Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The wisdom of Catholic confession

It's part of the wisdom of confessing to a priest that we find it far more embarrassing to reveal our sins to another human being than we do to admit them to God. The sting is far greater! It shouldn't be, of course — obviously we should be far more abashed in front of God, in prayer — but human nature works that way.

Perhaps the lack of confessing to a human being robs Protestants -- and "progressive" Catholics, who scoff at individual confession -- of an important motivator in resisting sin. After all, if you know that if you do the sin, you have to admit it to another person to get right with God, that's uncomfortable, and the thought of having to do that just might provide the strength to resist the temptation.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Down the memory hole

In 1984, George Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith has a nice job at the Ministry of Truth vaporizing inconvenient documents by shoving them into a receptacle at his desk. The receptacle is called a Memory Hole. Once the documents are ashes, history has changed.

Something similar recently happened in Sweden. It seems that one Swedish schoolbook, a textbook for religious history classes, contained two images of the Prophet Mohammed. In the wake of the torrent of violence and vitriolic hatred pouring out of the Islamic world following the publication of the Danish cartoons, Sweden has decided to pull the textbooks from the classrooms, and the publisher has taken them out of circulation.

A gesture of reasonable conciliation, you might think -- cowardly, but within the bounds of reasonability. Except that the two depictions of Mohammed weren't scurrilous caricatures from the pen of some insensitive Western cartoonist; they were both from Islamic manuscripts of the 13th and 14th centuries. They are a legitimate part of the historical record; when the book was written, the Swedes probably thought they were being sensitive by depicting Mohammed with historical Islamic artwork.

But historical truth doesn't matter to the imams. If you don't like something from the past, suppress it. Just shove it down the Memory Hole, and trust the suicidal West to forget the whole thing ever happened.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Divestment as a tool of jihad

David Horowitz's FrontPage magazine has a very interesting article that describes the left's highly-organized attempt to weaken Israel by getting American and European institutions to get rid of their investments in the Israeli economy. All this is smokescreened with concern over supposedly cruel Israeli treatment of Palestinians, etc., etc.

As I see it, all Israel has done in its brief existence is to build a Western-style democracy in, as Golda Meir famously commented, the one plot of Middle Eastern geography that had absolutely no oil. Palestine was an unproductive backwater until they came; now, their bit of Palestine is a world leader in technology. For this, they've been attacked ruthlessly from the first hour of their existence to the present moment.

Western civilization has already allowed millions of God's chosen people to be murdered in the Holocaust. If it allows the rest to be murdered by militant Islam, I can't help but think that God's retribution on us will swift and hard.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

'Lost': blame U.S. for torture

We're all big fans of the ABC series 'Lost' here, so it was sad to see the plot take a politically correct detour. Last night's episode included more of the backstory of the Iraqi character, Said. He gets captured by U.S. troops during the first Gulf War and finds himself employed as an interpreter during interrogations of other Iraqis. One of these is his former commander, who is believed to know the whereabouts of a downed Amerian pilot. His American handler, a non-uniformed older guy (CIA, I suppose), coerces him into doing something he's never done before: torture a prisoner to extract information. He does it, and then bitterly blames the Americans for forcing this terrible experience into his life.

Never mind, I guess, that Saddam's army had regularly used torture for twenty years before Gulf War I) and taught the finer points of its techniques to thousands of its men, making it by far the more likely place a soldier like Said would learn how to do it. No, let's have him be loyal, good-hearted and decent -- until the evil Americans get hold of him.

I'm not saying Americans have never used torture (and I'm not talking about the Abu Ghraib abuses, which were mainly discomforts and humiliations, but the real thing). But you really have to have a political agenda to have Said be forced into torture by Americans -- the same dreary agenda that all of Hollywood seems to share: Blame America for everything.

The more we let these people control our impression of our country, the more the real bad guys will rejoice.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What if... ?

What if the early Christians had made a successful effort to convert the Arabs before Mohammed came along? It looks like everyone in the centuries between 300 (when Christianity was legalized) and 600 wrote the Arabs off as a difficult, scattered, and unimportant people. The Christian emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire seem not to have sent missionaries in that direction, preferring to buy off the Arab tribes now and then, to keep their occasional raids from becoming a significant distraction from the empire's struggle with its traditional enemy, the Persians.

What if, in his spiritual misery, Mohammed had been surrounded not by a polyglot paganism, but by a vibrant Christianity that had been going for a century or two?

Yes, things might have happened just as they did; he might still have wandered off to a cave and begun having those visions that have had such fateful and bloody consequences for the world.

But perhaps not. Perhaps there would have been a kindly parish priest to talk to. Perhaps there would have been a monastery nearby, where he could immerse himself in the already formidable Christian intellectual and spiritual heritage, and explore his spiritual yearnings with good guidance. Perhaps, as happened to countless others, he might simply have been helped to Christ by a Christian neighbor.

How many times did Christians think about evangelizing the Arabs during those centuries? How many times did they decide that those motley desert tribes just weren't worth it, that the Great Commandment somehow didn't apply to them?

The price of not spreading the Gospel can have repercussions stretching millennia into the future.

Friday, February 10, 2006

So why are they doing it?

Cliff May has a good article at Townhall.com discussing the reasons why the militant Islamists are doing what they're doing. He argues that those who are orchestrating the violence (and most of it is quite well orchestrated) know quite well that they're doing far more harm to the image of Islam than the cartoons were. But they know their Machiavelli: for those who would rule, "it is better to be feared than loved." For ruling is exactly what they're after: rule over non-Muslims, and even over those Muslims who would like to join the modern world.

As an aside, I think it's great that one key to understanding their behavior is contained not in some bright new analysis from some think tank, but in the writings of one who was observing politics five hundred years ago.

Another key is the long tradition of Muslim aggression against non-Muslims, and of intimidation and threats when their targets were beyond their physical reach. It was that way when Islam first exploded out of the desert in the 640's. It was that way when they started roughing up Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land in the 1000's. It was that way when Islam kept pressing into eastern Europe during the Renaissance, and besieged Vienna in 1529 and again in 1683.

And it's still that way today, when terrorism has provided an effective weapon such as Islam hasn't had since the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 1800's.

May's article draws parallels between the Islamists and Nazi Germany; the insatiable lust to rule is common to both. I'd draw another parallel. In the mid-1930's, when the Nazis consolidated their hold on German politics, many Germans tried to oppose them, and others, less courageous, despised the Nazis but were too afraid to resist. It's the same with Islamic countries now. We keep hearing that the Islamists are a minority, and that most Muslims don't share their extremism. I'll grant that, for the sake of argument. But that minority has gained control of Iran and Syria, is close to it in Egypt and Turkey, and is flexing its muscles everywhere else. When Europe was overrun in 1939-41, it didn't matter that dedicated Nazis were a political minority in Germany; the overrunning took place anyway. And it won't matter to the rest of us that Islamists are a minority when they hold the reins of national power in a dozen countries and use oil money to buy nuclear weapons and missles.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

You just gotta love that Religion of Peace...

One of those peace-loving signs at the peaceful demonstration by followers of the Religion of Peace in front of the Danish embassy in London a few days ago.

Being a person who doesn't like confrontation, I have to admit I'm a little uncomfortable with those original Danish cartoons of Mohammed (or is it Muhammad, now? Sorry, don't behead me, peaceful Muslims to whom jihad only denotes an internal struggle against one's own sins!). Still less comfortable with some of the truly vitriolic follow-on cartoons from Europeans that are popping up on the net.

With that said, none of it justifies rioting, burning down buildings, and suggesting beheadings. One gets the impression that when the chips are down, this is what the Q'uran really teaches people: spite, revenge, murder, destruction. I sure don't hear many Muslim voices speaking up and denouncing this latest round of violence as a perversion of Islam -- the excuse we heard after 9/11.

No, I'd put up this plaque on the burned-out shell of the Danish embassy in Syria: "Sacred to the memory of the Religion of Peace. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chant and praise music

The music minister at a large Presbyterian church once told me that modern "praise songs" were like Gregorian chant because they were repetitious (e.g., "Worthy, worthy, worthy, worthy, is the Lord, Oh, he's so worthy, worthy, worthy...").

This amiable fellow had had a long and pretty distinguished career as a classical vocal soloist, but I guess he had never spent any time carefully listening to, or better yet, singing chant. If he had, he would have known that although chant will sometimes spread a single syllable over several notes, it never repeats itself gratuitously the way praise music habitually does. When chant does repeat a phrase or sentence, it's part of a verse-and-response structure that makes contextual sense. The longest sections of chant in the Ordinary -- the Gloria, Credo, and Pater Noster -- have no repetition at all.

Chant does deliver the words more slowly than we would normally speak them, and maybe that's where some of the confusion comes in. But that's part of its effectiveness: it gives us time to slow down, quiet down, and really let the meaning of the words we're singing soak in.

That democracy of the dead

Chesterton's remark about a "democracy of the dead" is hardly news, but since this is a journal of thoughts I've found it interesting to encounter, here it is again:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

I love this, because it's a slap in the face to the pride that's peculiar to our times: that the people of the past were ignorant loons because they didn't know certain things (usually technological) discovered in our lifetime. Why study Socrates or Aquinas, we say. Why read Utopia or The Consolation of Philosophy? So boring! After all, Boethius and More and all those other dead people had no computers, no internet! They never downloaded anything! They didn't know about DNA or even electricity! How could they have anything useful to say to us, who are so much better informed?

As if, after sixteen years of oh-so-modern schooling, the average college graduate today could put together two coherent sentences about any of those technological developments.