Saturday, September 15, 2012

Considerations about War and Peace

A couple of days ago, I linked to a brief preview of Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography, suggesting that he might provide some insights into “What’s Going to Happen Next in the World”.

The book arrived yesterday, and it begins with a brief overview US foreign policy (especially military policy) in the years following the fall of the Berlin wall. He offers this account with the suggestion that “the debacle of the early years in Iraq has reinforced the realist dictum, disparaged by idealists in the 1990s, that the legacies of geography, history, and culture really do set limits on what can be accomplished in any given place.

I offer this as a kind of background and review of the foreign policy discussions that we’ve seen over the last 20 years.

The appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1938 quickly became the reigning analogy of the 1990s.

In fact, the fear of another Munich was not altogether new. It had been an underlying element in the decision to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s aggression in 1991. If we didn’t stop Saddam in Kuwait, he would have next invaded Saudi Arabia, thereby controlling the world’s oil supply and taking human rights in the region to an unutterable level of darkness….

Indeed, an invasion of Iraq began to emerge as a cause in the 1990s, when the U.S. military was seen as invincible against the forces of history and geography, if only it would be unleashed in time, and to its full extent, which meant boots o the ground. It was idealists who loudly and passionately urged military force in Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo, even as realists like Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger, increasingly pilloried as heartless, urged restraint….

I, too, supported the Iraq War, in print and as part of a group that urged the Bush administration to invade. I had been impressed by the power of the American military in the Balkans, and given that Saddam had murdered directly or indirectly more people than had Milosevic [in Kosovo], and was a strategic menace believed to possess weapons of mass destruction, it seemed to me at the time that intervention was warranted. I was also a journalist who had gotten too close to my story: reporting from Iraq in the 1980s, observing how much more oppressive Saddam’s Iraq was than Hafez al-Assad’s Syria, I became intent on Saddam’s removal. It would later be alleged that a concern for Israel and a championing of its territorial aggrandizement had motivated many of those in support of the war. But my experience in dealing with the neoconservatives and some liberals, too, during this time period was that Bosnia and Kosovo mattered more than Israel did in their thinking. The Balkan interventions, because they paid strategic dividends, appeared to justify the idealistic approach to foreign policy. The 1995 intervention in Bosnia changed the debate from “Should NATO Exist?” to “Should NATO Expand?” The 1999 war in Kosovo, as much as 9/11, allowed for the eventual expansion of NATO to the Black Sea.

For quite a few idealists, Iraq was a continuation of the passions of the 1990s. It represented, however subconsciously, either the defeat of geography or the utter disregard of it, dazzled as so many were with the power of the American military. The 1990s was a time when West African countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, despite their violence, and despite being institutionally far less developed than Iraq, were considered credible candidates for democracy. But it was the power of the military, and in particular that of the Air Force, which was the hidden hand that allowed universalist ideas to matter so much more than terrain and the historical experience of people living on it.

Munich, too, was at work in approaching the dilemma of Saddam Hussein after 9/11. Though the United States had just suffered an attack on its soil comparable to Pearl Harbor, the country’s experience with ground war had been, for a quarter-century, minimal, or at least not unpleasant. Moreover, Saddam was not just another dictator, but a tyrant right out of Mesopotamian antiquity, comparable in many eyes to Hitler or Stalin, who harbored, so it was believed, weapons of mass destruction. In light of 9/11—in light of [1938] Munich—history would never forgive us if we did not take action.

When Munich lead to overreach, the upshot was that other analogy, thought earlier to have been vanquished: Vietnam. Thus began the next intellectual cycle of the Post Cold War.

* * *

In this next cycle, which roughly corresponded with the first decade of the twenty-first century and the difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the terms “realist” and “pragmatist” became marks of respect, signifying those who were skeptical from the start of America’s adventure in Mesopotamia, while “neoconservative” became a mark of derision. Whereas in the 1990s, ethnic and sectarian differences in far-off corners of the world were seen as obstacles that good men should strive to overcome—or risk being branded as “fatalists” or determinists”—in the following decade such hatreds were seen as factors that might have warned us away from military action; or should have. If one had to pick a moment when it became undeniable that the Vietnam analogy had superseded the one of Munich, it was February 22, 2006, when the Shiite Al-Askariya Mosque at Samarra was blown up by Sunni al Qaeda extremists, unleashing a fury of inter-communal atrocities in Iraq, which the American military was unable to stop. Suddenly, our land forces were seen to be powerless amid the forces of primordial hatreds and chaos. The myth of the omnipotent new United States military, born in Panama and the First Gulf War, battered a bit in Somalia, then repaired and burnished in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, was for a time shattered, along with the idealism that went with it.

While Munich is about universalism, about taking care of the world and the lives of distant others, Vietnam is domestic in spirit. It is about taking care of one’s own, following the 58,000 dead from that war. Vietnam counsels that tragedy is avoided by thinking tragically. It decries incessant fervor, for it suggests how wrong things can go. Indeed, it was an idealistic sense of mission that had embroiled the United States in that conflict in Southeast Asia in the first place. The nation had been at peace, at the apex of its post-World War II prosperity, even as the Vietnamese communists—as ruthless and determined a group of people as the twentieth century produced—had murdered more than ten thousand of their own citizens before the arrival of the first regular American troops. What war could be more just? Geography, distance, our own horrendous experience in the jungles of the Philippines in another irregular war six decades previously at the turn of the twentieth century were the last things in people’s minds when we entered Vietnam.

Vietnam is an analogy that thrives following national trauma. For realism is not exciting. It is respected only after the seeming lack of it has made a situation demonstrably worse. Indeed, just look at Iraq, with almost five thousand American dead (and with over thirty thousand seriously wounded) and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, at a cost of over a trillion dollars. Even were Iraq to evolve into a semi-stable democracy and an implicit ally of the United States, the cost has been so excessive that, as others have noted, it is candidly difficult to see the ethical value in the achievement. Iraq undermined a key element in the mind-set of some: that the projection of American power always had a moral result. But others understood that the untamed use of power by any state, even a freedom-loving democratic one like America, was not necessarily virtuous.

Concomitant with a new respect for realism came renewed interest in the seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who extols the moral benefits of fear and sees violent anarchy as the chief threat to society. For Hobbes, fear of violent death is the cornerstone of enlightened self-interest. By establishing a state, men replace the fear of violent death—an all-encompassing, mutual fear—with the fear that only those who break the need face. Such concepts are difficult to grasp for the urban middle class, who have long since lost any contact with man’s natural condition. But the horrific violence of a disintegrating Iraq, which, unlike Rwanda and Bosnia in some respects, was not the result of a singularly organized death machine, but the very breakdown of order, allowed many of us to imagine man’s original state. Hobbes thus became the philosopher of this second cycle of the Post Cold War, just as [the humanist philosopher Isaiah] Berlin had been of the first.

And so this is where the Post Cold War has brought us: to the recognition that the very totalitarianism that we fought against in the decades following World War II might, in quite a few circumstances, be preferable to a situation where nobody is in charge. There are things worse than communism, it turned out, and in Iraq we brought them about ourselves. I say this as someone who supported regime change.

From The Revenge of Geography, by Robert D. Kaplan, (New York: Random House, pgs 14-20).

A Brief History of the Thirty Year’s War

The Thirty Year’s War represents another attempt at the compulsion of belief, this time in the lands that make up modern-day Germany. The war was far too long and far too involved even to list its major events [here]. However, it was crucial for several reasons. First, it was another step in the marriage of religion and violence. Second, it tended to strengthen certain state and religious alliances, while weakening others. Finally, its end brought about a solution that infused sacred power with the power of the ruler in a way that was foreign to the European mind prior to the sixteenth century.

The war stretched from 1618 until 1648, giving it its name. It began almost exactly one hundred years after Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, and that was not an accident. In October 1617, Protestants celebrated a grand Reformation jubilee. Catholics took offense, and the pope immediately ordered a “counter-jubilee.” The two sides became ever-more suspicious of each other and waited only for a match to strke the flame. The match was struck in Prague. In 1618, the new king of Bohemia was Ferdinand II, a devout Catholic. On his election in 1617, Protestants in Bohemia had worried about their religious freedoms, which had been granted in the first decade of the seventeenth century. When Ferdinand sent counselors to arbitrate a dispute over the ownership of two churches, the citizens of Prague reacted violently. They threw the counselors out of the window of Hradcany Castle, some seventy feet up. This event became known as the Defenestration of Prague. The two men lived; according to Catholics, the angels cushioned their fall, but Protestants said they landed in a pile of manure. Furious, Ferdinand, who would soon become Holy Roman Emperor, attacked.

The war did not end until 1648, with the Peace of Westphalia. In the thirty years of its duration, most of the nations of Europe became entangled in its web in one way or another. No one won. Germany and Bohemia were devastated. While the war seemed to be between Protestants and Catholics, it was also between the Habsburgs and their rivals. Thus, for a time during the war, France supported the Protestant cause, in order to weaken the Habsburgs.

The Peace of Westphalia brought the hostilities to a close. It changed the map of Europe, but that is a political matter, not a theological or religious topic. For religion, the Peace of Westphalia demanded that all parties accept the terms of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, with the addition of Calvinism to the allowed religions of Lutheranism and Catholicism. The religion of any particular realm was again decided by the principle of following the religion of the ruler … That meant that the ruler of a region set the accepted religion for his subjects. As well, the right of emigration for those who could not accept their ruler’s religion was maintained, and private worship according to conscience was allowed.

From R. Ward Holder, “Crisis and Renewal: The Era of the Reformation”, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, ©2009, pgs 220-221.

Islamists fan the flame of Muslim victimhood

Yesterday, the violence because of “the movie” spread to more than a dozen nations across the Islamic world.

An op-ed piece by Husain Haqqani, professor of international relations at Boston University, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. in 2008-11, offered an explanation for why the protests are occurring (subscription required):

[The] mob violence and assaults should be seen for what they really are: an effort by Islamists to garner support and mobilize their base by exacerbating anti-Western sentiments…

Protests orchestrated on the pretext of slights and offenses against Islam have been part of Islamist strategy for decades. Iran's ayatollahs built an entire revolution around anti-Americanism. While the Iranian revolution was underway in 1979, Pakistan's Islamists whipped up crowds by spreading rumors that the Americans had forcibly occupied Islam's most sacred site, the Ka'aba or the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Pakistani protesters burned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

Violent demonstrations in many parts of the Muslim world after the 1989 fatwa—or religious condemnation—of a novel by Salman Rushdie, or after the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005, also did not represent spontaneous outrage. In each case, the insult to Islam or its prophet was first publicized by Islamists themselves so they could use it as justification for planned violence.

Once mourning over the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and others subsides, we will hear familiar arguments in the West. Some will rightly say that Islamist sensibilities cannot and should not lead to self-censorship here. Others will point out that freedom of expression should not be equated with a freedom to offend. They will say: Just as a non-Jew, out of respect for other religious beliefs, does not exercise his freedom to desecrate a Torah scroll, similar respect should be extended to Muslims and what they deem sacred.

But this debate, as thoughtful as it may be, is a distraction from what is really going on. It ignores the political intent of Islamists for whom every perceived affront to Islam is an opportunity to exploit a wedge issue for their own empowerment.

As for affronts, the Western mainstream is, by and large, quite respectful toward Muslims, millions of whom have adopted Europe and North America as their home and enjoy all the freedoms the West has to offer, including the freedom to worship. Insignificant or unnoticed videos and publications would have no impact on anyone, anywhere, if the Islamists did not choose to publicize them for radical effect.

And insults, real or hyped, are not the problem. At the heart of Muslim street violence is the frustration of the world's Muslims over their steady decline for three centuries, a decline that has coincided with the rise and spread of the West's military, economic and intellectual prowess.

During the 800 years of Muslim ascendancy beginning in the eighth century—in Southern Europe, North Africa and much of Western Asia—Muslims did not riot to protest non-Muslim insults against Islam or its prophet. There is no historic record of random attacks against non-Muslim targets in retaliation for a non-Muslim insulting Prophet Muhammad, though there are many books derogatory toward Islam's prophet that were written in the era of Islam's great empires. Muslims under Turkey's Ottomans, for example, did not attack non-Muslim envoys (the medieval equivalent of today's embassies) or churches upon hearing of real or rumored European sacrilege against their religion.

Clearly, then, violent responses to perceived injury are not integral to Islam. A religion is what its followers make it, and Muslims opting for violence have chosen to paint their faith as one that is prone to anger. Frustration with their inability to succeed in the competition between nations also has led some Muslims to seek symbolic victories.

Yet the momentary triumph of burning another country's flag or setting on fire a Western business or embassy building is a poor but widespread substitute for global success that eludes the modern world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Violent protest represents the lower rung of the ladder of rage; terrorism is its higher form.

Islamists almost by definition have a vested interest in continuously fanning the flames of Muslim victimhood. For Islamists, wrath against the West is the basis for their claim to the support of Muslim masses, taking attention away from societal political and economic failures. For example, the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Conference account for one-fifth of the world's population but their combined gross domestic product is less than 7% of global output—a harsh reality for which Islamists offer no solution….

Mainstream discourse among Muslims blames everyone but themselves for this situation. The image of an ascendant West belittling Islam with the view to eliminate it serves as a convenient explanation for Muslim weakness.

Once the Muslim world embraces freedom of expression, it will be able to recognize the value of that freedom even for those who offend Muslim sensibilities. More important: Only in a free democratic environment will the world's Muslims be able to debate the causes of their powerlessness, which stirs in them greater anger than any specific action on the part of Islam's Western detractors.

Until then, the U.S. would do well to remember Osama bin Laden's comment not long after the Sept. 11 attacks: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." America should do nothing that enables Islamists to portray the nation as the weak horse.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Roman Catholic authority and the Soviet propagandistic “correct” understanding of things

Given that Fr Bryan thinks that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is able to “[ponder] the word of God in [its] heart and [hear] the voice of God accurately” in such a way that it can “proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the World”, I asked him, How do you account for something like this?

In the link provided, I note that “Augustine's understanding/translation of iustitificare, a Latin term which he held to mean “to make righteous” was “a permissible interpretation of the Latin word”, was “unacceptable as an interpretation of the Hebrew concept which underlies it” – and that this mistranslation became the foundation for the whole Roman Catholic teaching on “justification”.

That is, Augustine missed quite thoroughly the concept of what the Old Testament meant when it said that God was going to “justify” Israel and bring salvation.

I noted further, “This isn’t the only case in which a mistranslation gets made into [Roman Catholic] dogma”.

Fr Bryan did not respond, but this exchanged followed:

Someone named Dennis said:


Regarding #957, your argument goes under the assumption that McGrath is correct and Augustine is wrong. So, it all depends on whom you take as your authority. You implicitly trust McGrath more than Augustine. I disagree. As a matter of fact, I think most people would trust Augustine much more than they would trust McGrath.

I replied:

Dennis, your appeal to authority is very revealing.

There’s no assumption at all, in the whole piece. We know that words have actual meanings, and we know what those meanings are, and that Augustine didn’t now Hebrew. We know where his understanding of iustitificare came from, and how, precisely, things went wrong. There’s not an assumption in the whole piece.

Dennis replied:

What I’m saying is we all have an authority. Mine is the Church who has decided on this. Yours is your understanding of McGrath. I think your reading of McGrath is biased on your understanding of Scripture and your disposition on the Catholic Church.

My authority, Dennis, happens to be “what’s true”. What’s really going on there. Your appeal to “authority” to decide a translation issue reminds me of something that Václav Havel wrote in The Power of the Powerless, when he was locked in the deepest bowels of the Soviet system of propaganda:

For even though our dictatorship has long since alienated itself completely from the social movements that give birth to it, the authenticity of these movements (and I am thinking of the proletarian and socialist movements of the nineteenth century) gives it undeniable historicity. These origins provided a solid foundation of sorts on which it could build until it became the utterly new social and political reality it is today, which has become so inextricably a part of the structure of the modern world. A feature of those historical origins was the “correct” understanding of social conflicts in the period from which those original movements emerged. The fact that at the very core of this “correct” understanding there was a genetic disposition toward the monstrous alienation characteristic of its subsequence development is not essential here.

Rome provides the “correct” understanding authoritatively, even if the underlying facts are all wrong. Just like the brutal Soviet regime.

Which came first, however? Which learned this tactic from the other?

It’s true, correlation is not causation. But if its “genetic disposition” looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you have to ask yourself at some point, is it related?

A response to “Fr Bryan” on “adding to” the Word of God

I had an interesting exchange on what became the remnants of the comment thread, Response to Jason Stellman Part 1.

A young priest, who hangs out at Called to Communion and goes by the handle” Fr Bryan”, had explained to Paige, one of the moderators, “how I describe it when I teach on such matters”, in response to a comment she made to the effect that the Magisterium “both interpret[s] and add[s] to the biblical text.”

Fr Bryan said [and we are told to listen to our priests when they teach such things]:

Here is how I describe it when I teach on such matters. I will say that revelation (The Word of God) is God’s perfect self communication. It is God speaking to us perfectly. However, perfect speaking is worthless if the listener is hard of hearing, which we are. In order for us to hear the word of God perfectly God needs to repair our hearing, which I’m sure you’ll agree with.

At this point, I’ll simply say that God, having created us, is certainly aware of our limitations, and is more than able, as Calvin said, to accommodate our limitations, without the help of an evil and oppressive “infallible interpreter”. In fact, one might say that “God speaking to us perfectly” is all that needs be said. For the “perfection” of God’s speech is “perfect” for our understanding.

He continues:

However the difference between Catholics and Protestants is not that God has opened the ears of the Church to hear the word of God but how he has done this. As a Catholic, I believe that he has used the system of leadership he himself set up to do this and that this system of leadership involves the Apostles and their successors.

Through this lens, the documents of Vatican II (or any official magisterial teaching) can be seen as the Fruit of the Church pondering the word of God in her heart and hearing the voice of God accurately and responding to the Holy Spirit’s invitation to proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the World in which we live.

Now, you likely reject this, but I hope it at least clarifies the difference between Scripture and Magisterial teaching as Catholics understand it.

I do reject it. Consider the phrase, “the Church pondering the word of God in her heart”. We are talking not about a person with a mind – we are talking about a collective of celibate men, many of whom are evil beyond the comprehension of most common people, and it is these men, in their collective deliberations, for which the phrase “the Church pondering the word of God in her heart” describes.

This is a church that we know ponders other, much more sinister things in its heart. For example, it was Good Pope John, pope of the Vatican II council, who signed the document that perpetuated a 1922 policy of secrecy which extends back through time, going back centuries of hiding and protecting sexual offenders.

Canon Law itself mandates the policy of maintaining secret archives on these cases which led to the kinds of shady dealings that frustrated a Philadelphia Grand Jury, for example.

There is no inclination to just simply be truthful. Jesus had a word for phenomena like this: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” He also said, a bad tree cannot bear good fruit

I offered this explanation to Paige:

Paige: it’s important to keep in mind that “Tradition” (capital “T”) is not the same as “tradition” (lower-case “t”)

“Tradition” and Scripture and Magisterium are all, on the surface, placed at the same level. But “Tradition” and Scripture are both “divinely inspired”, and further, “Tradition”, not being “tradition”, is really just some form of Magisterial pronouncement. For example, it’s a tradition that there’s a procession of priest and altar servers going into the Mass. They’ve been doing that from Pagan times (picked up a pagan practice and then continued to do it year after year).

However, it’s “Tradition” that Mary was conceived immaculately, and that she was assumed into Heaven. But it’s not “Tradition” because it was “tradition” (and bad “tradition” to begin with — the origins of both are spurious). These are “Tradition” because of pronouncements made in 1854 and 1950.

So, while the “divine revelation” that you and I would recognize as Scripture has ceased, the body of “divinely-inspired” materials can and does in practice continue to grow as the “system of authority” continues to make pronouncements that are considered “Tradition”.

So when you say “add to”, you are, essentially, correct.

Fr Bryan has not so far commented on this further.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kingdom through Covenant: A Review by Douglas Moo

Trueman on TGC

Carl Trueman recently did a post on complementarianism and TGC. I’m not a member of TGC, so I have no personal stake in defending TGC. That said:

i) Trueman has an obsession with TGC bordering on a personal vendetta. I don’t know why it bugs him so much.

He’s at risk of marginalizing himself. After you’ve repeatedly stated your position and given your reasons, you need to give it a rest and move on to other things. You’ve had whatever impact you’re going to have. If you keep harping on the same issue, even though you have nothing new to say, people begin to tune you out even when you write about something different.

ii) Not only is it ineffective, but counterproductive. You alienate theological soul mates. If Trueman can’t get along with those with whom he shares so much in common, who can he get along with? He’s becoming an ecclesiastical misanthrope.

iii) This is partly due to Trueman’s criticism of celebrity preachers and the general cult of celebrity. No doubt there’s something to that. Yet Jonah was a celebrity preacher. Peter was a celebrity preacher. Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards, and Lloyd-Jones were celebrity preachers. You can’t fault a preacher for being famous unless he’s famous for the wrong reason. You can’t fault a preacher for being popular unless he’s popular for the wrong reason.

No doubt megachurch pastors have to husband their time wisely. Not spread themselves to thinly by taking on too many extracurricular speaking engagements.

Of course, time management is also an issue for church historians. When does Trueman find the time to keep up with the abundant secondary literature in church history, much less conduct original research in his own field?

iv) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that TGC is inconsistent in championing complementarianism. If so, so what? A coalition is just a means to an end, not an end it itself.  This is not inconsistency on a point of principle.

v) But why assume TGC is inconsistent? In the nature of the case, members of a coalition don’t march in lockstep. Off-the-cuff, I’d say there are two kinds of coalitions. Some are based on a few core convictions shared by all participants. Others are based on overlapping convictions.

vi) Some TGC members are culture warriors. In addition, the role of men and women is also an ecclesiastical issue.

vii) This is also driven by Trueman’s longstanding objection to parachurch organizations. Yet his posted his critique at Ref21, which is, itself, a parachurch organization.

viii) One issue is how we define the “church.” We could define the church as an institution consisting of elders and laity, who meet together for common worship, where public prayers are offered, the Bible is expounded, and the sacraments are administered. That’s a narrow, formal definition of the church. A valid, biblical definition.

But we can also define the church more broadly as the people of God or the covenant community. That’s also a valid, biblical definition.

On that definition, a Christian woman who conscientiously performs her duties as a wife and mother is doing the work of the church. It’s not the work of the whole church, but the nature of the church as a body with different members is that different members of the same body have different duties. The work of the church is collective and distributive. Each member has his distinctive contribution to make. And it all adds up.

Mass Protests at US Embassy in Yemen

Seven US Embassies issue warnings

U.S. embassies in at least seven countries in the Middle East, Africa and the Caucuses are warning of possible anti-American protests: embassies in Armenia, Burundi, Kuwait, Sudan, Tunisia, Zambia, and Egypt all issued warnings on Wednesday advising Americans to be particularly vigilant.

An account of the attack on the US Embassy in Libya

An account of the attack on the US Embassy in Libya:

U.S. officials were still piecing together the day's events, which followed protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo over an anti-Islamic video. In contrast to the Cairo protest, which appeared to be spontaneous, U.S. officials said the attack in Benghazi late Tuesday might have been planned by militants who used the protests as cover.

American intelligence agencies were poring over information that could help indicate what groups may have taken part. Officials said the agencies are looking specifically at the pro-al Qaeda group Ansar al Sharia but cautioned they didn't have solid evidence.

Nearly 24 hours after the start of the shooting, officials struggled to explain what transpired through hours of chaos and terror inside the darkened consulate and a nearby annex. They warned that their preliminary version of events could change as more information became available.

The gang first arrived in the neighborhood around 8 p.m. local time carrying weapons including rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles, said Ali Ben Saud, owner of the villa leased to the U.S. for the consulate.

A Libyan doctor said he and several neighbors tried to get the gang, which he estimated at 200, to leave as they marched toward the U.S. compound. "We told them to leave our homes alone and one [of the militants] replied, 'The Americans are infidels and we are going to finish them,' " the doctor said. "Many of us then fled because the shooting started."

Said Mr. al-Arghoubi, the neighborhood resident: "They didn't come to talk. They came to fight." The first shots were fired at around 10 p.m. local time, or 4 p.m. Eastern time, according to a preliminary U.S. account.

The attackers quickly gained access to the compound and began firing into the main building, setting it afire. A senior administration official said three people were inside the compound at the time: Mr. Stevens; Sean Smith, a foreign service information-management officer; and a U.S. regional security officer.

As the three tried to leave the burning building, they became separated from each other in heavy smoke. The regional security officer, whose name hadn't been disclosed by late Wednesday, made it outside, and then he and other security personnel rushed back into the burning building to try to rescue Mr. Stevens and Mr. Smith. They found Mr. Smith, already dead.

They were unable to find the ambassador before being forced to flee the building because of the heavy flames and continuing small-arms fire.

Mr. Obama was told Tuesday night that Mr. Stevens was unaccounted for.

At around midnight, the mission annex came under fire. Two U.S. diplomats were killed during that attack and two others were wounded.

According to Mr. Ben Saud, the landowner, Libyan security guards jumped into the compound and pulled Mr. Stevens from the burning and smoke-filled building at around 1 a.m. local time. Libyans then drove him to Benghazi Central Hospital, where the staff tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

At about 2:30 a.m. local time, Libyan security forces regained control of the situation, according to the preliminary U.S. account.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stratfor: “intensifying psychological pressure on Iran more likely than war”

Analysis from a few days ago:

For the past several months, the Israelis have been threatening to attack Iranian nuclear sites as the United States has pursued a complex policy of avoiding complete opposition to such strikes while making clear it doesn't feel such strikes are necessary. At the same time, the United States has carried out maneuvers meant to demonstrate its ability to prevent the Iranian counter to an attack -- namely blocking the Strait of Hormuz. While these maneuvers were under way, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said no "redline" exists that once crossed by Iran would compel an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The Israeli government has long contended that Tehran eventually will reach the point where it will be too costly for outsiders to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

The Israeli and American positions are intimately connected, but the precise nature of the connection is less clear. Israel publicly casts itself as eager to strike Iran but restrained by the United States, though unable to guarantee it will respect American wishes if Israel sees an existential threat emanating from Iran. The United States publicly decries Iran as a threat to Israel and to other countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, but expresses reservations about military action out of fears that Iran would respond to a strike by destabilizing the region and because it does not believe the Iranian nuclear program is as advanced as the Israelis say it is….

Assuming the Iranians are rational actors, their optimal strategy lies not in acquiring nuclear weapons and certainly not in using them, but instead in having a credible weapons development program that permits them to be seen as significant international actors. Developing weapons without ever producing them gives Iran international political significance, albeit at the cost of sanctions of debatable impact. At the same time, it does not force anyone to act against them, thereby permitting outsiders to avoid incurring the uncertainties and risks of such action.

Up to this point, the Iranians have not even fielded a device for testing, let alone a deliverable weapon. For all their activity, either their technical limitations or a political decision has kept them from actually crossing the obvious redlines and left Israel trying to define some developmental redline.

Iran's approach has created a slowly unfolding crisis, reinforced by Israel's slowly rolling response. For its part, all of Israel's rhetoric -- and periodic threats of imminent attack -- has been going on for several years, but the Israelis have done little beyond some covert and cyberattacks to block the Iranian nuclear program. Just as the gap between Iranian rhetoric and action has been telling, so, too, has the gap between Israeli rhetoric and reality. Both want to appear more fearsome than either is actually willing to act.

The Iranian strategy has been to maintain ambiguity on the status of its program, while making it appear that the program is capable of sudden success -- without ever achieving that success. The Israeli strategy has been to appear constantly on the verge of attack without ever attacking and to use the United States as its reason for withholding attacks, along with the studied ambiguity of the Iranian program. The United States, for its part, has been content playing the role of holding Israel back from an attack that Israel doesn't seem to want to launch. The United States sees the crumbling of Iran's position in Syria as a major Iranian reversal and is content to see this play out alongside sanctions….

When we step back and view the picture as a whole, we see Iran using its nuclear program for political reasons but being meticulous not to make itself appear unambiguously close to success. We see the Israelis talking as if they were threatened but acting as if they were in no rush to address the supposed threat. And we see the Americans acting as if they are restraining Israel, paradoxically appearing to be Iran's protector even though they are using the Israeli threat to increase Iranian insecurity. For their part, the Russians initially supported Iran in a bid to bog down the United States in another Middle East crisis. But given Iran's reversal in Syria, the Russians are clearly reconsidering their Middle East strategy and even whether they actually have a strategy in the first place. Meanwhile, the Chinese want to continue buying Iranian oil unnoticed.

It is the U.S.-Israeli byplay that is most fascinating. On the surface, Israel is driving U.S. policy. On closer examination, the reverse is true. Israel has bluffed an attack for years and never acted. Perhaps now it will act, but the risks of failure are substantial. If Israel really wants to act, this is not obvious. Speeches by politicians do not constitute clear guidelines. If the Israelis want to get the United States to participate in the attack, rhetoric won't work. Washington wants to proceed by increasing pressure to isolate Iran. Simply getting rid of a nuclear program not clearly intended to produce a device is not U.S. policy. Containing Iran without being drawn into a war is. To this end, Israeli rhetoric is useful.

Rather than seeing Netanyahu as trying to force the United States into an attack, it is more useful to see Netanyahu's rhetoric as valuable to U.S. strategy. Israel and the United States remain geopolitically aligned. Israel's bellicosity is not meant to signal an imminent attack, but to support the U.S. agenda of isolating and maintaining pressure on Iran. That would indicate more speeches from Netanyahu and greater fear of war. But speeches and emotions aside, intensifying psychological pressure on Iran is more likely than war.

Now, from today’s news:

Israel Blasts U.S. Over Iran (subscription required):

Netanyahu Says Obama Administration Has No 'Moral Right' to Restrain Jewish State
TEL AVIV—The rift between top U.S. and Israeli leaders appeared to deepen Tuesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leveled the sharpest attacks in years by an Israeli leader against Washington, over differences on how to address Iran's nuclear program.

Tensions had so escalated that President Barack Obama spent an hour on the phone with the Israeli leader in a hastily arranged call hours after both governments said the White House wouldn't agree to an Israeli request for a meeting between the two leaders …

The rupture was the result of months of growing Israeli frustration with Mr. Obama's approach to Iran, in which he has stressed diplomacy and punitive sanctions. Mr. Netanyahu has exhorted the Obama administration in vain to set "red lines" that, if crossed, would trigger a U.S. military response.

The falling-out comes at a fragile moment for Mr. Obama, both in his re-election bid and in the international furor over Iran's nuclear program….

Mr. Netanyahu's comments came in the third straight day of unusual and harsh public exchanges between the two governments. At a news conference in Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu said Tuesday the Obama administration and other Western allies, by failing to set strict limits on Tehran, lack the moral authority to press Israel not to attack Iran.

"If Iran knows that there's no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it's doing: It's continuing without any interference toward obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there nuclear bombs,'' he said.

"The world tells Israel: Wait. There's still time. And I say: Wait for what? Wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."…

Larry Hurtado on “Triadic” Beliefs in Earliest Christianity

Larry Hurtado recently put up a blog post in which he discussed earliest Christian devotion and beliefs in the context of another talk given by Anthony Thiselton:

Back from the annual meeting of the British New Testament Society (King’s College London, 6-8 Sept), I want to report on, and engage briefly, the plenary lecture by Professor Anthony Thiselton: “Must We Rest Content with ‘Binitarianism’ in New Testament Studies?” I respect and admire Professor Thiselton greatly, and this is not in any way intended to refute or negate his lecture. But, given that he opened with a reference to some of my own work on early Jesus-devotion and the re-shaping of Jewish “monotheistic” devotion to include the figure of Jesus, I want to attempt briefly some correction and clarification on a couple of matters.

Thistelton, drawing from a forthcoming work, The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, Through the Centuries, and Today, “focused more on how the ‘Holy Spirit’ (or ‘Spirit of God’) features so prominently in the NT and in subsequent early Christian religious thought, and he urged that there is an organic historical connection between the kind of beliefs that we have in the NT writings and subsequent doctrinal development that led to the doctrine of the ‘Trinity’.”

Hurtado notes his own distinction between “binitarian” “devotion” and “triadic” “beliefs”:

In characterizing the “pattern” of earliest Christian devotional practice, I have noted that there are typically two figures identified as recipients of devotion: God and Jesus. My focus in noting this has been that it comprises a remarkable, and to my knowledge singular, “mutation” in what otherwise seems to have been Jewish devotional practice in which a second figure (Jesus) was included in such a programmatic manner with God as rightful recipient of corporate devotion. (I may say that it is now nearly 25 years since I first published this view of matters, and I have yet to note any significant correction or refutation of it. It still appears that the devotional pattern reflected in the NT is, in its time and setting, novel and without real analogy or precedent.) …

I’ve typically responded by underscoring the point that my emphasis has been on the devotional/worship practice of early Christianity, and that in this the Spirit does not really feature as a recipient in the way that God and Jesus do. Of course, the Spirit is prominent in the NT! Of course, the Spirit is integral to the religious outlook of those believers reflected in the NT. Indeed, the Spirit is portrayed as profoundly involved in early Christian worship/devotion, inspiring and empowering it. But the Spirit does not feature as identified recipient of earliest Christian devotion. …

In my own recent book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), I shfited focus to the “God-discourse” that we find in the NT, and noted that this has a “triadic” shape. That is, we have ubiquitous references to “God”, “Jesus” and the “Spirit”. Indeed, I document the greater frquency of references to the Spirit in the NT in comparison with the OT and other Roman-era Jewish texts. This “triadic” shaped discourse obviously helped to drive and shape subsequent doctrinal reflection that led to the doctrine of the “Trinity”, although that subsequent doctrinal reflection also involved the incorporation of issues and conceptual categories additional to those reflected in the NT.

How to Get a Do-It-Yourself MA in Political Philosophy

Vodka Martini, Shaken, Not Stirred

The death of Cardinal Martini has drawn comments from a number of quarters. Both Steve and I posted links to some of his comments from his last interview, in which he stated “our rituals and our cassocks are pompous”. “The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops”, he said.

* * *

The National Catholic Reporter asked, “Was Cardinal Carlo Martini the last liberal Catholic bishop?” They, as “liberals”, have good reason to ask, given that, following the wide scale admissions of all things liberal into the RCC at Vatican II, some 30 years of papacy of the conservatives John Paul II and now Benedict XVI (the only men permitted to appoint bishops), presumably the only bishops remaining are those named by JPII and BXVI.

Since the late Pope John Paul II assumed the papacy, there has been an effort to remake the hierarchy by appointing bishops who would unquestioningly follow Vatican thinking started under John Paul. Ironically, it was John Paul who elevated Martini to the episcopacy in his first year as pope. After that, John Paul mainly appointed conservative bishops.

With Martini's death, the church risks losing liberal Catholics who push for changes in church structure and discipline. "The progressive wing of the church will simply give up on the hierarchy and the hierarchy will try to push the progressives out of the church," Reese said.

The NCR noted “Observers were stunned when around 200,000 people queued outside Milan's cathedral to pay their tribute to the remains of the deceased cardinal last weekend…The warm send-off was in stark contrast to what was perceived as a Vatican cold shoulder. Neither Benedict nor his No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, attended Martini's funeral Monday, and Benedict didn't mention the late cardinal during his Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square.”

Faced with a church hierarchy filled with conservatives, Catholic liberals have few leaders left to turn to. "Frankly, there is almost no one," said Luigi Sandri, a longtime advocate of grass-roots church reform.

* * *

Larry Hurtado commented on his brief experience with Martini, whom he said was a respectable New Testament scholar:

I was asked in an email whether in fact he was a real and respected biblical scholar. Unquestionably, yes. His willingness to take on senior roles in the Catholic Church made it difficult thereafter to continue doing the original research that characterized his earlier years as a NT scholar. But he is noted for some important work.

In particular, I point to his study of Codex Vaticanus in the light of the then recently-published Bodmer Papyrus XIV (aka P75), the remains of a manuscript of Luke and John dated palaeographically ca. 200 CE: Carlo M. Martini, Il problema della recensionalita del codice B alla luce del papiro Bodmer XIV, Analecta Biblica, no. 26 (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1966).

Prior to his study, it had often been asserted that the sort of text we have in Codex Vaticanus was the product of an early 4th century redaction supposedly done under ecclesiastical authorities. But the discovery and publication of the Bodmer Papyrus XIV in 1961 brought important new evidence to light, and Martini was among the first to draw out the significance of this manuscript.

“P75″ (as it is referred to commonly by NT scholars) exhibits a text of Luke and John that makes it the closest “relative” of Codex Vaticanus, these two manuscripts agreeing in excess of 90% of all variation-units in Luke and John. So, this means that the kind of text for which Codex Vaticanus (Codex B in NT parlance) is famous (the “neutral” text of Westcott and Hort) was not the product of a 4th or even 3rd century recension, but was already circulating by ca. 200 CE. This put the text at the head of the pack, so to speak, P75 among the earliest witnesses to the text of the NT.

(And it should be noted, there were scarcely any ecclesiastical structures in place in the 2nd century to have produced and imposed a supposed “recension” of the text of the Gospels, although such a desperate claim is still occasionally made. The more plausible view is that the “P75″ type of text of the Gospels was simply one of the copying tendencies of that early period, this tendency apparently concerned with exactness in reproducing the text, in contrast with the readiness shown in some other early manuscripts to edit the text with a view to ease of reading, etc.) …

Martini held the professorial chair in NT Textual Criticism in the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and also served on the editorial board that prepared the 26th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece (the standard hand-edition of the Greek NT) and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. He was the only Catholic scholar to be invited to serve in that role.

* * *

Leonardo De Chirico also discussed Martini in his Vatican Files at Reformation 21:

The Dialectics of Catholicity

According to public opinion, Martini represents a view that is the polar opposite of that of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in the Roman Catholic world. The former has been called "liberal", "progressive", "democratic", "left-wing", while the latter has been labeled as "conservative", "traditional", "authoritarian", "right-wing". With these conventional categories, one could map the entire Roman Catholic spectrum.

As a matter of fact, the public opinion needs to find polarizations, needs to put one figure against another, and needs to find conflicts within a given social body. Many times these polarizations reflect reality; others simply project oppositions that are not there. In the case of Martini, both observations are true. They are true because Roman Catholicism is based on multiple on-going tensions that sway one way or another but are meant to be kept in balance. In other words, John Paul II needed Martini and Martini needed John Paul II. The first maintained balance, while the second explored new fields. Martini spoke to the center-left, while Wojtyla spoke to the center-right, so that the whole spectrum was covered. Roman Catholicism as a whole needs both the defender of the already given balance and the explorer of new settlements.

In the Roman Catholic system, the Pope is supposed to fight against "anti-popes", but is likely to encourage "ante-popes" that would stretch the Roman Catholic synthesis further, so that what is now felt as disturbing avant-garde will be center-stage tomorrow. In this sense, the "ante-pope" Martini, who arrived too late to become Pope, will perhaps serve as a model for future Popes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

D.G. Hart: “Maybe Called to Communion should be renamed Called to Confusion”

I think he’s wrong about this, but only in the “maybe” part. They definitely are a call to confusion. They definitely have gotten themselves into something they don’t fully understand. And they’re treating it as if they do.

In their call to find infallible certainty over “the proximate object of faith”, and in their enthusiasm to proclaim that they have found such infallibility, the Called to Communion gang have embraced their own worst nightmare – the fact that there are multiple “Roman Catholicisms” that have existed over time and across the religious spectrum today. Hart has isolated one, but there are many. The claim is that these are all “under” the same authority structure, but many of them mock it and are still called “Roman Catholics”. They all hold to the “same Catechism”, but how many of them pick and choose (and the Pope says he’d rather these would leave), whereas, how many hold to the Catechism with the same “correct interpretation” and with the same purity that the Called to Communion gang hold it?

Since Hart is talking about councils in conflict, some time ago, I wrote about some other councils that are in conflict: Vatican I and Vatican II.

Consider Michael J. Buckley, S.J., “Papal Primacy and the Episcopate: towards a relational understanding,” New York: Crossroad Herder, © 1998, from the “Ut Unum Sint” series. Some comments from Buckley:

The development from Pastor aeternus (Vatican I) to Lumen Gentium (Vatican II), from speaking of the bishops as the episcopate to speaking of the bishops as “a college...or a college of bishops” (collegium ... seu corpus episcoporum), is far more considerable than a simple semantic shift. “Episcopate” is somewhat more abstract than “college of bishops,” and it fails to express the dynamic relationship of the bishops among themselves… (pg 77).

Then there are the vital relationship between the bishop and the local church within which he is to represent the leadership and the sanctifying presence of Christ (81) … and the Apostolic Tradition which insists that the bishop is to be chosen by all of the people and that this selection is to be approved by the assembled [local] bishops and elders (86). Buckley writes, in summary:

Two questions arise in this context. Whether the present settlement actually detracts from the full vigor of the episcopate and whether papal restoration of ancient legislation on the selection of bishops and their stability within their sees could contribute significantly to the strengthening of the episcopate and the local churches today. Could the apostolic See further effectively its responsibilities simply by restoring what has been taken [or, what the papacy has usurped for itself] over the centuries? This would be to retrieve in a very different way that papal leadership whose bent was the strength and freedom of the local church. Neither problem is an easy one to resolve, but both merit serious study and each touches upon both components of this essay (94).

After 1800 years, they still cannot agree on what the definition of a bishop should be. But believe with the assent of faith any way, because whatever it is they do agree on surely must be infallibly so. 

In reality, these guys are not called to communion with the one true faith that was preached by the Apostles. They are called to share the communion of noumenality that exists between Bryan Cross’s ears, under that fine-looking hat that he wears. It is not the communion of Paul and the martyrs and the untold masses of saints who have existed in union with Christ through the ages. It is the call to the communion of a faith that’s shaped by Bryan’s made-up definitions of monocausalism and ecclesial deism and whatever new concepts he can dream up.

They are not “called to communion”. What they are called to is quite different. They are called to a cult.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Employment Is Worse than During the Recession

Complementarianism and the Gospel Coalition

The Revenge of Geography

What’s Going to Happen Next in the World?
Robert Kaplan has released a work entitled The Revenge of Geography, and he has provided a very helpful introduction in the Weekend WSJ:

If you want to know what Russia, China or Iran will do next, don't read their newspapers or ask what our spies have dug up—consult a map. Geography can reveal as much about a government's aims as its secret councils. More than ideology or domestic politics, what fundamentally defines a state is its place on the globe. Maps capture the key facts of history, culture and natural resources. With upheaval in the Middle East and a tumultuous political transition in China, look to geography to make sense of it all.

Here’s the key: “Technology has collapsed distance, but it has hardly negated geography. Rather, it has increased the preciousness of disputed territory. As the Yale scholar Paul Bracken observes, the "finite size of the earth" is now itself a force for instability”.

Briefly, then, Kaplan gives an overview of what he thinks we can look forward to in some of the coming regional struggles around the globe:

Robert Kaplan: The Supremacy of Stealth

Back in August of 2003, Robert Kaplan wrote an essay entitled The Supremacy of Stealth, in which he began with the observation:

Our recent effort in Iraq, with its large-scale mobilization of troops and immense concentration of risk, is not indicative of how we will want to act in the future. So how should we operate on a tactical level to manage an unruly world? What are the rules and what are the tools?

That essay described a number of steps that the U.S. ought to be taking in order to make its military both more “low profile” in the world, and more effective. And it seems as if some senior military planners, at least, have taken it to heart:

When I asked Major Paul S. Warren, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Army's Special Operations Command, what serves as the model for a civil-affairs officer within the Special Operations forces, he said, "Read John Hersey's A Bell for Adano—it's all there." The hero of Hersey's World War II novel is Army Major Victor Joppolo, an Italian-American civil-affairs officer appointed to govern the recently liberated Sicilian town of Adano. Joppolo is full of resourcefulness. He arranges for the U.S. Navy to show local fishermen which parts of the harbor are free of mines, so that they can use their boats to feed the town. He finds a bell from an old Navy destroyer to replace the one that the Fascists took from the local church and melted down for bullets. He countermands his own general's order outlawing the use of horse-drawn carts, which the town needs to transport food and water. He goes to the back of a line to buy bread, to show Adano's citizens that although he is in charge, he is their servant, not their master. He is the first ruler in the town's history who doesn't represent a brute force of nature. In Hersey's words,

[Men like Joppolo are] our future in the world. Neither the eloquence of Churchill nor the humanness of Roosevelt, no Charter, no four freedoms or fourteen points, no dreamer's diagram so symmetrical and so faultless on paper, no plan, no hope, no treaty—none of these things can guarantee anything. Only men can guarantee, only the behavior of men under pressure, only our Joppolos.

One good man is worth a thousand wonks.

That’s the first of about 10 such suggestions in the article, and even though the article is almost 10 years old, I highly recommend it as being a prescient look that still offers much insight into the US’s role in the world.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Your tax dollars at work

In fairness to the CDC, perhaps they instinctively perceive the reelection of Obama as equivalent to the zombie apocalypse.

Is Roman Catholic Baptism Valid?

RC Sproul Jr asks the question, “should we accept a Roman Catholic baptism as legitimate?

I was surprised at his response. For Baptists, it’s a no-brainer.

But some of the Reformers suggested yes, and even Charles Hodge (among others) have suggested that it is valid. Sproul notes, “many Protestants consider Rome to be a deeply flawed, chock-full-of-serious-errors true church and her baptisms irregular, but valid”. Along with Hodge and many Protestants, I have tended to accept this view. Roman Catholics [who frequently don’t know what they believe] may be Christians.

On the other hand, Sproul writes:
While I certainly understand this common view I do not embrace it. Baptism is, among other things, that sacrament by which one enters into the visible church. Rome, after the formal adoption of the sixth session of the Council of Trent, became an apostate church. That makes her in my judgment not merely a bad church, but a former church. A bad husband is one who is unfaithful. A rightly divorced husband, though he had had to be married in order to be unfaithful, is no longer a husband. If I am correct, being baptized into a local Roman Catholic church is not being baptized into a part of the visible church.

While the Trinity is a necessary, beautiful, critically important doctrine, while I believe that to deny it is to deny the faith, that it was the key issue for the first 500 years of the church after the ascension, this does not make it the alone necessary doctrine for a church to be a church. Any “church” for instance, that denies the resurrection of the body is not a church, and we should not accept their baptisms. In like manner, any “church” that says that anyone who teaches we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law should be damned, as Rome says in the sixth session of the Council of Trent, even if they affirm the Trinity, is not rightly administering the sacrament.

Which brings us to the Reformers. Though they may have addressed this and I missed it, it is important to remember that they are answering the question principally in a pre-Trent context. They are dealing with people who were baptized before Rome ceased to be a church, however weak they might have been up to that point. I don’t think Calvin or Luther or Zwingli, etc. needed to be baptized again because they were baptized when Rome was still a church.

Finally, the distinction between the Donatist issue and this issue is here- I am not saying that the unbelief of the one administering the sacrament makes it invalid. I am saying the unbelief of the institution into which one is being “baptized” makes it invalid.
It’s not that the baptizer disbelieves, but that the church is not a church.

Any thoughts on this?