January 31, 2011

The Beatitudes

Fra Angelico, Sermon on the Mount. San Marco Church, Florence
Yesterday’s Gospel was the opening section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:1-12), which is called the Beatitudes, that is, the  characters and situations which our Lord emphatically pronounced blessed:

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Are there even words to describe this? Don’t think so. But if you’re looking for some insight into this whole wonderful thing, then go here and read what Fr. Philip Neri Powell has to say:

Think for a moment about what it is that we are asked to believe. We are asked to believe that there is an all-good, all-knowing, ever-present god who loves us. Yet, evil seems to flourish. Disease, violence, unimaginable suffering, natural and man-made disasters. We are asked to believe that this god took on human flesh and sacrificed himself for our benefit. We are asked to restrain perfectly naturally passions and desires so that we might imitate the goodness of this god. Perhaps the most outrageous demand for modern Americans is that we are asked to sacrifice in order that others might flourish, to set aside our own needs, our own wants and work diligently for the benefit of strangers and for our enemies. What sane person helps those who would see him dead? But therein lies blessedness. That's not just a promise made by a crackpot preacher 2,000 years ago. That's a promise made by the Word made flesh, God Himself, a promise already fulfilled and waiting for us to claim it.

Living in this world as faithful Catholics is often an exercise contradiction and opposition. We stand against a culture that promotes death as a solution to unwanted pregnancies, terminal illnesses, and inconvenient suffering. We stand against a culture that promotes the goodness of satisfying every base desire regardless of the consequences. A culture that rewards lying, self-promotion, greed, the prestige of wealth and celebrity. But while standing against the tides of this world, we stand with the blessed: the poor, the diseased, the oppressed, those persecuted for the faith. We stand with self-sacrifice, unconditional mercy, boundless hope, and the promise of freedom from the slavery of sin. Most importantly: we do not stand alone, as individuals but together as one Body in Christ. With all of our weirdnesses, all of our outrageous demands, with all of our pungent and offensive beliefs, we are of one heart, one mind, and we give God thanks and praise with one voice. Our hope lies in a single truth. Though we are engaged on the frontlines of a spiritual battle, the war has already been won. God is victorious. Our work—as His faithful sons and daughters—is to make sure that His victory shines through everything we do, everything we think, everything we say. As living, breathing testimonies to His redeeming love, we stand—as weird and offensive as we can sometimes be—we stand always as witnesses for His will that all of creation return to Him, whole, pure, perfected in Christ.

January 30, 2011

Death Was a Small Price to Pay

The Dalai Lama fleeing from Tibet
with his entourage on horse in 1959
Tibet is, in the West, a story of a weak nation taken over and occupied by a more powerful one. But “this is the American theme, the theme of 1776, when we threw off our own band of occupiers,” says Stephan Talty, the author of Escape from the Land of Snow (see my previous post). That’s why any American, he continues, can understand Tibet in a phrase. And perhaps this is also why—unlike their Commander-in-Chief, if I may say so—many Americans do care about Tibet. But patriotism and civic virtue seem to be less fundamental than one might think at first sight…

Stephan Talty on his own book at The Huffington Post:

When I went to Lhasa in 2009 to research my book on the Dalai Lama's escape to freedom, I expected to be meet patriots almost exclusively. But I was wrong. The story of modern Tibet is in many ways the story not of nationalism but of Buddhism.
What struck me in interviewing survivors of the uprising was its religious undercurrent: If His Holiness had been a secular leader only, most likely Tibetans wouldn't have raised a finger to protect him. Many of them distrusted the aristocrats and bureaucrats who ran the government -- they were seen (correctly) as corrupt allies of the Chinese. It was what the Dalai Lama meant to them as people of faith that caused ordinary Tibetans to risk their lives.

Teenagers who had never been particularly patriotic ran to the Norbulingka, His Holiness's summer palace, to act as human barriers. Older men opened their shirts as they stood in front of the palace gates, daring the Chinese soldiers to gun them down. Monks in the colleges grabbed rifles, dooming themselves to a reincarnation as a lesser being for violating the Buddhist maxim against violence.

None of these people had taken up arms in 1950 when the Chinese invaded their borders. Nationalism didn't rouse a majority of them to fight. The notion of Tibet was too diffuse. Many Tibetans in 1950 didn't even speak the same language; each region had its own dialect that made it impossible to communicate with someone from another province. The only thing that united the far-flung populations was their love of tsampa, the roasted barley that is a staple across the country. And the figure of the Dalai Lama.

I spoke to monks who now live in tiny rooms in the hills of Dharamsala, India, and many told me the same thing: In fighting the Chinese in Lhasa, they believed they were protecting His Holiness as he fled toward freedom. They believed if he was captured, the dharma would be irreparably harmed. Death was a small price to pay if they stop that from happening.

January 29, 2011

Obama Channeling Reagan? Hardly

The story that he is modeling his presidency on Ronald Reagan’s is “one of the least credible tales to come out of President Obama’s recent ideological makeover,” says the Washington Times.  And here is a handy list to remind people how little these two men have in common. Funny but very serious.

Thanks: Sandra Kennedy Schimmelpfennig.

January 28, 2011

The Loneliness of Silvio B.

Ok, the character may not be one of your favorites—and as for me I have already expressed many times both my personal dislike and my “political acquittal,” so to speak. But this piece by Beppe Severgnini is worth reading:

Some men need an audience just to be able to wake up in the morning. If they can’t find it, they buy it. There is a little of Tiberius (as described by Suetonius) and a little of Hugh Hefner (immortalised by Playboy) in Silvio B. Thus are empires undone, in between parties, debauchery and attempts to stop time, with tricks that time has taught us to recognise. Family and professional success are never enough. What is wanting are cheerleaders, admirers, singers and stages both spectacular and, above all, melancholy. For it is his role to banish melancholia.

Read the rest. See also, by the same author, Berlusconi Explained to Posterity and Friends Abroad (this is an English translation of a chapter from the recently published La pancia degli italiani. Berlusconi spiegato ai posteri).

January 27, 2011

Chesterton on Dogma

A collection of forty-nine essays which first appeared in June of 1910, G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With The World is still a fresh and fascinating book, whose message is as applicable in today’s world as, if not more than, when it was first published, as if Chesterton had foreseen some of the issues that arose later in our history.

In this book, as in many other of his writings, with his often paradoxical prose he forces the reader to consider problems from an entirely different perspective. Take the following excerpt, for example, in which he reverses the concept of “dogma” as it is thought of in our modern time of scientific enlightenment. In Western culture dogma is a dirty word, and to call a person dogmatic means, to say the least, he has a narrow, closed mind. To the point that even among us believers there is often a certain reluctance to use that term to describe our beliefs about God, faith and religion.

“Some people,” he wrote, “do not like the word ‘dogma.’ Fortunately they are free, and there is an alternative for them. There are two things, and two things only, for the human mind, a dogma and a prejudice.” By the way, Martin Heidegger couldn’t have said it better himself… But let’s continue with the excerpt from the book:

The Middle Ages were a rational epoch, an age of doctrine. Our age is, at its best, a poetical epoch, an age of prejudice. A doctrine is a definite point; a prejudice is a direction. That an ox may be eaten, while a man should not be eaten, is a doctrine.
That as little as possible of anything should be eaten is a prejudice; which is also sometimes called an ideal.

Now a direction is always far more fantastic than a plan. I would rather have the most archaic map of the road to Brighton than a general recommendation to turn to the left. Straight lines that are not parallel must meet at last; but curves may recoil forever. A pair of lovers might walk along the frontier of France and Germany, one on the one side and one on the other, so long as they were not vaguely told to keep away from each other. And this is a strictly true parable of the effect of our modern vagueness in losing and separating men as in a mist.

It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men—so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell's chapel. "I say God is One," and "I say God is One but also Three," that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship. But our age would turn these creeds into tendencies.

It would tell the Trinitarian to follow multiplicity as such (because it was his "temperament"), and he would turn up later with three hundred and thirty-three persons in the Trinity.

Meanwhile, it would turn the Moslem into a Monist: a frightful intellectual fall. It would force that previously healthy person not only to admit that there was one God, but to admit that there was nobody else. When each had, for a long enough period, followed the gleam of his own nose (like the Dong) they would appear again; the Christian a Polytheist, and the Moslem a Panegoist, both quite mad, and far more unfit to understand each other than before.

It is exactly the same with politics. Our political vagueness divides men, it does not fuse them. Men will walk along the edge of a chasm in clear weather, but they will edge miles away from it in a fog. So a Tory can walk up to the very edge of Socialism, if he knows what is Socialism. But if he is told that Socialism is a spirit, a sublime atmosphere, a noble, indefinable tendency, why, then he keeps out of its way; and quite right too. One can meet an assertion with argument; but healthy bigotry is the only way in which one can meet a tendency. I am told that the Japanese method of wrestling consists not of suddenly pressing, but of suddenly giving way. This is one of my many reasons for disliking the Japanese civilization. To use surrender as a weapon is the very worst spirit of the East. But certainly there is no force so hard to fight as the force which it is easy to conquer; the force that always yields and then returns. Such is the force of a great impersonal prejudice, such as possesses the modern world on so many points. Against this there is no weapon at all except a rigid and steely sanity, a resolution not to listen to fads, and not to be infected by diseases.

A boundary unites. A thoughtful and thought provoking passage. This theological hand-holding with Islam might seem surprising, considering how wonderfully Chesterton explained the abyssal difference between Islam and Christendom, between “the great creed born in the desert” and a religion whose believers have been nurtured by Greek rationality—this difference, according to Chesterton, is also why, compared with Christendom, the world of Islam had become poor, weak, and ignorant. Yet, notwithstanding the differences between the two, what unites them is greater than what divides them. That’s why it’s so true that “Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell’s chapel.” That’s what I call freedom of thought, that is to say freedom from prejudice.

What’s Wrong With The World has been recently translated into Italian and published (e-book edition) by the small press publisher Rubbettino. The above excerpt was printed some days ago in the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, and that’s how I learned about it. Thanks: Il Blog dell'uomo Vivo.

January 26, 2011

How Liberal Journalists Think

An aspiring liberal journalist tries to explain why she thinks the Tea Party is dangerous, or the liberal mindset in one easy video. Via Ace of Spades HQ.

January 24, 2011

Escape from the Land of Snow (Updated)

The strangest fact about the Dalai Lama’s strange life, writes Jeffrey Paines in his Washington Post review of four books on the subject, is that it remains largely untold. “Most books promoted as biographies of him hardly qualify as such and are indeed no more revealing than Testu Saiwai’s recent manga, or cartoon, biography. That’s why, according to the reviewer, of the recent attempts to provide insight into the Dalai Lama, the most effective one is Stephan Talty’s Escape from the Land of Snows.

After all “Talty has actually written three books in one: a biography of the young Dalai Lama up to his 24th year (1959), a history of recent Tibet and a hair-raising tale of daring and escape. The last of these makes Talty’s story come alive—and made the Dalai Lama the man he is today.“

Not that the other books aren’t worth reading, but, you know, time is a tyrant and you can’t read everything you’d like to read. However, the other books are The Essence of Happiness (and the best-selling The Art of Happiness from which it is excerpted), and My Spiritual Journey—unfortunately the Dalai Lama did not write, or apparently read, any of the first, nor of the second, while the third has a misleading title, for it is no autobiography...


UPDATE January 30, 12:30 pm

The author of Escape from the Land of Snow on his own book at The Huffington Post.

January 20, 2011

Top 10 Composers

Some candidates: above, from left, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Mozart, Schoenberg, Haydn, and Stravinsky; below, from left, Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, Handel, Bach, and Debussy.

Anthony Tommasini
Are you a fan of classical music? Then, don’t miss in the New York Times these days the double opportunity to take part in the Top 10 Composers poll—at the present stage Beethoven, Bach and Mozart are neck and neck, boasting between 10 and 11 thousand votes each—and to explore, with classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, the qualities that make a composer great in a series of videos and ArtsBeat posts. In today’s video Tommasini masterfully explains the importance of Bach and his influence on classical music to come. Unmissable.

Apropos of Bach, here is how Tommasini introduces the Master of Baroque:

He would probably be the consensus choice among thinking musicians for the top spot. But why?
Bach came at an intersection in music history. He was born in 1685, when the Baroque period was thriving yet vestiges of the Renaissance age of polyphonic music were lingering. By the time he died in 1750, opera, for which he had no interest, was a century and a half old, music was getting hipper, and elegantly decorous styles like the Rococo were widespread. Even some of Bach’s sons, who revered their father, thought he was a little old-fashioned as a composer. Bach did not care how he was perceived. He was too busy being a working musician, a composer who wrote pieces to order for whatever his job at the time, whether in a church or a court, demanded.
Bach stood right in the middle of this historical crossroads. His music is an astonishing synthesis of what had been and what was coming. Elements of the high polyphonic tradition run through his work. Yet the era of simpler Baroque textures and clear, strong tonal harmony had arrived.
In just the collected Bach chorales — the four-part, hymnlike settings of church tunes that crop up in his oratorios and cantatas — he codified everything that was known about harmony and anticipated the future, including wayward chromatic harmony à la Wagner. In the opening measures of the chorale “Es Ist Genug,” the one Berg incorporated into his final work, the Violin Concerto, Bach even anticipates atonality.
The 48 preludes and fugues of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” are the ultimate exploration of counterpoint in all its complexities, yet also a dazzling collection of quirky, sublime and sometimes showy character pieces.
What composer before or after Bach could have written the opening Kyrie of the Mass in B minor? It begins with choral cries of “Lord have mercy” (“Kyrie eleison”) as harmonically wrenching as anything in Brahms or Mahler. Then, with transfixing calm, the winding Kyrie theme is heard in the orchestra over a steady tread of a bass, as the inner voices build up. One by one the sections of the chorus enter, until Bach has constructed an intricate web of counterpoint at once intimidating in its complexity and consolingly beautiful.

Via normblog

January 19, 2011

Liberty's Lifeline

Though I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I guess Liberty’s Lifeline: Engaging the Grassroots Movement to Stop the Erosion of American Freedoms is one of those books that readers will either love or hate, according to their political orientation and whether or not they think Obama is doing a terrific job—well, there must be someone, somewhere, who still believes he is the best for the job, but if this is your case, then you might not want to read any further than this introduction…

A lifelong resident of a blue state such as New York, Bill O’Connell, the Author of this book, is also a very influential blogger and the owner of Liberty’s Lifeline, a great blog I recently discovered, and that’s how I heard about the book and why I’m posting this. The book is already available for Kindle at amazon.com, while the hardcover version is coming out in April. The title is highly descriptive of the contents of this book, but to get a clearer idea of what it is all about, here is what will appear on the jacket back cover (emailed to me by the Author. Thanks, Bill!) :

In a country of over 300 million people, how can you make your voice heard? Most US citizens consider themselves powerless when it comes to making a difference in political issues, but in this book, Bill O’Connell describes how you can stop sitting on the sidelines and step into the arena.
From the housing crisis to health care, from taxes to terrorism, O’Connell offers his plan for restoring America back to the country our founding fathers fought so hard to create. O’Connell challenges readers with tough questions, building his case with facts and escaping the trap of name-calling. He also offers concrete steps that you can take to effect real change in Washington. Now is the time for Americans to work together to take back a government that is quickly becoming ‘of, by, and for the bureaucrats.’

January 18, 2011

In One Word, It’s “Boccaccesco”

Min. from Boccaccio, De Casibus Virorum Illustrium, Paris, 1467.
Glasgow University Library Special Collections. 
The right word in Italian is “boccaccesco,” which derives from the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio (= in the style of Boccaccio), and roughly means “licentious,” “lascivious.” But this is not a literary post. Instead it is a brief note on today’s Italian politics. Yes, all this Berlusconi stuff is getting more and more boccaccesco—and silly, crazy, grotesque, and you name it. Nevertheless, to be honest and straightforward, I think that politics is politics, not moralism or good taste or “esthetic sense.” I repeat I don’t want to be hypocrite about that, nor, on the other hand, would I want to play the cynic and to behave the way Franklin D. Roosevelt did when in 1939 supposedly remarked that “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch…” But then again, since there is no alternative to Berlusconi (please, see my previous posts on the subject), paraphrasing FDR I’d put it this way: Berlusconi may be … whatever you want, but he’s our … whatever you want.

January 16, 2011

“The Glory of American Discourse”

Flags at half staff In Washington after Tucson shooting

What’s the lesson of the heated debate—often rancorous and occasionally defamatory—that ensued over the Tucson shooting? Well, that there is much to admire about political discourse in the U.S. And this is precisely what Americans take for granted, but also the first thing that strikes a visitor:

[T]his is a country where fundamental questions are constantly aired, argued and litigated over - the size of government and the limits of its power, the meaning of equality under the law, when life begins, you name it. It is hardly surprising in this protean atmosphere that there should be a good deal of rancour. But it's unique and invigorating too. It is in fact a breath of fresh air after the soggy centralist consensus that usually prevails in Britain and much of Western Europe.

Rather well said, I’d say. Read the rest.

January 11, 2011

In a World Turned Upside Down

Was the reading of the U.S. Constitution in the House the other day “uncalled for?” Well, yes, of course it was, in a world turned upside down … [Thanks: Sandra Kennedy Schimmelpfennig]

January 9, 2011

“He Must Increase, I Must Decrease”

Giotto, The Baptism of the Lord, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This brings to an end the blissful season of Christmas. The Church recalls Our Lord’s second manifestation or epiphany—the first is the adoration of Jesus by the Magi, and the third is the changing water into wine at Cana of Galilee—which occurred just when He was baptized by John, the Precursor, in the Jordan River. Here is a little bit of help—from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf—to understand the underlying meaning of what we celebrate today:

John the Baptist helped us into our Advent preparation for Christmas by reminding us to straighten the paths of our lives for the coming of the Lord. We fittingly meet the Baptist again at the end of the Christmas season. He announced the coming of the Messiah and now he points us to the Messiah. This was when the Baptist told his disciples to follow Jesus, saying “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

In His baptism by John, Christ foreshadows what He would do later: He descends into the waters of the Jordan (death and the tomb) and rises out of them again (resurrection).
Christ had no need of John’s baptism. Being perfect and sinless Jesus had nothing to repent. Instead, His submission to baptism shows all humanity the way to our salvation. Christ’s baptism reveals how we must die and rise to our sins in the sacrament He instituted at the Jordan. By receiving John’s baptism the Lord was solemnly revealed to be divine by the Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit, and He sanctified the waters for our baptisms. Baptism in the starting point of all saving and actual graces we receive as Christians. Baptism confers on us an indelible character, almost like a branding mark of Christ’s Lordship in and over us. This is the foundation of our spiritual lives. Christ’s humility orients us in the right direction for our lives as baptized Christians.

He must increase, we must decrease.

January 8, 2011

What's New In Italy For 2011 (Updated)

You won’t believe it, but visitors to Italy will find less anarchy in 2011. That’s what you’ll discover by reading this report in MSNBC Today Show. Take Rome, for example, where the Colosseum is being cleaned from top to bottom and given permanent lighting.

Or take Florence, where the streets around the Duomo have recently been pedestrianized, and the Uffizi Gallery is undergoing a renovation, scheduled for completion this summer, while the Galileo Science Museum will open after significant renovation later this spring. Or take Pisa, where the Leaning Tower is now open late on summer evenings, making it possible to tour the landmark and survey the Field of Miracles from above after dark, and Milan, where the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana will host an important special exhibit from now through 2015, displaying 22 pages from Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus, or Venice with its new museum, The Punta della Dogana, housed in the former Customs House at the end of the Canal Grande

An uplifting reading—always welcome!—in time of scarcity.


UPDATE - January 9, 2011, 9:00 am

An article in the New York Times has selected Milan, where “a reborn cathedral joins fashion-forward galleries and hotels,” as the number five place to go in 2011. According to Ingrid K. Williams, “Compared with the Italian troika of tourism—Florence, Venice and Rome—Milan is often an afterthought. But with novel, eye-catching design emerging around the city, that should soon change.”

A Man's Best Friend

The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only be may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

~ George Graham Vest (1830-1904), United States Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903. Closing arguments from the trial in which damages were sought for the killing of a dog named Old Drum on Oct 18, 1869 [Thanks: Sandra Kennedy Schimmelpfennig]

January 7, 2011

Constitutionalism, or Why America Is an Exception

There was a highly symbolic moment at the opening of the House of Representatives yesterday with a reading of the Constitution. This had never been done before. Why? Perhaps, as Charles Krauthammer puts it in today’s Washington Post, for the simple reason that it had never been so needed. And as a matter of fact, after fighting for decades over “who owns the American flag,” now the core of the debate between Democrats and Republicans is over “who owns the Constitution.” A healthier debate, says Krauthammer, because flags might be seen as pure symbolism, while Constitution defines concretely the nature of a country’s social contract.

Americans are in the midst of a great national debate over the power, scope and reach of the government established by that document. The debate was sparked by the current administration's bold push for government expansion - a massive fiscal stimulus, Obamacare, financial regulation and various attempts at controlling the energy economy. This engendered a popular reaction, identified with the Tea Party but in reality far more widespread, calling for a more restrictive vision of government more consistent with the Founders' intent.

Call it constitutionalism.

Constitutionalism. Namely, “the intellectual counterpart and spiritual progeny” of the originalism movement in jurisprudence. And, like the latter, the former will require careful and thoughtful development. “But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.”

A great, “pedagogical” piece, indeed. It reminds me a quote by Margaret Thatcher, “Europe was created by history, America was created by philosophy.” What a profoundly true statement! Both America and the American Constitution are a philosophy, no matter if that philosophy itself has deep European roots. Call it American exceptionalism or whatever else, it’s something to preserve and protect, and something to fight for, too. [Thanks: Candice Miles]

January 6, 2011

A Watershed Event in the History of Christianity

The attack of a suicide bomber that took place in Alexandria, Egypt, as worshippers were gathering for a service shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve marks a watershed event in the history of Christianity. And this not so much for its brutality or its catastrophic effects—21 people killed—as for the fact that this time, unlike the many other times, the international news media coverage is quite good and comprehensive. This is, at any rate, the biggest news, also because, unfortunately, the murders of Christians are no news at all (see here for a brief summary of how things stand in this respect).

The other news is that, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Egyptian analysts said that al-Qaeda, which has had little impact locally in the past, appeared to be “announcing its presence.” Last, but not least, while preparing for their traditional Christmas on Friday, Coptic Christians worldwide are on high alert and their churches in Europe and Egypt are receiving extra law enforcement protection. Also highly alarming, more precisely, is that

[t]he Mujahidin Network has threatened more attacks against Christian Copts in Egypt. The warning was addresses directly at the Copt Pope Shenouda III, announcing an “imminent attack.” Threats were published on the ‘al-Shumukh’ website, the same on which on December 2nd a list of 50 targeted Coptic churches had been published, including the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria attacked on New Year’s Eve.

Which is also no surprise, since Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar University, after condemning on Saturday the attack to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria—he spoke of “atrocious act prohibited by Islam”—had the nerve to criticize on Sunday the call of Pope Benedict XVI to the world leaders to protect the Christians, saying it was an “unacceptable interference” in Egyptian affairs—something one couldn’t ever imagine, beyond any level of tolerance. This man seems, or pretends, not to know what he should be well aware of, namely, that—as a recent study (pdf) by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows—64 nations and nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people have high or very high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities, and that the Middle East-North Africa is the part of the world which has the highest government and social restrictions on religion. The worst nations include Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, and Pakistan. And it is no accident that four of the five are Islamic.

Yet, as I said above, a new awareness is emerging. Well, more in the media than at a policy level, but one-third of something is better than a half of nothing. Those 21 victims won’t be the last, but their sacrifice was not in vain.

January 5, 2011

If California Leads The Way

Victor Davis Hanson
Economist and political commentator Thomas Sowell has a very good commentary for the quietly chilling (and somewhat long) article in the NRO by historian and columnist Victor Davis Hanson about the disturbing decline of rural California. An article which “ought to be read by every American who is concerned about where this country is headed,” because “California is leading the way, but what is happening in California is happening elsewhere.”