RIP Matt Maupin

Ohio Soldier's Remains Found in Iraq

In a war filled with sad stories, this one is especially wrenching. Losing a spouse, a parent, or a child is never easy. Until now Matt Maupin's family has been in a special kind of hell, without even the small comfort of knowing whether he was dead or alive. For four years they knew only that he was in the hands of a cruel and ruthless enemy.

It is worth noting that this young man was a reservist - a citizen soldier who worked at Sam's Club until his nation needed him elsewhere. Whether the U.S. has any business fighting in Iraq is beside the point. Matt Maupin answered the call that many refuse to hear.

We will probably never know exactly how Matt died. Yet we know he died as an American soldier. Having lived through war, now he is at peace.

Terri's Day

Today is the third anniversary of the death of Terri Schindler Schiavo. Her family is calling it "Terri's Day" and asking people to remember what happened to her, and to help keep other defenseless people from facing the same fate.

Terri's death was, in my view, nothing less than premeditated, state-sanctioned murder. This was (and still is) a minority view among Americans, including American Christians. Their moral senses dulled by decades of culture rot, tepid preaching, and the unending demand for "tolerance," most people simply decided it was none of their business.

Guess what, folks: there's a good chance this sort of thing will be your business someday. Put these two facts together: 1) we have a health-care funding crisis that begs for a solution, and 2) we've established that it is OK to ease the burden of sick people by slowly and painfully starving them to death.

The answer is obvious, yes? So far, no politicians are saying it out loud. They will.

Join Terri's fight.

The Useful Dead VIII

We pro-lifers spend a lot of time talking about when life begins. Another important question is when life ends. Zach Dunlap almost found out the hard way.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Four months after he was declared brain dead and doctors were about to remove his organs for transplant, Zach Dunlap says he feels "pretty good."

Dunlap was pronounced dead Nov. 19 at United Regional Healthcare System in Wichita Falls, Texas, after he was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident. His family approved having his organs harvested.

As family members were paying their last respects, he moved his foot and hand. He reacted to a pocketknife scraped across his foot and to pressure applied under a fingernail. After 48 days in the hospital, he was allowed to return home, where he continues to work on his recovery...

Dunlap, 21, of Frederick, said he has no recollection of the crash.

"I remember a little bit that was about an hour before the accident happened. But then about six hours before that, I remember," he said.

Dunlap said one thing he does remember is hearing the doctors pronounce him dead.

"I'm glad I couldn't get up and do what I wanted to do," he said.

His father, Doug, said he saw the results of the brain scan.

"There was no activity at all, no blood flow at all."

I have a vague memory that there was once a Twilight Zone episode along these lines; I think they found out the man was alive by seeing a tear roll down his cheek. This case, however, is real. Zach actually heard himself pronounced dead. It's a chilling thought.

I must say I'm confused about this concept of "brain death." If the test shows no blood flow to the brain, it seems to me either the test must be wrong or the human brain is capable of things we don't understand - like surviving without a blood supply. Obviously Zach wasn't dead, but he was about to have his organs harvested anyway.

The AP story fails to point out that the person who scraped the knife on Zach's foot was not part of the medical team. It was a cousin who had a feeling that Zach wasn't gone just yet. The other doctors and nurses who were supposed to know what was happening clearly did not. The big question is whether this was simple mistake, or a more sinister attempt to acquire Zach's organs for other patients. I have nothing against organ transplants. In fact, I know someone who desperately needs one right now. I'm pretty sure my friend would not want someone else to die needlessly in the process.

So, when does life end? How do we know? And how can we acquire organs for people who need them without taking life away from people, like Zach, who might be able to recover? All good questions, and I don't have answers. Here's one more question: how many other people have heard themselves pronounced brain dead, and gone on to actually feel their organs being cut out? There's a Twilight Zone story to think about.

A Revival For Islam

The story I mentioned a couple of days ago about the Pope baptizing Magdi Allam, a Muslim convert, is getting a lot of play. Someone, and I can't remember who right now, cautioned against taking a triumphant tone. I think this is good advice. Yet I think we may look back on this someday as a very significant event.

One article you must read comes from the mysterious Spengler (via Rod Dreher). Spengler thinks the door is opening for widespread conversion of Muslims to Christianity, and this may change the entire equation of Islamic-Western relations.

Muslims suffer from a stultifying spiritual emptiness... Muslim traditional society cannot withstand the depredations of globalized culture, and radical Islam arises from a despairing nostalgia for the disappearing past. Why would Muslims trade the spiritual vacuum of Islam for the spiritual sewer of Dutch hedonism? The souls of Muslims are in agony. The blandishments of the decadent West offer them nothing but shame and deracination. Magdi Allam agrees with his former co-religionists in repudiating the degraded culture of the modern West, and offers them something quite different: a religion founded upon love.

Over a year ago, I mentioned stories about a quickening of conversions in Islamic countries. Chuck Colson (via Leticia) confirms it is still happening. Some Muslims and Christians are finding common ground in resisting the Culture of Death. I'm still cautious, but a lot seems to be happening under the radar.

Think about this: the combined efforts of Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher brought down the Soviet Union in only a few years. Can the same happen with radical Islam? It's a different kind of war now, obviously. We are in a struggle for the hearts and souls of men. Spengler argues that if Benedict can create an environment in Europe that allows Muslims to convert without risking their lives, the dam could break.
Today's Europeans stem from the melting-pot of the barbarian invasions that replaced the vanishing population of the Roman Empire. The genius of the Catholic Church was to absorb them. If Benedict XVI can convert this new wave of invaders from North Africa and the Middle East, history will place him on a par with his great namesake, the founder of the monastic order the bears his name.

This is bold talk, but stranger things have happened. In the 1980s I was a young Army officer, and I can assure you that none of us expected the Soviet Union to simply crumble away. Yet a few years later it did. We also did not have to wonder whether that evil empire had weapons of mass destruction; we knew what they had, and we knew they could be launched our way any time. If a threat that great can disappear so quickly, anything is possible. We have a Pope who is ready to lead this Crusade. I won't be surprised if it costs him his life. Yet he will press on.

So what can we do to help? Pray. Hope. And if you know any Muslims, show them the love of Christ. We can win this war - one soul at a time.

Who Needs Symbols?

Steven Greydanus responds to a woman who dislikes pageantry and symbolism as practiced by the Catholic Church:

Ritual and ceremony are not contrived and unnecessary, except in the sense that all human culture and experience is contrived and unnecessary. Wedding rings, shaking hands, Christmas trees, birthday cakes, napkin on the left, pallbearers, tuck the children in at night, floral arrangements in church or at a wedding or a funeral, Easter eggs, “Hail to the Chief,” bride and groom cut the cake, stand up for the judge, mortar boards at graduation, hold the door for the lady, kiss each other hello and goodbye and good morning and good night — none of these are pragmatically necessary, and all of it is how we human beings order our lives — if not with these symbols, then with something else.

In ordinary life, what the particular symbols and gestures are often enough doesn’t matter. But to be Christian is to believe, first of all, that the Creator of the world happened to make contact with our race within the context of a specific cultural milieu, in a specific symbolic world sovereignly chosen and carefully shaped and guided for millennia by His Spirit. From circumcision to Passover, from the annual chanting of the psalms of ascents on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to the vestments of the Aaronic priesthood, the world into which Jesus was born was full of pageantry and symbolism.

And then, when our Creator favored our race by taking on our flesh and offering us so great salvation, He left us with symbols and gestures chosen by Himself and not matters of human convention. He took bread and broke it, and wine, and pronounced them to be His body and blood. He commissioned His disciples to go about immersing people in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit fell on Pentecost, He did not proceed to liberate the people from pageantry and symbolism: Three thousand people were ceremonially dunked in water on the first day alone, and they immediately proceeded to devote themselves to the business with the breaking of the bread, along with the apostles’ teaching, fellowship and the prayers (Acts 2:42), particularly on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

The Lord left His church in the care of apostles who went about laying their hands on chosen men and appointing them to continue the ministry of the church. The New Testament also mentions anointing with oil and laying on of hands for the sick. The Gospels record set words given by Jesus: This is my body; in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; Our Father who art in Heaven. Given by Jesus, not made up by us.

The book of Revelation describes pageantry and symbolism even in the worship of Heaven itself: thrones, crowns, robes, antiphonal exclamations, prostration. Why should the twenty-four elders not only fall down before the throne of God, but also throw their crowns at His feet, of all things? Does God need or require such lavish outward gestures of worship and self-abnegation? No. But we creatures of bodies and senses and imagination find in such outward acts and symbols the crown and completion of the worship in our hearts.

(Mr. Greydanus is a film critic and the proprietor of

Benedict Baptizes A Muslim

Both the news media and religious blogs are chattering today about Pope Benedict's baptizing of a prominent Italian Muslim named Magdi Allam. Reaction is all over the board. Some call it a provocative move that might derail the ongoing Catholic-Islamic dialogue. That may be, but if so it will be because the Muslim side makes that choice.

I heard some people on Fox News wondering whether the Vatican made a public relations "blunder" in having the Pope publicly baptize Allam. This is, to put it lightly, absurd. The Pope is completely aware of how Muslims react to these things and is not afraid to face it. Benedict is a shepherd, and he was doing what shepherds do: welcoming new sheep into the flock. The decision to convert was made by Mr. Allam himself. He wasn't kidnapped by Swiss Guards and forced into the baptismal font.

One point that is at least partly valid, however, is what kind of challenges this action will create for Christians who live in Muslim countries. Abu Daoud has a good response:

But will this bring persecution on the Christians in [Middle East/North Africa]? Well, the honest answer is they already have it. Living fearfully and sheepishly and hiding our lights under baskets is not the way of the Kingdom of God. Good for el papa. Let your light shine before man. Allam is a Christian now, and a son of the Catholic church. That is good news and we are to shout it from roof tops if at all possible. In Rome it is still, for now, possible. The day is coming when it may not be...

Christians in MENA will indeed live with this for years. They will live with the image of the best known Christian in the world baptizing a Muslim. It will give them hope. It will encourage other Muslims to convert. It will, in a few Muslims' minds, occasion the question, "What if I left?" Most of them have never even considered the possibility. Many of them don't even know that people DO leave Islam.

This is great news for the Catholic Church as well as the mission to Muslims. Muslims respect the Catholic Church and the pope because he is powerful. That is a language that they can understand. They know that he holds more sway around the world Christians than does any single person in Islam. They know he has a country of his own. They know his office is very ancient. These things, to the Muslim mind, and specifically to the Muslim Arab mind are often attractive. Becoming a non-denominational Christian with no clear affinity or relation to anyone else is not always appealing to a Muslim considering conversion.

So yes, will there be persecution? Of course, but at least this time it will be for a good and glorious reason: the public confession of faith of a Muslim hajji in the best-known church in the world on the holiest day of the year by that city's bishop.

I would be very interesting in knowing if the decision to have Allam baptized on worldwide TV by the Pope himself was made before or after this week's Osama bin Ladin tape. The Al Qaeda leader accused the Pope of taking part in a "crusade" against Islam. If this was the Vatican's response to Bin Ladin, then they are clearly willing to play rhetorical hardball.

In any case, it was most definitely not a P.R. blunder. Welcome to Christianity, Mr. Allam. Your example will bring much good into the world.

O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

Let all pious men and lovers of God rejoice in the splendour of this feast. Let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord. Let those who have born the burden of Lent now receive their pay. And those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward. Let anyone who came after the third hour be grateful to join the feast. And those who may have come after the sixth hour, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first.

He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled from the first. Yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first. He rewards the one and is generous to the other. He repays the deed and praises the effort.

Come you all, enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward. You rich and you poor, dance together. You sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day. You who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly laden, enjoy the royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one, let no one go away hungry.

All of you, enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of His goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal has been revealed. Let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave. Let no one fear death for the death of our Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed death by enduring it. He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom. He has angered it by allowing it to taste of His flesh.

When Isaiah foresaw this, he cried, "O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world."

Hades is angered because it is frustrated. It is angered because it has been mocked. It is angered because it was destroyed. It is angered because it has been reduced to naught. It is angered because it is now captive. It seized a Body and, lo! It discovered God!

O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished! Christ is risen and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life is freed. Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead. Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power unto ages of ages. Amen.

St. John Chrystostom (349-407)



Exultet iam angelica turba caelorum: exultent divina mysteria: et pro tanti Regis victoria tuba insonet salutaris.

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

My dearest friends,
standing with me in this holy light,
join me in asking God for mercy,
that he may give his unworthy minister
grace to sing his Easter praises.

Deacon: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Deacon: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Deacon: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

Therefore, heavenly Father,
in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

(For it is fed by the melting wax,
which the mother bee brought forth
to make this precious candle.)

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night.

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

The Day He Died For You

Some Good Friday meditations:

Via Crucis slide show from Leticia
Physicians discuss Christ's death: at Mike Aquilina and Steve Ray
Virtual Stations of the Cross from Jerusalem
Wherein Lies The Kingdom? from Against the Grain
Leo the Great's Judgment Seat of the Lord, via Darth Beckman
Ubi Caritas video via Pauli
Hatred and the Chief of Sinners from Crunchy Con
The Passion from St. John, chanted in Latin

Finally, this video will bring you to tears - but you must watch it.

So Grandma Isn't Perfect

Obama's speech about race is drawing rather vicious attacks from Ann Coulter and other conservatives. Before I go on, let me be clear: I disagree with Barack Obama on almost every political issue. I do not want him to be president. I will never vote for him unless he makes some truly dramatic philosophical changes. I think many of his followers are a little wacky.

This, however, does not mean I automatically disagree with every word Obama says simply because he is the one saying it. The truth is the truth, even when it comes from the mouth of someone who is not part of my Tribe and with whom I have many other disagreements.

Speaking of Jeremiah Wright, his stridently opinionated pastor, Obama said this:

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Coulter uses this to accuse Obama of "throwing Grandma under the bus." Does this really make sense? I think of my own late grandfather. I heard him say things about black people that I thought, even as a child, didn't sound right. I've now learned they were absolutely wrong. Yet I loved him dearly. I know he wasn't perfect, and I don't respect him any less because of it. I think I understand how he came to have such attitudes. It was hard to think otherwise during the formative years of his life. If he were alive today, I would love him even as I disagreed with him.

I suspect most people can relate to this. We all have people in our lives that are close to us, but with whom we have significant differences. We find ways to get past the differences so we can enjoy the positive aspects of these relationships. So I have no problem believing that Obama loved his grandma at the same time he cringed at her remarks - and I don't expect him to disown her.

This is not, of course, the view of most people on the political right. To them, Obama is from the other tribe. He is a threat. He is the enemy, and must therefore be destroyed, whatever it takes. As noted above, I have no political sympathy for Obama, but this Grandma angle is a tactic I choose not to use. A few others agree. Here's Mark Shea:

Sorry, but I don't see that as "throwing grandma under the bus". I see it as pretty much resonating with my own experience of living in community with people who have real faults and sins on their heads. There are members of my family who were quite as unabashed in their racism as Obama's pastor or grandmother. There are people I love and care deeply about who hold opinions I find repellent or kooky. Hell, in my parish there are people with views on everything from Jews to 9/11 conspiracy theories I think are nutty. I've never believed people are binary. I think it's quite possible for the most saintly person to have some thoroughly disgusting streak of wickedness.

Steven Taylor at Poliblog:

To me, this was an intensely honest portion of the speech and one of the best arguments for explaining how Obama could tolerate things that Wright has said. I find the assertions noted above that this was throwing grandma “under the bus” to be a combination of disingenuous and ignorant.

First, this was not sacrificing his Grandmother for some political gain. For crying out loud, in this passage, the man is proclaiming his love for his grandmother, and noting how she is part of him. That is hardly throwing her under the bus–this is biography.

Second, what he is clearly saying is that people we love sometimes say things that we disagree with–even sometimes saying things that we find repugnant–and yet we still love them. What is so hard to understand about that? Now, I will grant that part of the reason I find this to be an honest and easily understandable portion of the speech is that I directly identified with it, as I have had older members of my family say things about race that have made me utterly cringe. Yet, oddly enough, I continued to love them. My guess is that most people have had this experience. As such, there is not bus-throwing here, but rather a simple reflection of a common occurrence in most of our lives.

The conservatives who attack Obama for these things are not helping their cause. They are, instead, allowing ideology to overcome common decency. I prefer the approach of Peggy Noonan, who reviewed Obama's speech and found it "strong, thoughtful and important."

Today is Good Friday, when we recall the suffering and death of One who loved us all, despite our many faults. It's a good time to remember the example Christ gave us. We can disagree with ideas without hating the one who holds them. Personally I have great difficulty with this, but I'm working on it.

Truly Awful Video

Forget Obama's Preacher. Hillary Clinton must immediately denounce this man and his sick, evil campaign methods. Four more years of this will destroy America.

You may want to have a barf bag ready before watching the video.

Hat tip: Mark Shea

Wisdom of the Saints XXVIII

The Breastplate of Saint Patrick

I bind to myself today

The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort, Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

St. Patrick

Why I Love Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday may be my favorite Mass of the year, and not because of the procession or the palm branches. What I like is the Gospel reading. I do not know if this is common elsewhere, but in my parish the the Passion story is done with several people playing the different parts. A narrator reads most of it, with others voicing the words of the Disciples, Judas, Pontius Pilate, etc. The priest speaks the words of Christ - which in terms of quantity is a very small part.

The Gospel attributes some words not to any individual, but the "the crowd" that was present. So when we come to the part where the people cried out "Crucify Him!," the entire congregation speaks in unison. This is fitting, is it not? It reminds us that we are the reason He suffered and died. We demand "Give us Barabbas!" We taunt Him, saying "Hail, King of the Jews!" We say these things because people just like us said them on the terrible day so many years ago. We say these words so that we remember we are no better. It touches me in a way that listening to someone else read the same words, or reading them to myself alone, does not.

When the moment comes that Christ cries out and gives up His spirit, we pause, we kneel, and we reflect in silence for several minutes. Then we hear how the Temple veil was torn, the earth shook, the rocks were split and the tombs were opened. We think about how the world changed at that moment. For me, at least, it is a very moving part of the liturgy.

This is, incidentally, something that could also be done very effectively in Protestant and Evangelical services. I can think of no better way to get every individual in the congregation involved in the story. All you have to do is hand out a script to everyone (here is an example), assign parts to some of your leaders, and read it during the service. Families could also do it at home, with children assigned different parts. Since this reading doesn't include the Resurrection, it is best done during the season but before Easter Sunday.

Obama's Preacher

This week Barack Obama denounced a number of "inflammatory" statements made by his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I think it is a bit surprising that so many people are so upset by brief snippets of very long sermons. It would be nice to see them in full context before jumping to conclusions.

However, I will concede that Rev. Wright appears to have some far-left political views. Why, exactly, does this surprise anyone? Pulpits across America are regularly occupied by liberals of every color. It is more common in some denominations than others, but the things Rev. Wright said are not that unusual in certain quarters. He is just more forceful and colorful than most in expressing what he thinks.

It is also not news that Rev. Wright and Sen. Obama are close associates. Anyone who was paying attention to the presidential campaign knew all about Rev. Wright and his rhetoric over a year ago. Why is it suddenly a big deal? Perhaps because the media wishes it to be so?

I'm also not sure which of the things he says are so wrong. Rev. Wright thinks that black people still lack equality in America. He mentions the KKK and wants black Americans to embrace their African heritage. From this some people conclude he must be a kind of reverse racist. Yet this doesn't fit with the many self-help initiative his church has sponsored. Wright often, according to reports, exalts his black congregation to stand on its own feet and stop waiting for handouts. These are all good things. Furthermore, Wright's church is part of the largely white United Church of Christ denomination. None of this is consistent with the racist attitudes some think they see in him.

We also saw clips this week of Rev. Wright talking about U.S. military actions he thought to be atrocious, like the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whether you agree with him or not, this is not exactly a fringe view. There are plenty of people from all backgrounds who think Truman should not have used nuclear weapons. Among these are many preachers, teachers, professors, popes, politicians, diplomats and war heroes.

The one thing that probably resonates the most is the clip of Wright saying "G-- D--- America." This is from a sermon he preached right after 9-11, the theme of which seems to have been that we in America brought the attacks on ourselves. Again, this is not an unusual view. Last year on the sixth anniversary of 9-11 I posted this speech and video by Rev. John Corapi suggesting much the same thing, albeit for different reasons. Many, many pastors made similar comments about God using the terrorists to send a message to America. Wright's crime seems to be that he said it a little louder.

If you're wondering whether I have gone off the deep end here, calm down. I will never vote for Obama as long as he favors legal abortion and infanticide. There are plenty of reasons to hope he never becomes president. What I'm saying is that the fact he has a fiery, opinionated pastor is not one of those reasons. I feel sure that every politician in both parties has some close associates who have said outrageous things. What counts is what the person who wants our vote thinks, and what he intends to do if elected.

Frankly, I'm glad that Obama at least has a pastor and professes some semblance of Christian belief. It gives us hope that he will someday see the error of his ways. A crazy pastor is better than no pastor at all.

Torture Double Standard

WASHINGTON - The United States branded China an authoritarian human rights abuser Tuesday, citing alleged torture, state control of basic aspects of daily life, tight controls on religion and harassment of foreign charities.

The report detailed the lengths some Chinese officials have taken to enforce their country's well-known "one child" policy, and gave a chilling account of alleged torture in China, including the use of electric shocks, beatings, shackles, and other forms of abuse. It includes an account of a prisoner strapped to a "tiger bench," a device that forces the legs to bend sometimes until they break. [more]

This is rich. It was only a few days ago that the President of the United States exercised his veto power to make sure that agencies of the U.S. government are able to use "beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain" on, well, anyone they wish. (It is not clear whether we have a tiger bench. If we don't, I'll bet Dick Cheney has it on his Christmas list.) But we don't torture people, they say. Please.

Of course, I am quite sure that whatever the U.S. does is a pale comparison to the Chinese torture machine, both in quality and quantity. The rest of the world will not make that distinction, however. Thanks to the evil acts of the Bush Administration, the U.S. now has no more credibility about these torture and prisoner abuse than Eliot Spitzer does about chastity. This is a legacy that will be with us long after Bush retires to Crawford.

Those Who Cast Stones

Today's news that New York Governor (and sometime moral crusader) Eliot Spitzer was apparently a patron of a high-class prostitution ring is getting lots of play. Initial reports said he planned to resign. He may yet do so, but my guess is that unless criminal charges follow Spitzer will survive to launch more crusades.

Why do I say this? Simple. We already established the precedent back in 1998 that it is perfectly fine for high government officials to carry on perverse sexual affairs, lie under oath in official proceedings, lie to the press and the public, intimidate witnesses, and attack anyone who tries to stop them. If the charges against Spitzer are true, then the only difference between him and Bill Clinton is that some money changed hands.

The public doesn't care because it has been conditioned that all manner of personal conduct must be "tolerated" if not actively encouraged and even celebrated. Those few of us who disagree with this are, in the popular view, nothing but cranky religious fanatics.

At the personal level it is a great tragedy, of course. Mr. Spitzer's wife and children have been betrayed and will suffer greatly. They need our support and prayers. So does the governor himself. We all have our weaknesses and failures. Hopefully he will learn from this experience and find forgiveness and redemption.

That having been said, it would certainly be nice to see Spitzer's downfall as a public official. He's been promoting some truly odious policies and the common good will be well served if he takes the opportunity to retire.

A Strategy for Change

The mysterious blogger known only as The Catholic Knight is on a crusade to coax Catholics and other Christians away from the Republican Party. He's been heading that direction for some time, I think, but seemed to turn some kind of corner when it became clear the GOP will nominate McCain this year. In any case, I like the way he's going. Here are some highlights:

The Religious Right is Dead

Pro-Life Third Party
A Proposed Platform for a Christian Democratic Union USA
Crusade for Life in the Democratic Party
America Needs A Three Party System

Here's the heart of the problem: we Christians allowed ourselves to become adjectives instead of nouns. This is why, as the first link above explains, the "Religious Right" as a movement is dead. Well-meaning people who joined the conservative political movement were co-opted into placing the movement ahead of their faith. Too many conservative Christians became Christian conservatives. See the difference?

Now when it comes to the political issue of prime concern to Christians, abortion, the "conservative" political movement is our ally. Unfortunately, that movement also has other priorities that are not necessarily consistent with Christian belief. We (and I have to include myself here) let ourselves be drawn into defending various and sundry other causes because we thought it was necessary to achieve our objectives about abortion and related issues.

In hindsight, it should have been clear where this would lead. Power always corrupts. Always. Many of the Christians who entered politics in the 1980s and 1990s became politicians who happened to be Christian, or at least called themselves such. Quite a few have turned out to be wolves in sheep's clothing.

The way to change this is to stop letting others define our priorities. If we truly live the teachings of Christ, we won't fall into anyone's political box. CK is promoting a third-party strategy, maybe using the Constitution Party as a stepping stone to greater things. There are, unfortunately, plenty of structural barriers in our system that usually restrict third parties to only a spoiler role. This may be all we need, however.

Having said all that, I fear that none of it will work until we do some housecleaning of our own. As I noted recently, our churches have failed to teach and inspire members for many years now. As a result it's not clear to me that a strategy like CK promotes will be able to attract enough support even to be an effective spoiler. Far too many Christians just don't care. Changing this state of affairs will take time - probably decades.

In the meantime, I've said I think Barack Obama will be our next president. Despite his setback last week, I still think it is his to lose at this point. Does it really matter? No. Whether McCain, Clinton or Obama move into the White House next year, bad things are going to happen. Will it mean that God has abandoned us? No - it will mean we abandoned Him.

As happened many times in the Old Testament, God will give his people what they ask for. Like the children of Israel, we won't like it.

The U.S. Tortures People

From today's Washington Post:

President Bush said Saturday that he has vetoed legislation meant to ban the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics because it "would take away one of the most valuable tools on the war on terror."

In his weekly radio address, Bush said, "This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe." [more]

The bill Bush vetoed would have required the CIA and other intelligence agencies to follow the same standard that applies in the military. For the record, here are the practices that Bush thinks are so indispensable:

• Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner.
• Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes.
• Applying beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain.
• “Waterboarding.”
• Using military working dogs.
• Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
• Conducting mock executions.
• Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care.

Here's my question: if doing these things is the only way America can be kept safe, do we really deserve to be safe? Exactly what is it, pray tell, that distinguishes us from the terrorists we are fighting? Why is it that they are considered barbaric and we are not?

Bush has, on many occasions, looked into a camera and told the public "The United States does not torture." Why, then, does he use the veto to preserve for the CIA the right to perform acts that any sensible person can see are torture? The answer is that he is lying. Note what Bush said today: he is preserving techniques that "have a proven track record." That means we have already done these things. He's not just saving up for a rainy day.

Listen closely, Republicans. George W. Bush is a liar. When he says the U.S. does not torture, Bush is lying just as surely as Bill Clinton was lying when he said he had no sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. To hide his lies, Clinton parsed the definition of "is." To justify his lies, Bush parses the definition of "torture." Where is the difference? Republicans who were up in arms about Clinton's lies give their own guy a pass.

Bush's lies are, in fact, far worse than Clinton's lies, which concerned only his personal acts. Acting in your name and by the authority you gave him, President Bush just made evil into official American policy and then lied about it. Congratulations. I hope you're proud of him.

I'll make a prediction here and now: this evil will not keep us safe. Instead it will do the exact opposite. Bush is putting the American people in more danger than ever. In this life or the next, he will pay a price for endorsing this evil. So will we all.

One more point: the fact that John McCain says he opposes torture is one of the few things that I find attractive about his candidacy. Yet McCain inexplicably sided with Bush when this bill came before the Senate last month. This tells us something important. Remember it in November.

Pro-Life Logic

Recently I listened to a speech by Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft called Pro-Life Logic. Dr. Kreeft has a way of distilling complicated, abstract concepts into simple terms almost anyone can understand. In this speech he argued that the pro-life position against abortion is based on three fundamental premises. I will paraphrase them here:

  • The life of each individual human begins when a unique genetic code is formed at the moment of conception.
  • All humans have a right to life simply because they are human.
  • The law must protect the most basic rights of all humans, including the right to life.
If all three of these things are true, then the logical conclusion is you must be pro-life. Conversely, in order to be pro-abortion you must deny at least one of the three premises. Otherwise you are being logically inconsistent.

These points can be very useful if you are discussing abortion with someone who is not pro-life. If you can zero in on their most basic belief, you may be able to plant some doubts that they cannot escape.

Note also that these are not religious arguments. One need not believe in God in order to understand and accept them. The first point, for instance, is simply scientific fact. Prior to Roe vs. Wade, few scientists would say that an embryo was anything other than a unique human being. A very small, very young human, obviously, but human nonetheless. Any other definition of humanity is necessarily subjective and not scientifically provable.

These days most pro-abortion advocates rely on the second and third premises. They may admit that life begins at conception, but they argue that certain categories of human have no right to life. These categories are, of course, subjectively defined and subject to the whims of whoever is in charge. This is how the Nazis justified the murder of Jews, gays, and various other groups.

The last premise is also familiar: it is the Clinton/Giuliani line that goes "I'm against support abortion but I would never force my views on others." Dr. Kreeft handily swats that argument down, along with many others. You can download this speech, and many others, from his web site here.

Don't Stop Believing

Attention, People Who Seek Change: Do not be dismayed at the setback your candidate suffered on Super Tuesday II. On the third day, Obama will rise again in fulfillment of the Holy New York Times. He will ascend unto the Superdelegates. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

A Common Word

This week a meeting will take place in Rome that won't get much press coverage. It may, however, prove to be the beginning of the most critical negotiations in modern history. From the BBC:

Vatican officials and senior Muslims are due to meet in Rome, hoping to lay the groundwork for landmark Catholic-Islamic talks later this year.

Five senior figures from each religion will define the terms of a larger meeting involving Pope Benedict XVI.

Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a 2006 speech in Germany, in which the Pope quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor's criticisms of Islam.

The Regensburg speech provoked Muslim fury and triggered protests worldwide.

But it also prompted 138 Muslim scholars to launch an appeal to the Pope for greater dialogue.

Among the Muslim representatives at this week's two-day talks are a Turk, a Briton, a Jordanian, a Libyan and an Italian.

The Vatican has regular meetings with officials from Cairo's al-Azhar University, a seat of Sunni Muslim learning.

But the Pope now seems convinced of the need for a wider, if more difficult dialogue with Islam.

Reuters also has the story. Why is this so important? If our current course continues, the conflict between radical Islam and the West is going to end very, very badly. Many more will die on both sides. We cannot win this battle with military force. Our only hope is to reach some kind of arrangement that will let Christianity and Islam share the planet in peace.

Such an agreement won't come easily. Yet I think there is cause for optimism. Muslims don't hate us for our freedom; they hate what we do with our freedom. It is the radical secularism of Western society that Islam finds unacceptable. Benedict XVI finds it unacceptable, too, and has been working to change it. He may be the only person in the world who has moral authority with both Christians and Muslims. He is also someone who will not compromise the Truth.

The Muslim scholars, for their part, seem to be sincere. They call their group A Common Word, and their web site has a hopeful tone. Do they represent all Muslims? No. Even if some sort of agreement is reached - which could take years - it's far from clear they will be able to convince the Islamic world to accept it.

This week's meetings are for the purpose of agreeing upon an agenda for wider talks later this year. Boring? Yes, but the agenda is critically important. It is the first step down a very long road, and a road that will have many twists and turns. Yet it is the only road that will lead to peace - and maybe even survival. It is a road we have to take.

Texas Independence Day!

Today, Sunday, March 2nd , marks the 172nd anniversary of Texas Independence Day. While our heroic Texas patriots were holding off the Mexican army at the Alamo, the Texas Declaration of Independence was being hammered out and signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Final victory would be ours just 7 weeks later with the decisive Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.


An Invitation Home

Watching this video moved me to tears. Here is a direct link to YouTube in case you don't see it below.

It comes from a group called Catholics Come Home which seeks to bring lapsed Catholics back into the Church. The narration is as powerful as the images. This line struck me:

"For centuries we have prayed for you, and our world, every hour of every day, whenever we celebrate the Mass..."

This is no exaggeration. Every minute of the day, Mass is being offered around the globe, and in each Mass the faithful pray that all the world will be brought to Christ. It is a profound and humbling thought. Centuries ago, people were praying for me. Did they know my name? No, but the God to whom they prayed does know me, and knows you. Because God exists outside of time, in a kind of eternal Now, He knew us a thousand years ago just as well as He knows us today. He knew by name every soul for whom those prayers were offered.

By God's grace these centuries of prayer were answered, and I was brought home. Like those who prayed for me decades and centuries ago, I'm praying for you - and for those who will come after us. God loves you and calls you, but because He loves you He gives you a choice. I pray you find your way Home.

(Hat tip to The Catholic Knight for posting this video.)