Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category


November 26, 2015

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

Well, anyway, the whole mythology surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday,with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north then they had intended,at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so on December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had already unwittingly brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England.The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be anything very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The First Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

Some Thoughts on ISIS

November 22, 2015

There has been a lot written lately on what should be done with the growing threat of terrorism sponsored by the Islamic State and about Islamic radicalism generally. I don’t imagine I have anything significant to contribute to this discussion but here are some thoughts, for whatever they are worth.

One reason for the appeal of Islamic radicalism in the Middle East that doesn’t seem to get much attention is that the recent history of the Islamic world, particularly at its Arabic speaking core is largely a history of repeated failure. Generally, the Middle East has had a very difficult time adjusting to the modern world. With the exception of Israel, which doesn’t really count since it is a Western transplant, the countries of the Middle East are backwards and poor with repressive, corrupt governments. They produce almost nothing the rest of the world wants in trade, except for oil. They contribute little to the progress of science and technology. Their militaries may be well equipped with purchases from the United States and Russia, but they are ill trained and not very effective, particularly against any Western power. It must be very humiliating, since Islam promises that the Muslims are the best of men who enjoy Allah’s favor, to see the infidel West enjoying success and prosperity while they languish in poverty and powerlessness, especially for proud, young men.

This may be part of the reason there is so much hatred of Israel among the Arabs. Israel is in the same part of the world, has much the same resources and geography though without oil, and even some of the same culture among the Jews from the Middle East, yet Israel is a vibrant, prosperous country that has contributed far more to the world than one might expect from a country of its size, more than the entire rest of the Middle East combined. There might be a good deal less hatred of Israel if Israel were just another third world sewer.

It is not that the Muslims haven’t tried to modernize. For most of the twentieth century,

various Muslim countries have attempted modernize, secularize, and westernize themselves, with varying degrees of success. Kemel Ataturk in Turkey, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, the Communists in Afghanistan, and others such as Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi all tried to transform the states they ruled. Unfortunately, these Muslim leaders picked up all the worst ideas that the West had to offer,  such as socialism, communism, militant nationalism, and others, combined with traditional Middle Eastern despotism created nothing but a series of  repressive failed states. Modernization and westernization didn’t seem to work. It is not too surprising that many people began to believe that the Middle East was going in the wrong direction. . Maybe the failure of the Islamic world was due to them abandoning the ways of Islam.Maybe instead of becoming more Western, they should become more Islamic. One by one these secular dictators have fallen, to be replaced by Islamic rulers. Turkey is something of an exception since it has long had the forms of democracy if not always the realty. However Ataturk’s secular legacy has been increasingly challenged over the last decade with the rise to power of the Justice and Development Party.

It is also worth noting that all these twentieth century efforts to modernize the Middle East were largely the top down efforts of a small, educated, westernized elite and enacted by force, while the more religious and traditional majority have been indifferent or actively hostile to efforts to modernize and westernize their countries. It doesn’t seem as if the westernized elite spent much time or effort trying to educate or change the minds of the masses in the Islamic world nor to try to achieve some sort of synthesis between Islamic and Western values. They have remained nominal Muslims while trying to undermine the influence of Islam in the people’s lives. It should not be surprising that the majority of people throughout the Middle East have tended to resent these efforts as an attempt to force an alien, irreligious culture on them. To make matters worse, the secular modernization efforts don’t seem to have worked. Countries like Egypt, Iraq or Iran have not become as wealthy and powerful as Western nations despite any attempts at westernization. The Westernized elites and despots have failed them.

Considered this way, the rise of radical Islam in the Middle East is not really that different from the revolts against the elite in the West. ISIS and al-Qaeda are not that different in principle from the TEA Party in the United States or the UK INdependence Party in Britain or any of a number of other populist movements throughout the West. ISIS and the TEA Party both seek to revive a former greatness by going back to fundamentals. What makes all the difference is that Tea Partiers study the constitution and run for office. Radical Muslims study the Koran and engage in terrorism. What makes this difference? In the West, we have learned to settle our differences more or less peacefully. In the Middle East, they seem to have not.

It is often said that the Middle East is a tribal society and that is the cause of so much violence in the region. Maybe, but the West is tribal too. Look at a map of any major city in the United States and you may still find neighborhoods labeled “Chinatown”, “Little Italy” or the like, a relic of the days when immigrants came and settled among people of their own nation, or tribe. Every human society is prone to factions. Why is it that in the West the tribes have somehow managed to learn to live in peace and even to blend together while in the Middle East old hatreds continue for generations to the detriment of the common good?

Part of the appeal of Islamic radicalism, as well as the original appeal of Islam in Mohammed’s time, is that it promises to surmount these petty differences between tribes and nations carved out from colonial empires and create a united kingdom under the rule of God. No doubt many Muslims feel that the disaster began when the Islamic community began to fracture into competing sects and empires. In the twentieth century, there was a strong pan-Arab nationalist movement promising to unite the Arabic people. If Arab nationalism didn’t unite the Middle East, perhaps Islamism might.

I don’t think it is very useful to blame one president or another or one policy or another for the rise of ISIS. Something like ISIS would have happened regardless of what we have done. It is tempting to believe that a superpower is the cause of everything that happens in the world but much is beyond our control. The cultural attitudes and societal trends that have led to present conditions have been occurring for a very long time and much depends on how the people in the region resolve, or fail to resolve their problems. Ultimately, we cannot solve their problems for them.

The West has had a violent, tumultuous history on its path to to liberty and democracy, and perhaps some parts of Europe have not quite completed the journey. It took periods of terrible bloodshed, the Wars of Religion during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Napoleonic Wars of the nineteenth century and the World Wars of the twentieth century to make Europe what it is today. It maybe that the Middle East must go through a generation of bloodshed to convince the people to live in peace. If so, than the only thing we can or should do is leave them alone to fight it out, taking care that the conflicts do not spill over outside the Middle East. It  may also be that allowing a generation of Muslims to live under an Islamic State is the only way to sour them on the whole idea. The people in Iran do not seem to be very enthusiastic about Islam these days. They have lived under their own Islamic State and they are sick of it. We would like to think that we can solve the world’s problems, but maybe this time we can’t . Maybe the best we can manage is to protect ourselves and hope for the best.



November 15, 2015

Once again the civilized world has been attacked by barbarians, this time in Paris. I suppose that once again we will have the usual reactions, politicians promising action while carefully refraining from mentioning the religious ideology that inspired this attack, vague condemnations of the work of violent extremists while never noting just how high the actual percentage of the followers of the Religion that Must Not Be Named might be considered “extremists”. The left will, in fact already has, placed the blame squarely where it belongs, the racism and Islamophobia of the right. If only the extreme right in Europe and America were not so hateful, those nice Muslims would live in peace. There will also be the usual round of anti-terrorism rallies and candle light vigils, prayers  and Facebook widgets to express support for France and the rest of the silly, sentimental exercises to show how sad we are over this tragedy.

How about we do something different this time? How about we take action to stop these attacks from happening? To start with, would it be too much to expect for the political leaders of Europe, especially Angela Merkel to reconsider the policy of allowing tens of thousands of refugees from Syria into Europe. This may be the compassionate thing to do, but under current circumstances in the Middle East, it may not be the sensible thing to do. It does not take a tactical genius to realize that masses of people streaming into Europe provides an excellent opportunity to smuggle in operatives. There is no easy way to differentiate between refugees and terrorists and no way to guarantee that even Muslim not currently linked to terrorism might not get religion someday with deadly results.

Can we also at long last admit that we, the civilized world that is, have a problem with Islam. Not violent extremism or radical Islam, but with Islam. It is true that only a small minority of Muslims are actually terrorists and it may even be that only a minority of Muslims support terrorist acts as happened in Paris, though public opinion polls suggest otherwise, but the numbers do not matter. The problem is not individual Muslims who have the same mixture of good and evil as any other population The problem is with Islam. Islam, more than any other religion, justifies violence, particularly against the outsider in its scripture, theology, and doctrines. Yes, Christians, Jews, etc.  commit violence and may even use religion to justify their actions. Yet they will not get the same sort of support from their religious leaders and traditions that a Muslim who commits violence might. A Christian who bombs an abortion clinic and kills people will find himself denounced from every pulpit in the country. Even the most zealous pro-life activist will reject his actions. A Muslim who bombs a nightclub or shoots a theater full of hostages will all too often find himself celebrate as a holy martyr in mosques around the world. The moral equivalency between Islamic terrorism in our time and atrocities committed by Christians, in defiance of Christ’s teachings, in centuries past, which is being ceaselessly offered by progressives ignorant of both history and religion simply is not valid. Islam is a problem in the same way that Nazism or Communism was, a violent ideology deeply hostile to our democratic, liberal values. Yes, there are a great many good Muslims, just as their were a great many good Nazis and Communists, but they are still following an evil belief system.

If this admission is still too politically incorrect to make, then can we at least admit that it is better to be considered an islamophobe than to be dead and that protecting the lives of people living in Europe and America might be more important than protecting the tender sensibilities of those who might want to kill them. Whatever is done, we need to be clear in our minds that we are at war with people who want to destroy us and unless we start taking the threat seriously, a lot more people are going to lose their lives.


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CAIR Demands Ben Carson Withdrawal

September 28, 2015

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for Dr. Ben Carson to withdraw from the presidential race because of his remarks on whether he would support a Muslim for president. Here is the article I read from CNS news.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) plans to call Monday for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to withdraw from the 2016 campaign after the retired neurosurgeon said Islam was not consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that he would “absolutely not” advocate having a Muslim in the White House.

“Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

“We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”

I can understand if Nihad Awad is more familiar with the details of Sharia law than the US constitution, but the provision barring any religious test does not apply to the voters. They can vote for, or against, a candidate for any office for any reason at all, including not liking the candidate’s religious beliefs. The constitution forbids the federal or state governments from imposing a religious test or qualification to bar candidates from running. For example, in the presidential elections of 1928 and 1960 the Catholics Al Smith and John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency. Many non-Catholic voters did not believe that a Catholic should serve as president and voted for their opponents. That was their decision to make. There was no religious test or qualification to bar either man from running.

Anyway, here is a transcript of some of Dr. Carson’s remarks. See if they are really so controversial, at least among sensible people not blinded by the fear of that bogeyman Islamophobia.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Carson was asked his views on the faith of an American president.

“Should a president’s faith matter – should your faith matter to voters?” asked host Chuck Todd.

“Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is,” replied Carson. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution – no problem.”

“So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?” Todd asked.

“No, I don’t. I do not,” said Carson, adding, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

I am not sure that I would completely agree with Dr. Carson in saying that I would not under any circumstances vote for or support a Muslim candidate for office. Much would depend on the candidate. I am fairly certain, however, that I would not support any candidate of any faith which CAIR would support, given their links to the terrorist organization Hamas and the Islamic supremacist  views held by their founder.

Of course, a great many people in the United States expressed similar concerns about the first two Catholic candidates for president. For much of the history of the United States, it was taken for granted, by the Protestant majority, that Roman Catholicism was not compatible with American political values. Such concerns were enough to defeat Al Smith in 1928, among other factors. Kennedy, in 1960, felt a need to address a gathering of Protestant clergymen in Texas to assure them that as president he would put the constitution before his Catholic faith.

This wariness on the part of many Americans, although a product of anti-Catholic prejudice, was not entirely unjustified. Until Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church had not been a consistent supporter of the liberal, democratic values this nation was founded upon. (By “liberal” I mean, of course, the political ideology emphasizes human rights, democratic rule, and free market economic, the ideology of the founding fathers and the nineteenth century British Whigs, rather than the ideals of the socialist progressives who hijacked the term in the early twentieth century. Ironically, it is the conservatives in America that uphold classically liberal values, while the liberals in America cling to primitive collectivism) The Papacy had also been suspicious of every political idea that had been developed in the wake of the American and French revolutions, denouncing such ideas as democracy, government by the consent of the governed, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, as errors and part of the heresy of modernism. As late as 1864, Pope Pius IX had denounced all such modern, secular ideologies in his Syllabus of Errors, to the considerable embarrassment of American Catholics, who had been at pains to show that being a good Catholic was compatible with being a good American. It wasn’t until Vatican II that the Church became reconciled with liberalism.

Of course, the truth was that while American Catholics looked to Rome for spiritual leadership, few, if any, American Catholics took advice on how to vote from the pope. There was no movement among American Catholics to replace the constitution with a theocracy ruled by the Pope. Then too, the Roman Catholic Church was itself a major part of the Judeo-Christian heritage on which Western civilization was based, and this heritage included the concept of the human dignity of even the lowest person in society who had rights granted by his creator. If the Catholic Church was slow to accept the development of liberal ideas, Catholic philosophers had at least laid the basis for them. Even the concept of separation of church and state is implied in Christianity with Jesus saying such things as, “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and was enunciated in Pope Gelasius I’s Duo Sunt which held that princes and bishops each had their own separate spheres.

Perhaps the Muslims are in a similar position as Catholics before the election of Kennedy. Islam may seem incompatible with American political values, but that does not mean that individual Muslims may not be good Muslims and good Americans, just as many American Catholics were both good Americans and good Catholics. I am skeptical, though. Islam is not part of the heritage of our Western civilization and considering the utter failure of liberal democracy taking root in the Islamic world and the abysmal human rights records of most majority Muslim countries, one could make a very good argument that Islamic political values are opposed to and hostile to Western values. In Islam a person is a slave of God, not a son to be redeemed by sacrifice. Sons have rights, slaves do not. It is not surprising, then, that individual human rights have never been very prominent in Islamic political theory. Mohammed was a prince as well as prophet, so there is no concept of separation of mosque and state. It seems to me that while one can be either a good American or a good Muslim, it must be very difficult to be both a good American and a good Muslim. And, unlike the situation with the American Catholics, there are Islamic organizations, like CAIR, that would like to replace the constitution with Sharia law, and a disturbing number of American Muslims who support that idea.

I wouldn’t necessarily refuse to vote for a Muslim candidate on the basis of his faith, but I think that Dr. Carson is closer to the truth of the matter than CAIR, or the foolish would-be dhimmis who denounce honest discussion as Islamophobia.


Yom Kippur

September 23, 2015

Today is Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. On this day Jews ask for forgiveness for the sins they have committed against God and their fellow men over the past year.  They fast for 25 hours on this day, starting about 20 minutes before sundown the previous day and continuing until evening of the day. Jews also attend Synagogue services for much of the day and there are five services in contrast to the usual three prayers on most days and four on Sabbaths. After the last service, they recite they Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”, and blow the Shofar.

Here is the Biblical description of the Day of Atonement.

1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering[a] and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.[b]9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselvesand not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Lev 16:1-34)

Since the Temple was destroyed in 70, the ceremonies pertaining to the Most Holy Place cannot now be performed. Instead Jews remember the Temple ceremonies in the Avodah service. Orthodox and most Conservative Synagogues have a detailed recitation of the Temple Ceremony.

Here is a detailed description of the Yom Kippur Services.

So, G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Good Germans

September 17, 2015

Everyone who opposes what Kim Davis is doing, and most of those who think gay marriage is a spectacularly bad idea seem to agree that public officials should enforce the law no matter what personal reservations they may have. I wonder if such people have really thought the matter all the way through. Do they really believe that orders must be followed no matter what? Have we become a nation of Good Germans who blindly obey our superiors, even when they are morally questionable.

Actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu) is a gay activist who has insisted that Kim Davis should follow the law regardless of her beliefs. When Mr. Takei was a child, he was one of many Japanese-Americans who were taken from their homes and sent to internment camps during World War II. This policy was completely legal at the time and even upheld by the Supreme Court. Does Mr. Takei really believe that lawful orders must be upheld or that the Supreme Court is the final word on ethics and morals? What would have happened if public officials, elected or appointed had put their consciences above the law and refused to take part in what was obviously a terrible injustice? Most likely such an official would become very unpopular and a target of mobs, like Kim Davis. Probably anyone who tried to interfere with the internment of the Japanese-Americans would end up in jail, like Kim Davis.

(As it happens, one of the public officials who did object to the internment of Japanese-Americans was none other than liberal bete noir J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover objected to the policy in a memo he sent to Attorney General Francis Biddle, stating that there was no evidence of large-scale disloyalty in the Japanese-American community and the FBI was fully capable of handling any Japanese espionage or subversion that might occur. Hoover was never known to be a civil libertarian but perhaps he suspected that such an obviously unconstitutional policy would reflect badly on any supporters after the war hysteria died down. He may also have been concerned about the effects of a mass evacuation on the FBI counter espionage efforts.)

I am not suggesting that Kim Davis is any sort of hero on the scale of a Rosa Parks or even that she is doing the right thing. She is not standing up to Nazis or rescuing people from a disaster. I would like to point out that the argument used that she should simply obey the law and do her job is not really a very good one. There have been a great many evils perpetrated throughout history by people who have been simply following orders. The Supreme Court that has upheld slavery in the Dred Scott decision and segregation in Plessy vs. Ferguson, not to mention the murder of the innocent in Roe Vs Wade may not be the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong.

We have a federal system here in the United States with the government divided into three levels; federal, state and local. Any local ordinance that conflicts with state law is not valid and must be abrogated. In like fashion, a state law which conflicts with federal laws must give way to the federal law. The federal law itself is based on the Constitution and any law on any level of government that is not in accord with the constitution is invalid. In like fashion, there is a Natural or Divine Law which is above and which supersedes any merely human law. All man-made laws enacted by any legislature must be in accord with the Natural Law and the principles of justice or they are not valid. This concept of the natural law has existed at least since the time of the Ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle and was adopted and elaborated by the Stoics and the Romans, particularly by the Roman orator and philosopher Cicero. The idea of the natural law was further developed by Christian and Islamic theologians and played an important role in the thinking during the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, and in our own War of Independence. The idea of the natural law is not too popular among political philosophers these days, at least not among the more progressive ones, since it implies that there is a standard of justice above the decrees of the state, that human rights are granted by nature or nature’s God and not as gifts from the state, and that the state has no right to reorganize or fundamentally transform human society from the ground up according to the Utopian notions of an elite of philosopher kings. This is a hateful doctrine indeed to those who worship the state.

Part of this natural law, grounded in human physiology, is that marriage is the union of a male and a female for the purpose of creating a family. Because two people of the same sex cannot fulfill the basic purpose of marriage, they cannot, however much they love one another, be married to each other. If the Supreme Court, or any other court or legislature decrees that two people of the same sex can marry each other, this decree is in violation of the natural law and of biological reality and cannot be said to be valid. Nor is restricting marriage to a man and a woman discriminating against the homosexual. The homosexual has precisely the same right as anyone else in this regard. He or she can marry any person of the opposite sex he or she desires. What they cannot do, or ought not to be able to do, is demand fundamental changes in the nature of one of the most basic institutions of human society.

Put this way then, Kim Davis is the one following the law. It is her opponents who are breaking the law. They threaten her with jail and cover her abuse, but they cannot appeal to justice or nature, only the might of the state to try to coerce us all into complying with their will.

Kim Davis

September 14, 2015

I am still not too sure what to think of the whole Kim Davis affair down in Kentucky. If she were the owner and proprietor of her own business, it would be a simple matter, at least for me. I would say that she ought not to be required to take part in any occasion or transaction that contradicts her religious conscience. The difficulty is that she is not acting on her own, but as a county clerk she is acting as a representative of the state of Kentucky and it is not clear that she has the authority either legal or moral to put her own religious beliefs ahead of the laws of the state she is representing. It seems that she is in the position of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matt 8:5-9)

Surely, Kim Davis is a woman under authority who is obliged to come and do when she is ordered.

Yet, I find it very odd to see so many progressives insisting that no one is above the law and the law must be obeyed whatever personal reservations one may have about it. They didn’t express such sentiments when the mayor of San Francisco was illegally issuing licenses for same-sex marriages. They had no such reservations when then California Attorney General and later Governor Jerry Brown decided to refuse to enforce Proposition 8, despite the fact that as an elected official it was his duty to enforce the laws, even ones he disliked, just like Kim Davis. The progressives have never had a problem with encouraging young men to dodge the draft during times of war, encouraging soldiers to desert, giving aid and comfort to their country’s enemies, celebrating domestic terrorists and murderers, and generally doing everything they can to upset the rule of law. Now, suddenly, they are for law and order.

It seems there is a pattern here. When they are out of power, the progressives preach that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When they are in power it changes to dissent is racist, sexist, homophobic, fascist, bigoted. Any trace of dissent, however minor and ineffectual must be crushed. Why should the rest of us play a game that is rigged to be heads, I win, tails you lose? If following the law is optional for the progressives, why not for conservatives?

Another factor that leads me to want to support Kim Davis, almost against my better judgment, is the sheer magnitude of the hatred that is being directed at this woman. People who know nothing about her have been calling her every nasty name imaginable on every internet forum around. They have mocked her religious beliefs and her personal appearance in ways that would provoke shame in any decent person. Why? What has she actually done to deserve such treatment? One would think from all the abuse that she is some sort of mass murderer who drowns puppies and kittens in her spare time. The people in the Middle East who actually stone gay people do not get the kind of hazing she has gotten for merely inconveniencing some gays. What I find remarkable about this abuse is that none of her opponents seems to be the least bit willing to concede that she is simply trying to do what she believes is right in God’s eyes. In their minds, someone like her can only be motivated by hatred and bigotry. Only the enlightened and progressive ones among us seem to have any real consciences. The rest of us are hateful troglodytes. I cannot help but consider that anyone who attracts such hatred from the enlightened and tolerant supporters of diversity must be on the side of the angels.

I am still not certain if I can really support what Kim Davis has been doing. It is not a simple matter. She has been stirring people up and presenting opportunities for the left to once again show their hypocrisy. I think I feel the same way about her antics as I do Donald Trump‘s. Both may end up doing damage to causes I believe in, but they are both doing a needed service by providing turbulence to shake up people and institutions that badly need shaking up.

Rosh Hashanah

September 14, 2015

Yesterday evening at sunset Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the first of the High Holy Days began. This holiday takes place on the first two days of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calender. Because the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates wander a bit in our Gregorian calendar. This year it takes place on  September 13-15. The New Year is celebrated for two days because of the difficulty of determining the precise day of the new moon.

Rosh Hashanah, which means “the head of the year”,  is not mentioned as such in the Bible. Instead the day is called “Zikaron Teru’ah” a memorial of the blowing of horns in Leviticus 23:24 and “Yom Teru’ah” the day of blowing the horn in Numbers 23:9.

 23 The LORD spoke to Moses: 24 “Tell the Israelites, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you must have a complete rest, a memorial announced by loud horn blasts, a holy assembly. 25 You must not do any regular work, but you must present a gift to the LORD.’”  (Lev. 23:23-25)

1 “‘On the first day of the seventh month, you are to hold a holy assembly. You must not do your ordinary work, for it is a day of blowing trumpets for you. 2 You must offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the LORD: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs one year old without blemish.  3 “‘Their grain offering is to be of finely ground flour mixed with olive oil, three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths of an ephah for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs,note 5 with one male goat for a purification offering to make an atonement for you; 6 this is in addition to the monthly burnt offering and its grain offering, and the daily burnt offering with its grain offering and their drink offerings as prescribed, as a sweet aroma, a sacrifice made by fire to the LORD. (Num 29:1-6)

I mentioned that the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. That is not quite correct. A fully lunar calendar would be based solely on the phases of the moon would cycle through the year, as the Islamic Calender does. Instead, the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar. The twelve months add up to 354 days, so to keep up with the seasons extra, intercalary months are added in a nineteen year cycle. Seven intercalary months are added during the cycle so that a thirteenth month is added every two or three years. This means that the dates wander a bit compared to the Gregorian calendar but stay within the appropriate seasons.

Anyway, Shana Tova everyone.


The Demon Whisperer

August 10, 2015

They really don’t make popes like they used to. It is true that many of the Medieval and Renaissance Popes were very bad men and some were actually criminals. The Roman Catholic Church is fortunate that the general character of its popes seems to have improved considerably over the last few centuries. Modern popes may not be as interesting to read about as some of the more notorious popes of earlier ages, but they are perhaps more reliable in performing their pastoral and administrative duties. Still, if there are no remarkably bad popes in the present age, there are also no especially good popes either. Popes today are a rather bland lot compared to their predecessors. If there are no more Borgia Popes who assassinate their rivals or Great Schisms between rival popes, there are also no popes like Julius II who personally led armies into battle, Leo I who faced down Attila the Hun and convinced him not to sack Rome, or Gregory VII who made the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV stand in the snow for three days before granting him absolution. Popes were far tougher in the past.

The toughest of these medieval popes had to have been Pope Honorius III. He was not content to vanquish mere earthly foes but, according to legend, he actually summoned demons from Hell in order to battle with them and send them back. Even better, he wrote a book, or Grimoire, on summoning, controlling and banishing demons for the benefit of clergymen who might need such knowledge in their work.  Pope Honorius III was the Demon Whisperer, at least according to legend.

The Demon Whisperer

The Demon Whisperer

The sober facts about the life and papacy of Honorius III are impressive enough even without bringing in fantastic tales of his wrestling with demons to keep in spiritual shape. He was born Cencio Savelli in Rome in 1150. Savelli began his priestly career as canon of the Church of Sainta Maria Maggiore. In January 1188, he was made Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman Church. This post put Savelli in charge of Papal lands and finances and was perhaps a sign that he was considered honest and trustworthy. In February 1193, Savelli was made Cardinal Deacon of Santa Lucia and was acting Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from 1194 until 1198. Savelli was dismissed from his post as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church in 1198 and given the post of Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals, making him the treasurer of the College of Cardinals. In 1200, Pope Innocent III raiused Savelli to Cardinal Priest. Meanwhile, in 1197,  Savelli also managed to gain the post of tutor to the future Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.

On July 16, 1216, Savelli’s predecessor Innocent III died. Innocent III had been one of the most powerful and active popes of the Middle Ages and his reign would be a tough act to follow. Because of the unsettled political conditions in Italy, the College of Cardinals wanted to select a new pope quickly and they met only two days after the death of Innocent III, on July 18 at the city of Perugia. The College decided on Cencio Savelli as a compromise candidate acceptable to every faction and Savelli, somewhat reluctantly, was consecrated Pope Honorius III on July 24.

Honorius was a popular pope, at least in Rome where the Romans were pleased to have a local as pope. He was also known for his kindness and generosity which endeared him to the people of Rome. Like Innocent III, Honorius III was ambitious for the Papacy to play a leading role in European politics, but he proved to be less inclined to use coercion against the princes of Christendom, preferring to use persuasion. It may be that Honorius was too ambitious and tried to get too much done during his reign. He wanted to recover the Holy Land for Christendom and promoted the Fifth Crusade. This crusade involved a campaign against Egypt from 1218-1221 and ended in failure. Most of the rulers of Europe had their own difficulties at home and were not able or willing to leave their lands for any length of time. Honorius’s former pupil Frederick II became Holy Roman Emperor in 1220 and was an obvious choice to lead a crusade. Although he promised Honorius that he would go crusading in the Holy Land, Frederick II kept putting off and delaying his departure until after Honorius was dead.

In addition to promoting the crusades against the Infidel, Honorius also continued the French crusade against the Albigensians or Cathars begun by Innocent III. He supported the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors and missionary activity to convert the Baltic peoples, the last pagan holdouts in Europe. On a more positive note, Honorius endeavored to promote the spiritual reform of the Church. Honorius approved the Dominican, Franciscan and Carmelite orders and supported their reforming efforts. Honorius was a man of learning and strongly encouraged standards of education among the clergy, going so far as to dismiss illiterate bishops. He granted privileges to the Universities of Paris and Bologna and ordered arrangements made for talented young men who lived far from any universities to be taken to them and learn theology for the purpose of teaching in their own dioceses. Honorius himself wrote many books, including biographies of Popes Celestine III and Gregory VII as well as an guide to Papal finances. Even without the legends of wrestling with the supernatural, Honorius comes across as one of the more impressive figures to assume the Papal tiara.

Summoning Demons for Dummies

Summoning Demons for Dummies

It may have been Honorius III’s reputation as an author and scholar that gave rise to the legend that he wrote a grimoire and summoned demons in his spare time. Naturally, modern historians do not give any credence to such legends. The educated in our secular age reject outright any suggestion of the supernatural, especially stories of witchcraft and demon summoning and few are inclined to suppose there can be any truth to such legends. Aside from that, experts on the history and theology of the Roman Catholic Church point out that any work of witchcraft or magic, including the act of summoning demons, is and always has been strictly prohibited by canon law and it seems unlikely that a pope such as Honorius III, who was at pains to promote Catholic teachings would go against those teachings. Still, the idea of a pope relaxing by summoning demons and then sending them back to Hell is a strangely  appealing one, and I’d like to see one of these wimpy modern popes try to fight a demon.

One of Honorius's demons would chew him up and spit him out.

One of Honorius’s demons would chew him up and spit him out.

Gay People in Straight Marriages

July 25, 2015

I am tired of the gay marriage debate and ready to move on. I hadn’t intended to write any more on any issue concerning homosexuality for some time, but I came across this article, How I Found Out My Partner Was Gay, at and I thought the wider issues raised by the article were worth exploring. This is not really a post on homosexuality but on priorities and the right way to live. Here is the first part of the article.

Recently we told the stories of gay men who had married women. It prompted a strong response from readers who had experienced it from the other side – those whose wives and husbands had come out as gay.

“It feels almost homophobic to say anything about them. To me it’s not brave to spend 10 or 20 years with someone only to destroy and discard them,” says Emma. She found out her husband was gay a year ago.

“They may go on and have a wonderful new life while leaving a crushed wife behind. You just feel like your whole life is wasted and there’s no closure.”

One of the most difficult things for many spouses is watching their former partner being celebrated as brave for coming out, but knowing the damage they’ve left behind.

It is an experience to which Carol, 43, can relate. With her former husband now active in gay rights, she received a message calling him an inspiration and a role model.

“I was disgusted by this, that someone actually considered him to be both of these things when he had spent our entire relationship lying to both himself and myself.

“To me, there is nothing to be proud of – he destroyed our family through his failure to admit that he was in fact gay,” she explains.

They had married in 2003 and have two children – she says she was “very happy and in love”.

But there were signs something wasn’t right, including gay dating profiles on his computer, which he explained away. In 2009 he said he was bisexual but wanted to be with her.

Carol admits she was probably in denial but thought they would find a way through it as he was the man with whom she wanted to spend her life.

A year later it came to a head when he came home, said he was gay, and left.

“I thought my whole world had fallen apart but then he came back and said let’s stay together for the sake of the kids. I didn’t know what to do so we lived a lie for two years. To anyone else we looked like a normal happy couple,” she said.

But it didn’t work and they divorced.

Carol says the difficulty was the shock – he’d had time to get used to it but for her it happened so quickly. He’s now married to a man and she says they get on for the sake of their children.

“It took me a long time to get over it, for me it is a trust issue. How can I trust anyone again? I can’t compete with other men, I’m a woman, but he should have been truthful from the start.

There are a couple of more examples and a sort of supportive summing up at the end, but I think this is enough to go on.

Setting aside any prejudice or personal feeling about homosexuality, I have to wonder what is the difference, in principle, between a man who leaves his wife because he has decided that he is homosexual and cannot live the lie and a man who leaves his wife because he has decided to have an affair with a younger, more attractive female co-worker or a woman he had met through an online dating service. The only difference seems to be that the idea of abandoning one’s spouse to take up with another of the opposite sex is still largely condemned as selfish and  thoughtless, while abandoning one’s spouse for a person of the same sex is now lauded as an inspiration for their bravery in coming out. Either way, they have left behind a betrayed spouse struggling to put their life back together.

The slogan of the is “love wins”. I am not sure that love, or what is commonly called love in our culture, should win, at least not over considerations of honor and integrity. Even if man or woman were to convince him or herself that their feelings for a person other than their spouse was truly love and not simply a matter of infatuation or lust, they would still not be justified in leaving their spouse or abandoning a previously held commitment.

As far as I know, every culture and religion’s wedding vows include the idea that the newly married couple will stay together for life, regardless of how circumstances change. That is certainly the case in the West. When a couple marries, they generally agree to stay together “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part.” They do not generally promise to stay married until one partner finds someone more desirable, no longer feels in love, or decides that they prefer the same sex. The two people have made a commitment to one another, a promise to stand by each other no matter what happens. I realize that this is an ideal and in our imperfect world there are some marriages which are not going to last, even with the best of intentions by both partners. I can also appreciate the additional difficulty that a person struggling with homosexual urges must have in keeping their marriage intact. Concessions often have to be made because of the hardness of our hearts, but they should be recognized as concessions to an imperfect world, not lauded as something brave and inspirational.

This is really a question of how we ought to live our lives, the same sort of questions philosophers have been asking since the time of Plato and Socrates. Is the point of life making oneself happy, even at the expense of others, or should one pursue a path of virtue, even if if means putting other’s happiness before one’s own? Perhaps there should be a balance. I do not really know the answer to such questions but I cannot imagine that I would be very happy knowing that I had caused so much pain to someone I loved. Perhaps others feel differently.


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