Thursday, September 30, 2004

The World is Upside Down

I just read this article at the blog, "Right on Red"; and found myself wishing I'd written something along these lines with the same clarity. I recommend it to you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Ideological Warfare: Christianity vs. Islam

Today began simply enough; and then I stumbled on a link to an article by M. Zuhdi Jasser, a physician in the Phoenix area who writes on a regular basis for the "Plugged In" feature at Dr. Jasser, a veteran of eleven years of service with the U.S. Navy, is also a Muslim. From his article, and some links provided therein, I have spent many hours today watching an incredible video series, entitled, "The American Campaign to Suppress Islam."

Dr. Jasser's article, headlined "Eye on the Enemy," begins,
We are fighting a global war against an ideology that seeks to defeat secular democracies. There are a few websites and associated organizations that came to my attention recently that should be mandatory reading for all those who doubt that the stakes of the war are ideological at the core and not just global anti-American hate or fanatical "terror".

It is difficult for me to organize my thoughts at this moment, as there is so much that needs to be said. Instead, I will resist the temptation to simply "jump in"; and will try to complete an initial review of some of these websites, and organize my thoughts, and then post them here. But I strongly encourage my readers to follow the link above, and read Dr. Jasser's brief article; and then follow the links he's given, and explore the information presented there.

One more thought for today: Let no one doubt that we are in the midst of a struggle between two contradictory ideologies (a major theme of the videos I am reviewing; except there the conflict is not between Christianity and Islam, but "Capitalism"); and only one of these world-views can prevail. This has remarkable parallels to the Cold War, and more so: and extends to many levels in our lives, including the election of our leadership in November. So, here's a question: Does the candidate you support understand the dimensions of this ideological struggle? If not, why not? And, if not -- why are you giving your support?

Please stay tuned...

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Gulag Collection

The works of artist Nikolai Getman, based upon his experiences as a prisoner in the infamous Soviet GULAG from 1946 through 1954, are available on-line at the Jamestown Foundation. The interplay of natural beauty and human suffering is amazingly captured in these paintings. I found myself recalling portions of Solzhenitsyn's The GULAG Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. In particular, look for the painting depicting the Japanese-Russian (Buddhist-Orthodox) funeral. I think there may be a lesson for us in the circumstances experienced there. (No, I'm not an ecumenist!)

My thanks to the folks at; where I first ran across the story and link to the Jamestown Foundation.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ivan Returns!

Once again, I'm in heavy-duty work avoidance mode... (You should see -- well, actually, it's probably better that you can't see my desk!)

What an amazing, even mystical, weather cycle is playing out right now in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico! Four different major weather systems operating at the same time. There's Hurricane Karl, which, thanks be to God, has not struck land, and appears to be a threat only to shipping; and Tropical Storm Lisa, in the eastern Atlantic, tangling with yet another (unnamed) tropical depression, and so a bit disorganized. (Maybe TS Lisa has seen my desk! Maybe TS Lisa is my desk!)

Then there's Hurricane Jeanne. This weather system devastated the country of Haiti, killing over 1,000 people as a result of flooding and mudslides; and many thousands more people in what is one of the poorest nations on Earth are homeless. The pictures and descriptions don't begin to convey the suffering; yet even these are hard to bear. No official appeal for help for Haiti has come from the Church, as far as I know; but I'm sure that anyone who'd like to send something to help the Orthodox parishes there can contact Fr. Gregory Williams at the St. John of Kronstadt Press.

Jeanne was weakened by her encounter with the island of Hispaniola, and left as a tropical storm. As she wandered in the Atlantic, moving north by northeast, the system strengthened once more, and became a hurricane again; and traveled in a loop, until she crossed over her path, and is now moving slowly to the west, threatening the Bahamas, and perhaps even the East Coast of the United States. Some predictions suggest the storm will resume moving to the northeast, and so away from land; but others predict a landfall anywhere from southeast Florida to Maryland.

And then there's Ivan. I think my first blog about Ivan was on September 9th, as Ivan moved towards Jamaica. This storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico, came ashore in the region of the Alabama-Florida panhandle region of the Gulf Coast, and them moved slowly up the Appalachian Mountains, with winds that damaged buildings and brought down trees and power lines, and heavy rains that caused serious flooding in many states. The storm, having weakened to a tropical depression, moved offshore. It is what happened next that I find incredibly remarkable. Instead of dissipating, or moving into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Ivan moved to the southwest, strengthening again as it was over the water; then moved across the Florida peninsula and back into the Gulf of Mexico; where it grew stronger still. As of about an hour ago, there are tropical storm warnings along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana into Texas, where Ivan is expected to move, once more, onshore, with strong winds and heavy rains!

I can't help but wonder what God intends for us to discern from these two incredibly rare occurrences -- the strange movements of Jeanne, and the even more astonishing return of Ivan. Certainly, it is humbling (I wanted to say, "incredibly humbling," but I fear I've already overworked that adjective) to see how little an impact we have on so much of life, especially when compared to the power of just one of these four active storms. We think ourselves to be so smart, so wise, so strong and mighty -- the lords of the universe! -- and yet how helpless we are before the power of Nature, also nothing more than a servant of the will of God.

Lord, have mercy; and spare all those in the path of these storms, and help us, and save us!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Rumblings from a Desert Cave

Rumblings from a Desert Cave is a new blog I've just started. I'm going to post my sermons there; at least, those that have actually been written (either before or after the fact). It's an idea I've stolen from Fr. David Moser of St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church in Boise, Idaho. His sermons are regularly posted at his site; but you have to log into Yahoo's groups in order to read them; plus, I think you have to be a member of the group (which is easily arranged). Me? Being lazy, I can just put the sermons on the blog site; and you can read them there, as well, and make comments, and everything!

Check it out! (If you would be so kind...)

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Stewards of Creation

My sister takes her Christian beliefs very seriously; and does her best, as far as I know, to put these beliefs into practice in her everyday life. (What a radical concept!) We don't agree on everything; and so we've had some very interesting conversations! Among other things, her understanding of the Faith has led her to become a vegetarian.

She sent me an email yesterday, containing an article by Charles Colson, entitled, "Abusing our Power: Do Christians Sanction Cruelty to Animals?" The article carries a May 7, 2003, dateline, so it isn't exactly breaking news.

There are those who would maintain that it is possible to be a "good Christian" only if one is a vegan; or, at least, a vegetarian. I do not agree; but this does not mean that we do not need to be concerned about the suffering of the animals in our care.

Adam names the animals

Did you know that it is possible to interpret the Bible so as to state that, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were vegetarians? Consider Genesis 1:29, which says,
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
There were also no carnivores. Genesis 1:30 says,
And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
(In the King James Version, "herb" means "plant," and "meat" means "food.")

All this changed when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, Who had given them the fruit of every tree in the Garden, but told them not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:16-17) As a result, the ground was cursed; no longer would it bring forth food for Adam effortlessly. Now, he would eat of the ground only after painful toil, by the sweat of his brow. (In a similar way, Eve would not bear children painlessly; childbirth would now truly be "labor.") Then the Lord God made garments of skin to replace the fig leaves they had sewn to cover their nakedness. (Gen. 3:21) Now, unless I'm mistaken, you can't make a covering of skin without first skinning the creature to which the skin had originally been attached!
UPDATE: 18 September
I am advised that the patristic understanding of the "skin" that Adam and Eve were covered with is our own human skin. This is a sign of mortality and the reason that it was necessary for Christ to become Incarnate -- to take on our skin, as it were -- in order to redeem us. (My thanks to Fr. Joseph Hunneycutt at Orthodixie for setting me straight.)

We come to Cain and Abel, making their offerings to the Lord. Cain, a farmer, makes an offering of a part of his harvest. Abel, a shepherd, offers fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Cain's offering is rejected; Abel's is received favorably. (see Genesis 4) Again, unless I'm mistaken, you can't make an offering of part of an animal without killing the animal.

After the flood, when Noah and his family have left the ark, the situation changes again. God says,
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein. (Gen. 9:1-7)
Before this time, only plants were eaten as food; but now God permits Noah and his family (from whom we are all descended) to eat meat as food, as well as plants. Humans are no longer restricted to being vegetarians, by the grace of God. When the law is given to Moses, there will be some restrictions put in place, most notably regarding the eating of the flesh of pigs (and also of shellfish) -- but these dietary laws served a different function, and do not set aside the permission given by God to Noah and his descendents to eat animals as well as plants. And to those who would argue (with some logic) that this permission to eat animal flesh was given to Noah and his family only on a temporary basis, as all plant life had perished in the Flood, and would no longer be necessary (or allowed) once a new harvest had come to maturity -- sorry, but the text doesn't say that!

Was our Lord Jesus a vegetarian? It was not possible for Him to be one. In order to be a Jew, one had to partake of the Passover meal -- a roasted lamb. Those who refused to eat were "cut off" from the people of God; and this was not possible for our Lord, Who fulfilled the Law in every way, and was without sin or fault.

In the Orthodox Church, monastics do not eat meat at any time (unless required to do so for their health); and all Orthodox Christians are directed to abstain from eating meat on most Wednesdays and Fridays of the year, as well as during the four "fasting seasons" of the year. This is not because meat is forbidden to us; indeed, we see from Peter's vision while in Joppa (Acts 10) , that all things that are good for food are permitted to us. (This is not the main point of the vision; but it is an aspect of it!) It is our understanding that we are affected by the qualities of what we eat; and that the flesh (and other products, such as eggs, milk, and cheese) of warm-blooded animals stirs our own blood -- that is, our passions. We also believe that our periodic abstention from such foods teaches our flesh that it cannot always have what it wants; that our bodies must be subject to, and obedient to, our will, even when it is our will to not eat meat. And this goes beyond food. If I can teach my flesh to obey my will when I choose to abstain from eating meat, I can teach my flesh to obey my will when I choose to abstain from sin: whether anger, hatred, rage, jealousy, lust, envy, covetousness, greed, gluttony, laziness; or any other sinful passion that besets me.

Well, I've taken a long road to show that Christians do not have to be vegetarians; although as Orthodox Christians we are all "periodically" vegetarians; and we all derive some benefit therefrom. But we must not forget that we are also called to be stewards of God's creation; and that is where our responsibility to the animals comes into the equation.

Human beings are the crown of creation. We are made "in the image and after the likeness of God." We are a microcosm. That is, we sum up in ourselves all of creation. Our original calling was to have dominion over all creation, in order to be, as it were, the priests of creation -- to stand before God on behalf of all creation, to praise and worship Him, making the offering of all creation to God through our service. We failed in that duty; we betrayed the trust given to us. We, more often than not, serve ourselves; and use the talents God has given to us, and the riches of the created world, to satisfy our passions, rather than making these subject to our will, and serving God. We think (if we do, indeed, think about it) that, because we have been given dominion over all the earth, we can use it as it pleases us. Nope. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We were given dominion over what God has made in order to grow more and more into the likeness of God inherent in us. We were given dominion in order to exercise the authority of God over His creation in His name, on His behalf. All of creation recognized our position as the "right hand of God" in ruling; and, so long as we lived in harmony with God (that is, as long as we were obedient to God), all of creation was in harmony with us. But then the ground is cursed; and notice that, when Noah and his family are permitted to eat meat, something else changes: now, the animals will fear human beings, will flee from them; may even eat them.

Read Colson's article about animal abuse, and our stewardship. Then, let's talk about ways we can make this a part of our daily lives.

Monday, September 13, 2004

This one made me laugh -- a lot!
File under Tort Reform: Gun makers pay up in DC sniper lawsuits. (Should manufacturers of boxcutters be held liable too?) The article states that

as part of the settlement, the company (Bushmaster) has agreed to educate its dealers on gun safety.

Safety Lesson One: if your customer is a homicidal jihadist loon, try not to sell him a rifle.

More good stuff at Right on Red...

Responses to Terrorism: Some Powerful Thoughts

As I am in heavy-duty work avoidance mode today, I have been surfing the web among various blogs, and the curious little places to which following links at random may take you. Along the way, I've found some quotes that are, I think, quite insightful; and I wanted to call these to your attention.

The first comes from an account written by Adam Mayblum, who was at work in his office on the 87th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the first hijacked airliner crashed into his building just four floors above. He details his reactions, and the process of getting out of the building, in an article that reads as if it was written very shortly thereafter; perhaps within days of the event. Towards the end, he offers this: If you want to kill us, leave us alone, because we will do it by ourselves. If you want to make us stronger, attack, and we unite."

The second comes from an email that was circulated on one of the clergy lists. It was written by Bishop Theophanes of the Orthodox Diocese of Vladikavkaz and Stavropol to the people of Northern Ossetia in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the school in Beslan. He wrote,
I cannot tell you: do not cry. I cannot tell you: do not grieve. No one has that right. I only implore you: do not despair. Do not be downcast. Yes, it is difficult, extremely difficult for you. But life continues, and we should stand up so that we do not give in to the problems created by those who planned this monstrous act and who await panic, weakness of spirit and will, and chaos from the people of Ossetia and all Russia, that leads to even greater tragedy.

...panic, weakness of spirit and will, and chaos... that leads to even greater tragedy. I think this hits the nail right on the head. We cannot allow ourselves to be deterred from pursuing the vision that draws us forward by the actions of those who seek to block our way, or turn us from the path. (This is why I have thought that the best "memorial" at Ground Zero would have been to rebuild the twin towers to look exactly as they did before the attacks -- as a real "in your face" to those who think they can change reality by the destruction of these "symbols.") Vladika Theophanes also had this very important message for us: "Truly our righteous anger and feelings should not result in general hatred and interethnic enmity, for it will be followed by an ocean of tears and impasse.

I must confess to feeling torn about my own response to the question of how to deal with terrorists. There is a part of me that wants to say that society has the right, if not the obligation, to remove the "mad dogs" and "wolves" from our midst; and this by any means necessary. I confess to a primal reaction to those who would threaten my family, or those who have otherwise come under my protection -- if I can stop you, I will; and I will use as much force as I deem necessary to achieve this goal. If you strike, I will, to the best of my ability, hunt you down and kill you. Ah, and there's the rub, as I am quite certain that this is not supposed to be my response as an Orthodox Christian, much less as a priest. May God help us and guide us in sorting this out, and in transforming who we are, so that what we think and do and say are pleasing to Him, and helpful to each other.

Let Us Also Remember...
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, which stood opposite the World Trade Center, and was destroyed when the towers collapsed. Only two icons and a few books and items for the altar were recovered from this church, built by Greek immigrants in the 19th century, and recipients of some icons given as a gift by the Tsar-Martyr Nikolai II, last emperor of Russia. As I recall, no one was in the church when the building was destroyed; no one died in the church, which is being rebuilt. But it raises another question: Does anyone know if there were any Orthodox Christians (of any jursidiction) among those who died that day? I've never seen or heard any discussion of this; but if there were, I'd very much appreciate receiving their names, so that they can be remembered at proskomede, and at those Divine Liturgies offered in remembrance of the departed, and in our general pannikhidas. If you have any information about this, please send it to me.

Help in Finding Missing Girl
Many of you know me as the guy who, when he gets those "help us find..." emails, runs off immediately to the Urban Legends home page; and then sends you (and everyone else to who you sent your original message) a link to the information debunking the claim made in the email you forwarded to me. So, when I ran across this article ("Missing Girl") at the "Politburo Diktat" blogsite, I once again trundled over there to check it out. There was no indication whatsoever that this is a hoax; or that it is a matter that has been resolved. Accordingly, if you could keep your eyes open for Tamika Huston, and pass along to others this URL: Who knows? And may God help her, and keep her safe, and restore her to her family.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

September 11th: A Memorial

Today is the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, in the form of the crashing of commercial airliners into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center; and the attack thwarted by the crash of a fourth jet in a field in western Pennsylvania. Our world today is shaped by the events of that day, and the aftermath. We must never forget those who died that day.

An incredible memorial can be found here. (The link comes from Glenn Reynolds, a journalist who writes for Slate Magazine. He has some other insightful comments worth a few minutes of your time.) I can't vouch for anything else on the site; nor could I bear to watch the entire video presentation. Given the host site, I fear that the conclusion might be one that would incite us to violence, even hatred. This, too, we cannot allow. No doubt many will be moved to pray for those who lost their lives that day -- may their memories be eternal, and may God grant them a blessed repose. May He also comfort those who lost loved ones on that day, or through the American military response that has followed. Those prayers are easily offered.

Not so easy a task is to pray for our enemies; and yet we are commanded to do so by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We cannot allow the grief and sadness of that day drive us to dispair, or, worse, to hatred. This does not mean that our government cannot or should not act to defend our country and our people. War is an evil sometimes forced upon us; and we should never delude ourselves into thinking that any war can be "justified"; even if we are in the midst of fighting for our lives. Even our enemies are human beings, made in the image of God; and the taking of any life is a tragedy, as it is the destruction of what God has created.

[Also recommended: Letter to Mankind at the blog of Journeyman James.]

Only An Attorney Could Say Something Such as This...
As Hurricane Ivan continues to cause death and destruction, the tourists and residents in the Florida Keys are, for the most part, heeding the direction given to evacuate the low-lying islands south of the Florida Peninsula, where the storm is expected to arrive as early as next Tuesday. But one person, attorney Michael Barnes, who has lived in the Keys for 15 years, is reported by the Associated Press to have said, "Anything that comes to Key West and takes away the trains and trolleys and tourists is not all bad,” he said. “The worst have been the ones who put out the electricity that prevent me from having ice for my drinks."

May the Lord have mercy on all those in the path of this dangerous storm -- even the attorneys.

Friday, September 10, 2004


A spokesman for Jemaah Islamiyah, a southeast Asian terror group linked to al-Qaida, is claiming responsibility (that is, taking "credit") for a car-bomb attack yesterday in Jakarta, Indonesia, outside the Australian Embassy. The attack killed 9 people, and wounded 173. Once again, the victims include innocent women and children. (, in its report, includes photographs, the first of which is too horrible to describe. The pictures are here.)

Here's a paragraph from the AP report:
"We decided to call Australia to account, which we consider one of the worst enemies of God, and God's religion of Islam," the statement said. "Here we were able to call it to account today in Jakarta, where one of the mujahedeen (holy warriors) was able to execute a martyrdom operation with a car bomb in front of the embassy."
Not terrorism, mind you: a martyrdom operation. Hmmm. Too bad that Allah didn't see fit to reveal to his prophet Jesus what the prophet Mohammed would later teach: jihad, complete with "martyrdom operations." Since Mohammed was born in A.D. 571, well after the Roman Empire had ceased to persecute Christians, all those deaths could have been avoided if Allah hadn't kept this important practice a secret until Islam was revealed in A.D. 632. Those foolish Christians wouldn't have had to wait until A.D. 313 and the Edict of Milan to end their persecutions; or until A.D. 395 for Christianity to become the official, and only, religion of the Empire. They wouldn't have had to endure crucifixions, burnings, beheadings, and other quaint and curious forms of torture and execution. No, if they'd only been given the concept of jihad, they could have taken up swords, formed armed bands, ambushed Roman soldiers -- and when that proved to be too costly, they could have gone to unsuspecting villages, into the marketplaces, and there taken hostages, threatening to kill them, and actually doing so, to force the Roman government to capitulate to their demands. They could have swept across the Empire as the forces led and inspired by Mohammed would sweep across the Arabian Peninsula, and then the Holy Land, and the north of Africa, crossing into Iberia, and conquering the Byzantine Empire and the Balkans, threatening Europe at Tours and Vienna, as well as moving into India and China. Why, if Allah had only told the prophet Jesus about jihad, the spread of Islam could have come much sooner, much closer to the heart of Europe, and so to spread across the world.

When one prophet says, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword," and the next says, "Take up the sword in holy war," that's confusion, at best -- and we know who is the author of confusion. The evil one must be truly taking delight in how his teachings have sown confusion, and hatred, and murder in the name of religion. The evil one must also be enjoying the degradation of the lives, and deaths, of the holy martyrs, who reveal the power of love, and of faith in Jesus Christ, not a prophet, but the incarnate Son of God, by the twisting of their sacrificing themselves by calling those who kill and maim others in the process of their own suicide "martyrs" and their actions "martyrdom operations."

Let's tell the truth about this...

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Hurricane Ivan

Hurricane Ivan, as this is written, is about 430 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. It is a Category 5 storm (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most powerful), with sustained maximum winds of 160 m.p.h. (and stronger gusts). Hurricane-force winds (>74 m.p.h.) extend some 60 miles from the center of the storm; while tropical storm-force winds extend about 160 miles. The atmospheric pressure at the center of the hurricane is estimated to be 920 millibars of mercury; about 27.17 inches. (By comparison, right now the pressure in Phoenix is 29.84 inches.) Generally, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. Hurricane Francis, with maximum winds of about 140 m.p.h. at its peak, was a Category 4 storm, which "weakened" to a Category 2 storm (winds at 105 m.p.h.) as it approached the Florida coast. At that time, the hurricane-force winds from Francis extended some 70 miles from the center. Thus, Ivan is comparable in size, although a bit smaller. The atmospheric pressure estimated for Frances was in the 960 mb range; so Ivan is certainly looking to be a much more serious storm.

The news reports from the first landfalls made by Ivan bear out the destructive potential of this storm. According to the Associate Press, sixteen deaths were caused by Ivan in the islands off the coast of northeastern South America, including both Barbados and Grenada. The principal source of income on Grenada comes from growing nutmeg; and it appears that this year's crop has been destroyed. Ivan is moving at about 15 m.p.h. to the west-northwest, on a track that will take it over the island of Jamaica. Also potentially affected is the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic is located on the eastern portion of this island; while Haiti is to the west. Although a "direct hit" by the "eye" of Ivan doesn't appear to be likely, Hispaniola is already being struck by the rain bands that spin off from a hurricane. As Haiti was earlier hit by some significant flooding, even a brush with such a storm cannot be helpful. I mention this in part because our church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), has three parishes in Haiti.

Ivan is expected to strike the island of Cuba, and then to move to the northeast and strike Florida. Evacuation orders for the Florida Keys have already been issued, in anticipation of Ivan's arrival there, possibly on Sunday. There is already another tropical depression (often the precursor to a tropical storm or hurricane) forming over the Azores.

Now, perhaps you're asking yourself, "When did I tune in to the 'Weather Blog'?" I guess I'm going on a bit about this because, on the one hand, the power of God's creation is absolutely staggering. On the other hand, we need to pray, and ask God to turn this storm away from inhabited areas; and to weaken this storm, and spare the lives and livelihoods of those who dwell in its path. May God's will be done; and, if Hurricane Ivan strikes, may those who bear the blow, and those of us who watch helplessly, receive grace to perceive the will of God. At times such as this, what else can we do but pray?

Lord, have mercy!

A Hero In Beslan

Following a reference from the "normalorthodox" list at, I read the account of Yanis Kanidis, a 74-year old gym teacher at the school in Beslan. You should read it, too!

RSS Geek Needed
I'm trying to set up this blog to do Atom/RSS/XML feeds (the link, "Site Feeds," is at the bottom of this page); but I am doing something wrong, because every time I try to add the feed to my own reader, it fails to validate. The error-checking routine that kicks in suggests there are problems with some of the coding that is added when I switch on site feed through Blogger. In particular, it doesn't like my using the names of countries (Russia) and cities (Moscow) without some sort of site designators (which I suspect is part of the XML coding). I don't have the time to use my usual "crash-and-burn" method of computer "modification." Any bloggers out there who have successfully set up Atom that can offer some suggestions?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Help for Russia

Those who would like to make a donation for the assistance of the victims of the terrorist attack at the school in Beslan should send their contributions to:

St. John Russian Orthodox Church
4001 17th St. NW
Washington, DC 20011
(In the memo section of the check, please note, "Beslan.")

Outrages Continue in Iraq

Two Italian humanitarian aid workers were kidnapped in broad daylight from the streets of Baghdad, Iraq, by terrorists, just days after the murderous killings of school children and adults by terrorists in Russia. Both are women. The news report did not, as I recall, list any demands for their release; there are Italian troops present to support the peace-keeping efforts in Iraq. An Iraqi man and woman were also kidnapped with the two Italians, one of whom has been working to help the Iraqi people since 1994.

The protection of women and children is so basic to human survival that to point this out sounds ridiculous. The only thing more horrific than attacking women is attacking children -- and now we've seen both take place in the space of a few days. As shocking, as horrible, as incredibly wrong as the abuses that took place in the Abu Ghraib prison are, I don't recall any women or children having been detained, or interrogated, or abused. I'm sure we'd have heard all about it if any had been. I have said it before, and I'll keep saying it until proven wrong: There is something fundamentally wrong about a religion that teaches jihad; and when its followers make innocents and non-combatants their targets, they have ceased to be human beings themselves. Unless there is an outcry against such actions as in Beslan and Baghdad from the Muslim world; until the people and leaders of the Muslim states take every possible step to root out, arrest, and bring these terrorists to justice, they risk being seen as complicit with the terrorists, condoning these brutalities. I am horrified by the concept of a suicide bomber; but I can, in a way, understand when a person with explosives in a vehicle, or strapped to their body, crashes into a military target, fighting back against an enemy who may possess weapons and technology not available to someone fighting a guerilla war. Bombing a school or a pizza parlor or a bus; shooting children in the back as they flee to safety; taking aid workers and journalists as hostages and beheading them with a sword, however: this is not warfare -- these are atrocities, outrages against all human existence.

Call me paranoid. On the one hand, there are the "progressives" in our culture. They have a vision of a bright and shining future, a paradise; on the road to which is a major stumbling block -- religious faith. On the other hand, there are the adherents of Islam, who have a vision of an entire world united in the worship of Allah; and who will bring that about by conquest, if necessary. In between are the Christians. We also have a vision of a future paradise, but ours is one that centers upon God, present with us through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. We also desire and work for the conversion of all the world to the knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ; but by way of love, not by the sword. Who will come to kill us first?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Kidnapping Fatwa

According to the “crawl” on the Fox News Channel last night, which I was watching to get an update on Tropical Storm Frances, a group of terrorists (oh, sorry: the L.A. Daily News calls them a “militant group”; which identifies as the “Black Banners Brigade of the Secret Islamic Army”) has asked for a fatwa (a ruling on a point of Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar) as to whether the kidnapping of foreign hostages assisting the American forces in Iraq is permitted. A spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars is reported to have said that its clerics will consider issuing a fatwa, saying the issue was "not easy" and needs "profound study."

Disobeying a fatwa, the highest form of decree in Islamic law, can result in execution (and how appropriate if that were to be by being beheaded, as that’s what has been happening to many of those taken hostage) and damnation. At least 102 foreigners have been abducted since April; twenty-eight have been executed. Now, apparently, a fatwa against kidnapping is going to be issued, according to a report in the News-Telegraph.

Well, duh. Here’s what the “prophet” Jesus said. (For Muslims, our Lord Jesus, who was not the divine Son of God, is one of the most important prophets, second only to Mohammed.) “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. (But maybe these words of his didn’t make it into the Koran?)

What about the revelation of the nature of God given to Moses, who is also great among the prophets acknowledged by the Muslims? As Moses was permitted to behold God, he heard God say of Himself, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” Does anyone really need to ask for an official decree as to whether a deity who declares himself to be “merciful and gracious” or “longsuffering” or “abundant in goodness and truth” would allow the kidnapping of someone? (Much less the execution of a hostage…)

I hope that the reports that the leading clerics will issue a fatwa against such kidnappings and executions are correct. I’m not encouraged by one report which suggests that the fatwa will be issued so as to remove the “pretext” for military action by U.S. and Iraqi forces against those who have taken refuge in mosques in Latifiya and Fallujah while fighting against the Iraqi government.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Religion of Terror?

There is something inherently wrong with a religion that allows its adherents to carry out such actions as suicide bombings and the taking of hostages, with the threat that the hostages will be executed unless the demands of their captors are met. This is the situation in Russia at this moment, where attackers wearing “suicide bomb belts” have taken a school, with a reported 400 people, most of them children, as hostages. Yesterday, a car blew up outside a subway station in Moscow, killing 10 people; it is believed that a female suicide bomber was responsible. Female suicide bombers are also suspected in explosions that caused two planes to crash in Russia, killing 89 people, on August 24th. These are “merely” the latest incidents in a pattern that goes back over several years in Russia. To the extent that the persons responsible were faithful practitioners of Islam, one can only conclude that there is something inherently wrong with their religion.

Some will say that these are the actions of fanatics, and do not represent the beliefs and practices of the Muslim “mainstream.” I’d like to believe this to be true; but right now, I can’t help but wonder if it can possibly be so. I have a hard time conceiving of a religion that teaches the devaluing of a human life to the point where it can be used as a “bargaining chip” to negotiate for what the terrorist desires to achieve. “If you release persons who have been arrested for having committed a crime, I’ll set free the young boys and girls of your school; but if you don’t do as I say, I will shoot them – and if you try to rescue them, I’ll blow them up, and the school with them.” Is this the act of a rational person? Is this the act of a person who has submitted himself or herself to the will of God?

Where are the leaders of the Muslim community? If these terrorists do not, in fact, represent the beliefs and practices of Islam, where are the leaders who publicly denounce these actions, and call upon the terrorists to release their captives, and lay down their arms? Can you imagine the Pope, or the Patriarch of Moscow, or Billy Graham, remaining silent if this was a band of Christians who were threatening the lives of innocent people, innocent children? (In fairness, there have been some, although it seems that these are usually "scholars," and not the imams, the actual religious leaders. One such scholar gave this interview days after the attacks of 9/11.)

Now, I realize that this is not a “black and white” situation – "Christians good, Muslims evil." All you have to do is think of the strife, the bombings, and the shootings that took place in Northern Ireland for so many years. Perhaps the struggle of the people of (Muslim) Chechnya to gain independence from (Orthodox) Moscow is akin to the struggle between the Protestants and Catholics in Ulster; where the religious beliefs of the two sides were more labels that encapsulated a wider range of socio-political differences, rather than at the core of the struggle. I still think, however, that there is a fundamental difference at work here; and the fact that Christians have acted as terrorists does not diminish the profound difference I see at work in this aspect of the “War on Terror.”

Remember the account in the Gospel of St. Matthew of the time of our Lord’s arrest in the Garden at Gethsemane. St. Peter has drawn his sword, and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Our Lord Jesus tells him to “put up” his sword, for all that live by the sword shall die by the sword. He then makes reference to the power that is inherently his to command: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53)” But our Lord did not come to bring a sword, but reconciliation between God and mankind, and so reconciliation between all persons. He did not come to conquer by fear or by force, but to conquer hearts and minds by His love for God, and for all mankind. Perhaps I’m ignorant; but I can’t imagine Mohammed having restrained himself or his followers had he had access to twelve legions of angels.

I’m trying very hard not to judge an entire religion based upon the actions of a few of its followers; but I must confess that I can’t help but think that we are, knowingly or unknowingly, engaged in a religious war. Not only that: I think most of us in the west don’t get it. We tend to think of warfare in geopolitical terms: one country against another, or one group against another, fighting to take (or retain) control over territory, and the people and resources of that territory. I fear we are not ready to engage an opponent who has taken the concept of jihad from the level of the struggle against the self in order to do our part in the process of sanctification unto salvation – what we Orthodox call asceticism – and extended it to be “holy war” against the infidels who do not share the same religious beliefs, and must be converted or eliminated. To the extent that suicide bombers and hostage-takers continue to justify their actions on the basis of their religious beliefs – and that religion is Islam – they make it hard to believe that their religion is one of peace, and which places a value on human life.

UPDATE: 4 September 2004

There has been some reaction in the Arabic press condemning the situation in Russia, and
acknowledging that most of the terrorists active in the world today are Muslims.