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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More Madness in L.A.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has just ordained a self-avowed homosexual to the permanent deaconate. Whether or not this person, Deacon Eric Stoltz, is sexually active is unknown. However, Stoltz is open and aggressive in promoting homosexual rights from the pulpit.

Is this a test of B16's willingness to crack down on Church modernists; or merely a sign of Mahony's contempt for Church teachings and discipline?

The more I hear about him, the better Roberts sounds

My initial take on President Bush's Supreme Court nominee can be found on my other site here.

A good background, including John Roberts' Catholicism and pro-life connections can be found here.

Promising discussion threads can be found here and here.

One group that just can't wait to start smearing him is discussed here.

My take: the Dems will fight him all-out, and they will use every trick in the book, both clean and dirty. He will be called all sorts of names and accused of all sorts of crimes. People will appear from nowhere claiming he performed wicked acts either with them or upon them. Why? Because Roe v. Wade is to the Democrats what slavery once was to the South. Abortion is the single issue, dirty though it is, upon which all the influence of the Democratic Party rests-- in which the Dems are wholly invested-- around which every other issue revolves, either directly or indirectly.

Prediction: if Roberts is confirmed, and if some nut doesn't shoot him before he is sworn in, there will be seccession talk in the blue states. That's how big this will be to the Democrats, the liberals, and the secularits.

Other factors: libertarian-conservatives (a.k.a. South Park Conservatives) will be sorely tempted to abandon the president with regard to Roberts. So will the "moderate Republicans". So what gives us hope? South Park types have no representation in the Senate. Also, "Moderate Republicans" (McCain, Voinovich and friends-- and Oh, how I like using quotation marks around the word "moderate".) are still suffering such a backlash from their appeals court compromise that McCain pledged about at least a week ago to support the president on his Supreme Court nominee, no matter who the person may be.

But here is the truly scary part: the nomination will hinge on whether McCain keeps his promise.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An interesting Zenit piece on terrorism

I take a look at it on my other site here.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The dilemma of Mormonism

Disclaimer: I like Mormons. Collectively, they are probably some of the best people I know. My brother-in-law is Mormon. He is also a good husband and father with well educated, polite children whose prospects for worldly success are rather good. In the service, my second in command was a Mormon, a fine officer, and a gentleman. In college, my favorite professor was a Mormon (teaching anthropology at Notre Dame, no less). So don't get me wrong, I think Mormons are great people.

Having said that, they have one seriously weird religion.

At Relapsed Catholic, this morning, I picked up on a story of an Australian geneticist (who happens to be Mormon) in trouble with the LDS for publishing a book which outlines the genetic impossibility of the Mormon account of American Indians being descendents of the lost tribe of Israel.

Most Mormons are well educated. The familial and church discipline which are part of Mormon culture tends to result in worldly success and high educational standards in that community, and more especially among Mormons living outside Utah who (I suspect) feel the need to prove themselves "normal" while living among a large, secular population which views LDS beliefs and practices in a vague sense of disdain.

My point is this: most Mormons are smart enough to know that there is no way the book of Mormon can stand up to scientific, linguistic, historical, or even literary analysis. And yet they are willing to suspend their disbelief to remain in good standing with their church.


My theory is that most Mormons like the value set which promotes a wholesome family life, are willing to accept the theology of multiple deities (which makes a certain sort of sense, as long as you ignore the way it flatly contradicts everything in the Bible), and are willing to simply ignore the bogus salvation history.

I don't mean they contradict, argue against, or create scandal about their salvation history. They simply think about and talk about it as little as possible. That's the reason the Australian geneticist in the story above is getting the hammer dropped on him. He might have had the intellectual courage to say: "This belief can't be so." But he did not have the ability which most Mormons have developed of ignoring their temptation to pry into things and simply leave the topic alone.

This sounds dysfunctional, but it isn't. It is no more dysfunctional than teens who ignore the cursing of their peers or the idiosyncrasies of their siblings so they can be accepted in their group. It is no different from the laborer in the non-union shop who ignores the absence of collective bargaining because the pension plan he anticipates really is a good one. It's no different from the wife who ignores her husband's weekend withdrawal because he really does bust his hump all week long. These situations are all far from perfect, but they are tolerable and worth the reward.

To Mormons, the odd belief system and unbelievable salvation history are tolerable because they have a church home which puts families first and, with it's mission program, challenges every single LDS member right down to his toenails.

Catholics take note. The sex abuse scandal has been bad. If we want to participate in the recovery of our Church, we need to think about promoting the authentic, Christian family and challenging ourselves and each other to get out of our comfort zones-- to invest our egos in our Church.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A good problem to have

Sometime during the wacky years following Vatican II, it became very chic to start using "earthen vessels" -- ceramic chalices and patens -- to hold the Blessed Sacrament during Mass. This practice, in addition to being ugly as sin and subversive to the doctrine of Transubstantiation, were never really a condoned practice.

About two years ago, the Vatican finally coaxed the bishops in the United States to uniformly return to the use of sacred vessels made from gold and silver.

Now, parishes are forced to deal with the very real problem of what to do with the ceramic and glass vessels.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Well, at least I resemble a Catholic

I found a neat quiz at Quiz Farm today. I answered a set of questions and was told which theologian I most closely resemble. I scored as St. Anselm.

St. Anselm was, to quote Quiz Farm: "the outstanding theologian of the medieval period. He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due." According to Quiz Farm, I should read "Cur Deus Homo".



Karl Barth




John Calvin


Jonathan Edwards


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Martin Luther


J├╝rgen Moltmann


Paul Tillich


Charles Finney


Which theologian are you?
created with

The Vatican re-enters the evolution fray

Secular humanists are calling down thunder upon Cardinal Christoph Schonborn and his boss, B16, for Schonborn's reiteration of the Catholic interpretation of evolution, specifically, that the process is guided at every step by the hand of God.

Andrew Sullivan hyperventilates that he "...expected reactionary radicalism from Benedict. But this kind of stupidity?" Elsewhere, he alternates between charging that Benedict wants to "rush back to the Middle Ages" and "return to the 19th century"

Sigh. The least Sullivan could do would be to choose a century to accuse Benedict of living in and then stick to it.

Benedict hasn't taken the Church back one month, let alone half a millennium. Schonborn's statement, presumably made with papal approval, merely reiterates some of the points made by Pius XII in Humani Generis and endorsed by every pontiff thereafter, including JPII.

Sullivan's chief complaint is that Benedict refuses, as head of the Catholic Church on earth, to be an agnostic like Sullivan himself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

No, fictional witchcraft doesn't cut it either.

For years, Christians have argued back and forth about Harry Potter.

Some say, "It encourages reading."

Others say, "It encourages involvement in the occult."

It tend to side with the others. I've never read any Harry Potter books. I haven't let my kids read them, either. In my mind, it creates a sense of moral confusion for Christian children to have heroes, fictional or not, who practice arts specifically condemned both by the Bible and by the Church.

"John: how can you condemn a book you've never read?"

I rely on authorities whom my experience tells me I can trust on this matter. Besides, would I need to read the Koran before saying that it, too, contradicted Christian teaching?

"You watched Bewitched when you were a kid. Didn't you? Did your parents mind?"

I did watch that show. So did my parents. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe that was part of the cultural desensitizing which eventually led to the widespread practice of the occult in our neo-pagan culture.

"John, you're being a prude."

On this issue: yes. And, as it happens, so is the Pope.

For more on the concept of the moral confusion created by modern children's literature, I recommend the book: A Landscape with Dragons: the Battle for your Child's Mind, by Michael O'Brien. For a briefer version of the theme explored in O'Brien's book, try his essay here.

Monday, July 11, 2005

On the Purpose of Boycotts

Terry Mattingly just published an interesting story on the question of whether the great Southern Baptist/Disney boycott ever really accomplished anything.

I tend to side with the Baptists on this one. Sure, the boycott did just about nothing to hurt Disney economically. And there is no evidence that Disney has altered its policies one bit. Indeed, the boycott might have boosted the Magic Kingdom's profits just a little bit by helping them loosen the "strictly for kids" image which may have hampered the entertainment giant for years.

At the same time, the boycott played a major role in helping me realize that when it comes to children's' entertainment, I just can't trust anyone. That is, the boycott was an effective educational tool for other people-- mostly Christians-- who have been trying to preserve traditional values in this pornographic era we live in. I never took part in the boycott. But because of it, I now prescreen even Disney videos before I let my children watch them. Further, it is through the process of explaining to my children why there are certain videos-- even Disney videos-- that they can't watch, that they have learned the important lesson that just because something is on television does not necessarily mean that it is good or true.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Taking a Break

I'll resume blogging on Monday, July 11.