December 07, 2002

Here’s where I break ranks.

All my life, as an evangelical Protestant, I’d been taught that Catholics were at best an other expression of Christianity. I mean, there was that mess back in the 1500s when they kicked Martin Luther out because he wanted Rome to straighten up and fly right. Why would a church intent on serving the interests of Jesus Christ do that simply to perpetuate the earthly privilege of some spectacularly corrupt Popes? Or so went the thinking.

Later I learned that there are some exemplary Christians who choose to express their faith through the Roman Catholic communion. I knew some at Wheaton College, where I met with the Wheaton Catholic students’ group a few times. I took a grad-level seminar on Catholicism, too. See, I was thinking of “converting.” Hey I was as impressed with John Paul II as the next guy.

Interesting term, no? You’d never speak of anyone “converting” from Methodism to Presbyterianism (I’ve never heard of “Presbyterianism” myself, just as I’ve never heard of “strawberryism”), or even from Anabaptism (the J.V. Amish who call themselves Mennonites, et al) to Episcopalianism. You’d just say something like Mort’s going to the Episcopal Church these days, the one up Jahnke Road. Yeah I know, but what’re ya gonna do? It’s a big tent.

But if Mort started – heaven forfend – going to the Catholic Church (encapsulated in Lake Wobegon’s Our Lady Of Perpetual Responsibility) you’d speak in more hushed tones and say didja hear about Mort? Bends the knee to Rome. ‘At’s right. Pray for him, there’s Marcie and the kids to think about.

For many years I considered Catholicism to be Christianity’s labor union. You know, they pay their dues for the benefits membership brings, but don’t attend the meeting too often. Identify themselves as official members of an organization and expect that’ll open doors elsewhere, if you get my drift. In the meantime hey, tap another keg and are the Patriots on yet? Playin’ the Jets today. Huh? I’m in arrears on what? Okay, I’ll say seven Hail Marys tomorrow and that’ll fuggin’ take care of it right? Hey stay for the game.

Not how I viewed Jesus’s call on our lives, to go see apparitions of the Virgin at Guadalupe and get 20 years knocked off my spell in Purgatory for every nunc dimittis I said there, or hey here’s a better deal, 25 years for every Pater Noster you recite at the shrine of Fatima after walking the Spanish Steps backwards on your knees (kneepads? Sorry, 17 years if you wore kneepads) and sign up for our Via Dolorossa special this Jubilee Year only – once every thousand years! Jesus is so impressed! – recite the Magnificat and double your points and the Crucifix Made Of Gold Mined By Certifiably Catlick Guys Who’d Been Anointed In The Water From The Jordan River At Least Four Hours Prior To Mining is still free with your pledge for three easy installments of $49.95 tax-deductible donations…

I exaggerate. I cartoonize. I present the de facto reality. I overstate. Pick your answer – and remember what they told you in Kaplan’s SAT prep, boys and girls, when in doubt, pick…

… got an e-mail from a good friend of mine, probably the most spiritually aware Catholic I know. I’d sent him the link for Scrappleface’s hilarious piss take on the Boston Archdiocese’s approval of allowing Bernard Cardinal Law to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – read “Take that and shove it, victims of abuse drooling over silly lawsuit payouts.”


“Crazy Bernie says ‘Everything Must Go!’, reads a script for the planned TV ads. The spots feature a maniacal-looking Cardinal Bernard Law, waving his hands recklessly and shouting:

“Rather than confess what our priests did to the children, we’re going bankrupt. But tough times for the archdiocese mean super deals for you. It’s a huge blow-out sale. Everything must go down to the bare walls. Gold, incense, myrrh, statues, confessional booths, even those cute little hats and robes. We’ve still got a few Papal indulgences from the old days, and we’re sacrificing them at rock-bottom prices.”

Upshot of his response: It’s hard for me to find anything risible about this good man’s current predicament, but yeah, it was a little funny.

So I break ranks.

I am a Christian. That means my allegiance is to Jesus Christ alone, not the earthly structures men have created. It seems to me that that’s the sticking point between Catholics and (other) Christians. The Church is not those who want to identify themselves as Christians when it’s expedient to do so – either as fire insurance or as a means to a free wedding or funeral or a means of avoiding controversy.

Catholics maintain Jesus Christ is best known and experienced within the dogmatic strictures and traditions of the Roman church. Protestants say you don’t need a priest to interface between you and God since that’s what Jesus came to do once and for all, and ever since he did you’re responsible for your own interactions with God.

Catholics’ arguments for the Papacy, the College of Cardinals, the Mass as a necessary experiential point for divine grace in the immediate experience of Christ in the transubstantiated elements, veneration of the pantheon of saints, the rosary et al boil down to “Well, there’s nothing in the Bible which explicitly prohibits any of it, and humans prefer it that way.” Protestants say gee, I don’t find anything in the Bible recommending any of it and isn’t the whole point to do things God’s way and not humans’ way?

Which is why I’m a Protestant. I do not want some person’s experience of Christ ossified into a system which is then abused by lesser men yet still imposed upon me as a “necessary” part of my earthly pilgrimage. The Spirit blows where it wills, and you cannot predict nor contain it, and the absolute last thing the Spirit of God will commit itself to is a hoary earthly human construct, no matter how much it touts its history and the time in 1293 and 1540 and 1777 and 1982 it felt the brush of the Spirit on its cheek.

Understand: I’m not saying the Holy Spirit, the true breath of God as known through Jesus Christ is not known in the Catholic Church today, I’m saying he’s not only known in the Catholic Church. Actually I’m saying he’s encountered less within the Roman Church than he is one-on-one. After all, the Roman Catholic church as administratively headed by whomever occupies the earthly office of Pope in Vatican City as duly voted by the College of Cardinals explicitly places itself as an intermediary between you and God; it says it’s necessary. Find that in the New Testament for me and I’ll become a Catholic tomorrow morning.

Good Catlicks would think the Church is, well, not absolutely necessary – after all, wasn’t Father Feeney excommunicated for preaching that Protestants were not Christians? – but the best way. But friends, WHY BOTHER WITH ANY OF IT? Why require the panoply of observances and feast days and other such HUMAN accoutrements when it’s so patently obvious that Protestants have twigged the kernel of truth: God deals with people as individuals, not as members of an earthly institution; and that when you stand before the judgement throne Christ isn’t going to let your priest speak for you? He’s going to want to know why you put your faith in Father McWhiskey who’s been sopping away in Ireland for the past thirty years instead of him when he thought he spelled it all out pretty clearly in, oh, Galatians. And Luke. And Philippians. And I and II Timothy. And John – the gospel and the prequel, John I.

Look, it’s not that Catholics can’t find Christ, it’s all about why tie blindfolds around your eyes and plug your ears in your search? Isn’t the point that it really isn’t you searching for Jesus, it’s Jesus searching for you? Catholicism strikes me as the perfect compromise for those who want the fire insurance of knowing they’re goin’ to Heaven and avoidin’ Hell by one of two avenues; either by identifying themselves as members or by working their way to Paradise by accumulating earthly Brownie points.

Think I’m wrong? Misguided? A wild-eyed fanatic? Ask yourself: Am I supporting the right of Bernie Law to minister in the name of Jesus or the searching judgement of Jesus on each man’s heart and convict of sin where sin abounds? Because I tell you right now, you can’t support both, no matter how much relief and comfort Law’s way of thinking and believing offers. Listen to the still, small voice saying “There’s more, past the gilt and hagiography and accretions of centuries I can be found.”

Here I stand, I can do no other.

December 06, 2002

How to say “Please don’t shoot” in French?

Friday down at the mosque.

Ah Friday, the day good Muslims go to have their spirits and minds refreshed and renewed at a good mosque service. Let’s take a peek into what’s being preached and written by Islamic clerics today:

Start with Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, one of the most influential clerics in Sunni Islam today. What cheer for us today, Sheikh?

“The Prophet Muhammad was asked: ‘What city will be conquered first, Constantinople or Romiyya?’ He answered: ‘The city of Heracles will be conquered first’ – that is, Constantinople... Romiyya is the city called today ‘Rome,’ the capital of Italy. The city of Heracles was conquered by the young 23-year-old Ottoman Muhammad bin Morad, known in history as Muhammad the Conqueror, in 1453. The other city, Romiyya, remains, and we hope and believe [that it too will be conquered].

“This means that Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice – once from the South, from Andalusia, and a second time from the East, when it knocked several times on the door of Athens.”

Thanks for the words of encouragement to the faithful, parson, no I have no idea how Westerners can charge Saudis with being anti-Western or fomenting terrorism, no idea where they get those crazy ideas. Let’s pop in the Al-Nour Mosque in Khobar, Saudi Arabia and see what words of encouragement Sheikh Naser Muhammad Al-Naser has to offer the flock:

“The first conquest was carried out, as is known, by Muhammad the Ottoman conqueror, 800 years after the Prophet told of it, and the second conquest [that of Rome] will be carried out, Allah willing, and it is inevitable...”

Let’s stay for Al-Naser’s next sermon, shall we?

“This Hadith predicts that the two cities will be conquered. The first was already conquered, remained under the control of the Muslims for a time, and then was again stolen [by Ataturk]. There are signs that it will again be conquered and will return to the hands of the Islamic state. Rome also will be conquered...”

Hm, I’m beginning to detect a theme here. Ah, here’s Saudi Sheikh Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-’Arifi, imam of the mosque of King Fahd Defense Academy. What good word do you have to bring us this day Shekih?

“We will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it. Yes, the Christians, who carve crosses on the breasts of the Muslims in Kosovo – and before then in Bosnia, and before then in many places in the world – will yet pay us the jiziya [poll tax paid by non-Muslims under Muslim rule] in humiliation, or they will convert to Islam...”

Islam, religion of peace, right padre? Let’s leave Saudi Arabia and go to another faithful observant Islamic state, Sudan. Let’s see what Khartoum’s Sheikh Muhammad Abd Al-Karim has to say in his Friday sermon:

“...The Prophet said that the Muslims would take India, saying: ‘Allah saved two groups of my nation from the fire of Hell: one group that would attack India and a second group that would be with Jesus the son of Mary [in the battle of Judgment Day].’ The Prophet Muhammad told us of the conquest of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine state, and of the conquest of Rome, where the Vatican is situated... Some of what the Prophet said has already come to pass. The Muslims conquered Persia, the Muslims conquered Byzantium... the Muslims attacked India and Allah conquered it for us, until they reached the borders of China. The Muslims conquered Constantinople, where Eastern Christianity is situated, and in the future, a mighty king will arise for the Muslims; through him, Islam will spread and Rome will be conquered...”

Hm, back home last Sunday the preacher spoke on the meaning of Advent and the hope Jesus brought the world. Wonder where those who say all religions are the same, and that Christianity’s no more moral or righteous than Islam were today.

December 05, 2002

Let’s hear that one again.

Insofar as the Democrats had a “message” in the last election they claimed that the economy was shot, a shambles, and they should be entrusted with picking up the pieces, seeing as how Bill Clinton had the amazing good luck to be sitting in the White House while President Bush’s economic polices began paying off during the dot-com boom.

Are they right?

· Jobless claims are at their lowest level in 21 months.

· 35,000 jobs were added to the economy last month.

· The Labor Department said nonfarm business productivity, or worker output per hour, grew at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.1% during the third quarter after previously being estimated at a 4.0% growth rate. The third-quarter numbers were much stronger than the 1.7% pace recorded during the second quarter. Nonfarm productivity grew at a 5.6% annual rate on a year-over-year basis during the third quarter, the fastest pace since 1973.

· Everyone’s now agreed that there won’t, in fact, be a recession any time soon.

So were the Democrats right about the economy being in such terrible shape? In a word, no.

I bet they’re still wondering why they lost.

December 04, 2002

Their own worst enemies.

I subscribe to an occasional e-mail newsletter from The Middle East Media Research Institute, which bills itself as “an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East.” I can’t tell if they’re pro-Saudi or anti-Saudi, and frankly their latest e-mail serving up the Saudis’ explanations for why they’re clean of any involvement in 9/11 does nothing to answer the question.

MEMRI excerpts a recent interview with Saudi Minister of Interior, Prince Naif Ibn Abd Al-Aziz as saying “I think they [the Zionists] are behind these events... [Arab] mass media should condemn terrorism, warn Arab nationals of it, and let our voice be heard by the world... It is impossible that 19 youths, including 15 Saudis, carried out the operation of September 11.”

True enough, except for the facts that nobody with a grain of sense thinks “Zionists” are behind these events, the Arab mass media should condemn terrorism but doesn’t, and when the Saudis want their voice to be heard by the world, such as when they need to loudly proclaim that payments from the Saudi princess to terrorists are a complete coincidence, they know how to shout loudly enough. In other words, when it really matters to Saudi interests for the world to hear its voice the world hears its voice. And it’s beyond dispute that, in fact, the master planner of 9/11 was Saudi and foot soldiers of 9/11 were overwhelmingly Saudi.

Other than that, though, true as spoken.

Prince Naif tells all.

The MEMRI quotes come from a November 29th issue of Ain-Al-Yaqeen (English translation: What You Sheep Will Think), a weekly news magazine published online by the Saudi royal family, which released an English translation of an interview with Saudi Minister of Interior Prince Naif Ibn Abd Al-Aziz. The interview originally appeared in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyasa.

“Relations between the Saudi and U.S. governments are strong despite the Zionist-controlled media that manipulated the events of September 11 and turned the U.S. public opinion against Arabs and Islam,” the prince opined.

Of course it wouldn’t be the Arabs’ own actions such as funding terrorism, providing safe havens for terrorists, generating the sort of propaganda which leads to terrorism, paying terrorists’ families, refusing to crack down on terrorists and holding wild street parties from Gaza to Kuwait as the twin towers were falling and thousands of people were dying which might have turned American opinion against Arabs.

The prince thinks that mass media should protect Islam from being attributed to terrorism by “suspected people.” He “greatly suspected” that these terrorist organizations have relation with foreign intelligence that worked against Arab and Muslims topped by Israeli intelligence: “They wanted to attack us at our bases and tenets, notably our religion and the Palestinian issue.”

Leaving aside the fact that it’s the Arabs, not the Israelis, who refuse to settle the Palestinian issue is he claiming that Osama bin Laden did not, in fact, go on record as saying that all of al-Qaeda’s terrorism is in the express name of Islam for the glory of Allah? Is he questioning that it is, in fact, Muslims who inflict the vast majority of terrorism on the world?

Loyalty is dead, I tell ya.

The appropriately-named Prince Naif denied that the privacy of Saudi Arabia annoys their allies, citing Saudi Arabia’s “excellent, diversified and deep-rooted relations” with others. Right. Take away one three-letter word (hint: begins with “o”) and nobody in the world has the time of day for the poxy dictatorship.

Interestingly the prince criticized the Muslim Brotherhood, which he said “gave birth to a multinational spectrum of Islamic politicians who turned their backs to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and forgot its favors to them.” In other words he’s cheesed off at the Brotherhood not for being a terrorist organization, but for not being a Saudi in-house terrorist organization.

According to the prince many of the organization’s members were living in the Kingdom and receiving refuge and humanitarian assistance from its people and officials, and “whenever they got into difficulty or found their freedom restricted in their own countries, Brotherhood activists found refuge in the Kingdom which protected their lives.” But now prince calls the Muslim Brotherhood “the cause of most problems in the Arab world” in one breath, and in the next says “We have given too much support to this group.”

Doesn’t it just go to show, you spend all that time and trouble building a world-class terrorist organization and first chance it gets it slips the leash and doesn’t follow your orders anymore. Kids today, no loyalty, no gratitude, I tell ya.

Islam: The free-thinking man’s religion.

The prince reassured the world that while there are more than 50,000 imams at the Kingdom’s mosques, they all follow the official line of thinking: “If they deviate from this line and persist doing so, they will have to find other jobs.”

And he wonders why the West assumes the Saudi government bears some level of responsibility for what its citizens are taught and how it might affect their actions.

December 03, 2002

Happy Westland Anniversary!

It strikes me that some of you may not be aware that yesterday was the New Zealand holiday of Westland Anniversary. Well, you just need to upgrade your calendars to the all-inclusive version, the type which tells you that this upcoming Friday is Finland’s Independence Day (from Russia, we’re guessing), December 10th is Human Rights Day, the 12th is Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and, of course, the 23rd is the Emperor’s Birthday in Japan. Knees up, everyone.

It’s quite nice having a New Zealander for a wife, for one you get to make fun of all the various “Anniversaries” scattered throughout the calendar. Another is you get to use the day as an excuse for a genuine, good old-fashioned Kiwi-style celebration.

Let me run through the special New Zealand holidays as they appeared on the 2002 calendar and give the appropriate means of celebrating each:

· January 2 – Day After New Year’s Day. I swear it’s a holiday in New Zealand, gotta love a country which gives you two days for a hangover. Celebration is to have a barbecue – barbie – and drink beer.

· January 21 – Wellington Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink beer.

· January 28 – Auckland/Northland Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink beer.

· February 6 – Waitangi Day. Have a barbie and drink beer. If Maori moon the Queen.

· March 11 – Taranaki Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink beer.

· March 25 – Otago Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink beer.

· April 25 – ANZAC Day. Attend a memorial service for the Gallipoli campaign during World War I, which New Zealanders mark as the first time the country fought under its own flag instead of Britain’s. Serves as a sort of Fourth of July. Then have a barbie and drink beer.

· May 12 – Mother’s Day. Invite Mom over for a barbie and beer.

· June 3 – Queen’s Birthday. Have a barbie and drink beer. Try to remember words to “God Save The Queen.”

· September 1 – Father’s Day. Have Dad over for a barbie and beer.

· October 25 – Hawke’s Bay Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink beer.

· October 28 – Labour Day. Have a barbie and drink beer.

· November 4 – Marlborough Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink good wine.

· November 5 – Guy Fawkes Day. Have a barbie, drink beer and set off fireworks – not necessarily in that order.

· November 11 – Remembrance Day. Have a barbie and drink beer to the honor of those who’ve served.

· November 15 – Canterbury Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink beer.

· December 2 – Westland Anniversary. Have a barbie and drink beer.

December 02, 2002

Fashion today.

One wonders why Muslims see a cultural gap between their culture and the West. Here are two dresses which were paraded down the catwalks this past year. Readers are invited to guess which appeared in an Islamic show and which was in a traditional Western show:

Give up? The photo on the right is of Lebanese model Nathaly Fadlallah modeling the “Dress of Revolution,” designed by Saudi haute couture designer Yehya al-Bashri. The dress was part of a collection featured at an Arab fashion festival in Beirut on September 17, 2002 to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian uprising against Israel.

The picture on the model’s chest is of Mohammed al-Dura, the Palestinian boy whose death continues to be blamed on Israel, even though a German investigation found he was actually killed by Palestinian gunmen. Thanks to Little Green Footballs for the al-Bashri photo, and reader Steve Romeo for the... other one.

Reparations: One cartoon = a thousand words.

There I was, about to expend a lot of words on the idiocy of the reparations for slavery crusade, when Pat Oliphant, the best editorial cartoonist alive goes ahead and sums the whole debate up in one cartoon: