review of Michael Schuman's book "Confucius and the World He Created."


SAUDI ARABIA INTERNAL SAFETY FOR SHIA: Deadly attack on a mosque in Saudi Arabia says the CBS headline. Guess what kind of mosque got bombed? (from Al Jazeera). The best summary of the serious ills of the Kingdom. The narrowing at the top of the Determined audi ruling family is no time for Israel and the US to let our foreign policy be shaped by them.  The Saudis are also no longer the leading supplier of China's oil - another cause of tension between Riyadh and Moscow.

IRAN AND VATICAN: Shia and Catholics - a God-centered dialogue. The Pope and the Vatican seem to have a better hold on the potential important role of Shia Muslims in shaping a world in which the sovereignty of God and necessity of religious liberty go hand-in-hand.

LEBANON CHRISTIANS RECONCILE IN PREPARATION FOR WAR: The Christians must be united. Will US Christians understand the religious alignments  in Lebanon before we align with the enemies of the Christians. It will be difficult for our allies in Israel to see Hezbollah as an ally but that is precisely how the Christians see them. That is the real meaning of this new Christian alliance.

SYRIAN PATRIARCH LAUDS RUSSIA, BESEECHES THE "WEST":Who has actually defended Christians?


ON TRUMP: Sean Trende is editor of Real Clear Politics - a good daily clearing house of articles (Real Clear World and Real Clear Religion are all excellent sources).  He was co-author in 2014 of the Almanac of American Politics (the biennial bible explaining American history and elections edited for many years by Michael Barone). This is his insightful three-part essay on Why Trump? Why Now?

NATIONAL SECURITY AND BREACHES: Before Hillary Clinton, there was a significant breach of American security that led to less than draconian punishments. How Petraeus avoided a felony.

EUROPE AND NATIONS: Daniel Mahoney on Manent. Manent has argued for a long time that political life depends on real territorial entities like cities and particularly nations. I have never thought he has a vigorous enough masculinity or religious sensibility to really explain nations, but he is a formidable thinker. His rejection of Rene Girard on violence is another plus. Professor Mahoney is an excellent guide to his thought.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday BookReview: W.H. Auden on LORD OF THE RINGS

(first published October 10, 2014)

One of Tolkien's earliest defenders was Mr Auden; here is a portion of his 1956 book review that appeared in the 'NY Times' -

In "The Return of the King," Frodo Baggins fulfills his Quest, the realm of Sauron is ended forever, the Third Age is over and J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" complete. I rarely remember a book about which I have had such violent arguments. Nobody seems to have a moderate opinion: either, like myself, people find it a masterpiece of its genre or they cannot abide it, and among the hostile there are some, I must confess, for whose literary judgment I have great respect...

Mr. Tolkien has succeeded more completely than any previous writer in this genre in using the traditional properties of the Quest, the heroic journey, the Numinous Object, the conflict between Good and Evil while at the same time satisfying our sense of historical and social reality...

As readers of the preceding volumes will remember, the situation in the War of the Ring is as follows: Chance, or Providence, has put the Ring in the hands of the representatives of Good, Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn. By using it they could destroy Sauron, the incarnation of evil, but at the cost of becoming his successor. If Sauron recovers the Ring, his victory will be immediate and complete, but even without it his power is greater than any his enemies can bring against him, so that, unless Frodo succeeds in destroying the Ring, Sauron must win.


Evil, that is, has every advantage but one -- it is inferior in imagination. Good can imagine the possibility of becoming evil -- hence the refusal of Gandalf and Aragorn to use the Ring -- but Evil, defiantly chosen, can no longer imagine anything but itself. Sauron cannot imagine any motives except lust for domination and fear so that, when he has learned that his enemies have the Ring, the thought that they might try to destroy it never enters his head, and his eye is kept toward Gondor and away from Mordor and the Mount of Doom.

Further, his worship of power is accompanied, as it must be, by anger and a lust for cruelty: learning of Saruman's attempt to steal the Ring for himself, Sauron is so preoccupied with wrath that for two crucial days he pays no attention to a report of spies on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, and when Pippin is foolish enough to look in the palantir of Orthanc, Sauron could have learned all about the Quest. His wish to capture Pippin and torture the truth from him makes him miss his precious opportunity.

The demands made on the writer's powers in an epic as long as "The Lord of the Rings" are enormous and increase as the tale proceeds -- the battles have to get more spectacular, the situations more critical, the adventures more thrilling -- but I can only say that Mr. Tolkien has proved equal to them.

Frodo with cousin Bilbo

[For more background on Auden and the early fans of Tolkien's masterpiece, check this out].

UPDATE: Here's a powerful clip of the final battle (from the animated version).

One of the most beautiful segments of "The Lord of the Rings" is about Tinúviel.