Still 100% Catholic, and 100% Christian.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Reaching Out to Muslims

The Virgin Mary and Jesus,
old Persian miniature. Date: unknown.
In Islam, they are called Maryam and Isa.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the bloody history between Christianity and Islam. Much of this was spawned by recent remarks made by Barack Obama at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast, in which the president echoed the popular, but false, narrative that Medieval Christians attempted to spread their faith by the sword. Nothing could be further from the truth actually, and there are many historians who have set the record straight. In summary, the crusades were a defensive military action, like the reconquista of Iberia, to retake some Christian lands that were forcibly taken by Muslim conquest. Forced conversion was not permitted by the Catholic Church, so if any of that business went on, it was against the instructions of Rome. The president of the United States needs a history lesson.

Today we live in a time of great fear and uncertainty, especially in regard to Islam. The savage brutality of the ISIS caliphate in the Middle East is a daily reminder of how bad things can get under militant Islamic rule. The growing number of Muslims in Europe has left many with the concern that the cradle of Christian civilisation will soon become an Islamic state. Many Americans are starting to worry about the number of Muslims now entering the United States. What does the future hold? Are we approaching the end of Western Christianity as we know it? Is the Catholic Church soon going to find itself in the same situation as Eastern Orthodox churches in the Middle East, under the thumb of Islamic rule? Will Western civilisation soon find itself in a fight for its life against the rise of Islam in Europe and North America?

While many of the warning signs on the horizon look very ominous, there is something going on beneath the surface that has the potential to change our entire outlook. Yes, Muslims are coming West, but at the same time, Muslims are converting to Christianity in unprecedented numbers. As far back as fifteen years ago, on December 12, 2000, Al-Jeezera published an interview with Sheikh Ahmad Al-Qataani, who served as an Islamic scholar in Libya and director of a training centre for imams, in which he said the following: "In Africa alone, every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity, 16,000 every day, six million a year." This is an astonishing quote. Yet it's not just Africa that is seeing conversions. One news source in Britain stated that as many as 15 percent of all Muslim immigrants to Europe convert to Christianity. While there seems to be no scientific way to verify these numbers, at least none that I can ascertain, even if they're only half true, it tells a remarkable story. Islam is not a monolith, nor is it an iron curtain. In fact, it would appear that many Muslims are more than willing to convert to Christianity, and it is in fact only fear of breaking Shariah Law in Muslim countries that prevents more Muslims from converting.

The Christian West has a problem, to be sure, and much of it centres around what Pope Pius IX called the heresy of Modernism. Today, this translates into militant secularism seen especially in government institutions and public schools, as well as the media and popular culture. It also translates into what many have called "liberal Christianity" as manifested in British and North American Anglicanism, many mainline Protestant denominations, and a number of Catholic dioceses across the Old and the New World. These two expressions of Modernism, both secular and religious, have led to an explosion of immorality across the West. It is this immorality that acts as gasoline poured onto the flames of anti-Western sentiments in the Islamic world. In spite of this, however, more Muslims come West, and while the majority of them obviously retain their Islamic beliefs and culture, a fairly large percent are willing to embrace the cross and convert to Christianity. This is the untold story that is omitted from secular news media, and often ignored by our own religious leaders.

I believe the time of fear is over. It is time for Christians to understand what is really going on. In spite of being besieged on every side by our own culture in the West, Christianity is advancing in Africa and Asia. This has some Muslims in Africa and Asia worried, and among those who are worried, there is a small segment willing to resort to violence to prevent Christianity's spread. We know these groups as ISIS in Syria and Northern Iraq. We also know them as Boko Haram in Africa. The barbaric savagery of these groups against native Christians, particularly in Africa, is the direct result of the victory of the Gospel in these regions, reaching deep into traditionally Muslim territory and making new followers of Jesus Christ.

Simultaneously however, Muslims reaching into Europe and North America are encountering a weakened Christianity, without nearly the zeal and joy of that seen in Africa, but still Muslims are converting in fairly large numbers.

I believe the time has come for Christians to understand the awesome power that we really have in the Gospel to reach out to Muslims and give them hope were previously none existed.

To do this properly, Christians need to first understand our own religion, and live it vigorously. Here in the West, Muslim immigrants will be drawn to holiness among Christian men, and humility among Christian women. They will not be drawn to Christians who look and sound exactly like the militant secular and hedonist world around us. What will attract them is a Christianity that stands in opposition to the militant secularism and hedonism of the Modernist West. Traditional Christian liturgy and devotions will be most attractive to Muslims. The feminine practice of wearing the chapel veil and modest clothing will become a curiosity to Muslim women who often look at Western women as immodest and prideful. The masculine practice of being both a gentle and strong husband and father will attract Muslim men, who often see Western men as weak and feminine. Masculine priest saying mass, with boys serving at the altar, and the beautiful voices of women and girls chanting in choir; these will capture a Muslim's attention. When they see Christians living the values of Christianity in their daily lives, this will only seal the deal, so to speak.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ sells itself. It doesn't need any help from us. It only needs our willingness to live it out in our own lives. In two-thousands years of Christian history, people have been converting to Christianity en masse: Pagans, Gnostics, Muslims, Animists and Spiritists. While these large conversion events have been punctuated by the work of great evangelists here and there, the vast majority of these converts simply came into the Church because there was something attractive to them about Christian life. The greatest evangelists of all time have been none other than average Christians, without charisma or education, who simply lived the Christian life with passion and to the best of their ability.

You see much of evangelism involves apologetics, and much of apologetics involves breaking down stereotypes, propaganda and false impressions. One doesn't need to be a trained evangelist or an apologist to do this. One simply needs to live the Christian life. You see, a certain caricature of Christianity has been painted in the Islamic world for centuries. Breaking that false image is difficult in Muslim nations, where Christianity is nearly outlawed, or at the very least repressed. Here in the West, however, we Christians are free to project ourselves any way we like. The only problem is, we haven't been doing that. Instead we've been focused inward, reinventing ourselves to be less offensive to the Modernist world. When in reality, we should have been doubling-down on our historic Christian identity and values. Had we done that, I think the statistic of Muslims converting to Christianity in the West would be much higher. It's certainly not too late though. In fact, the game has only just begun.

To do this, Christians will need to abandon Modernism and get over their fear of Islam. The average Christian probably couldn't tell you what Muslims actually believe or how that relates to Christianity. So what is Islam from a traditional Christian perspective? Saint John of Damascus (AD 676-749) described the Islamic religion as the "forerunner to Antichrist". Now this is important. He didn't actually call it the Antichrist, but rather the "forerunner" to Antichrist. There is a difference. Why did he say this? He said this because Islam operates on the principle that Jesus Christ is not God, and this is one of the heresies that the prophesied Antichrist will promote. He also said that Mohammed came about his religion by conversing with Jews, Christians, and an Arian monk. Indeed, any cursory study of Islam will reveal a strong Arian link. Unlike Arius however, Mohammed understood that the Arian heresy, which teaches that Jesus Christ is not God (the Second Person of the Trinity), could not survive within a traditional Christian framework any more, especially after the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. Indeed, many have tried that, including for example the Jehovah's Witnesses today, and every time it has failed. He understood that to keep the Arian heresy alive, a new canon of Scripture must be written that is apart from anything the Christian Church could recognise or control. So the Koran was born, and with it the religion of Islam.

Now Muslims believe in Jesus of Nazareth. They believe he was a prophet, and the "messiah" to the Jews (not necessarily anyone else). They also believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and many Muslims hold Mary in very high regard. Likewise, many Muslims have some false ideas about Christianity. Probably the biggest one is that Christians worship three gods. This is because they fail to understand the concept of the Trinity, and to compound matters, some believe the three gods Christians worship are the Father, the Son and the Virgin Mary. Christians will need to understand their own faith well enough to dispel this myth when they encounter Muslim friends in casual conversation, because that you see, is how Christians will win back the Western world. The future of Western Christianity lies waiting in the mosques of Europe and North America. Many of today's Western Muslims will be tomorrow's Western Christians. In many ways, evangelising a Muslim is not too much different than evangelising a Jehovah's Witness, or a member of some other pseudo-Christian group that disavows the Trinity. Actually, it's probably a lot easier. What many Christians will be surprised to learn is that when they really get down into a deep conversation with Muslims about religion, they'll discover that Muslims have many of the same misconceptions about Christianity that Fundamentalists often have about Catholicism. So the basic methods of engagement are very similar, and the learning curve is almost the same.

Now I'm not talking about targeting anyone for conversion. There is no need for that. As I said, the Gospel sells itself. People become Christian because they find something attractive about traditional Christianity, and something attractive about people who live according to the Christian faith. It's not just true with Muslims and people from other religions. It's also true with Christians who have fallen away from the faith. For example; I know a woman who was raised Catholic but had never received a good education and example in the faith. In high school she fell away from Catholicism, and in college she was introduced to Islam. She had been studying it for some time and she already considered herself a Muslim. Then just weeks away from making it official, she met a devout and traditional Catholic man. Within a very short time, she was won back over to the Catholic Christian faith by his basic knowledge and example. He was no trained evangelist or apologist. He just knew his Catholic faith well, and lived it passionately. They are now married and have just recently baptised their first Catholic child. This is what I'm talking about. When we know our faith intimately, and live it passionately, people will be drawn to us. Not only will Muslims be drawn to us, but fallen away Christians too, and people of other religions, or no religion at all.

To reach out to Muslims, Christians in the West need only do three things. One, know the Christian faith intimately. Two, live the Christian faith passionately. Three, befriend Muslims. Yes, it really is that simple. There is no need to take apologetic courses on how to reach Muslims, or even have a detailed understanding of Islam. A cursory understanding of Islam will suffice, what matters more is that Christians understand and live their own faith. Beyond that, Christians only need befriend Muslims and be good Christian neighbours. Eventually, as Muslims get to know you, some of them will ask questions. That's where knowing your own faith comes in handy. You want to be able to answer those questions when they ask. Some Christians might ask: "But what if my Muslim friends try to convert me?" To which I can only say that is the most ideal situation, because it will undoubtedly generate a lot of questions on their part. These are questions that can be answered very effectively, if the Christian knows his own faith intimately and lives it passionately. History testifies that when put on a level playing field, without fear of the sword, the Gospel of Jesus Christ wins every time. You see, Western Christians have to remember that Muslims who live in the West are generally more open-minded than their religious counterparts in the East. That's one reason why they are over here to begin with. Keep this in mind, because these people are more likely to listen to a Christian, if that Christian can make a good case for his faith and backs it with a lifestyle that illustrates it. Reaching out to Muslims is not difficult, especially for those of us who live in countries with religious freedom. We need not target them or do anything special. We only need to know and live our Christian faith, and then be willing to befriend them. Once stereotypes are broken down, invitations can be made, such as inviting them to your church. If they're not interested, then invite them to get together with some of your other devout Christian friends. Exposure to as many good Christians as possible will help Muslims see that Christians are not what they first believed them to be. As a result, a certain percentage will convert. That is guaranteed. However, even those who don't convert will at least become more friendly toward Christianity and accepting of Christian culture. That's a good thing all around.

This article first appeared in Forward in Christ magazine.


Click Image to Learn More
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!


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Thank God for the Reconquista and Crusades

The Early Crusades
Map from US Central Intelligence Agency, 1993
Source: http://maps.bpl.org/id/m9229

We hear it all the time. It's spoken on television, the radio, by public officials, even the president of the United States has repeated it. It's taught in our public schools, in our universities, so it seems it's just common knowledge. "Medieval Christians tried to spread their faith by the sword with the Crusades." The only problem is -- it's not true.

I could go into a long history lesson as to why it's not true, but I won't.  Others have already done that, and they've done a far better job than I ever could. So instead of reaching into the past, I'm going to do something totally different.  I'm going to reach out to the present.  I'm going to pull up something from recent news, put it right into your face, to help you understand something that modern Westerners have failed to understand for decades. Fair warning, make sure there are no children in the room. Here it is...

This is the face of Islamic terrorism now, in the real world, in present time, here it is. These monsters represent something. They represent something the world has not seen in hundreds of years. This is the face of medieval Islam. What happened to those 21 Christians on that beach in Libya, indeed what is happening to hundreds of Christians across the Muslim world daily, is the same thing that happened to Christians in the Byzantine Empire and in Spain, tens of thousands of times over, prior to the Reconquista and Crusades centuries ago.

You see, the world has bought into a delusion that Islam is a religion of peace. That is not entirely true. We have to be more specific than that to be accurate. Islam can be divided into two basic categories -- modern and medieval. Modern Islam is a peaceful religion, but medieval Islam is not. What's the difference? To break it down simply, and yes, I know this is a bit overly simplistic, the difference is this. Medieval Islam takes the Koran very literally, while as modern Islam tends to interpret the Koran in more of a spiritual and esoteric kind of way. 

Modern Islam relies heavily on scholars and imams to interpret the Koran for the common folk. The passages of the book are taken in a very symbolic and metaphorical kind of way, symbolising the inner struggle of good against evil, in the heart of individuals. Jihad, by this understanding, is merely an internal struggle, wherein the Muslim learns to overcome evil with good. This is modern Islam, and it is very liberal by historical standards. Most Muslims, throughout the world, adhere to this liberal standard of modern Islam to some degree or another. This is especially true in the West, because you see, it would be very hard for a Muslim to live a functional life in the Western world, if he didn't take the Koran in a symbolic, spiritual and esoteric kind of way. I happen to know dozens of Muslims, even here in my mid-sized Midwestern city, and I can tell you that I have never (not once) seen any of them whip our a prayer rug in the middle of the day and start bowing east toward Mecca. I'm not saying they don't do that at all. I'm sure they do. It's just that they don't do it in public, and that can only mean one thing. These Muslims I know take Islam in a very modern way, that is more spiritual and symbolic, which allows them the flexibility to function normally in our Western society. I do not dare to judge their level of devotion to Islam. As I think it would be wholly inappropriate for me, as a Christian, to say they are not devout. Who am I to say that!?! Am I a Muslim? So I cannot judge. All I can say is their understanding of Islam is modern, and it is such that allows them flexibility. Likewise, I also know these Muslims well enough to tell you that none of them are killers. They are peace-loving people, and some of them are healers (doctors, nurses and therapists). I have only witnessed compassion and empathy from them. Yes, they are peaceful people, and for them, I would agree that their modern understanding of Islam is peaceful. Modern Islam is a peaceful religion.

Medieval Islam is something entirely different. For it takes the Koran very literally and in an absolute (inflexible) sort of way. This is how Islam was practised by its largest proponents during medieval times, and it is this version of Islam (the original version) that modern day terrorists, jihadists and radicals want to go back to. Western politicians make a terrible mistake when they say that radical Islam is not a religion. It is a religion. It is the religious Islam that once was, went away for a while, and now is back again with a vengeance. The absolute terror that we are witnessing in the world today, a terror that many modern Muslims are beginning to react to with horror, is the resurgence of medieval Islam. It hasn't reared its ugly head in a long time. The Western world has been lulled into a sense of complacency, even to the point of ignorance. For the Western world has looked upon modern Islam, and applied what it saw toward medieval history. Western leaders, scholars and teachers, looked upon the peaceful tendencies of modern Muslims, and applied them to the medieval world, assuming that it must have been Christians who were the aggressors instead, but this is a horrendous error that is not substantiated by historical facts. To help Western people understand, particularly Americans (who tend to be especially clueless at times), let's try to make a comparison.  Suppose we lived in a bizarre alternate universe, wherein suicide cult leaders like David Koresh and Jim Jones didn't kill themselves or their followers, but instead trained their followers to become killers and then led them into a conquest of North America. Securing large swaths of land for themselves and their followers, they instituted a religious state, wherein they interpreted the Bible in the most literal way possible, and then began attacking Canada, Mexico and executed prisoners from China and Russia. Why would they do this? Certainly they're not going to make any friends this way. But you see, making friends is not their objective. Their objective is ultimately suicidal. It's to cause the world to attack them, so that in their convoluted literal interpretation of the Bible, this will bring about Armageddon and expedite the return (second coming) of Jesus Christ. In many ways, this is what the Islamic State (ISIS) is attempting to do. They can be likened to a suicide cult, because that is their final objective. Their actions make no logical sense, because logic does not factor into them. They are adhering medieval Islam, which interprets the Koran in a hyper-literal way, and in doing so, they hope to expedite an Armageddon event that will result in a glorious age of worldwide Islamic rule. This is a form of Islam that modern Muslims have gradually rejected over the centuries since the Crusades, so in turn, these medieval Muslim throwbacks reject modern Muslims as well. This is why they have no problem killing them too.

The point I want to make here is this, for the first time in a very long time, the Western world is FINALLY getting to see the ugly face of medieval Islam again. Their intent is to kill as many Christians as possible, and make as many enemies as possible, because the world is their enemy. Their only friend is medieval Islam, and they will stop at nothing until the world is converted. Under medieval Islam (a form of Islam that most modern Muslims have rejected), it's okay to kill non-Muslims in the most brutal and heinous way possible. It's okay to rape non-Muslim women. It's okay to enslave children and use them as sex toys. It's okay because an absolute most-literal interpretation of the Koran and the life of Mohammad says it's okay. Again, I want to stress here, that this is an interpretation of the Koran that most modern Muslims have rejected, hence the creation of modern Islam (a more liberal and spiritualistic religion).

So what are the Western powers doing about ISIS today. Why, we're bombing them of course! A few Muslim states (currently Jordan, Egypt and the UAE) have even decided to join us in this campaign! Who can blame them really? Muslims have been working for a long time to shed the image of their medieval past, and now ISIS has come along reminding the whole world of it in the most graphic way they can! These countries have every right to be upset, and they have every right to defend themselves against this destructive madness. So do we! We here in the West have every right to defend ourselves against the destructive madness of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and other medieval Islamic throwbacks. Why? Because these people are not just a threat to Christians in their own regions, they are likewise a threat to everybody in the West (including modern Muslims who live here). They sponsor terrorism in the West. Remember 9/11? What are we supposed to do? Should we stand idle and let medieval Muslims shoot us and bomb us? Should we bow down and let them slit our throats and decapitate us? Shall we pay the jizya tax, and hand over our wives and daughters to be raped? Shall we convert to Islam against our will? No! And the modern Muslims I know agree with me on that! We have every right to defend ourselves against the threat of medieval Islam, just as they do!  Likewise, if we have that right, so did the medieval Christians!

This is the point I'm driving home. What we are facing today, is just like what the medieval Christians faced, except it was tens of thousands of times worse! The Muslim conquest of the Christian Byzantine Empire was horrendous. The Muslim conquest of southern Spain was just as bad, if not worse! Christians didn't surrender to Islamic forces because they wanted to. They surrendered because there were terrified, and they didn't have the resources to defend themselves. The modern world forgets, especially we in the West, that medieval Christianity was nearly conquered by Islam. The eastern Christian Byzantine Empire was falling to Islam rapidly. It would eventually collapse, both from external pressure by Islam, and internal chaos. Everything that is now Muslim territory around the Mediterranean Sea was once Christian land -- all of it! All of Northern Africa was once Christian. All of the Holy Land was once Christian. All of Asia Minor (Turkey) was once Christian. All of it! Medieval Muslims didn't just stroll in to these regions, hand out flowers, and sing "here we are, la-de-da, let's all be Muslims now!" No! They came in by force, killing thousands, burning cities to the ground, rampaging and terrorising entire populations. This went on for centuries -- centuries!!! Christians endured this for hundreds of years!!! Then, only after Muslims began to advance into Europe, and the end of Christianity looked to be on the horizon, did the Church authorise the Crusades, which like the Reconquista in Spain, sought only to retake those lands previously owned by Christians, and only a fraction of them at that. Of particular interest was Asia Minor (Turkey) and the Holy Land. When the crusaders retook the Holy Land, they did not force Muslims to convert. That is myth. Forced conversion was forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church. Take a look at the map above. There you will see the reality of what happened. All the blue (Muslim) areas from the Holy Land westward were originally Christian. Stop and consider that. Think of the vast territory. Thousands of square miles of land once Christian, now under Islamic rule. Did the crusaders try to take it back? No. All they wanted was this little strip of the Holy Land, and Asia Minor (Turkey) to assist their Eastern Christian brethren who called for their help.

Now, does that mean the Crusades were perfect. No. There were isolated incidences of tragedy, wherein Jews were killed, and even Eastern Christians were killed. That was never the intent of the Crusades, but it did happen. Today, when this sort of thing happens, we call it "friendly fire" and "collateral damage." It happens when military commanders screw up, or something doesn't go as planned. We generally accept it today, as one of the unintended consequences of war. Collateral damage was especially high during World War II, before the age of "smart bombs" and computer targeting. We have friends of our family who suffered through this in Germany, as allied bombs ripped through their neighbourhoods, schools and markets. Probably no nation is more familiar with the effects of modern collateral damage than Japan, which endured three allied bombings, in which civilians populations were deliberately attacked to expedite the end of the war. I'm talking about the fire bombing of Tokyo, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We could go all the way back to the American Civil War, in which Union General Sherman lit fire to every Confederate farm, plantation and city that stood between him and the Atlantic Ocean. This was war made on civilians, for the express purpose of breaking the enemy's spirit and ending the war. More recently, with the invention of "smart bomb" technology, such collateral damage is more unintended, but it still happens nonetheless. In the 2003 Iraq War, some 12,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, mostly by American bombs and the aftermath thereof. In the modern world, we are accustomed to this. So why is it so "inexcusable" in the medieval world, especially when Christian crusaders are involved? Why are hundreds of years of medieval Islamic jihad overlooked, even omitted, when talking about the Crusades? Let's keep this in mind here. Medieval Christians endured hundred of years of: beheading, immolation, rape, pillage, murder, mayhem, subjugation, and slavery, before they finally did anything about it. How long have we waited? For the modern world, this sort of thing has only been going on for a few years, and yet we're ready to send in the bombers and tanks. What does that say about us in comparison to medieval Christians. They were the patient ones. They were the long-suffering ones. They were the ones who exemplified Christian virtue, and martyrdom, all the way until their own extinction was within sight. Then, rather than go quietly into the night, after hundreds of years of being slaughtered, Christians finally fought back. How did they fight back? Did they launch a massive invasion into all of Africa and the Middle East, with millions of foot soldiers? No. They took on a very direct and focused military campaign, to take back just a tiny fraction of what was taken from them, for the purpose of securing Europe and providing pilgrimages to the Holy Land. In comparison to what medieval Islam had just done to Christianity, I would have to say the Christian military response was measured and restrained.

After everything that has happened in recent years with the resurgence of medieval Islam, combined with the current and upcoming Western response to it, any modern attempt to cast the Crusades in a negative light is 100% hypocritical. That's right. If you condone the Western fight against the resurgence of medieval Islam today, then you cannot honestly condemn the Crusades of the past. What we are facing today is no different than what medieval Christians faced back then, except they didn't have stealth bombers and cruise missiles to fight back with. They had to take on these savages face-to-face, sword against sword, in hand-to-hand combat. Even worse, there were more of them to fight back then, for in medieval times, radical Islam was normal Islam. There were no peaceful Muslims back then. The only time Muslims were peaceful was when they were defeated on the battlefield. The modern Islam we see today, with its esteem for higher learning and humanitarian aid, bares little resemblance to the Islam of medieval times. These things they learnt from watching Christians, and gradually incorporated them into their own religion over centuries. That's a good thing, and we should applaud them for that. We should understand however, that it wasn't always that way, and our Christian ancestors had to deal with it face-to-face. It is good to understand this history of this time period, but these days we don't even need to do that. All we have to do now is look at the news. If we want to understand why the Reconquista and Crusades happened, we need only look at the video above. Multiply that scene by tens of thousands, spanning hundreds of years, and you get the idea. Instead of the shores of Libya, this stuff was happening in Spain! To which I can only say, thank God for the Reconquista and Crusades!


Click Image to Learn More
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!


Monday, 26 January 2015

American Conservatism versus Pope Francis

Pope Francis leaving after La Messa del Crisma, 17 April 2014
Photo by Emilio Villegas via Wikimedia Commons
(MarketWatch) -- Then the Federalist, a conservative website, waves a red flag warning: “Don’t Pick Political Fights With Pope Francis.” Why? “Conservatives have everything to lose and nothing to gain from getting mad at Pope Francis for his public comments on homosexuality, global warming, free speech, and more.” 
Yes, conservatives warning Republicans: Don’t go to war with Pope Francis, you will lose. He’s got an army of 1.2 billion faithful worldwide including 78 million American Catholics. Francis will win. 
A huge army. More important, Francis has a direct link to a heavenly power source. As the 266th descendant of the first leader of Christians, St. Peter, the pontiff will be touring America this fall... 
read more here
Before you read the rest of the article, please read my comments here. This story is bound to really upset some American conservatives, and simultaneously fill many American progressives with glee. Putting aside the emotional reaction, please keep in mind that the columnist makes some good points. (1) Lord willing, Pope Francis will come to America, and he will likely speak about many of the things addressed in the article. (2) American conservatives will likely attack him for some of these things. (3) In doing so, American conservatives will be effectively attacking the word's most powerful and influential religious leader, and this is a losing game. They can't win. (4) American progressives will score a huge political victory, leaving American conservatives looking rather obsolete, close-minded, and somewhat anti-Catholic, or at least irreligious. All of this just in time to kick off the 2016 election cycle.

This essay is addressed to my politically conservative friends out there, particularly those in America.

Dear politically conservative friends; you can't win by challenging this pope. However, I will tell you now how to role with the punches that are soon coming with Pope Francis' visit to America, and limit any victory political liberals (progressives) might score. If you want to know, read on and take notes. If you don't care, click that back arrow button right now and move on to the next blog.

The first thing you have to understand is that Catholic popes have never been capitalists. Nor have they ever been socialists. Nor are they something in between. Rather, Catholic popes (for the last 120 years at least) have held to their own economic ideology based entirely on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you want to know what that is, simply read their social encyclicals, going back 120 years. Or if you don't have time for that, you can do a cursory review of an economic theory developed from their teachings. It's called distributism, and it is opposed to both capitalism and socialism. Check out the Wikipedia page on distributism for more details on that. What is distributism? Well, in a nutshell, it's micro-capitalism, meaning that popes believe that the best business is small business. Business should be run by families, independently, as much as possible. Large factories and industry should be owned by the workers as much as possible. The idea here is that each and every family should have as much stake in private business as possible. Ideally this would be small family-run independent business in most cases, but in those cases where large business is necessary, those businesses should be worker-owned cooperatives. Beyond that, the economic philosophy of the popes would include public ownership of those things that the public holds in common, such as water supply, natural gas supply, electrical grids, parks, law enforcement, fire departments, etc. In addition, the popes advocate a strong sense of social responsibility for the poor, weak and voiceless. This includes an absolute prohibition on abortion, along with strong financial support for mothers in a crisis pregnancy, as well as ongoing support for the children of crisis pregnancies. The popes do not dictate how this support should be provided, but only that it be provided effectively for EVERYONE who finds herself in this situation. Likewise, the popes support the poor, as well as migrants (aliens legal and illegal), calling for society to help them as much as possible. It's exactly the sort of thing Jesus would call for. You get the picture. Calling this position "communism" or "Marxism" or "socialism", as some conservative talk-radio hosts have done, is a losing proposition. For it is to call Jesus Christ himself these things. Over the last year, as American conservatives continue to do this, they have only successfully alienated Catholics (and other socially conscious Christians) from the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general. It's a losing battle. The only way to win is to STOP doing this.

The second thing you need to understand is that whether or not you agree with the theory that man-made carbon emissions are creating global climate change, and yes it is just a theory, it is nevertheless a theory commonly accepted by most of the world and the scientific community. Now the scientific community and the world may be wrong, but that doesn't change the fact that the majority still accept it. That means that for now anyway, conservatives are stuck with it. Conservatives have been attempting the battle this theory for the last 20 years, and the only people they've managed to convince are themselves. This is a losing battle, and here is why. Even if all the science behind man-made climate change is wrong, that still doesn't change the fact that burning oil, in the form of gasoline and other carbon fuels, pollutes the air. It creates smog, which is indisputably toxic to humans, animals and plants. (If you don't think smog is toxic, then you're not living in reality and I can't help you. Move on to the next article please.) So even if the science behind man-made climate change is wrong, to oppose it in favour of burning more fossil fuels, is to unwittingly come out in favour of smog! Now the average progressive may not be able to succinctly articulate that, and I find that most can't, but nevertheless the message is still there subconsciously. You can't win on this one. Everybody hates smog. Nobody will back you on this. People want to get rid of it, and some people look to the theory of man-made climate change as one more good reason. They figure that even if the science is wrong, the political move to reduce carbon emissions will help to eliminate smog, and that's a good thing. This is especially true if you live in major population centres, such as Los Angeles or Mexico City, where the toxic smog is so thick that it has actually reduced the functional lung capacity of all children living there, according to medical studies. Any attempt by conservatives to counter the pope's move against carbon emissions will result in conservatives looking like they are in favour of smog. You can't win this one. It's a losing battle, and a big one at that!

So here is how you conservatives role with the papal punches and come out ahead in the end. You must change.

No, I'm not talking about changing into progressives. What's the point of that!?! I'm talking about change in the form of becoming MORE conservative not less. Here is what I mean. Currently, the popular form of conservatism promoted in the United States (and embodied by the Republican Party as well as the Tea Party, etc.) is post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. What!?! Yes, you read that right. The conservatism typically promoted by radio talk-shows, blogs and print media is post-Enlightenment Liberalism, or what is more commonly called "Classic Liberalism." Yes, American Conservatives are LIBERALS, in the most classic sense. By that I mean the kind of Liberalism that starts with John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Then it continues through the industrial age to its logical outcome in Laissez-faire capitalism, robber barons, and monopolies. It finds its conclusion in the objectivist libertarianism of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig Von Mises. It's chief proponents today are conservative talk-radio show hosts. As a student of history, let me make this perfectly clear. Post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism has seen its glory days. It saw them over a century ago. It is now on the decline, and the jabberings of radio talk-shows in America are it's dying gasps. The rejection of post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism on economics, otherwise known as "capitalism," came about in two forms. The first was atheist, or humanist, in nature and took on the forms of Marxism, communism, socialism and fascism. The second was religious in nature, and took on the forms of distributism, Christian-democracy, and social-market economics. The latter of these, the religious push-back was launched by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. While the atheist or humanistic push-back has proved to be an utter failure, the religious push-back has seen remarkable success. It is ironic that most American liberals (progressives) oppose what is essentially Post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. The political positions they usually adopt, as typically embodied in the Democratic Party, are only socially liberal (on such issues as abortion, homosexuality for example). Economically speaking, American liberals are neither conservative nor liberal. They are, in fact, just reactionary, adopting both the religious and humanist push-back against Post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. This explains both their astronomical successes and monumental failures in the 20th century.

Throughout the 20th century, the religious push-back took on many forms, and even in the United States became embodied in such things as: antitrust laws, child-labour laws, minimum-wage laws, the 40-hour work week, worker cooperatives, credit unions, small-business alliances, trade unions, etc. However, it should be pointed out that while these manifestations are relatively new, the principles behind them are actually centuries old, much older than post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism. When American conservatives call themselves "conservative" they must ask, what is it specifically that they are trying to conserve? Is it merely the principles of post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism as embodied by well-known atheist Ayn Rand and agnostic Ludwig Von Misses? (Both of whom took strident positions against the Catholic Church and Christianity in general, and both of whom have been heavily promoted by American conservative talk-radio shows.) Or is it something a little more conservative than that?

Maybe the type of conservatism Americans should more fully embrace should be something a little more conservative than what post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism has to offer. Maybe American conservatives should embrace something a little more firmly rooted in Christian history and theology. Maybe it's something a little more, dare I say it? -- medieval. Ah yes, those dreaded "Dark Ages," happily named so by the children of the "Enlightenment." Isn't it a bit telling, and humorous, that those who would name their own period of history the "Enlightenment" would subsequently name all previous periods of history the "Dark Ages"? It's the epitome of both pride and prejudice if you ask me. However, most historians agree that those dreaded "Dark Ages" of medieval history weren't so "dark" after all. In fact, following the immediate troubles in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, the continent that would later be named "Europe" experienced an explosive period of economics, education and civil rights unheard of in previous eras. In comparison to medieval times, the days of the Roman Empire were the real "Dark Ages." A continent ruled by Christian leaders, for all of their faults and shortcomings (and there were plenty), was still infinitely better than an empire ruled by brutal Pagans. The Romans were brutal to be sure, and if you have any doubt about that, go ask just about any Jew who is knowledgeable of his people's history. Jews have suffered much under the pogroms of medieval Europe, but it is nothing in comparison to the absolute slaughter of genocide committed against them by the Pagan Roman Empire and the Racist Nazi Reich, neither of which were Christian by any stretch of the imagination. (The Roman Empire pre-dates Christianity, and the Nazi Reich was an overt rejection of traditional Christianity.) As primitive as medieval times were by today's standards, they were a massive leap forward in all areas of human development, compared to previous eras. We often judge medieval times by our plush 21st century standards, with a hefty dose of Enlightenment prejudice to boot! But is this fair? Can we really judge an entire epic of Western history on such standards? It was the cradle of our modern civilisation. Everything we enjoy today we owe to our medieval ancestors. These were the people who brought us out from the Pagan tyranny of the real "Dark Ages" under the Roman Empire, and into what we now know as the modern world! It is telling that Americans know so little of medieval times. Aside from the caricatures they typically see in movies and television, they really know nothing of it. The average American Protestant couldn't tell you anything about Church history between the late 1st century and the early 16th century. That's fifteen centuries of missing history! That's fifteen bloody centuries! FIFTEEN CENTURIES! One-Thousand-Five-Hundred YEARS!!! Has there ever been another people with such historical amnesia? I suspect a good part of the blame could be laid on the doorstep of America's public schools, but I also suspect that a greater part of the blame could be laid at the doorstep of many American Protestant churches. Conservative talk-radio show hosts are no help either. For them, history only began 240 years ago, with the founding of the United States. For them, the "greatest hope for humanity" is our national Constitution and Declaration of Independence, not the Saviour Jesus Christ who died for our sins. It seems to me that anyone boasting of the name "conservative" should think long and hard about what it is he is really trying to "conserve." Many good things came out of the Enlightenment era (1650 - 1790), but a lot of not-so-good things came out of it too. It was a period or rebellion against traditional Christianity, ultimately culminating in two violent revolutions. The first was the American Revolution, or the American War of Independence, which was the more moderate of the two. The second was the French Revolution, which was the more radical of the two, and more clearly embodied the ideals of the Enlightenment.

Is this conservatism?  No!  This is liberalism in the most classic sense. The Enlightenment was about rejecting traditional Christian ideas. The post-Enlightenment era (1790 to 1914) was the fruit of this experiment. During this time private industry gradually moved away from family-owned businesses and into massive corporate empires. It was a time of monopolies and robber barons. It was a time of extreme economic growth, punctuated by large market booms and recessions, of which the later were particularly hard on the poor. By the turn of the 19th to 20th century, the Western world was defined as a two-class society of haves and have-nots. With the adoption of antitrust laws, which broke up corporate monopolies, the modern world began a century-long rejection of post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism which is still going on today.

So what kind of conservatism should Americans embrace? Should it be the type of conservatism promoted on talk radio and the blogosphere, in which a post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism is the standard. We typically see this with calls for the abolition of government regulations on business, labour laws, minimum wage, antitrust laws, etc.  The cry often heard from the American conservative Right is "get rid of government!" and "we don't need any government laws and regulations."  What do they mean by this?  Are they advocating a return to the post-Enlightenment era? In a word -- yes. All one needs to do is read the writings of the authors they say inspired them, and they promote on their blogs, television and radio shows. Chief among them are Ayn Rand and Ludwig Von Misses, both of whom freely acknowledge their disdain for Christianity, and their belief that Christian morality and ethics are the greatest things holding back progress.

The following are a variety of quotes from Ayn Rand from various sources, including interviews and her own writings. The works of Ayn Rand have been promoted by conservative talk-radio shows for decades in the United States. Even a former Republican Vice Presidential nominee, a Catholic no less, made one of her books required reading for his office staff.
'Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice.' -- Ayn Rand, Interview with Playboy Magazine, March 1964 
'The kind of sense of life that produced the [papal] encyclical “Populorum Progressio” . . . was not produced by the sense of life of any one person, but by the sense of life of an institution. The dominant chord of the encyclical’s sense of life is hatred for man’s mind—hence hatred for man—hence hatred for life and for this earth—hence hatred for man’s enjoyment of his life on earth—and hence, as a last and least consequence, hatred for the only social system that makes all these values possible in practise: capitalism.' -- Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, page 304 
'The ideology that opposes man’s enjoyment of his life on earth and holds sex as such to be evil—the same ideology that is the source and cause of anti-obscenity censorship [is]: religion.' -- Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 1, 3 
'If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.' -- Ayn Rand, Faith and Force, A lecture delivered at Yale University on February 17, 1960
The following are quotes from Part IV, chapter 29, of Ludwig Von Mises' book Socialism. It should be noted that when Mises says "liberalism" he is referring to post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism, otherwise known today in America as "conservatism" or "neoconservatism."
'The expectation of God’s own reorganisation when the time came and the exclusive transfer of all action and thought to the future Kingdom of God, made Jesus’s teaching utterly negative. He rejects everything that exists without offering anything to replace it. He arrives at dissolving all existing social ties.' 
'One thing of course is clear, and no skillful interpretation can obscure it. Jesus’ words are full of resentment against the rich, and the Apostles are no meeker in this respect. The Rich Man is condemned because he is rich, the Beggar praised because he is poor. The only reason why Jesus does not declare war against the rich and preach revenge on them is that God has said: "Revenge is mine."' 
'This is a case in which the Redeemer’s words bore evil seed. More harm has been done, and more blood shed, on account of them than by the persecution of heretics and the burning of witches. They have always rendered the Church defenceless against all movements which aim at destroying human society.' 
'It would be foolish to maintain that Enlightenment, by undermining the religious feeling of the masses, had cleared the way for Socialism. On the contrary, it is the resistance which the Church has offered to the spread of liberal ideas which has prepared the soil for the destructive resentment of modern socialist thought. Not only has the Church done nothing to extinguish the fire, it has even blown upon the embers.' 
'The fate of Civilisation is involved. For it is not as if the resistance of the Church to liberal ideas was harmless. The Church is such a tremendous power that its enmity to the forces which bring society into existence would be enough to break our whole culture into fragments. In the last decades we have witnessed with horror its terrible transformation into an enemy of society. For the Church, Catholic as well as Protestant, is not the least of the factors responsible for the prevalence of destructive ideals in the world today.' 
'Priests and monks who practised true Christian charity, ministered and taught in hospitals and prisons and knew all there was to know about suffering and sinning humanity—these were the first to be ensnared by the new gospel of social destruction. Only a firm grasp of liberal philosophy could have inoculated them against the infectious resentment which raged among their protégés and was justified by the Gospels. As it was, they became dangerous enemies of society. From the work of charity sprang hatred of society.' 
'Now independent production does not tolerate any spiritual over-lordship. In our day, dominion over the mind can only be obtained through the control of production. All Churches have long been dimly aware of this, but it was first made clear to them when the socialist idea, rising from an independent source, made itself felt as a powerful and rapidly growing force. It then dawned upon the Churches that theocracy is only possible in a socialist community.
Is this the kind of "conservatism" that Christians should embrace? Some would argue that the religious beliefs of these intellectual leaders within American conservatism have nothing to do with conservatism itself. I say hogwash! There is a reason why their books are promoted by conservative talk-radio and blogs. It's precisely because these intellectual leaders in American conservatism are the architects of a political philosophy that is at its heart the antithesis of Christianity. They didn't make these quotes as a side note, some obscure beliefs they had apart from their economic views. Rather, they made these quotes precisely because of their economic views. They were thinkers! They took the economic philosophy they supported to its most logical conclusion, and unlike most people, they weren't afraid to say it or write it. If unapologetic support of Laissez-faire capitalism led them into opposition of Jesus Christ and his Church, then so be it.

Yet, like so many other radical philosophies, it cannot survive on its own. It must wrap itself in the cloak of "God and country" to gain the support of the vast majority of people who would otherwise recoil in horror if they knew what it was really about. This is the job of America's talk-radio shows, blogs and conservative print media. They take the grotesque and make it palatable. At its heart, American conservatism is post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism, and that is a philosophy of absolute individualism. So intimately tied with the development of the United States during the 19th century, this post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism (or absolute individualism) was simply dubbed "Americanism" by the popes of the Catholic Church. This is not the kind of "conservatism" that any Christian should embrace.

So what kind of conservatism should Christians embrace, particularly those in America? As I said above, we look to the principles and ethics of medieval times as our guide. We look to the code of Chivalry, the Canon Laws of the Catholic Church, and the rights given to women and peasants as examples of the overarching mindset true Christian conservatives should have. Surly we can never go back to such primitive simplicity, nor would we want to, but we can extract the good from the bad, take the lessons we need, and move forward in our own time. We are not alone in this. The Catholic Church has spent the last 120 years trying to develop a moral plan as demonstrated in the social encyclicals of the popes. The economic model of distributism, formulated by those who sought to implement the social encyclicals of the popes, serves as another guide. Indeed, this is no novelty. Such ideas have, in the past, made their way into the mainstream of American political thought. American antitrust laws, minimum wage laws, child labour laws, the 40-hour work week, credit unions, trade unions and cooperative corporations where all created with distributist solutions in mind. The popes continue to move forward in this, extracting the best from Christianity's medieval past and applying these principles in practical solutions for the modern world. This is conservatism -- true conservatism!!!  It is a conservatism based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which gives preferential option for the poor, small business and families. It is a conservatism that is more at peace with nature, seeking to "conserve" the resources and planet God has given us. It is a conservatism that shares many common goals with some of today's liberals, without embracing their destructive humanist views on collectivism, sex and family. It is a conservatism that champions the little people, and gives them a fair opportunity to provide for themselves, independent of big business and big government. It is a conservatism not seen on America's political spectrum in decades. It's the kind of conservatism that does not see Pope Francis or the Catholic Church as a threat, but rather a natural ally in the war against atheism, hedonism, greed and godlessness. That's the kind of conservatism Christians should embrace. What should we call it then? Call it what you like. Call it "Christian Conservatism" or "Traditionalism" or "Distributism" or just plain old "Chivalry." It doesn't matter. What matters is that Christians reject this post-Enlightenment "Classic" Liberalism ROT that is commonly marketed as "conservatism" these days by many American bloggers and talk-radio show hosts. It's time for conservatives, particularly Christian conservatives, to rethink who they really are.


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