Monday, August 08, 2005

I'm giving up the blog

Folks, I've had a blast blogging-- the writing, visiting other blogs, investigating things, getting in fights-- all of it.

Problem is, it takes me away from the things that are really important: family, schooling the kids, prayer, eating, sleeping...

Thank you: all you who have visited, left comments, linked to me, argued or dialogued with me, and generally made this such fun.

I'll try finding a nice, wholesome hobby.

I hear body piercing is hot.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

"The Passion of The Christ" as Street Theater

The Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia, under Archbishop George Pell, is sending feelers to Mel Gibson to see if he is willing to produce a Stations of the Cross reenactment in the streets of Melbourne as part of their bid to host World Youth Day in 2008.

World Youth Day is essentially a mammoth, revival/gathering of Catholic young folk. It amounts to a week long rally at which the Pope usually turns up, and has varied in size over the past decade anywhere from four hundred thousand to five million Catholic kids. It has taken place recently at Cologne, Toronto, and Rome. Cities vying to host the event often do so under some influential bishop who puts together a bid with all the arm twisting and blue sky promising associated with cities trying to host the Olympics or a major party political convention.

And for anyone not familiar with them, the Stations of the Cross is a ceremonial meditation on Christ's final three hours of life as Pilate sentenced him to be Crucified. Traditionally, it includes fourteen stations, usually in the form of artistic representations permanently placed at intervals around the inside walls of most Catholic Churches. On the Fridays of the liturgical season of Lent, parish priests or deacons will lead a procession around the side aisles of the parish church, stopping at each station to lead prayers and songs specifically associated with a specific events from the moment Jesus was sentenced to die to His burial in the tomb.

In some places, the Stations are done outside. Each year in Rome, the Pope has traditionally led a Stations ceremony around the coliseum where so many early Christians died for the Faith. In Jerusalem, the Stations are done on the "Via Dolorosa", the street believed to be the same one that Christ struggled up from the ancient Roman fortress Antonia to the hillock known at Golgotha or Calvary.

To be done theatrically by a producer believed to have made the best and most controversial Christian movie of all time would be an incredible pageant.

It would also be a lightning rod, of course. Everyone who despised Gibson's movie will despise the Melbourne event. They will predict anti-Jewish pogroms, anti-Christian terrorism, or both.

And Gibson might not even do it. Or Melbourne might not win the bid for World Youth Day.

But it would still be an incredible thing to imagine. More incredible to see.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Teaching the Bible in Public Schools

The Odessa, Texas, School Board has made waves by approving a plan to allow an elective course on the Bible to be taught at the local high school.

We can thank the New York Times for attracting national attention to this news item. I found out about it by way of Tom Carter, who brought the issue to my attention through this post on his excellent blog.

The NYT, of course, cast the whole thing in the lurid colors of slack-jawed yokels reintroducing creation history and using urban legends as evidence of the Bible inerrancy.

At first, I was appalled that a public school board anywhere would flaunt the constitutional separation of church and state in such a clumsy, heavy-handed manner.

Then I remembered that it was viewing it all through the eye of the NYT, so I took a second look.

It turns out that all the accusations of creation science and the use of urban legends as biblical proofs come from opponents of the course. Which include militantly atheistic outfits such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

I located the outfit which created the course. They are the The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. I was able to access their site yesterday, though not today. I suspect the NYT article has caused them to crash their server.

The syllabus for the course (the contents page, at least) says nothing about that. Rather, it appears that the course is teaching the history of the early Jews and Christians rather than any creationist nonsense. This, all liberal protestations aside, would be a wholly appropriate course, even in a public school, since it would instruct students about the Judeo-Christian roots of our society-- those roots which have had the single, most profound effect on the moral and cultural structure of Western Civilization.

I haven't seen the detailed syllabus. It costs $150. But then, the NYT wasn't willing to spring for the actual syllabus, either. The NYT relied exclusively on the opinions of various opponents of the new course.

The NYT can afford $150 to get real information rather than second hand gossip, for crying out loud.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I can hear the screams now

According to SFGate, President Bush has personally endorsed the teaching of intelligent design theory alongside evolution in public schools.

It isn't a directive; it's the President's personal opinion.

But sectarians will now be screaming about how the president is a creationist who obviously has a brain the size of a pea and should be impeached for breaching the separation of church and state and so on...and so nauseum.

And nobody will notice (well, almost nobody) that creationism is not the same thing as intelligent design.

And nobody (well, almost nobody) will catch the following lie in the news coverage:

"The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation."

That isn't so. The theory of intelligent design does allow for the idea of life on earth to develop through evolution, but it also says that this evolution could not have been through the random mutation of organisms. Rather, it says that evolution was providentially guided by the hand of God.

Wheels in wheels on Vatican/Israeli relations

Jacob Copper at Vatican Watcher has one of the better Catholic blogs on the internet. This week, he has been aggregating stories on the recent diplomatic sparks between the Vatican and the state of Israel: Here, here, here and here.

In brief, there is a lot more to the whole affair than Israel feeling left out by Vatican statements regarding terrorist violence. What Israel is trying to do is force the Vatican to back them unconditionally in their ongoing struggle with the Palestinians, and they are threatening both the Catholic Church's position among various Christian Communities in the Holy Land as well as the progress made as a whole between the Church and Judaism itself. Also, they are purposely taking advantage of the change in Papal leadership to improve their chances of gaining an advantage.

The Israelis and the prelates in Rome are all big boys, and I really can't say any foul balls have been thrown here. The Israelis do need to realize something, however.

The Vatican doesn't back anyone unconditionally, and they never have.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Crusades

A friend of mine, Dennis, just drew my attention to a web-site on the Crusades.

The Crusades have been a sore point with me. When I was a kid, the consensus among most educated Americans was that these wars were a legitimate effort by Christian Europe to liberate the Holy Land from the Moslems who had recently barred Christian pilgrims from visiting the sacred sites. Though only one Crusade was an unqualified success, and most were disasters, the Crusades were regarded as a noble, even heroic enterprise.

Over the last generation, the conventional view of the Crusades came into disrepute. Secularists portrayed the Crusaders as bloodthirsty mercenaries, bringing death and misery to Moslems, Byzantines, Jews and anyone else who stood between them and the wealth of peaceful, idyllic, twelfth-century Islam.

Some Evangelical Protestant and Orthodox Christian controversialists leapt upon the bandwagon (unlikely bed-fellows with the secular humanist crowd) And emphasized the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade as evidence of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church for calling a Crusade against the Moslems and then attacking the Orthodox Christians.

In my mind, and I've said this before, the Crusades are the only reason that we all don't speak Arabic right now and pray five times daily while facing toward Mecca.

But that Constantinople business really has troubled me. The sack of that city by Crusaders in 1204 did play a role in the collapse of the Byzantine empire, dated to the final conquest of Constantinople, now Istanbul, by the Moslems in 1453. In turn, this led to a Moslem foothold in Europe that steadily advanced until stopped by the decisive Catholic victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Since then, Moslems have maintained a presence in the Balkans and turned Istanbul into a major Moslem capital on the European continent.

Byzantium might have lasted longer or never fallen at all had the Crusaders not sacked its capital. Alternatively, it might have fallen sooner had the Crusaders not given Islam the fight of its life for two centuries in the Holy Land. The balance of good and bad of the Crusades with respect to the venerable Eastern Roman Empire will simply never be known. However, the notion that an enterprise called by a pope could have resulted directly in the fall of a Christian capital does call into question the credentials of the See of Peter as a force for good in the High Middle Ages. How can an enterprise instituted by the Pope possibly go so bad?

As it happens, that isn't exactly the way it was.

At the Crusades Information page my friend Dennis directed me to, there is a quick guide to each major Crusade. The infamous Fourth Crusade is discussed there. Some interesting details:

--The Pope (Innocent III) might have called for the Crusade, but he withdrew his support and excommunicated the Crusaders long before they reached Constantinople. You see, they had already sacked another city which was under Papal protection.

--After the Crusaders had been excommunicated, they had actually been hired as mercenaries by a claimant to the imperial thrown of Byzantium to place him in power.

--After they placed the new emperor (Alexius IV) on his thrown, the new ruler of Byzantium broke his deal, paying the newly excommunicated mercenaries only half the bounty promised them and refusing to join them on the campaign they still hoped (so optimistically!) to stage in the Holy Land.

--That's when they sacked Constantinople.

Now, it isn't like that makes it all better. But it does make it clear that what these guys did was not done in the name of the Church.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sparks between the Vatican and Israel

Sorry for my lack of recent posts. I've been busy.

In Drudge, today. I saw a story titled Vatican Denounces Some Israeli Retaliation. Not good, although it may be overblown.

First off, this is the same Vatican that clearly denounced the Iraq War. In general, they denounce anything that involves killing people.

Second, the denunciation was implied, not official. It was part of a reply to a complaint by Israeli diplomats for not including a recent terror attack on Israel in a statement condemning bombings in Egypt, Britain, Iraq, etc. Specifically, the Vatican press office said: "It's not always possible to immediately follow every attack against Israel with a public statement of condemnation... for various reasons, among them the fact that the attacks against Israel sometimes were followed by immediate Israeli reactions not always compatible with the rules of international law."

According to the AP report, this "had an unusually blistering tone for the Holy See."

If that is blistering, then you can blister me all day and I'd never notice it.

I think the AP is trying to stir up trouble in a delicate area.

Now, I wouldn't have made the same call the Vatican did. If the Israelis felt left out, the Vatican should have apologized, condemned the terror attacks against that country, and kept the issue of retaliation wholly separate. Failing that, they should have remained silent. The actions of terrorists fall under a different category from the actions of a democratic government.

I'd say that what came out of the press office was clumsy, maybe even petty. But no more anti-Israeli than was the Vatican's specific and official condemnation of the Iraq War anti-American.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

That didn't take to long

At Relapsed Catholic I found a piece discussing how opponents of Judge John Roberts appointment to the Supreme Court are already trying to use his Catholicism against him. I predicted this would happen yesterday. God bless the Catholic League for being on the spot.