On Christmas Eve, the Guardian published an odd commentary piece by Ajmal Masroor, the director of Communities in Action. It was odd because Masroor was openly proselytizing for Islam, wondering why former British Prime Minister Tony Blair didn't convert to Islam rather than to Catholicism. One doesn't usually see such open proselytizing in a major newspaper. In any case, in the course of his piece Masroor said this:
According to Blair, Islam "extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition". I agree, but why has he embraced Catholicism with its history of hostility towards science and is embedded with superstition?
Why indeed? I can't and won't speak for Blair, but the idea that Islam extols science while Christianity is hostile to it is historically and conceptually false. And it's an important question, not only for science, but also for the defense of the West in general against the civilizational challenge posed by the Islamic jihadists. In my book Religion of Peace?, therefore, I discuss it in detail, beginning with an explanation of the importance of the question from none other than Friedrich Nietzche, who once noted that “there is no such thing as science ‘without any presuppositions.’…a philosophy, a ‘faith,’ must always be there first, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right to exist.”
It may be jarring to those who are accustomed to believing that faith and reason are perpetually at odds with each other, and that religion is an eternal enemy to science, but it is nevertheless a matter of historical fact that modern science has derived a great deal of its direction, meaning, limit, method, and right to exist from Christianity. It is likewise true, and probably just as jarring to those who assume that all religions are essentially identical in character, that Islam has not provided, either historically or in the present day, the same kind of impetus to its development. Read all …
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
But here in a windswept desert in Iraq a different kind of battle is taking place. Al-Aqiser Church, one of the oldest in Christianity, lay waiting until a team of Iraqi archaeologists stumbled across its ruins in the 1970s. The battle is one of restoring it to its ancient glory.
"It is a place of worship, a church, and without doubt, the oldest church of the East," said Hussein Yasser, the head of the antiquities department of the province of Karbala.
"According to our research, it was build 120 years before the emergence of Islam in the region," Yasser said.
In time, Karbala overshadowed it and became a key Muslim Shiite pilgrimage destination, while across the region Christian communities began to recede.
[ ... ]
"The church was built facing Jerusalem," said Yasser, who has been struggling since 1993 to attract funds and interest to restore the church and carry out excavations in the area.
His efforts were briefly rewarded some years ago when the authorities agreed to finance a brief excavation that lasted six months.
[ ... ]
In the past Catholic Chaldeans, the largest single Christian denomination in Iraq who follow an eastern rite but recognise the Pope in Rome, used to pray in Al-Aqiser on Christmas Day but the faithful have not returned in a long time.
The church "is part of out country's memory, part of the great civilisation that the Iraqis have built and it must be saved," said Yasser. [HT: New Advent]
Thursday, December 27, 2007
From a Girardian perspective, this event indicates a furthering of the sacrificial crisis in Islam. To paraphrase Robert Hamerton-Kelly, when the sacrificial mechanism of the primitive Sacred at the heart of a culture begins to lose its "gravitational field" that it uses for social and psychological coherence, it tries to regenerate itself by increasing the number of sacrificial victims or prestige of its victims: genocide or regicide. Here is a case study of the latter (or perhaps both, since the shooter was also a suicide bomber).
Should we rejoice somehow that Islam is undergoing a weakening of its culture founding, culture maintaining impetus? Let me just say this: in my opinion the same process is underway at a more advanced stage of the disease in the West. Surprising?
Islam, while well ensconced in the constructs of the primitive Sacred, has constraints built in to itself in its myth, ritual, and prohibitions. We may not agree with them, find them palatable, or like the fact that Jews and Christians (and by extension, democracy) are their Model/Rival, but the culture is still reasonably strong. Procreation is a primary and attainable goal for Muslims.
The West, on the other hand, has been in free-fall for decades. Its descent into the vortex of sacrificial preparation as seen in its sin symptomology -- Girard's "crisis of distinctions" in sexual and psychological promiscuity to name only two -- was hard at work in the 1960s, resulting in the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy ("regicide"). The abortuaries keep churning out the smallest, most silent, and most vulnerable victims in the West ("genocide") that makes Carthage's child sacrificing worship of Baal Hammon and Tanit pale in comparison. Neo-pagans indeed wear very well appointed Saks clothing as well as sweatshirts and Levis.
So regicide has happened today in Pakistan. It happened in Dallas also. For people who follow Christ through His Catholic Church, the "wars and rumors of war" continue unabated. And in this we find hope: we realize that Islamofascism is hardly the only source of sin and suffering for the innocent. Westerners in the culture wars, whether as promulgators of sin symptoms as "virtues" to be normalized, or as players in what Kipling called "the Great Game," are just as culpable. Perhaps more culpable, since we had the precious gift of the Gospel and are throwing it away. Yet the Church is still the rock and salvation of all who cling to Her with faith, hope, and charity, infused with God's grace through the Sacraments.
”Catholic Resistance” must look with honesty, sternness, and boldness at both fronts in the present darkness: the West as it falls painfully into post-modern neo-paganism and Islamofascism.
Tony Blair's conversion to Catholicism does not come as a surprise to anyone but I would have liked him to turn to Islam instead. Blair has claimed on many occasions that he has read the Quran and has said he found its teachings "progressive". He is right that the Quran is progressive and as a revealed book of God, it is the latest testament. Why would Blair turn to the older versions of God's testament when there is the Quran? His conversion sounds rather regressive to me.
Using Masmoor's thinking, newer is better. Excellent. Let's inquire into some other new age or neo-pagan stabs at receiving divine revelation.
And remember: one demented recipient of messages from "allah" sitting in a cave with a murderous desire for power is far better than the Tradition of the Catholic Church and her Deposit of Faith that gave birth to the Scriptures of the New Testament. Far better than the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the Law and Prophets, crucified, risen, and ascended into Heaven: the Guarantor of inerrancy and continuancy of the Church until He comes again. Far better than receiving eternal life through the ordinary means of Grace in the Blessed Sacrament. Yeah, right.
Jihadists might desire to sow this terror during one of the holiest seasons of the Christian year to emphasize that their conflict with the non-Muslim West is, as they see it, a holy struggle. Also notable in this connection may be the warnings we see from Islamic clerics every year: do not participate in the infidels’ festivities, do not wish them holiday greetings, do not endorse in any way what Muslim hardliners see as celebrations of infidelity and the rejection of God. An article posted recently on the website of the Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque in Toronto asks pointedly: “How can we bring ourselves to congratulate or wish people well for their disobedience to Allah? Thus expressions such as: Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, etc, are completely out.”
Not unimportant in Christmas threats also is the fact that Osama bin Laden and other jihad terrorists not only see the War On Terror as a war against Islam; they also see it as a war being waged on behalf of Christianity. Jihadists routinely refer to the American armies in Iraq and Afghanistan as “Crusaders.” Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who most frequently issues the organization’s communiqués, uses this term frequently; in an October 2006 message he issued a rather typical exhortation: “I urge you, in [the name of] the duty of jihad, which is incumbent upon every Muslim, to hurry and pursue martyrdom in order to kill the Crusaders and the Zionists.” Adam Gadahn, aka “Azzam the American,” the first American indicted for treason since World War II and a prominent Al-Qaeda operative, in a September 2006 videotape introduced by Al-Zawahiri himself, spent a considerable amount of time criticizing Christian theology.
All this puts the heirs of Judeo-Christian civilization in a peculiar position. Western leaders have been anxious to avoid the appearance that this is a religious conflict, while the other side seems avid above all to portray it as such. Westerners have been in the process of discarding Christianity, only to find it identified by Islamic jihadists as the most objectionable aspect of their way of life. For non-Christians as well as Christians in the West, this highlights the fact that the war on terror is a struggle over values -- and it is Judeo-Christian values such as the freedom of conscience and the equality of dignity of all people that are most objectionable to the jihadists.
In order to win, we cannot simply fight against the jihadists. We must be contending for something, and in the Judeo-Christian tradition there is a great deal to be proud of and defend. This Christmas, as the threats continue, that’s something to ponder.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Thousands of Iraqi Christians picked their way through checkpoints and along dusty streets lined with concrete blast walls, crowding into churches in Baghdad on Tuesday for Christmas Mass.
Death is never far in Iraq -- two separate suicide attacks, including one apparently targeting workers in a northern oil hub, killed at least 34 people on Tuesday, shattering more than a week of relative calm, local and U.S. military authorities said.
[ ... ]
Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Catholic Church and Iraq's first cardinal, celebrated Mass before about 2,000 people in the Mar Eliya Church the eastern New Baghdad neighborhood of the capital.
"Iraq is a bouquet of flowers of different colors, each color represents a religion or ethnicity but all of them have the same scent," the 80-year-old Delly told the congregation. "I'd like here to congratulate Muslims before Christians in their Eid and I wish peace and prosperity to all Iraqis in their country."
Muslim clerics - both Sunni and Shiite - also attended the service in a sign of unity.
"May Iraq be safe every year, and may our Christian brothers be safe every year," Shiite cleric Hadi al-Jazail told AP Television News outside the church. "We came to celebrate with them and to reassure them. ... This national gathering is beautiful against the sectarian fighting, and God willing from this lesson we'll all pray for peace."
William Jalal, a 39-year old father of three attending Mass at Mar Eliya, said this Christmas was clearly different.
"We didn't celebrate like this in the past two years as we were holding limited celebrations for relatives in an atmosphere filled with fear," said Jalal, a cook in one of Baghdad's social clubs. "Now we feel better as we see all these security forces in the streets to protect us." Read all …
Monday, December 24, 2007
Up and down the street where I live, half the homes are lit up with Christmas trees, the other half with menorahs. The days are good and the nights are silent. Most of the time we can’t tell the difference between Christians and Jews. We’re too busy being just plain old Americans.
You have Christmas. We have Chanukah. You have Easter. We have Passover. Does this separate us? No, this unites us, for together, this land is our land.
If this sounds corny, well it is.
However, I am offended. Across this nation, in cities, towns, villages and school districts, Christians are being told that they cannot celebrate Christmas openly. Here, there and everywhere, Christians are being sent into hiding if they want to sing carols, display nativity scenes, herald the Ten Commandments, or praise Jesus. Even Santa is not kosher.
I am Jewish, and Jesus is not my God…so why am I so offended at what I take to be an agenda of persecution against Christians?
This is not a scholarly approach, so let me simply say that American Christianity is a marvel, a near miracle of tolerance and, better yet, loving-kindness. American Christians do love their neighbors as themselves. I know this from the pavements I walk, the streets I drive, the sandlots where I root for the home team. I am free to visit your church, and you would be most welcome in my synagogue. Read all …
Sunday, December 23, 2007
I asked him to follow me out to the car and we spoke of children's excitement now, two days before Christmas Morning. I pulled the coat out from the backseat, told him I got it last year and that I never wear it. Could he use it, or maybe he knew someone who could use it? He was appreciative and I wish him a Merry Christmas and God's blessing.
Funny thing is: I felt and still feel he was doing me a favor accepting the coat. Maybe Blair feels the same way joining Mother Church. Conversion is a continuous, lifelong affair. Maybe Blair knows that it is high time to move in the right direction. The same way I knew that that Territory Ahead coat didn't belong to me. It was my homeless friend's all along.