Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Saturday, September 11, 2004Presume CBS Unreliable
The world of blogs is afire with discussion and reporting about the possible forgery of Texas National Guard memos from the early nineteen seventies that were released by CBS to try to sink the Bush campaign. The CBS thesis is that the memoranda show that Bush received favored treatment in the National Guard and disobeyed a direct order to undertake a physical exam.
Even if the thesis should be true, many, including me, believe that the public will find the CBS reporting irrelevant. As I heard one person on the radio put it, Bush's most important military service has been his service as Commander-in-Chief for the last 3 1/2 years. The National Guard stories, whether true or not, will be deemed irrelevant and trivial by most of the public.
The single best source that I have found that covers the developments over the questioned documents is the Powerlineblog.com, but there are other sources worth looking at. (Powerline has links to most of the sources mentioned below.) The mainstream media ("MSM") is also taking part. The Washington Times has a good overview of the entire situation ("CBS' bomb turns blooper," by Jennifer Harper, 9/11/04). Predictably, the N.Y. Times and the Boston Globe, as of today, are taking, in their highly selective reporting, the line most favorable to CBS.
But ABC News is deep into questioning CBS and has revealed that one of CBS's star witnesses has recanted his support for the disputed memoranda and now believes they are fakes. The Associated Press is now running a story that is quite skeptical in tone of the CBS claim that the memoranda are authentic. Today's Los Angeles Times also raises serious questions about the authenticity of the CBS documents.
It has also been revealed that CBS does not have and never had the originals of these alleged National Guard documents. The lack of originals made a definitive authentication impossible. But CBS still ran with the story in the obvious hope of sinking Bush's surge in the polls. The heated anti-Bush bias could not be clearer. And so it is now the blogosphere, along with some MSM news outlets, that must do the legwork that CBS did not care to do before publication.
Anyone with common sense must assume that any negative CBS political reporting on Bush is highly questionable and not worthy of immediate belief. In other words, CBS News is not a news source worthy of automatic belief, especially on political matters.
Even as the controversy over the documents continue, the unreliability of CBS has already been proven and authenticated. When it comes to political news, add CBS to the ranks of the N.Y. Times as worthless sources of political information. The internet and the blogs are now the proofreaders and evaluators of the MSM.
One CBS defender criticized bloggers for lacking the "checks and balances" of professional news organizations like CBS. The truth is that the bloggers are now the new "checks and balances" for CBS and the rest of the MSM. Someone had to fill the vacuum.
Update: A reader sends this MSNBC link that gives another good overview of the situation. Please take a look at this animated depiction (credit to Powerlineblog.com) of the National Guard document at issue that CBS is still claiming to have been typewritten back in 1972. Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Friday, September 10, 2004Comparing the Candidates--Boldly
There's an ongoing presidential campaign. U.S. bishops as a whole urge us to participate as voters and do our civic duty. They urge us to inform ourselves as to the issues. So it is perfectly appropriate for parishes across the country to make available to Catholics the positions of each candidate on major issues.
For decades, the Church and the Popes have written about, preached about, and urged Catholics to oppose the grave instrinsic evil of procured abortion. John Paul II has even called us to fight the Culture of Death in democratic countries that have legalized abortion and other acts against innocent life. So it is even more appropriate to inform Catholic voters about the position of each candidate on the highly significant issue of abortion.
Right to Life of Michigan makes available such a comparison of the two major candidates on abortion and other life issues for free at its website, in both English and Spanish (scroll down to "Stark Contrast"). The organization urges that people copy and freely distribute this comparison sheet.
The actual flyer is in PDF format at this link. It is a one-page flyer, with nine bullet points comparing George W. Bush and John Kerry on the Life issues. It is concise and purely comparative. It reports the facts and lets the voter decide whom to vote for. The flyer itself does not endorse one candidate over another, although it does mention the fact that Bush is endorsed by numerous prolife organzations including Right to Life of Michigan. This factual disclosure is necessary so that no one can allege that the source of the flyer is trying to somehow misrepresent itself as neutral on the Life issues.
The fact of such pro-life endorsements is presented as the true fact that it is-- a fact that voters are entitled to know about and consider. But remember that the flyer itself is not an endorsement. It is not a partisan flyer. It is non-partisan and educational. Education on the issues is not partisan political activity.
So the challenge for us is to take this non-partisan, factual information and make it available to our fellow Catholics. Let the voters make an informed decision. No one can argue with that. All we need is the boldness to spread the truth at the grassroots level. The major media and the unions with which many Catholics are still associated won't do it. We have to do it.
Thursday, September 09, 2004Is the Response to Terror "Anger Management"?
That would seem the prescription offered by many in the media. One web columnist justifies his support for Kerry by arguing, in effect, that electing Kerry will somehow in some unspecified way help reduce anger against the United States in the Middle East and thereby reduce the likelihood of terror attacks against us (see today's Mickey Kaus column at Slate.com).
First, how Kerry will manage to do that is a mystery, a mystery that will, in my view, remain unexplained through election day. Second, even in the highly unlikely event that Kerry could somehow reduce anger against us, the anticipated benefit will not materialize because our enemies will still attempt to attack us again and again.
The original thrust of Islam was world conquest through the sword. That is what Bin Laden and company believe in and have revived. It is not a matter of angering them. It is the simple fact that the U.S. is not an Islamic nation. Even worse in their eyes, we emerged in the nineties as the world's only superpower. That is the problem-- one non-Islamic superpower-- that we pose for radical Islamists. That is the problem they are fanatically obsessed with eliminating one way or another.
Anger management will not work. The particular people who have attacked us and are still trying to attack us have long been angry toward us and will always be angry toward us. They are angry at the U.S. for what the U.S. is: a non-Muslim superpower.
As long as the U.S. remains a superpower while not being an Islamic nation, they will always direct their anger at us. Nothing we do or don't do will ever change that. Hence, the only solution is to destroy the Islamic radicals before they destroy us. This solution is nothing more than the old and unquestioned moral right to self-defense.
To suggest that Kerry "nuance" will somehow mollify these enemies shows a fatal misunderstanding of the enemy. The U.S. can't shrink or disappear from the world stage. We are big, rich, and powerful. We are not Islamic. As long as those traits remain, we will be a target no matter who is President. From the radical Islamist perspective, the only way the U.S. can insulate itself from future attack is to convert en masse to radical Islam.
From the radical Islamic perspective, the second best way would be for the U.S. to cut all ties, aid, and diplomatic support to Israel. But even cutting Israel completely off will not satisfy them in the long run as long as we remain non-Islamic. Their goal is world Islamic hegemony or control, however crazy and alien that goal seems to us. Hitler caused untold misery with the same crazy goal for Nazism.
In short, the impact of trying to appease the anger of ideological fanatics is similar to the law of diminishing returns in which the more you do a particular thing, the less benefit you get from it. But in this case the returns will likely be worse than merely diminishing. For implacable hatred, appeasement efforts will make at best for a law of no returns in greater security. At worst --and more likely, such efforts make for a law of increasing terror attacks as the haters see weakness as provocation, as encouragement, and as a divine omen of ultimate victory.
The 9/11 Commission has great prestige and credibility among the mainstream media. Many hold it in high regard as an oracle of wisdom. Here is its view of the people who attacked us and are still trying to attack us:
To the . . . question [of what we can do to stop these attacks], al Qaeda's answer was that America should abandon the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness of its society and culture: "It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind."The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 51 (emphasis added).
Earlier, the Commission noted that Bin Laden seeks "to serve as the rallying point and organizer of a new kind of war to destroy America and bring the world to Islam" (Commission Report, p. 48; emphasis added). The full text of the 9/11 Commission Report is available at this link.
Now, many of us here in the U.S. agree that our culture is deeply troubled with godlessness and immorality that keeps expanding. Such immorality will, by the way, keep expanding under a Kerry presidency dedicated to abortion, to unrestricted embryonic stem cell research, and to posing no obstacles to the gay marriage crusade. But many of us do not favor abandoning Israel, a democratic nation with deep cultural ties to us. And certainly very few of us desire to convert to Islam and even less of us wish that conversion to take place at the point of a gun or a bomb.
The goal of the "new terrorism"--the label used by the Commission-- is worldwide Islamic hegemony. That goal will not be changed by anger management through appeasement. The reality which many of us in our affluent and spoiled society do not want to see is that defeating the fanatical devotees of Islamic conquest is our only recourse, however much that struggle may disrupt our private pursuit of pleasure and comfort.
Hedonism wishes to buy off the threat with the illusion of anger management to avoid any lifestyle disruptions. Such an approach will only stoke the fire. The best way to choke off the flow of recruits to these religious fanatics is to bring wider democracy to the Middle East. That is why the U.S. is fighting in Iraq. The mysterious promise of "anger management" will not do. That is why Bush is on the right track.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004The Parasitism of a Liberal Religious Order
Webster's defines "parasitism" as "an intimate association between organisms of two or more kinds; esp: one in which a parasite obtains benefits from a host which it usu. injures." Yesterday, the Detroit Free Press ran a story about a Michigan religious order that donated money to a pro-abortion organization called Emily's List ("Donations by nuns to Emily's List questioned," Sept. 7, 2004, by Patricia Montemurri). The sole, self-proclaimed purpose of Emily's List is to sponsor women candidates for political office who support abortion.
And not just any pro-abortion women candidates: only Democrats need apply according to the Emily's List website. The website repeatedly refers to the threat posed by George W. Bush and the Republicans to abortion rights. If anyone still needed confirmation that the true Catholic vote in this election is for Bush, just browse the Emily's List website.The donor to Emily's List in question in the Detroit story is the Immaculate Heart of Mary female religious order in Michigan. Predictably, the order's spokesperson is now speedily backtracking and claims that the order did not intend to make a statement concerning abortion but rather sought to support more women in political office.
That claim defies belief. Why pick an organization focused solely on promoting pro-abortion female candidates? Why support an organization claiming to endorse only Democrats? You can surely find other ways to encourage women to run for public office. In any event, why just focus on women? Why not just encourage more people in general to engage in public service or consider running for office?
Therein lies the problem. The Immaculate Heart of Mary "sisters" have, from all indications, bought into the conventional secular feminism of the culture instead of presenting the authentic feminism of Catholic thought. In an authentic feminism, abortion is a crime against both women and the preborn. In authentic feminism, the true dignity of women and of the vocation of motherhood is advanced, not the violence of abortion that attacks both the dignity of women and of motherhood.
It is a great satanic lie to view abortion as a boon to women. As Paul VI is reputed to have said, the smoke of Satan has surely made its way into our Catholic institutions. This parasitical situation in which religious orders and others live off the Church while at the same time undermining the Church is, of course, common.
We have, as Webster's definition notes two organisms intimately associated: on the one hand disingenuously but outwardly Catholic liberal entities, on the other hand the Catholic Church as a whole. The liberal orders and other entities benefit from their association with the Church in terms of their status in the community, range of educational and other activities, and funding directly from the Church or from duped Catholic donors. These liberal entities live off the goodwill of many, both Catholic and non-Catholic, toward the work of the Church. But, like all parasites, these entities injure their host, the Church, while deriving tangible and intangible benefits from their intimate association with the Church.
We have to call these liberal religious orders and kindred entities what they really are: mini-denominations unto themselves that follow a non-Catholic agenda. Rather than stand alone as liberal Protestant denominations do, they seek to survive by remaining outwardly in the Catholic fold while undermining Catholic teaching from within.
It is time for them to be honest with themselves and with the wider community and stop the parasitism: either fully embrace Catholicism or split off. It is also time for those with the sacred obligation to fight such confusion to push for that honest self-appraisal and to put an end to this deceptive parasitism. A push must come from the hierarchy because the usual response of these orders when caught in the act is to claim that they were acting innocently in spite of the damning evidence. Yes, they are innocent. The problem is that they are innocent of a full and intimate embrace of Catholic truth.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004C.S. Lewis the Prophet
Continuing our look at C.S. Lewis, we come to the issue of embryonic stem cell research. Kerry, eagerly assisted by the odd persona of Ron Reagan, Jr., is brandishing a blank check for research that destroys human embryos at will. Lewis was a prophet on this issue, as he was on others. Biographer A.N. Wilson was himself a bit of a prophet in 1990 by highlighting Lewis' comments on the dangers of runaway scientists:
Many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst [i.e. Freud, Shaw and A.J. Ayer] means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany. Traditional values are to be 'debunked' and mankind to be cut into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it. The belief that we can invent 'ideologies' at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as specimens, mere [raw material], preparations, begins to affect our very language--once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements.C.S. Lewis, quoted in A.N. Wilson, C.S. Lewis: A Biography (W.W. Norton & Co., 1990), pp. 199-200 (emphasis added).
For the advocates of embryonic stem cell research, their favored researchers are "the few lucky people in one lucky generation" who have come across a treasure trove of human raw material made possible by in vitro fertilization. This accumulation of human embryos is cavalierly deemed to consist of disposable elements, just as the Nazis deemed certain ethnic groups unworthy of life.
A.N. Wilson, a non-Christian, clearly saw the problem, that now looms larger than ever, back in 1990 when he noted that "Lewis's arguments cover . . . the so-called advance of medical science in the area of experimenting on human embryos" (p. 200).
For a detailed, methodical consideration of this central issue of human life, take the time to review the essay by law professor Robert George and other resources at the Family Research Council website.
Monday, September 06, 2004C.S. Lewis the "Catholic"
This is my first commentary on a 1990 biography of C.S. Lewis by British biographer A.N. Wilson (C.S. Lewis: A Biography [W.W. Norton & Co., 1990]). I first encountered Wilson's work in reading his biography of Leo Tolstoy, a biography which still brings back pleasant memories. But I also recall Wilson's succumbing to the almost irresistible temptation to reconstruct the "historical Jesus" in his book Jesus: A Life (W.W. Norton & Co., 1992).
Wilson is not a Christian. He admits it plainly and honestly in his misguided book on Jesus. For that honesty, he should be commended. Unlike modernists and liberals who still claim to be Christians and go on to revise Christian belief from within the fold, Wilson is honest and logical enough to recognize that, since he no longer believes that Jesus is still alive or that Jesus is "Lord and Judge of the world," he could no longer call himself a Christian (Wilson, Jesus: A Life, p. xvi).
Would that so many others, both Protestant and Catholic, would be as intellectually honest and stop passing off their unbelief as updated Christian theology. Yet, for Christians, Wilson's defection is, of course, still unfortunate, especially because it appears to be based on a dated and highly defective critical reading of the New Testament that has since been exposed as baseless by ground-breaking biblical scholarship.
Given Wilson's rejection of Christianity, there are bound to be some problems with his treatment of Lewis. But as a good biographer, Wilson does his research and does manage to give us a glimpse at the man behind so much of the best Christian writing of the twentieth century. It is an irresistible look at C.S. Lewis, whose writings are still wildly popular.
For a Catholic, the most striking aspect of Lewis is how close to Catholicism he really was. Lewis never became a Catholic and remained an Anglican to the end. But, in spite of his Ulster Protestant upbringing and the related prejudices inevitably ingrained from that upbringing, Lewis surprisingly gravitated to the most Catholic of practices available in some quarters of Anglicanism. Lewis' temperamental affinity to Catholicism is not surprising given his life-long friendship and the literary enthusiasms that he shared with the Catholic J.R.R. Tolkein.
It is not wishful thinking to conclude that Lewis would have been strongly attracted to entering the Catholic Church if he had lived to see the current theological disintegration of the Church of England, which has made Lewis' "mere Christianity" entirely optional. The routine reality of Anglican bishops in good standing publicly denying the divinity and Resurrection of Christ, coupled with same-sex ceremonies and a gay Episcopal bishop, would have surely made Lewis look to Rome.
Lewis believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Wilson notes that Lewis "clearly had a full belief in the Eucharistic Presence, or there would be no force in the rhetoric of his [statement that] 'Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses' "(pp. 174-75).
Most surprising to me, Lewis even turned to the practice of sacramental confession. He was friends with an Anglican nun who apparently encouraged his first confession, which appears to have been made to an Anglican priest from an Anglican religious order (p. 175). The old Ulster Protestant was going to confession to a religious order priest, with the encouragement of a nun. That is an astonishing evolution.
And here, Wilson the unbelieving biographer comes through in a telling description of the drama of confession which reminds me of the writings of John Paul II:
The practice of confession brought before Lewis the drama of redemption as a perpetual game of cat and mouse with the Devil-- the Enemy. The very particularity of the sacrament forces upon the penitent the sense that it is on the here and now-- that row we had with the neighbours, the bad temper with which we did the washing-up, this specific uncharitable thought or unchaste deed-- that salvation and damnation depend. It is in the small area of our own conscience and our own personal behaviour that the good angels and the bad angels are wrestling over our souls, an idea which is both stupendous and slightly comic.
Wilson, p. 176.
Lewis was quite Catholic without formally being Catholic. And Wilson, the honest unbeliever, gives a surprisingly insightful description of sacramental confession. Ironically, many Catholic modernists and theological liberals, who lack the honesty of Wilson, are incapable of such insight about sacramental confession and have contributed mightily to the dramatic decline of confession among Catholics. Sometimes we can learn more from those outside the fold than from those who falsely present themselves as being inside the fold.
Unfit for Command Now #1 on Bestseller List
The Swift boat book Unfit for Command is now #1 on the N.Y. Times Bestseller List for hardcover nonfiction books (see Bestseller List ; free reg'n required).
Sunday, September 05, 200423rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
Today's readings show how the Holy Spirit inverts what we think is the right order of our lives. The message is quite clear in the book of Wisdom: our deliberations are "timid" and "unsure" because of the "many concerns" that weigh down our mind. This Old Testament book is explicit about the solution: "who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?" Our fears and insecurities are a poor guide to the wise way to live. We need help to give us a clear vision of life free from the taint of our insecurities.
In the Letter to Philemon, Paul pleads for Philemon to treat his missing slave Onesimus as "a brother" and as "a partner." Paul here is inverting the accepted order in which the master and the slave are neither brothers nor partners. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul is turning the conventional outlook of the times upside down. He is asking Philemon to give up the idea of the slave as a mere possession.
Jesus goes even further in the Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus asks us to "hate" even our families, to carry our own crosses, and to "renounce all" possessions. Surely, these commands turn our world upside down and subvert our conventional wisdom.
If family members subvert the work of Jesus in our lives, then we must be ready for conflict with them. It is much as if a reformed alcoholic from an alcoholic family must stop attending drunken family gatherings and exposing his children to alcoholism. You can add a variety of other problems that afflict many families today, in addition to substance of abuse of one kind or another: compulsive cynicism and mockery of fellow family members, the worship paid to consumerism and materialism, and the flaunting of sexually immoral lifestyles past and present. The cost of following Christ may include the cost of severing some family ties, however much that goes against our conventional mindset.
Jesus warns us to weigh the cost of discipleship and to be ready to renounce all possessions--and possessions may be things or they may be people. If we really want the wisdom available through the Holy Spirit, we must be ready to see our world--families, careers, lifestyles--turned upside down.