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:

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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!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Reflection

"Jesus has given us the gift of Himself. We can give him the gift of our hearts. The fullness of our hearts is revealed by our actions: how I treat the homeless, how I treat these refugees, how I treat each individual person—-not as an impersonal one of millions, but as one in a million. Each one is Jesus, who suffers in this distressing disguise. It’s the body of Christ you are touching. How loving our hearts and our hands must be, to be able to bring our compassion to them…

"The Joyful Mysteries are not all pure joy; rather they are tinged with sorrow and suffering. For Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that was their life, and they freely accepted the will of God. On this joyous Christmas Day, we too can share in the sorrow and suffering of the refugees. Our joy transcends this transient human suffering when we embrace it with love."

--Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, address to Bengali refugees, December 25, 1971 (from the forthcoming book My Christmas with Mother Teresa by John Mathews with Justin Soutar)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Quote of the Day

"In fact, the mystery of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, which occurred historically more than 2,000 years ago, is implemented as a spiritual event in the 'today of the liturgy.' The Word, who dwelled in the virginal womb of Mary, in the celebration of Christmas, comes to call anew the heart of each Christian. He comes by and calls. Each one of us is called to respond, as Mary did, with a personal and sincere "yes," placing ourselves fully at the disposal of God and his mercy. How many times Jesus comes in our lives and how many times he sends us an angel. And how many times we don't realize it because we are very busy, submerged in our thoughts, in our activities, and in these days, in the preparation for Christmas, and we don't realize the one who is passing by and knocking at the door of our hearts asking to be welcomed, asking for a "yes" like that of Mary. A saint said, 'I fear that the Lord will pass by.' Do you know why he was afraid? It was fear of not realizing, of allowing him to pass by.

"When we feel in our hearts, 'I would like to be better. I repent of this thing I've done,' there is the Lord who calls, who makes us feel this, the desire to be better, the desire to be closer to others, to God. If you feel this, stop. The Lord is there. Go to pray, and maybe go to confession to clean up the dwelling a bit. This is good. But remember well, if you feel this desire to improve, it is He who is calling. Do not let him pass by.

"In the mystery of Christmas, beside Mary, in silence, is the presence of St. Joseph, as is represented in all the nativity scenes, also in this one that you can admire here in St. Peter's Square. The example of Mary and of Joseph is for all of us an invitation to welcome Jesus with an entirely open soul, Jesus who out of love has made himself our brother. He comes to bring to the world the gift of peace. 'Peace to those on whom his favor rests,' as the choir of angels announced to the shepherds. The precious gift of Christmas is peace and Christ is our true peace. And Christ calls to our hearts to give us peace. Peace of the soul. Let us open the gates to Christ.

"We entrust ourselves to the intercession of our Mother and of St. Joseph, to live a Christmas that is truly Christian, free of all worldliness, prepared to welcome the Savior, the God-with-us."

--Pope Francis

Monday, December 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

"The heart of man desires joy. All of us aspire to joy. Every family, every people aspires to happiness. But what is the joy to which the Christian is called to live and to give witness? It is that that comes from the closeness of God, of his presence in our lives. Since Jesus entered history, with his birth in Bethlehem, humanity has received the seed of the Kingdom of God, as the earth receives a seed, the promise of a future harvest. We don't need to look elsewhere. Jesus came to bring joy to everyone and for ever.

"It is not a joy that is merely anticipated or set in paradise -- 'here on earth we are sad but in paradise, we'll be happy.' No. It's not that. Rather, [it is] a joy that is already real and that can be felt now, because Jesus himself is our joy, is our home....

"All of us who are baptized, the children of the Church, are called to welcome ever again the presence of God in our midst and to help others to discover it, or to rediscover it if we've forgotten it. It is a beautiful mission, similar to that of John the Baptist: to point people toward Christ -- not to ourselves -- because He is the final goal toward which the human heart reaches when it seeks joy and happiness....

"The Christian is a person who has his heart full of peace, because he knows how to place his joy in the Lord, even when the difficult moments of life arise.

"To have faith does not mean to not have difficult moments, but to have the strength to face them, knowing we are not alone. And this is the Peace that God gives to his children."

--Pope Francis

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quote of the Day

"So now, let us allow Isaiah’s invitation - “Comfort, give comfort to my people” - resound in our hearts in this time of Advent. Today there is a need for people who are witnesses of the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, which shakes up those who are resigned, revives the discouraged, ignites the fire of hope. It is He who ignites the fire of hope, not us!

"So many situations require our consoling witness. To be joyful people, consoled. I think of those who are oppressed by suffering, injustice and abuses; those who are enslaved by money, power, success, worldliness. Poor things, they have a false consolation, they do not have the true consolation of the Lord!....

"Isaiah’s message...is a balm on our wounds and an impetus to prepare the way of the Lord diligently. The prophet, in fact, speaks today to our hearts to tell us that God forgets our sins and consoles us. If we trust in Him with humble and contrite hearts, He will break down the walls of evil, He will fill the holes of our omissions, He will pave the bumps of pride and vanity and will open a path of encounter with Him.

"It is curious, but so many times, we are afraid of consolation, of being consoled. In fact, we feel safer in sadness and desolation. Do you know why? Because in sadness, we feel almost like the protagonists. Instead, in consolation, the Holy Spirit is the protagonist! It is He who consoles us, it is He who gives us the courage to come out of ourselves. It is He who brings us to the source of every true consolation, that is, the Father. And this is conversion. Please, let yourselves be consoled by the Lord! Let yourselves be consoled by the Lord!"

--Pope Francis

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ElectionWatch 2014: A Crowning Victory

Well, it happened again: another Republican landslide victory. Can you believe it? In the Louisiana Senate runoff election this past Saturday, December 6, Republican challenger Bill Cassidy soundly defeated Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, receiving 57 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Landrieu. With this stunning final victory of the 2014 Congressional general elections, Republicans have picked up a total of nine new seats in the U.S. Senate, three more than they needed to gain a majority in the upper house of Congress. Just a few weeks from now, Republicans will hold 54 Senate seats to 46 for the Democrats.

And yes, the mainstream media outlets were wrong again in predicting a close election. Of course, since they are overwhelmingly controlled and influenced by the same Wall Street corporate interests that largely control and influence the Obama administration, it's little wonder that their content is so heavily biased and unreliable (which is why I try to avoid it as much as possible). Because they worship the false triune god of money, sex and power and are thus living in permanent spiritual darkness, the big media moguls are naturally more interested in serving us deception than truth, especially when the truth inconveniently pierces their flimsy little soap bubbles. I was wondering how this election was going over the weekend, but I didn't hear anything about it, so this morning I visited the Fox News website (one of those mainstream media outlets) to find out what was going on. I had to do some digging to find any news of the election at all, since they had pretty well buried the story. Once I finally unearthed what I was looking for, I was pleasantly surprised. What a great capper to the historic and game-changing elections of 2014!

It's plainly obvious that the Obama administration and the mainstream media are in denial about the sweeping Republican and Tea Party takeover of America. It's a huge defeat for them and their anti-God agenda, and they just can't seem to get over it. These pundits and politicians are the sorest losers I have ever seen. President Obama and his lackeys want their way no matter what, and even with the end of their political careers staring them in the face, they are desperate to ram the rest of their agenda down our throats by any legal or illegal means necessary before the day of reckoning arrives and they are finally compelled by law to leave office. They and their mainstream media pals wish that all of this just hadn't happened, that the new Republican majorities in Congress and state governorships would just go away. They need to wake up and face reality.

As a last-ditch attempt to minimize their losses, the big corporate interests that back the Obama adminitration and the mainstream media are now putting enormous pressure on our newly elected and re-elected Republican and Tea Party representatives in both houses of Congress to cowardly surrender to their immoral agenda for this nation. Their one remaining hope to is corrupt enough Republican senators and members of Congress to allow that agenda to continue moving forward largely unimpeded despite this historic power shift. So let's keep our newly elected and re-elected public servants in our prayers, that they stick to their guns and do what is right for our country in accord with their Judeo-Christian values, the natural law and the Constitution of the U.S. instead of giving in to bribery and blackmail as so many establishment politicians have done. It's our duty as Christians to pray for our elected officials, so let's not forget to do this. We are, or at least we should be, a Christian country, a nation that trusts in God. We cannot restore America to greatness without Him. So let's pray for our country every day.

With this post, I will now close my ElectionWatch 2014 series. Thank you for reading and following along. May God bless you, and may He watch over and bless the United States of America! Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quote of the Day

"He [Jesus] makes us know the Father, introduces us to this inner life that He has. And to whom does the Father reveal this? To whom does he give this grace? 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little ones'. Only those whose hearts are like the young are capable of receiving this revelation, the humble of heart, the meek, who feel the need to pray, to open up to God, who feel poor; only he who goes forward with the first Beatitude: the poor in spirit.

"Many may know the science, theology well, so many! But if they do not practice this theology on their knees, humbly, like children, they will not understand anything. It will tell them many things, but they will not understand anything. Only with this poverty is one capable of receiving the revelation that the Father gives through Jesus, through Jesus. Jesus is not like a captain, an army general, a powerful ruler, no, no. He is like a bud. Just like we heard in the First Reading: 'On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse'. He is a bud that is humble, mild, and came to the humble, and to the meek, to bring salvation to the sick, the poor, the oppressed...

"We ask the Lord, in this Advent season, to bring us nearer to his mystery and to do so the way that He wants us to do: the way of humility, the way of meekness, the way of poverty, the road where we feel sin. So that he can come to save us, to free us. May the Lord give us this grace."

--Pope Francis

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Reflection

"In the season of Advent, as we recall Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas, we are reminded to be prepared for Christ’s coming. In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent this year, Nov. 30, Christ tells us his disciples “to be on the watch.”

“You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,” Jesus says. “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” We remember that Christ is coming whenever we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Holy Mass we are made present to the sacrifice at Calvary, and to the joy of Christ’s glory in heaven. But we also remember that Christ will return, and we remember to watch, to be vigilant, to wait for him, and to be prepared...

"Since ancient times, Christians have faced the east during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to remember to keep watch for Christ. Together, the priest and the people faced the east, waiting and watching for Christ. Even in Churches that did not face the east, the priest and people stood together in the Mass, gazing at Christ on the crucifix, on the altar, and in the tabernacle, to recall the importance of watching for his return. The symbolism of the priest and people facing ad orientem—-to the east—-is an ancient reminder of the coming of Christ...

"The symbolism of facing together, and awaiting Christ, is rich, time-honored and important. Especially during Advent, as we await the coming of the Lord, facing the east together—even symbolically facing Christ together at the altar and on the crucifix—is a powerful witness to Christ’s imminent return. Today, at a time when it is easy to forget that Christ is coming—and easy to be complacent in our spiritual lives and in the work of evangelization—we need reminders that Christ will come...

"“Be watchful!” says Jesus. “Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We do not know when the time will come for Christ’s to return. But we know that we must watch for him. May we “face the east,” together, watching for Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in our lives."

--Bishop James Conley, Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Few Thoughts about Immigration and Executive Amnesty

I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts about our nation's current immigration crisis and President Obama's unprecedented Executive Order issued last Friday granting instant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants here in the United States. First of all, I agree with Republican and Tea Party leaders and with the majority of my fellow Americans that this unilateral executive action taken by our president represented an unconstitutional abuse of his authority. The president's job is to enforce laws approved and passed by Congress, not to make up his own laws as he sees fit. (There is one exception to this: Unconstitutional laws passed by Congress, such as ObamaCare, should not be enforced but repealed, if they are not struck down by the courts.) Immigration reform and legislation is a matter for our elected representatives in Congress, who are the real lawmakers. For the umpteenth time since his administration began nearly six years ago, President Obama has exceeded his powers in order to foist his socialist agenda on our nation without our consent. He must be held accountable for violating his oath of office. I think Congress is overdue to begin talk of impeachment.

I am also rather unhappy that our good Catholic bishops have voiced approval for President Obama's unlawful course of action. They have the best of intentions, and they are concerned that those millions of people who are in our country illegally receive needed care and assistance, along with the opportunity for a better life, in line with Catholic social thought and biblical teaching about welcoming the stranger, caring for the least of our brethren, and not oppressing the alien. But I would respectfully submit that our bishops' approach to this complex issue is slightly flawed. The undocumented immigrants who pour across our southern border each day are for the most part deeply religious, hardworking, and otherwise law-abiding individuals whose chief goal is to find productive employment in order to support their families back home. Many of them do end up making a lasting positive contribution to our nation. However, such a large barrel is definitely going to contain some bad apples as well. So while grating privileges of citizenship to deserving aliens, this blanket amnesty is also making some criminals and gang members citizens of the U.S. It's a double-edged sword. By approving President Obama's illegal decree, our bishops undermine their own respect for the rule of law while accomplishing little for the immigrants themselves. There are many Catholic charitable organizations who are already fulfilling the Gospel mission by reaching out to these people at the local level regardless of their immigration status. Having the federal government confer instant citizenship on them with no questions asked is irresponsible and unecessary. In addition, making illegal immigrants instant citizens on a par with natural-born citizens and legal immigrants is unfair to the latter two groups of people.

Furthermore, our bishops do not seem to understand the real reasons for the president's action, which have nothing whatsoever to do with justice and compassion for immigrants. President Obama's unconstitutional edict was driven purely by political considerations in line with his own socialist agenda: its sole purpose was to add millions of new Democratic voters to the United States so that Hillary Clinton can be elected president to succeed him. Although cloaked that way, this illegal Executive Order was not designed to advance the welfare of the illegal immigrants themselves. President Obama has by now amply demonstrated that he doesn't care about the poor or about anyone else in this country who is struggling financially; his only concern is to protect the major corporate interests that back his presidency. And those interests, including Planned Parenthood, Monsanto, and the big pharmaceutical and insurance industries, are also backing Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president in order to retain their grip on U.S. politics and the economy.

There is no question that our immigration system has become an unwieldy bureaucracy that is in dire need of reform. Bureaucratic red tape alone has been a major factor contributing to the boom in illegal immigration. But granting millions of illegal immigrants automatic, unconditional, and permanent citizenship through executive fiat is not the proper way to begin resolving the situation. Our Catholic bishops themselves for years have been championing a comprehensive immigration reform proposal that includes addressing the root causes of mass migration to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America, as well as offering immigrants who came here illegally a legal pathway by which they can earn citizenship over a period of time. Although I may not fully agree with every aspect of this proposal, I do support it as a wise and common-sense approach to the complicated problem of illegal immigration. Our bishops should stick to their proposal and not hail with delight every move by our federal government that seems to advance their cause, much less a move that violates the Constitution and certain basic principles of justice.

I also think that more attention should be paid to the role of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in the 1990s by President Clinton) and multinational corporations in the illegal immigration boom that has been affecting our country for the last twenty years. Big companies love cheap labor, and they can get lots of it when national borders are porous and immigration laws are weak or not enforced. If it is to be long-lasting and effective, immigration reform must be sufficiently farsighted to include structural reform of the global economy based on principles of justice and charity for all involved, as Benedict XVI spelled out in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Thus the U.S. must also work together in a spirit of community with other countries and international organizations to address the root causes of its illegal immigration problem.

For now, I fully support Congress doing all in its power to halt the implementation of President Obama's latest assault on our Constitution, and to hold the president accountable for abusing his authority yet again. He is a dangerous tyrant, so a real effort should be made in the near future to impeach him and remove him from office for the good of our country.