Monday, September 29, 2014


(Originally published 29 Sept 2012)

[On this feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael -- some thoughts of Doc Pence on our angelic partners.  He begins with an anecdote].

   About a year ago when I was arguing with a theology professor at St. John’s in Collegeville MN about women priests and homosexuality -- it struck me.  I asked him, "Do you believe there was a first man and woman, Adam and Eve?”  He said, "No, science has proven that wrong."  I asked, "Do you believe there is a wicked angel, Lucifer, who is the devil; a real being, dedicated to evil and not redeemable?”  He said, "No, there is definitely evil in the world and in all of us but not an actual powerful spiritual evil being."  "Well, how about angels in general -- another order of beings -- purely spiritual who can know and love and who are actors in the domain of nature and history?"  I asked.  He hedged and hemmed and asked to be excused.

   I told myself, "I have been in the wrong discussion -- the problem is a lot of these guys don't have the cast of characters or central events of the Divine Drama in place.”

   What is priesthood, and who cares if it is all-male, if there is no Satan and the story of Salvation History is just a hodgepodge of Semitic texts?  I haven't gotten into arguments over women priests for a long time because I find those who favor them have a much bigger deficit that has to be first addressed.  

  Today we give thanks for the angels -- pure spirits organized in hierarchical orders -- our great elevated partners in the Divine Drama. 

God is an eternal Being outside of time: one Divine nature in three Persons. The angels are pure spirits. They have the two characteristics of spiritual beings: they can know and love.

The material world is mineral, vegetative, and animal. The minerals (atoms, chemical elements and molecules, and all non-living matter) do not have souls.  The vegetative and animal beings are living, and thus have souls. Souls are the central unifying principles of living things. All physical living beings have souls, but their souls are different. The souls of bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals die with the creature. Spiritual souls are immortal and rational. We don’t talk about an angel’s soul because a soul is a form in a material being.
Living Beings have a) interiority b) agency and c) hierarchy.  Living things act for themselves in a way that rusting iron and eroding rocks don’t (agency). All living things have an inside and an outside, from cell structure to internal body cavities to the interior spiritual life of man (interiority). All life comes from life, and exists within a structured sacral order (hierarchy).

Man is the one material being with a spiritual soul -- he can know and love. Thomas Aquinas thought one could logically argue to prove the existence of angels. He said there needs to be a created being which is spiritual but is not made of matter. (This balances the material world in which there is matter without a soul, material creatures with a “material soul,” and material beings with a spiritual soul.) Angels perfect the universe because they are created immaterial beings, which are spiritual. They too can know and love.

Angels know directly (they intuit), and desire and decide instantaneously. Their decisions are irrevocable. Angels use matter for appearances but do not become living material beings. Each angel is his own species. Angels are organized into hierarchical orders: some worshiping, some in charge of movements in nature, and some personally involved in the lives of men and nations.

When we contemplate the angels this brings us in closer contact with the hierarchical nature of the cosmos, the reality of Satan, the heroism of Michael, the ongoing active dialogue between the spiritual world and human development. We are part of a cosmic drama that started long before we got here. In this drama, the sons of Adam are given a major participatory role in the restoration of Justice after Satan’s rebellion. Man is part of a cosmological reality and so are the angels. Man cannot fully understand his role here without a robust and clarified view of the Angels in the Drama.

UPDATE: In both Jewish and Christian tradition, every nation has been assigned a guardian angel through which Divine Providence works out His purposes in history. While Pope Francis suggested that Catholic discussion be less preoccupied with homosexuality, abortion, and contraception, he has continually emphasized the present-day reality of the evil angel Lucifer. 

St. Michael, St, Raphael, and St. Gabriel: pray for us.   


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, September 27

Religion and Geopolitics Review this week includes:
A persistent confusion during the Arab Spring interpreted by baby-boomer diplomats and journalists has been a preference for the "people" over the government, an identification with NGOs over nations, and a preference for the voice of dissidents over the actions of authorities.  A coalition against ISIS will involve real states with real leaders. Proposing that most men in civic authority are wolves is not religious insight but adolescent posturing.  The Kingdom of God is not served by a growing chasm between religious discourse and the intercourse of nations.

Among diplomats who came of age in a certain era there is similar disconnect in their understanding of statecraft. The saga of a civically immature ambassador to Russia from 2012-2014 is told here with no hint of remorse or self-reflection. The article helps us understand a disturbing aspect of American baby-boomer foreign policy, while also presenting a straightforward if unsympathetic explanation of Putin's Eurasian dream for Russia.

We agree with President Obama in his pre-beheading interview with Thomas Friedman of the NY Times that this is no time to be assembling a new Continental Army from good-hearted Syrian citizens. We will need states as our allies who have a fighting interest in eliminating ISIS. Not Saudi Arabia, but Iran. Not Qatar, but Russia (see also: Georgetown Professor on US Russia partnership, and an American Conservative Journalist on Crimea, Ukraine and Russia). It will not be a Saudi-trained free Syrian army but the remnant State of Syria who will effectively fight ISIS... as they already are.

What the Sunni element will be (and that is exactly who, eventually, will govern this region) is not clear. Jordan and Turkey will play key roles, as will the Sunni tribes enlisted in the "surge." The Maronite/Shiite/Sunni coalition that once was Lebanon must be reformulated, and hold a significant end-stage position. There are people who know much more than we do about the strategic lessons of the last decade. Their clarity in explaining these lessons will be needed in the diplomatic work ahead.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

World's largest ethnic group without a sovereign state


The KURDS -- all 30 million of them -- are a remarkable people. In the midst of the bloody chaos of Iraq, when American forces departed in 2011, "not a single U.S. soldier had lost his life in Kurdish territory."

As the late Christopher Hitchens described them:
"They’re not Arabs. They don’t speak Arabic. They’re not Turks, they’re not Persians. They’re a unique national group... They live in the rather unpromising neighborhood where Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq meet. It’s not the place you would want to pitch your tent, perhaps, if you wanted a state of their own, but that’s where they’ve lived for thousands of years. So what’s happening is a new nation is being born."

(One of those who formerly opposed the notion of Kurdish independence is Daniel Pipes).

Check out this fascinating essay by Dexter Filkins in the 'New Yorker' about the Kurds in Iraq. Hugh Hewitt interviewed him earlier this week.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Map on Monday: America's Unified Combatant Commands

The map above (click to enlarge) explains how the United States military has arranged structures of command and authority for engaging in military conflict throughout the world. Historically forged out of the crucible of the Second World War, each Command is led by a four-star General or Admiral who is given command over the forces operating within his "Area of Responsibility" (AOR). The United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), for example, is currently headed by General Lloyd Austin, who effectively commands military units within the Mideast with the exception of Israel (which falls under the boundaries of the United States European Command).

The six regional or geographical Commands, along with some of their primary responsibilities, include:
  1. United States Africa Command (all Africa with the exception of Egypt)
  2. United States Central Command (Mideast, Afghanistan, central Asia)
  3. United States European Command (Europe, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Caucasus region)
  4. United States Northern Command (the United States, Canada, Mexico)
  5. United States Pacific Command (India, China, Japan, Australia, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Koreas) 
  6. United States Southern Command (Cuba, South America, Latin America)

In addition to the six geographically-structured Commands, there are three additional Commands described in functional terms: United States Special Operations Command (responsible for US Special Forces and Special Operations units); United States Strategic Command (responsible for operations in space, missile defense, nuclear weapons, and military intelligence); and United States Transportation Command (responsible for global defense transportation and military logistics).

In future Map on Monday posts, we will return to each of the six geographic Unified Combatant Commands for further examination and analysis.

President Bush meets with the Joint Chiefs and United Combatant Commanders

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, September 20

Religion and Geopolitics Review this week includes:
The Islamic State (IS) has a clear religious vision of their goals and enemies and future recruits. We must be clear as well. They propose erasing artificial borders dividing national entities of Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon; and creating a seamless religious organization of communal life under the new caliph.  They are fighting to establish a foothold in the Levant (the L in ISIL as the President calls them). They will extend north into Turkey and reunite with the huge Muslim population ringing the southern borders of Russia. This return of the Ottoman caliphate poses a grievous threat to the Turkish nation-state, but it is not clear if the religiously awakened Sunnis of Turkey would weep over the loss. The strength of the Turkish state and the loyalties of the Turkish military will be key. The IS has many adherents across the globe who look to them as the most successful "strong man on a horse" in the Islamic world. They also have many natural enemies who we must engage in this war. They are the Christian Orthodox states (Greece, Serbia, and Russia); the Shia states (Iran, Iraq, and the Syrian remnant); the mixed Christian/Shiite/Sunni state of Lebanon; and the Sunni nations all over the world who have established themselves as Islamic nation-states.

It should trouble us that the coalition being organized by President Obama is to be centered in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis want us to join in their war against the Shia states of Iran and Syria. The Saudis are more responsible for the worldwide spread of the jihadist ideology than any state in the world today. Any coalition with them will pit us against the best organized armies willing  to fight the radical Salafist Sunnis.  How this crucial strategic alignment of allies and enemies will be formulated goes to the heart of the constitutional responsibility of Congress to declare war. It is now the duty of our statesmen to present arguments in the media, public assemblies, and the upcoming elections.

Here are some of the best arguments we have seen for a Christian/Shiite/Sunni nation-state alliance against the Sunni purification movement of the jihadists:
  1. Mr. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues for a potential Iranian alliance in his recent piece on American strategy and alliances in the Middle East.
  2. Conservative journalist and author Pat Buchanan has made some of the most convincing geopolitical arguments for a different alignment.
  3. Finally, here is liberal world-affairs journalist Fareed Zakaria on rethinking our alliance with the Saudis.
 Anthropology of Accord  outlined a similar case a year ago:  A Christian Awakening on the Road to Damascus.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Map on Monday: The Communal Loyalties that Rule Most of the World

In our opening Map on Monday post, we presented the civilizational map of Samuel Huntington. This week we examine the map printed with Dr. David Pence's editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The map (click to enlarge) is more focused than Huntington's. The multicolored key reveals the great religious identities underlying the conflicts between nations in current events. What is the gist of Professor Huntington's argument (that Dr. Pence further extends)? As the bi-polar world order of the Cold War came to an end, man's far deeper religious loyalties emerged to shape the geopolitical order in much of the world.

The most revealing combination of nations constitute the awakening Orthodox -- Russia, Greece, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. In north Africa, the Mideast, and central Asia, Sunni Islam is dominant. Israel and Iran are displayed as two minority religious islands in a Sunni sea, the former Jewish and the latter Shia Muslim. Off the map to the southeast are the nations comprising  a third of the world's population: Hindu India and Confucian-Buddhist China.

Most nations of  Europe are colored as Catholics or Protestants. They are also outlined in red and described as "the secular West" by the Star Tribune. Dr. Pence actually refers to this area as the "atheist West." Secular is a designation of time differentiated from Eternal. Secular does not mean atheist. Every nation is secular insofar as it operates in a historical era (the Latin word saeculum refers to the length of a man's general lifespan). Nations are brotherhoods of men so they are spiritual realities, but some nations, like some men, conceive of  themselves as beings without God. They are  the atheist nations. They are defined not by men sharing military duty but by individuals navigating a boundless godless sea of time and space -- the Modern West.

There are Christian nations in Europe which we do not place within the atheist boundaries. These include the Catholic nations of Ireland, Hungary, and Poland. Although the Church hierarchy in Ireland has been deeply corrupted, Catholic communal roots still run deep. Her island status has kept Ireland distinct but not immune from the increasingly atheist zeitgeist of the continent. Poland, too, is tempted by the EU/NATO alliance but we attribute this more to Poland's historical memory of Russia than their grasping a modern Western identity. Hungary is much more robust in emerging as a Catholic nation. The land of Saint Stephen -- which also had been crushed by Soviet tanks -- has welcomed the awakening Orthodox Russia as a fellow Christian brother confronting the confusions of the West.

Understanding the religious loyalties that shape nations is no longer simply a religious matter. It is a geopolitical necessity.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, September 13

Religion and Geopolitics Review this week includes:
An article at the Washington Post's website describes what could be the unraveling of the United Kingdom, with Scotland voting on September 18 whether or not to seek independence. The article explains that the liberal-led Scottish independence movement under the Labour Party would take enough liberal representatives with them that it would leave Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party with a 37-seat majority. With this majority, Cameron could press forward with Great Britain's exit from the European Union.

As the United Kingdom distances itself from the European Union, the United States  presses ahead with plans to further integrate Ukraine into the European Union. This move by the US, however, is seen as the latest misstep in what Patrick Smith at the Fiscal Times ranks "among the worst of its numerous foreign-policy errors." In an article on Obama's foreign policy in Ukraine, Smith argues that President Obama's State Department, under Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, went forward with the coup in Ukraine despite the European-backed deal to hold a special Ukrainian presidential election last May.

Although tensions are on the rise between the United States and Russia, Hungarian-Russian relations have never been better. Hungary, whose new constitution explicitly speaks of the Christian faith in Hungary while rejecting the communist era and abortion, is beginning to reawaken as a Christian nation. As Hungary seeks to abandon the radical individualism of the liberal atheist West, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is now eyeing the illiberal political model used in "Singapore, China, India, Turkey, [and] Russia." Seeing Russia as its closest Christian ally, Hungary and Russia have begun deepening their ties.

Hungary and Russia are not the only ones looking at the "progressive" West with suspicion. Conservative  journalist and author Pat Buchanan has written on nationalism as a far greater ally than NATO (the armed wing of the atheist West). The rising tide of nationalism, Buchanan argues, will be a countervailing power on the European Union, Russia, and any imperial ambitions in China.