Kathy ShaidleThrough the week of April 3, Kathy Shaidle, an award-winning poet and non-fiction author, who has run the RelapsedCatholic blog since 2000, is Beliefnet's guest blogger.

"Don't Rescue Me With A Gun"

At the always fascinating TCS website, Pejman Yousefzadeh questions the "selflessness" of the Christian Peacemaker Teams:

"For one thing, the wish of the people who are part of Christian Peacemaker Teams not to be rescued via the use of violent force runs contrary to the mission of the military to at times use violent force to preserve innocent life. It is unrealistic to expect that members of professional military corps (functioning under certain honor codes) will put aside their duty to protect innocent life merely because someone like Kember asks them to. Professional soldiers who make up a military corps dedicated to the preservation of life will think such a request incomprehensible, and may balk at it. It is part and parcel to soldiers' jobs to preserve and defend innocents, and that charge will most certainly not be forsaken if another Kember-like situation comes along.

"For another thing, to demand that people who make up the Christian Peacemaker Teams be left to their fate if kidnapped or held hostage gives an advantage to hostage-takers. They may feel that they can target with impunity Christian Peacemakers and other individuals making similar non-violent rescue requests. After all, wouldn't they worry less about a military operation if Peacemakers establish a precedent of rescue without violence? In fact, hostage-takers might go so far as to mix hostages who ask that military action on their behalf be forsworn along with hostages who would want to be rescued by any means necessary."


"Was Mandisa Eliminated From American Idol Because of Race, Size, Religion, Controversy or Song Choice?"

Whew. The "Reality TV Magazine" blog (whew, again) opines: "Whenever an American Idol contestant is eliminated before their talent would indicate they should be, it always leads to various conspiracy theories."

It points to "the controversy over Mandisa making the statement 'Your addiction, lifestyle, or situation may be big, but God is bigger!' before one of her songs and Mandisa’s listing of anti-gay author and lecturer Beth Moore as her Idol in her American Idol bio. (...) In regards to some of her comments being interpreted as homophobic, Mandisa explained, 'You know, I just heard about that recently and it broke my heart because I really do try to live my life according to the value system that you treat others the way that you want to be treated. And so I live my life guided by love and absolutely hate nobody.' "

I've never heard of Beth Moore, so I don't know what makes her "anti-gay." These days, anyone who dares to opine that homosexuality is anything other than the source and summit of all that is noble, good and wonderful will be punished."

What I don't understand is why some gay readers would allegedly interpret the words "addiction" and "lifestyle" as referring to homosexuality. But then, I don't understand why so many gay people I've known believe that just about everybody is "secretly gay"--sometimes to co-opt some admirable celebrity, like Shakespeare, but often they're speaking about somebody they actually loathe, such as J. Edgar Hoover.

Gay activists have the oddest habit of "reading" "queerness" where none exists (in movies like "All About Eve" or "Johnny Guitar") but can't seem to spot it when it is right under their noses.

'Don’t Translate That Word For Word…'

When Pat Robertson says something goofy, the media pounces. After all, Robertson is a public figure, so his oddball oracles invite examination. But the attention Robertson's weirder comments receive is out of proportion. His most influential days are far behind him; the only reason he's on TV is because a) he owns the station and b) talk show producers are too lazy to clean out their Rolodexes. Robertson's show gets less than a million viewers; in a nation of almost 300 million (in which 35 million vote for their favorite “American Idols” each week) that’s not very impressive. (Conservative Byron York disagrees).

The Robertson/media two-step will continue until he passes away. Fine. I just wish reporters and producers would devote a tenth of their time to covering self-proclaimed representatives of other faiths who say off-the-wall stuff. Case in point: The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) just published excerpts from a live Al-Jazeera program, in which “representatives of Arab and Danish student organizations met for a dialogue following the violent reaction to the publication of the [Mohammad] cartoons by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten”.

First, the chairman of the Arab Student Union makes the startling pronouncement that “Muslims do not interfere with the religious beliefs of others.” He continues, ”The Arabs' feelings and emotions must be taken into consideration, even more than their minds”–perhaps not the best way to counter the ubiquitous image of rabid, backward mobs demanding the immediate execution of… a bunch of cartoonists.

But these negative images aren’t the fault of Muslims, you see. As usual, they are the victims of a vast conspiracy. Says the chairman, "The Islamic religion is not a religion of terrorism, as portrayed by Zionism or imperialism. (…) The cartoons which appeared in the Danish newspaper were a premeditated plan, by parties known to all, to divert global and Arab attention away from the crimes and massacres committed in Iraq, in Palestine, in Abu Ghureib prison, and in many occupied Arab territories.”

Demonstrating his enviable grasp of such concepts as limited government and an independent “fourth estate,” the chairman exclaims, "What is peculiar and surprising is that to this very moment, the Danish government does not want to punish this paper, and has not apologized."

Most hilariously of all, the chairman calls Holocaust denier David Irving "a world-renowned English intellectual, who was recently tried in another country, and was sentenced to three years in jail, although the whole world recognizes him as a great and reliable intellectual.”

(Did you know, by the way, that according to the “Arab Human Development Report 2002,” published by the United Nations Development Program, over the past 1,000 years, Arabs have only translated as many foreign books into Arabic as Spain translates into Spanish in just one year? Thought I’d mention that.)

I guess it’s reassuring to discover that students are pretty much the same the world over, i.e., idiots. What’s scary is the upside-down worldview on display here: “Bush has killed more Iraqis than Saddam”, no one is allowed to publish cartoons about the Holocaust (which invites the question: who but someone like you would even want to?), and so forth.

What’s even scarier is that exponentially more people on earth think just like the chairman than have ever even heard of Pat Robertson. Unlike Robertson and his gaggle of viewers, these people have proven their willingness to die for their beliefs and take thousands of Americans down with them.

And the mainstream media don’t do too much to remind you of that. Dialing up Jerry Falwell to get a juicy quote or two about some pseudo-controversy is so much easier.

Kiss Me, Deadly

“Now I can’t think for ya/you’ll have to decide/whether Judas Iscariot/had God on his side.”

Bob Dylan’s sardonic lyric left the musical question unanswered. How did Judas go from Jesus’ inner circle to the 9th circle of hell?

And now some are wondering: Was that 30 pieces of silver actually an advance for a tell-all book?

I wish I could tell you that the upcoming National Geographic TV special on the so-called “Gospel of Judas” documents will contain breathtaking revelations about history’s most notorious traitor–but the screener they promised me hasn’t arrived yet, and the show airs this Sunday (April 9).

Carl Olson sounds pretty sensible on the subject of the handful of scrolls currently being hyped as “one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time”:

“…it's like a document being written in the mid-20th century titled ‘The Autobiography of Benedict Arnold’ that contradicts everything known about Arnold, George Washington, and the American Revolution--and people saying that it's authentic and reflects a viable tradition (‘Yes, Arnold probably was the original source!’), that it ‘overturns previous beliefs about the years 1765-1790’, and that it will ‘cast doubts on what Americans believe about the founding of their country.’ ”

In other words, those gullible folks who get their knowledge of history from “JFK,” “Fahrenheit 911,” and “The DaVinci Code” (and are as adept as discerning truth from fiction as the chairman of Denmark’s Arab Student Union), will probably love “The Gospel of Judas.” Unfortunately.

The Mormon & the Muslims

The world's only Mormon science fiction author, Orson Scott Card, also writes about current events at something called The Ornery American. Now, if you're thinking that doesn't much sound like a prescription for "respectable journalism" or "thoughtful commentary," think again. I dislike Mormon theology and space operas in equal measure, but Card's seriousness have surprised and impressed me. I don't always agree with his views, but appreciate him all the more for that.

His latest essay is called "Freedom of Religion: For Everyone, Everywhere." Card considers the plight of Abdul Rahman, sentenced to death by an Afghani Sharia court for the "crime" of becoming a Christian: "To the degree that the law demanding the death of anyone who converts away from Islam is actually enforced, to exactly that degree the nation that enforces it is not a Muslim nation. (...) Because religion is absolutely not about mere outward compliance with the law. It is about belief--it is about what a person believes in his heart. But in a nation where conversion away from Islam means death, then no believer can be sure that his own obedience is purely a matter of conscience.

"There is no faith under compulsion. Any nation where Sharia is enforced is not a Muslim nation, and none of its people are Muslims. If they cannot choose not to be Muslim, then they have not chosen to be Muslim. Without freedom not to believe, faith is a sham even if you think you are sincere."

Like many of us (although not all of us), Card sees similarities between Islamofascism and our last "great enemy": "Like it or not, Communism was (and, it must be pointed out, remains) a proselytizing religion that used (and uses) every tool, including murder and terrorism and war, torture and prison, constant spying and betrayal, in order to spread its rule, ultimately to every corner of the earth. Wherever it established its grip, it held on brutally and relentlessly; wherever it stretched its hand, it took powerful and usually bloody resistance to stop it. (...) And wherever it was not resisted--like, for instance, Vietnam after our withdrawal, or Tibet when the Chinese moved in--the price in blood and horror was immeasurable.

"Islam's history is thick with exactly the same processes. The ideology is different, of course, and many millions of Muslims manage to live their faith without killing or hurting anybody. But from the first explosion of Arab warriors into the Christian lands of the Byzantine Empire, it was clear that unless you fought the Muslim armies, matching their brutality and fervor with your own, you would soon find yourself in a Muslim nation."

Card also touches on Christianity's less than admirable past, the ominous silence of moderate Muslims, and the prospect for true democracy in the Middle East. He does so in plain, sober, pun-free prose. If you'd told me on Sept. 10, 2001, that I'd be reading serious think pieces by an LDS sci-fi dude...

Why We Call Them 'Mad'

"Oh my, oh my, oh my/what if it were true?" So goes the Violent Femmes ditty, "Jesus Walking on the Water." Well, forget it, says Dr. Doron Nof of Florida State University. He "conducted an inquiry" which suggests Jesus was actually just walking on iced-over parts of the freshwater Sea of Galilee.

Note that Dr. Nof "conducted an inquiry," not an experiment. Me, I've "conducted" plenty of similar sounding "inquiries" in my time, typically at around two in the morning and sponsored by the local microbrewery, regarding whether or not there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll in Dallas. For some reason, the "findings" of my "colleagues" and I didn't end up in The New York Times. Darn, we forgot to go to grad school!

At GetReligion.org, Mollie Ziegler writes:

"When any group questions or raises concerns with the current scientific explanation for a given issue, it rarely if ever gets to just tell its side of the story without rebuttal. And that’s only fair and right. But when some scientist comes up with an outlandish explanation debunking Christ’s power, it would be nice if reporters would seek a response from other scientists or followers of Jesus who could explain the significance of the story."

Well, here's mine. Note that Dr. Nof lives in Florida. As a Canadian, I assure him that "walking on ice" does indeed count as a miracle. He should try it sometime, instead of just sitting around, "inquiring" and such.

(Spin) Doctor Death

As noted in our comments section yesterday, Dr. Eric R. Pianka is now under the microscope. Reports that he'd told an audience of scientists and students that he hoped 90 percent of the earth's population would be wiped out by the ebola virus have been spreading faster than, well, you know.

The professor subsequently denied everything, sort of, in an interview with KXAN-TV. "I don't bear any ill will towards anybody," said the lizard expert, adding that he's been getting death threats. Pianka added, "If we don't control our population, microbes will. Why do we have these lethal microbes that kill us in the first place? The answer is, there's too many of us."

Plus, he's "got two granddaughters, man." Plus, a jealous scientist is just trying to smear him. Well, science journalist Denyse O'Leary spoke to Forrest Mims in the wee hours this morning. Mims, who broke the original story in Citizen Scientist, insists "he had never heard of Pianka until he was introduced" at the lecture.

Meanwhile, a biology senior in the audience, Brenna McConnell, posted this on her blog after Pianka's address:

"...the bulk of his talk was that he's waiting for the virus that will eventually arise and kill off 90% of human population. In fact, his hope, if you can call it that, is that the ebola virus which attacks humans currently (but only through blood transmission) will mutate with the ebola virus that attacks monkeys airborne to create an airborne ebola virus that attacks humans. He's a radical thinker, that one! I mean, he's basically advocating for the death of all but 10% of the current population! And at the risk of sounding just as radical, I think he's right."

She adds, "And damn is he ever entertaining to listen to." This attitude deeply concerns MacArthur Fellow Shawn Carlson, Ph.D., who writes, "I am convinced that continuing to allow Professor Pianka unfettered access to impressionable students could one day lead to a loss of life that could make the Killing Fields of Southeast Asia look like a picnic ground."

Carlson visited Dr. Pianka's web site, where the lizard expert has posted his own obituary, and where he describes himself as a "hermit" and a "desert rat." Carlson remarks, "I can only conclude that years ago Eric Pianka must have lost touch with his essential humanity, that is, a strong emotional need for his own kind. Now, perhaps driven by that terrible depression that can occur in old men, he seems to have lost touch with reality."

Ouch! As for me, I now have this uncontrollable urge to rent Rope.

The John Kerry Of The Right?

Televangelist and Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, once so ubiquitous that the late character actor Richard Paul made a fine living portraying Falwell (and characters based on him) in a steady stream of movies and TV shows, is back in the news thanks to perennial presidential candidate Senator John McCain.

Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times, “Senator John McCain obviously believes that he can't get the Republican presidential nomination without Mr. Falwell's approval. During the 2000 campaign, Mr. McCain denounced Mr. Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson as ‘agents of intolerance.’ But next month Mr. McCain will be a commencement speaker at Liberty University, which Mr. Falwell founded.”

And last month, Falwell caused a stir when he reiterated “the traditional evangelical belief that salvation is available only through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.” In other words, Jews are going to hell. (For the Catholic view, I’ll toss this hot potato over to Fr. John Neuhaus: “Jews and Christians begin at the same starting point, and both are convinced that we will meet at the all-mysterious end. Yet we cannot deny that our appointed tasks in this world are very different and must remain so because the covenant is not the same for both of us. It is God alone who will bring us to our unknown destination in a time pleasing to Him.” I know, it isn’t that clear, but it sounds a lot nicer, huh?)

Falwell says he’s not prepared to water down his beliefs “in this age of political correctness and diversity.” The same can’t be said for McCain. The man is a genuine American hero, but he isn’t universally loved. Long criticized on the Right and embraced by the Left as a political cipher, a “Republican in name only,” McCain’s sudden embrace of Falwell comes off as a cynical political maneuver as 2008 presidential campaigns get underway.

Cynical, and ultimately stupid. Now sympathetic liberals are running for the exits. As for the Right, Falwell’s best-before date was over 10 years ago. Next we’ll hear that McCain’s campaign song is “Eye of the Tiger.” McCain is about to join that long, less-than-illustrious list that includes the names of Mario Cuomo, Barbara Jordan, and Adalai Stevenson: “Future Presidents” of the Past.

'We're No Better Than Bacteria!'

Thanks (I guess) to the "Post Darwinist" for alerting me to this disturbing, but alas, not at all surprising, story.

Last month, it seems, one Dr. Eric R. Pianka of the University of Texas told a meeting of the Texas Academy of Science that, in the words of one observer, "the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.

"He then showed solutions for reducing the world's population in the form of a slide depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War and famine would not do, he explained. Instead, disease offered the most efficient and fastest way to kill the billions that must soon die if the population crisis is to be solved. (...) AIDS is not an efficient killer, he explained, because it is too slow. His favorite candidate for eliminating 90 percent of the world's population is airborne Ebola (Ebola Reston), because it is both highly lethal and it kills in days, instead of years."

The audience reaction? "loud, vigorous and enthusiastic applause. The audience laughed when he said, 'You know, the bird flu's good, too.' They laughed again when he proposed, with a discernible note of glee in his voice that, 'We need to sterilize everybody on the Earth.'

"He spoke glowingly of the police state in China that enforces their one-child policy. He said, 'Smarter people have fewer kids.' He said those who don't have a conscience about the Earth will inherit the Earth, '...because those who care make fewer babies and those that didn't care made more babies.' He said we will evolve as uncaring people, and 'I think IQs are falling for the same reason, too.' "

Goodness, where to begin? I'll admit to wishing that hairy old hippies like Dr. Pianka would die a little sooner themselves; they've been spreading crazy ideas like the myth of "overpopulation" since the '70s, yet for some strange reason, they never get around to "saving the Earth" by killing themselves. (Have you ever met a radical who's cut up his Social Security card...?) Alas, it's the rest of us poor, benighted folks they want dead, to make the world safe for carob cookies, Peter Max posters, and reusable menstrual cups.

The Post Darwinist notes that: "Most people who would get ebola and die a horrible death (from liquefying organs, apparently, are Africans"--an odd prospect for a room full of "privileged," progressive white Americans to be applauding. Maybe that's why "something curious occurred a minute before Pianka began speaking. An official of the Academy approached a video camera operator at the front of the auditorium and engaged him in animated conversation. The camera operator did not look pleased as he pointed the lens of the big camera to the ceiling and slowly walked away. This curious incident came to mind a few minutes later when Professor Pianka began his speech by explaining that the general public is not yet ready to hear what he was about to tell us."

Alas, the poor, pathetic "general public" keep on having babies in blithe defiance of the great Dr. Pianka's orders. The irony is, his type are the ones among the demographically doomed; all those "low IQ" religious conservatives with their big families will have the last laugh.

America-First Catholics?

Carl Olson sums up the trouble with "progressive" Catholics with admirable economy. Again, it comes down to demographics.

Olson was less than impressed with recent comments by Robert Blair Kaiser, author of "A Church in Search of Itself." (No, not the bit about Pope Benedict XVI having wolverine rings under his eyes.") Kaiser insists that "the Catholic Church has to change or it is going to end up as a museum piece"--a line I've heard all my life, and actually used to believe, until I noticed that "progressive" Catholic get-togethers attracted only small numbers of grey-haired rebels while World Youth Day drew millions of their opposite.

Olson points out that Americans comprise merely 6 percent of the world's Catholics. Assuming about half of those support Kaiser's call for women priests and other liberal (almost exclusively North American) causes, that leaves over 95 percent of the world's Catholics who don't fit Kaiser's fantasy of how the Church should be.

"...if Kaiser is to be believed," Olson writes, "the Catholic Church should be American first, Kaiser-compatible second, and, if time allows, vaguely Catholic. But since 94 percent of Catholics aren't American, that sentiment has more than a faint scent of xenophobia and isolationism to it. And, of course, no open-minded, progressive Catholic who doesn't believe in most of what the Catholic Church teaches would ever be a xenophobe or an isolationist. Would they?"

Mr. Kaiser, have you met Dr. Pianka?

Those Sophisticated Europeans

First they came for the bananas and the brie, and I said nothing. Then the European Union (EU), prowling the world seeking the ruin of souls, came for the church organ.

Reasons abound to be thankful that one isn't a European "citizen." For example, those who observe haughtily that Afghanistan has failed to transform itself into Amsterdam during the last three years obviously haven't been to Amsterdam lately.

Now, it seems, "Catholic churches could be deprived of musical accompaniment after the future of organ building, repair, and restoration was jeopardized by an EU directive. The Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive, due to come into force on July 1, bans any product using electricity from containing more than 0.1 percent of dangerous materials, including lead and mercury. But organ pipe can be 50 percent lead, and electricity generates the wind that blows through them." An EU spokesman denies they've declared war on church organs, but given the Continental elite's attitudes toward Christianity, you can't trust the little sneaks.

Don't get me wrong: I really hate organ music. My childhood was marked by compulsive TV viewing first, (conscious) church attendance second; to this day, an organ's sinister chords signal the presence of Karloff, not Christ. But I hate guitar Masses more, so--can we think up a protest slogan for our beleaguered Euro-believers? "Keep your directives off our..."? No, wait: what rhymes with "Wulitzer"?

Speaking of the Devil

If it's Friday, it must be Straight Dope time.

Cecil & co. were busting myths before Adam was a prop man. Today, a reader writes:

My daughter informs me that the date 6/6/06 is coming up. Being a little disappointed at our last couple examples of doomsday hype, I wanted to know if there was anything to worry about. Should I start going to church? What's the origin of the "mark of the beast"?

Straight Dope replies:

"You'd better believe you should worry, John. Where do you get off, making fun of prior doomsday hypes? The last time we had such a conflux of 666 was June 6, 1666--the date of the Great Fire that destroyed London. OK, the fire was actually September 2, not June 6, but we're not going to quibble about a few months, are we? And remember September 11--if you add the digits 9+11 you get 20, which is just two more than 6+6+6! Even worse, if you include the year 2001, the sum of the digits is 23, which is just one short of 6+6+6+6!!!

"OK, seriously. The famous quote, 'the number of the beast . . . is 666' is from the Book of Revelation (note that the title is singular, not plural), the last book of the New Testament..."

So who was The Beast? Straight Dope sticks with the scholarly "Emperor Nero" theory, but other suspects include Bill Gates, Ronald Reagan, and even (cue organ music!) the European Union. This being Straight Dope (and Friday), the lesson ends with corny End Times humor ("$666.95: the retail price of the Beast", etc.)

However, Cecil neglects to answer the most important question: Yes, John Escalante of Los Angeles, California, you should start going to church.

The Jokes Just Write Themselves

Life imitates “The Simpsons” as an enterprising company announces ”a new series of educational video games based on the Gospel readings". The new Gospel Champions(TM) series takes children back to biblical times by recreating Gospel stories in a state-of-the-art game that intertwines action/adventure gameplay with sequenced elements of Bible stories.”

I can see it now: Jesus drives the moneylenders out of the Temple, at 10 points per scourged merchant! Given every little boy’s habit of using carrots and sticks as toy guns, I’m guessing the sequence when Peter cuts off the Roman soldier’s ear will be this game’s most popular bit. These aren’t the first Christian-themed games out there, and they won’t be the last, what with millions of consumer dollars at stake. But are these games any fun, or are they just the pixilated equivalent of broccoli? Eleven-year-old Tolin told MSNBC, “I play a lot of Christian video games. They don’t have fights. You just have to follow Jesus and pick up little crosses for points.”

Sounds thrilling. I mean, ”that’s all well and good for sheep, but what are we to do?”

The Other Hitchens

Ask me about the Real Presence or the Communion of Saints or the Sacraments, and I like to think I’ll provide a confident, enthusiastic, orthodox response.

However, I am a woman of my time and place. I struggle with Catholic Church teaching on birth control. To be perfectly clear: I don’t want to change that teaching, I want to accept it. Because that’s what a Catholic is supposed to do. The philosophy behind the ban on artificial contraception makes sense when I read about it, but I put the book down and it’s like algebra class all over again: The bell rings and ten minutes later I don’t “get it” after all.

Speaking of high school: This topic really brings out my Inner Adolescent. “Why should I listen to what a bunch of celibate old men have to say about this?” And what about the Natural Family Planning (NFP) method promoted by the Vatican? Reverting back to my teen years again, I always think of that Monty Python joke, “the Catholic Church likes the rhythm method because… it doesn’t work.” And besides: NFP involves mucus. Just typing the word “mucus” gives me the willies.

So coming across a non-religious argument against birth control is a rare but welcome experience, one that helps me keep an open mind. Today I stumbled upon just such an argument, by British journalist Peter Hitchens.

No, not Christopher--that’s his brother. Christopher Hitchens is the staunch Iraq War hawk and “man of the Left” whose byline is nigh-on ubiquitous. His brother Peter is an equally staunch old fashioned Tory--who adamantly opposed the invasion. (Interestingly, both are anti-abortion). If you’re thinking, “Wow, those family reunions must really be something,” you’d be correct.

Peter’s prose style isn’t the thing of almost sinister beauty his brother’s is, but he shares Christopher’s contrarian habit of mind. He recently wrote blog post on contraception that is, in typical Hitchens family fashion, sure to stick in many a reader’s craw:

“I cannot help thinking that, however much it has made life easier and simpler, the contraceptive pill has a dark and unpleasant side, which is not discussed often enough.”

He adds:

“It is always portrayed as a great liberator of women. But, once it became established, surely it was men who were liberated by it? They have grown to think they are entitled to expect women to be infertile, that this is their normal state. Sex is much more readily available, and--as far as liberated men are concerned--it is the woman's problem if it has the unwanted (by the man) consequence of pregnancy.

“And so men are no longer made to pay the price for sex they used to have to pay--marriage, or even commitment. That doesn't matter so much when women are young. But what about later, when they decide that perhaps they do want children after all, and marriage looks more attractive as a way of life? Men--much less scared by the onset of middle age and used to getting what they want without giving much in return--face no pressure to behave, or to be unselfish.”

Reading that didn’t spark a sudden epiphany on my part regarding contraceptives. (And I doubt such changes of heart are ever sudden to begin with).But it does make me wish Peter Hitchens would write the kind of book about Margaret Sanger that his brother wrote about Mother Teresa.

When Muslims Go All Catholic

Liverpool Muslims are reportedly queuing up to see two "miracle" fish. Leaders at the local mosque are convinced that the pair of pet Oscar fish have the Arabic words "Allah" and "Mohammed" written in their scales.

I'd love to make fun of this, but how can I? Gullible Catholics (along with spiritually starving folks of no fixed denomination) can't always discern the difference between right reverence for, say, the Virgin Mary and dubious "apparitions" involving bleeding statues, grilled cheese sandwiches and roasting pans. A curious soul surfing over to SpiritDaily would be forgiven for assuming that exorcism is the eighth sacrament.

Then when Peggy Noonan writes a perfectly sane and sober column about the (non-bleeding) statue of Mary she's got in her Brooklyn garden, even some of her fans squirm. We're so unused to such matter of fact, quotidian piety, so primed to lump it in with all those eBay auctions of Jesus-shaped potatoes. Mother Teresa honey buns don't deserve more than a moment of our attention. But they will always make the news. We savor the short-lived, lukewarm sensation of "holiness" we get from squinting at a questionable squiggle on a fish or a painting in tears. Anything is preferable to an unmanageable, unmistakable encounter with the Real Thing.

Let's Ask An Actual Smart Person

In my haste to post on the immigration issue on Monday, I neglected to bring along big-time intellectual backup. In fact, I should have just linked to this column by economist Thomas Sowell and headlined it, "What he said":

"How often have we heard that illegal immigrants 'take jobs that Americans will not do'? What is missing in this argument is what is crucial in any economic argument: price.

"Americans will not take many jobs at their current pay levels--and those pay levels will not rise so long as poverty-stricken immigrants are willing to take those jobs.

"If Mexican journalists were flooding into the United States and taking jobs as reporters and editors at half the pay being earned by American reporters and editors, maybe people in the media would understand why the argument about 'taking jobs that Americans don't want' is such nonsense."

Do read the whole thing. Sowell has a talent for making you feel both smarter and dumber for having read him. A not unpleasant sensation.

Free (Sort of)

Christian convert Abdul Rahman was released from an Afghan prison yesterday. That's good news. And bad news, because many of his countrymen want to lynch him. So where will he go? Michelle Malkin remarks, "We, a nation whose founders embraced religious freedom as the 'first liberty,' should be first in line to offer Abdul Rahman a safe haven."

As usual, you can follow the story at CaNN.


The Arms of Shiva Are Upon You?

Oh no, another cartoon protest! It doesn't happen very often, but I'm at a loss for words. All I can do is quote Rondi Adamson, who spotted this news story before I did:

"Now, it seems some people in India are planning a protest about the appearance of a cartoon depicting George Bush as the Lord Shiva (many arms be upon him). The political party of one Raj Thackeray, nearly a month after the offending cartoon appeared in the International Herald Tribune on March 3 (they were going to protest earlier but the regional police were busy with bandobast duty and asked them to wait), are going to burn effigies of the American president.

"Yes. You read that right. They are going to BURN EFFIGIES OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT... to protest a cartoon that said American president had nothing to do with creating."

Me? I can't believe a guy named "Raj Thackeray" exists outside the covers of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Actually, the whole thing reads like satire come to life. Then again, so do plenty of news stories these days.

'Jesus Was a Refugee.'

You hear that a lot from progressive Christians who think citing the Gospel’s infancy narrative gives them a bullet-proof statement in favor of open borders.

And it’s true, to a point: The baby Jesus and his family fled into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. But while a large number of illegal Hispanic immigrants are indeed named “Jesus”, the resemblance more or less ends there.

Jesus and the Holy Family didn’t sponge welfare and medical care off the Egyptian “state” without ever having paid into the system. They didn’t commit violent crimes or take jobs away from Egyptians as far as we know. They didn’t join racist groups and demand reconquista (or -- the rough historical equivalent -- clamor for “slavery reparations” on behalf of their ancestors, who’d been worked to death in Egypt centuries earlier.) In fact, to compare Jesus’ brief, poorly documented sojourn in a pre-capitalist, pre-industrial, sparsely populated, undemocratic monarchy to the stream of criminals swarming America’s borders demonstrates a breathtaking degree of economic illiteracy and ideological blindness that only a liberal could pull off.

Los Angeles Cardinal Mahony has instructed priests in his diocese to disobey proposed laws designed to crack down on those who assist illegals. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), one of the bill’s cosponsors, insists:

“There's absolutely nothing in this bill that is going to put at risk any nun or priest or social worker or social agency. There's been language in our law for over 50 years saying it's wrong to aid and abet or encourage illegal immigrants to come into the country or stay in the country," King said. "And that's aimed solely at alien smuggling gangs. No one has ever, ever gone after any church or religious organization for that. And we've told that to the Catholic Conference.”
But why let facts ruin the cheap thrill of moral posturing? American bishops and cardinals have to do something to regain the moral high ground they deservedly lost, having reigned during the largest scandal in the history of the American Church. They let child molesters run rampant for decades, tried to cover up their crimes then bankrupted their diocese – and now the hierarchy wants to dole out advice about border security, crime and “justice”?

(Speaking of arrogance, New York Senator Hillary Clinton displayed her own brilliant biblical exegesis, stating that the law would "literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself." Her biblical justification for abortion remains a mystery.)

Civil disobedience can be justified when faced with an unjust law. But the laws intended to keep out illegal aliens are not unjust. A nation that will not and cannot control its borders, that can’t keep out thousands of criminals, gangsters, race baiters and terrorists, isn’t worthy of the name. Cardinal Mahony and the Catholic hierarchy who support him demonstrate once again that they hold the legitimate concerns of law-abiding laypeople in contempt.

Marty Says: Chill Out

No raving right-winger he, Martin E. Marty is calling for calm as all those “Theocracy USA” jeremiads roll off the presses.

Marty, a Lutheran pastor, prolific author, and former professor of religious history at the University of Chicago, is a reliably mainstream (some might say “liberal”) churchman of great repute.

In his latest posting at Sightings, Marty looks at Rabbi James Rudin’s new book, “Baptizing America,” and Kevin Philip’s new book, “American Theocracy,” and comments:
“I tend, or try, to dampen hyperbole on subjects of this sort. In the sixties and seventies, when it was the fashion among radicals to call America ‘Amerika,’ implying that European-style fascism was developing, my kind and I stepped back, contending that one can make a case about repression and its styles without invoking the extreme, even an often demonic aura of ‘the other.’ The same goes for ‘theocracy.’ Why give people a name they might savor and favor, or apply the term to near-miss phenomena?”
He offers wise counsel for folks on all sides:

“1) Don't assign to people a label and a position they don't exactly hold;

“2) Don't lump all people called ‘conservative’ or ‘born again’ into the mix of the theocracy-minded;

“3) Don't label anyone ‘theocrat’ who does not bear most of the marks of the theocrat;

“4) Thus remember that, for people of faith on left or right, to try to influence foreign or domestic policy is not by itself a mark of theocracy—not by any means...”

There’s more. His message? Be concerned, but don’t be a crank.

Alas, Marty’s reasonableness probably isn’t sexy enough to get him a guest spot on Jon Stewart or Al Franken, where his message would do the most good.
The End of the Beginning?

Tentative rejoicing is permitted over the news that charges have been dropped against Abdul Rahman, who faced the death penalty in Afghanistan for the “crime” of converting from Islam to Christianity. As I write this, Rahman remains in jail and his future is far from secure; many of his countrymen have expressed their desire to kill him upon his release.

And Rahman’s case is just the most notorious of many. As Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali reminds us:

“Charges of blasphemy against the Prophet are still being brought against Christians and others in Pakistan. There is acute danger for those who have become Christians in Iran (strangely not recognized by the Home Office) and three Indonesian Catholics are awaiting execution because they tried to prevent an extremist mob from attacking and destroying a Christian community. No extremist Muslim, however, has ever been charged with rioting or with the loss of life and property of the Christian community in that country.”
Mark Steyn is pessimistic:
"Abdul Rahman embodies the question at the heart of this struggle. If Islam is a religion one can only convert to, not from, then in the long run it is a threat to every free person on the planet. (...)

"In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of 'suttee'--the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands.

"Gen. Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural: 'You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.'"
In the wake of the “cartoon riots” and the Rahman incident, many Muslims are feeling particularly picked on right now, notes Eugene Volokh, but then again:

"Trying to prevent people from being killed for their religious beliefs is not an 'assault against Islam.' It's defense against Islam, or to be precise against a certain strand of Islam that regrettably cannot be dismissed as just some unimportant lunatic fringe." He submits that, “It’s not Islamophobia when there really is something to fear.”

To learn more about the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands, tune in to a new podcast interview with a director of the Barnabas Fund, a charity working on their behalf.

And for regular updates on Rahman’s plight, visit the Anglican Web Elves


Next Time, Save Your Ammo
The three remaining Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) hostages being held by terrorists in Iraq were released yesterday. Did I say "released"? I meant "rescued," of course. Not by legions of elves atop magical flying unicorns, soaring across a rainbow sky, but by U.S., Canadian, and British special forces.

But you'd never know that, reading the official CPT statement. It contained a shout-out to "our Muslim brothers and sisters," and laudable words of forgiveness for the kidnappers. Naturally, the CPT couldn't resist adding that "the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping..."

Uh-huh. The "illegal occupation" is neither "illegal" nor an "occupation". And it’s just standard leftist boilerplate to blame exactly the wrong people for your own misery. (Thinking otherwise means facing too many hard questions, like: We've said repeatedly that we didn't want to be rescued by force--as principled pacifists, shouldn't we have refused to be liberated by warriors from the "illegal occupation"?)

But what sparked a blogospheric firestorm was what the CPT omitted from their press release: any word of gratitude to the soldiers who risked their lives to free the Peacemakers. The omission revealed the CPT's smug ideological blindness, not to mention their utter lack of basic human courtesy.

Catholic journalist Deborah Gyapong asked, "Why can't [the CPT] love Americans and British special forces with the same fervor--if they are the enemy, too? They don't even get a mention, as if they are so evil as to not exist in their eyes."

Peter Rempel wondered: "Would the people from CPT have accepted the use of violence by soldiers to rescue Sooden and Loney if they knew that the alternative was the slow dismemberment of both of them? It's easy to be principled when you're sitting in a developed democracy running your mouth rather than in Iraq staring at a dull blade."

Personally, I think the special forces should send the hostages a bill for their rescue.

Well, after about 18 hours of public outrage, the CPT finally amended their official statement

"We have been so overwhelmed and overjoyed to have Jim, Harmeet, and Norman freed, that we have not adequately thanked the people involved with freeing them, nor remembered those still in captivity. (...) We are grateful to the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman, and Harmeet. As peacemakers who hold firm to our commitment to nonviolence, we are also deeply grateful that they fired no shots to free our colleagues."

Guess that'll have to do. But again, it's revealing of the leftist mind set: when they aren't loudly denouncing the military, the left likes to pretend the military doesn't exist at all! They forget the wise words of their comrade George Orwell: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

This Is What a Real Martyr Looks Like
Lest we forget: Abdul Rahman is still facing execution in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity, a major no-no according to sharia law.

Don't be fooled by their name: The Anglican Web Elves have turned their site into "Free Abdul Rahman" central. They've got contact information for Afghanistan’s embassies around the globe (hint hint), and a frequently updated aggregate of news on the story--not all of it bad, surprisingly.

For instance: the Afgan Christian Fellowship quotes a producer with Afghan Christian Radio saying he's "received many e-mails from Afghans around the world and Afghanistan who are asking, how can I obtain a Bible? How can I become Christian? Why Afghan [sic] are leaving their religion? What is wrong with changing your religion? etc. etc." Wow.

Not surprisingly, a few Christian conservatives are questioning the wisdom of "bringing freedom and democracy" to people who aren't quite clear on the concepts. These debates are vital, but "job one" should be another Special Forces raid, this time to free Abdul Rahman.

And you know what? I have a feeling that he'd at least remember to say "thank you."
Countdown to 'Theocracy'
No sooner had I posted yesterday about the current wave of liberal “theocracy paranoia” than I got an email from Henry Holt Publishers:
“In the age of White House and Justice Department prayer circles, it might seem like fundamentalist Christians already have a set of keys to the Oval Office. But in his satirical new novel, "The Messiah of Morris Avenue," humorist Tony Hendra imagines what the U.S. will look like in twenty years when the religious right really does run the country.”

Tony Hendra’s previous book was the bestselling spiritual memoir "Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul," about Hendra’s picaresque path from teenage sinner to would-be monk to successful (if coke-addled) satirist (a former editor of The National Lampoon, Hendra is best known as the hapless band manager in the movie "This is Spinal Tap"). Through it all, kindly, non-judgmental Father Joe was there to gently (some might say too gently) guide Hendra back to a faith of sorts.

Not everyone fell in love with "Father Joe."

Mark Gauvreau Judge took exception to “Fr. Joe’s Club Med catechism,” particularly the priest’s assurance that “sex is a sin less often than we’re led to believe.” A pretty handy “spiritual director” for a cynical, hard-drinking liberal Baby Boomer like Hendra to happen upon, no?

So now Hendra’s back with a comic novel. “As a prequel to 'The Messiah of Morris Avenue,' the press release informed me, “Tony Hendra has recorded some ‘End-Time’ Godcasts which recap the world events that transpire between now and the events depicted in the book. In this fictional version of our future, Ann Coulter dies and is resurrected, a movement to return the Statue of Liberty to the French begins, and the last liberal judge on the Supreme Court eats a poisonous mushroom.”

Gee, you usually have to flip through a 13-year-old boy’s social studies binder to encounter that kind of iconoclastic, bleeding-edge originality. I hereby predict "The Messiah of Morris Avenue" will be crowding the remainder bins before you can say “I locate mandolin strings in the middle of Austin!” And that the republic will somehow stave off “theocracy” with or without Hendra’s assistance.

Maybe It Sounds Better in Mayan
The Libertas blog spotlights a new Time magazine profile of Mel Gibson and his upcoming historical epic, "Apocalypto." The magazine quotes Gibson as saying, “The fearmongering we depict in this film reminds me a little of President Bush and his guys.”

“Here’s the problem,” Libertas writes. “A great many of President Bush’s supporters in "The Passion"’s audience just made Mr. Gibson a very rich man, essentially purchasing the creative freedom he now enjoys to make "Apocalypto," and is it asking too much that he not now gratuitously insult their sensibilities? Gibson did not mind appearing on Rush’s show and Hannity’s show and O’Reilly’s show, etc., in order to promote his product at the time. He cried ‘persecution’ at the hands of the Hollywood system and then threw himself on conservative audiences to bail himself out. Are we to assume now those audiences are no longer ‘useful’ to him?”

Well, I was taken aback by that “fearmongering” statement, too. But come on: Gibson is an artist, and artists are mercurial, testy, self-centered little fellows. As far as Gibson is concerned, his first loyalty is to his creation, not the critics, not his adoring fans, and certainly not to some notion of ideological consistency. “Gratuitously insulting sensibilities” is what artists do.

If anything, conservative Christians who virtually canonized Gibson and now feel betrayed by his glib remarks should welcome this reminder against putting our faith in any mere mortal.

Calling All Handmaids!

American liberals have been predicting the rise of "Theocracy USA" for more than 25 years, since Ronald Reagan won the White House with considerable help from the "Religious Right". (Odd how an honest-to-God "born again Christian" Democrat's occupation of the Oval Office during the previous four years didn't inspire similar concerns...)

It's 2006, and still no sign of concentration camps for homosexuals (you'll find those in Cuba, actually). Yet nothing can dampen the Left's feverish "Handmaid's Tale" delusions of persecution.

In January, TheRevealer, which purports to be an authoritative clearinghouse on matters religious, actually speculated, in an article I initially mistook as satirical, that "Christian fundamentalists" had just won the recent Canadian election. This was based on the fact that the new prime minister, Stephen Harper, ends every speech with the phrase (are you sitting down?)"God bless Canada." To Christian conservatives who actually "live" up here in Trudeaupia--the land of gay marriage, unlimited abortion, free needle exchanges--such deeply misinformed "analysis" provides a short, rueful laugh as we endure another day in our banana republic with snow.

Now, the U.S.-based Revealer might at least plead ignorance of "the facts on the tundra." American liberal "intellectuals" have no such excuse when indulging in paranoid fantasies about their very own nation.

Joseph Bottum writes at the First Things blog about Kevin Philips' hot new book, "American Theocracy," in which:

First, American religion is reduced to the Southern Baptist Convention, which was 'once a scorned seceding minority of the American Baptist Church but [is] now so large that it dominates not just Baptism itself but American Protestantism generally.' (That’s somewhat overstated, but even so, mightn’t the collapse of the mainline have something to do with this?)

"Then the Baptists are segued into Christian Reconstructionists, 'who believe in a 'Taliban-like' reversal of women’s rights, who describe the separation of church and state as a 'myth' and who call openly for a theocratic government shaped by Christian doctrine. And once we’ve got every religious believer in America linked to the theonomists’Reconstructionism, the argument is set to roll along all by itself."
Blogger Mark Shea detects the hand of Old Screwtape in all this misdirected hand-wringing:

The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.

It's awfully sad to watch otherwise intelligent people caught up in such misguided, not to say self-absorbed, terror: the fear that somehow, someday, in ways never clearly articulated, the paranoid individual's sacred right nay, their very duty to abort fetuses, smoke pot, watch porn, get sex change operations, and marry their hamster might just might be challenged, never mind abolished, by somebody, somewhere.

Theocracies do exist, of course. Attempting to escape an imaginary one, an American author stumbled upon something like the real thing. Gay journalist Bruce Bawer was so horrified by the "Religious Right" that he fled New Amsterdam (Manhattan) for the European original. Yet the enlightened, tolerant, multicultural liberal paradise of Bawer's imagination turned out to be a seething hotbed of Muslim fundamentalism. In various European nations, he and his boyfriend were gay-bashed, politicians were murdered, terrorists were cheered and women were regularly "honor killed" in broad daylight--and, incredibly, not one of the perps was a "right-wing" Christian or white supremicist skinhead. Funny, that.

Bawer's flawed, infuriating, but invaluable book about his experiences, "While Europe Slept," will receive far less attention than "American Theocracy." The chattering classes don't wish to have their strangely comforting dreams of impending doom disturbed by anything as tedious as the truth.

Vatican Revisits 'Barbaric' Crusades
Best news I've heard all day: "The Vatican has begun moves to rehabilitate the Crusaders by sponsoring a conference at the weekend that portrays the Crusades as wars fought with the 'noble aim' of regaining the Holy Land for Christianity.

"The Crusades are seen by many Muslims as acts of violence that have underpinned Western aggression toward the Arab world ever since. Followers of Osama bin Laden claim to be taking part in a latter-day 'jihad against the Jews and Crusaders.'

"The late Pope John Paul II sought to achieve Muslim-Christian reconciliation by asking 'pardon' for the Crusades during the 2000 Millennium celebrations. But John Paul's apologies for the past 'errors of the Church'--including the Inquisition and anti-Semitism--irritated some Vatican conservatives. According to Vatican insiders, the dissenters included Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI..."

This is a VERY big deal. It signals a welcome move away from the previous Pope's (extremely well intentioned but easily misinterpreted) Koran kissing, toward a stance that truthfully acknowledges the harsh reality of times past, and our own times, too.

I've hoped that Pope Benedict XVI would be to Islamofascism what his sainted predecessor was to Communism. While it certainly isn't the Holy Father's job live up to my feeble expectations--well, like I say, this announcement is very good news.

Your Parish Might Be Really Liberal if...
  • "The processional crucifix is a 'Risen Christ' (the one looks like anaction figure jumping off the cross"
  • "The church building looks like an insurance company office..."
  • "The Stations of the Cross are 'contemporary' versions: photographs of police beating back demonstrators in Latin America and Vietnam war protesters replace scenes of Christ and His cross."

OK, UCC, I'll bite. How's about:

  • Homilies repeatedly stress that "Mary was an unwed mother" and "Jesus was a refugee"
  • The priest's favorite expression is "...in a very special way"
  • Two words: altar girls

Come on: share your own in the comments!

Oriana Fallaci: Wounded Warrior Woman

David Warren writes about The Force of Reason, Fallaci's latest incendiary bestseller about the slow motion suicide of the West:

She calls herself today 'a Christian atheist.' She has even had an audience with the new Pope. 

When her previous book, The Rage and the Pride, appeared in the year after the terror strikes of Sept. 11, 2001 (she watched the WTC buildings collapse from the window of her flat in Manhattan)--my response was, 'She is saying things that are true, but in a way that is over-the-top.' Since then, my own views have developed, and I now think shouting from the rooftops is indicated.

Warren continues:

She has been dying of cancer all these years, has been ridiculously frail, but anger over the betrayal of her heritage seems to sustain her. She is one of those with a sibylline gift, who embodies a prophetic force in human nature. (...) She is trying to focus our attention on aspects of hard factual history that explain the predicament into which we have slid: the whole sorry history of Europe's surrender to radical Islam, which began in earnest over the oil scare of 1973. She tells a true story that would not require the rage, were it not bound up in so many signal acts of betrayal, of the West and of its values, by our decadent, spineless, and venal ruling classes.

I didn't "enjoy" reading The Rage and the Pride, but I couldn't put it down, either. Inspiring and infuriating, Fallaci's post-9/11 howl of anger is a one-of-a-kind historical document. In due time, I'll brace myself and tackle The Force of Reason. Fallaci is a sort of Solzhenitsyn of our times. We dismiss her at our own risk.

Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism, and Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything
"Neo con" is one of the nicer names I've been called, but don't think I was cheering unreservedly when coalition forces entered Iraq three years ago this week. I'm a Catholic first. My head and gut sided with President Bush, but my heart pondered the invasion's conformity to the Church's ancient "just-war" tradition.

A heated theological debate during the lead-up to war revealed some surprising rifts and strange alliances. Case in point: It pitted Pope John Paul II's official biographer, George Weigel, against his own beloved subject. Weigel wrote and spoke prolifically in support of invasion:

"Classic just-war tradition identified three kinds of 'just cause:' defense against an aggression under way, recovery of something wrongfully taken, or punishment for evil. (...) When a vicious regime that has used chemical weapons against its own people and against a neighboring country, a regime that has no concept of the rule of law and that flagrantly violates its international obligations, works feverishly to obtain and deploy further weapons of mass destruction, a compelling moral case can be made that this is a matter of an 'aggression under way.'"

Weigel's entreaties, and those of American Catholic thinkers like Michael Novak and Father Richard J. Neuhaus, didn't alter the Pope's anti-war stance. No surprise--the earthly point man for the Prince of Peace can't realistically be expected to endorse any war.

 What did surprise, and disappoint, was the weird rhetoric that colored so many anti-war declarations out of Rome.

The Holy Father talked about fighting the "root causes of terrorism"--which he equated with poverty, injustice, and oppression and not, say, deep Saudi pockets or bellicose Koranic injunctions, misinterpreted or otherwise. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks were more troubling. "The United Nations," he said, "should make the final decision"--but why should that morally bankrupt debating society for dictators, swindlers, abortion advocates, and downright incompetents have the last word?

"The experience of the last quarter century seems to have been forgotten by some," noted Father Neuhaus. "When, for instance, the Pope was playing a crucial role in bringing about the end of the evil empire of the Soviet Union, the U.N. was more than simply useless. Why now is it the bearer of moral authority in international matters?"

So: Tradition-loving American laymen based their pro-war arguments on the finer points of theology, but the Vatican responded in strangely modern, secular terms. Perhaps Rome figured that Americans, livid about the unraveling clergy abuse scandal, wouldn't much care for a catechism lesson from the institution they held responsible for widespread child molestation. Whatever the reason, the Church's anti-war statements often read as if cut and pasted from a Yankee-bashing European newspaper.

And surprise: liberal anti-war Catholics suddenly discovered new respect for that evil "patriarchal hierarchy" in Rome. The Pope was now praised as a prophet by the same folks who routinely mocked his "backward" teachings on human sexuality.

A less than edifying spectacle all around.

Safe at my computer, three years on, it would be arrogant and presumptuous of me to declare this war "worth it" and the Vatican's unshakable anti-invasion stance entirely misinformed. We Catholics are encouraged to "think in centuries." I humbly submit that that's precisely what I was doing when I supported, with reservations, Operation Iraqi Freedom. I deeply regret the loss of life, whether we're talking about coalition soldiers, kidnapped contractors, or Iraqi civilians.

Yet recently released recordings made by Saddam Hussein appear to indicate that, as the Bush administration insisted all along, Saddam did indeed possess WMDs. In fact, he was hoping to use them against the U.S., with help from Al Qaeda.

And if one's cause can be judged by one's opponents--well, I'm quite comfortable being on the opposite side of George Clooney, Michael Moore, and Cindy Sheehan, not to mention the unreconstructed Stalinists at ANSWER and the retrograde racists of Stormfront.

It is also safe to say that the Vatican's attempt to win the hearts and minds of loyal, patriotic, traditional U.S. Catholics--Rome's desperately needed champions in America--by invoking the U.N. and other Eurotrash talismans, revealed a shocking shortage of wisdom in the very heart of the Church.


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