Still 100% Catholic, and 100% Christian.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Vatican and Aliens from Outer Space

The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), the main telescope of the Vatican Observatory on Mount Graham in southeast Arizona. The dome to the left houses the telescope itself; the space to the right are the control room and the living space for the observers
It seems there is a buzz going around the Internet that the Vatican is preparing some kind of statement on the Catholic Church's response to the possibility of extraterrestrial life, or aliens on other planets. Some of the more fringe Evangelicals are linking this to a conspiracy that the Vatican is allegedly trying to start a new one-world religion, of the New Age type, that links all religions together in the worship of an alien messiah.  An entire book has been written on this (Exo-Vaticana), from the same crackpots that brought us Petrus Romanus, the book that claims that Pope Francis is the last pope in history, and is in some way connected to the Antichrist prophesied in the New Testament. Now the Internet (particularly YouTube) is swarming with articles (and videos) that make this same ridiculous connection.

Putting all of this nonsense aside, there are millions of people who legitimately wonder what the Catholic Church's response would be to the discovery of extraterrestrial (alien) life on other worlds. I honestly don't know if the Vatican has any kind of statement planned, as this could just be the latest Internet sensationalism buzzing the web. These things come and go. However, I thought the topic was intriguing enough and deserved a short blog entry. So the following is just my opinion, based on my understanding of Catholic Christian theology. It is by no means "official," as I have no authority to make official pronouncements. It's just my thinking on the matter, and I'll leave it up to you (the reader) to decide.

In order to understand the prospect of life on other worlds, we need to take a closer look at life on our own world.

If you're a Catholic Christian, you're allowed to believe in dinosaurs. That's kind of important actually, because a lot of non-Catholics (particularly Evangelicals) are not permitted to, or at least, they're not permitted to believe dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. This is how I understand Catholic teaching on origins.  Catholics are permitted to subscribe to evolutionary theories, and the evidence of the fossil record, provided we acknowledge that God directed the process, created everything, and has always been in control. Conversely, we Catholics are also free to take a more literal approach to the first chapter of Genesis, and insist that God created the world in six literal days, if we find the evolutionary theories too difficult to accept. Furthermore, we Catholics are permitted to believe any other theory, regarding the origin of species and the fossil record, provided we always acknowledge that God is ultimately the one who created everything and is in control of everything.  Now this is a tremendous amount of intellectual liberty for Catholics, and it enables the human mind to freely explore all scientific options available. The Scriptures are believed to be true and infallible, however, our interpretation of them is subject to debate. We can take a literal approach, or a non-literal approach.  For example; in a non-literal approach, we Catholics are required to believe that Adam and Eve were real people, and that they were truly tempted by the devil to sin against God. However, we don't necessarily have to believe the devil took on the form of a literal snake, or that it literally spoke, or that the Tree of Knowledge was a literal thing. All of these things could be literally representations to speak of the higher truth, which is that the first humans were tempted by Satan to sin against God, and that original sin resulted in the fall of the human race. Granted, some Catholics just can't go there. For whatever reason, some feel the need to subscribe to the literal interpretation that God created the world in six literal days, along with a literal interpretation of the Adam, Eve, the Garden of Eden and the serpent. Those Catholics are free to believe that as well. However, both the literal and non-literal approach to Scripture must produce the same result. Adam and Eve were real people, who really were tempted by Satan, and really did commit original sin, but the two approaches need not agree on the exact details of how that happened.

In previous blog entries, I've explained my own beliefs on this. I tend to take the non-literal approach to the first chapters of Genesis, and believe they convey deep religious truths using literary tools. I see the Book of Genesis containing two creation stories, not one, with conflicting chronology. These are found in Genesis chapter one, and Genesis chapter two, starting at verse four. I believe this was intentional, because the author of Genesis (most likely Moses himself) wanted to make it clear that these are literary tools -- stories shrouded in iconic imagery to convey deeper messages. I also see a poetic feature to Genesis chapter one. I seriously wonder if it was once a Hebrew song or chant.  Consequently, taking a non-literal approach to the first two chapters of Genesis, my mind is free to embrace various scientific theories about the origins of life on earth. On a personal note, I tend to subscribe to catastrophe theories, which is a little different than standard evolutionary theories. I tend to believe the earth has gone through radical environmental changes, caused by everything from asteroid impacts, to runaway greenhouses, to ice ages, etc., that have caused plant and animal life on earth to make radical adaptations in order to compensate for these changes. These adaptations are punctuated by mass extinctions. I tend to believe the earth has gone through many cycles of life, each one quite foreign and alien to the others, and that this current cycle (in which mankind exists) may very well be the last. Based on the fossil record, I think this current life cycle on earth is just a shadow of previous life cycles. The last life cycle was the age of the dinosaurs, cut short by an asteroid impact that blew off much of the earth's atmosphere, shrouded the planet in flames, and killed off just about everything that was over five pounds, and living above land and water. The earth that exists now is but merely a shell of the earth that once was. As a result of this, I believe the climate that currently exists on earth is unique to previous climates on earth during other epics of world history, and that this climate is particularly suitable to the flourishing of mammalian life. We know that mammals lived during the epic of the dinosaurs, but we also know they were very small and never grew above five pounds. Why is this? One theory is that the atmosphere of the earth was significantly warmer, wetter and heavier than it is now, making breathing more difficult for large mammalian lungs. Dinosaurs, however, were known to have smaller chest cavities, and therefore smaller lungs, making breathing more suitable to a warmer, wetter and heavier atmosphere. It is believed that the asteroid that impacted the earth sixty-five million years ago, blew off a significant portion of the earth's atmosphere, radically changing the climate, and therefore put mammals in a much better position to take over the food chain.

If you tend to subscribe to a literal interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis, then you have to believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth less than 10,000 years ago, and that all life that ever existed on earth, existed during the time of man. That complicates things a bit. It's not totally outrageous to believe such a thing, considering the enormous fossil evidence, but it does present some problems. As a result, a small number of Christians have chosen to dismiss the fossil evidence entirely, and chalk it up to some kind of elaborate hoax/conspiracy. However, most Genesis literalists have simply developed a very elaborate scientific creation model for the earth that allows for man and dinosaurs to exist side-by-side, until the catastrophic Great Flood of Noah, which changed the world, making it no longer hospitable to dinosaurs. Actually, that's not a bad theory when you really stop and think about it.  There are problems to be sure, big problems, but at least it's a reasonable attempt to explain the fossil evidence.

Why is all this important?  What do the first two chapters of Genesis have to do with extraterrestrial alien life? Actually, they have everything to do with it. You see, if you subscribe to the non-literalist interpretation, as I do, then you have to acknowledge that there was once an earth, filled with life, long before mankind ever came along. To man, this ancient earth would be quite "alien" to the world we are used to now. That is why we have such an interest in it. That's why people spend millions of dollars digging up fossils in the middle of the wilderness. In a sense, men are exploring the alien world of earth, that existed long before mankind, and the dominance of mammals. Now, if the earth could once be a home to life without man, then it stands to reason that other worlds could likewise be home to life without man. Thus alien life on other worlds presents no theological problem to me, any more than dinosaur life on earth millions of years ago.

It seems logical to me, that if God so desired, he could easily make a universe replete with life, on millions of worlds. To us, these lifeforms would just be plants and animals, like what exists all around us, and what likely existed on earth for tens of millions of years, before mankind was placed here by the divine providence of God. As far as I'm concerned there is no theological problem with this. Plants and animals do not have "free will," but are instead slaves to their instincts and genetic programming. Therefore sin is irrelevant to them. They cannot sin. I can imagine a universe filled with such worlds, teaming with plants and animals, all of them without "free will" and, like the plants and animals on earth, incapable of sin. Again, if this is the only life that exists in the universe, then there is no theological problem, insofar as I can see.

It seems to me that this is most likely the case. If there is life on other worlds, it's probably just limited to plants and animals. Consider this. If we are to believe the current fossil record, and the way it is commonly understood today, the earth has been inhabited with life for hundreds of millions of years. Each age, or epic of life cycle history, has lasted tens of millions of years. During that time, as far as we know, only one species on earth has ever been intelligent and spiritual. I say both intelligent and spiritual because it is possible to have intelligent life that is not spiritual. Apes, dolphins and whales are all intelligent animals, but none of them are spiritual. That's why they remain animals. Their brain capacity is quite remarkable, and if they had the spiritual discipline to deny their instincts and channel their minds toward higher ideas, they would easily develop advanced communication and begin manipulating the world around them, as man does. However, they don't have a spiritual component. They may be intelligent, but lacking spirituality, they remain just animals.  This is what separates man from the animal kingdom. While man possesses the carnal body of an animal, wielding flesh and blood, man is different, because he is a hybrid, consisting of a heavenly spirit (a divine spark) that the rest of the animal world simply does not have. "The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." -- Genesis 2:7  Here the Scriptures tell us that God made man different from the rest of the animals. God himself breathed life into the first man, making him a "living being," or a spiritual being, which is different from the other animals that exist in just this world. Man lives in two worlds simultaneously -- the world of flesh and the world of the spirit. This is why, unlike the animals, we can discipline our minds, and bring them into subjection, forcing them to do those things which would be unnatural to the beasts of the earth. We worship God. We wear clothes. We construct elaborate societies, and build cities, machines, and even reach for the stars. No animal does this. We are unique here on this earth, and if the earth has been around for hundreds of millions of years, then we are something this planet has never seen before, something totally unnatural to what this world is used to.

If man is unique to the earth, something totally out-of-step with the history of life on earth, how unusual would a species like mankind be for life on other planets?  I would say extremely rare to say the least. In my personal opinion, I would not be surprised if the universe was full of life (plants and animals), but that none of it (except for us) is spiritual. We are the exception not the norm. That would be my own personal take on things, and based on the earth's fossil record, I think I've got cold, hard evidence backing my opinion here. It's literally written in stone.

That however is an opinion not popular to the modern world. We live in a culture obsessed with E.T.. We've grown up on movies depicting alien visitations, invasions and even interstellar wars. Star Wars and Star Trek are some of the greatest box office hits of our generation. Then there is the cult phenomenon of Area 51 and the "greys," with a cultural history replete with stories of close encounters and alien abductions. It never seems to end. I was once laughed to scorn by a few well-educated peers because I dared to say that I didn't believe in "flying saucers" and "alien abductions." It seemed to be an established scientific fact in their minds. Somehow I was the "wacko" and "nutjob" because I didn't believe in those things.

In response to those who think alien visitors from other worlds is an established fact, I'll answer with a little historical fact followed by a personal story.  The historical fact is that people have been "abducted" for centuries, or at least that's what people have been saying for centuries. In fact, long before the alien mythology developed, people claimed to be abducted by witches, leprechauns, fairies and trolls. Abduction stories are fairly common in history. The only thing that changes are the abductors. Apparently some people are just prone to missing time and hallucinations. They tend to latch on to the popular mythology of the time, and use that to explain their unusual, sometimes terrifying, experiences. So keep that in mind next time you hear of another alien sighting or abduction.

As promised I'll now give you a personal story to back my claim that I don't believe in visitors from other worlds. This is an absolutely true story which I am for the first time about to relate publicly, so bear with me, and please read all the way through to the end.
I was about 13 years old and living in Los Angeles county in Southern California. Back then the television set was constantly blaring in our small suburban home after about 7pm at night. I always hated the sound of blaring television sets, and found the bluish light they emitted just as annoying. So I frequently would go out into the backyard and walk around in the cool night air. I could still hear the muffled tone of television sets, from multiple homes, but at least I had a little peace and quiet. Most of all, I had time to myself, and I cherished these quiet moments to think and just let my mind wander.
One night I was walking in the cool night air in my backyard, when I rounded the corner of my parents' house, only to see a bright white disk floating in the sky. It made no sound. It hovered there in the distance, perhaps a few hundred feet over our neighbours house across the street. I was mesmerised, and immediately I realised this could not be a plane or helicopter. This was a pure white and glowing hovering disk. It made no sound, and moved effortlessly through the night sky. I was certain that this was a flying saucer. "How fortunate I am," I thought to myself. "While everyone else is inside their houses, basking in the blueish light of their boob-tubes, I was privileged to witness a close encounter from another world." I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. Ouch! Yep, this is real.
Then something happened. I noticed that the glowing white disk was moving in my direction, and it was getting bigger. Clearly this flying saucer was descending toward me. At this point I began to get nervous. In fact, I was downright frightened. For a moment I wondered if this all might be a hallucination of some kind, but then my dog saw it too, and began barking hysterically. The disk moved ever closer. It was now perhaps just a hundred feet, nearly over my head, and getting closer. My heart was racing, my breathing deep and laboured, I was scared. Part of me wanted to run into the house and tell my parents. But another part wanted to stay and see what would happen next. Guess which part won? That's right. Curiosity killed the cat. I planted my feet firmly and held my ground. I knew I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was not going to take my eyes off this thing.
Then it happened. I heard a noise. It was something like the sound of an engine kicking on, then the buzz of a mighty machine. The disk changed shape and moved faster than possible for any man-made machine. Then it moved in the opposite direction, first to the right and then to the left, in an oval shape. Suddenly, the disk was gone, and I found myself staring into a blinding light. The ground illuminated all around me. It was like daylight. I thought to myself, "This is it!, I'm about to be abducted!" And for a second I closed my eyes, thinking my feet would soon be rising off the ground as they levitated me into their spaceship. 
My feet never left the ground. Instead the buzzing noise got louder. So I opened my eyes, and there it was, floating right over my head -- a great big white blimp! I immediately identified it by it's red running lights, and could see the pilot sticking his head out the window with a huge spotlight in hand, surveying the trees and power lines, as he quickly pointed the nose of the aircraft upward and ascended as rapidly as he could. I had seen this commercial dirigible make its rounds in our area for weeks prior, but always during the day. The blimp featured some advertisements on the side, and was apparently used as a flying billboard for rent. It never occurred to me that the floating disk I saw could be associated with this blimp, because I had never before seen the blimp fly at night. There was a complete mental disconnect there. While I have no idea why the blimp was flying at night, it was apparent however, that it had lost power. It was descending slowly into a suburban area (my neighbourhood) and about to crash actually, right over my backyard and into the next street over. There was a park nearby with some open fields, so I surmise that perhaps he was trying to make it there for an emergency landing. I can tell you he wouldn't have. My guess is that, had he not regained power, he would have crashed on the next street over, after hitting the power lines near the house behind ours. 
The pilot had on board a powerful spotlight, and while he was trying to regain power, he mounted it on the side of his window, pointing it upward toward the nose of the blimp, creating a perfectly white luminous disk shape. That's what I saw floating in the sky. I imagine he did this to let people on the ground know he was coming down. I, however, thought it was a flying saucer. About the time he neared my parents' house, he regained power (and not a moment too soon), so he dismounted the spotlight. That was the sudden movement I saw of the disk going left and right. Then he did the next logical thing. He pointed the spotlight down to the ground to figure out where he was. I'm sure one of the first things he saw was this 13 year-old kid (me) staring up at him with horror on his face, only to close his eyes like a dummy and just stand there petrified. I'm sure he probably saw and heard my dog barking at him too. This spotlight was the blinding light I thought was going to abduct me into a flying saucer. 
I am happy to report the blimp did not crash, but safely returned to a suitable altitude and gently glided back to wherever it came from. I don't remember seeing it much after that. I am also happy to report that I went back into my parents' house, walked straight into my room, closed the door behind me, and learnt a very powerful lesson.
So what was this lesson I learnt? I'll summarise it this way. "If you hear hoof beats in Texas. Think horses not zebras." What does that mean? It means simply this. If you hear the sound of hoof beats in a place like Texas, it probably means there is something domestic and local nearby -- something like horses. You wouldn't be inclined to think something exotic like a herd of zebras was about to run by. Well the same rule goes for things you see in the sky. If you see something strange in the sky, no matter how strange it is, even a floating white disk, chances are it's something local and domestic (something man-made), not something exotic like aliens from another world. I learnt that lesson the hard way through experience.

Now just imagine, if you will, that instead of holding my ground when I saw that disk, that I ran into the house and tried to pull my parents away from their bluish glowing boob-tube (television set). What would have happened? I'll tell you what would have happened. It would have taken me forever to get them out of the house, and by the time I got them outside, that blimp would have been long gone. My story today would be limited to the white disk floating in the sky, and that's it. I would be counted with the millions of people who have seen objects in the sky they can't explain. To this day, I would probably believe I saw a flying saucer U.F.O., and that's what I would be telling people to this day. However, my childish curiosity pushed me to hold my ground and let this "sighting" play out. That in turn allowed me to identify the saucer as a distressed blimp about to crash. That in turn taught me something about things we see in the sky. I learnt a very powerful and good lesson. I learnt to never jump to conclusions, and always assume things in the sky are locally made, rather than from another planet.  In truth, I have had one more unusual sighting since then. Both my father and I saw it together. It was a star moving in a strange snake like pattern through the night sky. To this day we have no idea what that was. We are sure of one thing though. It's probably something human beings made, and human beings were flying it somehow. It was probably not something from another planet.

Understanding that most (if not all) sightings of U.F.O.'s are probably sightings of man-made aircraft, what are we to make of the possibility of human-like life on other worlds?  I'm talking about creatures that are both flesh and spiritual hybrids like us. Well for starters, as I pointed out above, that is highly unlikely. Let's suppose however, just for the sake of argument, that they do exist. I am sure we would never see them. The distances between stars are so great, that travelling between them is highly unlikely. I suppose if such people do exist, we will probably never know about them, nor they know about us. I suppose God made it that way on purpose and for good reason. For if they do exist, we run into a theological problem, as to how the Gospel of Jesus Christ would relate to such people.

There are but two theological questions that would need to be asked.

The first is this.  If an alien species is both intelligent and spiritual, we must ask, is it fallen or immaculate?  By that I mean, did such a species ever commit their own version of original sin?  If the answer is no, then the species is immaculate, meaning these people live in perfect harmony with God and nature. We need not do anything with them nor worry about them at all, because they are already in a better place than we are. If the answer is yes, then the species is fallen, meaning these people are just like us. Their ancestors committed original sin, and they are a fallen race just as we are.

If the answer to the first question is yes, then this leads us into the second question. If the alien species is fallen, and humans ever make contact with these people, should we preach to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The problem comes from concern over the nature of the alien species. Technically, they're not human. They may be intelligent and spiritual, meaning they exhibit all the characteristics of mankind, but they are not actually mankind. Since Jesus Christ was both God and man, connected to the human race biologically, would the atonement of Jesus' shed blood even apply to them? Should the atonement of Christ be offered to people who are not technically human? We don't offer baptism, confirmation and Eucharist to animals. So should we dare offer it to aliens from another world?

This is a complicated question, but I think on the outset, the answer should be obvious. What would Jesus do?

Those of us who know and love the Carpenter from Nazareth probably have an inkling as to what he would do. If a person (even a person from another world), having both knowledge and spirit (meaning capable of knowing God) came to him and asked for forgiveness, what would Jesus do? He would give it to them of course. I have no idea how he would make that work, since their not human, but I would trust that in his infinite wisdom and omnipotent power, he would make a way.

That's really all there is to it, insofar as I can tell. The only theological hurdle to intelligent/spiritual life on other worlds is the issue of sharing the gospel if they too happen to be subject to original sin. That hurdle is easily cleared, in my mind, once we ask ourselves what Jesus would do if confronted with this situation in his time. Indeed there is some Biblical precedence. God commanded Saint Peter to share the gospel with the unclean gentiles in the vision he received of unclean foods (Acts 10:9-16). The idea here being that the gospel was originally intended for the Jews. It was initially a "Jewish thing," but God had other plans to share it with all of mankind. It would seem that the generosity of God would likewise extend to other intelligent/spiritual life throughout the universe, assuming God: (a) actually made such life, and (b) such life had fallen into original sin.

All of this is highly speculative though. We have no hard evidence that any life exists anywhere in the universe, except for right here on earth. If it does exist elsewhere, however, then the earth's fossil record testifies to a long span of history, consisting of hundreds of millions of years, wherein no intelligent/spiritual life ever existed alongside the millions of species that inhabited this world -- that is, until just recently. So the odds are definitely not on the side of intelligent/spiritual life elsewhere.  Plant and animal life is a real possibility but intelligent/spiritual life (like mankind) is highly unlikely. If they do exist, we will probably never meet them. If by divine providence we do ever meet such creatures, and those creatures have themselves fallen into original sin, then it would be our duty to preach the gospel to them.

If I were a gambling man though, I would gamble against ever meeting such an intelligent/spiritual alien species. I would put my money on alien plants and animals, and nothing more, if even that exists. As for the fringe Evangelical conspiracy theorists, all I can say is they're really going out on a limb with this whole Vatican-Alien-Apostasy cabal. To them I say this. Do you really have so much contempt for your fellow Christians in the Catholic Church that you would actually believe the pope would really do such a thing? Do you really have so much contempt for us, that you actually believe we would abandon our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to follow an alien messiah/god? Do you truly think so little of us, that you would actually assert that all of this is transpiring right now, and we will all soon apostatise from the Christian faith for the love of flying saucers? Really? Seriously? Is this what you actually think of us? Wow!


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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!


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

America Needs a Convention of States

Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing of U.S. Constitution
by Junius Brutus Stearns (b. 1810 - d. 1885)

Politics is not a subject I like to delve into on this blog. I try to refrain from endorsing political candidates entirely. I've tinkered with that prospect before and regretted it. So I stick to particular causes instead. Every once in a while a worthy cause presents itself, and this is one such case.

I want you to click on this attached link below and explore it.  As a student of history and American patriot, I am telling you now that outside of a miracle from God Almighty, this is our LAST BEST HOPE for the United States of America. I encourage you to pray for the miracle, but in the mean time, I also encourage you to consider the Convention of States.

While partisan hacks, both in the government and the media, would like us to believe America's problems are the result of actions taken by "the other candidate" or "the other party," those of us who study history know better.  America's political and economic problems are primarily the result of one thing, and it has little to do with political parties and candidates. Rather, America's problem is that we have too much power concentrated in Washington DC. It doesn't matter which party controls Washington, because in the end, it will always result in more problems. Over the last 50 years, Washington has been controlled both by Republicans and Democrats. The result has been what we have today.  Nothing is better.  Almost everything is worse.  And there doesn't seem to be any solution or hope in sight.  Let me tell you the cold, hard, historical truth.  America does not have a Democrat problem.  Nor does America have a Republican problem.  What America has is a overly centralised government problem.

The problem began as a result of two world wars in Europe followed by a cold war with the Soviet Union. During this period, it was believed that a centralised government was needed to coordinate political, economic and military movements against a common enemy. Over half a century of this resulted in a well-oiled political machine in Washington DC that has became exceptionally good at doing one thing -- consolidating more power. Electing federal politicians to the federal government on the promise of downsizing the federal government has consistently proved to be a false hope.  It never happens. Once in government, these politicians learn how things really work, and find themselves unwilling or unable to dismantle the machine.

As a Catholic Christian, who has studied the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with both American and world history, I believe in the principle of Subsidiarity. That principle states that people are best served when governments govern close to home. In other words, larger governments should take a subsidiarity (servant) role to smaller governments. The federal government should serve the state governments, not rule over them. Consequently, people are better served by their state and local governments than they are by the federal government.

Ever since the Civil War, the United States federal government has been consolidating power unto itself, and this has been most especially the case in the 20th century. It's gotten so bad that in some cases, some Americans are entertaining the idea of state secession once again.

What a lot of people don't know however, is that there is a way out of this that doesn't involve breaking up the country. It's called "Article V" or "Article 5" and America's Founding Fathers provided this in the United States Constitution for just such a time as ours.  The particular section of that article I am referring to reads as follows...
On the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.
Basically, what is says is this.  If 2/3 of all the states legislatures call for a Convention of States, such a convention can be organised for the purpose of proposing amendments to the United States Constitution, thus bypassing Washington DC entirely.  This Convention of States can propose whatever amendments it wants to reshape the federal government in whatever manner it chooses. Neither the President, not the Congress, nor the Supreme Court, will have any say in this. Then those proposed amendments will be circulated among the states, to be ratified or rejected as the states see fit. When such proposed amendments are ratified by 3/4 of the states, they become constitutional law. Nobody in Washington DC can do anything about it. The federal government is completely bypassed. The politicians and parties in Washington DC simply have to abide by the states' decisions on these new amendments. Right now there is a growing movement in the United States to make this become reality.

I support the Convention of States because it puts power closer to the people again. It gives state governments a bigger say in federal politics. Finally, it gives regular people (non-politicians) a chance to participate in, and influence, federal policy. I am convinced this is America's LAST CHANCE at restoring something akin to a representational government once again. The current political status quo will lead us to ruin. Historically speaking, state secession didn't go well the first time it was tried. So this is it. In my view, it's the Convention of States or bust. I'm not telling you what to do. I'm only asking that you investigate it and consider it.

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Monday, 28 July 2014

The Heresy of Christian Zionism

Israeli and American flags fly as Secretary
of Defense Robert M. Gates arrives in
Tel Aviv, Israel, April 18, 2007.
"Heresy" is a pretty strong word, so I don't use it lightly. The word itself come from the Greek root "heterodox" meaning "other belief" and stands in opposition to the word "orthodox" which means "right belief" or "correct belief." The subject of this blog article will be the topic of Christian Zionism, the belief that the Old Covenant grants to modern Jews the absolute right to possess and govern not only the modern state of Israel, but all the occupied territories as well, and as some believe, even all the lands stretching from the Euphrates River in Iraq to the Nile River in Egypt. This belief includes the notion that Palestinian Arabs (Muslims and Christians) have no right to that same land, and should submit to absolute Israeli control or leave. In practical application, a Christian Zionist supports Israeli expansion and consolidation of control of the Holy Land as a mandate from God.

First, a little background is needed. Christian Zionism is a predominant belief among Evangelical Christians in the United States, particularly in the Bible Belt (but certainly not limited to it), and has a following among many Evangelical communities worldwide. The ideology has spread to other Christian traditions as well. One can find Christian Zionism among some mainline Protestants and even a growing number of Roman Catholics. This is likely the result of promotion by Conservative Talk Radio along political terms; ranging from Israel being the "only democracy in the Middle East," to "supporting our ally Israel in the War on Terror," to "Israel is the only safe place for Jews after the Holocaust."  From this comes the Christian Zionist notions that God has given the Holy Land to the Jews and that we must support Israel unconditionally in order to be "good Christians." Christian Zionists preachers have been noted as claiming that God will bless those who bless the modern State of Israel and he will curse those who curse the modern State of Israel. Among some extreme Christian Zionists, the notion is promoted that the standard of a "true" Christian is measured by his level of support for the modern State of Israel. Consequently, many Christians (particularly Evangelicals) are afraid not to support the State of Israel, for fear that they will lose their blessing from God if they fail to bless Israel or object to anything Israel does. As a result, American Evangelicals are known to staunchly support American politicians who advertise their "unwavering support for the Nation of Israel." Many of these politicians are usually found in the Republican Party and frequently display small Israeli flags on their desks, or other prominent locations where their constituents can easily see them. Their voting records usually reflect this as well, wherein such politicians often support American financial aid packages to Israel that help Israel maintain its occupation of the Palestinian territories and build up military strength. Thus Christian Zionism does have a direct impact on American politics, and that in turn has an influence on international politics, particularly when it comes to the State of Israel. It should be noted that one reason why the Israeli government usually ignores international pressure to end the Palestinian occupation is because it knows it will receive unconditional support from Christian Zionists in the United States, and that in turn will always translate into ongoing American support of Israel regardless of their policies.

Christian Zionism began in the middle 19th century, but the term wasn't coined until the middle 20th century. It is believed that Zionism itself may have been spawned by Evangelical Christian influence on 19th century Jews, urging them to return to the Holy Land and reclaim their ancient Biblical heritage. Such prodding likely came from the heresy of Dispensationalism which I have refuted HERE. Dispensationalism is characterised by the teaching that God has two separate covenants for two separate peoples. The Jews have the Old Covenant which they claim is still ongoing and irrevocable. While Christians have the New Covenant. The logical conclusion of this heretical notion is that if God has two different covenants for two different peoples, then the Old Covenant must be fulfilled by returning the Jews to their ancestral homeland. Once that happens to God's satisfaction, it will result in the culmination of history and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. So in a way, Christian Zionism was (and still is) a way of attempting to force God's hand, according to the Dispensational belief system, to expedite the Return of Jesus Christ, to "rapture" his Church by fulfilling the Old Covenant Israel in modern times. The commonly accepted idea today is that when God has brought modern Israel into full possession of the "promised land," Jesus Christ will return to "rapture" his Church out of this world. Then God will turn his full attention to the Nation of Israel. At that point Israel will begin to rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which will lead to the coming of Antichrist and the final seven years of hell on earth.  Thus it is commonly believed that Israeli Jews will follow the Antichrist for a while, before he turns on them and declares himself to be God. When that happens they will all realise that they've been wrong for 2,000 years and accept Jesus Christ as their King and Saviour en mass.  That in turn will prompt the return of Jesus Christ with his "raptured" Church to destroy all evil on earth, judge the world, and bring about a 1,000 year kingdom wherein Jesus Christ will rule the earth as King from Jerusalem. There are of course variations to this belief system, and each group will have its own spin, but this reflects the basic idea.

I'll say it again, and I don't use this word lightly. Christian Zionism is heresy. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong using Scripture or the teachings of the Catholic Church. It cannot be done. There is nothing in Scripture that leads us to the conclusion that God wants Christians to be Zionists, and likewise there is nothing in the teachings of the Catholic Church that supports this notion. That doesn't mean that Christians can't support the State of Israel in some measure. They most certainly can! There are both legal and moral grounds for this. I'll explain more on that later. What Christians cannot do is use Scripture to demand the unconditional support of Israel based on religious grounds.

The heresy of Christian Zionism is centred around a flawed understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As stated above, most Christian Zionists are Evangelicals, and as Evangelicals it should be understood that they DO NOT believe the Old Testament Law (Torah) is meant for today. However, they have no problem citing the Law (Torah) to back their Zionist claims. It begins in Genesis 12 and 13. In particular they cite the promise of God to Abraham...
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.  Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’ -- Genesis 13:14-17 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine)
Now, because God said he would give the land to Abraham and his offspring "forever" the Christian Zionists interpret this to mean that God gave the land forever to the Jews, because they are descendants of Abraham, and since he did not attach a condition to the promise, the promise is unconditional. Therefore, according to Christian Zionists, if you're a Jew, you have a divine right to possession and control of the Holy Land. Of course, any serious student of Scripture can see two glaring problems with this interpretation. The first has to do with the descendants of Abraham themselves, and the second has to do with the so-called "unconditional" part of the promise.

Let's deal with the first problem regarding the descendants of Abraham. The promise was originally made to Abraham in Genesis 13, and it specifically says the land would be given to the descendants of Abraham. It doesn't specify which descendants, it just says his "offspring." That's important because Abraham had two sons by two different women -- Hagar and Sarah -- who gave birth to Ishmael and Isaac.  Now Isaac became the father of Jacob and Esau, while Jacob became the father of the twelve Israelite tribes, otherwise known as the Hebrew people, later to be called "Jews."  Ishmael became the father of the Arab peoples. So right from the start, when we interpret Genesis 13 at face value, we can see that God is keeping the "forever" part of that promise.  The descendants of Abraham have always held on to the Holy Land.  Jews are descendants of Abraham and so are Arabs.  That is an indisputable fact of Scripture and history (Genesis 16).  So when the descendants of European Jews live in the Holy Land, they are living in the fulfilment of this promise.  Likewise, when Palestinian Arabs live in the Holy Land, they too are living in the fulfilment of this promise. God said the land would be taken away from the ancient Canaanite peoples, which it was, and be given over to the physical descendants of Abraham (Jews and Arabs), which it was. Based on Genesis 13, the Arabs have just as much of a divine title to the Holy Land as Jews.

However, specific promises and requirements were given to the Israelites (Hebrews or Jews) in order for them to retain possession and control of the Holy Land. In other words, a higher responsibility was given to the Israelites. Arabs could inhabit and control the land by virtue of no other reason than just be descendants of Abraham. Israelites could inhabit it too for no other reason. However, inhabiting and controlling are two different things, and in order for the Israelites to control the land, they had to abide by the Law of Moses, which set specific conditions. For example; In Genesis 17:9-14 the Israelites were warned that they must keep the Old Testament covenant or be cut off from God's people. 

In Leviticus 26:40-45, the Scriptures tell us that the Israelites must forsake their sins to maintain the covenant. While Deuteronomy 7:12, Exodus 19:5-6 and 1st Kings 9:6-9 all teach that this covenant was conditional (not unconditional). Finally, Joshua 23:15-16 and 2 Chronicles 7:19-22 not only teach that the covenant was conditional, but they also specify that the Israelites would lose their title to the land if they broke this covenant.  No such requirements were placed on the Arab descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, only the Israelite descendants through Isaac and Jacob would be held to this higher standard. Why? Because it was through the Israelite descendants that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would come. Saint Paul tells us that this Law (Torah) was designed to be a tutor to them, to prepare them for the Messiah, help them recognise him, and lead them into his everlasting Kingdom. God had a higher purpose for the Israelite people. For them it was more than just owning a piece of real estate. Rather, it was about saving the world!  The real estate was just an added bonus.

We see this conditional promise played out during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities as an example of a much more serious transgression that would happen later. During the decades leading up to these captivities, ancient Israel fell into idolatry and immorality. This caused the nation to split into two separate kingdoms. Israel became the northern kingdom, while Judah became the southern kingdom. The northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria in about 730-740 BC (read more here). This led 10 of the 12 Hebrew tribes into diaspora, from which they would never return. The "lost tribes of Israel" are now extinct, having been intermingled with other peoples in the Middle East. The remaining 2 tribes (Levi and Judah) remained intact in the southern Kingdom of Judah for a while. Incidentally, this is about the time the remaining Hebrews/Israelites started referring to themselves as "Jews" in reference to the southern Kingdom of Judah. However, it wasn't long before their infidelity to the Old Covenant led to their own defeat, and subsequent enslavement, to Babylon in about 600-580 BC (read more here). This enslavement lasted about 70 years, before the Jews were allowed to return to the Holy Land. Once they returned, they took possession of all the land where the northern and southern kingdoms once stood, but they were a shell of what they used to be. After that their possession of the land remained firm, but their control of the land was tenuous and intermittent for centuries. Eventually the Roman Empire obtained control of the Holy Land in about 6 BC. The Romans remained in control during the time of Jesus and the early Church. Finally, all Jewish control and possession of the Holy Land ended after the Bar Kokhba revolt in AD 132-135 (read more here). While some Jews remained in the region, they were left as an impoverished and broken people. Most were scattered throughout the Roman Empire as slaves, where they remained in Europe for centuries. The survival of Jews, as a distinct people, throughout this period is nothing short of a miracle, and should be seen by Christians as an obvious sign that God loves them and wants them to remain a distinct culture. Their return to the Holy Land over the last century can also be seen as a sign of God's love for them, but more on that later.

It was widely believed by ancient Christian scholars that the Roman genocide of the Jewish people, which began with the destruction of their Temple in AD 70 and concluded with their banishment from Jerusalem in AD 136, was God's punishment upon them for refusing to accept their Messiah/King -- Jesus of Nazareth. While this may be religiously speculative, it does have some strictly historical merit. The 1,800-year diaspora was the direct result of a poor choice of the ancient Jewish people between two men who claimed to be the Messiah. The first was Jesus of Nazareth, who offered them a spiritual Kingdom that surpassed anything they had previously imagined. If embraced, they would have lived peacefully under Roman occupation, eventually outlasting the Roman Empire, and regain possession of the Holy Land by default after the fall of Rome. (Oh, and did I mention they get to save the world too?)  If however, it was rejected, it would result in the destruction of their Temple, followed by their embrace of a false messiah (Simon Bar Kokhba), who would lead them into absolute ruin, exile and enslavement. The majority of Jews, living in the Holy Land at that time, chose the latter, rejecting Jesus' spiritual Kingdom in exchange for rebellion, a false messiah, and the human catastrophe that followed. This is not a religious statement. Nor is it an anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish statement. This my friends is just a statement of historical fact, based entirely on historical observation of the historical record. Like it or lump it, that's the way it is, and nobody can change history.

As I said above, the occupation and control of the Holy Land was dependent on the Jewish observance of the Old Covenant. The Christian understanding of that covenant is radically modified under the advent of the Messiah King Jesus. Under King Jesus, the Kingdom of Israel is expanded to the ends of the earth, encompassing all who follow King Jesus and are part of his Church. The reign of the King, is lived out in the hearts of his followers (Christians), and is not dependent on physical ancestry (neither Jew nor Gentile). It is simply dependent upon faith and trust in Jesus Christ and the sacraments of his Church. Therefore, the Kingdom of God, the New Israel of God, is the Church, and exists anywhere on earth wherever Christians live. Furthermore, Saint Paul tells us that Christians are adopted children of Abraham by virtue of their faith in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the promised Jewish Messiah...
For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. -- Romans 9:6-8 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine) 
In Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. -- Galatians 3:14 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine)   
For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. -- Galatians 6:15-16 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine)
Here Saint Paul clearly teaches us that the promises of Abraham are given by adoption to those who have the faith of Abraham, specifically Christians, who are the spiritual heirs of the promises, and he even goes so far as to call Christians (the Church) the new "Israel of God."  It helps to understand that the version of Old Testament Scripture the apostles quoted from most often was the Greek Septuagint (Alexandrian Canon), in which the word ecclesia (meaning "church") is used to describe the ancient Kingdom of Israel. From the apostles' perspective, the New Testament ecclesia ("church") was simply a continuation of the ancient ecclesia ("church") Kingdom of Israel.

When we understand Christian teaching on Israel, the Kingdom and the promise of the Holy Land to Abraham, it becomes apparent that Christians have just as much a divine deed to the Holy Land as Jews and Arabs. The point here is that while anyone can live in the Holy Land, regardless of race or religion, the notion of Christian Zionism is absolute heresy! Modern Jews (religious and secular) have no more Biblical right to the Holy Land than modern Arabs (Christian, Muslim and secular), but of all people who would have the most right, based on the Biblical mandate of a divine title, it would be Christians (both Jewish Christians and Arab Christians especially). My point here is that a Christian simply cannot use the promises to Abraham and his descendants to justify Zionism. Modern Jews do not have any more Biblical mandate to rule that land than modern Eskimos. That is, not from a Christian religious perspective anyway.

That being said, it is still possible for a Christian to support the modern State of Israel, but he must do so according to modern international law not Biblical mandate.

Throughout the early 20th century, millions of European and Russian Jews legally immigrated to British controlled Palestine. They did this under British law, and the Brits allowed them to do this in charity. There was nothing wrong with this, so it can be supported by Christians. Could this be looked at as a sign of God's charity and compassion upon the Jewish people? Absolutely! Can this be seen as some kind of sign of the times and the latter days? Sure. Why not?  Then on May 1st, 1949 the United Nations recognised Israel as an independent nation. Christians can again support that, because it's a matter of international law. Since its founding however, the United Nations Security Council has adopted no less than 79 resolutions directly critical of Israel for violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, international terrorism, or other violations of international law. Christians obviously cannot support Israel on these issues. Furthermore, Israel occupies Palestinian territories not recognised by the United Nations or international law. Christians cannot support this either. To do so would be to support lawlessness and that violates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So in summary, Christians can support Israel in charity, and should support the Jewish people in charity as well.  However, such support should never entail the approval of lawlessness. Christians should approach the modern State of Israel like they would any other nation.

That being said, Christians should also respect Palestinians, the emerging occupied State of Palestine, and most especially stand in solidarity with Palestinian Christians who suffer under Israeli occupation. I think it is inappropriate for Christians to choose sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but at the same time, Christians should expect both sides to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions and international law. Now this may not be what some Christians want to hear, and I would expect some Christians to be rather cynical of this conclusion. However, the modern State of Israel (which has no connection whatsoever to the ancient Kingdom of Israel) has no right to break international law and violate the dignity of the people living in the lands they illegally occupy.

That being said, I will close with the following declaration signed by some very notable people below...
Statement by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches In Jerusalem
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." (Matthew 5:9)
Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today.
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.
We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.
We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!
We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.
We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to the following principles as an alternative way:
We affirm that all people are created in the image of God. In turn they are called to honor the dignity of every human being and to respect their inalienable rights.
We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.
We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.
We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.
We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.
With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.
God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.
"What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)
This is where we take our stand. We stand for justice. We can do no other. Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the
peoples of our Land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace - and working for peace makes us children of God.
"God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Cor 5:19)
His Beattitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land



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