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Catholicism and the Arab Spring

I haven’t seen much on this across Catholic media, and I thought to make a return to my blog with something of import to me. Revolution has ripped across several countries in the Middle East, with ripples and consequences being felt across the world as Islamic countries vie for democratic governments, and oppose the regimes that held power through oligarchy and militarism.

The world has seen from a distance, at least as far as the Western media is concerned an unfolding usually heralded with positive lights. Liberals rejoice in the coming of liberalism and democracy to a people who have taken it into their hands to make government their own. Conservatives rejoice in the unfolding opportunity for democracy to counterbalance the still latent socialism, and expect a free-market system to increase oil production in the long term. Though certainly there are concerns about religious freedom, and these are warranted, what stake do Catholics have in paying attention to these revolutions?

About a decade ago the neoconservatives were decidedly pessimistic about the possibility of democracy in the Middle East, Israel being the only exception. The cultural baggage of democracy from the West seemed too heavy a burden for Arabs who were decidedly anti-colonial, culturally and otherwise. And then, the internet.

The internet has been the large player in many of these revolutions. From spreading videos of injustice to incite demonstrations, to twitter and facebook groups organizing and pooling together to hold a common voice, the internet has changed Islam, Arab culture, and the world once again. Those who assumed that Arabs were sui generis incapable of producing democracy, have found themselves in shock as men and women from across the Middle East demonstrate in political protests for a voice.

Let’s not be idealists, Tunisia is leading the way in terms of establishing political change that could enact representative government. The other countries still show lack of organization, and no decisive moves towards leadership.

Where did it begin? Well, in 2005, some media commentators speculated that invasion in Iraq might have a spin-off effect of inciting democracy in the Middle East. The first recorded protest happened in December 2010 as “hundreds of youths” in Tunisia reacted to Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire in protest to the police confiscating his vegetable cart. There is an Interactive Timeline available for those who want to see how these events have unfolded.

What does this begin to mean for Catholics? We have some primary concerns:

  1. The Christian communities in the Arab World
  2. The Process of “Integral Human Development”
  3. The Moral, Political and Religious Liberation of Oppressed Socieites

So first of all we have the conflict between Islam and Democracy, or at least we are witnessing the end of what tension there was as Arab socieites begin to start uprisings against social and civil oppression. These revolutions have also brought many other cultural and social concerns to the forefront of conversations happening across the world. The Arab spring has brought us back to questions about democracy, social and civil liberties, Islam, the Enlightenment, gay rights, technology, and social media.

Specifically of note is the already widely publicized but still to be mentioned story of the man who posed as a gay woman in Damascus. His alter ego was later “arrested” and there was outcry for the release of Amina Arraf, who was hours later admitted to being a fictional character. This seems like water under the bridge, especially to American Catholics who live in a society that has polarized Christians and Homosexuals across the political spectrum. What this means for Catholics, who believe in a robust social theology is of importance in the midst of these revolutions. Catholic social teaching offers us a view at charity and the proper development of societies where individuals have freedom. While I believe that lambasting this man and another who posed as a woman on the blog ‘Lez Get Real’ is unnecessary, it is certainly an interesting story which brings to light a certain tension between the East and West. Daniel Nassar a psyedonym for a gay man living in Syria offers us this perspective:

MacMaster’s admission on June 12 that the blog was fictional has spurred fears within Syria’s LGBT community of a potential backlash. The media has been targeting minorities who are seen as critical of the current regime, and the LGBT community is an easy target. They don’t need to change people’s opinion of homosexuals; it’s already a negative one.

Now, for my Catholic readers out there who are wondering what a fictional gay-rights activist in Syria has to do with the Catholic Church, my answer is: everything. The keyword here is minority. Minorities are in Arab culture extremely shunned, targeted by the media for ridicule and used as scapegoats in Neronian style cultural attacks.

If Christians in the West care at all for Christians in the Middle East, they will watch the gay and lesbian movements with solidarity and compassion. If Christians are to have a stake in a revolution that would largeley trample them, they will need allies, gay, straight, atheist, Muslim and otherwise. If Christians in the Middle East care to find an ally in the midst of cultural upheavals that could extinguish minorities in the Arab world, the gay and lesbian movements are not only allies, they are integral to the survival of the minority populations.

The Arab Spring has gone uncommented on by the Vatican, and the bishops seem to have other concerns. The Catholic Blogosphere is tied up with the Retirement of John Corapi. However, the world is in upheaval, and arab communities across the world are taking a stand, this is something worth noting.

Let’s turn our attention to the way in which Syria specifically is of concern to Catholics and Christians.

Syria today is much like Iraq was, pre-2003. The dictatorship runs strong and there are is a sense of brutality against the people. However, in the midst of this darkness is the silent religious tolerance of the regimes. An interesting article on the subject can be read at Catholic Moral Theology. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only blog taking seriously the Arab Spring as a Catholic moral issue.

Patriarch Gregorios III, the Syrian head of the Melkites a Greek-Catholic Church, is warning Western leaders not to encourage the revolutions tearing across the Middle East. The Patriarch declares:

“Our Arab countries are not ready for revolutions, and not even for democracy of the European kind and model,” the patriarch explained in a recent letter to Western leaders. “I am asking the West not to encourage revolutions unconditionally here and there in the Arab world.”

The fear is that what happened in Iraq will take place in Syria and other countries where the politically charged atmosphere will lead to sectarian violence that tramples minorities underfoot. We should contemplate and consider the encouragement we lend to these revolutions, especially where violence is being used. However, we must not only stand up for the minorities, who have our affections as brothers and sisters in Christ, but also for the general persons, the muslims, the youth, the women of the Middle East who have decided to end their oppression.

Where Catholicism collides with the Arab Spring, it should make calls for non-violence, stand against regimes using violence against civilians and encourage peaceful demonstration. We lay persons can stay tuned, pray for peace and new life, and remember that it was in Syria where we were first called Christians. The Arab Spring is full of disinformation, and the room for the growth of terrorism and anti-Israeli sentiment as well as anti-Christian sentiment is massive. Where there is unrest, Hamas and Al-Qaeda have room to grow because they prey on the weaknesses of the established orders.

So, we should not uncritically support these revolutions, but we should also mind to support the freedom of individuals. We must remember that politics is morally neutral, it’s what’s done with the process of revolution and governmental change that decides what and where our moral contribution should be. I, for one, believe that it is my contribution to discuss these revolutions in Catholic circles, to bring awareness and to shape my concerns for these things through Catholic theology rather than my nation’s political aspirations.

Whether Spring has sprung remains to be seen, I’m cautious about the optimism of the moniker, but it is my sincere hope that change and openness can come to Arab societies.

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Squeamish Ilk

Lies and Live Action.

Thomas Peters of the American Papist and now Catholic Vote has been furiously blogging about the Live Action sting on Planned Parenthood. The actions of Live Action have single-handedly changed the political landscape in America.

Some have cast doubt on the actions of Live Action and taken the view that this was nothing but lying.

So, I know I’m a bit late to the party, and everyone wants to know if Rob Bell is a universalist, but just because America’s political pulse has a short attention span doesn’t mean I have to. So, let’s look at Live Action and see what we can tease out.

I suppose the best thing to do might be to turn to the handy-dandy Catechism and see what we might find.

#2484 points out that “the gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims.” This means that at worst, Lila committed a venial sin. Which truth was being deformed? I’d say it was the truth of what goes on at planned Parenthood. The circumstances were a sting operation. A friend of my girlfriend writes at Barefoot and Pregnant and thinks we should see the actions of Lila Rose as an act of war. Read her post here.

What harm was suffered? Realistically, Planned Parenthood was voted to be defunded, and women seeking free or extremely low cost healthcare for specifically feminine problems might have to turn to insurance and other healthcare means. However, the victims were the perpetrators of murder in this case.

Canon #2483. defines lying as “the most direct offense against the truth in order to lead someone into error.” That is all true, but in terms of the entire situation, Lile Rose was working to bring planned parenthood OUT of error as my buddy Dan Lord posted on his blog.

I don’t understand all the squeamishness over an organization setting up a sting operation on another organization. Don’t people read about Rahab anymore? Don’t people know about Tamar? How these biblical women lied and it worked out for a greater good. Rahab said she had no spies in her home, and hid the Israelites. Tamar lied so that she could have a child by her father-in-law, because he had denied her one of his sons.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says “God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.” Are we really here to pass judgment on Live Action? If so, let’s do it intelligently. At worst, Lila Rose is guilty of a practical joke. She’s misleading, but not with the intent of trying to harm the individuals she is lying to.

We see worse on television everyday in terms of lying, deceit and misleading conversation. Maybe the squeamishness of our culture shows us an altogether different reality than what I first thought. Maybe this uproar shows us that we hate when practical jokes, and the actions of a few individuals reshape our politics. We dislike when politics and pop-culture collide. We dislike when organizations we’re led to believe are here to help are shown to be what they really are. And thus, we are a culture of self-blinding children.

What we have to ask ourselves is: What kind of world do we desire to live in? Do we wish to live in a world where Planned Parenthood workers are better “trained” to more covertly handle prostitution rings? Do we want a world where our children are experts at turning a blind-eye to structural and systemic problems in organizations in their society? “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children,” says Bonhoeffer.

I think that with the de-funding of planned parenthood we can begin to build a better society, with an organization that can provide some of the same services, without the inhumanity, without the massive bankroll of abortions, without negative consequences that were part of the Planned Parenthood portfolio. We can leave a better world to our children, especially now that there will be more of them out there.

Sharia, Maria and Levi; A Tale of Three Religions

Sharia

A popular new law [approved by 70% of Oklahoma voters] that bars Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, when deciding cases was put on hold Monday after a prominent Muslim in the state won a temporary restraining order in federal court…U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LeGrange ruled that the measure, which passed by a large margin in last Tuesday’s elections, would be suspended until a hearing on Nov. 22. -Reported Fox News.

So children, in an unprecedented move the Oklahoma voters banned Sharia law and international law from consideration. Yet, neighbor, the Muslim activists in the state have sued and gotten a hold placed on the law.

I mean, I’m all for religious freedom, but the problems with Sharia law is that it advocates against the other laws in a given country. You can find other specific concerns here. Among other concerns are the one stated as #9 on our source page:

Testimony from women is given only half the weight of men [in most sources outside of Wikipedia Sharia states that a woman’s testimony only carries the weight of 1/4th of a man’s], and testimony from non-Muslims may be excluded altogether (if against a Muslim).

Representative Rex Duncan has said the amendment was not intended as an attack on Muslims or Islamic law in particular but an effort to prevent activist judges from relying on international law or Islamic law when ruling on legal cases. The law simply states that in making rulings the judges judge as American judges within the American legal system, if that’s a travesty, or draconian pig-headedness, I don’t understand.

A U.S. Muslim advocacy group is suing Oklahoma state for barring judges from considering Sharia rulings in Muslim cases, stressing that the ban runs against the constitutional right of religious freedom to all Americans, reported the Wall Street Journal on Friday, November 5. Here’s an interesting article that highlights some practical concerns.

Levi

As I mentioned before, the Muslim activist group is suing Oklahoma, which I find awesome. Sue your way to religious freedom, one fatwa at a time little clerics, one fatwa at a time.

Therefore, I too would like to throw my hat in the ring and sue Oklahoma over measures banning Levitical law from the courts. I would like to sue for the right to be held to all 613 commandments of Levitical law, and this is how it will work:

I mean, if I need to stone an adulteress I should have the religious freedom to do it, right? If I want to decry my neighbor for yoking oxen on the sabbath, shouldn’t i have a right to express my religious freedom? Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. I mean, I’ve always wanted that under the table live-in gardener. Isn’t it my right to offer sacrifices of bulls on the brazen altars of the Lord and send up a pleasing smell to His presence.

I have a religious right to shut down every cheeseburger and pizza joint I can find and be protected under the Levitical Law and religious freedom clause. Obviously.

I have a neighbor who works on Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states that she should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill her myself, or should I ask the police to do it? Perhaps, the Spanish Inquisition? Aren’t these part of my expression of religious freedom?

My inner Jew feels we should strip NFL players of their dignity and ostracize them into hovels outside our cities for playing with pig-skin; they are obviously unclean. IHOP is right out, and the numbers of our counting should be in Hebrew. Right? I mean, I can sue for that…right?

Levitical law should just like Sharia law be applied to those who appeal to it. And that’s why I’m becoming an activist for Levitical law in America. It makes my blood sing to think that just like Muslims across the globe I too can stone an adulteress. Religious freedom means that Americans too can amputate the hand off a thief. It sends a clear message and sends them on their way. What a way to reduce prison time and be more cost effective!

Levitical law should be an express part of my religious freedom, and since it’s good for penal systems everywhere, it should just then be universally imposed, should it not?

Update: Post publication a breaking story has been reported by The Telegraph and I had to post it. A woman is being put to death for blasphemy against Muhammad. This is where it gets good! Some people say she never even committed the blasphemy but because she’s A Christian the charges stand. That’s what I’m talking about! Capital Punishment needlessly is the way to keep those women in check!

Maria

Ok. As a Catholic, I only have a few specific points on this matter.

1) We are in a world at war culturally.

We can and should look to the peacemakers for assistance, for they are the sons of God. None stands out more than St. Francis of Assisi who in my opinion is one of the greatest saints recognized in the Christian canon of saints. In a time of war, bitter open bloodshed, he spoke with the sultan, and sought to make peace through conversion.

His tolerance was a patient, thoughtful openness to understanding the one deemed an enemy by the Christian empire, but he still did not consign himself to agreement with Islam. Anyways, the point is, we can make peace, but only if we stick to being Catholics, only if we retain our Christian identity will it make sense. We must be committed to our God, and to our faith, but that does not rule out conversation, evangelization and a quest for lasting peace. Radical Islam seems to want none of that, and therefore we must pray.

You can read another article on the subject of Catholics and Sharia here. My biggest observation in this whole situation is that even if we are not citing the extreme cases where hands are removed or women are forced back into abusive marriages, we are still dealing with a system that dehumanizes, and how!

When a woman’s testimony is weighed less than a man’s as a legal system, it’s pretty stinkin’ awesome. (Besides, who wants to listen to women anyways?) It puts women back where they belong, in the kitchen, cooking up terrifyingly delicious dinners. It champions the heterosexual adult male at the cost of all other aspects of society (obviously, as God intended).

Ave Maria Gratia Plena! There’s no natural law at work here, and thus it is a system that does not coequally stand alongside the Judeao-Christian traditions, despite the claims of some people. That’s ok though, because when it’s all about toleration, everyone wants to be tolerant.

Seriously, who wants to be seen as a bigot? Surely, not I. Everyone except the infamous Father Z anyways, (likely a jesuit spy, working against the hard fought battle of global toleration for Islam) has “two cents” to chime in as well. Another of those pesky Catholics has a response to the good Archbishop of Canterbury seen here. These Practical Catholics seem to want to undermine the Islamic position with some intent. They’re harping on issues of religious freedom, and human dignity and the nature of Western Civilization.

Catholics find themselves wishing to uphold religious freedom and human dignity, and therefore should do nothing. Seriously, say nothing, do nothing, think nothing of it. The Catholic role is apolitical, marginal, and weak. What can a single person do? St. Francis of Assisi sought peace with the Islamic invaders through conversion, patient, loving conversion preaching, but nonetheless, he saw Islam as incompatible with the Christian way. It is not bigotry to disagree, it is bigotry to disagree without listening and to disagree for the sake of disagreement. That single man, has spawned entire religious orders, and inspires even Protestants who hate Catholics left and right to contemplate the love that a single soul can have for all of creation.

Catholics in the modern world have a role to play, and that role is crucial in the reshaping of societies in which they find themselves. The nature of God in our two societies is different, and therefore Muslims must understand that while they may have a lot to bring to the table, sharia courts should have no bearing on the way a secular Western nation does legal proceedings. Is this law passed in Oklahoma capitalizing on Islamophobia, maybe. Maybe is probably an understatement, but not without reason. There have been leanings towards international readings of law by some judges. The New Jersey story unsettles me, and I hope it unsettles you too.

Catholics can be a light in the world, and a city on a hill, but only if we actively engage in transforming the world with little steps.

I for one, will champion the way of St. Francis in all sincerity, and see our two empires as incompatible but able to communicate. I will practically argue that Sharia has no place in American law, and I will argue that when it comes to legal proceedings, there is nothing that can be done but to disagree.

Just one final thought:

If I were to find myself in the court of law for breaking a law, how would I be tried? As an American, a Jew? A Catholic? Obviously, there is no clear answer folks. Moral ambiguity is the only answer we really have. I suppose. But that’s ok. Because I am Religious Freedom, and you can too!

Thanks for reading.

Here’s a lift of my hot cocoa to you the reader, and to me not being a regularly political blogger. This post has been exhausting and fun, but exhausting. I think I’d like to retire my pundit wings now.

-Eli