The Gospel Truth

Obama Agonistes

December 21, 2015
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President Obama fancies himself a man of superior intellect and profound introspection. In reality an opaque inability to clearly detail one’s thinking is a poor excuse for profundity.

The president struggles to explain things because his mind-set in stuck in a worldview that has been discredited by several generations of history.

This has been especially true of America’s failure to successfully address the terrorist threat that has penetrated our porous borders and catapulted over our feckless defenses.

Though it would have been more appropriate for him to have waited another day, the president explained his strategy…again… in a short speech that few people watched on December 6th,

In a post-speech essay for the WSJ, columnist Bret Stephen assumed the unenviable task of trying to fathom the inscrutable mind of Barack Obama.

Stephens christened his article: Fighting Terror by Self-Reproach

A few excerpts serve as a synopsis of his findings.

He does not make a case; he preaches a moral.  He mistakes repetition for persuasion. He does not struggle with the direction, details or trade-offs of policy because he’s figured them all out.

His policies never fail; it is our patience that he finds wanting…It is for us to see what has long been obvious to him, like an exasperated teacher explaining simple concepts to a classroom full of morons.

Obama’s steadfast denial of any connection with anyone or thing related Islam is curious, if only for its close-minded ignorance of the facts, staring him right in the eye.

His concrete stance does not answer any questions but does raise a litany of such that beg for answers since our national survival might depend upon it.

The President’s struggles don’t resemble anything that would favor the country but revolve around his self-image and his twisted perception of a historical legacy.

Just what is Obama’s deep felt connection with Islam?  Is it strictly political or do the waters of influence run much deeper?

He shows no such affiliation or interest in any other religious minority.  In truth he has shown a deep-seated disdain for all religious, save Islam.  I think he would even throw feminists, unions and homosexuals under the proverbial bus than he would any one Muslim.

Despite all of the above the American people, including millions of Republicans remain pathologically uncurious about this mysterious religion that has the heart of a faith and the soul of a politician.

Obama can share real blame.

George W, Bush’s ill-fated attempt to force democracy on Iraq is symptomatic of a blatant ignorance that undermines all our Middle Eastern policies.  We should never have removed Saddam Hussein, nor any of the other buffer dictators that we once allowed to rule their people, albeit it with a bloody hand.

Look what their removal has wrought! Nothing less than international movement to accelerate a religious Apocalypse.

Obama finished the job by tearing after all the remaining dictators in North Africa so that the violent strain of Muslim Jihad is streaking through a good part of the world.

The front pages of our newspapers chronicle progress that may soon rival that of Islam in the 7th-8th centuries when its warriors were knocking on the gates of Paris.

Another important question no one asks is just what is radical Islam?

It prompts its own corollary as well. How can we win a war if we are not certain of who or what is our enemy?

A good place to start would be with the difference between Sunni and Shia.

Both Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith. The differences between these two main sub-groups within Islam initially stemmed not from spiritual differences, but political ones. Over the centuries, however, these political differences have spawned a number of varying practices and positions, which have come to carry a spiritual significance.

In the Middle East a potent mixture of religion and politics has sharpened the divide between Iran’s Shia government and the Gulf States, which have Sunni governments.

The Sunni-Shiite split is rooted in the question of who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad in leading Muslims after his death in 632.

Shiites say the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, was his rightful successor but he was cheated when authority went to those the Sunnis call the four “Rightfully Guided Caliphs” — Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and, finally, Ali.

Sunnis are the majority across the Islamic world. In the Middle East, Shiites have strong majorities in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain, with significant communities in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other parts of the Gulf.

More recently radical Islam has emanated from at least two identifiable sources— Wahhabism and the writings of Sayyid Qutb.

Wahhabism is a religious movement or branch of Sunni Islam. It has been variously described as “orthodox”, “ultraconservative”,” austere”, “fundamentalist”, “puritanical” and as an Islamic “reform movement” to restore “pure monotheistic worship” by scholars and advocates. It is named after an eighteenth-century preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792).

He started a revivalist movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Najd, advocating a purging of practices such as the popular “cult of saints”, and shrine and tomb visitation, widespread among Muslims, but which he considered idolatry, impurities and innovations in Islam. Wahhabis, aspire to “assimilate with the beliefs of the early Sunni Muslims”, specifically the first three generations known as the Salaf.

Sayyid Qutb picked up their mantle in the 1950s.   Born in 1906 he was an Egyptian author, educator, Islamic theorist, poet, and the leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966 he was convicted of plotting the assassination of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and was hanged.

During most of his life, Qutb’s inner circle mainly consisted of influential politicians, intellectuals, poets and literary figures, both of his age and of the preceding generation. By the mid-1940s, many of his writings were officially among the curricula of schools, colleges and universities.

Even though most of his observations and criticism were leveled at the Muslim world, Qutb is also known for his intense disapproval of the society and culture of the United States.

During a sojourn to the United States, ostensibly to study Western culture, Qutb was scandalized by the low social mores of the American people, especially its women. Over two years, he worked and studied at Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington, D.C. (one of the precursors to today’s University of the District of Columbia), Colorado State College for Education in Greeley, and Stanford University. He visited the major cities of the United States and spent time in Europe on his journey home.

On his return to Egypt, Qutb published The America that I Have Seen. He was critical of American abject materialism, individual freedoms, economic system, racism, brutal boxing matches, “poor” haircuts, superficiality in conversations and friendships, restrictions on divorce, enthusiasm for sports, lack of artistic feeling, “animal-like” mixing of the sexes (which “went on even in churches”), and strong support for the new Israeli state.

During a sojourn to the United States, ostensibly to study Western culture, Qutb was scandalized by the low social mores of the American people, especially its women. Over two years, he worked and studied at Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington, D.C. (one of the precursors to today’s University of the District of Columbia), Colorado State College for Education in Greeley, and Stanford University. He visited the major cities of the United States and spent time in Europe on his journey home.

On his return to Egypt, Qutb published The America that I Have Seen. He was critical of American abject materialism, individual freedoms, economic system, racism, brutal boxing matches, “poor” haircuts, superficiality in conversations and friendships, restrictions on divorce, enthusiasm for sports, lack of artistic feeling, “animal-like” mixing of the sexes (which “went on even in churches”), and strong support for the new Israeli state.

This American experience was for him a fine-tuning of his Islamic identity. He himself tells us on his boat trip over.

Should I travel to America, and become flimsy, and ordinary, like those who are satisfied with idle talk and sleep. Or should I distinguish myself with values and spirit. Is there other than Islam that I should be steadfast to in its character and hold on to its instructions, in this life amidst deviant chaos, and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures, and awful sins? I wanted to be the latter man.

Qutb noted with disapproval the sexuality of American women:

The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs—and she shows all this and does not hide it.

His experience in the U.S. is believed to have formed in part the impetus for his rejection of Western values and his move towards Islamism upon returning to Egypt. Resigning from the civil service, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1950s and became editor,

It is Qutb’s puritanical thinking that is housed within Moslem law or the Sharia, which would see the world as a Muslim Theocracy.

As a legal system, the Sharia law covers a very wide range of topics. While other legal codes deal primarily with public behavior, Sharia law covers public behavior, private behavior and private beliefs. Of all legal systems in the world today, Islam’s Sharia law is the most intrusive and strict, especially against women.

Whether radical jihadists do this by the barrel of a cut, the blade of a knife or a baby’s cradle this is the threat that looms largely over the world horizon.

As a member of the Muslim faith in Indonesia during his adolescent, surely Obama knows all these facts. Is this what explains his struggle to communicate his thinking to us? Or is it something even deeper and perhaps more sinister?

 


The Cross and the Flag

December 9, 2015
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In the November wake of 9/11, I bought a small lapel pin at the St. Patrick Cathedral gift shop in New York City. It depicted a small cross and an American flag, leaning on each other at a 45-degree angle. The pin beautifully linked these two revered symbols in a vital union that captured the country’s intense emotional feelings that had loudly resonated for those two past months.

Later that week I accidentally happened on the tail end of a Requiem Mass for one of the 332 fallen firemen of that terrible day in September. With his rich baritone voice, Officer Daniel Rodriguez, the Singing Policeman, was ending the Mass with his powerful rendition of Julia Ward Howe’s The Battle Hymn of the Republic.   His operatic marriage of cross and flag reinforced the underlying meaning of my pin.

Months later, I wore my pin to our parish’s men’s Bible study. One of our new members shook his head when he saw my pin. He said it made him feel uncomfortable to see a cross and a flag joined in such a public way. I was more stunned by his reaction. Had it been a crescent and a flag, I might have agreed with him. His objection did get me to question the moral relationship between faith and patriotism.

All Catholics should ask themselves whether they are American Catholics or Catholic Americans. The difference is much greater than mere semantics. The words are not hyphenated, like Irish-American or African-American where there is a pretense of equality not preference.

In American Catholic the primary word is the noun Catholic with its attendant modifier American. The noun designates one’s essence while the modifier merely describes accidentals, such as a smart or devout Catholic. Catholic American identifies American as the primary meaning, not Catholic. An American Catholic is one who generally will choose the cross of faith above his love of country while the Catholic American will usually hold the flag of man high over his Church when there is a deep moral conflict.

The real problem for Catholics revolves around many of the country’s democratic principles and institutions. Under the extra-constitutional rubric of separation of Church and state Catholics have been browbeaten into believing that they must stow their religion and more importantly, its moral teachings in their closets at home. For diehard secularists, religion is an article of clothing that should only be worn in the privacy of one’s home.

In the public square Catholics have also been conditioned to believe in free and absolute choice and equality for all without consequence. When applied to traditional morality, this absolute freedom to do whatever one wants, especially with regards to sexual morality, easily trumps Church teachings on chastity, modesty and the threat of moral confusion, or what the Church used to call scandal. I wonder just how many Catholic Americans parents think nothing of encouraging their daughters to use birth control, cohabit with their boyfriends and, if the situation dictates, abort their own grandchildren.

Another good example is the celebrated case of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged, though not terminally ill, woman in Florida many years ago. Catholics who sided with the civil rights of her husband in his insistence of her duty to die apparently left the Church’s teachings on suffering and the sanctity of life on the bathroom floor. The list is too long to address all the Catholic American politicians who consistently oppose Church teachings on a host of moral issues, especially abortion. The same may even be said of liberal priests, nuns and teachers whose public positions often create a feeling of moral confusion among their flocks.

Given the attitudes of so many Catholic Americans in the public eye, is it surprising that countless Catholics ignore and even actively oppose Church teachings on homosexual marriage, the ordination of women and embryonic stem-cell research?   In a society that has lost touch with its religious underpinnings, is it surprising that American Catholics have been pushed to the sidelines for their social intolerance?  Isn’t it high time American Catholics pushed packed back?

 


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Streets of Greed

December 9, 2015
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The constant turmoil on Wall Street is an apt subject for personal meditation. It should give most Americans pause to think seriously about their financial and material situations.   This kind of meditation is sure to include a consideration of the many economic, political accusations and controversies that cloud our futures.

When investments go bad and the economy periodically falters, taking with millions of lucrative jobs, the automatic reaction is to lay blame on someone in power’s doorstep. Since the 1940’s the easy targets for the public’s venom have been the fat cats on Wall Street.

The 1987 movie, Wall Street, added a provocative phrase to the American lexicon that provided an extra layer of support for these accusations during persistent days of economic and financial uncertainty. One of the supporting characters, Gordon Gekko, played admirably by Michael Douglas, said in all positive sincerity that greed is good. On its surface it seems like a selfish thing to say. But like most things in the Bible, its truth resides in the interpretation.

As one financial observer asked rhetorically: Is not ‘greed ‘ just another word for self-interest?   His comment was not far removed from Adam Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations that taught about the importance of the Divine Hand, which he defined as people’s self-interests coalescing to support an economic structure. Those blessed with clarity of vision can easily recognize God’s Providence in this.

When thinking about wealth from a Catholic perspective, the first thing that comes to mind is the biblical allusion to the Eye of the Needle. This story was treated in all the Synoptic Gospels, especially Matthew 19 23:24, where Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

There are a myriad of interpretations for this citation but I think they all share a common thread in that wealth brings with it a proportionate number of responsibilities that require greater attention and concern for our fellow man than we might expect to find from people who live in closely guarded gated communities.

For Catholics wealth is always a mixed blessing. By its nature wealth is purely neutral. It can be used for good or evil. The dangers of wealth revolve around its corresponding power. It can be used to build a hospital or an abortion clinic. It can be used to clothe the naked and feed the hungry or it can be used to buy a closet full of shoes or furs or stuff oneself with caviar and champagne. That’s what free will is all about.

The 2nd century teacher, Clement of Alexandria wrote a treatise called Who is the Rich Man that Shall be Saved in order to explain that neither poverty nor wealth are sinful nor righteous of themselves. What matters is how people respond to their relative riches or penury. Rich Christians should know the companion verse in Luke 12:48 and unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more.

According to authors Mike Aquilina and James L. Papandrea book’s Seven Revolutions, Clement’s treatise as well as other Church documents, favored a symbiotic relationship between wealth and penury. God gave riches to some with the hope that they would give to those in need.

The poor have a corresponding responsibility to pray for the souls of the wealthy. Jesus discouraged his disciples in thinking that wealth was earth bound. Instead he wanted them to understand that true spiritual wealth transcends riches and treasures. And it can easily be shared with others on earth.

The fact that Gordon Gekko has become a stock character in the debate on economic inequality and equality points to the underlying prejudice against wealth that has been with us for several generations. I sometimes wonder where the Catholic Church would be without the generosity of its wealthier members. I think all Catholics should examine their consciences and their attitude toward those who have much more than they do.

Catholics should also remember that while excessive greed can be harmful to one’s soul, it is a two-way street that can easily lead even poor people into sin. Those who covet the material possessions of others, even to the extent of stealing them, are also guilty of greed.

A more complicated sister version of greed is what psychologists call Schadenfreude. It means literally taking pleasure from the misfortunes of others, especially the wealthy. The 2009 crash and its historically long recovery with its attendant bankruptcies, social and economic displacements have provided more than enough temptation for this sin.

The Christian response to the vexing problems of wealth is that we all should pray for the scions of wealth that they use their financial blessings to foster the kingdom of God, help the poor and advance the teachings of Christ. To do anything else, especially to play the blame game is to engage in a practice that is nearly as culpable as those of the greediest billionaire.

 


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Time Flight

December 9, 2015
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I love watches. I must have over 30 watches. Ever since my grandfather taught me to tell time when I was seven years old I have loved keeping time. My mother taught me to be punctual for appointments and dates. I was always early and spent a good deal of wasted time, waiting on street corners for my habitually late friends. It is a characteristic that still shapes my life.

I think time awareness dominates American life. Everything is measured in hours, minutes and maybe even seconds.   Lawyers keep precise track of their billable hours because time really is money to them. Plumbers and electricians all charge by the hour. In sports, we keep records of who had the fastest time. Most professional sports, except baseball, tennis, and golf, revolve around a clock and its timekeepers.   I think that’s why baseball is no longer the true national pastime because it doesn’t move fact enough.

We all love fast foods, instant breakfasts and glance at papers, which measure world events in terms of sentences, paragraphs and not columns. Working mothers talk of spending quality time, with their children. Marriages have broken down because the couple never had enough time for each other. Some other commitment or interest had a greater hold on them than their marriage vows.

We have I-pods, Blackberries and all time saving devices that paradoxically take too much time to learn to operate. We have become virtual prisoners of our own devices. As I get older I find that I do not like to wait for anything, whether in a movie line, traffic or the grocery store. Instant gratification is not quick enough for me. I wont even buy green bananas. Part of this arises from the fact that I am not getting any younger. I am in the inevitable stage of what the late sports announcer Jack Buck used to call playing the back nine.

Time has become a subject for my personal meditation. I think of all the time I wasted as a child. When the poet John Milton lost his sight, he wrote a memorable line in one of his poems that said, when I consider how my light has been spent. While he measured his life in its “light” I find that time has been the literal measure of my life. One of the real facts of life is that time waits for no man or woman. It is not how much of the world’s wealth I may have amassed or how many honors I might have received but what good I might have done with the nearly 38 millions or so minutes I have “used” since my birth in 1943. I am sure God will have His accounting on just how I spent my time amidst His generous gifts.

Being an only child I always seemed alone and bored.   I regret having wasted so much precious time as child. I guess that’s what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said youth was wasted on the young! As an adult I painfully recognize how really short life on earth is. To squander even a precious moment seems sinful when there is so much we could be doing—reading, praying, giving of ourselves or just enjoying this beautiful gift God has bestowed on us.  My uncle had the right idea. He spent his retirement smelling both the roses and his coffee.

We all have a built-in time clock that is ticking just like one of my many watches. Just like John Donne’s poetic bell, it ticks for you and it ticks for me. My college roommate Peter died suddenly in 2004. I had written him a letter because I wanted him to know how much I enjoyed being his roommate and how much he had taught me.   My letter was six months too late.

He was a year younger than I but his time had taken flight. He would never know how I felt about him because I had waited too long to tell him. I had spent his last few ticks holding back my brotherly love from him. I have now vowed to tell the members of my growing family and my friends how important each and everyone of them is to me because I don’t want to be six months late ever again.


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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at bbprof@sbcglobal.net

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