Sunday, May 27, 2018

Isn't religion the cause of all wars?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all;
I was shocked to discover that most of the wars in the world today are religious wars. Religion is the source of everything bad. War, the Crusades, the Inquisition, overpopulation, persecution, prejudice; it’s all religious. I have no idea whether or not there is a God, but if religious people would just leave the rest of us alone, we would all be fine.
Bella Koes

Dear Bella,
Let us first define our terms. We read in James 1:27 that, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

The Greek term, (remember them, the Greeks, precise to the point of tediousness?) is “threskeia”, which means “worship, religion, especially expressed in (religious) cult, that is, ritual.” Translating the text into Latin, the word is religio, whence comes our word religion. Religio meant holding scrupulously to the ceremonies due the gods. There is no clear agreement among scholars as to the origin of the word. It seems to come from “re” and “ligare” thus would have something to do with holding back or tying down.

In the Church, we talk about the virtue of religion, which is a dimension of the virtue of justice. Justice is that virtue which gives to each his due. It is impossible to give God what He is owed, but our attempt to do so is called religion. In the common understanding religion is “...all that God stuff, do unto others etc.” It can be thus argued, that Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, is not itself a religion, but a faith and a fellowship that has a necessary religious component. (Boy is this boring. What is he talking about?) Just this: you’re assuming that you know what religion is, and you don’t. “It’s all that God stuff, no?”

We need to define our terms. There are lots of religions. In the above-mentioned passage, St. James says that some religion can be foolish. You are making the claim that religion is the source of human suffering. Which religions? Let’s look at the question of war and religion in tedious detail. The United Nations seems most interested in wars that involve a thousand or more fatalities a year, so we’ll start there. In this list are included:

  1.  the Arab-Israeli Conflict with a grand total of 50,000 - 90,000 fatalities since its inception, then
  2.    the Somali Civil War, 300,000 - 400,000 fatalities, then
  3.  the Afghan Civil War 1,500,000–2,000,000 fatalities, a war into which we have recently jumped with both feet and a patriotic smile, though it was originally a Muslim vs. Communist war, then
  4. the civil war in Darfur, Sudan, 450,000 (+/-) fatalities, then
  5.  the Iraq War, 500,000 - 1,500,000, then
  6. the war in North-West Pakistan 13,900 dead and, finally,
  7.  the Mexican Drug War 10,000 fatalities or so.

 There are many other smaller-scale armed conflicts that are currently causing a smaller number of violent fatalities each year, but still worth an honorable mention.
 8)       The Colombian drug war 50,000 to 200,000 fatalities, 
9)       the Communist/ Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines about 120,000 dead, then
10)   the Kashmiri Insurgency in India, perhaps 60,000 gone, then
11)   the Niger Delta and
12)   Baluchistan conflicts, (who knows how many dead?) and finally in India,
13)   Naxalite Maoist insurgency whatever that may be!
I have not mentioned the Northern Irish situation, because at the time it seems to be over, but the famous conflict between Protestants and Catholics was not what it seemed. Many of the so-called Catholics were actually Maoist Communists. The conflict seems to be ending because the combatants are just getting too old to continue. You can only do so much damage from a wheel chair.
So, of the twelve wars listed above, 10 involve Muslims, 1 involves Communists, and two involve drug dealers, admittedly in Catholic countries, though I suspect the drug lords don’t attend church that often. In the above list there is not one Vatican paid Swiss Guard mentioned. So those miseries cannot be directly pinned on the Pope.
I mentioned above that the word “religion” may actually mean to restrain or tie back. I would venture that some religions, like Islam, make war a positive virtue. Remember that Mohammed was himself a general who mandated beheadings. Other religions seem to restrain the impulse to kill. Jesus and Buddha seem downright opposed to war, though their followers occasionally ignore them. Still, I would venture that Christian/Catholic religion performs the function of restraining what seems to be the favorite pastime of humanity: murder on the grand scale. Where Catholicism has been practiced, war, though not eliminated, has been held back. Have you ever heard of the Peace of God and the Truce of God?
The Peace of God was the protection from military violence won by special groups in medieval society. These included the clergy and their possessions; the poor; women; peasants along with their tools, animals, mills, vineyards, and labor; and later pilgrims and merchants: in short, the vast majority of the medieval population who neither bore arms, nor were entitled to bear them.
The Truce of God, while often confused and later merged with the Peace, protected certain times of the week and year from the violence of the feudal class: no private or public wars were to be waged from Wednesday evening until Monday morning, during certain Saints’ days, during Advent, Lent, and Rogation days, also Holy Week, Easter Week and the 12 Days of Christmas, with its partridges and pear trees. This peace, though often broken, extended from the 800's until the Reformation in the 1500's. The Pope could excommunicate violators and people actually worried about such censures for almost 700 years.
The History Channel and Hollywood have convinced you of the myth of the scheming evil popes bent on world domination who were overthrown by the glorious Reformation and the still more wonderful Enlightenment. Look at the numbers. If conducted by the rules, medieval wars were not much more violent than modern English soccer matches. (I’m joking, but not by much.) Remember you could only kill other knights and the technology of killing had not yet benefitted from the Enlightenment of the 1700's and the wonderful scientific revolution which has made our lives so much richer and our war so much more deadly. Medieval wars just didn’t kill as many people as modern wars do.
War in Europe really came into its own when the papal domination of western Christianity was overthrown. That’s when the “wars of religion,” really got rolling, principally in France, Germany and England. These probably killed 10,000,000 (ten million) over the course of a century, certainly an inspiring achievement, but nothing compared to the progress we’ve made as we gradually shake off Christianity altogether. Take away the pope, and ten million die. Let’s see what happens when we take away Christianity all together. 
There is an interesting little book about the death toll caused by Communism. The introduction, by editor St├ęphane Courtois, himself a former Maoist/Communist, asserts that “...Communist regimes... turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government.” He cites a death toll which totals 94 million, give or take, not counting the “excess deaths” (decrease of the population due to lower than the expected birth rate). The breakdown of the number of deaths is as follows:
  • ·         65 million in the Peoples Republic of China
  • ·         20 million in the Soviet Union
  • ·         2 million in Cambodia
  • ·         2 million in North Korea
  • ·         1.7 million in Africa
  • ·         1.5 million in Afghanistan
  • ·         1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe
  • ·         1 million in Vietnam
  • ·         150,000 in Latin America
  • ·         10,000 deaths “resulting from actions of the international communist movement and communist parties not in power."
Courtois claims that Communists are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including Nazism. Let us remember that both Communism and Nazism are socialist systems that deny the claims of God on humanity. The state is supreme, not God. Communism has killed about 100,000,000 (One hundred million) for political reasons. We’re not talking war here, just political ideology. Nazism “only” killed 25,000,000 (twenty-five million) for political reasons, 6 million of them being Jews. This does not include the 40,000,000 killed because of combat in the Second World War.
So, take away the pope, ten million dead. Take away God, two hundred million dead, counting war. There are a lot more wars and religions we could go into, but enough is enough. I think you get the picture. Still, it is worth mentioning a religion that incorporates war as a divine mandate, such as Islam. Communism has been responsible for the deaths of maybe 100 million people. Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam says, “Approximately 270 million nonbelievers died over the last 1,400 years for the glory of political Islam.” If he is correct, Hitler comes in third, a mere piker, a veritable camp fire girl.
"Wait a minute! You papists can’t get off that easy! What about the Crusades, the Inquisition and the conquest of the Americas?"
Aren’t I always warning you not to get your religion from the Discovery Channel? The Inquisition, though not something to be proud of, really didn’t give it everything they had. The Vatican has opened meticulous records kept over the 400 years of the Inquisition’s heyday and in Spain and Portugal perhaps 2,000 - 3,000 were killed.
How about the Crusades? In the course of two centuries perhaps one or two million died and let us remember these were defensive wars. A very political religion burst out of the Arabian Peninsula with the express intention of taking over the world, a hope still warmly cherished by many Muslims. Christian lands were conquered, and Christians killed. Remember that the Middle East was solidly Christian at the time. Around 1000 AD, Caliph Hakim of Cairo killed the entire Christian population of Jerusalem, burned every Christian shrine in the Holy Land, and hacked the tomb of Christ to pieces. Imagine what would happen in today if a Christian tried to destroy the Ka’aba in Mecca! For us the Tomb of Christ is comparable to the Ka’aba, the central shrine of Islam.
Those assaults started the Crusades. If not for the Crusades, the slaughter of Christians would have continued unabated, until the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace, were either dead or converted to the banners of the armies of Islam. As for the conquest of the Americas, true, there were atrocities on the part of gold crazed conquistadors, but the rights of the native Americans were defended by the priests and friars who followed in the wake of the conquerors. Most of the dead were killed by microbes, and that encounter between the microbes of the old world and the people of the Americas was inevitable.
So, there you have it. Where Catholic Christianity has been practiced, the murderous human spirit has been restrained. Where secularism and warrior religions are practiced, the deaths are counted in the hundreds of millions. Once again, I would like to remind you, don’t believe everything you see on television.
Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Thoughts on the decline of a lilac bush...


I really like lilacs. Their perfume is intoxicating. I have a few lilac bushes on my family’s country estate, Blithering Heights, a quarter-acre of gracious living in rural Illinois. I am a little worried about one of the bushes. A lot of the branches are no longer putting out buds. They are clearly dead, though they still seem to be part of the plant. Another curious thing, when the branch which looks so strong and solid no longer puts out buds, it is easy to pull it out of the bush. It just has no connection to its roots. I imagine that the death of the branch starts in its detachment from the roots and the symptom of its death is that it has no buds, no new leaves or flowers.

Europe is dying and the European Church is dying. By Europe I mean Europe and her colonies, the Americas, Australia and a few other places. No new buds, no new life. European civilization was founded by one man, Paul of Tarsus. He was the first person of whom it could be said “Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian.”  One theory is that Paul’s grandparents were enslaved during the wars of the Roman general Pompey in Syria and the Holy Land around 60 BC and his family became Roman citizens when they were given their freedom.  They were possibly deported as slaves to the city of Tarsus, an important Roman city that was culturally Greek. It’s probable that Paul’s first language was Greek. In his epistles and in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul quotes classical Greek dramatists, poets, philosophers and even comedians. He seems to have been steeped in Greek culture. At some point he went back to Jerusalem for his education and claimed to have studied with the Rabbi Gamaliel. He was on the rise in the religious/civil bureaucracy when he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and so became a Christian. He was quite literally the first person to be Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian all at the same time.  The culture that made the best of the modern world was born in one man, Paul.

Fast forward 1,700 years to France and the Age of Enlightenment, around 1715 to 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution.  “Les philosophes,’’ the philosophers of the period, men like Voltaire and Rousseau, held that human reason is the only possible source of authority. They laughed at the claims of revealed religion in general and at Catholicism in particular. They believed they were returning to the virtues of the ancient world. They were very Greco-Roman, but not Judeo-Christian. The result of their rejection of two of the four legs of our civilization was and is complete collapse. The Enlightenment ended in 1789 when it bore the fruit of the French Revolution.  I suppose that the Enlightenment has been the mother of all subsequent revolutions. The belief that man is the measure of all things and that human reason is enough resulted in terror of the French revolution, which begot the Napoleonic wars which begot the First World War which in its turn begot the Second World War, the Russian, Chinese, Cambodian and all the revolutions since. The platitudes which seemed so reasonable in the salons of Paris have been used to justify an unequalled extinction of human life that still continues. Reason seems so well, reasonable. It may be reasonable but it’s really very pointless. If there is no law beyond my own reason and no life beyond this one, then what is the sense of it all? The reasonable conclusion of the philosophers is that I am the center of the universe. This makes for a very pointless universe.

The enlightened world is perishing. One occasionally hears that “nones” people of no religious conviction are a growing group. The “nones” are growing only in societies that are dying. The atheism that was made fashionable in the French enlightenment is shrinking as a part of the world’s population. Religion is on the rise, for good or for ill. Why? Because religious people have children. They believe that there is a purpose to existence beyond one’s own self, so it’s worth the effort to bring more people into the world.

In July, some of us will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which Pope Paul VI reasserted as infallible Catholic teaching that artificial means of birth control were seriously morally wrong. For this he was roundly mocked and ignored. It was unreasonable. Now country after country is experiencing a decline in its working population. Much of the world is becoming an unfunded retirement home. One can ignore a pope or a teaching of the Church, but one cannot ignore history. Much of the current chaos of the world is the result of the death of societies.

The Islamic world is experiencing the most dramatic decline of human fertility in the history of humanity. World fertility is just under 2.5 children per woman. This is just about the replacement rate for a third world population. The scary part is that the fertility rate will most likely continue to plummet, resulting in a shortage of that most precious resource: human beings. When the world is full of old people, those old people will starve. It’s already happening in some places. We have said “no” to life and “no” to the author of life. Pope Paul warned us and we laughed at him.

Recently there was a gala to raise funds for the New York Metropolitan Opera. The theme was, “Heavenly Bodies, the Catholic Imagination.”  Models dressed in revealing parodies of clerical vestments.  There was a work of art, a “bondage mask” covered with rosaries on display. Once again, the enlightened laugh at the faith.

What hurts is that enlightened sophisticates claiming the title of Catholic joined in the fun. It’s upsetting to faithful Catholics, but the problem will solve itself in the long run. People who believe in Catholic truth are still having children. They still learn how to love by generously giving life. They are uninterested in the enlightened narcissism that has been gnawing away at the roots of the tree since fools like Voltaire and Rousseau threw God out of the equation. Part of the tree, the part that is still connected to the roots is still putting out leaves and flowers. The rest has died and doesn’t even know that it’s dead.

The Rev. Know-it-all