Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Prayers for My Dad: Healing a "Paralytic"

UPDATE: My dad is still in need of prayers. He has been fighting along. One unfortunate consequence is he has weakened through all this. The doctors told us last night that his left lung did collapse. They say the prognosis is not good. However, we have heard that before. Time will tell. Please continue your prayers for my dad, my mom, and the medical staff. I hope you find the reflection below helpful for this intention and any others you might have today ... or tomorrow.

Though I would like to post on St. John, the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, I cannot. My dad is sick and in the hospital. Things are serious. Some time ago, I posted what follows. Sadly, I post it again. Please offer up your prayers for my dad who is ill and for my mom who is saintly in her care and strength. Perhaps join me in this:

Each time I pray I am brought back to the story of the Healing of the Paralytic. You can find it in a few of the Gospels. Here is Mark's version (RSV):

Chapter 2
1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them.

3* And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.

5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say,' Rise, take up your pallet and walk? 10 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic-- 11 "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home."

12* And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

Now, what strikes me each time is signified by the choice of words. This choice on Jesus' part displays utter beauty and mercy on his part. And, let's add, a reason to hope. What am I talking about?

A man is paralyzed. Does he suggest going to Christ? No. His friends do. Man is sick. Friends take him to Christ. Simple. However, they can't get in. The house is packed. The place is full. Do they give up? Do they say, "Well, we tried"? No. They persist. Without ceasing, they--in a sort of prayer--continue to get their friend to the One they believe in. Does the friend say anything? Does the friend say he wants to go to Christ? No. The friend is sick and paralyzed. For whatever reason, he is quiet, as if he cannot talk, as if he is too sick to communicate his desires or voice his protests. Yet friends are friends. They will not be turned away. They will continue to do for a friend, for a loved one.

The friends raise the paralytic up to the roof and lower him down through an opening, which they had to make on the spur of the moment.

Now, the key, the word that always grabs me: "... their ..."

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."

We all remember that Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic. As well, he soon heals the man of the paralysis. That is rather what we have come to expect from Jesus. But why? Why did Jesus do it?

Why did Jesus heal the paralytic? The text reveals the answer: "And when Jesus saw their faith, ..."

Their faith.

Jesus saw their faith and was moved. Jesus saw what they had done. Jesus saw that a group of believers in him loved a friend. Jesus saw that this group did not let crowds or a full building get in the way of transporting their friend to him. Jesus saw that this group risked to get their friend to him. They raised him up to the roof, made an opening, and lowered their paralyzed friend down into Jesus' midst.

They hoped for a healing. They got that and so much more.

Jesus was moved by "their faith." Because of their faith, he turned to the paralytic and forgave the man his sins. Jesus did not forgive him because of anything he (the paralytic) had said or done. No. Jesus forgave the man because of the man's friends. More precisely, Jesus acted because of the faith of the man's friends.

So, a group of believers took a sick or injured friend to Jesus and because of their faith, Jesus forgave the man his sins and then physically healed him.

Because of their faith, Jesus poured forth his mercy and graces upon the sick and injured.

We can help our friends and loved ones by carrying them to Jesus, not letting obstacles of whatever sort get in the way. Find another way when blocked. Find another means when things hinder you from bringing someone to Jesus. Raise him and then lower him onto the lap of Jesus. Lower him into the presence of the Lord. There, because of your faith, may Jesus see the sick and injured. May Jesus see and have mercy. May he save the sick and injured brought to him. May he even hear our prayer for physical healing. We may not get that one answered in the way we would like and when we would like, but in the end all mysteries will be made clear. On the more important note, Jesus has forgiven and saved the injured and sick brought to him by friends or loved ones who believe in his power, who believe in his mercy, who believe in his compassion, who truly and wholeheartedly trust and believe in Him.

Thus, we truly become "co-workers" with the Lord. We bring to him those in need of his grace. We bring to him and thus help him in the work of salvation, in the work of saving souls.

This is his beauty, his goodness, his mercy.

For those unable to do so on their own, Jesus leaves the sick and injured with friends and loved ones to intercede on their behalf, to be "co-workers" with him.

Because there are those who are unable to seek him on their own, Jesus leaves the sick and injured with us, with you and with me. To work, to pray on their behalf.

When petitioned out of hope and love, Jesus sees the faith of friends and loved ones who bring to him someone in need of the Lord's care. Because of this, "their faith," Jesus--we pray--will turn to the sick and injured, those who cannot come to him on their own because of their weak and frail state, and he will forgive them their sins, saving them, and then--in all hope and yet acceptance if it does not happen--he will once again utter those sought after words, "I say to you, rise, ... and go home."

Please pray for my dad Leon as he struggles and fights to recover from this illness, that he may soon rise and come home. May God bless him and our family in these difficult times.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

The only joy in the world is to begin.
It is beautiful to live because to live is to begin,
and every instant.
--Cesare Pavese

Christmas is the remembrance of the way in which the Lord became present. The Lord is never a past. So Christmas is the remembrance of the Lord who has bcome man, a child, like every one of us has been, and is.

--Luigi Giussani

God does not leave us groping in the dark. He has shown himself to us as a man. In his greatness he has let himself become small. god has taken on a human face. Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.

--Benedict XVI

Christ ends up right here, in my attitutde and disposition as a human being, in my way, that is, one who expects, who awaits something because he feels that he is entirely wanting. He has joined me. He has proposed himself to my original needs.

--Luigi Giussani

Friday, December 22, 2006

Number 18 : Hallelujah and Desires of the Heart

"Number 18" is all I could say.

One recurring theme of Msgr. Giussani and CL is a reflection upon the calling of the first two disciples from the Gospel of John (1:29-42). Some of the key lines from the biblical passage are:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying; and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ).

Many points are made about this scene. There is much to meditate upon and understand. In a few places, Msgr. Giussani guides the discussion to the aspect of time: "It was about four o'clock in the afternoon." Why remember and even mention the time? What is the point?

Well, if you go back a bit and recall what John and Andrew were asking ("where are you staying?"), you can see in their question a longing to be and remain in the presence of Jesus: In the words of Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, "Where will You remain with us? Where can we be with You?"

Msgr. Albacete continues:

The first human response to the Incarnation, to God's Word in human words, the first Christian expression of the desires that define and move and even torment the human heart is the desire for a place, for a place in which to be with Jesus, in which to be educated by Jesus, by His companionship, by being with Him, by "encountering Him" at every moment of life, by remaining where He "remains," a place from which He will never go away.

They came and saw and stayed with him that day. Now most scholars say that the Gospel of John was written quite a few years after the Ascension of Christ. Now whether or not that is true makes no difference to Giussani's understanding of this event. As Albacete notes,

Many years later, when the Gospel was put together, the memory was still vivid about the precise hour when this happened: "It was around 4 pm." The next day, they went to tell others about it, and Christianity began. So is was then, so it is today: the desires of the heart are unleashed and strengthened at a precise time in a precise place [...] .

When and where was that special kiss? When and where was your engagement to your spouse?
When and where was your child born? When and where was that particular moment of grace experienced?

And yes: When and where was Jesus born? When and where did Jesus die?

These are some of the thoughts that entered my mind when I tried to give words to what I was feeling and thinking upon the completion of hearing the great "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah.

Now listening to a piece of music is not the same as the birth and death of the Son of God. The connection lies in the fact that when an event breaks out upon those experiencing it, the effect is so strong and penetrating that sometimes a reference to the time and place is all one can muster ... at least for a brief time. Sometimes detailed and overly descriptive words can deplete an event (and thus the memory) of their impact and perhaps even cathartic nature.


Time and place matter. In another article, Msgr. Albacete complements his earlier words:

For John and Andrew it all began not as an opinion, not as an inspiration [...] but as “something that happened” to them at a specific time, date, and place. It began as a fact, as an event, as a human encounter. So much is this the case that when asked by Jesus what they wanted, John and Andrew’s reply was simply a place to be with Him always, a place where what happened to them looking at Him would continue to happen.

Time and place matter. They aid memory.

On one particular December day, all I kept thinking about was earlier that morning at my locker when I kissed her.

For many days, the setting--the time and place--was what we and our families spoke of: Christmas morning before the Christmas tree when we became engaged.

As well, the December afternoon at Bellflower Kaiser when I saw my daughter for the first time and immediately said a prayer with and for her: It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Time and place matter. They add context and color to an event: In a Bethlehem manger one winter day.

Sometimes time and place can become part of the meaning and symbol of the event itself: not just the Cross, but at 3:00 on the Cross at Golgotha. 3:00. Now the hour of mercy. Fridays at 3:00 would no longer be the same (no matter what modern liturgists and so-called "liberated" Catholics might pine for).

Time and place matter. Symbols matter. Icons matter. Like John the Baptist, those who point to the more meaningful persons or events matter. Words can do the same: December 25; Friday at 3:00 pm.

Archbishop Bruno Forte makes a similar point in commenting upon the same biblical passage as above:

"Come and see." In matter of faith, when we contemplate the mystery, seeing comes after we have abandoned ourselves entirely; first one comes, and then one sees! This is what the two disciples in fact do; and such is the impression left on them by meeting Jesus, a meeting that will mark their lives forever, that John remembers teh exact time it took place with the chronological exactitude so typical of the memory we have of the times of a great love: "It was about four o'clock in the afternoon."

The times of a great love. Is that what has happened? A great love? Listening to Handel's Messiah in its entirety and especially the "Hallelujah" left me with very few words that could then capture the emotions, the thoughts, the meaning; left me with very few words that could then capture the experience. Very few words. Anything analytical probably would have just materialized the moment.

So what did I do? What did I say?

"Number 18 ... number 18."

After a few still moments, "That was number 18."

Then once some more time passed, I went to my daughter and brought her over to listen to number 18.

"Therese, come listen to this. Number 18, the Hallelujah." I explained a few bits of background and the thematic direction of the earlier tracks and then pressed the play button.

Number 18. Sitting on the couch last night at about 8:30 pm.

Scratch that.

Number 18 sitting on the couch last night at about 8:30 pm with my daughter.

Msgr. Albacete was right: "the desires of the heart are unleashed and strengthened at a precise time in a precise place."

Hallelujah for that. Hallelujah. הַלְּלוּיָהּ

HALLELUJAH! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. KING OF KINGS, and LORD OF LORDS, HALLELUJAH!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Handel's Messiah and American Christianity

So I took Michael Linton's advice and went out and purchased a new and full (not the "selections" kind) version of Handel's Messiah. Got through most of the first CD last night and can't wait for the second CD today. Wish I had had the time to listen to both without any lapse of time in between.

Michael Linton has also written another essay/post on not just which versions of Handel's Messiah one should buy and listen to but an essay dealing with why no other piece of music is so linked with Christmas as Handel's oratorio:

For musicians, Christmas means Messiah. This is not a comment upon musicians’ religiosity, but rather upon their finances. Messiah, Handel’s Messiah, is to America’s choral societies and orchestras what La Bohème is to its opera houses and Nutcracker to its ballets: the guaranteed full house that can bankroll a whole season of deficits. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Handel’s oratorio receives hundreds of performances, from church choirs with organ accompaniment to major symphonies with their professional choruses.

[...] While
Messiah is a masterpiece, it is but one of many from Handel’s pen, masterpieces that have not endured so steadfastly as Messiah. Why?

I think the answer lies in the fact that for the last two hundred years, English-speaking Christianity, and in particular, American Christianity, has found a singularly eloquent vehicle for self-reflection in Messiah. Despite much talk to the contrary, religion remains deeply important to most Americans. But as many writers have noted, that religiosity is not denominational or even confessional in nature. Instead, it is individualistic, a matter of personal belief and individual choice not dictated by bishops, mediated by ritual, or regulated by the state. Furthermore, American Christianity is deeply eschatological, the sense of the impending eschaton being not so much a dread premonition of a coming doom, but rather a purposeful optimism. Americans work for and expect the eventual establishment of the kingdom of God, that "city on a hill."

Messiah speaks to such a Christianity. Although reminiscent of the lectionary texts from Advent through Trinity from the Book of Common Prayer, the oratorio cannot be said to be denominational (although the lack of passages dealing with Mary certainly gives it a distinctly Protestant cast). Its biblical texts are equally accessible to Episcopalians and National Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, and until fairly recently, could be said to be known by heart by almost all. Unlike Bach’s cantatas and passions, the oratorio requires neither a liturgical setting nor a particular occasion for it to be grasped. And despite the current custom of abridged Christmas performances (an aberration largely the result of reduced attention spans), the oratorio is not seasonal. If the work points to anything at all, it is neither Christmas nor Easter but rather the Second Coming and the individual’s faith in Christ’s eventual triumph.

Messiah is a concert work for the concert hall, and very much in the mold of the modern Protestant sermon, which entertains its listener for the purpose of edifying him. Like his contemporary George Whitefield (who was also criticized for using theatrical devices for religious ends), Handel uses the conventions of the theater to compel his listener into a personal encounter with the scriptural texts. Messiah, contrary to most critics’ readings, is highly dramatic. But its drama is an interior one, a personal confrontation between the individual listener and the story of salvation that Handel unfolds before him. To a population where that confrontation is the fulcrum of their lives, performances of Messiah become almost autobiographical.

It is because of the religious character of Americans that Messiah is so important here. And because of that religious character, it can be said that Messiah forms the foundation of America’s art music culture. Not only do performances of the oratorio undergird the finances of many of the country’s performing organizations, the work itself is the entrance of tens of thousands into the realm of classical music. It is not only the one classical piece that almost everyone will recognize (hence Madison Avenue’s shameless exploitation of it), but in many cases it is the only major classical piece that most amateur musicians will themselves perform. My own case is not unusual. Messiah was the first piece of classical music I heard live, the first one I performed as an amateur singer, and the first one I conducted as a professional musician.

Vatican Soccer Team?

A Vatican soccer team? Vatican FC?

Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told journalists in Rome on Sunday that he envisioned the Vatican someday putting together "a football team of great value, that could play on the same level as Roma, Inter Milan and Sampdoria."

Cardinal Bertone is an avid Juventus supporter and often provided local television commentary on Sampdoria games while Archbishop of Genoa. He said the Church's seminaries and Catholic youth clubs around Italy were full of talented players.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dickens and A Christmas Carol

Just as I finished teaching Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, I found that maybe I should check my often-visited sites a bit more often.

Over at First Things, Joseph Bottum has posted an essay he wrote a few years ago. This "Christmas Rerun" is "an attempt to figure out why the mess of A Christmas Carol remains the greatest Christmas fiction ever written."

Then yesterday as I was listening to Hugh's show on A Christmas Carol (an interview with Mark D. Roberts), Hugh pointed out that Roberts had been posting thoughts/essays on Dickens's much-beloved work.

Roberts's posts to date are:
Part 1 My Favorite Book
Part 2 The Man Who Invented Christmas
Part 3 The Real Business of Christmas
Part 4 The First Ebenezer Scrooge
Part 5 What Made Scrooge Scrooge?
Part 6 Why Did Ebenezer Scrooge Change? Stave 1

Wish I had read some of these before starting but at least before finishing A Christmas Carol with my students.

I have my own thoughts on the book and on teaching it to high school students, but I will have to save those for another day. I will say, though, that many enjoyed the story and left looking forward to watching the movie editions again ... with greater insight into the literature behind those versions. They were particularly struck by Scrooge's transformation and the key moments/events that triggered his change.

It was especially fun, too, to play the board and trivia game A Christmas Carol as a way to review some of the highlights and perhaps too minute details of the story. We all enjoyed it nonetheless, especially with the hot chocolate, cookies, and candy canes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Iran's Nuclear Plans Continue: Thanks, Russia

This is not the kind of news I had hoped to read this morning: "Russia defies West and goes ahead with nuclear fuel sale to Iran." (H/T: CQ) What?! Exactly:

RUSSIA is to begin supplying Iran with nuclear fuel early next year despite mounting concern in the West that this could accelerate Tehran’s plans to build a nuclear bomb.

Good to know Russia is an ally. Right? Ally of whom? Its own pocketbook. Interesting this would be if Russia's own Islamist problem built ties to Iran. This is a point Captain Ed makes in his post about Russia's decision:

One would think that the threat of proliferation on the southern belly of Russia would give Putin and his regime some pause, but the Russian autocrat has his eyes on the wrong front. He sees his great conflict with Europe and the Western powers, which have come all the way to the doorstep of Russia, absorbing all of the buffer states that once shielded Russia from the West. That evolution of Westernization -- begun with the fall of the Berlin Wall -- has rattled Putin far more than it should, and it has kept his focus off of the real existential threat of a nuclear-armed radical Islam.

And we have no doubt that Ahmadinejad will share with his friends once he has a fully-developed nuclear process. His tip to the Kuwaitis only confirms his intentions to spread nuclear weapons throughout Southwest Asia in an attempt to eject the West from the area. He wants an end to the Israeli nuclear deterrent, and he's going to get it unless he's stopped. That would be true whether Putin hands him the fuel for his Messianic ambitions or not, but the day will come much more quickly now than before.

And if that wasn't enough to worry about, apparently the Saudis are a bit concerned these days, as the Hajj is approaching:

MILLIONS of Muslim pilgrims from all over the world begin trekking to Mecca for the annual Hajj ceremony next month - and officials in Saudi Arabia, where the "holy" city is located, are on tenterhooks. They fear that Iran's ultra-radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will turn the Hajj into a political demonstration in support of his agenda for a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and what he calls "The Zionist-Crusader camp" led by the United States. (H/T: Hugh)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Separation between Church and State: Separating Fact from Fiction

Separation of Church and State or Separation of Church from State?
Does it matter?

In light of the recent controversy spurred on by Dennis Prager's column (and its follow-up), reading this should shed some light.

In light of the ongoing struggle to fend off the strict separationists from victory in the courts, reading this should help.

In light of the seeming never-ending claptrap that comes from some judges and justices, reading this should clarify the real issue.

In light of living in a world where many think the U.S. Constitution (and its Bill of Rights) was set up to keep religious-based ideas out of policy decision-making, out of public discourse, out of the government in any and all ways, out of the public square, reading this should give a sufficient amount of support for holding the view that the ACLU et al. are just plain wrong.

What is this?

It is “Origins and Dangers of the ‘Wall of Separation’ Between Church and State” by Daniel L. Dreisbach, published in the October 2006 issue of Imprimis (and the subscription is even free!):
There was a consensus among the founders that religion was indispensable to a system of republican self-government. The challenge the founders confronted was how to nurture personal responsibility and social order in a system of self-government. Tyrants and dictators can use the whip and rod to force people to behave as they desire, but clearly this is incompatible with a self-governing people. In response to this challenge the founders looked to religion (and morality informed by religious faith) to provide the internal moral compass that would prompt citizens to behave in a disciplined manner and thereby promote social order and political stability. The literature of the founding era is replete with this argument, no example more famous than George Washington’s statement in his Farewell Address of September 19, 1796:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens . . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion . . . . [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Believing that religion and morality were indispensable to social order and political prosperity, the founders championed religious liberty in order to foster a vibrant religious culture in which a beneficent religious ethos would inform the public ethic and to promote an environment in which religious and moral leaders could speak out boldly, without restraint or inhibition, against corruption and immorality in civic life. Religious liberty was not merely a benevolent grant of the civil state; rather, it reflected an awareness among the founders that the very survival of the civil state and a civil society was dependent on a vibrant religious culture, and religious liberty nurtured such a religious culture. In other words, the civil state’s respect for religious liberty is an act of self-preservation. The unfortunate consequence of 20th-century jurisprudence is that the First Amendment, designed to protect and promote a vital role for religion in public life, has been replaced with a wall of separation that, in the hands of the modern judiciary, has restricted religion’s place in the polity.

Friday, December 08, 2006

More Dennis and Ellison on Using the Koran in Oath

Dennis Prager's column from last week caused a lot of discussion and seeming controversy.
This week he has responded to many of the so-called arguments against his position. I say "so-called" because not a few responses were quite incendiary and more of an attack on him than on what he said. Though he may be wrong about the issue (I am still not convinced he isn't wrong; perhaps he is even right), so many have not dealt with his argument. Rather, as this week's column shows, in typical leftist fashion, many of his critics have resorted to calling him names instead of actually taking on his argument.

Though there are a few often recurring accusations against him, the most intellectually meaty is the following:

Accusation: I am advocating something unconstitutional by demanding that the Bible be included in oaths of office. I am reminded that Mr. Ellison has a right to practice the religion of his choice and that there shall be no religious test for candidates for office in America.

Dennis's answer:

Response: I never even hinted that there should be a religious test. It has never occurred to me that only Christians run for office in America. The idea is particularly laughable in my case since I am not now, nor ever have been, a Christian. I am a Jew (a non-denominational religious Jew, for the record), and I would vote for any Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Mormon, atheist, Jew, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Wiccan, Confucian, Taoist or combination thereof whose social values I share. Conversely, I would not vote for a fellow Jew whose social values I did not share. I want people of every faith and of no faith who affirm the values I affirm to enter political life.

My belief that the Bible should be present at any oath (or affirmation) of office has nothing whatsoever to do with the religion of the office holder. And it never has until Keith Ellison's decision to substitute a different text for the Bible. Many office holders who do not believe in the Bible at all or who reject some part have nevertheless used the Bible at their swearing-in (I noted this in my column). Even the vast majority of Jews elected to office have used a Bible containing both the Old and New Testaments, even though Jews do not regard the New Testament as part of their Bible. A tiny number of Jews have used only the Old Testament. As a religious Jew, I of course understand their decision, but I disagree with it.

I agree with the tens of thousands of office holders in American history who have honored the American tradition -- I am well aware it is not a law, and I do not want it to be -- of bringing a Bible to their ceremonial or actual swearing-in. Keith Ellison is ending that powerful tradition, and it is he who has called the public's attention to his doing so. He obviously thinks this is important. I think it is important. My critics think it isn't.

Why wouldn't Ellison bring a Bible along with the Koran? That he chose not to is the narcissism of multiculturalism that I referred to: The individual's culture trumps the national culture.

You don't have to be Christian to acknowledge that the Bible is the source of America's values. Virtually every founder of this country knew that and acknowledged it. The argument that founders such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were deists, even if accurate (it is greatly exaggerated), makes my point, not my opponents'. The founders who were not believing Christians venerated the Bible as the source of America's values just as much as practicing Christians did.

America derives its laws from its Constitution. It derives its values from the Bible. We don't get inalienable rights from the Constitution; we get them from God. Which is exactly what the signers of the Declaration of Independence wrote: We are endowed with inalienable rights by our Creator, not by government and not by any man-made document. And that Creator and those inalienable rights emanate from the Bible. Keith Ellison's freedom to openly believe and practice Islam and to run for elective office as a Muslim is a direct result of a society molded by the Bible and the people who believed in it, a fact he should be willing to honor as he is sworn in.

I cannot name any Western European country that does not have a document similar to the American Constitution and something akin to our Bill of Rights. It is, therefore, not the Constitution that has made America unique and a moral beacon to the world's downtrodden. What has made America unique is the combination of Enlightenment ideas with our underlying Judeo-Christian values. (I have described 24 of those values in 24 columns in 2005, all available on the Internet through

It was understood from the beginning of the republic that liberty is derived from God, not from man alone. That is why the Liberty Bell has an inscription from the Bible (from the Torah in the Old Testament) on it, not an inscription from any secular Enlightenment (or ancient Greek) source.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dennis Prager on Book Congressman Takes Oath on: Cutting More Flowers?

Dennis Prager has ignited a necessary discussion. In his latest column, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," Prager strongly makes the case that a newly elected Muslim congressman should not be allowed to take his official oath on the Koran but should do so on the Bible.

There is much to say about this, even the connection to then-Cardinal Ratzinger's caution on admitting Turkey to the EU. I hope to comment more about the issue of retaining the value of symbols and retaining an identity still attached to the roots and the foundation of a people, of a country, of a culture, but for now go and read his article: "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on."

He [Ellison] should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.
Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

Devotees of multiculturalism and political correctness who do not see how damaging to the fabric of American civilization it is to allow Ellison to choose his own book need only imagine a racist elected to Congress. Would they allow him to choose Hitler's "Mein Kampf," the Nazis' bible, for his oath? And if not, why not? On what grounds will those defending Ellison's right to choose his favorite book deny that same right to a racist who is elected to public office?

Of course, Ellison's defenders argue that Ellison is merely being honest; since he believes in the Koran and not in the Bible, he should be allowed, even encouraged, to put his hand on the book he believes in. But for all of American history, Jews elected to public office have taken their oath on the Bible, even though they do not believe in the New Testament, and the many secular elected officials have not believed in the Old Testament either. Yet those secular officials did not demand to take their oaths of office on, say, the collected works of Voltaire or on a volume of New York Times editorials, writings far more significant to some liberal members of Congress than the Bible. Nor has one Mormon official demanded to put his hand on the Book of Mormon. And it is hard to imagine a scientologist being allowed to take his oath of office on a copy of "Dianetics" by L. Ron Hubbard.

He closes with

When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11. It is hard to believe that this is the legacy most Muslim Americans want to bequeath to America. But if it is, it is not only Europe that is in trouble.

This reminds me of something Dennis introduced me to back in the early 90's. In a talk he gave on multiculturalism, Dennis spoke of the importance of retaining a connection to the roots that have been key in making us who we are today. In this talk, Dennis quoted the Jewish thinker Will Herberg from his book Judaism and Modern Man:

The moral principles of Western civilization are, in fact, all derived from the tradition rooted in Scriputre and have vital meaning only in the context of that tradition. The attempt made in recent decades by secularist thinkers to disengage these values from their religious context, in the assurance that they could live a life of their own as a "humanistic" ethic, has resulted in what one writer has called our "cut-clower" culture. Cut flowers retain their original beauty and fragrance, but only so long as they retain the vitality they have drawn from their now severed roots; after that is exhausted, they wither and die. So with freedom, brotherhood, justice and personal dignity--the values that form the moral foundation of our civilization. Without the life-giving power of the faith out of which they have sprung, they possess neither meaning nor vitality. Morality ungrounded in God is indeed a house built upon sand, unable to stand up against the vagaries of impulse and the brutal pressures of power and self-interest.

I second that. If we are to retain a connection to our roots, we as a people must understand this.

Continuing Thoughts on the War

Though posts these days are sporadic (too much prep and grading going on, not to mention the many afternoons and evenings--happy but cold, or should it be happy and cold--spent on the soccer field), there are some articles/essays that I cannot pass on linking to.

One must-read article is Andrew C. McCarthy's "Can We Talk? Well, we can, but we shouldn’t." Aside from the criticism of Bush-administration officials for their seemingly naive belief that the promise of democracy is the key element to conquering the enemy (rather than decisive force), he makes the point that we should not talk with Iran and Syria:

This is a war of will. If we lose it, the historians will marvel at how mulishly we resisted understanding the one thing we needed to understand in order to win. The enemy.
In the wake of 9/11, the American people did not care about democratizing the Muslim world. Or, for that matter, about the Muslim world in general. They still don’t. They want Islamic terrorists and their state sponsors crushed.
[...] Bush-administration officials — notwithstanding goo-gobs of evidence that terrorists have used the freedoms of Western democracies, including our own, the better to plot mass murder — have conned themselves into believing that democracy, not decisive force, is the key to conquering this enemy.

So deeply have they gulped the Kool-Aid that, to this day, they refuse to acknowledge what is plain to see: While only a small number of the world’s billion-plus Muslims (though a far larger number than we’d like to believe) is willing to commit acts of terrorism, a substantial percentage —meaning tens of millions — supports the terrorists’ anti-West, anti-democratic agenda.

Islamic countries, moreover, are not rejecting Western democracy because they haven’t experienced it. They reject it on principle. For them, the president’s euphonious rhetoric about democratic empowerment is offensive. They believe, sincerely, that authority to rule comes not from the people but from Allah; that there is no separation of religion and politics; that free people do not have authority to legislate contrary to Islamic law; that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, and men to women; and that violent jihad is a duty whenever Muslims deem themselves under attack … no matter how speciously.

These people are not morons. They adhere to a highly developed belief system that is centuries old, wildly successful, and for which many are willing to die. They haven’t refused to democratize because the Federalist Papers are not yet out in Arabic. They decline because their leaders have freely chosen to decline. They see us as the mortal enemy of the life they believe Allah commands. Their demurral is wrong, but it is principled, not ignorant. And we insult them by suggesting otherwise.
So now comes James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, riding in on its bipartisan white horse to save the day. The democracy project having failed, this blue-ribbon panel’s solution is: Let’s talk.

Let’s talk with our enemies, Iran and Syria. Let’s talk with terror abettors as if they were good guys — just like us. As if they were just concerned neighbors trying to stop the bloodshed in Iraq … instead of the dons who’ve been commanding it all along.
What earthly logic that supports talking with these Islamic terrorists would not also support negotiating with al Qaeda — a demarche not even a Kennedy School grad would dare propose?

When I grew up in The Bronx, there were street gangs. You mostly stayed away from them, and, if you really had to, you fought with them. But I never remember anyone saying, “Gee, maybe if we just talk with them ...”

Nor do I remember, in two decades as a prosecutor, anyone saying, “Y’know, maybe if we just talk with these Mafia guys, we could achieve some kind of understanding ...”

Sitting down with evil legitimizes evil.
For our own sake, we need to respect the enemy. That means grasping that he’s implacable, that he means us only harm, and that he must be subdued, not appeased. Negotiating with such evil is always a mistake, for any accommodation with evil is, by definition, evil.

Rejecting the democracy project is about respecting the enemy. Declining to talk to the enemy is about respecting ourselves.