Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Woody Allen and the Buffered Self - Fr. Robert Barron

It was Samuel Johnson, in his poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes," who used the phrase, "To point a moral or adorn a tale." D.H. Lawrence quoted the line and pointed out that often the (author's) moral pointed one way and the tale another (think of the famous example of Milton's Paradise Lost). "Never trust the author, trust the tale!" says Lawrence. Fr. Barron makes a similar point about Allen, his bleak vision, and his art: Don't trust the auteur, trust the film!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Aliens in Our Own Land: Persecution of Christians and Western Indifference - Dwayne Ryan Menezes

Can Christians ever be victims of genocide? asks Professor Mark Movesesian over at First Things magazine. Not only President Obama and his people, but also Condoleeza Rice and policy elites more widely seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the world's most persecuted major religion. Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute reported that Rice's response to her attempts to draw the attention of the Bush Administration to the plight of Iraq's Christians was that assistance to Christians by the United States would appear sectarian. Britain's failure to defend the persecuted Christians in the Middle East has also been shameful.

When I posted a link to Movesesian's article on my Facebook page, my friend Dwayne Ryan Menezes, who is a director of the new London think tank, Human Security Centre and head of its Religion and Politics division, responded with this deeply moving and personal comment.  Dr. Menezes' research interests are in Christianity in the non-Western world and Christians from the non-Western world in the West. Here he tells a story, too little understood in the West, about the meaning for Christians in many lands beyond the West of the embarrassed silence of Christians in face of anti-Christian persecution.  It is a hostile, politically correct multiculturalism that is as insensitive as possible to persecuted minorities where these do not fit the dominant narrative.

This postmodern secularist pose of Western elites approves of every culture but its own, and values, in the name of diversity, every religion except those at the heart of its own culture and civilization, Christianity and Judaism. What Dwayne experienced in India, where he was born into a Catholic family of Indo-Portuguese descent, was rejection as a living reminder of empire, an attitude mirrored in the post-Christian, anti-Christian West, where he and others like him saw no support. "All we  saw was the post-Christian garb of the West, a cultural hemisphere where Christians had been crushed into silence, embarrassment or apathy."

Here are his observations:

Aliens in Our Own Land: Persecution of Christians and Western Indifference

by Dwayne Ryan Menezes

The fear of 'appearing sectarian' or 'showing favouritism' is the poorest, the weakest and the most appalling excuse for not speaking up for a persecuted group in a distant land that happen to share your beliefs.

During the wave of intensified persecution of Christians in India in 2008, I had to head to Ottawa and Washington to get people to even listen to my concerns. It was only later - once the overseas Indian Christian diaspora was mobilised into action - that the West took some notice.

I shall never forget how despondent and frustrated I used to feel as the sole Christian in my school in India for 10 years. Throughout my childhood, you were accepted, but only to a point, and only so long as you surrendered to the expectations of the majority on the minority.

I shall never forget how it felt to be treated as an alien in one's own land, where I was expected to defend everything the West did as if being Christian made me its Ambassador, all while the same West appeared so removed from my plight, so beyond my reach, and so embarrassed and reluctant to come to my defence.

I will never forget the year 1999. I was 14 when the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two boys were burned alive by a mob of 50 or so in Manoharpur, Orissa, while they were sleeping in their vehicle. His two boys - Philip (10) and Timothy (6) - were only a few years younger than me. I saw them in my dreams that night, their little hands tapping the window of their locked vehicle, summoning me to do something.

I remember the pain and confusion I felt in my 14-year-old heart when I saw people celebrating their demise and warning other Christians that the same fate would befall them. I remember some of my best friends remarking scornfully the next day, "You've still gone back to school? Haven't you learnt a lesson? Why don't you go back to Rome or London or Lisbon, wherever it is that you come from?"

I would have left, had I happened to have come from any of those places, but what could I do as one born into a Roman Catholic family in India of Indo-Portuguese descent? The West didn't want me, if at all they knew "my kind" existed. The Indians didn't want me, for they saw "my kind", quite literally, as the last, but living, vestiges of the empire. There I was: an alien in every land, a stranger to every people.

Perhaps there were people (like yourself) and organisations (like Christian Solidarity Worldwide) then who did indeed stand up for Christians like me, but how was I - a child born in distant India - supposed to know? All we saw was the post-Christian garb of the West, a cultural hemisphere where Christians had been crushed into silence, embarrassment or apathy.

If you are born a Muslim in India, you can at least tap into some sort of transnational Muslim community that is visibly and vocally attentive to your concerns. If someone in Denmark publishes a cartoon that Muslims find offensive, Muslims in lands as far as India will rise up in uproar. There is a sense of collective honour and collective responsibility, at least within some transnational sectarian communities.

We must not stigmatise Muslims for their transnational and trans-ethnic solidarity; we must learn from their example. We must put Christian teachings into practice, see (and not just call) ourselves a global 'community of the faithful', have a sense of transnational solidarity and responsibility, and set a 'Christian' example of how to respond to the challenges the most vulnerable among us face: a response borne in dignity, peace, love and humility.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chinese State Theology: Caesaropapism Lives - in China

Chinese State Theology

Why on Earth would an officially atheist country’s ruling class decide to create a new theology? Furthermore, why on Earth would anyone listen to what that ruling class had to say? The answers to those two questions: to buttress their authority and because their people have to listen to what they say on fear of severe penalties, may give you a hint as to which country we’re talking about. Yes China! The Communist Party controlling China has decided that spying on the menstrual cycles of its citizens is no longer enough, now it is going to pronounce on theodicy, the problem of consciousness and the whether it is holy because God wills it, or whether God wills it because it is holy. According to the International Business Times:

“The [Chinese] government will create a “Chinese Christian Theology” to guide the practice of Christianity in the country, the China Daily reported Thursday. Although the government has yet to provide any details into what this new theology entails, its purpose is clear: Speaking to China Daily, Wang Zuo, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said, ‘The construction of Chinese Christian Theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.’”

I always thought that Christianity was universal and that the state should have little to say about Christian practice, but I suppose Caesaropapism has a long history. I think the importance of this attempt at a new theology is that the Chinese government is worried about an “unguided” Christianity, a religion that is claiming more and more Chinese adherents:

“Since relaxing prohibitions on religious faith in 1982, the Chinese Communist Party now recognizes five official faiths: Protestantism, Catholicism, Taoism, Buddhism and Islam. Because much religious faith remains underground, it is difficult to establish the precise number of worshippers in China. But a 2007 survey estimated that 31 percent of the country’s population, a number exceeding 400 million people, practiced a religious faith of some kind. Each religion has an organized, government-sanctioned hierarchy that is headquartered in Beijing and under the direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party.”

There have been other attempts that the government has taken over the years to ensure that religious belief is according to the government’s rules:

“In 2007, Beijing passed a law prohibiting Buddhists from reincarnation. (The government has thus far not revealed whether there have been any violations.) In Tibet, government minders have replaced monks as supervisors of Buddhist temples throughout the region, reversing a long-standing policy.

In the far-western Xinjiang region, whose 9 million ethnic Uighurs practice a mild form of Sunni Islam, Beijing limits permission of Muslims to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, while in July China banned fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. And this month, in Karamay, the local government said residents wearing Islamic clothing, and men wearing long beards, could not legally board city buses.”

It will be interesting to see what the Chinese government approved theology ends up looking like and to what extent it is followed by the various Christian denominations in China. Quite frankly I’m not surprised at the attempt to “de-fang” Christianity. The trouble for a totalitarian dictatorship is that the state is not able to tolerate a competitor for people’s affections and faith.  Especially a competitor that presumes to judge the actions of the state and its officials according to a universal moral precept that isn’t that espoused by Marx, Lenin and Mao.  The attempt to defang may be a bit late however:

“Still, in a country where Web searches for Jesus far outnumber those for President Xi Jinping, Beijing may have a major challenge on its hands.”

This article is published by Marcus Roberts and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
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Monday, July 28, 2014

An African woman’s “Thank-you” letter to Meriam Ibrahim

Obianuju Ekeocha | 28 Jul 2014 

The great news of Mariam Ibrahim's arrival in Italy filled me with so much joy and elation.

The images of this graceful and beautiful African woman, babe in hand, stepping out of the plane was a sight to behold especially after her unspeakable pain and suffering in the Sudanese prison.

So I thought I should, in a very simple letter, write down my reflections and thoughts of gratitude for this resilient daughter of Africa whose freedom is being celebrated by the entire world today.

On behalf of all African women, I thank you Meriam Ibrahim, for showing the world the indomitable courage that is at the core of authentic femininity. I say this because your pain and persecution were tied so firmly to your femininity. And so your triumph was a most powerful witness to life, to motherhood, to marriage, to love and to faith.

You are indeed a true picture of faith and virtue, a true symbol of strength and resilience. You are, in my humble opinion, a real woman of substance, an African woman of substance and your story fills my heart with courage and audacity in my own vocation to defend our African culture of life,marriage, motherhood, faith and family, no matter how difficult, no matter how shameful and no matter how painful for me. 

For under intense persecution, you refused to deny your Christian faith. Under the threat of the extremists, you stood as a witness and a martyr.  Under the pain of incarceration, you would not deny your husband or renounce your marriage. Under the heavy shackles of prison you still had the strength and defiance to give life , to give birth. Under the certainty of a death sentence you had the determination to nurse your precious little baby.

By your powerful example, the world has come to witness the resilience of a young African woman who in the worst conditions bore heroic witness to the virtues of faith, marriage, and motherhood. Your unspeakable struggles in the last few months have been a most radiant ray of light that has pierced through the darkest clouds to contradict a modern world that is telling us that faith means nothing, that religious freedom is not all that important, that marriage is whatever we want it to be, that motherhood should be a choice we make under the most conducive situations, that our babies should only be born at the most convenient of times.
You, my African sister, have become a lightening rod to the radical feminists of our times who repudiate and denigrate every virtue that you epitomize .  

Within your body, you have borne the marks and scars of a true Christian, a wife, a mother and a martyr, and in this way you have shown us what it means to be an empowered and liberated woman, and I'm glad to say it is certainly not what the western radicals and ideologues are telling us. They try to tell us that for African women to be empowered, they need to be "sexually liberated", selfish, individualistic and fiercely autonomous, but you Meriam , by your own example , have taught us that the liberated African woman is the woman who is free to live and practice her faith, love her husband , and protect her children (born and unborn). A liberated woman is a woman of faith and family. This is the truth that must be spoken throughout Africa. 

Today, the world watched you as you breathed the fresh air of freedom and as you made your first stop, not at the Whitehouse, but rather at the House of St Martha (Casa Santa Marta) which is also the house of the Holy Father Pope Francis. Instead of the presidential handshake that many others would have craved first, you chose the papal handshake. And instead of the political reception you chose the apostolic benediction for you and your family. You chose the Pope over the POTUS! 

You are a woman of great wisdom and strength and indeed Africa raises, praises and celebrates you. 

We rejoice with you and for you. We rejoice that you are free at last. And out of our rejoicing,

I pray that more women (from our Africa and from every corner of the world) will reflect deeply on your experience so as to emulate you.

I pray for women of faith to rise up and bear courageous witness even to the point of martyrdom. 

I pray for women who are pregnant to choose life for their babies at all cost.

I pray for women who are wives and mothers to stay true to their vows and vocations.

I pray that beyond our global rejoicing, we would be adorned with even a portion of the heroic virtue of Meriam Ibrahim's authentic feminism purified and forged in the fiery crucible of religious persecution.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author: Editor

This article is published by Obianuju Ekeocha and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jewish births “Trending Upwards” in Israel

Marcus Roberts | 23 Jul 2014 | 
With the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza showing no signs of abating, despite the best efforts of the UN Secretary-General, I thought that this piece from the Jerusalem Post dealing with Israeli demography was interesting and challenged many assumptions that I had.  The author is Barbara Sofer, a Jerusalem writer who serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. She makes some interesting personal observations in the course of explaining her interview with one Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli ambassador.  Sofer explains that the conversation took a turn that she was not expecting:

“I expect us to discuss Diaspora-Israel relations, but instead we talk mostly about babies – who is having them and why.

When it comes to Middle East demography, Ettinger maintains that most of us have our facts backwards. We’ve become so accustomed to thinking we’re sitting on a demographic time bomb that will implode when Jews are outnumbered, that we’ve failed to follow the latest statistics.

Indeed, Ettinger’s ideas are counterintuitive for all of us who have long believed that the demographics of our region are pitted strongly against us.”

As Sofer acknowledges, there is a perception that demography is against the Jewish population and that in time there is a danger that Jews living in the Middle East will lose the “fertility race” to its Muslim neighbours, not all of whom are well disposed to the Jewish State. I used to think as much until I wrote about this last year.  But Israeli Jews are very different from their Western world counterparts when it comes to fertility.  

“According to Ettinger, from 1995 to 2013, the annual number of Israeli Jewish births surged by 65 percent – from 80,400 to 132,000. In 2013, the Jewish fertility rate was 3.04 births per woman – and trending upwards. It’s 3.04 births when both spouses are Israeli-born, no matter where their parents were born.

‘Trending upwards” is the operational term here. There are many factors, including population age, which are important in predicting future population growth or shrinkage. But, taking all these factors into consideration, the Jewish population is growing fast, and will grow even faster.”

In contrast, the Muslim birth rate is declining:

"A CBS report earlier this year, citing UN estimates, shows there’s been a drop in family size among Muslims throughout the region. The most fertile Arab nation, Jordan, has a projected 2035 fertility rate of 2.41 children. Israeli Muslims are projected to decline from 3.37 to 2.71. This is consistent with the greater education and urbanization.

Says Ettinger, ‘Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is currently higher than any Arab country, other than Yemen, Iraq and Jordan, which are rapidly declining. The Jewish population is also growing relatively younger, which bodes well for Israel’s economy and national security.’”

But why is this? Why are Israeli Jews bucking the first world trend and why is their fertility rate increasing? Sofer states that’s Ettinger denies that is solely down to the haredim, the ultra-orthodox who make up about 12% of Israel’s total population (we’ve noted this before).

“Ettinger names the following factors: a sense of the collective and community patriotism; attachment to religious, cultural and historical roots; and optimism.”

This last point is one we’ve alluded to before on this blog. If societies and populations are confident and optimistic about the future, then they are more likely to want to share that future with future generations. Conversely, when societies lack confidence, when populations cannot think of a reason why they would want to propagate their existing culture through a new generation and when individuals are too hedonistic to have children, then you see a declining birth rate. Like we see in most of the western world. Sofer agrees:

“Optimism is the answer that resonates for me. Despite the many challenges of living here, the low-frills lifestyles in contrast to the members of the OECD whom we lead in fertility, we believe in the future and want to share it with a new generation.”

But so many would point to Israel’s intermittent wars and its almost daily dangers of battle, rocket-fire and kidnappings. Israelis live in a country where certain neighbouring groups do not recognise their state’s right to exist. What is there possibly to be optimistic about? Well, maybe Israeli Jews recognise that something worth living for is the only thing worth dying for. And a homeland for many Jews is something to preserve and to hand on to a future generation. Is that what we in the West are missing? Something we want to hand on to our children? Something worth having children for? 

This article is published by Marcus Roberts and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/demography/view/14457#sthash.8BfEdg40.dpuf

Sunday, May 11, 2014

When We Lose the Sense of Sin

Paul Adams

I was reading a piece on Huffpo about how men turn grumpy at 70, sort of like adolescents turn moody and recalcitrant in the first years of puberty, for hormonal reasons.  It would have been depressing – not least for my poor wife, who lives both with a querulous septuagenarian and a truculent teen. Except, says the author, there are five stages of male grumpiness extending across the whole range of life from adolescence to dotage. That put it all in perspective, I suppose.

While on that page I noticed a link to another Huffpo article about how the DuckDynasty matriarch, Miss Kay, had forgiven the Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson for the way he had treated her in the early years of their marriage nearly half a century earlier.  The story is a familiar one – at least for Christians – of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and conversion of life, and a couple sticking it out through the process and very happy they did so.

Huffpo told the story more or less straight, at least compared with other liberal postings of the “gotcha!” kind.  But the hundreds of hateful comments that followed made up for Huffpo’s restraint.

Representative are these responses:

*Why is it that these Christian values fools that keep telling the rest of us that we are wrong for not believing in "their" ways & teachings time & time again always the ones caught cheating & breaking their own code?

*So I guess this makes him a hypocrite and she is another enabler. Typical Christian behavior!

*Such hypocrites.

Not all comments were of this kind.  The charge of hypocrisy was common, but some pointed out that to have sinned, repented, and changed your life to conform to what you consider God’s will does not make you a hypocrite.  

As one reader says:

*Just in case you don't know:

hyp·o·crite [hip-uh-krit]
1.a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

He WAS an alcoholic and he DID commit adultery. Past tense.

I am struck by the gulf of incomprehension between the Christian and anti-Christian commenters.  The story of a sinful man repenting, being forgiven, converting his life to follow God is thousands of years old and repeated many times in Old and New Testaments, from David to Matthew, Paul and countless others.

And yet it is incomprehensible to the gotcha crowd who relentlessly judge those they accuse of judging. None of the anti-Christian commenters offers a shred of evidence to show that either Miss Kay or her husband of nearly 50 years is “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” 

It is said that saints – men and women of heroic virtue – are those most aware of their own sin.  Any Christian who examines his conscience knows he sins.  When asked to describe himself, Pope Francis – no drunk or adulterer – said simply, “I am a sinner.”  We all depend on God’s infinite mercy.

Of course, there are hypocrites among Christians who, like the Pharisees of old, pretend to have virtues they don’t possess.  But that is not the charge of the gotcha crowd in this case.  The charge they make is that Phil Robertson once struggled with alcoholism and committed adultery.  For this, if you are a Christian, they imply there is no forgiveness, no repentance, no conversion of life.  And those like Miss Kay who do forgive are “enabling” behavior that no one claims has actually occurred for decades.

So how do we understand people who acknowledge neither sin nor repentance nor forgiveness? 

One part of the gotcha response seems to be hatred of those who try to live virtuously, with God’s help, and who thereby seem to be a living condemnation of the moral state of those who don’t even try.

But what does it mean not to try?  It is not that the anti-Christians recognize such a way of framing the problem. They don’t. They do not have even the sense of sin in the first place. The whole idea of living virtuously implies that one holds oneself to standards that for most of us do not come easily.  Virtuous habits are acquired through practice and lost through disuse.  We aim for virtue but often fall short of our own standards and principles.

This, the classical and Christian understanding, implies that there is a moral truth about what is good and what evil.  What repels so many anti-Christians, I think, is that they have no grounds for discriminating between good and evil except what they actually choose to do.  Like Hume, they believe that reason is passion’s slave, the rationalization of whatever we choose to do and how we choose to live.  It is the boo-hooray ethical emotivism that has no grounding for morality beyond feelings.

Better in this view to rationalize and justify what we actually choose and do than to try to aim higher and risk failing.  Even aiming for virtue seems like an intolerable judgment on those who do not.  Better to escape the charge of hypocrisy by not having beliefs and principles that one’s actions could belie.  One cannot fail to live up to standards one doesn’t have or that do not differ from whatever one does – not because one is saintly but because one’s standards adapt to what one chooses.

For America’s founders, the liberal republic could not survive such a moral climate. Democracy depended on the virtue of the citizens. Human flourishing for humans and human communities depended, as for other animals, on our living according to our nature and purpose, as Aristotle and Aquinas argued. It was not a matter of will and power, the remaking of our selves and our laws according to our carnal or other desires.  Moral truth had an objective basis in our nature and destiny as humans. If there was no truth, one could not speak truth to power. Moral relativism and subjectivism become the path to tyranny.  The “dictatorship of relativism,” as Benedict XVI called it, leads ineluctably to the tyranny of the state and the squeezing out of civil society, the family, the intermediary groups, the mediating structures that are key to democracy.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as Robert Reilly says in his new book,  “turned Aristotle’s notion of Nature on its head. Aristotle said that Nature defined not only what man is but what he should be. Rousseau countered that Nature is not an end—a telos—but a beginning: man’s end is his beginning, or, as Allan Bloom expressed it, “there are not ends, only possibilities.”
Like many proponents of the sexual revolution today, Rousseau had a particular hatred for that most constraining of institutions, the family that he considered artificially constructed. He called for the education of children to be taken from the family and given to the state. As Reilly puts it, “Once society is atomized, once the family ceases to interpose itself between the individual and the state, the state is free to transform the isolated individual by force into whatever version of ‘new man’ the revolutionary visionaries espouse.”
Rousseau’s influence is everywhere today. Recall the Obama campaign ads featuring “Julia,” who from cradle to grave was nothing more than a ward of the state and the family is no where present, not even when she wants to have a baby.
But as Austin Ruse puts it in his review of Reilly.
...old nature is a powerful thing, and nature tied to conscience is practically unassailable, certainly unassailable without powerful justifications, rationalizations, and as it turns out, the embrace and celebration of society. Aristotle wrote, “Men start revolutionary changes for reasons connected with their private lives.” Disputes over homosexual acts or abortion or divorce or contraception or fornication immediately become personal and this is precisely because they are so personal…. 
Reilly says the insistent voice of conscience must be muffled in favor of persistent sinning. The sinner does this through internal justification and rationalization and the further insistence that the sin be accepted and even celebrated by society at large.
How strong, then, the hatred those celebrants of vice feel for those who see the behavior in question as wrong.  How loud the cries of hypocrisy when those self-acknowledged sinners fall, give in to temptation. And how they redouble their efforts to use the power of the state to enforce recognition of vice as virtue, and to crush those who dissent in the name of an intractable reality that is not simply a matter of will and power.
*NOTE: This blog has taken up the concept and current rhetorical use of "hypocrisy" in several earlier posts.