Mission impossible?

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Here…”early one spring morning…”

Some encouraging words for Christians who might be feeling beleagured just now by the forces which they might feel are ranged up against them in the world at large – either in hi-jacked democratic institutions or in a full-scale onslaught on life and limb.

“Mission impossible: No other expression can summarize the command given to a small group of people on the Mount of Olives, early one spring morning at the dawn of the Christian era: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth’ (Acts: 8). Christ’s last words had all the appearance of insanity. Neither rich nor learned nor influential, how were those simple people
from this lost corner of the Roman empire supposed to carry to the whole world the message of a recently executed man?

“Within the span of three hundred years, a large part of the Roman world had converted to the Christian way of life. The doctrine of the Crucified had conquered the persecutions of the powerful, the contempt of the learned, and the hedonist’s resistance to moral demands. Christianity is today the world’s greatest spiritual force. Only God’s grace can explain it. But his grace has worked through men and women who lived up to the mission they received.”

Blessed Alvaro del Portillo

Et tu Disney?

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Christians truly are at a head-scratching moment as they confront the drift of the modern secular world. Drift indeed may be a too gentle a phenomenon to describe what is bearing down on them. It is much more like a deluge and so much so that not a few of them must be contemplating building an Ark. They have wished for better for this world, have worked for its configuration to a model of our species’ true nature but now appear to have their backs against the wall.  They continue living in this secular society hoping for peaceful coexistence with those who do not see our nature or our world in the same way as they do. With each day that passes this hope is challenged more and more.

For decades now there has been concern and debate among believing and conscientious Christians about their representation in the legislative assemblies of the Western world. In jurisdictions stretching from the United Kingdom, through Ireland, France and Spain to the United States and Canada, national and federal chambers have one by one enshrined laws which contravene central moral principles of their faith.

These legislatures have now set out on a path to recalibrate their respective societies according to the fundamental principles of an anthropology alien to much of what Christians both rationally and religiously know and believe to represent the true nature of the human species.Today the political establishment seems to be turning its back on the Christian ethics which for 1700 years have been advancing as the standard behind our laws.

But this is not really their biggest problem. The first Christian communities on the planet lived under such regimes, managing a level of coexistence which enabled them to survive, thrive and evangelise – barring sporadic episodes of paranoid persecution. The forces which from time to time set out to destroy them were for the most part inept and dysfunctional. The Edict of Milan in 313 brought the political establishment to its senses and outlawed intolerance against Christians.

Now in the 21st century, through a creeping process in the legislatures of formerly Christian countries across the globe, the notional Edict of Milan has been revoked and the right of Christians to practice and live by the principles of their religion is now no longer being tolerated. This, of course, has happened before, but never in a way in which it is happening now.

Within a few decades of the death of the Emperor Constantine, his successor,  Julian, tried to reverse the Edict. For that abortive attempt he is known in history as Julian the Apostate. Then came the armies of Islam which wiped out Christianity in half the known world, and threatened to do so in the other half. Nearer to our own time the French Revolution sent thousands of Christians to their deaths. Then in the last century the twin scourges of Marxism and Nazi ideology did the same.

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On all those occasions the challenge was met and the threat subsided.

But now it is different. In our age there is a new element. It would seem that the grass roots have been to a degree, transformed. Add to this the sad trend among the political classes of abandoning any pretension to leadership. They seem to be followers of fashion and are now turning their backs on Christian values because that is the way they think the wind is blowing. They unashamedly leave their consciences at the door when they enter legislative assemblies. Christians are being regularly told now that they are on the wrong side of history.

The character of the modern state compounds the problem for Christians. In 313 the Roman Empire may have covered the lion’s share of the known world. Despite, however, the impression of power it has left us with, its totalitarian reach was minuscule in comparison with the reach modern governments have into our lives.  We tolerate this totalitarianism because it is accepted as democratic – up to a point – and is seen to be “in our best interests”.

Is it either? This is now the question that is preoccupying many of us, Christians or not. This question takes us away beyond the Christian-secular debate. Nevertheless, the essential issue, which many see affecting our lives, is at the heart of the predicament of the Christian in the modern 21st century world. A tyrannical populism, driven by ambiguously democratic forces, now seems rampant in the public square. A formerly benign Leviathan, called up to help secure the common good, has now gone native. The threat he poses to the believing Christian is exemplified in the news this week – reported in Time magazine and elsewhere – about big business’ latest foray into the culture wars. Time tells us:

Disney says it will not film in the state of Georgia if a bill, which critics say would effectively legalize discrimination based on sexual preferences, becomes law. Gov. Nathan Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto the Free Exercise Protection Act, which protects faith-based organizations that refuse to provide services that would violate their beliefs—such as performing gay marriages, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Add to this what we remember of the relentless drive of big media and internet corporations which successfully pushed the political establishment to legalise same-sex marriage over the past few years and we have every right to ask what has happened to the democratic process.

The answer may be simple. These unelected corporations in their turn, like the politicians, are responding to a populist new reading of the nature of our species. They are driven by the market and they are reading the bottom line – follow the money.

Christians look on in dismay as all this unfolds. Not only are their values being disregarded. Their personal freedom, their freedom of association and their freedom of conscience is being threatened and increasingly denied. The consciences of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the future of the work they undertook to dedicate their lives to for the love of their God and the good of mankind is now in the hands and at the mercy of eight judges of the US Supreme Court. Should the Court decide in their favour – and I wouldn’t want to bet on it – there will be outrage and cries for their blood.

What Christians see before them is a population subverted by a reading of our nature which distorts and destroys what they see as some of the most precious truths about humanity. Not only has that happened but that same popular will is now seeking to tyrannically impose that vision of humanity on all. Coexistence is not on offer  – and it is not just being denied by Disney.

What Christians are now asking is where did this reading of our nature come from? How did it take hold? German author Gabriele Kuby asks all these questions in her book, The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom – now translated into English. In summary, her argument is this:

The core of the global cultural revolution is the deliberate confusion of sexual norms. It is the culmination of a metaphysical revolution as well–a shifting of the fundamental ground upon which we stand and build a culture, even a civilization. Instead of desire being subjected to natural, social, moral, and transcendent orders, the identity of man and woman is dissolved, and free rein given to the maximum fulfilment of polymorphous urges, with no ultimate purpose or meaning.

Kuby surveys gender ideology and LGBT demands, the devastating effects of pornography and sex-education, attacks on freedom of speech and religion, the corruption of language, and much more. From the movement’s trailblazers to the post-Obergefell landscape, she documents in meticulous detail how the tentacles of a budding totalitarian regime are slowly gripping the world in an insidious stranglehold. Here on full display are the re-education techniques of the new permanent revolution, which has migrated from politics and economics to sex.

Kuby’s work advocates one viable response, not just for the Christian, but for all interested in the true good of humanity. It is essentially a call to action for all to redouble their efforts to preserve freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and in particular the freedom of parents to educate their children according to their own beliefs, so that the family may endure as the foundation upon which any healthy society is built.

And where does all this leave the ordinary Christian who conscientiously wants to live and practice the mandate he or she considers they have received from Christ and which is summarised neatly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (900):

Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.

The chances are it will leave them in prison. Kuby’s book enumerates more than one case where it has done so.

But Christian culture is not dead, or even dying. It is taking stock and – although wrong responses are never off the option list which may be presented for action – it will survive and thrive.

From the earliest days of the history of their Faith, the Christian community was assailed by opposing forces, from within as well as from without. It will never, it seems, be otherwise. Each struggle in which they have had to engage has presented new challenges, new issues and new dangers, or at least new variations on old dangers. On every occasion solutions have been hammered out and victory has lead it to new and even richer landscapes. Believing Christians may have to scratch their heads a little more but they do not doubt that they will also prevail in the struggles they face today.

(Updated on 26 March with the following sentence from the original draft. It is in the third paragraph and was inadvertently committed from the first posting:  Today the political establishment seems to be turning its back on the Christian ethics which for 1700 years have been advancing as the standard behind our laws. )

James Foley, may he rest in peace – as he surely does

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The Islamic State jihadists have executed freelance journalist James Foley and posted a video of his beheading. In doing so they have brought us back 1800 years to remind us of what it sometimes costs to be a Christian and of what any Christian might at any time be called on to do – to sacrifice his life for his faith.

Is Foley a martyr in the truest sense? Surely he is, and is now with God in Heaven. It may take time to verify but you and I can be absolutely sure that the jihadists of the Islamic State gave James Foley the option of saving his life by accepting their utterly false and evil vision of both man and God – just as the Romans tempted the Christian martyrs of their day.

He died brutally at their hands, not because he was an American but because the was a Christian first, who would not abandon his faith

Foley, just 40, became their prisoner two years ago while covering the conflict in Syria. Prior to that he had covered the conflict in Libya and also found himself captive there. In that captivity he revealed to us the depths of his faith in an account which he wrote for a magazine published by his old university, Marquette, in Wisconsin.

James Foley, may he rest in peace, is an example to all Christians and an example to all who would be Christian. He shows us that bearing the Cross of Christ is part of the deal – and that this, even in the age which we consider modern and enlightened, 1800 years after the early Christians were marched into the arenas, may call for the ultimate sacrifice.

Foley wrote this account of a moment in his earlier captivity in Libya, revealing to us the virtues of a true Christian, as well as the meaning and the of faith and prayer.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone. …

One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. … Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”

“Jimmy, where are you?”

“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.” …

“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.

“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away.

“We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

Mozilla, Mozilla, what DO you stand for?

Some words of Pope Francis on Christian tolerance for Muslims receive a loud echo in a Fraser Nelson piece in today’s Daily Telegraph (London). Meanwhile across the Atlantic a newer kind of jihad takes off yet another head. Some weeks ago the defenders of the gay lobby mocked Ross Douthat of the New York Times when he expressed the controversial view that the gay marriage campaign seemed to be heading for certain victory and that no quarter was going to be given to those who opposed it. The news today seems to bear him out on at least the question of the campaign’s intention.

Nelson takes some pride in what he sees as the remarkable and admirable way in which – in spite of some horrific provocation – Britain has assimilated its imperial legacy of a significant Muslim population. It is a two-way street and the majority of the Muslim minority in the UK cohabits agreeably alongside a majority population whose way of life is still rooted in Christian values.

Would that another very militant minority were as accommodating to the Christian values of the majority with whom they live side by side.

The gay jihadis in the United States have now chopped off the head of Mozilla-Firefox with their creeping and creepy war on Christians and the Christian conscience. For them it’s “no peace, no quarter” for the adherents of a 2000 year-old religion who dare to hold by a belief that marriage should remain what they understand it to be, and the nature and purpose of human sexuality and the institution of the family requires it to be.

The Pope, in his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, has asked all Catholics to embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to their countries in the same way that Christians hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. He entreated those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries. Clearly work remains to be done in this area, but movement is in the right direction.

Christians and Muslims are deeply divided on matters of faith and the practice of their respective creeds. Yet the leaders in the mainstream of both faiths in the West have found a way to tolerance and respect for the freedom of conscience of each other’s followers.  No such tolerance is being offered by the gay jihadis who now have all the appearances of becoming one of the more sinister enemies of democracy in our world today.

In 2008, Brendan Eich gave money to oppose the legalisation of gay marriage in California, a mere $1,000. In a truly democratic world this should be no problem. Let the people decide. Let those of opposing views on the matter openly help along the argument which they feel carries the greater weight. This democratic right is outrageously denied by the gay jihad. “You will be punished in whatever way we feel you can be punished if you oppose us”, is their banner.

The Pope went on to exhort Christians to show a spirit of tolerance to Muslims, even in the face of violent opposition. Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, he said, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence. Elsewhere and unambiguously he has asked Christians to show the same spirit towards homosexual people.

Christians faced with persecution – and the treatment of Brendan Eich is nothing short of persecution – from gay activists across the Western world have the same spirit demanded of them. They will be as good as their word and seek to live by this spirit. But they cannot and will not ignore the voice of their conscience and accept a false understanding of human sexuality no matter how many governments, corporations and pressure groups seek to make them do so.

The Christian faith is not homophobic. It is against its deepest principles to hate or denigrate any human being. But it holds, and has held for thousands of years, as its Judaic sources have held, a belief and a reasoned view of what it is to be human – in all its dimensions. The late 20th century change to that “narrative” is a long way from offering any serious reasonable basis for a radical rejection of that position which is still accepted by the vast majority of human-kind. It is this that makes what is now going on, exemplified by the hounding out of his job of a gifted genius, so outrageous, even frightening. The echoes of the worst kind of totalitarianism known to the last century are unmistakable.

Fraser Nelson rejects the notion that there is a clash of civilizations on British soil today. What he says of Britain might also be said of Ireland.

Those who believe in a clash of civilisations, in which British values are pitted against those of the Muslim world, have not been short of examples in the past few days. The BBC reports on an “Islamic takeover plot” by hardliners to seize control of several Birmingham state schools. Two Morrisons workers are suing the supermarket for not being able to take holiday during Ramadan, after being told that they submitted their applications too late. Such stories do make the blood boil, and may lead the less charitable to ask if such people should move to a country that better reflects their prejudices.

But one hears such complaints rarely, and this is what marks us out in a Europe that is paranoid about Islam and identity. Britain is, through empire, the original multi-ethnic state. When Churchill was writing for The Daily Telegraph as a war correspondent, his criticism of the Afghan tribesmen was that their behaviour was un-Islamic. Then, the Queen had tens of millions of Islamic subjects and her ministers boasted of running the greatest Muslim power on earth.

The integration of Muslims can now be seen as one of the great success stories of modern Britain. While the Dutch and the French have huge troubles with integration, and are caught in agonised struggles about their national identities, Britain is marked out by the trouble that we are not having. Dig a little deeper, and the real story is the striking amount of harmony.

But where there is no sign of harmony is in the relentless campaign of a militant minority of homosexual people and their allies from the anti-Christian “liberal” establishment who want to expunge from Western society some of the most fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith about what it is to be human and how men and women should give expression to their sexual identities in a way that is moral.