Monday, March 2, 2015

Quote of the Day

"It is within my power either to serve God or not to serve Him. Serving Him, I add to my own good and the good of the whole world. Not serving Him, I forfeit my own good and deprive the world of that good, which was in my power to create."  

--Leo Tolstoy (1828--1910)      

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community and every believer. Above all it is a "time of grace" (2Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. "We love because he first has loved us" (1Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him."

--Pope Francis 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tribute to an American Catholic Hero

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, the most famous photograph in U.S. military history and one of the greatest photographs of all time. As is generally known, it was taken by Joseph Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer, on February 23, 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, a key turning point in World War II. The photo, which immediately drew widespread admiration and acclaim and won Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize, depicts six Marine soldiers erecting a large American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in the western Pacific. I have been familiar with this stirring image since childhood, but only recently have I come to grasp its full significance thanks to James Bradley's epic masterpiece Flags of Our Fathers. Based on extensive interviews with dozens of war veterans and surviving relatives of the flagraisers, this accurate and classic historical work (which was also made into a movie of the same name) places the famous photo in its proper context by telling the true stories of the young men who raised the flag and providing the essential background details that led up to that dramatic moment. And James Bradley is an amazingly gifted storyteller.

Reading this engrossing book--which almost didn't get written, because the author's heroic father himself narrowly escaped death in battle and refused to discuss his wartime experiences with his family--has given me a whole new understanding of, and appreciation for, this unique photograph, which almost didn't get taken because someone else had already photographed the first flagraising two hours earlier and the press photographers, including Rosenthal, didn't know there was going to be a second and had to scramble to document it. And I might never have read the book had I not discovered it on a bookshelf during a casual browse at my local Goodwill thrift store last summer. I felt lucky. It was like finding a lost treasure. I wondered why anybody would get rid of a book like this. Once I opened it and began reading, it was hard to put down and stop thinking about. As a result of discovering and reading this book, I find myself in total agreement with G. K. Chesterton that "Everything has been saved from a wreck." (PLEASE NOTE: As can be expected with any frank discussion of U.S. military history, Flags of Our Fathers does contain some language and anecdotes that are less than edifying. However, these are detractions from an otherwise magnificent work that I heartily recommend to adult readers.)

Flags of Our Fathers is certainly a fitting tribute to the self-sacrificing heroism of our nation's Marines in World War II and to the religious and moral values that made America great. But in addition to that, it offers a compelling and beautiful witness to the power of our Catholic faith and its essential role in American life. The author's father, John Henry Bradley (1923--1994), the flagraiser in the middle of the photograph and the only one who lived to see his grandchildren, was a lifelong devout Catholic whose entire life was dedicated to the humble service of others. He never intended to be a Marine. He was a Navy medic who got transferred into Easy Company, the ironically named Marine contingent that stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima under heavy Japanese fire in February 1945. Americans suffered more casualties in the invasion and conquest of that tiny island than in any other battle of the entire war. During that fierce and difficult battle, John Bradley risked his life over and over again to tend wounded Marines. He was awarded a Navy Cross for his valor. In his humility, he kept that prestigious award hidden in a box in his closet for the remainder of his life and refused all interview requests from journalists. John Bradley was more than just an American hero. He was--and is--a true hero of the Catholic Church and a role model for Catholics of every race and nation. Because of that, I believe strongly that his cause for canonization should be introduced. And I hope and pray that his talented son James Bradley, who has been away from the Church for many years, will one day rediscover the priceless gift of the Catholic faith given to him by his saintly father.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quote of the Day

"To return to the Lord 'with all your heart' (Joel 2:12) means to undertake the journey of a conversion that is not superficial and transitory, but a spiritual itinerary that concerns the most intimate place of our person. The heart, in fact, is the seat of our sentiments, the center in which our choices and our attitudes mature....

"This effort of conversion is not only a human work. Reconciliation between us and God is possible thanks to the mercy of the Father who, out of love for us, did not hesitate to sacrifice his Only-begotten Son. In fact, Christ, who was just and without sin, was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21) when on the cross he was burdened with our sins, and in this way rescued and justified us before God. 'In him' we can become just, in Him we can change, if we receive God’s grace and do not let the 'favorable moment' pass in vain (6:2).

"With this awareness, we begin our Lenten itinerary confident and joyful. May Mary Immaculate support our spiritual battle against sin, accompany us in this favorable moment, so that we can come to sing together the exultance of the victory in the Easter of Resurrection."

--Pope Francis

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Son of God" Missed the Mark

by Justin Soutar

One year ago, Hollywood film director Christopher Spencer and producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey saddled us with Son of God, a disappointingly banal and inaccurate feature presentation on the life of Jesus Christ. Based quite loosely on the biblical accounts of Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, this 138-minute film offers a barely tolerable portrayal of most of the significant events while making mincemeat of the details. Although many Jesus films of the past century--out of reverence for Christ’s divinity--made him seem too distant, introverted and otherworldly, with Son of God the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme of presenting Christ as too ordinary, casual, and extroverted. Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado’s fresh and engaging portrayal of Christ as a warmly human, joyful and self-confident figure admittedly has some appeal, but this performance sacrifices historical accuracy and reverence for Christ’s divine dignity to on-screen likeability. Fidelity to the Gospel texts was obviously not a major concern of the filmmakers here; apparently, they were more afraid of making Christ appear trite or cliché. The result is a pathetically mediocre film that doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Jesus of Nazareth (1977) or The Passion of the Christ (2004).

Focusing mainly on His public ministry and Passion, Son of God attempts to portray the life of Christ retrospectively through the eyes of an older Apostle John, living out his final years in exile on Patmos as he writes his famous Gospel and the Apocalypse (Revelation). As the film opens, we hear the stirring Prologue of Saint John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18), and as it concludes, we listen to the final words of the Apocalypse (22:6-21). The film’s title is a recurring theme throughout John’s Gospel, appearing six times in all (John 1:34, 3:18, 5:25, 11:27, 19:7, and 20:31); it’s also found in several places in the Synoptic Gospels. In the film, when Jesus asks His disciples who they think He is, Peter replies, “You are the Son of God” (cf. Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). Taken together, these texts and the theme that resonates through them form a solid theological foundation on which a truly great film could have been built.

As a major studio production distributed by 20th Century FOX, Son of God didn’t live up to the grand religious, historical, and artistic expectations its makers deliberately generated within its mass-market audience. The film is plagued by a variety of issues, chief of which is Morgado’s superficial performance that doesn’t accurately reflect the Jesus of the Gospels. Throughout most of the movie, Christ comes off as too breezy and carefree, too “hip” and trendy, his casual, laid-back attitude failing to reflect the seriousness of his divine mission to save fallen humanity. In the name of making the Person of Jesus more accessible to a contemporary audience, Morgado’s portrayal generally lacks true depth and spirit. Contrast this with Robert Powell’s magnificent performance in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), for example, which--despite some minor flaws and notable artistic liberties--is on the whole much more faithful to the biblical texts.

The tantalizing whirlwind of scenes at the beginning of the film allows the viewer only brief glimpses of Jesus’ nativity and His Baptism in the Jordan as Saint John flashes back to those two pivotal events; then we see the adult Jesus already beginning His public ministry. There is nothing whatsoever of the Annunciation to Mary, her visit to Elizabeth, Christ’s Circumcision, His Presentation in the Temple, or His parents’ discovery of Him in the Temple at the age of twelve. I would have liked to see a bit more of Jesus’ Birth and Baptism, as well as something of His conception and early life, if only for the sake of character and story development.

Christ’s three-year public ministry in Son of God also flashes by the viewer more quickly than expected. About a dozen fairly short scenes of the best-known events in Our Lord’s life—some from John’s Gospel and some from the other Gospels—are stitched together to achieve this undesirable effect; then all of a sudden, Jesus is triumphantly entering Jerusalem as the Messiah. With so much having been skipped altogether, the somewhat befuddled viewer is left with the impression that Our Lord’s public life has been significantly over-edited. For instance, there is nothing of the wedding at Cana, Christ’s discussion with the Samaritan woman, or His healing of the man born blind, all of which are recorded in John’s Gospel and certainly worthy of this type of film. (Scenes of Christ’s temptations were reportedly cut from the film because the actor for Satan looked too much like Barack Obama.)

 By contrast, the events of Holy Week, which collectively occupy as much or more on-screen time as the core of Jesus’ ministry, are drawn out and slow to unfold, albeit with insufficient emphasis on some of the key parts of the story. Judas and the high priests seem to take forever to get around to actually betraying and arresting Christ; Pilate’s wife’s prophetic dream occurs several days before Jesus’ arrest; Pilate threatens the Jews with stern measures should a revolt take place on the eve of Passover. But then, once they finally come, scenes of two important climactic events long anticipated by the viewer—the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden—turn out to be disappointingly brief.

The novel presentation of Jesus’ life and ministry in Son of God is accomplished through excessive use of artistic license. In a few scenes, such as Jesus climbing into Peter’s boat and the calling of Matthew, this device arguably enhances the film. But as a rule, the wacky liberties taken clearly detract from the presentation: the paralytic comes crashing through the roof almost by himself; Christ ventures inside the tomb to bring Lazarus out; he foretells the destruction of the Temple with casual glee; he abruptly exits the Upper Room after the Last Supper, leaving His frightened disciples behind (we get barely a sentence or two of the beautiful Farewell Discourse that takes up several chapters of John’s Gospel). And in the name of freshness and relevance, the words coming out of Jesus’ mouth are typically a loose postmodern rendering of what the Gospels record. The obvious banality of this style is inconsistent with the true figure of Christ as handed down to us by biblical tradition.

Another drawback to this film is a somewhat inadequate movie set. The ubiquitous stark white background scenery leaves something to be desired, both from an artistic and a historical point of view. Most of the scenes, including the Sermon on the Mount and the feeding of the five thousand men plus women and children—both of which actually took place on the grassy shores of the Sea of Galilee—were filmed in a barren desert of rocky slopes and cliffs where hardly a smidgeon of greenery is to be found to relieve the sameness. A few palm trees are visible in one or two of the scenes, but the film cries out for a bit more of that color. Also, the special effects employed are not quite up to par, with the dark shots of Jerusalem in particular looking fake, which further detracts from the overall viewing experience.

Where Son of God actually comes close to excelling is in its portrayal of the Passion and death of Christ from His arrest to His crucifixion. This owes not so much to the genius of the filmmakers as to the overwhelming influence of Mel Gibson’s timeless masterpiece The Passion of the Christ, which set a new standard of historical accuracy for all subsequent film depictions of this world-changing event. However, the producers, director and cast of Son of God do deserve some credit for achieving a decent blend of realism, artistic license, and special effects in this portion of the film. Whereas the brutally graphic depiction of Our Lord’s sufferings in Gibson’s film demanded an R rating, Christ’s Passion in Son of God is a bit less intense to make the PG-13 grade. Nonetheless, the latter presentation is quite gripping and moving, closely following the biblical account in almost every detail, with the quality of Morgado’s performance resulting in a fairly memorable viewing experience—a notable exception to the rest of the film.

Obviously, the makers and marketers of Son of God already knew what Mel Gibson discovered ten years earlier: a large twenty-first century movie audience exists that is hungry for good religious fare. But whereas Gibson sacrificed and risked everything to make an all-time great film regardless of criticism, controversy, and potential failure—a film that actually became a record-breaking hit--Spencer and his crew appear to have aimed straight for popularity and box-office returns, paying lip service to religious and historical truth while eschewing the fine craftsmanship necessary to produce a work of enduring value. Their film didn’t qualify as good religious fare, so it didn’t satisfy the hunger of the movie audience. Its glaring lack of historical and biblical accuracy offends the sensibilities of Christian believers while offering a rather misleading depiction of Christ to potential believers. If the aim was to make a great, powerfully moving, and unforgettable Jesus film that tens of millions of people will enjoy for decades to come, Son of God definitely missed the mark. If you still haven’t seen this movie, don’t waste your time or money on it. You’re better off reading your Bible and sticking to older classic films on the life of Christ until the next truly great Jesus movie comes along.

 
Copyright © 2015 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Quote of the Day

"There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation....

"The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the "outskirts" of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: "Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners" (Lk 5:31-32)."

--Pope Francis

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Abraham Lincoln: Defender of Truth and Justice

Today we Americans celebrated the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, one of the most respected and admired presidents in the history of our nation. Lincoln's greatness lay in his deep religious faith, his solid moral principles, and his honesty and integrity of character. Relying on these qualities, and with the aid of Divine Providence, he successfully guided our country through the stormy period of the Civil War, preserving the Union from disintegration and laying the foundation for a more just American society in which the civil rights of all human persons would be protected by law.

Lincoln knew that slavery was widely practiced and financially profitable, but he also knew that it was gravely unjust, and--for that reason alone--it had to be abolished. Deep within his heart and mind, he knew the truth about the evil of slavery, so he courageously spoke the truth about it and took concrete action as president to rid America of this social scourge. He was not a very good public speaker, but he spoke the truth and stuck to his principles. He did not compromise those principles for the sake of political advantage or out of fear of offending wealthy Southern slave owners. He did not surrender to discouragement over the difficulties he faced in attempting to eradicate an entrenched custom of southern American life. On the contrary, Lincoln stood firm in proclaiming the truth about the grave injustice of slavery and in his determination to make it illegal. At a time of national crisis, he put forth a vision for America of a re-united land in which every person born and raised would be a free citizen regardless of his or her race, skin color, or nationality. And that truth and that vision resonated with the American people, who sent Abraham Lincoln to the White House in 1860 and again in 1864. The results were the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves free; the Union's victory in the Civil War, which restored American unity; and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery in the U.S. Although he paid the price of assassination for his courageous leadership and one hundred more years would elapse before his vision would be fully realized, Lincoln's legacy as a great civil rights pioneer and as a national hero is beyond dispute.

With his firm stand on basic principles of justice and natural law, Lincoln offers an encouraging role model for us twenty-first century Americans who are active in the pro-life, pro-marriage, and religious liberty movements of our own day. We who are fighting to protect the basic human rights to life and liberty and to preserve the traditional definition of marriage know that abortion is a lucrative business for those involved in it, that deviant sexual behavior has a certain appeal for those involved in it, and that the HHS mandate and ObamaCare are little more than government subsidies for the abortion, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies. But we also know that abortion and the HHS mandate are gravely unjust, while abortion and same-sex "marriage" violate the Creator's natural law, and--for those reasons--these three abominations must be abolished. We know the truth about these evils, so we must speak the truth about them and take action to rid our country of them. We must not compromise these principles for the sake of temporary political advantages or out of fear of offending radical secularists. And we must not surrender to discouragement by settling for restrictions on abortion or temporary court injunctions against the HHS mandate. On the contrary, we must stand firm in proclaiming the truth about the grave injustice and evil of abortion, homosexual "marriage," and the HHS mandate, and stand firm in our determination to abolish them. And we must put forth a vision for America of a land where every unborn child is protected by law; where marriage is always the union of a man and a woman; and where religious liberty flourishes. That truth and that vision will resonate with the American people, and notwithstanding predictable attempts to do them in, the three great civil rights movements of our time will ultimately achieve their long-sought victories.

Today, thanks to the godless and corrupt leadership of President Barack Obama, our nation is once again in grave crisis, more divided than at any time since the Civil War. We could use another president like Lincoln, a true leader--someone of deep Christian faith, solid moral principles, and honesty and integrity of character--someone who could unite and heal our country, someone who knows how to speak to people's hearts and articulate a clear vision for America. In a few months, I will offer my own endorsement for just such a candidate for president of the United States.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Quote of the Day

"The Gospel is the word of life: it does not oppress people, on the contrary, it frees those who are enslaved by so many evil spirits in this world: vanity, the attachment to money, pride, sensuality…The Gospel changes the heart, the Gospel changes the heart! It changes life; it transforms the inclination to evil to resolutions of good. The Gospel is capable of changing the hearts of the people. Therefore it is the duty of Christians to spread everywhere the redeeming power, becoming missionaries and heralds of the Word of God."

--Pope Francis

Friday, January 30, 2015

Article Heritage Series #4: Islam v. Radical Secularism: Which Is the Greater Enemy?

My apologies to all the readers! I'm long overdue to give you another installment of my "Article Heritage" series, which was originally intended to be a quarterly affair. I can't believe nine months have gone by since I posted my third installment last April. But then again, I was rather focused on the "ElectionWatch 2014" series from May onward, as well as writing and publishing other articles and music, and I was also spending some time revising my book on Mother Teresa (which still is yet to be published). You get the idea: I've been a pretty busy guy.

So now that I've caught up on things a bit, it's time to take a look at another article from my early days as a writer. This one, entitled "Islam v. Radical Secularism: Which Is the Greater Enemy?", goes back almost to the very beginning, having been originally composed in late 2005 while I was engrossed in research for my book America's Back-Door Enemy. It was published on a now-defunct website called Traditional Catholic Reflections & Reports in January 2007, and it also appeared in the November 2007 issue of the Ethical Spectacle (it's still there at http://www.spectacle.org/1107/justin.html ). This essay was very controversial at the time of its writing and publication, (and still would be today in certain quarters,) but its topic and thesis are still quite pertinent and true. In this piece, I used history, logic, and Catholic moral teaching to build a convincing case that the radical secularism within our own culture poses a much greater threat to American national security than does foreign "Islamic" extremism. My thinking on this subject is still very much the same, and I shudder to think what would happen if our country were to return to that Orwellian kind of foreign policy which plays on people's fears of terrorism to justify all sorts of wrongdoing and which--as I clearly demonstrate in my above-mentioned book--is driven by corporate greed and lust for power.

So here it is:

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Islam v. Radical Secularism:
Which Is the Greater Enemy?
 
By Justin Soutar
December 2, 2005 (Revised November 9, 2006; January 2, 2007; and July 23, 2007)
 
 
            Ever since the dreadful terrorist attacks of 9/11, neoconservatives have made dire predictions about the looming threat of Islam. At all levels of American public life from government officials to university professors to respected magazine editors to radio talk show hosts, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, we hear the same ominous warnings. The underlying fear is that, if the Muslim world continues growing in numbers and religious fervor, it will eventually be poised to annihilate our Judeo-Christian Western civilization. Those who subscribe to this analysis point triumphantly to repeated violent reactions by fanatics to real and perceived insults against the Islamic faith, as well as to the long-running terrorist conflagrations in Israel and Iraq, as proof of what they have warned us about for five years—that Islam is the greatest enemy of the US and the West.
            But this view contains two serious flaws. First, it muddies the water with fallacious generalizations that cover up and distort reality. Second, it leaves too many important facts crying out for explanation, the most remarkable of which is the near-universal, deeply rooted Muslim hatred for the evil of Western radical secularism.
 
Muslims: Image v. Reality
            Why do Muslims hate the West? According to conservatives and neoconservatives, they hate the fundamental ideas of Christianity, democracy, and freedom that America represents. Their impression seems to be that Muslims in general are becoming utterly depraved, evil, almost subhuman creatures, bent on annihilating the Christian West because it is so full of goodness. Upon forthright examination of the evidence, however, this opinion is shown to be a fallacy.
            First of all, contrary to what the US news media leads Americans to think, the Muslim people have not committed en masse to terrorism. It is fairly well-known that ninety percent of all Muslims worldwide belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, which emphasizes individual interpretation of the Koran and from which the majority of terrorists have emerged. Al-Qaeda is estimated to include 50,000 devoted members; all “Muslim” terrorist networks combined amount to some one hundred thousand persons; and several million “lone wolves” who are willing to use violence without the help of a terrorist organization exist in Asia, Europe and Africa. In addition, those “Muslim” individuals who deliberately assist terrorists in performing their acts could constitute a worldwide number as high as ten million. But all these numbers still add up to barely one percent of all self-proclaimed Muslims worldwide. So even though most Muslims are Sunnis and thus vulnerable to extremism, only a mere handful can be called terrorists. The vast masses of those who call themselves Mohammed’s followers, together with most imams and other religious leaders, are upright, peaceful people who condemn atrocities against innocent civilians. Yet they have been demonized “evildoers” as though the majority were terrorists! As Muslims grow in numbers and gradually anchor their presence in all the Western countries, neoconservative commentators are quick to sound the alarm that “Islam” is a greater threat than Adolf Hitler. However, given that terrorists remain a small, deviant, heretical “Islamic” movement, “Islam” itself should not be considered the main problem.
            But perhaps a growing, resurgent, radical branch of Islam teaches hatred of Christianity and the West? In the context of the current wave of Muslim terrorism, neoconservatives remind us of the Muslim threat to Europe which the Crusaders had to drive back in the first part of the second millennium. But neoconservatives fail to point out the sharp differences between the Crusader Era and today’s situation. To begin with, the earlier centuries of Islam, when the great dynastic empires stretched across the Middle East, were the time of conquering the world for Islam. Catholics from Palestine to Europe refused to commit apostasy, making it necessary for them to take up arms to defend their religious freedom and civilization. Generally, the Turks were undeniably aggressive and could not be negotiated with. But Islam today does not have an empire. And the few terrorists, by their very nature, are eager to negotiate because terrorism is a weapon of negotiation used to wring demands out of an inflexible government. It is the systematic failure to achieve the right to a redress of grievances that drives “Muslim” terrorism, especially in Iraq.
            A second difference between that time and today is that the Turks were military warriors in the vast armies of the Seljuk Empire, whereas a tiny fraction of modern Muslims are bands of civilian terrorists. Neoconservatives totally ignore the difference in terms of both numerical representation and status. First, the Muslim armies officially represented the colonialist ambitions of an empire—which is by definition a colonizer—in contrast to terrorists, whose acts of murder are condemned by 90 percent of Muslims. Secondly, these were real wars between nations. The European Catholic nations declared wars of liberation to protect the Holy Land. A Muslim empire declared war on European states. But Muslim terrorists are engaged in a broad international campaign to force America, Israel, and their allies to change their unjust, decades-long Middle Eastern policy.
 
Terrorism and Extremism
            It needs to be emphasized that terrorists are civilians and criminals under international law. Since they do not belong to the armed forces of any nation, terrorists lack the power to declare war. In that respect, terrorism is simply a crime like any other--and the US should deal with it in accordance with international norms, as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have repeatedly insisted. The attacks of 9/11 were a crime against humanity, not an act of war. When Osama bin Laden rallies millions of Muslims to a “jihad” (“struggle”) against the West, he uses the term literally—as well as spiritually, to indicate a rejection of the evils of immorality, murder, unrestricted capitalism, and imperialism into which the United States, Israel, and Iraq have sunk.
It is a common historical and factual error to compare the formidable Islamic aggression of one thousand years ago with the modern rise in terrorist incidents. Such comparisons only confuse the issue in the minds of many Americans. However, one tenuous argument remains for neoconservatives worried that “Islam” is the enemy: that unbeknownst to most Muslims, traditional Islamic doctrine actually teaches violence against Jews and Christians, and that we are witnessing a frightening “resurgence” of this doctrine. But no religion teaches violence. In all the three great monotheistic religions, a comprehensive body of teaching is set forth like a stained-glass window, and each individual doctrine or passage of scripture must be interpreted within the context of the whole picture. Extremists take a single passage or teaching out of context and give it undue importance to suit their own purposes; they do not submit to the whole body of teaching and thus cannot properly be called members of that religion.
There does exist a great deal of disunity, disagreement, and conflict within Islam. “Islamic” extremists themselves are torn by dissention, of which a major example would be how Osama bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri thinks bin Laden has too much concern for the lives of noncombatants. But as Pope Benedict XVI reasoned in his famous address at the University of Regensburg in Germany last September, irrational acts such as the murder of innocent civilians are incompatible with the nature of God and thus with religion.
Once upon a time, Saint Francis of Assisi met a Muslim sultan who was invading Italy After the saint spoke kindly with him, the sultan said, “If all Christians were like you, I would become a Christian.” This is the attitude of Muslims toward Christianity. They do not hate our religion—they only hate the bad actions and unjust policies of certain people who call themselves Christian. In the same way, “Islamic” terrorists do not hate the West, only the grave injustice and evils it has committed against them.
 
A Clash of Values and Rights
Additional facts contradicting the “evil Muslim” notion and begging for explanation come (quite ironically) from the very people responsible for crimes of terrorism. Far from dedicating their whole lives to evil, “Islamic” terrorists demonstrate certain upright qualities. They adhere passionately to a set of moral guidelines based on the Ten Commandments. While we all know that Muslim terrorists appear deeply committed to worship of God, this is not a pretense; their misguided religious sincerity is evident. This truthfulness carries over into their explanations for their attacks—as is well known, they often state that such and such an attack is in retaliation for a crime committed against their people. Moreover, the rest of the world quickly realizes who the culprit might be because terrorist organizations boldly claim responsibility for their attacks.
Most of the dozens of terrorist groups currently operating in Iraq maintain that their frequent strikes against police, Shiite Muslims, Kurds, and Western soldiers are in retaliation for American mistreatment of Iraq as well as for Shiite and Kurdish cooperation with the US vis-à-vis Sunni Muslims—accusations which unfortunately contain more than a grain of truth. Contrary to the myth of a “gradual transition of power”, US forces are running Iraq, allowing profit-crazed Western mega-corporations to freely exploit the nation and plunder Iraq’s vast underground sea of oil.
            Furthermore, a wealth of psychological profiles compiled on numerous “Islamic” terrorists reveals that they share a deep and abiding love for their families. The principle of honor and respect for their parents is never questioned. Finally, the most apparent virtue manifested by Muslim terrorists is their moral cleanliness—they are scrupulous in avoiding occasions of sin, and they rightly reproach America as immoral and hypocritical because of our bad magazines, books and music which have saturated the Middle Eastern culture. Not only is the radical secularism of our Western culture alien to the Middle East; it is loathed precisely because of the religious and moral values that Muslims and terrorists alike hold dear.
Instead of merely using religion as a cover for malicious evil, “Islamic” terrorism springs from deep convictions and is not ill-intentioned. So notwithstanding their undeniable crimes against civilian lives, terrorists do have consciences and moral values--they are not animals or demons as neoconservatives often seem to imagine.
            But now we discover yet another problem crying out for explanation. If the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and disapprove of terrorist attacks, then why did millions of people across Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria fill the city streets waving signs, pictures and banners of Osama bin Laden after 9/11? Because an important distinction exists between sympathizing with terrorists and praising or approving the murder of innocent people. When discussing sin, well-known preacher Father John Corapi has continually emphasized this approach of loving and sympathizing with the sinner while condemning the sinful act. We categorically condemn the objective sin of murder, which can never be justified. But at the same time, we should sympathize with the injustice, frustration, and despair of so many terrorists that drives them to take such drastic measures. In addition, we refrain from condemning those perpetrators to hell ahead of God’s official judgment because we are incapable of discerning whether their souls are subjectively in mortal sin or not. In order to combat the neoconservatives’ tendency toward a pernicious “denial of the very humanity of ‘the other’”, as Pope John Paul II warned against, American Catholics should be keeping this crucial principle in mind. We must avoid the temptation to hate terrorism and its perpetrators alike.
            So the reason large numbers of Muslims peacefully demonstrated for Osama bin Laden was to express their anti-Americanism and support for his message to attack US troops on duty in the Middle East—conduct which is morally and legally justified. [Note to current readers: I do NOT approve of the killing of American troops stationed overseas. I was simply making a distinction between killing innocent people, which is never justified, and killing a military aggressor, which is. Our foreign policy must respect the sovereignty of other countries in accordance with international law. Therefore, I believe that most, if not all, US troops currently stationed in the Middle East and on other foreign lands overseas should be withdrawn to US soil and employed in the more useful task of guarding our coastlines and borders.] According to Muslim natives of the Middle East, bin Laden enjoys the status of a father figure among them. His tremendous backing can only be explained by the negative effects of American foreign policy in the region. This recurring phenomenon of overwhelming popular allegiance to anti-American leaders from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 to bin Laden in the 2000s is where the neoconservative logic breaks down. Should fifty million anti-American Iranians, or the hundreds of millions who quietly profess bin Laden’s anti-Americanism, be called terrorists or freedom fighters?
 
American Foreign Policy
Anti-Americanism is so popular, especially among Muslims in the Middle East, because the United States has mistreated them—and helped Israel to do the same. Hundreds of thousands of radically secular Zionists crowded into Palestine, subjected nearly one million Palestinians to exile and murder, and imposed on the Holy Land a Western-style state which has stripped Palestinians of their inalienable rights. During the Cold War, the US devoted substantial military and economic aid to Israel and its Arab allies to protect its Middle Eastern oil businesses. These petroleum companies earned US entrepreneurs and Middle Eastern rulers fantastic sums of money but largely failed to raise living standards for the average Arab. With the end of the Cold War and subsequent globalization of capital, labor and technology, this gap between East and West has only grown worse. The US and Israel, which account for less than one-tenth of earth’s population, now possess and control more than half of worldwide wealth through their transnational firms and military establishments. Anti-Americanism—and the terrorism springing from it—is a response to real grievances against the US, which has unjustly exploited the Middle East’s wealth and political systems.
            Iran under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi some decades ago provides a classic example of this laissez-faire capitalist policy. The Shah was a cruel, intensely unpopular, multi-millionaire dictator whose radical secularist program legalized divorce, tortured opponents of his regime, forced Muslim children to attend nonreligious state-run schools, and caused millions of peasants to lose their farms through heavy taxes. Since the shah was America’s pawn, we did not overthrow him as he deserved; but the Iranian people rose up together and defeated him without our help—indeed, despite our best efforts to secure him in power.
            But the economic dimension of American and Israeli foreign policy alone does not explain Muslim resentment, nor does it explain the Muslim world’s hearty detestation for the entire West. Most neoconservatives (a notable exception being Dinesh D’Souza) have equally ignored the cultural dimension. They forget that, in the minds of pious foreign Muslims, radical secularism has replaced Christianity as the defining Western cultural trait. Throughout the United States, Europe, and Western-oriented countries of the Middle East, the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, greed, unlimited gambling, drunkenness, nightclubs, dirty magazines, offensive clothing fashions, bad movies, and satanic music proliferate.
Even worse is the fact that the cultural and economic dimensions are intertwined, with one reinforcing the other: Western big businesses accumulate billions of dollars by deliberately exploiting human weaknesses through the spread of cultural filth.
The flood of wickedness that the US, Israel and Europe have dumped on our Middle Eastern allies has kindled the extremely flammable fires of Islamic righteous indignation. Moreover, the negative effects of the Western cultural dark side do not remain confined inside the borders of these Western and Westernized countries. Its poison has spilled across national lines and wreaked a great deal more damage than most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, will ever fully understand or appreciate.
 
Examination of Conscience
            The West needs to wake up and learn a lesson before it is too late. In contemporary American foreign policy, military adventurism, cultural imperialism, unfettered capitalism and immorality go together. In the Western world as a whole, society is coming apart at the seams as radical individualism becomes the chief god. The evil of radical secularism, foisted on the Middle East through Israel and its allies and vigorously promoted in Europe, has provoked a tremendous surge of anti-Western sentiment and hatred. The evil and emptiness of modern Western culture has caused the younger Arab generation to turn to God and their familiar religion for comfort and strength, just as we did after 9/11, bringing about a massive Muslim religious revival. Finally, the combination of two false “freedoms”—unfettered capitalism and immorality—has incited, fueled and sustained the recurrent waves of “Muslim” terrorism which the West is now suffering.
            Catholics and neoconservatives should refrain from denouncing “Islam” and especially Muslims collectively as evil and the most serious enemy of America simply because a small percentage of Muslims approve of criminal terrorism. The internal enemy lurking within our culture and within our foreign policy—the enemy of radical secularism—poses a greater threat to our national survival than the external foe of international “Islamic” terrorists. The notion of a monolithic Islam is derived from anxiety and fear, not rational thinking and facts. If we would only take to heart the cry of the great Pope John Paul II, “Be not afraid”, we could evaluate our situation so much better.
Arthur Goldschmidt, a prominent Jewish Middle East historian, wisely reflected: “Someday, perhaps, practicing Muslims, Christians, and Jews will settle their differences—even the Arab-Israeli conflict—in order to wage war on their common enemies: secularism, hedonism, positivism and the various ideologies that have arisen in modern times.” The motto “United we stand, divided we fall” is more true now than ever before. United and standing together, the Western and Muslim worlds must wage war on radical secularism—or both will fall.   
 
Copyright © 2006, 2007 by Justin Soutar. All rights reserved. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quote of the Day

“We are talking of peace. These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child - I will not forget you - I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible - but even if she could forget - I will not forget you. And today the greatest means - the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. And we who are standing here - our parents wanted us. We would not be here if our parents would do that to us.”

--Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 11, 1979

Monday, January 19, 2015

Quote of the Day


"Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself. The future of humanity, as Saint John Paul II often said, passes through the family (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 85). The future passes through the family! So protect your families! See in them your country’s greatest treasure and nourish them always by prayer and the grace of the sacraments. Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death. What a gift this would be to society, if every Christian family lived fully its noble vocation! So rise with Jesus and Mary, and set out on the path the Lord traces for each of you."

--Pope Francis

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pope Francis to Canonize Blessed Junipero Serra

During an airborne press conference en route to the Philippines, Pope Francis revealed that he is going to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the heroic "Apostle of California," during his visit to the United States this coming September. What wonderful news! As a Catholic who was born and raised in California, I have been praying and looking forward to this for many years. As he has done with several other Blesseds who died in past centuries, Pope Francis has chosen to waive the normal requirement for a second miracle obtained through Father Serra's intercession as the condition of his canonization, allowing his cause for sainthood to proceed to its conclusion without further delay.

Father Junipero Serra, O.F.M. (1713--1784) was the humble and hardworking Franciscan friar who brought the Catholic faith to the native American peoples of California, thus laying the foundation for the state's Catholic culture that is still very much alive today. He was born and raised on the Spanish island of Majorca in the western Mediterranean. As a thirty-six-year-old priest, he answered God's call to become a missionary to the Americas. After some years of ministry with his fellow Franciscans in Mexico and Baja California, at the age of fifty-three he joined a Spanish expedition that headed north to colonize and evangelize California. There, with God's help, he accomplished what he is most famous for: the founding of the first seven of twenty-one California mission settlements, stretching along the coastline from San Diego in the south to slightly north of San Francisco. In addition to teaching the faith and baptizing thousands of native Americans, Father Serra and his fellow Franciscans developed and taught the people valuable techniques in construction, gardening, animal husbandry, agriculture, and irrigation. Although earthquakes and fires often undid years of hard labor within a few seconds or minutes and not all of the missions succeeded, a good number of them did prosper and some eventually developed into good-sized modern cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura. The Spanish missions of the 1700s and early 1800s have left an indelible mark on the religion, culture, art, architecture, and economy of the Golden State. As a boy, my parents took my sister and me to visit many of them including Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, San Carlos Borromeo, San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, La Purisima Concepcion, Santa Ynez, and Santa Barbara.

Some two hundred years after his death, in 1985, Saint John Paul II declared Father Serra "venerable." That same year, in recognition of his remarkable achievements, the U.S. Postal Service issued a special 44-cent USAirmail stamp in Father Serra's honor, which featured a portrait of him centered between an outline of the California and Baja California coast on his left and the façade of Mission San Gabriel on his right. He was beatified by John Paul II on September 25, 1988. Later this year, thanks to Pope Francis, California will finally have its own patron saint and the Church will have another great missionary role model and intercessor for the New Evangelization.

Further information about Blessed Junipero Serra and the history of the California missions can be found in various books. I would also highly recommend the excellent EWTN TV documentary series on his life entitled "Serra: Ever Forward, Never Back" which was originally aired in November 2013 and was just recently re-aired.

Blessed (soon to be Saint) Junipero Serra, pray for us!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quote of the Day


"In this difficult effort to forgive and find peace, Mary is always here to encourage us, to guide us, to lead us. Just as she forgave her Son’s killers at the foot of his Cross, then held his lifeless body in her hands, so now she wants to guide Sri Lankans to greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God’s pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all."

--Pope Francis

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My 2014 Person of the Year

On last month's Christmas special edition of The World Over Live, EWTN news director Raymond Arroyo offered his pick for 2014 Person of the Year: the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. I felt that this was a good choice because it highlighted the increasingly desperate situation of the ancient Christian communities in Iraq, Syria, and the Holy Land who endured so many terrible sufferings in the past year--wanton terrorist violence, destruction of their churches and other priceless cultural treasures, forced displacement, and even martyrdom for their faith--all largely ignored by an indifferent world. A handful of voices in the wilderness, including Patriarch Sako of Baghdad and Prince Charles of England, courageously and repeatedly attempted to awaken the consciences of world leaders, urging them to do what lay in their power to stop these tragedies, but their appeals generally fell on deaf ears.

The increasingly obvious "globalization of indifference" decried by Pope Francis is indeed a cancer growing within our twenty-first century global society that is eating away at that society from the inside. This indifference is a bitter fruit of the destructive ideology of radical secularism, the pseudo-religion of the post-modern age that sees no need for God or religion in public life or international affairs. One major consequence of this indifference is an alarming erosion of religious freedom around the world, even here in the United States, a traditional haven of religious liberty. We are witnessing the truth of Pope Benedict XVI's statement during his visit to Cuba in March 2012 that "When God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man." The words of Saint John Paul II uttered ten years before that remain true today: "The building of a global culture of solidarity is perhaps the greatest moral task confronting humanity today." Popes John Paul, Benedict and Francis have all made quite clear that such a global culture of solidarity cannot be built on moral relativism or religious syncretism or the tyranny of unregulated market forces or any other subjective standards; on the contrary, a thriving global community can only be built on the truly universal objective standards of respect for the natural law and human rights that are deeply engraved in the hearts of all men and women.

The tragically endangered Christian minorities of the Middle East remain in great need of our prayers, compassion, financial support, and political activism on their behalf. If we Catholics and Christians in this country were to unite in prayer and charitable support for these people and rally our nation's leaders to take concrete steps to defend their religious freedom, we could make a tremendous difference in the situation and help rescue Middle Eastern Christians from extinction.

On the subject of religious liberty and in light of the foregoing reflections, I will now offer my own choice for 2014 Person of the Year. Her name is Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, and she is the young Sudanese Catholic convert who was unjustly incarcerated and condemned to death for renouncing the Islamic faith of her childhood and marrying a Christian man. Meriam's story has certain parallels with the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Like them, she was persecuted for her Christian faith. Like them, she refused to renounce her Lord and Savior. And like them, her plight was generally ignored by an indifferent world.

But thankfully, in Meriam's case (as also in the case of the Middle Eastern Christians), not all human hearts were coldly indifferent. As the clock ticked down to her scheduled execution immediately following the birth of her second child, millions of people all over the world joined her husband Daniel Wani, a businessman and U.S. citizen, in prayer that her innocent life be spared. And God in His great mercy used the power of prayer to deliver Meriam Ibrahim from death. By negotiating with Sudanese authorities, the Italian government and the Vatican managed to rescue her. Instead of being executed, she was released from prison, then re-arrested, re-released, and finally fled the country with her husband and two children. They arrived first in Italy, where Meriam's dream of someday meeting Pope Francis came true. Then the Sudanese Catholic family headed across the Atlantic to make their permanent home in the United States.

Amid all the terrible things that happened in the world last year, this was a wonderfully refreshing success story for religious liberty. America played its traditional role as a safe haven for victims of religious persecution and as a land of opportunity for immigrants hoping to make a fresh start in life. Catholic leaders in the Vatican and Italy acted as noble defenders of religious liberty, doing battle "in the trenches" behind the scenes to defend the basic right of a single person to hold and practice her faith without government interference. Justice prevailed, and an innocent human life was saved. And because of her courageous dedication to her Christian faith in prison and under threat of death, Meriam Ibrahim now stands before us as a true heroine of religious liberty. May God bless her and her family.

Inspired by Meriam's example, with trust in Divine Providence and under the protection of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States, let us take up with renewed vigor the cause of religious liberty here in America in 2015. Despite numerous court injunctions, the unjust and unconstitutional HHS mandate is still on the books, still attempting to coerce us to violate the natural law and our religious convictions by promoting the murder of the innocent unborn. It is a stain on our national conscience, a blot on our reputation for religious freedom. We must do away with it! Congress must pass legislation to abolish this mandate without further delay. It is of critical importance to the future of America that our First Amendment rights be preserved intact. So let's continue the fight to defend our cherished religious freedom until it is fully restored. It will definitely be worth the effort.

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's Good to Be Back

It certainly is good to be back and writing a blog post. After more than eight years of remarkably reliable service, my HP Pavilion a1510n desktop PC running Windows XP finally went kaput on December 27, 2014. When I bought that machine back in September 2006, I never in my wildest dreams expected it to last as long as it did, much less to perform as well as it did for that length of time. The only major problem I encountered was in June of 2010 when the 200 gigabyte hard drive went bad. Instead of throwing the machine out and purchasing a new one as some folks recommended, I had the old hard drive replaced with a new 500 gigabyte version for one-third the cost of a new PC, and I was back up and running for another four and a half years. I have to hand it to HP for designing and building an excellent machine. No wonder they are second only to Apple in consumer ratings. Thankfully, I had  all of my important files stored on CDs and a flash drive right up to the day of my old computer's demise, so I didn't lose anything critical and was well prepared for the day of reckoning.

Several years ago, I began researching new computers and operating systems. I soon settled on Windows 7, which came out in 2010, as my preferred successor to XP based on favorable critical and consumer reviews. Two years after it came out, in 2012, Windows 7 became the official operating system of the U.S. government, which confirmed my decision. As time went on, however, I became concerned that my old PC might continue functioning until Windows 7 PCs were no longer available for purchase. Despite persistently unfavorable consumer ratings, computer manufacturers were increasingly pushing PCs with Windows 8 (which emerged in 2012) and gradually phasing out those with 7 from their catalogs and online stores. In April 2014, XP officially became obsolete, yet my PC stubbornly kept going like the Energizer Bunny, albeit with occasional minor snags.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of eventually getting a Dell Inspiron or some other Dell PC to replace my HP Pavilion. However, in mid-2014 I ultimately decided to stick with HP for three reasons: 1) the performance and longevity of my first HP computer, 2) HP's excellent customer satisfaction record compared with Dell and other manufacturers, and 3) HP's customer friendly approach, including great prices, frequent sales and free shipping, and its relative slowness in phasing out Windows 7 PCs compared with Dell and other manufacturers. As it happened, I was just in time to get on the Windows 7 bandwagon: late last month, HP was offering only two PCs in my price range with this operating system; all the others had the dreaded Windows 8. On top of that, HP was having its end of the year sale, so I got $70.00 off the already low-budget model I settled on: an HP 110-355t.

I lucked out, and I'm thankful for my new PC. It's remarkable how computer technology has continued to develop and come down in price as the years go by. My old PC came with a 200-gigabyte hard drive and 1 gigabyte of RAM, which was cutting-edge technology at the time. Now, for $200.00 less than I spent eight-plus years ago, I have a new PC with five times the hard drive space (yes, a mind-blowing one terabyte) and four times the memory (four GB) of my previous machine. So far I really like the design and functionality of my Windows 7 PC and am pretty satisfied with it. I don't expect it to last as long as the one I just lost, but I'm hoping to get three to four years of use out of it. Of course, if it ends up lasting longer than that, I will be delighted. In any case, I was long overdue to upgrade.

You don't realize just how much a computer, iPhone, or cell phone is part of your twenty-first century work and home lifestyle until you're suddenly bereft of one. You can't send or receive emails, read news, write and publish articles or music, blog, tweet, look at pictures, play games or anything else you usually do on those things. Your identity as a writer and composer and so much of your life is so tied up with that one plastic box of miniature electronic silicon circuitry that when you lose it, you feel as though you've lost a part of yourself. You actually feel like you're stranded on a desert island and have to make do with what you have and bide your time until someone comes to rescue you. Two days after my old computer died, I ordered my new PC on HP's website and had to wait ten additional days for its arrival at my house. It was excruciating. I have a part-time job as a handyman (weather permitting) so I wasn't completely without work, but it was a valuable exercise in patience all the same. I feel that I deserve some kind of award for going twelve days without a computer. I am now a certified survivor of extended PC deprivation. If someone else has gone without longer than this, I would love to read their story.

Well, it's good to be in business again, and I hope to get back into my blogging routine. My next post, which I was intending to write when my old PC crashed, will be about my choice for 2014 Person of the Year, so stay tuned!