Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday BookReview: Crime & Punishment... and redemption


"The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
  The deeper the grief, the closer is God!"

Stop sometime and aquaint yourself with Raskolnikov, the fevered murderer, who is slowly and painfully led up the steep slopes of contrition where the gusts of God's grace buffet him. Who is his guide? Dear little Sonia, the erstwhile prostitute, daughter of a drunkard -- she is the first person to whom he confesses his crime.

Each time I've read the novel, the hope in it seems more and more in the forefront.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote the story following his return from long exile in Siberia. A number of years earlier, when he was about 33, he penned these words to the widow of one of the men arrested back at the time of the Decembrist Revolt:
I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here is it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper and more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Saviour. I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more. If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth did really exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ, and not with truth.

[The Decembrist Revolt of 1825, pictured, was directed at Nicholas I -- probably the most reactionary of all the Tsars. Among his disasters was the Russian defeat in the Crimean War of the 1850s.]


Thursday, November 27, 2014

THANKSGIVING: Don’t call it Turkey Day

(first published November 22, 2012)

Pence writes:

Thanksgiving Day is an embarrassing holiday for the atheists. Whom shall one thank?

Goodhearted nonbelievers first turned the day from a formal national day of prayer to a rekindling of an earlier bliss betwixt Pilgrims and Indians. A little rewriting, and we were thanking the native-born Americans for their ecological wisdom that allowed us a full table. As usual the guilt-ridden white folk missed the real story.

The Pilgrim parable was soon debunked by Indian activists who reminded the well-meaning storytellers that the only gifts white men gave Indians were smallpox blankets. The Green Indian refused his role and asked instead: “Who wants to celebrate that, white man?”

Luckily, an adaptable culture which sacralizes appetite had an answer. Getting back to the basics, there was a surge to elevate not “Whom We Thank” but “What We Eat.” Turkey Day was proclaimed!

No more messy cross-cultural narratives. Instead of asking that our sins be forgiven, a turkey was pardoned and the whole affair was consummated in a next-day orgy of shopping called Black Friday. That spin-off Feast Day is demanding a vigil service of its own, which may drive the whole embarrassment of public thanksgiving back in the memory hole where school prayer now abides.

Contrast Black Friday Eve with George Washington’s understanding of Thanksgiving Day in the first sentence of his 1789 Proclamation:
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to recognize the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…” 
Contrast Turkey Day with the content of his prayer:
“And also that we may unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions -- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually…” 
This is a day as a nation we are supposed to perform a religious Duty -- to ask forgiveness and give thanks to a Divine Ruler who governs not only the lives of men but the public communal forms of men -- the nations. That is what Congress requested Washington to declare; and that is what this national day of prayer for forgiveness and thanksgiving is still meant to be. Thanks be to God.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Andrew Lynch's essay.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Map on Monday: German Invasions of France

Between 1870 and 1940, Germans invaded France three times. Although these three clashes took place in modern times, feuding between the two nations may be traced back to the division of Charlemagne's empire at the Treaty of Verdun in 843. In the division, a strip of territory between what would one day become France and Germany became the area in which many of the battles below were fought. Indeed, the victors of the Franco-Prussian War (1870) and World War I (1914-1918) claimed lands in this very region.  

The map above (click to enlarge) depicts the Prussian (German) invasion of France by way of Alsace and Lorraine during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. This war came as the third successive war in German unification (the first two were fought with Denmark to secure the German north, and with Austria-Hungary to secure the southeast). From these wars emerged the new German way of war - quick, deadly, and decisive. The rapid maneuvering of the Germans at the outset of the war with the French led quickly to the decisive Battle of Sedan on September 1, 1870. Entrapped by the Germans, the entire French army was forced to surrender along with their commander, Emperor Napoleon III (whose reign that day came to an unceremonious end). With the war's conclusion, Alsace and Lorraine changed hands to the Germans and the German wars of unification were complete.

Germany sought another rapid war with the French in 1914. The map above (click to enlarge) is a map of the Schlieffen Plan - a plan originally drafted in 1905 but largely became the basis for the German strategy in the opening offensive against the French. The plan of attack was a large sweeping action with forces from the north wheeling around to capture Paris from behind. The large forces coming through neutral Belgium, however, brought the British into the war. As the opening German campaign sputtered to a halt, British reinforcements and freshly dug trenches defeated the German plans for a quick and decisive war. With the eventual defeat of Germany, Alsace and Lorraine changed hands once more and returned to the French (who then began building the famed Maginot Line of defenses against future German aggression).

With the rise of Hitler, a German war with France loomed on the horizon once more. The German army drafted two plans of attack (see above) and chose the plan most similar to the rapid offensive of 1870. The larger, mechanized armies of the 1940's led the German war planners to bypass assaulting the Maginot Line for a bold offensive through the lightly protected Ardennes forest, making a drive for the coast while Allied troops were drawn into combat in Belgium and surrounded. The brilliant plan was executed with perfection, and the Allied forces were cut to pieces and forced to withdraw by sea from Dunkirk. Nevertheless, the Germans captured 40,000 men along with 50,000 vehicles. Paris capitulated in under six short weeks of fighting - and the Maginot Line surrendered as part of the brief war's concluding armistice and the rise of Vichy France.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Preparing for Advent -- ponder "Christ the King of Fearful Majesty"

(first published November 25, 2011)

Pence writes:

Yes, Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior. He is also the Ruler of Nature, the Lord of History, and the Slayer of the Leviathan. When I hear Evangelicals call Jesus their “personal Lord and Savior,” I know the fullness from which they speak and I cannot begrudge the term. When I hear Catholics use that very foreign phrase, I think it's a job demotion for Our Blessed Lord. For we know Him in the Eucharist as we are becoming not his friend, but incorporated in His Body. And we remember his Incarnational transformation of physical nature, and we await his triumphant coming again as Head of the Church and King of History and the nations. Catholics are always living within these three comings of Christ. Maybe because the Eucharist is such an intense physical personal event, we don’t emotionally emphasize our personal relationship with Christ but look, instead, both backward and forward to the actions of the Cosmic King.

We lose something of Christ and a good deal of man if we define Christ solely in terms of soteriology (His saving act toward man). Christ would have been King even if Adam had not fallen, so there is something essential about man and Christ that does not depend on Adam’s sin and Christ as Our Savior. The Liturgical Year offers us special days to contemplate certain truths, which can be under-emphasized by particular cultures and eras. Let us fully understand this final feast in the Church calendar, in order to better greet the baby and receive His Body -- remembering that when the trumpet finally sounds, indeed, he will "bestride the narrow world like a Colossus" and Eternal King

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, November 22

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:

In baseball, left-handed pitching aces are always at a premium; so too, alas, prison wardens who know how to bring desperate men into the hope of the living LORD are a rarity. This country is blessed to have such a warden in charge of our largest prison.

When Peter was confronted by the servant girl in the courtyard he stammered and stuttered when asked if he followed Christ. Cardinal Sean O'Malley seems even more tongue-tied in explaining why the male priesthood is not "immoral" to a feminist TV reporter on 60 Minutes. The best he could do was to say it can't be immoral because Christ wouldn't be immoral, but if he (Cardinal O'Malley) was starting a church, he would have women priests. This embarrassing anthropological confusion and underhanded insult to Our Lord makes the male priesthood incomprehensible not just to lady reporters, but to young seminarians and old priests bereft of a father's voice in dioceses like Boston. The reason so many young teenage males were abused in the Catholic Church is because the careerists who have advanced in the American hierarchy have no father in them. Listen here as an apostle replays Peter in the courtyard. We can only pray that he will see the face of Christ, hear his own words of betrayal, and go somewhere to weep.

An excellent overview with maps and charts of the US relations in Asia by Heritage Foundation researchers.

One way to look at the Russian Bear is through the eyes of the Germans as Germans, While many words have been spoken and much ink spilled over Putin's presence in the Baltic Sea and over the skies of the Baltic States, Vladimir Putin - Slavic and Orthodox - has his eyes in the Balkan nations of Europe's southeast. This assessment of the influence of Russia's Putin with other Balkan nations is sobering.

Nations need leaders like the body needs its head. Narenda Modi of India delayed a WTO agreement a few months ago and the pro-business nationalist was labeled a short-sighted obstructionist by the "free trade community." Modi is all for easing barriers to trade in many areas, but food security for his nation was not on the table. The WTO has tied acceptance of its multifaceted treaties with a requirement that nations not subsidize more than 10% of food production for their own populations. This magic number "destabilizes" markets. Obviously, many nations see food production as a part of the national economy ruled by other dictates than elastic pricing and free trade. Mr. Modi held out and his willingness to ease trade barriers in other areas will not depend on his surrendering his governmental duty to feed his people at home. It was a practical lesson in achieving progress in international trade without sacrificing economic nationalism.

On November 13, 2014, The Pew Research Project on Religion and Public Life released a 310-page document on 'Religion in Latin America: Widespread Change in a Historically Catholic Region.' It is an excellent introduction to help us study and ask when the sleeping giants of the Iberian Catholic tradition will reenter the arena of world politics as Catholic nations led by Catholic statesmen.

On this day in 1718, the ruthless Blackbeard met his bloody end in a sea-fight off the Carolina coast. (The first quarter of the 18th century was the Heyday of Pirates, as they preyed upon the commercial routes between Europe and the New World. And where was their safe haven -- the locale "where they [went] to restock, sell their loot, repair their ships and recruit more men"? The British Caribbean.) See also: The Golden Age of Piracy.

President John F. Kennedy died 51 years ago today. He was America's first Catholic president and a masculine liberal who understood that men of different religious creeds were bound by their civic duties against the common threat of armed atheism. He called men to this brotherhood of protective duty in nations large and small.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday BookReview: "Bonds of Affection" by Matthew Holland

(first published July 6, 2012)

"We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies..."
       (John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony)

From a review several years ago by Dr. Pence of Mr. Holland’s Bonds of Affection:

With most thinkers, Matthew Holland does not find eros in political life but neither does he build civic bonds on the philia of fraternal friendship. When he says 'civic charity' he means a civic life animated by agape -- that distinctive Christian love that "includes concern for another's standing before God even when others mean us harm." This of course has implications for how we treat our enemies and our fellow citizens...

Professor Holland finds agape informing the language and political goals of American leaders for two centuries by studying several key authors and texts: John Winthrop ("A Model of Christian Charity," 1630); Thomas Jefferson (rough draft of the "Declaration of Independence," 1776, and his "First Inaugural Address," 1801); and Abraham Lincoln ("Second Inaugural," 1865).  Holland takes seriously Christian charity as a realistic way to deal with public life. He convincingly argues, that for both Lincoln and Jefferson, it was the realistic crucible of office which forged a deeper sensibility of the necessity of the bonds of charity in civic life. Holland's treatment of Jefferson is especially careful. Holland does not play the Christian alchemist turning Enlightenment rights into Christian love, but he reminds us that even the most rights-oriented of Jefferson's writings ends with a bond: "we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." Holland reminds us this was no idle pledge. To secure that bond, one out of every hundred Americans lost their lives.

If Holland finds "bonds to the death" where others only found rights, he also finds analogical political forms in the New Testament where others tend to look for political narrative in the Old Testament alone. He quite rightly locates the sacrificial duties of soldiers in a pivotal moment in the Christian narrative -- Christ's Last Supper when he commands mimesis [imitation] and then sets out to lay down his life for his friends. Christian military men have always seen this obvious link -- political scientists almost never do. This is one of the great strengths of the book: Holland is both attentive to religious sensibilities and appreciative of military sacrifice. In fact, quite unlike the pagan warrior crowd, he shows that the patriotism of soldiers and the sacrificial love of agape are interlocking constituents of civic charity...

Here are four important ideas I learned... I may have heard variants on these ideas before, but Holland's charity theme clarifies and deepens the political union of men as fellow citizens:

1) All men possess rights but the point is to exercise them. This can only be done if we secure rights; and this is done by entering into a bond of agreement -- for this, we institute governments. No agreement, no rights. No civic love, no individual liberty. Possessing rights might be universal but exercising rights only occurs where rights have been secured by forming a real government in some time and place. Because of evil in the world this can only happen when men pledge their lives to protect these liberties. This is not a contract calculation by an individual, but an entry into a community of shared affections pledging personal honor and lives to each other and a new corporate entity.

2) Secular tyranny does not fear religion because it separates people but because it might unite us. Holland taught this by reminding us of Tocqueville's insight: "A despot will forgive his subjects that they do not love him as long as they do not love each other."

3) Lincoln's 1838 speech to the young men in the Springfield Lyceum was about giving up hatred and passions by living inside the law. Men must be united by civic affection to governance as well as each other. I was newly struck in that speech (having read it at least twice before) how much Lincoln felt he had to deal with men's hatred. Thus his language is built on authority and affection more than rights. At the Lyceum, Holland emphasizes that Lincoln does not soothe, but is demanding of the assembled young men. See the brave acts of the ancestors -- you benefit from this but as of yet you have done nothing to continue their work. (If only leaders, especially so-called conservatives, would so speak to young men at our elite universities and think-tanks with such demands.)

4) Here is Holland's eloquent description of political prudence in Lincoln: "To do this effectively meant for Lincoln assiduously gathering facts, contemplating history, anticipating implication, working out an argument against its best counterattack, and allowing time, circumstance, public promotion and private negotiation to settle things into a workable solution. His self-chosen metaphor was pilots on a western river who knew they wanted to get downstream but only steered from point to point as they could see, which was often not far."

[Professor Holland also provides] a powerful and sympathetic treatment of the much-neglected, but most important, novel in American history: Uncle Tom's Cabin.

         (John Winthrop, who died in 1649, served as governor for twelve years.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Map on Monday: World War I Redraws European Boundaries

The map above depicts the European map during the years of World War I. Below is a map which looks strikingly different. It is the redrawn map of Europe following the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918.

The most significant changes between the two maps may be found in the Balkans and around the Baltic Sea. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, defeated in war, was broken up and the many nations which were conglomerated within her were given the ability to rule themselves as governing states. In the decades ahead, however, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia would themselves require more separation as the nations within them had yet to achieve statehood. In the northeast, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia appeared out of what was once a part of the Russian Empire - which itself had now fallen to militant atheists under Lenin's communist USSR. Though it had a long history of statehood, Poland re-appeared as yet another new nation on the post Great War map.

Other areas had changed to a lesser degree. Germany was now cut off from East Prussia due to a land corridor of the newly formed Poland which gave it access to the sea. Italy had shifted slightly, gaining further territory to the northeast in Tyrolia. France, victorious in war, regained the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine which it had lost to the Germans following a stunning defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (indeed Germany had hoped its 1914 campaign in France would have been as successful as the one in 1870).

An often overlooked area of the map is the division of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish nation will be the first secular regime emerging from the Ottoman caliphate. Much of today's Mideast map was reconfigured from the Ottoman Empire's dismemberment. The map below demonstrates: