Wednesday, July 30, 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.

Click Here for More Information on

Monday, July 28, 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



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!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

World War I -- A Century Later

Please watch this video to learn more about World War I.

World War I began 100 years ago on July 28, 1914. None of us today can fully appreciate the magnitude of change that has occurred since this catastrophe of world history. Only a tiny handful of people alive today witnessed this event as children. Within a decade, even they will be gone. It was the greatest event of the last century, and I say "greatest" because of its influence over world history. Many people look to World War II as the greatest event.  I say no, because World War II was really just a sequel, a continuation of the unfinished business left over from World War I.

From World War I came the abolition of monarchies all across Europe. The social influence of the Catholic Church was weakened, while the social influence of European Protestant churches (especially in Germany) was decapitated. In Russia, the social influence of the Orthodox Church was obliterated. In the wake of this war, Christian civilisation, in both the West and the East, was brought to its knees, and has not recovered since.

A final warning was given, by Our Lady of Fatima, just before the end of this great conflict. The social upheavals, that the conclusion of World War I would bring, could be averted with much prayer and reparation, as well as the consecration of Russia to Mary's Immaculate Heart.  A small number of people took action on this, but for the most part, her warnings went unheeded by the world. As predicted by both Our Lady and the Vatican, another world war broke out within a generation, and this was a result of the failure to live the Christian virtues that would have prevented it -- both by the world's leaders and the general populations.

As I said, World War II was simply a continuation of the unfinished business left over from World War I. It came as a judgement from God, a chastisement if you will, the result of having failed to act on the warnings given by Our Lady toward the conclusion of World War I. In his mercy, God gave a period of time for repentance to happen, but repentance never came.

Sadly there is more. Just as World War I left unfinished business, so did World War II. We have been watching this slowly unfold during our lifetime. The Cold War was the most lasting conflict, punctuated by hot flashes in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan. The world is no safer today than it was in 1914, and in that there is another lesson.

In the wake of World War I (also known at the time as the "War to End All Wars") many European monarchies were replaced by democratic republics. The idea was that the monarchies had failed to preserve the peace, so the task would be given to republics instead. It was assumed they would keep the peace much better. World War II proved that mindset to be false, and while the subsequent Cold War put a chill on violence in Europe for a generation, it by no means solved the problems. It is a historical myth that republics are more peaceful than monarchies, and if America's Civil War in the 19th century wasn't proof enough, the extreme violence of World War II should have dispelled all doubt. Today, many wars and violent revolutions are currently sponsored by so-called "peaceful republics" around the world. The events currently unfolding in Ukraine and Syria-Iraq are proving this to be the case. At this moment in history, both the United States and Russia are learning the price of what it means to lose control of your puppet revolutionaries. Will violence from these areas spill over into more regional conflicts? And will those conflicts lead us into World War III?

The lesson of World War I is that these things can happen fast, and with virtually no warning at all. The lesson of history from World War I and World War II together is actually a religious one, and it's been five centuries in the making, ten centuries if we include the East. Christianity cannot be a divided faith. For division of Christianity in both the East and the West is a scandal that causes people to lose faith. This isn't my analysis, it is rather the very prediction of Jesus Christ himself...
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." -- John 17:20-21 
Jesus' last prayer before his passion was for Christian unity, and he warned us in that prayer, that with unity comes belief, and with division comes lack of belief. Sure enough, when the Catholic Church was divided in the 16th century, doubt set in shortly thereafter. By the 18th century the so-called "Enlightenment" had come, which was nothing more than an abandonment of Christ and his Church in favour of intellectual Deism. What followed that was outright Atheism in the form of Marxist theories during the 19th century. Finally, it all came to a head in the 20th century with World War I and World War II. It was the fruit of the Reformation and the Enlightenment come to full bear. In the 100 years since these political catastrophes, that killed nearly 100 million people, we have learnt virtually nothing. If anything, we have only sunk deeper into our errors. Will their be a World War III to complete the Trilogy? All I can say is we've not learnt the lessons of World War I and World War II, so you decide. Personally, I think the answer is obvious. The further men fall away from the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more violent they will become.



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, July 21, 2014

Understanding the Palestinian Quagmire

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

Is that really the way it is?

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

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

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

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

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

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



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!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Catholic in the Ozarks is now FULLY CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 07, 2014

Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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, July 03, 2014

Religious Freedom Comes to Missouri Schools

Today something interesting happened.  Missouri's Democratic Governor, Jay Nixon, signed into law legislation that guarantees non-discrimination for any public school student over religious practise, beliefs and opinions.  What this means is that students can wear religious items to school without harassment by school officials. They can organise prayer meetings and scripture study during non-class time.  They can pray during non-class time openly and without harassment by school officials. They can even express their religious views in class assignments, and those assignments must be graded by standardised academic criteria, not their religious opinions or political correctness.

So for example; a student could turn in a science assignment demonstrating the student's knowledge of evolutionary theory, but could write at the bottom of the page that he doesn't believe any of it. This would not effect his grade, and he would be graded solely on how well he understood the theory, not if he believes in it.  Likewise, a student could turn in an English composition paper on the a religious subject, or a moral belief, and the paper would have to be graded solely on composition, not the subject matter.  In short, the new Missouri law gives complete religious autonomy to students and students alone.  It does not give teachers permission to teach religion, nor do Missouri's public schools endorse one religion over another.

The signing of this bill comes as somewhat of a surprise to many Missourians, especially those here in the Ozarks, who assumed the governor would veto the bill based on his long standing reputation of siding with the abortion lobby as well as many other Left-wing agendas.  However, it would seem in this particular case, Governor Nixon believes that freedom is the best solution to religion in schools.

Reaction to the law is mixed.  Most Missourians, especially those in the Ozarks, applaud the governor's decision.  Some however oppose it, particularly a minority who believe that public schools should be a "religion fee zone."  A smaller minority of Christian fundamentalists oppose it as well due to fears that their children might be exposed to Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim or Wiccan practises at school.  A tiny minority of people have just gone hysterical and are claiming the governor has violated the U.S. Constitution and should be recalled.

Before I get into my personal take on this matter, Let's examine the Constitutional question.  The 1st Amendment to the Bill of Rights reads as follows...
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....
Okay, let's examine this carefully. The U.S. Supreme Court has (rightly or wrongly) interpreted this to mean there is a "wall of separation" between religion and government.  There are two clauses in this article that define what this "wall of separation" means -- (1) the establishment clause, and (2) the free exercise clause. The establishment clause simply says that we cannot have a state-sanctioned or a state-funded religion. "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." This means you can't have a state church.  It means the state cannot sponsor a church, or give money for the promotion of a religion. There is nothing in this new Missouri law, that Governor Nixon signed, that respects the establishment of a religion. The law does not declare a state religion.  Nor does the law give money to a religion.  Nor does it favour one religion over another. So right from the start, the new Missouri law is clearly within the confines of the establishment clause.  Now we move on to the "free exercise" clause, which means that the government can in no way prohibit the free exercise of religion.  What does this mean?  It means that government cannot make laws that hinder a person's ability to practise his or her religion.  For example, I like to wear a religious medal at all times, including when I'm at work.  The state cannot make any law prohibiting me from doing that.  If it does, that's a violation of the "free exercise" clause and is clearly an infringement upon my constitutional rights. In the case of the new Missouri law, that Governor Nixon just signed, what we have is a law that actually corrects a gross violation of constitutional rights.  Previously, under Missouri law, teachers and school administrators could punish a student for wearing a religious article to school, bringing a religious book to school, organising a prayer group of some kind, or expressing religious views on class assignments. Evangelical Christian students constantly complained of teachers who would ridicule them in class due to their religious beliefs. This new law will clearly benefit them, but it will also benefit Jews, Muslims and other students who feel inhibited to express themselves religiously. The previous legal state of religion in schools was in question prior to the signing of this bill into law, and it left the door wide open for constitutional violations of student rights. This new law closes that door and leaves no ambiguity.  Religious students are to be left alone by teachers and school officials.

Let me tell you a story of my own personal experience over 20 years ago in California's public schools. This was back in the late 1980s. I remember when schools had a zero-tolerance policy toward religion. I remember students being harassed by their teachers for daring to express a religious view.  I remember the random locker searches for illegal drugs, wherein Bibles, crosses and rosaries were also seized as "religious paraphernalia."  I remember students being sent home for wearing Christian t-shirts. I remember police showing up to a "see you at the poll" prayer meeting, and hauling kids off to the police station, where their parents were called to pick them up. Most of all, I remember a young Evangelical Christian girl who dared to organise an after-school Christian club. She was told she could not do so, and when she had the audacity to seek legal council, the school district threatened to ban all clubs on all campuses, including sports booster clubs!  Once that happened, this poor girl was harassed by the high school football team, and all the school jocks. She came to me in tears, nearly hysterical, as she told me she was giving up her case because everybody hates her now, and she was in fear for her safety. That school district sure taught her a lesson! Yes, I've seen how bad it can get, so I know (first hand) where zero-tolerance of religion can lead. The only religion that was tolerated on my high school campus back then was "no religion."  It was a little communist state -- literally -- and I'll never forget it.  I sincerely hope things have changed since then.

The new Missouri law protects students from things like this ever happening to them, regardless of their religious beliefs, and makes public schools what they really should be -- PUBLIC.  You see there are many religions in the public. One can stroll down any city street and see a number of different Christian denominations.  One might even stumble across a Jewish synagogue or a Muslim mosque here and there. You can go into any public workplace and see people from all sorts of religions, each with their own unique prayers and practises. We don't ban religion in public. So why should we ban religion in public schools? Aren't public schools supposed to be "public"?  I mean aren't they supposed to be a reflection of the public community? What about public parks? Do we ban people from praying in public parks? How about public libraries? Do we ban people from using private rooms in a library for religious reasons? What about public buildings or public money? Does the phrase "In God We Trust" ring a bell? Public means public, and in the public there are people of many religions, who express these in many different ways. We don't ban that in the public, nor do we ban it in any other public institution, so why do we ban it in public schools?

It seems to me that some people acquired some really funny ideas when the U.S. Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools back in the 1960s.  Many people took it to mean a communist (anti-religion) approach to public education. Indeed, a good number of teachers and school administrators took it as just that, and they enforced it as just that. That is not what the Supreme Court decided at all. You see prior to those decisions, it was the practise in many public schools for teachers to lead their students in Protestant Christian prayer before each class. It was also common for many public schools to teach the Protestant Bible as literature and sociology. What the Supreme Court decided was this. Public school students are captive audiences. They cannot get up and leave class when a public school teacher begins imposing a school sanctioned religious prayer or lesson. So therefore the imposition of a teacher-led prayer or religious lesson is a violation of the student's 1st amendment rights, in that the state (a state-funded public school) is imposing a particular religion on the student and thereby violating the establishment clause.  That's it.  That's all there was to it.  The Supreme Court never said students couldn't pray in school on their own.  It never said schools could enforce a strict "no religion" policy on the student body.  It never even said that students couldn't include their religious beliefs in class assignments.  It only said that TEACHERS could not IMPOSE a PARTICULAR religion on the students -- period -- nothing more and nothing less.  So what does that mean?  It means the restriction is upon public school teachers not students.  That's not to say that teachers can't be religious, they most certainly can be, they just can't impose any religion on the class.  This is because so long as that teacher is teaching at a public school, the said teacher is acting as an agent of the state or a state official. The teacher can no more impose religion on the public school classroom than a state driving instructor can impose religion on student drivers. Students however, are free to do whatever they want.  The Missouri law not only upholds the 1st Amendment, but it also upholds the U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding prayer and religion in public schools.

Now here are my closing thoughts on the matter. For those people who protest this new law, I say "get a life!"  Not only do you not know what you're talking about, but if you can't handle somebody else's kids practising their religion in school, then you shouldn't be sending your own kids there in the first place. It seems to me that some people (some Christians even) got very comfortable with the communist (anti-religion) approach to public education, They started to think that even though their own children couldn't act out their religion there, at least others couldn't either, and that somehow "protected" their children from having to deal with any unwelcome religious practises. Since this bill became law, I have heard a few Protestants complain that they fear their children might be exposed to Islam or Wicca now, and they fear what the chant of those prayers might do to their children.  This is what I have to say to that.  If you think that hearing Islamic or Wiccan prayers is going to harm your child, then either you obviously haven't trained them well enough in your own religious faith, or else you have a fundamentally different approach to education and you shouldn't be sending your children to public school in the first place. You should consider homeschool or a religious school. Public school is PUBLIC, it's a reflection of the public at large, which means students will be exposed to everything there as you would be exposed to in the general public.  Is there a mosque somewhere in town? If there is, then guess what? There is a good chance your kids are going to school with some Muslims already. Well now they get to hear their prayers, and if your kids don't like it, they can say their own prayers. This is training them how to be mature and tolerant adults. On a personal level, I have no problem with other people's religious practises.  I don't agree with them, but it doesn't bother me. Jews and Muslims can chant their prayers, and I'll chant the Catholic Divine Office. It makes no difference to me. If I ever send my children to a public school, I will do so with the understanding that people of other religions go there too, and my kids are secure enough in their religious beliefs to not feel threatened by that. For now I homeschool, but not because I have a problem with other people's religions. I don't. Rather, I homeschool because I want to control the curriculum and because I have a fundamentally different approach to education than what is seen in the public schools. If however, I ever decide to sent my children to public school, then I welcome this new law, along with all of the religious diversity that comes with it. It's nice to know Missouri is leading the way in religious freedom for America.



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!