Monday, 21 July 2014

Understanding the Palestinian Quagmire

Why do Palestinians continue to elect terrorists (like Hamas) as their leaders? Too many Americans just don't get it. They can't imagine why anyone would do such a thing, unless of course, that's how the Palestinians really think inside, and they're all radical terrorists at heart. Of course, this is exactly what the Israeli government would like us to believe, and this message is conveyed regularly by Zionist apologists, both in the mainstream news, and from behind the pulpits of many Evangelical churches in America. The message is simple. Palestinians are Muslims, and Muslims are hate-filled terrorists. Therefore they can't help it. They hate Israel because they hate Jews, and they hate anyone who is not Muslim. They hate Israel because they hate freedom, democracy, women's rights…. {insert whatever you want here}. Then of course there is the Biblical card. The claim is made that the Palestinians hate Israelis because they've hated them for thousands of years, ever since the Old Testament, when the Palestinians were the Philistines. They can't help it, because it's in their blood.

Is that really the way it is?

I'm going to share with you some personal experience and some family experience that I think may help shed some light on the situation, and give you a perspective you may have never considered before. Before I do that however, I think I need to put down the Palestinian-Philistine myth. There is absolutely no biological or cultural connection between the Palestinians of today and the Philistines of ancient Biblical times. They are completely different people. The ancient Philistines are an extinct race and culture. Biologically, their descendants are spread out across many races and peoples. Culturally, they are nonexistent. Modern Palestinians are Arabs, not Philistines (or Canaanites), and Arabs biologically descend from the same ancient patriarch as Jews -- Father Abraham. The only difference is this. Jews come from Abraham through his son Isaac, while Arabs come from Abraham through his son Ishmael. I would expect a little better Biblical scholarship from those who claim to be "Bible Christians," but it amazes me how many times I hear the erroneous Palestinian-Philistine connection made from the pulpits of Evangelical churches. It's ridiculous.

Now on to the personal experience. I happen to know some Arab Palestinians, and few of them are Muslim no less. What have I learnt? Well, quite a bit really. I could give you are earful, but I'll keep it short. What I've learnt is this. While one can find a certain percentage of radicals in any civilisation, the vast majority of Palestinian Muslims hate Hamas, they hate jihadism, and they tend to be less "religious" than the general public believes. Or sure, during Ramadan they might visit a mosque more often, spend some more time in prayer, etc. This however is comparable to the way cultural Christians in the West tend to go to church more often during Easter, Christmas and Mother's Day. Culturally, this is just what people do. In practically reality however, far less people practise their religion as strictly throughout the rest of the year. I have worked with many Muslims in hospitals for many years, and I have yet to see one pull out a prayer rug in the middle of a shift and start prostrating toward the East. It certainly wouldn't bother me in the least if they did, but I have yet to see it. Another thing I've learnt about Palestinian Muslims is that they tend to be less religious than their Arab neighbours in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Arabia. I have never met one who revealed to me a desire to establish an Islamic state in the Holy Land. In fact, most Palestinians admire Western civilisation, and by that I mean our education and social standards. I've learnt that the majority of Palestinians would like to ideally see themselves as a cultural bridge between Western civilisation and the Arab world. Perhaps this is one reason why so many other Arabs, in other countries, tend to look down upon them. Finally, I've learnt how things really work in Israel-Palestine. I've learnt how the Israeli government really does business when it comes to the Palestinian people, and let me tell you, it's not pretty. In fact, it reminds me of something very familiar. It reminds me of how the United States government treated the Native American tribes during the 19th century. I'll leave the detailed explanation up to the reader to investigate. There are plenty of resources out there.

Now for the family experience. While I do have some Cherokee ancestry, it's pretty far back there, so I don't have any personal stories to tell in regards to that. All I can say is that some ancestors of mine were forced to flee their homeland in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina on the Trail of Tears, only to stop after crossing the Mississippi River due to childbearing. That's all I know. The experience I have to share has nothing to do with that. Rather, it comes from the German side of my family. Now the Schaetzels have been in the United States since the 1850s, and are now so Americanised, you would never know we are German, were it not for the name. However, the Schaetzels had an interesting tendency. When you go back through the family tree, they tended to marry other Germans with only a few exceptions here and there. Thus our family ties to the old country have remained somewhat fresh throughout the years. As a result of this, we have family (and friends of the family) who lived through Nazi Germany and World War II. Of course there are stories to tell, and in the past I've kept these things secret, for fear that my non-German friends and family just wouldn't understand. Growing up in public schools, I was teased by cruel children for my surname. I was regularly called a Nazi, for no other reason than my German ancestry, but this was back in the 1970s. Americans have moved on since then, and I imagine children are more often teased for other reasons these days. That however, was a long time ago, and perhaps it's time I break my silence about these stories from people I knew (and know) first hand. These are real people who lived under Nazism and endured the allied bombings of German cities. Let me tell you how it really was, from their perspective, based on the stories they told each other. In learning these things, I think you might get a better understanding of the Palestinian experience under Israeli occupation.

Let me tell you what the average German citizen thought of the Nazis during the 1930s.  "We thought they were clowns."  That's what one relative said. "They were goofy clowns, who acted like children and rambled on about things that didn't make sense, but they put food on the table." It was the last phrase in that quote that put the Nazis into power and brought the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. "They put food on the table."  You see the average German living in Germany during the 1930s just barely tolerated the Nazis. In short, most people thought they were eccentric fools. However, their economic policies were helping the average German family. You see, after World War I, Germany was placed under harsh war reparations by the allied powers. Thankfully the United States did not take part in this. It was primarily the European allies that forced this upon the German people. The result was economic chaos that played a large role in currency hyperinflation. Entire family savings were wiped out overnight, wherein it literally took a suitcase of money to buy a loaf of bread. The currency was eventually stabilised, but the damage had already been done. Germans were now poor. Their savings had been wiped out. They couldn't hardly make enough money to live, and by the end of the 1920s the Germans were hit with another economic collapse -- the Great Depression. The Depression kicked Germany while it was down, leaving Germans without hope. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in January of 1933 on the promise to turn things around economically. Germans were desperate. They would try anything, even electing "clowns" if that's what it takes, to turn the economy around and start putting food on their tables again. It worked. The "clowns" gave Germans economic hope again, and so they kept them in power. Setting up a totalitarian regime with a single-party system was easy for Hitler. Why? Because his party (the Nazi Party) was the only party that delivered on the promises it made to the people, or at least, that was the perception of the most people living in Germany at that time. As the years went by, German attitudes toward the Nazis changed from toleration to fear. By the end of the 1930s, speaking out against the Nazis was a dangerous activity, so people just didn't do it. The rest is history, World War II started, the allied bombs fell, and the Nazi regime was eventually crushed. I have a friend of the family, still living, who suffers from post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) or "shell shock" because of the allied bombings of her neighbourhood during World War II. She lives in America, and is an American citizen. She loves America, but hates the 4th of July (Independence Day). Perhaps you can figure out why. I also have an extended family member (now deceased) who never could accept that news about the Holocaust. She was by no means a Nazi. She was a very loving person and opposed racism of all types. At the same time however, she could never believe that her own national leaders (when she was a child) could perpetrate such a horrendous crime against humanity. To her dying day, she dismissed the Holocaust as "Allied propaganda" to justify the war.  We Schaetzels protected our family and friends when they immigrated to America.  We never talked about their opinions to anyone. We told them to keep their thoughts "just within the family" and don't talk about them in public.  They listened and heeded.  Of course they did!  They were Germans, and Germans are a very disciplined people -- smart people too.  I also kept my mouth shut -- for nearly forty years! -- until now. I suppose my parents, aunts and uncles just assumed that because I was a such a small child I wouldn't understand their conversations, let alone remember them. They didn't know back then that I have a photographic memory. I see words and I would relive those conversations as I got older. I can remember the conversations they had 40 years ago like they happened five minutes ago. It wasn't long before I understood everything as an older child. Nobody ever needed to tell me to keep quiet about these things. I knew it instinctively. Maybe that's why those Nazi comments from cruel children in elementary school bothered me so much. I knew something they didn't -- something they couldn't possibly imagine or comprehend.

So why break the silence?  Why do I speak up now?  I'm not alone. Many others have gone before me on this. What difference does it make? I've told you nothing new, nothing you couldn't find out by visiting a few websites or reading some history books. Why do I speak about this now? I'll tell you why. It's because I find myself surrounded by people who simply don't learn from history, and the people in our time that seem to be the most guilty of this are Americans and Israelis.  You see, Palestine 2014 looks a lot like Germany during the 1920s and early 30s. Hamas looks a lot like the Nazi Party. Israel looks a lot like the European Allies -- but worse. Average Palestinian people remind me of my extended family and friends of the family. My family has seen all this before, and we've witnessed the consequences. We know what hard economic conditions do to the human spirit, and how desperate times produce desperate decisions, often leading to disastrous results. There is a difference though. Palestinians have endured far worse conditions, for a much longer period of time. The hardship faced by the German people in the 1920s and early 30s does not compare to the horrors faced by the Palestinian people for the last forty years!  Look at what a decade of hardship produced in Germany!  One decade of economic hell produced the greatest monster, and the most wicked regime, of the modern world. It's only redeeming value is that it was short-lived.  Meanwhile, the Palestinians have endured similar economic conditions for four decades, combined with national policies related to them that can only be compared to apartheid.  Hamas is the result of such desperation. Of all the people in the world who should know this, it should be the Israelis, most of whom descended from survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.  Their perpetual occupation of Palestinian land, along with the policies that result, have created conditions comparable to those in Germany that led to the rise of the Nazi Party. Why should they be shocked that desperate Palestinians would vote for the Nazi-like Hamas Party?

I find it discouraging to hear my fellow Americans, especially those in the Bible Belt, refer to Israel as the victim here.  I think part of it is a sense of guilt left over from the Holocaust.  The other part is ignorance, and a failure to learn from history.  When you subject a people to harsh living conditions for a prolonged period of time, they tend to forget their good senses and start electing leaders who are monsters out of desperation. If it can happen to Christians in Germany, then it can most certainly happen to Muslims in Palestine.  It's not a religion thing. It's not even a cultural thing. It's a human thing. I have little hope that the cyclic violence will stop in the Holy Land any time in the near future. If I ever see peace there in my lifetime I will consider myself extremely fortunate, but I won't hold my breath. I don't know if it's even possible for the Israelis to see the irony in what they're doing to the Palestinians, or for that matter, understand that they are just repeating history. It's hard to see the big picture when you're right in the middle of it. However, I think it's time for many Americans to stop playing the goodguy-badguy routine when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. There are no goodguys in this conflict -- except for those working for peace -- the rest are just villains and victims on both sides.



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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Catholic in the Ozarks is now FULLY CHRISTIAN

"Cross at Sunset"
Thomas Cole, circa 1848
If you're a regular reader of this blog you've undoubtedly noticed some pretty big changes. I have changed the name of my blog from "Catholic in the Ozarks" to "Fully Christian." This is not to say that my blog wasn't fully Christian before. It was and still is. Nor is this meant to imply that other Christians are not truly Christian. On the contrary, there are many non-Catholic Christians who put Catholics to shame with their faith and virtues. However, to be Catholic is to approach the Christian faith in its fullness, leaving nothing out, but embracing everything Christianity has to offer, and holding nothing back.

Along with the name change I've changed the look and feel of the blog, however, the content is exactly the same. You can continue to expect the same frank, candid and in-depth Catholic blogging. I've chosen to rebrand my blog to reach a wider audience, and to make a very profound point that our fellow non-Catholic Christians need to hear. We Catholics are FULLY CHRISTIAN, and when we say that, what we mean is that to be Catholic is to accept the FULL and COMPLETE Christian faith, without leaving anything out. We embrace it all, "the whole enchilada" as they say, and we reject all attempts to curtail, abridge or modify Christianity to suit our personal or social fancies.

It's more than that too. A good number of our Protestant brethren don't even know that Catholics are Christians. Part of that is our fault. This is because we commonly use the word "Catholic" in reference to ourselves as a noun. Indeed, the word "Catholic" most certainly can be used that way, but I think we do so to our own detriment sometimes. I think it would be more prudent on our part to use the word "Catholic" more often as an adjective than a noun, and call ourselves "Catholic Christian" rather than just "Catholic." By doing this we drive the point home that we are Christians in the first place. Not only that, but by using the word "Catholic" as an adjective instead of a noun, we are calling attention to the fact that the word "Catholic" actually means something, and is not merely a denominational designation. The hope of course is that somebody will ask why we call ourselves "Catholic Christians," and that leads to the explanation that the word "Catholic" simply means: whole, universal, complete, eclectic, all embracing, and full.  Thus when we say we are "Catholic Christian" what we are really saying is that we are "Fully Christian" in that we embrace the full teachings of the Christian faith and leave nothing out.

So I ask my readers to consider this point, and perhaps start using the terms "Catholic Christian" and "Fully Christian" in reference to ourselves. Perhaps then the opportunity will arise to witness to your non-Catholic friends, and in doing so you might even consider directing them to this blog, which can now be reached using the web address -- FullyChristian.Com

Monday, 7 July 2014

Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

"The Crucifixion"
 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
circa 1745-1750
Both of my kids have asked me this question many times; "Why did Jesus have to die?"  It's a simple question really. I imagine the thought process behind it is that if Jesus didn't die on the cross for our sins, he would still be here today, ruling as King of kings from Jerusalem. Naturally, I gave them the Biblical answer to this question.  Jesus died to atone for our sins, to pay for them, so that we wouldn't have to. Their response: "Couldn't God just forgive us without Jesus dying?"

Okay, now we have every Christian parent's nightmare.  Your child has just stumped you with a perfectly logical  and simple question.  What do you do?  In the past, I would refer to the Old Covenant, with the sacrifice of animals, telling them that with Jesus' eternal sacrifice now done, we don't have to do that any more, etc.  That answer never seemed to get very far.

I've resorted to a new explanation that gets down the the heart of the matter in a very simple way, and it has to do with comparing holiness to honour. It goes like this. Just as God is holy, so men can be honourable. Nowhere do we see the illustration of honour more clearly demonstrated than in the military. So let's do an illustration.

Suppose one army private tells another to do something, and the other private refuses. Now the two may argue over this, but in the grand scheme of things, it's just a personal dispute. No honour is lost because no real offense has been given. The two men of equal rank are just having a spat.  Now, suppose an army sergeant comes along and decides to tell both privates to do something. One private obeys and follows the order. The other private doesn't. Now we have a problem, and here is the reason why. The sergeant outranks the private, and holds a position of higher enlisted honour. The private's disobedience has dishonoured not only the person of the sergeant, but also the rank, or position of honour he holds. Therefore punishment will be necessary; both to teach the private a lesson that obedience is necessary, and it will have to be something appropriate to the dishonour and offense that was given. The private may find himself doing 100 push-ups (if he's lucky), or perhaps something more gruelling. However, suppose that wasn't a sergeant that came along and gave the order the private disobeyed. Suppose it was an army captain or a major. Now we have a much bigger problem.  Because the rank is higher, the offense and dishonour created by the private's insubordination is greater. Therefore the punishment will be greater.  Perhaps a court-martial will be in order.  Now suppose it wasn't a sergeant, or a captain, or a major, but rather a five-star general!  Disobeying a direct order from a five-star general is certainly a greater offense and demonstrates greater dishonour for the private who gave such great offense to this highest ranking officer. A court-martial would be the least of his troubles. That private could expect the most severe punishment possible. Why? His disobedience is the same, whether it's with the other private, sergeant, captain, major or general. It's the same act. It's the same stubbornness. It's the same thing all around. Except the person he did it to is different. As the rank of the officer offended increases, that offense becomes greater. Likewise, the punishment becomes greater as well, because the rank of the officer offended is higher.

Well, sin is kind of like that.  Sin is a word that defines and act (or omission) that directly offends the Person of God. However, God is the ultimate rank.  He is the Creator of the universe. When one disobeys God, the offense is infinite, because God is infinite. His "rank" is infinite. Like the private who found that his same disobedience obtained for him greater consequences as the rank of the officer he disobeyed got higher, so we find that our sins, which may not seem like such a big deal to humanity, actually carry with them an infinite offense to God, when he is the one who is disobeyed. What kind of punishment would infinite offense earn? Why it would earn infinite punishment of course, and this is what we call Hell.

So let's get back to my child's question. Why couldn't God just forgive us? Why did he want to sacrifice his divine Son?  Well, the answer is simply this.  God is God, and he can do whatever he wants. So yes, if God wanted to simply forgive us for our sins, and the original sin of Adam and Eve, he could have just wiped the slate clean and forgiven us.  That would have been it -- the end of the story.  Did God NEED a sacrifice? Well, no.  He's God.  He doesn't NEED anything. However, if he had done that, what would that have taught the human race?

I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that it would have taught humanity that sinning against God is "no big deal."  If you sin, don't worry about it, because God will just forgive you.  That would have been the lesson man was taught: sin = no consequences.  While humanity would constantly be giving infinite offense to God, who is infinitely honourable and should never be offended, life would just go on with humanity oblivious to the seriousness of its disobedience.

So, instead of just forgiving humanity outright, God instead decided to both forgive, and at the same time teach humanity how serious its sins are, and the magnitude of the penalty that our sins incur.

Let's go back to the five-start general again. So the private is now in his court-martial for disobedience to the general's order. He is found guilty and sentenced to 30 lashes with a whip. (For illustration's sake, let's just assume the year is 1850 and corporal punishment with whips is still allowed in the military.)  The private is led to a post, where his hands are to be tied and his back exposed.  However, just before he is about to be tied, the five-star general shows up, and asks what his sentence is. The sergeant says: "30 lashes with a whip."  The general then takes off his shirt, puts his hands on the post, and then orders the sergeant to administer the disobedient private's punishment upon him. The sergeant resists at first, but the general insists this as an order, and if he doesn't obey, he too will find himself before a court martial. The sergeant reluctantly agrees and administers the private's lashings on the general's back. The debt is paid in full, and the private escapes unscathed. What this general has done is two things. He has on the one hand upheld the law and demonstrated the severity of what disobedience incurs. On the other hand, he has shown mercy to the private (a mercy he did not deserve) by taking the punishment for him and in so doing, forgiving his offense.

This is exactly what God did for the human race. The offense of sin against God is infinite. Therefore the punishment is infinite. There is no human that could pay this price, not even for himself, let alone his friends and relatives too.  So God himself became incarnate and took on human flesh.  Becoming fully human, but simultaneously remaining fully God, he now could pay the infinite penalty for the infinite offense. By becoming a human being, he does this on behalf of humanity. By dying on a cross, he demonstrated to all of humanity, as well as the angels and all of creation, that the offense of sin (disobedience to God) is infinite, because God is infinite, and therefore the punishment is infinite. God himself paid this infinite punishment by shedding the blood of his own incarnate Son (God himself), the value of his blood being infinite.

Now the human race can obtain forgiveness for its sins, but to do this, people must accept that forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, thereby acknowledging the infinite offense against God their sins have caused. God has done two things. He has taught us how serious our sin (offense against God) is, and at the same time forgiven us for this infinite offense.

In all of this it's important to recognise what sin is, and that is defined for us by his Church, which gave us the Bible and all of the Traditions that go along with it.  By defining sin, God gives us clarity through his Church, so we know what really offends God and what does not. Then we look to the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ that paid for our infinite offense. Our offense against God is forgiven, but because of this method, we begin to understand just how serious our offense is. By teaching us that, God moves us toward repentance and change toward the better.

Now this doesn't answer all of my child's questions about why Jesus had to die, but is does give us a foundation to work on. I hope this illustration has been useful to you.



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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!