Sunday, October 31, 2004

Elections, Persecution, and the Orthodox Faith

Some Last Minute Observations Before Tuesday's Election

Thursday's blog was headlined, "Is Persecution in America Possible?" A parishioner spoke to me at length today, and made a few points that are worth repeating.

The strongest of these arises from the Gospel of St. John the Theologian. In what is, in many ways, our Lord's "farewell discourse" to His disciples before His arrest, Passion, and crucifixion, He says, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." (John 15:20) Two points arise from this. The first is that we should expect to be persecuted, if, in fact, we are faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was certainly persecuted; and why, then, should we be surprised if the prophecy He gave to those closest to Him should come to pass? The other point is that we must be aware of the "propaganda" we have been given through our culture. The parishioner making this point (a reader of this blog; who, if permission is given to identify, I will be happy to give the credit for provoking these thoughts) is an emigre from what was, at one time, the Eastern (i.e., Communist) Bloc, and very aware of the reality of how governments -- all governments -- employ propaganda. Is America more perfect than was Christ? Of course not. Those of us who were born and raised here have been taught that this is the "land of the free, and the home of the brave." I do not doubt that no nation has enjoyed more freedom that has been available to us here; nor do I question the bravery of many who helped shape this land, and protect it against enemies. But we should not be mistaken. We should not think that somehow this land is perfect, without flaw, without sin, without the possibility of error. And, being governed by sinners -- and how could this be otherwise? -- why should America somehow be immune from the worst of human impulses? We are not -- and so persecution is indeed possible -- and, given our Lord's prophecy, inevitable. To think or say anything else is simply not an Orthodox understanding of human being, human culture, and human history (past, present, and future).

As I have been considering the passage from the Gospel above, I have recalled other instances as well. One is from the same discourse in the Gospel of St. John: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (16:33) One is even so obvious that I'm surprised (and a bit embarrassed to admit) that I didn't think of it right away. It's from the Beatitudes, which we sing at almost every Divine Liturgy:
[10] Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
[11] Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
[12] Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.
(Matt. 5:10-12a)

Some Last Words About the Election

Our Lord Jesus, speaking to Pontius Pilate, said, "My kingdom is not of this world." As Orthodox Christians, we should also be instructed by this truth -- this world is not our home. This, taken with the admonition, "Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return unto his earth; in that day all his thoughts shall perish," should keep us from getting too twisted up about the choices available to us on Tuesday (or in any election, for that matter). Yes, we are "in this world" -- but we are not meant to be "of this world." We have a duty to fulfill as citizens of this world; but we must do so in a manner befitting being a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven. We are not meant to serve the prince of this world. So pray; pray for God's guidance when deciding to vote; and for guidance in selecting the candidate to support. Once again, there is no "perfect" choice -- and so we must consider the "package" that each candidate brings, the positions for which each candidate stands, and make our choices according to the principles and practices and teachings of our Orthodox faith. As I have said before, we will be held accountable on the great and terrible Day of Judgment for all we have said and done and thought and felt -- and that includes our voting record as well. (No secret ballots where God is concerned!)
And may God have mercy and help us all...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Is Persecution in America Possible?

In a word, yes. But don't take my word for it! Or, in other words, I'm not alone in saying this; as I've done in previous posts to this blog. (They're in the archives; you can take a look, if you want to do so.) But it's always nice to find you're not alone, shouting this to uncaring ears. (And besides, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you... [grin])

Two very thoughtful, and thought-provoking, articles are found at Doxos, and at Itslaterthanyouthink. I've added the latter site to my blogroll, together with a site named, "Bill's Comments," which I also found interesting. Hey, it's amazing what you can find when you're in work-avoidance mode! Check 'em out; I think you'll be rewarded.

Heresy and the Episcopal Church

Although it has been nine years now since I resigned as a priest in the Episcopal Church (and just a few weeks from the ninth anniversary of our baptism and chrismation in the Orthodox Church), I cannot help but continue to follow the news about what is happening to them. After all, that was my church from the time I was fifteen years old. Even after you've left a relationship, even when it is impossible to go back (not that there is any desire to do so), having spent over twenty-five years being involved with that entity, there are still good people there, people that I'd rescue from that sinking ship and bring to the shelter of Holy Orthodoxy, if they'd show even the slightest sign of interest. It's sad.

Earlier today, as I did my rounds through the blogs I read regularly, I found at Fr. Joseph Hunneycutt's site (Orthodixie) a reference to a report about a pagan "liturgy" being promoted by the Office of Women's Ministries of the Episcopal Church. His site has a link to an article by Christianity Today, "Weblog: Episcopal Church Officially Promotes Idol Worship." One interesting development: as I followed the links provided in the CT article, I found that the webpage for the pagan liturgy was "not found" (how odd...); and the main page at the OWM had an "official reply" to the CT article. Hmmm... Looks like they got caught...

Others who have been following the "crisis" in ECUSA know that a long-awaited report from the Lambeth Conference of Bishops has just been issued. Many who'd hoped that the Archbishop of Canterbury, titular head of the Anglican Communion, through the report of the Eames Commission (II *), would take steps to discipline ECUSA for last year's consecration of an openly-homosexual man as a bishop, must have been sorely disappointed by the report, which said little, and did less, in my opinion. But no one should have been surprised by this result. The bottom line is that there is nothing, apart from its own membership, to restrain the Episcopal Church from continuing in its descent into heresy and apostasy. (There is no joy in writing this, by the way.) They were at the doorstep of adopting liturgies for the blessing of same-sex "marriages" at their last General Convention; will anyone be surprised as these activities become officially sanctioned in many diocese, and ultimately approved at a coming General Convention? And isn't the incorporation of such pagan-influenced liturgies, as described in the CT article, a "logical" next step for a group that has lost its moorings in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason?

Brothers and sisters, we must pray that those faithful who remain, who are sickened and dismayed by the turn of events they have endured until now, will be strengthened by God to flee that rotting hulk, and come to the Orthodox Church and faith. We must also pray that those who are blinded by false teachings and teachers, and by the sins of the world, the flesh, and the devil, may be awakened by God, and enlightened as to the true nature of what their "church" is doing, and where their "church" is taking them; so that they, too, will desire to flee, and come to the safe harbor of the Orthodox Church. Lord, have mercy.

[Footnote] [I call it "Eames II" because there was an earlier "Eames Commission" that considered the question of how the traditionalists in diocese with "progressive" bishops might receive "alternative episcopal oversight" in the wake of the consecration of Barbara Harris, an openly-lesbian woman who was among the first round of those ordained (so-called) to the priesthood in an "irregular" (that is, uncanonical) manner -- that is, before ECUSA officially acted to allow women to be ordained. That Commission also came back with a report "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Its recommendations, inadequate at best, were ultimately rejected. This is one reason why many didn't really expect anything to come out of a second Eames Commission -- including me.]

Sounds Gross, but it Works...

When I returned from our clergy retreat in Denver last week, I brought home something I didn't have when I'd left -- a cough. It got so bad over the weekend that a kind parishioner even brought me a bottle of cough syrup; which, of course, I didn't take, as it was before the start of the Divine Liturgy. Yes, of course, it is permissible to take medication and still receive the Holy Mysteries of our Lord's Body and Blood; that is not breaking the fast we otherwise properly keep before communion. But that doesn't apply to me, does it? [grin]

The cough has persisted; and so I decided to use a technique which, since I have discovered it about three years ago, has resulted in losing maybe a day to the symptoms of a cold; and has virtually eliminated the two to three trips per year to the doctor for an antibiotic to wipe out the sinus infection that always seemed to accompany a cold. (I'm one of those types who won't go to see a physician for a cold as long as the mucus is clear, or white. Once it turns green, of course, guerilla warfare doesn't work any more, and the heavy anti-bacterial artillery becomes necessary.) The technique has a fine-sounding name: nasal (or sinus) lavage. In other words: washing with a mild salt water solution.

Here's how you do it. First, go to a restaurant supply store, or a good department store (or a 99-cent store), and pick up a squirt bottle; you know, the kind that is used to serve mustard and ketchup in many restaurants (ok, diners). Put in about one-half to one teaspoon of sea salt, and a bit of hot water. Swirl the water in the bottle until the salt is completely dissolved; then fill the rest of the bottle with water. Set aside to cool.

Now, my daughters will say that the next part is really gross. Too bad. Take the bottle of salt water with you to the sink. Lean over, and turn your head to one side, so that your nostrils are in an "up-and-down" (rather than side-by-side) alignment. Put the nozzle of the squirt bottle into the upper nostril, and squeeze gently. This gets a bit tricky; as your sinuses fill, the water will begin to run across the top of your throat. Don't clamp down; try to just let it flow. Eventually, the flow will begin to run out the lower nostril. Bingo! This is what you want to achieve. Let it flow for about 30 seconds. Then remove the nozzle, and slowly turn your head back to the center, allowing the remaining water to flow out. You can blow your nose gently to help clear it. Then turn your head to the other side, and repeat the process, reversing the direction of the flow.

That's really all there is to it. You can repeat it as needed; two or three times a day is usually enough to knock out the worst forms of congestion and post-nasal drip. Some warnings: If you wait until the congestion gets really bad (but before the green stage), the salt water may really burn when you flush the system. That's actually a good sign; you've got, in that case, some really inflamed tissues in your sinuses when that happens, and the salt water will actually help soothe them. Also, if you wait, the pockets of congestion may actually cause some of the salt water to get trapped; and it will leak out later, usually at the most inopportune moment! (So I don't use the lavage before going to serve in the altar!) Earlier is better; it takes fewer treatments, and doesn't burn, if you start doing this just after the symptoms begin.

My cough? I used the treatment last night, and wasn't bothered by the cough at all overnight. I repeated the treatment this morning; and, so far, haven't had any cough to speak of. I fully expect to be completely free of the cough by tomorrow. For what it's worth...

Oh, all the standard legal-jargon disclaimers apply. (Your results may vary. I am not licensed to pratice medicine or any form of physical therapy or treatment by any state board regulating the treatment of coughs and colds and the like; and so on.) Consult your doctor, if you think that's necessary and helpful. Yada yada yada...

Monday, October 25, 2004

Whoop, whoop: St. Petersburg Times Endorses John Kerry

Never let it be said that I don't hear the comments posted to this blog. Now that I have a bit of time (sorely lacking last week, what with traveling to Denver for our fall clergy retreat, and coming home with either "altitude sickness" or a touch of the flu, knocking me out for another day and a half), I've gone to read the editorial ("John Kerry is Better") in the St. Petersburg Times that "Audiatur" originally made reference to as he spammed the first (of several) comments on this blog. I was "invited" (I'm trying to be polite here) to respond to what was said by the (anonymous) writer of the editorial. Oh, by noting that the editorial write is anonymous, I'm not inferring anything -- this is typical for such newspaper editorials. Please accept, in advance, my apology for what is gong to be a very long blog.

Audiatur took exception to my initial dismissal of the SPT editorial as a "screed"; yet, having read it again, my opinion is unchanged. I find it to be a long, monotonous harangue. Audiatur said,
This, verily, surprised me a great deal. I thought that you will – point by point – annihilate the arguments of the editorial and prove that all of them are false and distorting the truth.

Well, let's take a look at the editorial. It begins with some degree of praise for President Bush's handling of events immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and pursuing the al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. They quickly chide him for having departed from his pledge to pursue a "humble foreign policy" -- although I would think that most people would allow a president some latitude for foreign policy promises made in an environment that had not, at that time, been shaped by terrorist suicide bombers flying hijacked domestic airliners into skyscrapers and government buildings. The Times editorial also takes the President to task for not having done more to
build a united front in the war against terrorism and by seeking a broad consensus for dealing with important social and economic issues at home. Instead, he squandered that support by pressing divisive and arrogant policies, including a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

Anyone who finds any evidence in any blog I've written here, comments I've left somewhere else, or in any sermon or letter I've written, that indicates my support for the war in Iraq wins a prize; and I'll go in for testing for a loss of mental ability. Indeed, I think I've gone the other way, even hinting broadly that the war in Iraq, and the whole "war on terror" mindset is a pointer to such bleak scenarios as are described in George Orwell's 1984. So I'm not a Bush supporter with regard to Iraq. However, I think it is fair to say that I did not doubt the assertions made by many in our government that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons in his arsenal, and that he would not hesitate to use these weapons if he felt it were to his advantage -- and this would include his making these available to terrorists (not necessarily al-Qaeda) to use against his enemies, including the United States. After all, he had not hesitated to use such weapons in his war with Iran, and had even used them against his own subjects, the Kurds, when they sought greater autonomy. To this day, one of the great puzzles is why Iraq did not use such weapons against the coalition forces in the first Gulf War, when Hussein's forces were driven out of Kuwait. But now I'm wandering away from the editorial and its arguments...

Here, in summary form, are the reasons why the Times thinks it is time for a change away from a second Bush administration:

  • "Regressive" tax cuts that "widen the gulf between the rich and the poor."

  • President Bush "frittered away" the "record surpluses" he had received on coming into office.

  • President Bush has presided over a "net loss of jobs."

  • He has broken his promise to make health care more accessible and affordable.

  • He has blocked steps to control drug costs, such as by allowing prescription drugs to be imported from Canada.

  • He has allowed a "rollback" of key environmental laws.

  • President Bush is making a "cynical push" for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
  • (Audiatur: Do you expect me to refute this?)

  • Another round of arguments about Iraq. (Let's don't go there again...)

Someone will have to explain to me how the tax cuts have been "regressive." I understood that the tax cuts were across-the-board percentage reductions. If that's the case, that's hardly regressive. Granted, those who have a larger income will receive a larger amount of money by the same percentage reduction -- that's basic mathematics. But, given that the income tax is structured to take a larger percentage from the top-most earners, I don't see the tax cuts as having been unfair to anyone. So, the Times doesn't get any points from me on that issue.

As for "frittering away" of surpluses, and the "net loss" of jobs, well, those who can remember will recall that the economy began to "cool off" in the months before the Bush administration even came into office in January, 2001. The boom of the 1990's that produced much of the employment, and the surplus for the federal treasury, was coming to an end as the Clinton administration was ending its control and handing over the reins. When you add the incredibly negative impacts to the national economy that followed the attacks of September 11th later in that same year, and the massive cost necessary to pursue the "War against Terror" (even before Iraq), well, only the most economically naive persons -- Democrats? -- would think that things would stay "rosy." Although the Times editorial doesn't come out and say this, I seem to recall, perhaps from the debates, a claim of a net loss of some 800,000 jobs over the last four years. I also seem to recall an estimate that the immediate impacts of September 11th included a net loss of 1 million jobs. If that was correct, then we're now 200,000 jobs to the good. If so, score one for the Bush administration, and a loss of a point for the spin-meisters at the Times.

I don't know about the Bush promise to make health care more acessible and affordable. I think the prescription drug program added to Medicare is a big mistake that will come back to bite us all in the years to come; but I don't hear anything from candidate Kerry that makes the situation any better.

Are there any major drug manufacturers located in Canada? (I don't mean any disrespect by asking this; I truly don't think there are any, but concede that I may very well be ignorant on this point.) I've always understood that the vast majority of the pharmaceuticals available in Canada came from manufacturers in the US and the UK; and that it is government-imposed cost controls that hold down the prices there, making these drugs seem more affordable than here. There is also the question of the quality of such drugs. Otherwise, why limit the importation to drugs from Canada? Why not Mexico? Or Thailand?

And where does the Times get off by labelling the President's support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage as "cynical?" Hey, you don't agree with him, fine -- it's a free country. You don't have to agree; or vote to ban such marriages. Regular readers of this blog know what I think about the subject of same-sex "marriages," and the ultimate futility of trying to block these by means of governmental action and legislation. This doesn't mean I want to see the government make such unions "legal"; just that I think it will happen, and probably sooner than later. But the President is trying to do the right thing here, I think -- and he has my support. I can't give my support to a candidate who says, "Well, privately, I believe {x}, but publically I must vote {y}," where {x} and {y} are diametrically opposed. Tell the people -- no, tell the VOTERS -- what you believe, and why: and then take your lumps, if they disagree with you. When you go into office, whether in Washington, the state capital, or city hall, you're going to represent ME, among others -- and so I want to know what you think, and what you believe. This whole, "I believe one thing, but will, on behalf of my constituents, vote something else entirely," just says to me that you're a whore, for sale to whomever offers you the most for your vote. This applies to any politician who adopts that approach, in my book -- but hey, candidate Kerry: if the shoe fits, wear it.

The editorial also makes a few arguments for Sen. Kerry. These are, in summary,
  • He has reached across the aisle to "normalize relations" with Viet Nam; and in support of a balanced budget and welfare reform.

  • He has a "detailed, sensible plan" to make health care coverage more accessible and affordable.

  • He pledges to defer any programs that would prevent reducing the deficit by half.

  • His plans are "mainstream." (Whatever that means...)

When was normalizing relations with Vietnam a burning issue in this country? Who is surprised that a man who testified before the U.S. Senate about American "war crimes" in Vietnam during the time that American prisoners were being tortured by their Vietnamese captors for refusing to do so would later, as a U.S. Senator, work to "normalize" relations with that country? Why is this something we should applaud? Why is this something we should reward with the highest office in this land? As for the balanced budget and welfare reform, my recall is that these actions developed in the mid-1990's, after the mid-term elections under Pres. Clinton produced a Republican-controlled Congress for the first time in some forty years. You have to be an incredibly committed politician to stand in opposition to efforts, such as restraining out-of-control Congressional spending, and making changes to an abuse-prone welfare system, that have the high degree of public support that the Republican-initiated efforts generated. Was this "reaching across the aisle?" Or was it "climbing aboard the train before it left the station?"

The "detailed, sensible plan" for health care is anything but -- at least, not in what is put before us as voters. It is lacking in details; and promises that the federal government will, among other things, pick up 75% of catastrophic health care costs. Great. How will that be paid for? You know the answer: more taxes. Hey, you can read the plan for yourself: "Affordable Health Care for All."

Do you believe any politician who promises, on the one hand, more jobs, better pay, better health care, improved national defense -- and, on the other hand, hey, any of these programs I've promised will be deferred if we can't also reduce the deficit by half? If you do, please say hello to Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and others of that ilk. The rest of us know that the secret code behind such a plan is "TAX INCREASES."

Are you tired? I'm tired. We're all tired. Even the big-time bloggers are getting weary, and are ready for it all to be over. As far as I'm concerned, unless something really egregious happens, this is "it" for this election cycle. There are plenty of other matters waiting for my comments - even if only in my own mind.

So, vote -- or don't vote. I've said it before; one more time won't hurt. I will not vote for Kerry; I don't want to vote for Bush; I wish one or the other was likely to win by a landslide, so I could just ignore the whole thing. I will also repeat this:
If you are going to cast your vote for Kerry, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for Bush, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for someone else, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. I don't know which candidate is the one favored by God; I do know that each of us will be held accountable for our actions, our choices, indeed, for every idle word spoken, on the great and terrible Day of the Lord -- and let that guide your actions -- and your vote -- as well.
(Happy now, Audiatur?)

May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Some Political Ads Worth Sharing

WABC-AM radio personality Mark Simone has crafted a fake ad that does a pretty good job of catching Sen. John Kerry at his, uh, "best." I'm afraid that a forced reboot has caused me to be unable to find the source that originally directed me to this site, so that I can't properly give them credit. The description is found at the News Talk Radio 77 website; and the ad itself can also be heard here (make sure your sound is turned on).

This ad was quite moving: see Ashley's Story. My thanks to Michele at A Small Victory for this one.

This is probably it until Monday at the earliest... (Yes, I know, I've said things like that before...)

MONDAY UPDATE: Here's another shot at the election -- and, no doubt, what some people fear will be true... Bush Wins Florida!

Comments and Comments

If you take a look at the bottom of each message here, you're going to find it reads something like "Comments (x)|Trackback (x) (x)comments" (where x= some number >= 0).

Here's what's going on. The first "Comments" field is based on Haloscan; and is going to be phased out, as I have elected to move away from allowing anonymous commentators to leave comments. The final field for "comments" is powered by Blogger; and you'll be required to sign in to leave a comment. In a way, I'm sorry to take this step; but I find it to be necessary, given recent developments. My thanks to Huw Raphael for his advice and assistance in addressing this situation.

So, unless you want your comments to disappear -- which they will when the Haloscan side is dropped, and you've chosen to comment there -- please be sure to use the right-hand "(x) comments" link. Thanks.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Can't You People Read?

For the most part, the following blog is directed to two otherwise unknown people, identified only as "Lia Hanna" and "Audiatur et altera pars," who have taken great exception to several of my recent blogs, and have filled the comments section with vast snippets of comments from both the editorial pages of an unidentified newspaper (the "SPT"), and their own thoughts as well. Neither posted either an email address, or a web site; for, if they had, I could direct this to them privately. As this is not an option, I choose to do so here.

First, let's say a bit about courtesy in the blogosphere. Personally, I find it difficult to read comments broken up over page after page after page, when each page is designed to be limited to 1000 characters. As I said in my reply to the first set of comments by "Audiatur," The user should put up their own blog, and link/trackback here. The same is true for you, "Lia Hanna" -- please don't go throwing up 12 pages of comments. If you can't make your point succinctly, start a blog, post your comments, and link/trackback here. That's why the trackback feature is provided, for goodness' sake! If you don't know how to use that feature, just ask!

Now, "Audiatur," as to your objection to my response to the reprinting of the SPT editorial as a "screed" -- don't take it personally. No, I don't expect that every comment made here be laudatory, or in agreement with what I have said. If you've read the comments here, you'll see that this rarely happens anyway! I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I do hope ("expect" would be too strong) that there be some courtesy here. When you take ten pages in a comments section to "make your point," you've done it wrong -- at least, in my opinion. You also objected to my request for assistance in blocking such extended comments as you have posted. Yes, I'd like to block anonymous comments, especially when these are excessive in length. I am not in any way opposed to dialog; but, as I've said before, start your own blog; leave a brief comment with a link; and send a trackback. I guarantee you, unless I'm out of town or ill, I'll swing on over to your site, and join the conversation.

But most of all, I want you folks -- that is, "Audiatur" and "Lia Hanna" and anyone else who hasn't figured this out yet -- to hear this: Just because I have stated my opposition to the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry, I have not endorsed the re-election of President George Bush. (But this isn't the first time I've said this... That's why this is titled, "Can't You People Read?") Your argument isn't with me, unless you think you can convince me that I should support the Kerry candidacy. On this, you cannot: his position on abortion alone is enough to make him unsupportable for me as an Orthodox Christian. I disagree with his policies on the defense of this country; I disagree with his policies on taxation and government spending; and I disagree with his stand on other moral issues as well. At the gut level, as I have watched him during the debates, in news interviews, and on the campaign trail, I do not trust him. As I have said a number of times, I find myself in quite a dilemma, not knowing which other candidate, if any, should receive my vote; and yet I am not able to simply say that I will not vote, as I believe we, as citizens, have a responsibility to fulfill in these elections.

Quite frankly, I am not interested in any new debates on the topic of the candidates for President of the United States. I was asked by some friends, and by some parishioners, to share my thoughts, and the blogs you've been seeing here on that topic are the thoughts I've been working through in trying to reach my decision. You don't have to agree with me; and you don't have to like my position. But please use a little common sense and courtesy when using my blog -- MY BLOG -- as your soapbox.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Is God Really a Republican?

Yes, I know, I said I probably wouldn't blog again until late in the week... But I just received two emails to which I'd like to reply, using the blog to do so... The writer of the emails is a person unknown to me; and, as I don't reply to such emails, I have not been able to ask for permission to repost the emails, or to cite the author by name. In the event that the author is a reader of this blog, please feel free to comment!

One of the emails has the subject line used as the title for this blog entry; while the other has as its subject line, "The World Without Saddam: Is It Really Safer?" (My internal editor is yelling, "That should be 'more safe,' not 'safer'!" -- but we won't go there...) As I have never made the argument that the world is, indeed, better off with Saddam Hussein removed from power, I don't feel a need to reply in detail to this email, which I simply scanned, rather than reading for purposes of commenting in depth. I'm not suggesting Hussein should have been left in power; no one asked me before the U.S. invasion of Iraq how I thought either way. Of course, I'd hope for a better future for the people of Iraq, and it seems only logical that their chances for a better future have been improved with the removal of this dictator from power. On the other hand, I'm old enough now to have seen the "law of unintended consequences" take what seemed to be a good idea at the time and make a bad situation even worse. If a Taliban-style group eventually comes to power in Iraq, things may, indeed, have been better off with Hussein still in place. I'm certainly no expert there.

No, what provoked this reply came about because of certain things said in the email about the political affiliation of God. Last time I checked, I said that I'm having trouble reconciling myself to a vote to re-elect President Bush; and that there is no way that I can cast a vote for the election of Sen. Kerry. I've never said that God favored one or the other, or both, or neither. I've said that, as Christians, the kingdom for which we hope is not of this world; and we must live according to the principles of that kingdom, while at the same time fulfilling, to the best of our abilities, our duties as citizens here. Well, I'm starting to rant. Let me pull up the quotations...

However, the current President Bush has invaded a sovereign nation in violation of international law, even though Saddam did not pose an immediate threat outside the borders of Iraq. I strongly oppose these actions. In an earlier post, I said that the American invasion of Iraq was a violation of Iraqi sovereignthy. I've made similar comments, both in replies posted here, and in comments left on other blogs, to the effect that, if the shoe was on the other foot, and we had been invaded by an outside power or coalition that opposed us, and sought to impose its positions, we, too, would fight back, as some Iraqis are resisting our presence. I don't approve of killing; I do understand how some Iraqis oppose, on principle, the presence of foreign soldiers on their soil. Oh, and I don't agree that Saddam Hussein was not a threat outside of Iraq. Evidence? The Iran-Iraq War, and his invasion of Kuwait would seem to be evidence enough of his willingness to threaten those outside his borders. Add to it his talk -- even if it was only empty bluster -- about acquiring additional chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons capability... At a certain level, he had to be taken seriously. That, by itself, did not, and does not, justify our invasion of Iraq. Remember, I've never been a promoter/booster of the "War on Terror."

There was a time Americans respected the opinions of those with differing political views. Today, the conservative right wing has lost that human attribute. I resent having my patriotism and may faith challenged because I oppose the policies of the President, and I will proudly vote for Senator Kerry
There is a very good chance that the author was noty directing these words to me. I do, however, want to note that I have not cast aspersions on anyone who has a different point of view. I may not agree with your point of view, but I don't think that everyone has to think what I think -- except maybe when it comes to belief in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! But in matters of faith, as well as in political discourse, I desire to persuade you, not bludgeon you into accepting a different point of view. As long as we can discuss things in a civil manner, let's hold the conversation. Should we reach a place where it becomes obvious that neither of us is going to budge, let us part amicably. As for questioning anyone's patriotism, challenging their religion, or even telling anyone for whom they should vote -- it hasn't happened here. God willing, it never will. This is not to say that I have not questioned some of the positions espoused by a candidate, and the faith implications of these -- such as when Sen. Kerry announces that he is a "good" Roman Catholic, and yet disagrees with his church's stand on the issue of abortion (if only in his public policy decisions). I have done so, and will continue to do so as I think it appropriate. But I have always sought to do so in a respectful way; and again, hope that I will always do so.

Last quote. Obviously, I do not believe that God is a Republican, or a Democrat. Choosing the right war on terrorism is not a question of religion. God is not a Republican; God is not a Democrat. God is not voting in this election; of this, I have absolutely no doubt. God loves the Republicans; God loves the Democrats. God loves the independents, and the Green Party supporters. God loves the people who support the Libertarians, and the Constitution Party; God loves the members of the Socialist Workers Party, and the Communist Party. God loves the Orthodox; God loves the Catholics; God loves the Protestants; God even loves the atheists. The only war I know of that I can say God would want us to choose to fight is the war we fight against ourselves and the temptations that lead us into sin. Other wars may happen, because of human wickedness, and we may have to defend ourselves, and I'm sure that, even then, God understands -- even though He does not approve. But I've said all that before, as well.

If you are going to cast your vote for Kerry, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for Bush, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. If you are going to cast your vote for someone else, be sure you know why you're doing what you're doing -- and maybe pray before you vote, and seek the will of God to guide you. I don't know which candidate is the one favored by God; I do know that each of us will be held accountable for our actions, our choices, indeed, for every idle word spoken, on the great and terrible Day of the Lord -- and let that guide your actions -- and your vote -- as well.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners...

From the Lighter Side

Wednesday night was the last of the three presidential debates, held in our neighborhood -- Tempe, Arizona. Of course, the price of admission would pay off the mortgage for the church... I missed the live telecast, as we were in church for the Vigil for the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos; and, I must say, what I saw of the replays brought little or no joy. The difficulty in determining what to do, and who to vote for, has become very tiring.

A friend sent this in an email, and it seems to sum things up quite well; at least, from where I am right now: If God had wanted us to vote, He'd have given us candidates.

This is probably the last time I'll blog until after the clergy conference (in Denver) concludes on Wednesday...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

"Wealth and 'Illth'"

I've just finished reading an absolutely excellent posting by Huw Raphael; and there's no way for me to try to describe it, because he's said it better than I could hope to achieve. Here's an excerpt:
Robert Anton Wilson (perhaps quoting someone else) uses the word "wealth" in opposition to the neologism "illth". Think about it for a moment - if something promotes the "common weal" of things, it's called "wealth". What about those things that decidedly do not promote the "weal" of anyone? Ill and "illth" seem correct.

One more taste:
So, do I carry St Gregory's teaching one step further? Is it possible that the extra money I have isn't mine? Yes, I worked for it, yes, I earned it. That's not what I'm saying. I have it at God's grace. For what has He given it to me if not for His own greater glory?

To read the full article -- and you really do want to read it -- just click HERE.

The Presidential Election and the War in Iraq

That's why there isn't a churchgoer in America who doesn't know which candidate his pastor wants him or her to vote for.
E. J. Montini, in today's Arizona Republic

There must be a few who don't know, as I still don't know which candidate, if any, will get my vote! I must admit that I am somewhat intrigued by some of the arguments advanced by Mr. George Soros, especially when he says,
If we re-elect him (that is, President Bush) now, we endorse the Bush doctrine of preemptive action and the invasion of Iraq, and we will have to live with the consequences.

It's probably a mark of a terrible pride on my part to quote myself here, but I want to use a part of my sermon from Sunday as a part of this "internal conversation in your midst" as I wrestle with the decision about my vote for the presidency. The text was from the Gospel according to St. Luke, and was centered on our Lord's commandment, "Love your enemies." Here's part of what I said:
I don’t know how this works itself out on the world stage. I don’t know if it is possible for a nation to act in this way. And yet I can’t help but wonder how the world might have been changed if, after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, we had responded, after remembering and honoring and burying our dead, we had coolly, calmly, set about rebuilding that which the terrorists had destroyed, not striking back by declaring a war in which force meets force; but by saying, in words and deeds, “You cannot defeat us. No matter what you do, you shall not change our way of life. We shall prevail, and you shall not stop us.”

It's hard for us to imagine the "shape" of a "war on terror." Mr. Soros believes that American military action in Afghanistan was justified, as it was the base of operations for al-Qaeda. In another way, it was, and is, a questionable action: a sovereign country not at war with us was invaded by the United States. Part of not imagining the "shape" of a war on terror begins here: in a world so linked together by means of communications and commerce, are there still places in the world that are so "wild 'n' wooly" that a band of terrorists can operate openly, regardless of what the government (however nominal) might think? Was Afghanistan so wracked by its war with the Soviet Union, and ensuing civil war, that the Taliban was powerless to act to expel al-Qaeda? Or was there a tacit understanding between them, thereby making the Taliban complicit in the terrorist acts of al-Qaeda? Our military "intervention" there was certainly understandable; but is it justifiable?

In part, the liberty taken to invade Afghanistan set the stage for the American violation of the sovereignty of Iraq as well. The operating paradigm now seems to be, if we find it necessary to take action against a state, either because of what that state has done, is doing, or may one day do, or because of a group that is operating against our interests within the boundaries of that state, we will respond in whatever way, and at whatever level of force, diplomatic, economic, or military, we deem necessary and/or appropriate. In defense of President Bush, I will say that he did, prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, identify Iraq as part of an "axis of evil"; and few people questioned at the time the existence of the now-infamous "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Those who had followed the news reports over time knew that Saddam Hussein had used chemical and biological weapons in the war with Iran, and against the Kurds in Iraq; and had threatened to use them during the first Gulf War, following his invasion of Kuwait. However, this does not mean that the American invasion of Iraq is justified; and the argument that the wrold (including Iraq) is now better off because Saddam Hussein has been removed from power doesn't change the fact that the ostensible reasons for acting with our military power were unjustified, then and now. I'm glad that this tyrant is gone from power, and I hope that the Iraqi people will be able to establish a peaceful and prosperous life for themselves. But we've soiled our national honor by the use of military force.

Of course, this misuse of power against sovereign nations did not begin with President Bush. The NATO bombing of Serbia, undertaken at the direction of President Clinton, was a similar violation of a sovereign state by our military presence and power, as we sought to intervene to direct a conflict to an outcome we desired. I had then, as I have now, a sense that part of the flexing of our military "muscles" is due to the fact that there is no one nation at present with the capability and the will to interpose itself in such a way as to restrain our actions. That era ended with the disappearance of the Soviet Union; and a glimpse towards the horizon doesn't show that China, or any particular bloc, is positioning itself to be the counterweight to American actions. It pains me to say this, but we, as a nation on theinternational stage, seem to have become the schoolyard bully, threatening those we can intimdate, and beating those who resist, bringing about both their capitulation and sending a message to others, "You'd better do what I want, or this will happen to you." We'd like to see ourselves as the helpers of those in need around the world: the down-trodden and enslaved, the suffering, the poor; but, even as we do these charitable acts, it becomes less and less difficult to imagine as well the extension of an American hegemony into a new world empire.

All of this is "in play" as we move inexorably to Election Day. There is no doubt that President Bush, if re-elected, will continue on the course he has followed since 9-11. It sounds bizarre to say it, but this is a part of the reason why I say I can trust him, where I do not think I could ever trust Sen. Kerry. I do not agree with the President in this action; but I do trust him. As I've said before, I do wish we had more of a choice this November... Anyway, if we define matters as, "A vote for Bush-Cheney is a vote to continue an unjustifiable use of American military power, including the on-going war in Iraq," I cannot say that I can vote for the re-election of President Bush. But I feel even less safe contemplating the shape of the world with a Kerry presidency; and for this reason (and many other reasons as well), I cannot (and will not) vote Kerry-Edwards. In one way, I can't wait for this election to be over...

Oh, and, with a nod to Mr. Montini: My endorsement of a candidate is my opinion alone, and does not constitute a directive from me or from the church as to the candidate for whom you should cast your vote!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Sin, Natural Orientation, and Choice

Those who support ordaining gays contend Scripture does not ban same-sex relationships, and that there was no understanding in biblical times that homosexuality was a natural orientation, not a choice.

Following a link ("Episcopalians") from the blog of Fr. Joseph Hunnicutt (Orthodixie: see sidebar), I found an article which contained the amazing statement quoted above. The most amazing part is this: "there was no understanding in biblical times..." On a par with that is what follows: the concept that homosexuality is a natural orientation, and not a choice. When was this determined to be true?

It is entirely possible (and plausible) to take the arguments for homosexuality as a "natural orientation" and use, in place of homosexuality, the idea of non-monogamy among heterosexuals, and have an equally-valid sounding proposition. Examined from the standpoint of biology alone, it makes more sense for the male to seek to inseminate as many females as possible, in order to enhance the distribution of his genetic information. Similarly, why should a female be limited to reproducing with only one male? The chances of her genetic material being passed to succeeding generations must surely be better enhanced by having multiple offspring with multiple sires -- right? But no one, really, is making this argument; so why do we accept the "natural orientation" argument for homosexuality?

Often left undiscussed in this is the distinction between "orientation" and "behavior." One's "orientation" may, indeed, be directed in a manner that is inappropriate, even forbidden, to be put into action: this is true of both homosexual desires and the desires for other forms of sexual expression and activity outside of marriage. Here, homosexuality is neither better or worse than adultery or fornication. Having such an "orientation" is not, of itself, a sin; but acting upon the impulses that arise therefrom may very well be sinful, and therefore condemned.

Behavior is a choice. To say otherwise is to make the person the captive of his nature -- but this is not what we, as Orthodox Christians, believe. For us, the "nature" (ousia) defines the sum total of our being, with all its inherent potentials and limitations. Natures, however, simply "are" -- they do not act. For the nature to be put into action, it requires a person (hypostasis). Thus natures do not act; persons put the nature into action.

Are we limited by our nature? If we reply that this is true, we make ourselves nothing more than animals, who act primarily upon instinct, although the ability to learn is not entirely absent. But we are more than this: we have the ability to reason, and to remember, and to perform abstract calculations, and to use our imagination. We can discern and employ cause and effect, and can determine right and wrong, and recognize good and evil. We can recognize an impulse towards a negative, and restrain ourselves (although this takes time, and effort, and an act of our will); we can recognize an opportunity for good, and choose to act to accomplish this good. As human beings, we are made in the image, and after the likeness, of God. As such, we are more than animals; we are but a little lower than the angels.

All of us are beset with passions, with sinful desires and impulses. Do we act upon these? Then we have sinned. Do we resist them? Then we do rightly.

There is another point to consider regarding our nature. The human nature we possess is a fallen nature; not at all what we were meant to be before our protoparents chose to disobey the commandment of God in the Garden of Eden. There was no escape for us from this nature; yet this did not prevent God from requiring holiness from us, as evidenced by the law of the Old Covenant. And then, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, and we who were under the law were delivered from the same, being a new creation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus, we have in Christ the ability to transcend our old nature; which has been buried with Christ in our baptism. We have been given a new life, the life of our Lord, risen from the dead, and no longer subject to sin or death. We have been given the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to the truth, and to empower us in our new life in Christ. We have the ability to choose to follow the divinely-given impulses to the good; and to resist and overcome the desires to sin. Sin is always a choice. To say otherwise makes us the slaves of a fallen nature, and the servants of a lie.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Presidential Election Dilemma - The Saga Continues

(This is a continuation of a discussion that began in the article, "The Next President of the United States: Difficult Decisions Ahead"; which can be found here.)

I had a conversation with one of the people who was in the group where the question was asked, "Father, who should we vote for to be president?" The reason for this subsequent conversation was a concern about what I had said; and, I must admit, I certainly understand this person's concern. It should be noted that our conversation took place before I learned of the CNS documents, and the potential connection between the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda; which has a direct bearing on what was said. In the interest of fairness and honesty, however, I want to touch briefly on the main point of the conversation, as it has bearing on the election. (By the way: The person with whom I had this conversation has not been asked if I might reveal his/her identity; and so I'm trying my best not to give any clues. If you happen to figure out who it was, great -- you can have a cookie!)

As we spoke, I reiterated my position of reluctant support for President Bush as the best option among a field of uninspiring choices; and that I cannot, in any way, vote for Sen. Kerry. (Although this didn't come up in our conversation, the Senator's position on abortion would be enough to cause me to withhold my support for him.) The main reason is that he strikes me as the quintessential politician, who will say whatever he thinks is necessary in order to achieve the office to which he aspires. I don't trust him as far as I could throw him. Granted, on one level, candidate Bush is also a politician, and therefore worthy of scrutiny. Part of the difference, for me, is that the "vibes" I get aren't nearly as negative as those for candidate Kerry; and of all those running, it is President Bush who I think can best be trusted to do what is needed for the country. Again, I do not agree with or support every decision of his, most notably the war in Iraq. My support, then, is qualified; and I do wish we had a better choice among the candidates.

My partner in the conversation made one very telling point, and it involves the war in Iraq. It is this person's contention -- and I don't disagree -- that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was, and is, a violation of the nation's sovereignty, undertaken illegally, and unstopped because there is no other country today with the ability to restrain the use of American military power. "Put the shoe on the other foot," this person said. "Suppose there was another country with more military power than we have; and this country didn't like some position we had taken, and attempted to impose their views on us by force of arms. What would we do? Obey them? Or resist the way the Iraqis are fighting against us today?" Of course, we would resist, I said.

Without going into more detail, the argument boils down to this: The election is, at one level, a referendum on the decisions and actions of President Bush. Until now, the responsibility for the illegal war in Iraq is his; but, if we vote to return him to office next month, it becomes ours as well -- a vote for him is a vote of approval of the illegal and bloody war in Iraq.

There's no resolution in my mind right now. I don't want to vote for candidate Bush; I will not vote for candidate Kerry. I can't see voting for a third-party candidate; I don't want candidate Kerry to win. Do I not vote? Write someone in? Vote for Bush, and go to confession? Twenty-five days and counting...

The Global Test?

In the presidential debate last week, Sen. John Kerry, the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States, in response to a question from moderator Jim Lehrer about the United States and the "concept" of preemptive war, said,
The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control. No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.
(emphasis added)

In an effort to clarify what he meant about a "global test", Sen. Kerry has said,
The test I was talking about is a test of legitimacy — not just in the globe, but elsewhere," he said. "If you do things that are illegitimate in the eyes of other people, it's very hard to get them to share the burden and risk with you.

Leaving aside the "not just in the globe, but elsewhere" part of the statement (others have done a much better job than I might be able to do lampponing this point), I'm wrestling with the meaning of what candidate Kerry is trying to say -- and I have to say that his clarification doesn't really offer much assistance to the effort. Other commentators have offered their interpretation, to the effect that the "global test" is one by which the U.S. government is able to demonstrate to the world community that the use of force is a legitimate response to the situation at hand.

This still begs the question of who it is that determines whether the demonstration is satisfactory; or what the U.S. response should be if the president at that time fails to "pass" the "global test." I'm not at all opposed to building coalitions, or of others criticizing American actions, or contemplated actions. I am opposed to the establishment of a set of conditions whereby the decisions of our government are dependent upon the approval of those who are indifferent, or even hostile, to our situation.

Well, while we wrestle with the serious matters, we can always take a break by putting ourselves in the Oval Office, or another such setting, and taking the Global Test for ourselves. Try it, and see how you'll do...

The War on Terror: al-Qaeda and Iraq

In the aftermath of the presidential and vice-presidential debates, where the decision to go to war in Iraq was revisited, come reports in the mainstream media that the necessity of invading Iraq was much less than stated in the period leading up to the U.S. invasion of that country. USA Today is reporting that the chief American weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, has submitted a one-thousand-page document that concludes there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, nor the facilities to manufacture such weapons. Glenn Kessler, in an article printed in the Washington Post, cites former members of the Bush administration and internal CIA documents to question the reasons given by the administration for invading Iraq, not the least of which was a "debunking" of a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq. This seems to be the generally accepted situation. Certainly, the candidates of the Democratic Party have been attempting to use this as a point in their criticism of President George Bush, accusing him of shifting the focus from the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein -- wrongly, in their opinion -- which reports such as the ones citd above would seem to support.

However, as I noted a few days ago, this may not be the situation. That article discussed a report from CNS about documents showing a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Now, following links provided in an article entitled, "Iraqi Intelligence Documents" found at Blaster's Blog, some corroboration of the CNS reports can be found. There are two articles in today's Telegraph One discusses three documents from 1998, covering arrangements and expenses for a meeting between the Iraqi Mukhabarat (that is, the Iraqi Intelligence Service) and a representative of Osama bin Laden. Another, headlined, "The proof that Saddam worked with bin Laden," by Inigo Gilmore, provides background information about these three documents. In this article, Gilmore writes,
The Telegraph found the file on bin Laden inside a folder lying in the rubble of one of the rooms of the destroyed intelligence HQ. There are three pages, stapled together; two are on paper headed with the insignia and lettering of the Mukhabarat.
(These articles were originally filed on April 27, 2004.)

There is also an article from the National Review Online, written by contributing editor Deroy Murdock. The story, dated June 3, 2004, entitled, "Baathist Fingerprints," discusses the "Prague connection" between Mohammed Atta, one of the 9-11 hijackers, and a representative of the Mukhabarat, based in part on reports from Czech Intelligence sources and documents from the Iraqi embassy in Prague.

Unfortunately, because of a system crash and reboot, I've lost a link to another blog with more information about the CNS documents. I will try to retrace my steps; and, if I can find that blog, I'll update this entry.

The current rhetoric from the campaign trail sharply criticizes President Bush and his administration for having taken our country "needlessly" into a war with Iraq, based upon incorrect/false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; and that his ties to al-Qaeda meant that Osama bin Laden might be able to obtain such weapons to use in additional attacks on, and in, the United States. At a certain level, such criticisms come very close to accusing the President of having lied to the American people, without doing so directly. If there is any basis in fact behind the reports from CNS, the Telegraph, and the National Review Online, it seems to me that such criticisms are out of line. This has a bearing on the election campaign, and the choice of a candidate for President of the United States -- but this is the basis for a separate entry in this blog...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

"Strengthening the Good"

"Strengthen the Good" is, in their own words,
the nexus of a network of bloggers committed to raising awareness for small charities around the world. Every three weeks this space highlights a new “micro-charity”—a small, inspiring charity, one with a real face and where $1 makes a difference—and the bloggers in the network link to that post, sending traffic, and awareness, the charity’s way.
As the byline at the website says, "Using the power of weblogs for open-source charity. Don't just fight evil: strengthen the good." I have taken the liberty of adding this blog to the STG network, and will be posting links to the featured charities -- reserving the right to take a "pass" in the event that the featured charity is active in a cause that might not be consistent with the faith and teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church.

The featured charity at present is "The Garden Of Angels." The Garden of Angels website has a great deal of information about their interests and activities, which focus on caring for abandoned and neglected newborns, including naming and burying the "dumpster babies" that all too often have been left to die. Right away, on one level, we might be "pushing the envelope" with regard to part of what the Garden of Angels does from an Orthodox perspective; but, in my not-very-well-informed opinion, I think God approves...

The Garden of Angels was instrumental in the passage of legislation in California that allows the parent of a newborn infant - within 3 days of the child's birth - to legally surrender the baby, anonymously and without fear of prosecution, to any employee at any hospital emergency room or other designated "safe haven" (such as a fire house) in California. I'm glad to say that Arizona has a similar law; and that churches are among the "safe havens" available. You can bet that I'm going to ask the Parish Council to make our church available as a "safe haven"...

My thanks to Michele at "A Small Victory" for the link to the Garden of Angels.

Cause for Concern: Foreign Election Monitors for the USA

Tom DeWeese, President of the American Policy Center, in a commentary for the CNS (Cybercast News Service), details disturbing information about foreign election monitors present in the U.S. to "ensure" that the elections this November are "transparent and fair," and that "every person's voice is heard, every person's vote is counted." Among those active in this monitoring are former President Jimmy Carter.

Have I missed something here? Have we somehow become a "banana republic" without anyone in the USA noticing? Did we forget how to conduct an election after, what, 216 or so years of voting, and need help from the United Nations? OK, regular readers already know I'm a paranoid nutcase about the coming "one world government," but I can't help but find the comments of people such as Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Texas Democrat who is the leader of the thirteen members of Congress who originally started the election-monitoring process by writing to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be offensive and downright stupid; maybe even disloyal. Am I off the track here? Can somebody straighten me out on this?

Developments in the War Against Terror

"Un-Possible!" is the headline of a brief article at Dean's World, which refers the reader to a much longer article at the CNS (Cybercast News Service) website. The article, "Saddam Possessed WMD, Had Extensive Terror Ties," written as a special report by Scott Wheeler, details documents captured during the U.S. occupation of Iraq which indicate connections between the government of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Given that the Democratic nominee for President, Sen. John Kerry, has, for all intents and purposes, accused President George W. Bush of lying about both these situations, the documents, if their veracity can be established, would certainly seem to vindicate the President's decision to move against Iraq in the "War on Terror." The first of the forty-two pages of documents is dated January 18, 1993, some two years after the end of Operation Desert Storm. There is an apparent connection between this document, signed by Saddam Hussein, and the October 3,1993, ambush of U.S. Army Rangers in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I had, and continue to have, reservations and concerns about both the war in Iraq, and the overall "War on Terror," and the larger implications of these for history and eschatology. These documents, if genuine, do not change the reservations or concerns; but, as we learn more about the nature of the threat to our national security, we can make more informed decisions about the road ahead -- not the least of which is the decision that will be made on November 2nd as to who is best equipped to lead us in the days and months and years to come.

As more information becomes available, I will certainly post links to it here.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Worthy of Your Attention

The Course of Democracy in Russia
Is Russia in danger of abandoning democracy and becoming a dictatorship once again? Many pundits have expressed such concerns in the wake of President Vladimir Putin's efforts to increase his control over the government there following the school hostage crisis in Beslan. One writer, however, Jacob Heilbrunn of the Los Angeles Times, says otherwise. In an article printed in the October 3, 2004, edition, entitled, "No Apology for Putin," he says, in replying to those who see tyranny on the increase in Russia,
Nothing, however, could be more mistaken than to write off Russia. Its experiment with democracy isn't over. It's barely begun. Russia should be judged as a struggling Third World country, not by the standards of an advanced democracy. To accuse Putin of abandoning Russian democracy is tantamount to saying that a plane that never got off the ground crashed. Far from being an extremist, Putin is a moderate in an increasingly radicalized Russia.

The full article can be found here. Registration is required; but it's free, relatively simple, and worth the effort.

Islam: Questions and Answers
Courtesy of the Discovery Channel, here is an article discussing the basics of the Islamic religion, presented in a question-and-answer format. Written by Jean R. AbiNader, Managing Director of the Arab-American Institute shortly after the events of 9/11, it is not an entirely objective presentation; but it is nevertheless a helpful starting point for those who might wonder about Islamic beliefs and practices.

Then, you should read "Exhibition Killing: The Muslim "Debate" on Hostage-taking and Beheading" by Amir Tahari of the Wall Street Journal. It helps bring some additional perspective to the issue.

More on the Presidential Campaign
Note to Huw Raphael: Please don't take me off your blogroll!

A blog site of some import, Dean's World, has an interview with Van Odell, who was a gunner aboard the swift boat commanded by Lt. John Kerry during the war in Vietnam, and who is opposed to the election of Sen. Kerry to be president. It is a very interesting article. I know that some people have "issues" with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; but if even a fraction of their concerns are correct, those who support the election of Sen. Kerry, or who are leaning in that direction, would do well, I think, to reconsider their choice.

The Next President of the United States: Difficult Choices Ahead

Although I have been trying to write this for some time now, ever since jamesofthenorthwest asked me about my thoughts on the issue, I've been struggling with how, exactly, to articulate succinctly the issues and questions that arise concerning the election of our next president. Well, yesterday at trapaza, I was asked the question I'd have preferred was left silent: "Father, who should we choose when voting for president?" As it was asked, and answered, I guess now there's no point in delaying the discussion here, as well. You'll forgive me, I hope, if I take a little bit more time than was available at the table... Let me also emphasize here, as I did there, that I am not speaking as anyone other than a citizen (who happens to be a priest); in other words, this is my opinion, offered as nothing more than that, and binding upon absolutely no one.

Personally, I'm not thrilled about the choices available this year, much as was the case in the 2000 elections. To me, there's no candidate to support who is "head and shoulders" above the others. In some ways, this would be a wonderful year to express our dissatisfaction with the two major political parties by voting for a third-party candidate -- except that the question of who will lead our nation over the next four years is a crucial one.

If the election had a clear favorite, as was the case in 1984, when President Reagan had a commanding lead over his Democratic opponent, Sen. Walter Mondale, we could have the luxury of opting for a third-party candidate, or even of not voting at all. But this election appears, for now, at least, to be extremely close -- the kind where, "every vote counts." (Not entirely true; but I'll have more to say about that later.) In good conscience (except as noted below), I cannot "throw away" my vote by staying home, or by voting for a candidate who has no chance whatsoever to win, when the likelihood of the votes cast for the nominees of the two major parties will be separated by only a narrow margin.

Unless something catastrophic happens between now and November 2nd, I'm going to be voting for the re-election of President George W. Bush. To be honest, I don't agree with everything he's done, or every position he's espoused. (The war in Iraq immediately comes to mind.) I don't think that history will count him among the foremost and finest of the American presidents; and I do wish that he were more articulate, especially after last week's debate. On the other hand, I find myself thinking, and saying, that I believe him when he speaks; that is, I think he says what he believes, and acts on what he says. In short, I think I can trust him. I am much more comfortable with the thought of President Bush as the leader of our military than I am of having Sen. Kerry as the commander-in-chief. I don't trust Sen. Kerry to do anything other than say whatever he thinks people want to hear in order to gain the office he seeks. His record in the U.S. Senate disturbs me; his actions in his 1971 testimony before Congress make me think he cannot be trusted. I cannot reconcile his self-portrayal, on the one hand, as qualified to be C-in-C because of his military service, with his betrayal of his comrades-in-arms as "war criminals" in that 1971 appearance. Please don't misunderstand me: I was strenuously opposed to the war in Vietnam, and was an active protestor against the war following the deaths of four students at Kent State University in 1971. But my disagreement did not extend to the vast majority of those in the armed services; only to the leaders of our government. My instincts tell me that Lt. John Kerry was positioning himself then for political office; and, as I listened to him in the debate last week, I heard him saying things that echoed the anti-Americanism of that time. It boggles the mind: I think he clearly distrusts the very nation he says he wants to lead as its president. Well, he will not get my vote!

Ralph Nader made some significant contributions to safety issues back in the 1960's and 1970's; and some of his efforts to build local political action groups have borne fruit to this day. However, what little I know of his positions on issues doesn't excite me. I will also confess that his running mate, Peter Camejo, now a politician of the Green Party, counts against Mr. Nader, as Mr. Camejo has already received my vote, as a write-in candidate for President of the United States, when he was the 1976 candidate of the Socialist Workers Party. (Yes, I've confessed, and repented!)

I've been asked more than once, what about the Constitution Party, and its candidate, Michael Peroutka? I hope the people considering this as an option will take the time to read through the position papers posted at the website of the Constitution Party. There are several positions that describe my point-of-view; but others, frankly, are not what I believe would advance the cause of governing America. However, if I felt that my best choice would be a third party, I'd probably opt for the Constitution Party, as opposed to the Libertarians, or the Green Party, or an independent candidate, such as Ralph Nader. Where's Ross Perot when we need him? Pat Paulsen? (The perennial candidate of the STAG Party...)

Let me say this about "every vote counts." Not entirely true. Oh, yes, my vote and your vote are "equal"; and each counts the same. But, as many people were surprised to learn in 2000, we don't elect our president by direct popular vote. Rather, when we vote for a candidate, we are technically voting for a slate of electors who are pledged to go to the Electoral College. It is these electors who actually choose the President of the United States. These voters are not selected on the basis of the total national vote, but by the total of the votes cast in each state. As a result, a candidate can have the most votes on a national basis, and not be elected, because of the results of the electoral vote. OK, brief civics class warning here! Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of congressional districts in the state, plus one for each Senator. Nationally, there are 435 congressional districts, and 100 Senators (2 per state -- but that's another lecture!), so there are 535 electoral votes. In order to be elected to be President, a candidate thus needs 268 votes in the Electoral College.

OK, here's the point: If you live in a state that clearly favors one candidate over another, you can opt to cast your vote for a third-party candidate, or not vote at all (as a protest -- but it's a really weak protest), and not be "throwing away" your vote. For example, in the 2000 election, Idaho was solidly in the Republican column; as I recall, by an almost 3-to-1 margin. It would require a significant number of "protest votes" to have changed the outcome of the election there, and cause Idaho's electoral votes to have gone to the Democratic nominee. Another example: as a conservative-leaning voter in San Francisco in 1996, my vote would have been swallowed up by the overwhelmingly liberal populace voting there. As a result, I stayed home; and my vote would have done nothing to reverse the tide of support for the Democratic candidate in that year. So, if you live in Idaho, and want to cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate without increasing the likelihood of Sen. Kerry being elected, you can probably do so without fear. (I have no idea of the polling numbers in Idaho.) On the other hand, if you live in California, and you want to cast a protest vote without causing the re-election of President Bush, you can probably do so. (Again, I have no idea of the support either candidate has there.) To be honest, if the margin in Arizona was 3-to-1 for the President, I might cast a vote for the Constitution Party; but that's not the case; and if a vote for a third party candidate becomes a vote for Sen. Kerry... I'm voting for President Bush.

Well, folks, there it is. Remember, this is my personal opinion and endorsement, and should in no way whatsoever be construed as a "priestly directive" or admonition or anything binding upon anyone. Oh, and if my views change, I'll be sure to let you know!

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Presidential Debate (I): Foreign Policy

Most of you know that the first of three debates between the Republican and Democratic candidates for President of the United States took place last night. For what it's worth, here's my contribution to the discussions now taking place.

The first question, for some bizarre reason, is always to ask, "Who won?" Not that it was a real debate, mind you; but rather, the question of the winner is based on an evaluation of which person made the better impact. But, in the absence of a clear and decisive event -- either an incredibly brilliant presentation, or an incredibly terrible gaffe -- such a decision is highly subjective. Last night's debate had neither brilliance or disasters.

Some commentators, beginning immediately after the debate had ended, were awarding the "victory" to Sen. John Kerry, the nominee of the Democratic Party. I must admit that he came off better, at least initially, than I had expected, based upon what I had seen from the small part of the Democratic National Convention, and the sound bites on the news from the campaign trail. For at least the first part of the debate (say, the first 30 minutes), he spoke with a clarity that seemed almost uncharacteristic. President George W. Bush, however, was clearly not as polished in his style; but I felt that he believes what he is saying -- and I didn't get the same "read" from listening to Sen. Kerry. I found, and find, myself wondering if people are going to make their decisions, not on the basis of what was said, but rather on how it was said.

At one point, Sen. Kerry accused the President of having sent soldiers into combat without the best equipment, such as body armor to protect them. "Strange," I thought, as I seem to recall that Sen. Kerry voted against the appropriation that supplied that armor to our troops. Sen. Kerry also said, more than once, that, regarding the decisions to go to war, especially in Iraq, he "would have done better." Unlike Presidnet Bush, however, he gave no details of his "plan to end the war." I also recall candidate Nixon making the same claim with regard to the war in Vietnam; he also had a "secret plan" to end the war.

Well, I could say more; but much of the "bottom line" for me is that I still don't know when the "real" Sen. Kerry is speaking, or where he stands. Sure, right now, he's opposed to the war in Iraq; but I don't think he can truly have a plan to capture Osama bin Laden, as he claims; or that he grasps the terrorist threat to our national safety and security. I think placing any decision about possible action against terrorists on hold, pending the approval of the United Nations, would be a disastrous mistake. I almost laughed at his, "I will hunt down and kill any terrorists" statement -- I just don't believe him to have such a resolve.

I do not think that President George W. Bush is perfect; or even that he will one day be considered among the greatest of our Presidents. But, when it come to foreign policy, I am far more inclined to prefer the course he has followed than that suggested by his opponent. Maybe the polish was lacking; but, for me, the first round goes to President Bush.

Two debates remain...