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Friday, July 13, 2007

The True Church. Deal with It

I can’t believe the fuss being made over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent clarification that the Catholic Church is the one true church founded by Christ and the only fully true religion. First, it is not news: this is no new thing in Catholic doctrine; it is a clarification or a reminder. Besides, the thing should be self-evident; it really should go without saying.

Nevertheless, the furor demonstrates that the Church was right to issue the reminder.

And a lot of people seem shocked and upset: Warren Kinsella expressly rejected the teaching on his website, with just two words, “um, no,” suggesting he has every right to do so, “as a member of the club.”

But that’s just it—it is not a club. There’s the point right there. Catholicism implies certain beliefs, and by rejecting this claim, Kinsella is in fact rejecting Catholicism. He is not, for all that he may think he is, a Catholic.

Meanwhile, Protestant spokesmen have reacted with what sounds like genuine anger, responding to what they understand as an insult with insults in turn. Some of the phrases I have seen in the media include “rot,” “surreal nonsense,” “lust for power,” “ludicrous idea.” A spokesman for the Anglican church referred to “the papacy’s errors and pretensions” and suggested the Catholic church wanted to “persecute others and put them to death.”

Right; let's walk through this carefully step by step, for those who seem to be having difficulty grasping it.

Is what the Catholic Church teaches true?

Any Catholic must assent—or else they are not a Catholic.

Do other churches teach the same thing?

Of course not—or else they would not be other churches.

Now, if an assertion is true, and another assertion contradicts it, the second assertion must be false.

If you have difficulty with this concept, frankly, you are incapable of reason.

It is the essence of reason itself: Aristotle’s “law of non-contradiction.” Not only of human reason either: it is the fundamental binary on which all computation is also based.

What is disturbing is that it seems to come as a shock and a personal affront to so many. One would have hoped the ability for rational thought might have been a bit more widespread.

One is of course free to decide that Islam, or Methodism, or Anglicanism, or secular humanism, or Marxism, is in fact truer than Catholicism. One is free to decide that all are false. But one is not free to believe that they are all true.

You can read the actual document online here:

http://www.zenit.org/article-20090?l=english

Note how generous it is to Protestantism: “It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.” Moreover, “the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation.”

Kinder words one Christian faith could never say of another. A simple “thank you” might have sufficed.

As to the point that many have seized upon, that the document refers to Protestant bodies as “ecclesial communities” rather than “churches”: if this is a problem for them, again, the Church’s critics are a bit late off the mark. This is not something in the present document, but something asserted by Vatican II forty years ago. The present clarification simply explains why Vatican II resorted to this usage.

Let’s be clear: we are not dealing here with dictionary meanings of the word “church.” How can we be? The Congregation’s deliberations were not in English. The issue is the proper theological definition for a theological term, “ecclesia.” The Catholic usage, as given verbatum in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1917, is "a body of men united together by the profession of the same Christian Faith, and by participation in the same sacraments, under the governance of lawful pastors, more especially of the Roman Pontiff, the sole vicar of Christ on earth."

Obviously, by this definition, the Protestant groups are not churches: they do not recognize the pope, their pastors are not lawful, not being in the apostolic succession, and they do not recognize the sacraments.

Moreover, the very concept “churches,” plural, is a violation of Christian core beliefs—beliefs shared by Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants. All recite the Nicene Creed as the essential statement of their faith:

“We believe in one holy, Catholic, and apostolic church.”

News flash: there is and can be only one Christian church. It only remains to decide which one it might be.

Perhaps the CDF’s statement did not go anywhere near far enough. By their own reactions, it seems plain that many Protestants, and indeed nominal Catholics like Kinsella, are not even, properly speaking, Christian.

They are secular relativists. And quite intolerant of any other faith.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lies My Teacher Told Me



A writer in the National Post’s letters column a few days ago endorsed the revival of the term “Dominion” as a uniquely Canadian invention. He describes the term’s invention:

It was at that point that one of the Fathers, Sir Leonard Tilley, went back to his hotel room and pulled out his Bible, turning to King David’s Psalm 72, verse 8, where he found what he believed to be the best description of Canada: “He shall have dominion from sea even unto sea [Atlantic to Pacific] and from the great river [the St. Lawrence] unto the ends of the Earth [the Arctic].”

In fact, the title of “Dominion” was one of the few specifically Canadian contributions to the meetings that led to the creation of Canada on July 1, 1867.


It is, at least to some of us, a familiar story; and it stirs all patriotic hearts.

But it is not true. Tilley need not have found it in his Bible. A map would have done as well. It was, after all, the legal name of Virginia as early as the 1600s: “The Colony and Dominion of Virginia.” It was a fairly common usage for English overseas territories.


Like all countries, I suppose, Canadians commonly falsify their history. A Canadian version of Lies My Teacher Told Me is long overdue.

A few more examples: most Canadians will assert, whenever an American is in earshot, that Canadians burned down the White House during the War of 1812. But the building was scorched by the British Navy. No Canadians were involved.

Most Canadians are certain that Canada won the War of 1812 as a whole. While Canada survived the war with its territory intact, a somewhat surprising result, whether the British or the Americans “won” is open to endless dispute. Canada was not a belligerent.

More recently, most Canadians have been convinced that, until the “Persons Case” of 1929, women were not persons under Canadian law. But the case had nothing to do with this question, which was not in legal dispute. It was whether women were eligible to sit in the Canadian Senate. Women had always been persons in Canadian law--as the presiding judge observed in denying the original suit.

And recently, most Canadians have been taught that Norman Bethune’s sacrifice, in going to China as a medical missionary, was something unique. In fact, the Far East at the time was thronging with Canadian medical missionaries at least as distinguished, and had been for decades. The only unusual thing about Bethune was that he did it for atheist, rather than for Christian, reasons.

I could go on.

It is not that Canadian history is less stirring, heroic, and romantic than we think. Not at all; I’d say the reverse is more often the case. But, for political reasons, we have often bought a bill of goods about it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Terrorist Jet-Setters



The media are shocked, shocked, it seems, that those recently attempting to blow up London and Glasgow airports appear to have been medical doctors. This, it seems, does not fit the profile of a terrorist. A terrorist is supposed to be driven to it by marginalization. He (not she—we’re talking of stereotypes here) is therefore poor, a failure, and ideally from a country colonized in some sense by the nation he has targeted.

The corollary to this is that terrorism could be ended, if the US pulled in its military horns and started sending out tankers full of money.

Or, failing that, there is a second possibility. A terrorist is a devout Muslim, not sufficiently exposed to the enlightened, secular truth of the modern age—driven, if not by poverty, by a provincial, antiquated, and anti-rational world view.

The corollary to this is that it may also be advisable to suppress all religion.

But if you do enough digging to endanger a fingernail, the one thing one finds most consistent about terrorists is that they almost never fit the profile of a terrorist.

Consider those responsible for the recent plot to blow up JFK in NYC. One was a former MP and mayor in Guyana—a pillar of his community, if the phrase ever had any meaning. All were, in the words of their defense lawyer pleading for bail, “solid members of their communities.”

As for Palestinian suicide bombers, a 2003 analysis of the backgrounds of those committing “political violence” shows they too most often are from the more affluent segments of the population (Krueger & Maleckova).

As, of course, is Osama Bin Laden, and his lieutenant, Dr. al-Zawahiri. Their 9/11 hijackers flew in the first class compartment; their leader in the air, Mohammed Atta, had studied architecture at grad school in Germany. According to Marc Sageman, 62% of Al Qaeda members are university educated—a higher proportion than of the US population, let alone the population of Saudi Arabia or Palestine.

Nor did they come from poor countries. The 9/11 plotters were from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Even Palestinians are as a group better off economically than their Arab neighbours. A study by Alberto Abadie at Harvard shows that terrorist risk is “not significantly higher for poorer countries.”

In sum, the idea that poverty and oppression cause terrorism is plainly false. I’d say it is a Marxist fiction. No amount of money shoveled into the Third World by the US or the West is going to make any difference.

As to religious “extremism,” note that the incidence of terrorism has actually not grown since the 1980s. The difference is that, before the 1980s, terrorists were overwhelmingly Marxist. Now, with the relative decline of Marxism as a credible alternative to the West, Islamism seems to have simply filled the void.

It follows that eliminating Islam, or all religious, would do nothing to reduce the level of terrorism. If it weren’t Marxism, or Islam, it would be environmentalism, or animal rights, or anti-globalization, or libertarianism. Indeed, all of these have already shown that potential.

Nor are the terrorists commonly devout followers of any of these causes. People who go in for suicide bombing seem invariably to come, not from devout family backgrounds, but from secularized, “Westernized” families. They are themselves usually “Westernized.” They are usually not those who have lived sheltered lives, unaware of the larger Modern world—just the reverse. They are the exchange students and jet-setters. And, while “Islamism” may use Islam as a justification, it is highly unorthodox in Muslim terms on any number of grounds. This would trouble the genuinely devout.

So the notion that religion, or Islam, or ignorance of the Modern world, is to blame is also false.

Which leaves the question, what is it that really causes terrorism?

But the answer is surely all to simple, and can be summed in just one word: envy.

There is a certain sort of mind that feels the need to win at all costs—to be richer, smarter, more famous, and indeed more visibly moral, than anyone else. It is a very common sort of mind, in fact. It sometimes seems that all of us have it, varying only in degree.

For obvious reasons, this sort of egotism concentrates at the upper ends of the social spectrum: those who succeed are, all else being equal, more likely to be those driven by a need to succeed.

It concentrates, therefore, in the sort of people who are driven to become MDs, MPs, grad students, and, indeed, imams.

So far, so proper. But this sort of egotism necessarily and naturally is prepared to sacrifice any and all others to its own ambition; the more so the stronger it is. It sees significant accomplishment in another as a personal threat. It will, if it cannot match it, seek to destroy it--and its creators.

This can be seen in trivial matters—and the more so in great. I remember once in Korea being impressed with a snow sculpture some kid had made, and trying to get a photo of it. Discovering I was out of film, I stepped away to reload. When I returned—as I had expected—someone had kicked the sculpture over, and it was gone. It was too much to see a foreigner with professional-looking camera equipment showing such interest—if one was not oneself the maker.

I have seen this little drama acted out too many times, in big ways and in small, not to believe it is deeply rooted in human nature.

It is perfectly consistent with egotism even to sacrifice one’s own life in the attempt to destroy. Egotism is not self-indulgence. If someone is prepared to sacrifice family, personal comfort, and friendship to his or her goal of making a big splash in life, it is not a great leap from this to also sacrifice his own life for the same big splash.

Which is, of course, exactly what the hit on the twin towers was: an egomaniac’s dream. A really big, really impressive snow sculpture to kick down. Similarly, Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy because he thought this would make him famous. Lee Harvey Oswald’s motivations were the same. Others, as police have long ago learned, will happily confess to a crime they did not commit, if it is horrible enough, for the fame involved.

The need for some ideology behind it all—Oswald chose communism--is simply this: such an ego as is driven to appear more rich or intelligent or brave than anyone else, will also want, if possible, to appear more moral. And so it is driven to find or invent an ideology that makes its actions appear supremely moral.

Marxism was always great for this: the very fact of significant achievement made one a “class enemy,” and a legitimate target. But Islamism can work too, on the premise that anyone who has not embraced Islam is, by dint of that fact, evil and a fair target. And one can see perfectly well how, if Islamism were gone, environmentalism or anti-globalization could work just as well. Or any number of other political creeds.

But in the end, it works only with political creeds. It follows that the way to prevent terrorism is not to suppress religion. Religion, rather, is the best possible antidote. Religion universally teaches the dangers of egotism. Religion teaches love of fellow man. Religion is a healthy alternative to seeing the solution of man’s supposed problems in political action and in scapegoats.

Indeed, we must emphatically not buy into the terrorists’ lie, and accept the notion that religion or political oppression is involved in what they do. By doing so, we are making it far easier for them to justify themselves. Let’s see them and out them clearly for the egotists that they are.

It is egotism and envy, indeed, that was the first sin—the sin of Lucifer, even before the similar sin of Adam and Eve. I’d say that tale gives us the true, perfect profile of a terrorist.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Coming European-Canadian Union


Here’s an interesting bit: Quebec premier Charest has been talking to French president Sarkozy about a free trade deal between Canada and the EU.

What a great idea that would be. Canada would then be perfectly placed to resume its old familiar role, as a bridge between the US and Europe. This is where we belong, and where we feel most comfortable. Anglo-Canadians would strengthen their ties to Britain, which most Anglophone Canadians favour as a counterbalance to the inevitable influence of the US. But Francophone Canadians would not be left out, as they would be concurrently and equally strengthening their ties to France. Not to mention Italian-Canadians, Polish-Canadians, German-Canadians, and so on. The EU makes this possible. The EU seems almost made for the cause of Canadian unity. We are a little Europe to begin with.

Better still, imagine the economic benefits. If Canada could manage uniquely to establish free trade with both the US and EU, we would, at a stroke, have sole access to the world’s largest market. Any international operation worthy of the name would need a Canadian presence. Not to mention the chance for individual Canadians to compete for jobs abroad.

The time seems ripe: we now have a French president who is pro-free trade and Westward-looking, who might well endorse the idea. The pro-free trade party is in power in Ottawa. Quebec is on board. We can surely count on some good will in Britain.

And Canada has a considerable ace in the hole: Canadian oil. Europe’s supplies from Russia and the Middle East are always a little problematic. With the oil sands, Canada has the world’s second-largest proven reserves. We’re the kind of guy it’s good to have on your team.

If Canada’s leaders have vision, this might be Canada’s main chance, and Canada’s destiny. The twenty-first century might belong to us.

The obvious benefits might also, longer term, force a merger of NAFTA and the EU. This would diminish Canada’s advantages; but would be in the broader interests of mankind. A free-trade area that large would become almost irresistible to other nations.

Canada would have the considerable consolation of having become a world leader.
News Flash: Catholics Believe What They Say
Media Caught Off-Guard for Past Fifty Years


Sadly, yesterday, the National Post joined the chorus of those pushing the bogus story that Pope Benedict was planning an “anti-Semitic” mass: “Prayer for Jews’ conversion may return,” July 6. They do not make the obvious mistake of thinking this has anything to do with the phrase “perfidious Jews”; but report that the Tridentine Latin form of the Mass calls for God to “take the veil” off Jewish minds, and to show “mercy” to them.

This too is actually not true. Only the Good Friday Rite ever included those words.

The co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress complains that this “almost amounts to a call to convert.”

Golly; that’s wrong? Who’d have though Catholics actually believed what they say they believe? Because, if you truly believe something is the truth, and your instincts towards your fellow man are benevolent, you will naturally hope they see it too. Any religion that does not unambiguously pray that all men come to embrace it as the truth is not a religion. It is just an excuse for a party, and a job for a few clever Pharisees.

In a fine non sequitor, the same article also reports an editorial in “the liberal French Catholic magazine Témoignage Chrétien” criticizing the Vatican for “fostering two liturgies within one Church.”

Odd, that that would be thought to be a problem; since the Catholic Church already has over twenty. At our one Catholic Church here in this part of the Middle East, with its international community, six distinct Catholic rites are celebrated every week.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Snap Quiz


Question: What proportion of the US’s oil imports come from the Middle East?

Answer: 20%. That’s 20% of imports, not 20% of needs—the US remains the US’s largest supplier, followed by Canada and Mexico.

The Middle Eastern oil fields are not strategic to the US itself—the US could get along without them, and barely notice. Remember that next time someone says the war in Iraq is “all about oil.”

Of course, if they were strategic, and the US were of an imperialist mind, it would be trivial for them, logistically, to walk in and take the oil fields of sparsely populated Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait. They would not need to trouble with more populous Iraq.


Question: what proportion of the world’s ten biggest oil companies are US owned?

Answer: 0%. ExxonMobil, the biggest American player, is number 14. The biggest oil company, worldwide, is Saudi Aramco, owned by the Saudi government.

The largest producer in the US? British Petroleum.


Quesion: How much has the price of gasoline gone up in the past 20 years?

It's gone down. Adjusted for inflation, the price of gas is currently lower than it was in 1981.



People want to believe that oil is some kind of conspiracy, and that the Americans--or the Saudis--are behind it.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Genital Mutilation of Women and Circumcision of Men: Ann Onymous Writes

Ann Onymous takes umbrage at equating male with female genital mutilation:

Ummm...I think we are comparing apples to oranges here.

Male circumcision is simply removing extra skin from the head of the penis...which yes, does have the effect of reducing sensitivity. This does not hinder a man from enjoying sex however, and the purpose is not to prevent sexual activity outside marriage.

However female circumcision is a brutal destruction of the female's vagina, including the clitoris (to prevent enjoyment of sex) and labia.

The intended rationale for one is quite different from the other.

Female circumcision (well let's call it what it is...mutilation) is based on the idea that sin resides with women, and that by making sex less enjoyable, the woman will not stray. This is upheld in both Christian and Muslim faiths as well as western and middle-eastern cultures.

To make a point that there is some inequality in males vs females being circumcised is pretty callous. No female should be mutilated...period. The rationale for male circumcision is long past it's expiry date...there is a wonderful thing called soap, to keep it clean.

I am by no means advocating male circumcision, but we can hardly compare the two.


AO


Dear Ann:

I really couldn’t agree with you less. You are repeating the familiar claims that my post was written to counter; what can I do but repeat in turn the points I made?

Male and female circumcision are functionally indistinguishable, in that both reduce sexual enjoyment. The details of the operation necessarily differ, because male and female anatomies differ. Whether one reduces sexual enjoyment more than the other, we cannot know. But if one is genital mutilation, they both are. If one is brutal, they both are. If one should not be tolerated, neither should be.

I don’t much care whether one’s stand is pro or con; but seeing the two as apples and oranges, because one is done to a female and the other to a male, is textbook-perfect sexual discrimination.

You are wrong to suppose that either the Christian or Muslim faiths mandate female circumcision. Neither do. Both Islam and Judaism, however, do mandate male circumcision.

You are wrong in your description of female circumcision. The WHO defines female “genital mutilation” to include “all procedures that involve … injury to the female genitalia.” That is very broad. The most common practice, within the rarefied world of female circumcision, is simple clitorectomy. More extreme procedures are also sometimes practiced—but so are more extreme forms of male circumcision, up to and including castration. Generally by the same tribal groups in both cases.

You are wrong to suppose that we know the “intended rationale” for either male or female circumcision. When asked, those who practice female circumcision most often do not know—it is simply the custom. Some think it enhances fertility, or child survival, or health. So too with male circumcision—in Judaism and in Islam, it is simply a sign of submission to God. But we have probably always been aware that both reduce sexual sensations; this seems the logical effect of tampering with the genitalia. The classic British paediatric textbook Diseases of Infancy and Childhood recommended both male and female circumcision to prevent masturbation from 1897 through 1936.

So why the outrage for the goose, but not the gander? Other than because what happens to women is more important than what happens to men?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Will Pope Reintroduce Anti-Semitic Mass?

The question appear in recent days in the Israel News, The Independent, and in Canada’s own Babble and Bourque Newswatch. Probably many other places as well.

It illustrates well both the poor quality of religious reporting and the anti-Catholic bias of the media.

Contrary to what the Israel News article plainly states, there is no reference to “perfidious Jews” anywhere in the pre-Vatican, pre-1969, Tridentine, Latin mass. There never was. There is, accordingly, no chance that Benedict might introduce an "anti-Semitic" mass.

Nor is it news that Benedict is thinking of reintroducing the Tridentine mass. The Tridentine Latin mass has been celebrated commonly in Catholic churches since the early eighties or so. He is only contemplating making it easier to do so.

So where's the story?

Nowhere. Here’s all that’s behind it: in pre-1959 versions of the unique Good Friday rite—not the mass—there was a prayer in Latin for the souls of the “perfidis Judaeis.” This does not translate properly into English as “perfidious Jews.” The more correct translation would be “unfaithful Jews.”

It is perfectly proper, of course, from the Catholic perspective, to refer to the Jews as “faithless” –without the faith. Nevertheless, the Church dropped the reference in 1959 for fear of misunderstanding.

That’s it: a trivial textual issue from 1959. The only point of the present story seems to be to take a cheap shot at the Catholic Church.

It amounts to defamation.