Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cheap Grace and Civil Disobedience

As I was doing a bit of research into the age old question of Christians’ relationship with government and the question of civil disobedience, I ran into a deeply depressing article by John MacArthur entitled "The Christian and Government."

I’ve never heard of Reverend MacArthur, though I understand he’s quite famous in some circles; and I have no intention of attacking him personally. But I believe his stance is definitive of the passivity and separatism afflicting many evangelical and Reformed churches–as well as many other denominations.

Briefly, MacArthur apparently believes in complete separation of the social order and what he terms the "spiritual order" of the church. For him church and government remain impermeable and separate entities. The entirely spiritual Kingdom of God has no interest in or interface with the kingdoms of this world with two notable exceptions: The Christian is to pay taxes and to submit to the existing government. He writes: "The Christian has a duty to his nation, even if the ruler is a Nero or a Hitler."

MacArthur states "Personally, I’m not that concerned about political, economic, social, and civil issues...The souls of lost men and women occupy my mind..." He concludes, "The one time we have a right to disobey the government is when it commands us not to do something God has commanded us to do, or when it commands us to do something God has commanded us not to do."

MacArthur, being what evangelicals and fundamentalists term "dispensationalist," bases his thesis on civil disobedience almost entirely on Pauline doctrines outlined in the letter of Romans, other New Testament quotes and on the belief that Christ did not come to establish a social order but a spiritual order. In other words, he believes the Old Testament was replaced by the New Testament. Therefore, he sees little continuity between the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.

The above means the great prophetic utterances of the ancient Hebrew prophets are almost completely ignored; and of course, such omissions vitiate the high sense of social justice which runs throughout the entire Hebrew scriptures.

But there is at least one other major problem with MacArthur’s ideas, which is that it addresses only one half of the Great Commandment cited by Christ as the summation of the law and the prophets. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart...and thy neighbor as thy self.") MacArthur addresses only a narrow, personalized obedience to God. It does not address loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. It does not address the responsibilities of the Christian toward a suffering world .

In essence, it is the response of Cain cloaked in spiritual language of separatism from the suffering world: "Am I my brother’s keeper?" It is the response of the Pharisee, who separated from the world by his personal "holiness" walked by the man nearly beaten to death by robbers and left on the highway to die while a good Samaritan was left to do the good work of rescue.

By contrast, by 1933, the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who originally was a believer in Ghandi style pacifism, was writing that civil disobedience was a proper response when opposing unjust political structures which oppressed and persecuted their citizenry. He became increasingly convinced that submission to a corrupt and evil government was not God’s will, but that he, and by implication, other Christians had to oppose oppressive governments.

One basis of Bonhoeffer’s change of heart was the conviction that the consequences of pious pacifism were far more dangerous to society at large than active opposition–which of course, carried its own risks. What Bonhoeffer saw clearly was that when Christians did not stand up against evil, evil prevailed. He saw the lightning speed with which Hitler’s regime fomented evil; and he saw the creation of a "German" church which went along with and sometimes actively supported the atrocities of the Third Reich. Along with Karl Barth and others who signed the "Barmen" declaration, he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of a regime which sought to crush the Christian conscience.

He came to the conclusion that submission to an evil world order was wrong because the first loyalty of the Christian was to God’s will, a will expressed in God’s directives against injustice and unrighteousness. In brief, he felt as a Christian he was called to a battle against evil wherever he found it–and find it he did in Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer had seen a drift in Christian theology which he had tracked from the thirteenth century. He did not like or approve of the drift, seeing a shift concerning humans’ relationship with God reduced to a set of meaningless rituals and a mindset intent on a conversion which meant escapism from the "world." He thought that trend the very opposite of participating in and relieving the suffering of our fellow human beings. He called his approach a "church for others." His concept of grace has influenced many Christians who have appropriated his description of a "cheap grace" which repudiates participation in the suffering and redemption of this world order, forsaking involvement and risk for personal spirituality confined to private practices..

Those who know Bonhoeffer’s story know he died at the age of 39 for his participation in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer took the risks he did because he knew the atrocities which were happening under the aegis of the Third Reich, and took a radical stand against them. He literally laid down his life for his suffering countrymen..

While Christians in America may not suffer imprisonment and death for standing up against what they believe to be wrong, Bonhoeffer insisted all believers are called to radical discipleship which demands active responses to evil. For Christians, retreat into passivity and a merely personal spirituality is not an option. The call to discipleship includes the confrontation of evil and the establishment of justice and righteousness in the here and now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Call for Reformation of Islam and Secularism

I originally wrote the article below about a year ago, but believe it is still applicable to Europe's and our own situation today. I was struck by a recent column by Phyllis Chessler, in which she noted until women's sstatus int he Muslim world changed, things will remain untenable. She added Islam itself is in desperate need of reform. As you will see below, I agree.

On the Assimilation of Muslims within France: A Call for the Reform of Secularism and Islam --France and Europe are faced with more than a political problem. They are faced with a theological and philosophical divide which calls for a fresh approach.

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all. –Friedrich Freiherr von Logau

Every July 14th, the French celebrate Bastille Day, the Fete Nationale. The heritage of violence celebrated by the storming of the Bastille seems a matter of history as entirely peaceful celebrations such as fireworks, picnics and speeches mark the occasion. The radical philosophical impeti characterized by the wild speeches of Robespierre, Marat and Danton, whose barn burning ideas fed the fires of the Revolution of 1789 and beyond, have softened over the past two centuries since they lived and died. What is left of the Great Revolution after 220 years of adamant and nearly unwavering adherence to the Enlightenment and the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity is an inert bureaucracy and entrenched secularization.

The progression of the Revolution from fire, blood and chaos to the ennui, enervation and fatigue characterized by bureaucratization now seems to irrevocably separate present day France from the results of the cataclysm of 1789. But that is because many, if not most of the revolutionists’ goals, such as the virtual decapitation of Christianity, have largely been achieved. Now there isn’t much faith left to exterminate, for institutionalized secularism acts as a dead hand on any expression of faith. The secular State reigns supreme.

But in a supreme irony, France, indeed all of Europe, now faces another great revolution. However, this time the revolution– mirabile dictu – has deep religious roots. The new revolution; namely, that of radical Islamist fundamentalism, is guillotine-edged in its severity. Like the heroes of the French Revolution, its radical leaders also are prepared to shed blood and to cut European civilization down in order to build a supposedly purer society in its place.

The tamed heirs of the French Revolution, many of whom are as oblivious to and passive toward the turmoil in their midst as the aristocracy of the eighteenth century, look on with incomprehension at what is the Janus face of their own inheritance. Some don’t recognize the repetition of their own past in the shouts of radical Islamists for heads to roll, institutions to be destroyed and all of European society to be made over from the foundations up. After all, who in present day secularist France other than cafĂ© philosophers would advocate a repetition of the extreme violence characteristic of the founders of the French Revolution? Only armchair philosophers peacefully and securely ensconced in academia dare to openly advocate violence as a solution to the societal ills of any given nation. For devotees of radical chic, violence has been a philosophical parlor game, the consequences of which they view from a distance. They are not used to the in-your-face violence of present day Islamists in their midst.

After the passing of centuries, it is relatively easy to gloss over the results of the rhetoric of Robespierre, the Incorruptible. The words of “Saint” Marat, made a holy martyr of the Revolution by David, the first purveyor of propagandistic art, no doubt seem antique relics of the past to be re-hashed and re-worded into obfuscatory, dense prose only understood by fellow intellectuals and earnest student of history. But anyone even cursorily familiar with the radical advocates of the Revolution of 1789 will not only recall the violent speeches and writing of Marat, Robespierre and Danton, but will also recognize their eery similarity to present day Islamist rhetoric.

Jean Paul Marat’s proclamations, only slightly revised, could well be said today by any given Islamist imam: “Five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom and happiness...A false humanity has held your arms and suspended your blows; because of this, millions of your brothers will lose their lives...To ensure public tranquility, two hundred and seventy thousand heads more should fall...Man has the right to deal with his oppressors by devouring their palpitating hearts.”

Likewise the statements of Robespierre, only slightly changed, could be preached from any mosque run by Islamist radicals: “Pity is treason...Terror is only justice: prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue...The king must die so that the country can live..To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty.”

Examples of rhetoric similar to Islamists abound, as do calls to actions not dissimilar from those of the advocates of the Revolution. Those who call for the beheading of infidels don’t sound very much different from those who struck down the guards of the Bastille. A Paris newspaper article related the gory triumphs of Bastille Day: “On arriving at the square, the people, anxious to avenge themselves, allowed neither De Launey nor the other officers to reach the place of trial; they seized them from the hands of their conquerors, and trampled them underfoot one after the other. De Launey was struck by a thousand blows, his head was cut off and hoisted on the end of a pike with blood streaming down all sides. . . . This glorious day must amaze our enemies, and finally usher in for us the triumph of justice and liberty. In the evening, there were celebrations.”

So what are the heirs of 1789 to say to jihadist Islamists who have belief in the efficacy of violence so similar to the anti-religious heroes of 1789? How are they to handle religious revolutionaries in their midst? Having torn down France’s Christian heritage with their own hands, are they now in any position to look askance at extremist Muslim fundamentalists who are determined to demolish the remains of French civilization in the name of Allah? What can those who celebrate each year the storming of the Bastille say to present day radicals who advocate the sort of behavior characteristic of that day?

Well, that was then and this is now, some may say.

Not quite. While most do not openly advocate the violence of the Revolution, one cannot forget the violent ideals of the French Revolution were and still are exported around the globe. It is well known that the Bolshevik revolution, including its class warfare terminology, was an almost exact duplication of the French Revolution. As recently as the Cambodian Revolution, the mass murderer Pol Pot put into practice the ideas bruited about in the salon of Jean Paul Sartre, who himself was an apologist for mass murder and enslavement--all for the ultimate good of society.

The truth is that the philosophical underpinnings of the French Revolution and of the heirs of that cataclysm offer nothing in the way of philosophical/theological confrontation of present day Islamists, as their rhetoric and goals were and are similar. In fact, some radical secularists find themselves sympathetic to Islamists and even are in the weird position of not so secretly covering for radical Islamists’ violence. Thus we see, for instance, rioting young Islamists re-labeled “youths,” the implication being that there are all sorts of French young men creating havoc, not just fundamentalist Islamists.

Indeed, the fascination with and covert approval of violence often leaves radical secularists crippled. Many employ an accommodative attitude toward Islamists who are seeking to destroy them. One is irresistibly reminded of the infamous fund raiser for the Black Panthers sponsored by the late Leonard Bernstein, who brought together the elite of New York culture to help the radical Black Panthers achieve their goals of destroying Bernstein’s cultural and societal milieu.

Tom Wolfe, an observer of the contradictory scene commented:

"I just thought it was a scream, because it was so illogical by all ordinary thinking. To think that somebody living in an absolutely stunning duplex on Park Avenue could be having in all these guys who were saying, 'We will take everything away from you if we get the chance,' which is what their program spelled out, was the funniest thing I had ever witnessed. "

The Vacuum of Faith and the Present Day Conundrum

But if present day heirs of the political faith of the Revolution of 1789 don’t have much to say against violence as a means to achieve societal change, they have even less to say to even the moderate and devout Muslims in their midst. That is because of yet another deleterious heritage of the French Revolution referred to briefly above; namely, the adamant resistance to all peoples of faith and the jettisoning of theological discourse.

One only needs to recall the efforts of the revolutionists of 1789 to supplant Christian practice with anti-theistic, government centered rituals and their drive to replace faith in and fealty to the church with loyalty to France and its institutions in order to see those goals are now largely achieved within the French secularist establishment.

A brief look back at the excessive violence done to Christians during the Revolution will reveal such horrors as the disemboweling of priests, the rape of nuns, the desecration and confiscation of church property and the dismantling of Catholic institutions. While such excesses do not any longer occur within France, secularists’ steady state of antipathy toward not only Christians, but all religions, is a given. In brief, while radical secularists’ attitude toward violence resembles the Islamists’ stance concerning the use of force to effect change, the anti-theistic attitudes which accompanied the Enlightenment and the Revolution also remain to complicate and frustrate attempts to assimilate Muslims into French society. In particular, secularist anti-theistic sentiments mitigate against the encouragement and growth of a desperately needed class of moderate Muslims.

Due to the reasons outlined above, French secularists now find themselves in a conundrum concerning the Muslims in their midst. On the one hand, there is the acceptance of violence as a means of changing society; or at the very least, a modified belief in constant change as automatically improving society. An ever evolving society without reference to the past is seen as a positive good. The fact that foundations are always shifting is also seen as a good thing. There is little concern about where society is going as long as it seems to be changing–change alone, even if it creates violence, is viewed as progress. On the other hand, secularists persist in an adamant anti-theistic streak which rejects religion as mythology and a superstitious remnant of the traditional past that must be shed in order that the ever evolving Brave New World come into existence. The result is that there is at present virtually no theological or philosophical commonality between secularists and Muslims that would create rapprochement. Power based solutions or submission to Islamist demands seem to be the only viable solutions to the French and European (and, increasingly, the American) dilemma.

While some may see submission to Islamists as a solution, many others do not wish to accede to self-immolation and therefore conclude that Islamist threats create exigencies which do not permit paralysis of action. Thus we see various power plays suggested, all of which have serious problems; but some of which must be pragmatically utilized if the transformation of France and Europe into an Islamist entity is not to proceed. But questions remain as to what specific options may be utilized to deal with Islamist radicals within France and other European nations. Another question involves how a secularized France (and Europe) deal with Islamists while promoting the assimilation and integration of moderate Muslims into European society. Third, and probably most importantly, there must be a call for a Muslim Reformation within the worldwide Muslim community contingent with a revival of the Christian heritage of France and Europe. I speak, of course, not only of the great contribution Christianity has made to France, but also of the common ground peoples of faith might share with moderate Muslims. Dialogue with moderate Muslims who share values with “People of the Book” is more possible than dialogue with radical secularists, as at least there are some mutual points of agreement.

Considerations on the Use of Force

The first urgent matter concerns the considered and careful use of force as a defensive posture geared toward the survival of France and any given European nation within which reside large Muslim minorities, many of whom are Islamist radicals. The use of the force of the state against those radical Islamists determined to destroy it is legitimate. Very few other than the radicals themselves and a handful of anarchist secularists who believe violence is first and foremost answer to curing societal ills would advocate a pacifist position in the face of the threats and actions of Islamists determined to create a Muslim state out of the wreckage of European civilization. The French people deserve and expect protection against seditious enemies who would destroy them in the name of Allah.

For example, to deport fire breathing Imams, some of whom are not even citizens, is a sensible thing to do. Seditious “preaching” and calls for the destruction of the host nation cannot be tolerated. Further, if France or any other European nation wishes to survive, it also is only sensible to seek out and to destroy Islamist terrorist networks. After all, the primary duty of any given nation is to protect its citizens from violence, Islamist or otherwise.

Force may be necessary in order to preserve the national entity, but the call for the deportation of the entire Muslim populace, some seven million strong within France, is arrant nonsense. First, not all Muslims are guilty of sedition. Further, what European government would even consider evoking the memories, much less the actual imitation of similar actions taken against the Jews? We can rest assured that Jews have not forgotten the repeated expulsions from France during the 14th century and thereafter. The Alhambra Decree of 1492, pronounced during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, ordered the expulsion of the entire Jewish population. It also is still not forgotten. This is to say nothing of the deportation (and subsequent annihilation) of Jewish populations within recent memory. Holocaust survivors still exist and have ineradicable memories of ghettos, deportations and death camps. Who wishes to evoke comparisons? Further, imagine the conflagration which would ensue were French troops to round up and forcibly deport Muslims. At the very least, civil war would be assured. It would not be hard to imagine the fires spreading to all of Europe as incensed Islamists rioted on behalf of fellow believers. Who wants to see a situation not unlike that of the Thirty Years’ War, albeit a war considerably worsened by the use of modern armaments, including, perhaps, nuclear weapons?

Next, though there are also calls for autonomous Muslim city states within a state, Muslim only districts also are not an option. Does anyone seriously think the cordoning off of a large segment of the population of France is a viable option? Have all forgotten the example of the Huguenots, who, considering their sorry history of treatment by reigning French powers , could with some justification be called the Protestant “Jews” of France? This is to say nothing of the history of Jewish ghettos. The reality is that the separation of a people into a zone defined by race and/or religion winds up being a ghetto within which options are severely limited for those within and those outside the walls. That is because within a ghetto, cross-pollenation from the surrounding culture virtually ceases. Those within the ghetto are subject to ever more radical cult-like leaders who promote and increase parochialism and extremism, all the while increasing control of those within the walls. As the entity continues to be severed from the surrounding culture, two results are almost certainly assured. One is that those within become increasingly crushed, and thus subject to exploitation and even violence from the dominant culture. Historically, the latter was the case with the Jews confined within ghettos.

The other consequence is that those separated from the surrounding culture become more and more inclined to separation from and then violence toward and hatred against the surrounding culture. As matters presently stand, Muslims within sealed off entities–self-imposed or otherwise-- are constantly goaded to violent hatred and behavior by Islamist imams who detest Western civilization, who are adamantly resistant to assimilation into any aspects of a secularized culture they deplore, and who are longing for the restoration of past glories via theocratic power. When hatred and violence are seen as attractive options, such moderate Muslims as remain simply have no voice in such an atmosphere, as they also become the target of threats.

Further, history once again provides yet another instructive example of the deleterious effect of ghettos and so-called autonomous zones in the sorry history of the Jews. The so-called “autonomous” states or ghettos inevitably invited persecution from the surrounding culture. Whenever such a solution has been tried, though it may create a temporary hiatus in violence, the “solution” eventually proves to be a disaster. Europe simply cannot go that way again.

Secular Reforms

There may be some ways to bridge the gulf between moderate Muslims and secularists. There even may be ways to create and increase the moderate Muslim population. However, such goals require considerable sacrifices and difficult compromises from secularists and Muslims alike.

First, it is high time secularists recognize some of their own blind spots. There is a crying need for self-examination and reform. Secularists now dominate nearly all of European culture, presenting a monolith of belief that until recently has not been challenged by a deeply religious people. Secure in the righteousness of a secularism adamantly opposed to people of faith, many secularists are as completely ignorant of the truth claims and practices of peoples of faith and many are completely unconcerned about sensitivities of the people of faith, Muslim, Christian or otherwise, despite lip service to tolerance and diversity.

Radical secularists in particular call to mind one Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian king who came to power around 175 BC. Epiphanes, whose name is roughly translated “God made known in a man,” sought to force Greek culture on the Jews. His actions included the demand to worship him on the Jewish Sabbath day and the introduction of Hellenist cults, which he insisted must replace the Jewish faith. In brief, he tried to force a type of “Westernization” on the Jews. He added insult to injury by entering the Holy of Holies, offering a pig on the altar of burnt offerings, and dedicating the Temple to Jupiter Olympus, a statue of whom he erected smack in the middle of the Temple. His actions resulted in a full scale revolt and are remembered by the Jews to this very day.

The actions of Epiphanes hold some lessons for adamant secularists of Europe/France in several respects. While the sedition and violence characterized by radical Islamists must be dealt with by all legitimate means, even if those means include surveillance of radical mosques, useless but pointed harassment of Muslims, Christians and Jews must cease. For example, forbidding Muslim women to wear modest head scarves, refusing to allow Christians to wear cross necklaces and reprimanding Jewish boys for wearing yarmulkes serves no purpose. If Muslims are revolted by the consumption of pork, it is not a good idea to serve pork soup in bread lines for the indigent. Secularists such as Geert Wilders of the Netherlands should recognize that calls to ban the Koran from circulation will inevitably encourage Islamists and do nothing to prevent the practice of their faith by moderate Muslims. While his rights to free speech deserve to be guaranteed, he surely must realize that his talk is like shouting fire in a crowded theater.

While Christians, who are accustomed by now to outrageous verbal assaults and repeated desecrations of their religion may react mildly and with reasoned discourse to outrages such as “Piss Christ” and the accusations of The DaVinci Code, Muslims in general will not, and Islamists almost certainly will react with violence. Such actions serve no purpose other than to poke those of faith in the eye.

More importantly, secularists must recognize that most people of faith will not willingly become Westernized within the context of the radical secularism which is a heritage of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. For example, while Ayaan Hirsi Ali is without a doubt an amazing, courageous and inspiring woman, no one should seriously expect that most Muslim women will follow her example. They simply will not give up their faith to convert to a secularism which repudiates the core tenets of the Muslim faith; namely, belief in one God, the divine authority of core sacred documents and the prophetic witness of Mohammed. This is to say nothing of Muslim repugnance for secularists’ sexual mores such as affirmation of homosexual practices, including gay marriage, the legalization and acceptance of prostitution and pornography and the liberal attitude toward abortion.

There must be alternative ways for people of faith, including Muslims, to integrate into French society other than conversion to a radical secularism which considers faith to be a superstitious relic of the past, the worship of God as an exhibition of intellectual and emotional retardation and the practice of spiritual disciplines as an utter waste of time. There must be a change in the attitude of secularist elites who consider deeply religious people second class citizens who need to be enlightened by and converted to secularist beliefs–beliefs which in themselves can be as radically adamant and intransigent as the values of any given religious subculture.

The issue of secularists’ settled hostility to peoples of faith desperately needs to be addressed. As hard as it may be for France and Europe to swallow, they must recognize Europe has a deep theological problem which radical secularism is totally unable and unwilling to address, as it relegate Christians and moderate Muslims alike to second class citizenship and fosters the nearly complete lack of societal and political involvement for those who are believers in God, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim or peoples of other faith traditions. No one who has common sense expects secularists to fall supine before every demand of the deeply religious, especially those demands of the radical Islamists. But French and European secularists will have to re-examine some of their policies in order to avoid another revolution or civil war.

Reform of the Muslim Faith

But as draconian as reform needs to be among secularists in France and elsewhere in Europe and the USA, unless reforms of the Muslim faith are vigorously pursued by moderate Muslims, there simply is no place for Islam within a largely secularized Western society without constant tension. All or nothing demands of fundamentalist Islamists have reached the point at which conflagration of some sort is virtually guaranteed unless there is a reformation of the Muslim faith from within. Certainly a start would include at the absolute minimum a cessation of attempts to silence all criticisms of the Muslim religion. Such suffocation of questioning voices is not an auspicious starting point for dialogue. Other faiths have been willing to acknowledge and to voice certain shared commonalities of beliefs while recognizing the inevitable areas of conflict. Christian theologians, for example, have been and are constantly answering the challenges to their faith in a continuing exegesis formed by their times and cultures. There is an expectation, indeed, a pent up demand that Muslims theologians will do likewise.

Muslim theologians are also called on to recognize not only the commonalities of “the Peoples of the Book,” but also to give reasoned explanations for divergences.. To that end, Muslim theologians need to address questions from secularists, Christians and Jews alike about the prophet Mohammad, and the dogma and practices of the Muslim faith. They must do so relying on careful exegesis and persuasion rather than on calls to violence or suppression of free speech. France nor all of Europe should be expected to fall supine beneath to demands that absolutely no criticism be leveled against the Muslim faith lest violence be the consequence. People of the West are asking Muslims to exercise means of persuasion rather than violence; exegesis rather than fiat; conversion by an act of will rather than by a sword to the throat.

If peoples of the West are to be convinced of the validity of the Muslim faith and of its oft expressed claims to be a religion of peace, a religion whose adherents reflect the Koran’s description of Allah as merciful and compassionate, they have a right to ask questions about the disparities they perceive between Muslim faith and practice. In fact, if the Muslim faith is the voice of Truth, it certainly need not fear opposition, as Truth can stand firm in the face of assaults.

Perhaps no religious organization has articulated so precisely and succinctly the Muslim/Christian/secularist dilemma as the Roman Catholic church. The second Vatican Council has issued an exquisitely diplomatic statement expressing its concerns for Muslim immigrants while articulating the need for Catholics to distinguish between what “can and cannot be shared in the doctrines and practices and in the moral laws of Islam.” The Council expresses the need for cultivation of common values and wishes to “clarify and respect diversity, but without renouncing Christian principles. "

The document continues: “Belief in God the Creator and the Merciful, daily prayer, fasting, alms-giving, pilgrimage, asceticism to dominate the passions, and the fight against injustice and oppression are common values to be found in Christianity, too...Beside these points of agreement there are, however, also divergences, some of which have to do with legitimate acquisitions of modern life and thought. Thinking in particular of human rights, we hope that there will be, on the part of our Muslim brothers and sisters, a growing awareness that fundamental liberties, the inviolable rights of the person, the equal dignity of man and woman, the democratic principle of government and the healthy lay character of the State are principles that cannot be surrendered. It will likewise be necessary to reach harmony between the vision of faith and the just autonomy of creation.”

The thoughts of the Vatican can be expressed even more forthrightly, especially as much of what the Vatican says are the concerns of secularists and people of faith alike. The list of divergences between Muslims, other peoples of faith and secularists is long and requires careful, comprehensive thinking which answers concerns such as the following:

First and foremost, does the Muslim faith naturally tend toward fundamentalism? Is no interpretation of the Koran possible other than literal? Is the Koran capable of being subject to subtle exegesis as well as the theological rule that the larger principles of faith supercede custom and culture? For an oft cited example, if Muslims are appalled at the sexual mores of the West, Westerners also are appalled at some actions of those who adhere to the Muslim faith. They also have questions concerning the example of the prophet Mohammed, who took a wife of nine years of age. Such behavior would be called pederasty by Western secularists, Christians and Jews alike. Mohammed’s example of and instructions allowing polygamy also do not sit well with a still largely monogamous West.

The questions concerning the prophet are legitimate and need reasoned explication, not death threats for voicing them. If, as Muslims state, the prophet was not God himself but a fallible human being, what is the explanation of his behavior and precepts concerning the female gender? Why is it that his example seems to inspire imams defending the marriages of one year old girls and the justification of wife beating? Why aren’t such outrages vociferously repudiated by moderate Muslim theologians? Indeed, why the ghastly silence from moderate Muslim theologians in general? While Muslim theologians insist the Koran supports the equality of women before a just God, Westerners cannot help but note that in every country controlled by the principles of Islam, women are regarded and treated as second class citizens.

Western Women are horrified to see the treatment of their gender in such countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, just to name two examples of monolithically Muslim entities. References to the persistence of tribal and/or cultural customs in order to slough off criticism of such horrors as female circumcision, honor killings, stoning for adulterous behavior (or even the whiff of impropriety) as well as reluctance to educate girls do not allay fears that such treatment of women stems directly from adherence to the Muslim faith.

It is also very troubling that immigrant Muslims often refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the governments of the countries within which they reside. Many continue to insist on duplicating the model of governance of the countries from whence they came; namely, a type theocracy dominated by sharia law. Why is there a steadfast antipathy to democracy and the rule of law within some countries in which Muslims reside? Again, where are the voices of moderates?

Very importantly, if the Muslim religion welcomes and honors people of the book as brothers and co-religionists, why are the loudest voices in Islam those of unmitigated hatred of the Jews? If the Jews are children of Abraham through Isaac and Muslims the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son, why are calls for the extermination of Israel and the Jews the most dominant voices? (This is to say nothing of the treatment of Christians, Buddhists and others in regions in which Muslims are the majority.) It is well known that Jews have been expelled from virtually every corner occupied by Muslims and that Christians are not allowed to have Bibles or practice their faith openly in such Muslim dominated countries as Saudi Arabia. In fact, death sentences against Christians in Saudi Arabia and against any Muslim who converts to another faith are a fact of life. If such persecution is not a characteristic or a tenet of the Muslim faith, why do such outrages persist? Is it unreasonable to expect a theological explanation without having a fatwa issued against anyone who dares ask questions about the Muslim faith?

If Muslims within France, Europe and the US share the sentiments of their Islamist co-religionists in the countries mentioned above, or if moderates remain silent while allowing the more rigid and vocal of their faith to run free, then no one should not be surprised if exceptionally strong responses from secularists and peoples of faith ensue. The burden is on moderate Muslims to come forth, to speak up and to encourage the Martin Luther(s) within the faith to post the ninety-five theses of reform on mosques across France, Europe and the US.

A Way toward Reform of Islam and Secularism

Within the Muslim traditions lie many strains other than Islamist extremism. One such way is that of the Sufi mystics, who generally encourage the development of a faith that goes beyond the authority of religious legalism and the pronouncements of imams to internalized spirituality and union with God. While Sufism itself is complex, resisting simple categorization, its mysticism may offer relief from the current domination of Islamist fundamentalists.

Rumi, one of the Sufis’ greatest and most famous poets, reminds one of the great Christian mystic, St John of the Cross, in his passionate desire for the love of God which transcends all laws; indeed, all earthly authorities:

The Agony and Ecstasy of Divine Discontent

In the orchard and rose garden I long to see your face. In the taste of Sweetness I long to kiss your lips.

In the shadows of passion I long for your love. Oh! Supreme Lover! Let me leave aside my worries.

The flowers are blooming with the exultation of your Spirit.

By Allah! I long to escape the prison of my ego and lose myself in the mountains and the desert. These sad and lonely people tire me.

I long to revel in the drunken frenzy of your love and feel the strength of Rustam in my hands. I am sick of mortal kings.

I long to see your light.

With lamps in hand the sheiks and mullahs roam the dark alleys of these towns not finding what they seek.

You are the Essence of the Essence, The intoxication of Love.

I long to sing your praises but stand mute with the agony of wishing in my heart

Perhaps if secularists, Christians, Buddhists and other peoples of faith heard more of the love of Allah from such Muslim poets and teachers, rapprochement might be possible. Yet how often does the West hear about such divine love from Muslims today?

The Sufi branch of the Muslim faith has played its part throughout history and continues to have a voice today. That voice should be amplified and promoted as a legitimate strain of the inheritance of the faith of Islam.

Writer Stephen Schwartz spent the weekend of January 10-12 in Detroit observing the celebration of Ashura, a day of repentance, by Bektashi Sufis. Schwartz summarized his experiences in an article entitled “Ashura in America.” He found himself impressed with the peaceableness of and love within the assembly. He reports there were none of the characteristics usually associated with the celebration of Ashura – no self-mutilations, no disconsolate fits of weeping, no ear-piercing screams. The women in attendance didn’t wear heavy veils or burgas. A Catholic priest was present and gave a speech. It was all very democratic and, some would say, thoroughly American.

Schwartz concluded, “The Balkan Shias who gathered in snow-covered Michigan to observe Ashura demonstrated that an American Islam–as American as it is Muslim–exists. It is a bulwark of civilization against extremism, standing for peace and mutual respect between faiths, and appreciative of the opportunity to mourn a Muslim hero in safety and freedom.”

If his conclusions are correct, then Americanization of Muslim enclaves just might be possible. But it remains to be seen if the Michigan model Schwartz describes will be the template for Muslim communities in France and elsewhere.

One thing is certain: Schwartz’ model of a religious community within a democratic tradition just might be exportable to Europe, particularly France, the European nation with the largest Muslim minority. Certainly it is worth a try, considering the dire state of matters across the pond.

As for the much needed reform of secularism within France and Europe, the great French philosopher Simone Weill, a brilliant Jewess who became a Christian, had some trenchant observations about French culture and the place of peoples of faith, most particularly Christianity (but most certainly applicable to Islam), with that culture. Her book, entitled The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, was written in 1943 shortly before her death but not published until 1949. Within her treatise are guidelines for restoring vitality to a spiritually bankrupt and exhausted France. Her comments continue to be germane to today’s circumstances.

Weill writes that the proper place of religion within France the nation is “to suffuse with its light all secular life, public or private, without in any way dominating it.” {Italics mine.] She suggests there are ways to acknowledge the contributions of religion without fearing that such acknowledgment would automatically lead to the establishment of a theocratic state.

She writes that it is a most peculiar and prejudicial way of thinking to eliminate the discussion of religion and its contributions from French schools. Such an attitude is not neutral, but is in and of itself a type of proselytization: “It is certain that neutrality is a lie. The laic (ant-clerical) system is not neutral. It inculcates in children a philosophy...Many schoolteachers evince a zeal in their attachment to this philosophy comparable to religious fervor.”

Weill adds: “...Professional teachers and schoolmasters should simply be told that religion has at all times and in all countries, save quite recently in certain parts of Europe, played a dominant role in the development of human culture, thought and civilization [s]. An educational course in which no reference is made to religion is an absurdity...One would talk about dogma as something which has played a role of the highest importance in our countries, and in which men of the very highest eminence have believed wholeheartedly; without hiding the fact wither that it has been the pretext for inflicting any number of cruelties.

But above all, one would try to make the children feel all the beauty contained therein...”If they ask: ‘Is it true?’, we should answer: ‘It is so beautiful that it must certainly contain a lot of truth. As for knowing whether it is, or is not, absolutely true, try to become capable of deciding that for yourselves when you grow up.” Weill’s wise words which are applicable to France’s (and Europe’s) dilemma: Let the tenets of the major religions be examined, passages from the holy books read and the contributions of faiths to civilizations, including the indisputable contributions of Christianity to France and Europe, once more be a given within French and European culture.

In sum, secularists of France (and elsewhere) should cease denigration and attempted eradication of theism. The Enlightenment and the Revolution are not the only strains which inform and shape French and European culture. There is a religious heritage which still comes to bear on today’s milieu. It should be revived and enlarged.

As for the Muslim in France and Europe, they do not have to repudiate the core tenets of Islam in order to be accepted into European society and culture. But they do need to lift up the moderates and the best in their faith tradition and repudiate the worst among them, all the while peacefully accepting their place among the peoples of the lands in which they reside.

--Fay Voshell © February 1, 2009

Ms. Voshell is a free lance writer residing in Wilmington, DE. She holds a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was awarded the seminary’s Charles Hodge Prize for excellence in systematic theology.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why "Inequality" is Necessary to Freedom

Those who have read Dante and Milton know the two poets understood and believed in hierarchal orders. For them, there was a hierarchy in Heaven as well as a hierarchy in Hell. Both hierarchies depended on gradations of status, Heaven on morality and attainment reflective to the created orders closest to the character of God, ruler of Heaven; the latter on degrees of subjection to Evil personified in the person of Satan, ruler of those who rebelled against the heavenly order.

The idea of a transcendently good order and an antagonistic, evil opposing order was a concept that informed earthly governmental structures and the individual conscience for a very long time. Eventually, the concept led to the political theory of the "Divine Right" of kings and nobles to rule their subjects much as God, it was assumed, ruled Heaven. As God the Father expected absolute obedience, so did the divine King. Over centuries, the rule of aristocracies sometimes began to ossify into a tyrannical stratification of society which was reflected most clearly in the concept of an absolute monarch who ruled with an iron fist over all his subjects.

In France of the sixteenth century, it was the reign of Louis the XIV which personified in theory and actuality the concept of the absolute monarch. While it is said he actually never uttered the words "L'etat c'est moi," the phrase summarizes his rule, for he did consider himself to be the "Sun King--" an absolute ruler.

Students of history know the aristocratic order of France ended abruptly with the French Revolution, which sought to crush permanently all hierarchical orders, including those of state and church in order to establish "liberty, equality and fraternity."

The past two and a half centuries since the French Revolution have seen the attempt to create complete equality is not successful, for hierarchy is always inevitable dispite attempts to eradicate it. Hierarchy simply is transferred to other structures and leaders. Authority simply shifts.

But the appeal of the ideals of the French Revolution and the concept of a de-stratified society based on total egalitarianism is seductive, and the twentieth century is replete with the attempts and horrific failures of communism to create a society in which all are perfectly equal. Tens of millions died because of leaders who sought to follow such a radical ideal.

Parlimentarian England, whose restrictions on the divine right of kings provided a stalwart example of resistance to the radicals of the French Revolution, was in distinct contrast to the Revolution, but English society remained stratified in many important respects.

The miracle of the American experiment in a republic governed by its constitution was that it allowed class levels to become almost completely porous, rejecting as it did both the ossification of aristocratic rule and the leveling influence of radical egalitarianism endorsed by the leaders of the French Revolution. America became the country in which one could rise above his or her class origins. America became a miracle of history.

But the radical egalitarianism of 1789 still has its followers in our own country in the form of Marxists and most importantly, radical socialists. Radical egalitarianism, especially when taken from conceptual theory to foundational political philosophy and then to law is killing to a society.

That is because radical egalitarianism is one of the chief causes of the eradication of any distinction between good and evil. It is the end of the ability to rise in any and all respects.

For if every citizen's status is to be absolutely the same, there are none who may rise higher in any respect, including attainment of and conformance to a higher morality. No attempt to distinguish one's self in any respect, including morality, especially a morality defined by religious faith, is permitted in a radical egalitarian society.

That is because the template for human behavior is dictated by a state whose changeable, contemporaneous goals vitiate or completely suffocates any personal moral choices. A template morality which disregards the vicissitudes of human life as well as the nuances of human conscience is one which kills or at least anesthetizes the moral inclination by removing the indivdual moral imperative which exists between the individual conscience and his or her God.

In short, the state decides what is best for the subject as surely as Louis XIV decided what was best for his subjects. The result of the supreme state, be it one governed by an absolute monarch or by the leaders of the former Socialist Soviet Republic is the same: all of society is subject to one template--the moral authority of an earthly government bent on erasing distinctions among its subjects other than ruler and ruled.

Of course, the above is the definition of slavery. The dictates of one's master become one's "morality" whether the slave chooses to disagree or not. Force replaces conscientious choices essential to free will.

In sum, the slave cannot say "No."

Our society is rapidly approaching a time in which the word of the state is supreme law. The past few administrations of the US have been appropriating power and legislating a morality the majority of the American people reject. Americans are being forced to take on burdens and to obey laws they cannot in all good conscience endorse. Our government is heeding the voices of the people scarcely more than Louis XIV or the Soviet Republic heeded the voices of their people. Our government is dictating to our consciences; legislating a morality inimical to a free people. The consequences, should the people not rise up and resist, will be grave indeed; for the consequences will be the complete loss of our freedom of conscience and a societal stratification that will deaden attempts at elevation.

In the place of our free conscience will be a template morality dictated to us by a government originally meant to be by the people, of the people and for the people.

The wheel of history has returned America back to 1776 and the perils which faced it then. It is time for individual Americans to exercise their individual consciences and confront the dangers before them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beating up the SEALS

By the time my brother Jerry was about twelve years old, he had shot up to a height of over six feet. His size made him a target of every wannabe bully in Chesapeake City. Jerry could have easily knocked out any opponent who challenged him, but he was and is a gentle soul who hates conflict. But what really did him in was my parent’s pacifism, which they based on what they considered biblical principles, especially the admonition to "turn the other cheek." They abhorred the idea of fighting back and taught all of us kids not to fight.

Well, I still remember being treated to the sight of Jerry the giant being beaten up by the likes of Larry White, a skinny, pimple-faced redneck kid who was one half my brother’s size. Larry methodically and rhythmically pounded Jerry’s head against the sidewalk and only quit when he got tired. Jerry, who had done absolutely nothing to offend Larry, stuck to his "Christian" principles, and eventually got up and staggered away.

But as everyone knows, that’s the way it is with dedicated pacifists. They won’t fight back even if it almost kills them.

And sometimes it does.

Pacifism can kill a nation, even such a strong nation as the US.

It kills by vitiating our justice system.

It kills by sucking the guts out of our military.

It kills by victimizing perpetrators of violence.

A killing radical pacifism, though usually unnamed and therefore almost always undetected, is behind the several travesties of justice which have recently occurred in our country, the most recent one being the prospective court martial of the Navy SEAL who punched out a captured terrorist.

For those unfamiliar with the story, SEALS captured one Ahmed Hashim Abed, the jihadist leader who helped kill, light on fire and mutilate four American non-combatants working in Iraq. During the take down, Abed was punched in the mouth. Now, along with two other SEALS, the SEAL who hit Abed faces court martial.

You may wonder why Abed joins the protected brigade of 9/11 terrorists who will be tried in New York City and Major Hassan, the Army psychiatrist who gunned down his fellow comrades in arms.

But the term "in arms" is the key phrase as to why there is a perverse protectionism for those who commit violence against our soldiers and our nation. For those inhabiting the left wing of liberalism, what I term "radical pacifism" prevails, and being "in arms" is against their idea of peace. Their reasoning goes something like this.

1. No violence is ever, ever justified.

2. If someone acts violently toward you, YOU are the problem. You either instigated the fight, or you deserved punishment for past transgressions or you hold some latent hostility your accuser rightly detected.

3. Violent acts are individual criminal transgressions which can and must be dealt with solely through negotiation and the courts.

In the radical pacifist’s mind, the precepts outlined above mean that armies are unnecessary accouterments of societies who are backwards in their thinking. Armies are the absolute acme of violence, especially since soldiers, sailors and special forces are actively trained in perpetrating violence with weapons such as guns, bombs and the like. Armies should become vestigial, rather like the "legs" found in some snakes--if they are to exist at all. Any law and order should never exceed the force of London’s "bobbies," who are virtually forbidden to use their night sticks.

It follows that those who are members of the military are automatically worthy of condemnation just by being in the military. Similar reasoning applies to paramilitary organizations deemed "unpeaceable."

Since the SEALS belong to a military organization, they are suspect; doubly so since one of them committed a violent act by punching a terrorist in the face. The SEALS are perceived to be the problem, not the antagonists they fight. So the SEALS, like brother Jerry, get beaten up.

Our present administration is in the grip of radical pacifism. The results of this insane view of human nature and justice are apparent every day as we see the topsy-turvy world it has created, in the case of the SEALS.

But it gets worse if one considers the broader context: The extreme politically correct, radically pacifist ideology has infected and distorted our administration’s attitude toward our own military and is at the core of our president’s foreign policy. Radical pacifism is partly what all the bowing and scraping are about.

While we all are required to live peaceably with all as much as is possible, in the meantime, parents with common sense–I like to think I had some small measure of sense–will not teach their children to allow themselves to be beaten up like Jerry was. They will teach their children that there are always predators who love to pick on the weak. And they will teach their children to fight back with everything they have if they are attacked.

These simple precepts about human nature and self-protection should apply to our national security as well. When our military is sent to fight a sworn enemy who is determined to annihilate them and us, they and we should fight and punch back with everything they have.

They shouldn’t have to let a Larry White beat their heads against the sidewalk.

And they should not have a leader who rescues Larry and blames them for the fight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Future of Delaware: Where are we really going?

The Future of Delaware: Where are we really going?

Below, an NRO editorial from today's edition about the coming of Fisker to the old GM plant. The piece has raised some questions in my mind. Relieved as I might be by the prospect of more jobs for Delawareans--no small thing--I wonder about the long term results.

The author's main concern is that DE may typify the future of manufacturing in the US.

Pertinent quotes:

"... this is really bad, guys. For context, I urge you to check out Robert Litan's lecture on "Innovation and the World Economy." As Litan explains, the last 18 months have seen the United States increasingly take on the characteristics of a state-guided economy. The trouble with state-guided economies is simple: Once you’re at or close to the technological frontier, you can’t rely on government bureaucrats to figure out what the next “great big thing” is. You eventually run out of creativity — and thus rapid growth — if your economy is going to be dominated by state guidance...State guidance might work for a brief time in follower countries, but it doesn't work for economic leaders. The implication is that the innovations that actually expand the technological frontier are driven by entrepreneurship."

The full editorial is posted below.

The Future Is Delaware

In the summer of 2002, Jonathan Chait wrote a brilliant anti-Delaware jeremiad that came to mind when I read Neil King Jr.'s incredible article on America's new energy-driven industrial policy in the Wall Street Journal. As King tells the story, the Department of Energy has one of the country's leading venture capitalists. The DOE hopes to lend or give out more than $40 billion to businesses working on "clean technology," everything from electric cars and novel batteries to wind turbines and solar panels.

In the first nine months of 2009, the DOE doled out $13 billion in loans and grants to such firms. By contrast, venture-capital firms — which have long been the chief funders of fledgling tech firms, taking equity stakes in the start-ups that will pay off if they go public — poured just $2.68 billion into the sector in that time, according to data tracker Cleantech Group.

Inevitably, this massive infusion of taxpayer dollars is transforming the marketplace. King recounts the many ways in which the DOE led an innovative automotive start-up to change its product mix. The company had intended to build a high-end hybrid vehicle in Finland, and they sought federal funds to scale up their efforts. By late spring, DOE was pushing ahead briskly on the Karma loan, say people involved in the deal.

But the Karma presented a political challenge: It was already being assembled, under contract, at a plant in Finland. Though it used mainly U.S.-made components, so a federal loan would help U.S. parts makers, the boost for U.S. workers would be limited. DOE then came to Fisker with a surprising proposal: Find a U.S. site to build the Kx, and DOE would agree to fund both projects together. Fisker could then start gearing up to make the Kx even before the Karma hit the market. Close advisers to Fisker said the issue of job creation had become key to officials within the administration.

"The government's interest sped it all up," said David Anderson, a partner at the Palo Alto Investors venture-capital firm, who followed the DOE process closely. "The government basically said, 'Let's make this happen sooner rather than later.'"

Part of the impetus for speeding up the process came from the closure of a Delaware-based GM plant. Various Delaware loyalists, led by Vice President Joe Biden, lobbied Fisker Automotive to reopen the plant to manufacture the Kx. Delaware is very fortunate to have a native son in a position of such influence.

Of course, the deal will cost Delaware taxpayer a considerable sum, as King notes. In early September, Gov. Markell told Fisker that if it occupied the shuttered GM plant it would get an array of state incentives worth up to $22 million, including $9 million in cash for utilities. He promised to buy the first car off the line. These "incentives" are par for the course. They are part of a beggar-thy-neighbor dynamic that has led to massive transfers from taxpayers to corporate coffers over the past few decades.

I don't actually think that the vice president did anything untoward. He used his influence on behalf of a community he has represented for decades, and that is perfectly understandable if not admirable in some sense. But it's worth keeping in mind where the push for industrial policy is really taking us. The largess that the DOE and Biden are dispensing isn't really theirs to give away.

For Biden, the reopening of Delaware's Boxwood Road plant is "a metaphor for the rebirth of the country." There ought to be a second half to that sentence: "a metaphor for the rebirth of the country as a haven for crony capitalism." That's a little harsh.

But this is really bad, guys. For context, I urge you to check out Robert Litan's lecture on "Innovation and the World Economy." As Litan explains, the last 18 months have seen the United States increasingly take on the characteristics of a state-guided economy. The trouble with state-guided economies is simple: Once you’re at or close to the technological frontier, you can’t rely on government bureaucrats to figure out what the next “great big thing” is. You eventually run out of creativity — and thus rapid growth — if your economy is going to be dominated by state guidance.

When you're dealing with brute force economics, state guidance can work reasonably well. As Paul Krugman noted in his brilliant Foreign Affairs essay on "The Myth of Asia's Miracle," Eastern Europe saw explosive growth in the 1960s thanks to the crude application of inputs. Yet the level of capital productivity remained very low. While the growth of communist economics was the subject of innumerable alarmist books and polemical articles in the 1950s, Some economists who looked seriously at the roots of that growth were putting together a picture that differed substantially from most popular assumptions. Communist growth rates were certainly impressive, but not magical. The rapid growth in output could be fully explained by rapid growth in inputs: expansion of employment, increases in education levels, and, above all, massive investment in physical capital. Once those inputs were taken into account, the growth in output was unsurprising—or, to put it differently, the big surprise about Soviet growth was that when closely examined it posed no mystery.

This economic analysis had two crucial implications. First, most of the speculation about the superiority of the communist system including the popular view that Western economics could painlessly accelerate their own growth by borrowing some aspects of that system—was off base. Rapid Soviet economic growth was based entirely on one attribute: the willingness to save, to sacrifice current consumption for the sake of future production. The communist example offered no hint of a free lunch.

Krugman may have changed his mind about this in the years since. (Perhaps the Soviets were baldly misrepresented by neo-Confederate reactionary economists based in flyover country. I kid.) But this certainly sounds right. State guidance might work for a brief time in follower countries, but it doesn't work for economic leaders. The implication is that the innovations that actually expand the technological frontier are driven by entrepreneurship.

Imagine what we might accomplish if we abandoned targeted giveaways in favor of, say, a lower corporate income tax, better schools, and better roads. That, alas, sounds rather mundane.

Best to all, Fay

Monday, December 14, 2009


John Donne, in his poem "Of the Progress of the Soul" uses the vivid metaphor of a beheaded man to describe the severance of the soul from its source of life. He writes,

"...Sometimes in a beheaded man,...
his eyes will twinkle, his tongue will roll
As though he beckoned, and called back his soul,
He grasps his hands, and he pulls up his feet,
And seems to reach and to step forth to meet
his soul."

Donne doubtless had the opportunity to witness beheadings, living as he did in an age in which torture and execution were public spectacles available to any who wished to witness them.

Similar stories abound from the era of the French Revolution on. One Dr. Beaurieux, experimented with the head of a condemned prisoner by the name of Henri Languille, on 28 June 1905. He wrote:

'Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds...

I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. […] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: "Languille!" I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.

Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again […]

...I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead."

While the above are undeniably gruesome incidents, they hold a lesson for us.

Decapitation can happen to a society, not just to individuals. The thinking head of government can be rudely and irrevocably severed from the body politic. For some time the "talking" head may continue babbling as if it still had a semblance of life, but it is a dead head and no longer listened to by the body of the people.

The people can call out and actually garner a little attention from the talking head. It may focus on the disturbance for a while, but it is dying and rather disinterested in anyone.

For many Americans, their present government is that severed head, eyes twinkling and blinking, lips reflexively moving to the implulse of detached neurons. The march to the guillotine, began years ago, was accelerated by the last administrations and now the guillotine has severed any connection.

The people have tried shouting at the head. The head blinks and moves its lips reassuringly. The people have marched to Washington to awaken it. The head closes its eyes and ears. The people have written letters and signed petitions by the millions. The head can no longer read.

In the meantime, the body is reacting. It is stepping out and reaching for direction. It is looking for a head transplant. It is looking for the intellectual and spiritual headship our government can no longer provide.

How surprised the head will be when it is tossed in the refuse basket of history by a people no longer interested in its imitation of life. Cast aside, there the head's eyes will remain wide open but seeing nothing.

The Christ of Christmas: The Cosmic Revolution

The Christ of Christmas: The Cosmic Revolution

The nativity of Christ is the most profound example of humility known to humanity. As the author of Philippians writes when exhorting his fellow Christians to humbly consider others better than themselves, the example they should follow is that of Jesus Christ. He quotes the lines of an ancient Christian hymn or creed--ancient to us, but fresh and revolutionary to first century Christians. Your attitude, he says, should be the same as that of Christ:

"Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
–Philippians 2: 5-11

The author’s compact summation of the life and significance of Christ bears all the marks of the confessing Christians’ creed.

But for some, belief tends to fix almost solely on the nativity and crucifixion. It does not proceed to the triumph of Christ over the evil powers arrayed against him. Perhaps that is because we sometimes fail to understand the exaltation and universal rule of Christ.

Christians have a magnificent heritage expressed not only by the written word, but by a profound artistic, musical and architectural heritage which speaks not only of Christ born and crucified, but of Christ the resurrected; whom he and his followers believed to be the Logos, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

The Christian heritage also speaks of Christ as the creating, sustaining and ordering of the entire cosmos. The moral perfection of Christ, Son of God, orders the entire cosmos. The author of Colossians puts it this way: "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together...God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
–Colossians 1: 15-20

The author of Colossians is stating that the power which upholds and constantly informs the cosmos is the mind of Jesus Christ, whose mind is perfect. Neither chance nor gravity nor dark matter nor black holes nor any other human construct, no matter how valuable in articulating the ways in which the diverse structure of the universe operates, creates and upholds the cosmos. It is the divine mind of the cosmic Christ which creates, sustains and informs all that exists.

The divine mind is perfect in every respect. Christ’s mind has infused a perfect moral order into the entire cosmos.

Evil is a distortion of that moral created order. Evil, with it’s consequence of death, was defeated by the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. Evil has been fatally wounded, is being destroyed and will be destroyed completely with the triumphant return of Christ.

That is the true story of the Christmas revolution.

God himself, made manifest as a human being, wrote the entire history of the earth into the overarching moral structure of the cosmos. The redemptive moral order displayed in the life work of Jesus Christ is also written into the fabric of our world and political orders as well as into the individual human conscience. Humans and the societal structures they create ignore, distort and rebel against that moral order to their own peril and destruction.

Insofar as Christians note the moral deformities of their own lives and the profound dislocation of societal orders, they are called by God to make things right by courageous moral action. The call to redeem societal evils is part of what is meant by conforming one’s self to the image of Jesus Christ. That conformity to a higher moral order is part of what Christ meant when he told his followers to pray, "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

There is, on other words, a heavenly order which transcends and informs all earthly structures. Thus the Christian’s life will be filled with attempts to combat the distortions evil brings into their lives and the lives of others. Their combative stand against evil is based on the belief that the world order should match the standards of the kingdom of God, which kingdom is ruled by one perfectly just and perfectly righteous; one who has revealed himself and his law through the prophets of old and most completely in the person of Christ Jesus, Savior of the world.

The cultural and moral heritage of Christianity is so varied, so rich and deep that it is hard to choose one work which is a definitive example of the triumphant Christ, creator of the universe and Victor over evil. But a favorite work of Christian art is the Resurrection scene depicted by Matthias Grunewald in his Isenheim triptych. It is found here on this link:

Grunewald’s depiction of the resurrected Christ captures the other worldly but recognizable visage of the victorious Christ. Grunewald’s painting bears a strong resemblance to the vision of Christ recorded by St. John the Divine in his book of Revelation. John, once the young and devoted companion of Jesus, wrote while exiled to the isle of Patmos. A the age of ninety years, he heard a voice, and turned and beheld Christ.

"I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw...someone like a "Son of Man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held even stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance."
--Revelation 1:12-16

We don’t know if Grunewald saw the same vision of Christ as did St. John the Divine, but we do know the Christ both saw, each in his own way, is shown as a victor over evil. St. John notes the double edged sword, which in biblical parlance depicts the perfection and inevitability of divine judgement.

But John is instructed to issue a word of warning to the seven churches located in present day Turkey. Judgement is to be delayed in order that Christians repent of their weaknesses, ignorance, distortions and sins so that they may be light in their societal order. That order was, of course, the Roman Empire, which eventually did succumb to the influence of Christianity.

Two thousand years have elapsed since St. John’s vision. Two thousand years have gone by since the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.

But the claims and demands of the gospel in all its ramifications have not been nullified. Far from it. It is imperative that the Church of Jesus Christ rise up to confront, to challenge and to reform a deteriorating moral order wherever it is found, be it in our own nation or around the globe.
Our call to continue to be a transforming influence in our culture has not receded; on the contrary, it is our own deafness and blindness which prevents our hearing and seeing that our call is more urgent than ever.

It is up to Christians to prayerfully repent, and to recapture with all due humility--but with all due conviction--the impetus of the revolution begun at Christmas so long ago.