Ted Cruz Is Using Christians For Political Ends UPDATED

In other words, he’s acting just like the GOP always does, making a pleasing noise for the social cons and God-botherers during elections, and then ignoring us or burying us in meaningless gestures the rest of the time.

Here’s what he said about his grotesque hijacking of Christian persecution for political ends:

What I find interesting is almost to a person, the people writing those columns have never or virtually never spoken of persecuted Christians in any other context. I have spoken literally hundreds of times all over the country. This is a passion. I’ve been on the Senate floor, and I intend to keep highlighting this persecution. I will say it does seem interesting that the only time at least some of these writers seem to care about persecuted Christians is when it furthers an anti-Israel narrative for them. That starts to suggest that maybe their motivation is not exactly what they’re saying.

I’m a Christian. I’m also an unapologetic Zionist. I’ve seen almost no anti-Israel narrative in any of the commentary I’ve read on the plight of Middle Eastern Christians. Cruz injected that into the discussion.

Someone is using Christians, all right, and it’s Cruz and the GOP. If they nominate this tool then they deserve to lose. As a conservative, I find it disgusting to have a party that is so morally and intellectually bankrupt allegedly representing “my side.” There is nothing conservative about the modern GOP. They only thing they care about conserving is their power and status as members of the ruling class.

We’re a long way from Reagan, people. It’s to time to realize that and stop acting like the Republican party can be saved. It can’t.

H/T Peter Blair via Twitter.

UPDATE: Cruz backs down.



He still doesn’t seem to understand, however, that his behavior through the entire thing has been less about helping Middle Eastern Christians and more about helping Ted Cruz.

Being Catholic Online

Internet Catholicism has been a true boon for me. As someone who works at home, it plugs me into a network of people who share my faith and help me figure it out and build it up. It will take years to understand its true impact as an evangelization tool, but I think it’s an important one, if only because it allows people to witness to their faith in a public way.pope-francis

And that’s also the problem. When we project ourselves into this online space we are, for some, the only witness to Catholicism people will have. That doesn’t mean we have to be sunshine and puppydogs, but it does mean that what we say and how we say it matters.

Even good people get drawn into the anger, anxiety, and factionalism that occurs whenever two or three are gathered in just about anybody’s name. Factionalism dominates the Catholic news sites, blogs, and social media, and it’s an ugly and unproductive thing.

I’ve been trying to figure out my place here as a blogging Catholic, and it hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I just put up something I find interesting or amusing, and those posts usually find their audience.

I can tell you from experience that poring time and work into good, noncontroversial pieces about things you love will usually yield far fewer clicks than rancor, controversy, and attacks. For all we may complain about negativity in the media, we are draw to it like moths to flame. Or, more accurately, like flies to crap.

The reason isn’t that hard to figure out. Controversy provides a jolt of emotion and allows us to situate ourselves on a moral spectrum. It draws the circle around “us” and lets us recognize “them.” That’s simple tribalism, and we’re hard-wired for it.

The latest controversy to blow up the Cathonet is the appointment of Bishop Cupich to Chicago, which comes right on the heels of Cardinal Dolan’s Big Gay Parade controversy.

Cupich is being hailed as the second coming of Bernardin, and for those outside of the Commonweal/America/National “Catholic” Reporter tribe, that’s a bad thing.

Choose one, but remember: the Holy Spirit did not descend as a hawk.

Choose a side, but remember: the Holy Spirit did not descend as a hawk.

Bernardin was the prototype squishop, and the only appropriate thing about his elevation was that his hat could finally match his politics. He is the saint of the Catholic left, which never gets tired of being wrong about almost everything.

The appointment of a bishop to a major see is not a small thing. Squishops steered the American church into a ditch after Vatican II. Whether or not Cupich is one of them remains to be seen. His past behavior is certainly troubling. His bizarre and strident opposition to the pro-life movement* don’t leave me feeling very hopeful for Chicago.

But even if we assume that Cupich is a nightmare, and that by extension this indicates that Francis is shaping the church in ways that may reverse progress made under St. John Paul and Benedict (and let’s not forget that Mahony and Bernardin were both elevated by John Paul), what exactly do the most vocal and hostile critics think they can do about it?

When you do something, you should have some achievable result in mind. Sometimes, being human, our “result” is mere venting of emotion. I get that. I do it too. Sometimes it’s extremely therapeutic.

Bitching about inside baseball in the church or, worse, in the very tiny world of online Catholics, is pretty small beer. No matter how much people bloviate about the important issues at hand, there’s no escaping this sense of an internet populated mostly by 8th grade girls gossiping around their lockers.

When we’re Being Catholic in this space, we need to check ourselves and ask hard questions. How exactly does it all contribute to our spiritual welfare and growth? How does it build up ourselves, our families, our community, and our church? Am I preaching truth in charity, or just blowing a gasket? Am I spreading hope, or fear?

As I never get tired of saying, the internet is an amplifier. It doesn’t just distribute information: it amplifies it, often making small things seem more important than they really are.

Does that mean we don’t speak hard truths, even if they involve criticism of our leaders right up to the pope himself?

Of course not. It’s our duty to speak clearly about our faith, particularly when our leadership seems to be drifting off course. I’ve made my reservations about Pope Francis’s leadership pretty clear, but I don’t think any of those issues come even close to the serious, schism-provoking levels we’re hearing from his more hysterical critics.

You know what does provoke schism, however? Constantly talking about it!

As someone steeped in church history, I’m aware that we’ve already been through the worst of times. Despite this, we still have a tendency to dramatize our own times as somehow uniquely filled with dangers to the church.

Understand this: every age is full of dangers to the church–both from inside and out–and always as been, every single year, for 2000 years. Among the first bishops, one out of twelve was a traitor, and eleven out of twelve were cowards.

When we survey this whole vast history and ask ourselves “Are our times/leaders uniquely bad/dangerous?” the answer is obviously no. Even the horrible persecutions in the middle east are of a type we’ve seen before and will see again. All is as it was foretold: “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is doing the work of God.”

We were promised a couple things:

First: the gates of hell will not prevail against our Mother, the Church.

Second: a cross.

These people who sneer about “The Church of Nice” always make me wonder, “You’d prefer a Church of Total Bastards?” They haven’t understood Benedict at all. The idea of affirmative orthodoxy has flown right over their heads.

Yes, we have to criticize, and some people won’t like that at all.

Yes, we have to stand up and make our voices heard when leaders attempt to distort or weaken the unchangeable teachings of the church, or fail to lead as they did in the abuse scandals.

But we have to do more than that. We have to be a witness to the true happiness and fullness of life that is only found in Christ and the One True Church.

And lately, all I’m seeing when I log into Facebook or check some of my blogs is a Litany of Despair offered not by people attempting to speak a hard truth, but by people who are afraid, and fear breeds fear.

All this inside baseball is, as practical matter, of no interest whatsoever to 99% of Catholics, and all of this doomsaying does nothing–not a damn thing–to help the church. It is, in fact, poison. No one in leadership is paying attention to a bunch of internet denizens kvetching on Facebook. There is no Blogosterium. There are only everyday ordinary people, and those people are in need of solid faith formation and guidance in their lives.

The only thing we can do online to change the church is to teach and be.

Teach the truth, hard as it is, always and everywhere, even when our leaders don’t, and even when they need to be corrected in charity.

Be people of hope and joy, as much as we can, always and everywhere.

Everything else is just sound and fury.

Related: Catholics Coming Unglued

Update: Abbey Roads has similar thoughts.

*After posting this, I cut a reference to some personal knowledge I have which, on further thought, I don’t feel I have the right to share.

“The Rule” Documents a Benedictine Success Story in Newark

sbpI’m working on a story for the Register about a film called The Rule, which documents the monks of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark and their success in applying the Rule of St. Benedict to the education of at-risk youth in Newark.

This is a film that needs to be seen and a story that needs to be told. These men, who stayed behind when the rest of their order fled Newark in the wake of the 67 riots and subsequent upheavals, are heroes. Their methods are working, with a college acceptance rate of almost 100% and an 88% college completion rate. This is in the 7th most violent city in the country, with 14% unemployment and 1/3rd of the population in poverty.

Check out the trailer and the SBP blog, and I’ll link the story when it’s done.

Ancient Monastery Discovered In Israel

They haven’t found a church yet, but the size, construction, and layout of a compound in the hills south of Beit Shemesh suggests a Byzantine-era monastery of the 6th century.

The discovery was made a few weeks ago during surveys conducted in advance of a construction project.

“Blocked cisterns, a cave opening and the tops of several walls were visible on the surface,” the archeologists said. “These clues to the world hidden underground resulted in an extensive archaeological excavation there that exposed prosperous life dating to the Byzantine period, which was previously unknown.”

Zilberbod and Libman said the compound is surrounded by an outer wall and is divided on the inside into two regions, including an industrial area and an activity and residential area.

Additionally, an “unusually large press in a rare state of preservation that was used to produce olive oil was exposed in the industrial area, as well as a large winepress revealed outside the built compound consisted of two treading floors from which the grape must flowed to a large collecting vat.”

Despite not finding a church or inscription of any kind indicating religious worship, the excavation’s co-directors said they still believe the site served as a monastery.

“It is true we did not find a church at the site… or any other unequivocal evidence of religious worship; nevertheless, the impressive construction, the dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound, are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” they said. Based on that criterion, the archeologists noted it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations, and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.

“At some point, which we date to the beginning of the Islamic period (7th century CE), the compound ceased to function, and was subsequently occupied by new resident,” they said. “These people changed the plan of the compound and adapted it for their needs.”


Ghosts in the Bible: The New Testament


Dives and Lazarus (Codex Aureus, 11th century)

There are no ghosts in the New Testament.

We do, however, find the language of spirits and references to death that can illuminate the subject.

When we read passages such as Matthew 8:22 (”Let the dead bury the dead”) and 22:32 (”God is not the God of the dead but of the living”) we may be confused. Is Jesus disregarding the dignity of the dead, or denying the need of people to grieve and mourn? Tobit was deemed a just man because he cared for the dead. Is Jesus saying something different?

We need to read these passages with two things in mind. First, there is the Jewish purity laws governing contact with the dead. The person burying a body would be rendered ritually impure: a kind of “death” that suggests that the “dead” do indeed bury the dead.

Second, there is the pagan background discussed in my previous post, with people sleeping on graves and seeking supernatural aid from the dead. Jesus is saying that God is the God of life and the living, and he grants no special power to the dead. “Why do you seek the living among the dead,” he will say in Luke 24:5.

Jesus has reversed death. Death is conquered, and essentially inverted. “He who saves his life will lose it.” (Matthew 16:25 and Luke 9:24) This is the new life in Christ.

It’s natural, then, for wayward spirits to have no part in this new life, for they represent an intermediary state, neither dead nor alive, that has no place in Christianity.

Ghosts, however, were still part of the culture, and we see this in several places in the New Testament.

»When Jesus walks on water, the apostles mistake him for a ghost. (Matthew 14:26, Mark 6:49)

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” [Greek: phantasma] And they cried out for fear.

»When the women see him after the resurrection, he tells them not to be afraid, most likely because they would have feared he was a ghost. (Luke 28:10)

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

»When he appears to apostles after the resurrection they believe they are a seeing a ghost.

But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit [Greek: pneuma]. (Luke 24:37)

»In the same scene, we witness again the supposed immaterial nature of ghosts.

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit [Greek: pneuma] has not flesh and bones as you see that I have. (Luke 24:39–40)

Two Greek words are used to convey the same essential meaning.

Pneuma is a breath of air, and by analogy, a spirit. It is used frequently in the New Testament, both for the Holy Spirit and for evil spirits. For example:

“And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit [Greek: pneuma].” (Mark 1:23–24)

Pneuma appears in Wisdom 17:14-15 with the same meaning:

But throughout the night, which was really powerless, and which beset them from the recesses of powerless Hades, they all slept the same sleep, and now were driven by monstrous specters [Greek: pneuma],and now were paralyzed by their souls’ surrender, for sudden and unexpected fear overwhelmed them. [Wisdom is one of the few OT books composed in Greek.]

Phantasma is what we’d call a ghost: an apparition or phantasm. We find it only in the scene where Jesus walks on the water, suggesting that he is displaying some power (lightness or immateriality) traditionally associated with phantoms.

These passages tell us that the idea of ghosts was known to the followers of Jesus. We also see recognizable qualities of these ghosts: they are immaterial, they’re scary, they represent the restless spirits of the dead, and they are light enough to walk on water, suggesting they float on the air.

Yet at the same time, the New Testament appears to shut the door firmly on the idea of ghosts who can wander the earth. In Luke 16:19-31, the story of Dives and Lazarus suggests that the dead can leave neither heaven nor hell.

In the parable, Dives [which is Latin for “rich man,” traditionally used as the man’s name] passes by the poor man Lazarus without helping him. When they both die, Dives goes to Hades and Lazarus to heaven.

From his place of torment, Dives sees Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham and begs him for comfort, or that he at least send a message to his family warning them to change their ways.

Abraham denies the first request, saying

Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us. (Luke 16:27)

Although Abraham rejects the idea of people passing between heaven and hell, he doesn’t directly reject the possibility that Lazarus can return to earth as a spirit. The passage suggests that he won’t, because

If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

Augustine used this passage to ground his treatment of ghosts, reading it as a denial of the ability of the spirits of the dead to pass to the world of the living. I don’t see it as quite that clear cut, but it certainly can be read as an indication of the impermeability of the veil separating life from death.

In the next post, we’ll see how Augustine argued firmly against the reality of ghosts, and then how his arguments were gradually watered down by the advance of Catholic culture across Europe in the middle ages.

 The posts in this series are filed under Ghosts.

Iraq TV Knows Who Really Created ISIS: Jews, Americans, and Satan

satanisisWell this is … interesting. MEMRI has translated a music video for a “satiric” Iraqi TV show that exposes the real source of ISIS. Naturally, it’s not Islam or the poisonous ideology that’s been painting the Middle East with blood for 1400 years. The inspiration for their behavior would never be so obvious as the text that says

Sura 8, Verse 12: God revealed His will to the angels, saying: “I shall be with you. Give courage to the believers. I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers.”

Sura 47, Verse 4: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads.”

Nah, someone else had to be responsible, and of course it’s everyone’s go-to villain: the Jews, aided by the Americans and the devil. The video shows a Jewish woman (she’s wearing a Star of David) being wed to Satan by a cowboy, and giving birth to a stereotypical head-chopping ISIS fanatic. As the lyrics of the song say:

Jewish Woman: “Lead me to the altar, oh sisters, with explosives belts and devices. / I hope to get a ring on my finger from someone who will destroy the country.”

Devil: “We will call our child ISIS. / I don’t want to repeat it. / Summon him. Tell him to slaughter people. Summon him. Tell him to toy a little with religion.

At least they got the devil part right.

As long as Muslims, aided by Western cultural sensitivity, keep pretending that ISIS (in which the “I” stands for “Islamic”) has nothing to do with Islam, we will get nowhere. While it’s grossly inaccurate to say it represents the majority of Muslims, it’s equally inaccurate to say it is not Islamic or does not reflect ideas found in Islam. Let’s not lie to ourselves in the interest of political correctness.

Ghosts in the Bible: The Old Testament

Samuel Appearing to Saul (Fuseli 1777)

Samuel Appearing to Saul (Fuseli 1777)

Ghosts posed a problem for the early Church because they seemed to reflect a holdover of pagan belief and superstition. Yet reliable witnesses continued to report encounters with what to appeared to be spirits, and witnesses were not so easily dismissed as they are now. As we head into Halloween, I hope to do a few posts examining the place of ghosts in Catholicism: how have people reacted to accounts of ghosts, and how has the reaction changed over time?

The first place to start is with the Bible, where ghosts are scarce but not absent. The rules governing contact with the dead set the Jews apart from other religions in the ancient world, where ancestor veneration and lavish funeral rites were the norm. Pagans practiced “incubation”: sleeping on a grave in the hopes of receiving an oneiric (dream-state) apparition of the departed with a message or prophesy. Such a practice would run afoul of Jewish purity laws.

Deuteronomy 18-9-13 is pretty emphatic on the matter of necromancy and sorcery:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”

The reason for this was very simple: it suggested man could have control over powers reserved to God alone.

Yet ghosts and references to ghosts are found in scripture and must be dealt with if we are to understand the way early Christians treated the phenomena. The most famous instance, of course, is the summoning of the spirit of Samuel by the Witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28. (Also mentioned in 1 Chron 10:13-14 and Sirach 46:23.)

Samuel and the Witch of Endor (West 1777)

Samuel and the Witch of Endor (West 1777)

The striking thing about the Witch of Endor passage is how really diabolical it is: this is nothing less than necromancy, which is condemned by both Jews and Christians. Saul himself had prohibited the practice, which is why he meets in secret with the medium.

Saul knows he has done wrong and lost favor with God, but desires to know his fate in an upcoming battle with the Philistines. “The LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets,” (1 Sam 28:6) we are told.

He disguises himself and asks the medium, “Divine for me by a spirit, and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” (1 Sam 28:8-9) The word used for “medium” is “ob,” which may refer either to the necromancer herself, or the object she uses to communicate with the dead, such as a skull. The text leaves out her rituals, suggesting to some that Samuel appears unbidden, thus proving to later readers that mediums have no real power. This interpretation does not appear to be supported by the text, since Samuel is annoyed at being “disturbed.”

The scene is as strange for its language as for its necromancy:

“I see a god coming up out of the earth.” [Saul] said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up; and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. (1 Sam 28:13–14)

The Christological interpretation would only become clear in the fullness of time, but quite obviously Samuel isn’t even a lower-case-”g” god, which is how the RSV renders “elohim.” The use of “elohim” is provocative here, but the word could also suggest a “spirit” or “divine being” as well as gods and, specifically, Yahweh.

Samuel is annoyed at being summoned from “below” (Hades), but proceeds to tell Saul that he will fall to the Philistines and that “tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me.” (1 Sam 28:19)

The appearance of Samuel challenged exegetes from ancient to medieval times. They offered a wide array of interpretations: it was the devil or a demon taking on the guise of Samuel, it was his reanimated corpse infused with spirit but not his soul (a distinction I won’t dwell on here), it was a phantasm, it was an illusion, it was actually Samuel given permission by God to appear and clothed in flesh that looked like his own, it was Samuel, who had been in Hades awaiting Christ.

The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel (Blake 1783)

The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel (Blake 1783)

This last is suggested by Origen, who examines it at length in his Homily on 1 Kings 28. [1 Samuel is 1 Kings in some numberings.] I do not believe this 5000-word text is online, but it’s found in Homilies on Jeremiah and I Kings 28 (translated by John Clark Smith for Vol. 97 of The Father of the Church series).

Origen’s reading would, in time, be rejected in favor of a diabolical answer. The presence of a fairly extensive medieval art tradition for the scene shows its grip on the imagination, as medieval man came to wrestle more actively with the issue of visions, spirits, and dreams. I plan to address this shift in future posts, first discussing Augustine, the Church Father who developed a kind of “theology of ghosts,” and then the medievals.