Archive for February, 2013

The same Faith that inspired this in the sixth century:

and this in the twelfth:

and this in the sixteenth:

inspired this in the twenty first:

For once I am speechless.

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The marketing team at Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. sends along this helpful explanation for the “No More Hesitation” series: 

“The subjects in NMH targets were chosen in order to give officers the experience of dealing with deadly force shooting scenarios with subjects that are not the norm during training. I found while speaking with officers and trainers in the law enforcement community that there is a hesitation on the part of cops when deadly force is required on subjects with atypical age, frailty or condition (one officer explaining that he enlarged photos of his own kids to use as targets so that he would not be caught off guard with such a drastically new experience while on duty). This hesitation time may be only seconds but that is not acceptable when officers are losing their lives in these same situations. The goal of NMH is to break that stereotype on the range, regardless of how slim the chances are of encountering a real life scenario that involves a child, pregnant woman, etc. If that initial hesitation time can be cut down due to range experience, the officer and community are better served.”  (emphasis added)

“Law Enforcement Targets” is a company, that as its name would suggest, makes targets for police training. Apparently the natural hesitation one would feel at killing a small child or a pregnant woman is a real impediment to law enforcement…Here are some of the targets you can purchase:


Lord, have mercy.

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The Rich Get Richer…

Income Growth through 2011

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Apart from Love

Apart from love nothing whatever has existed, nor ever will. Its names and actions are many. More numerous still are its distinctive marks; divine and innumerable are its properties. Yet it is one in nature, wholly beyond utterance whether on the part of angels or men or any other creatures, even such as are unknown to us. Reason cannot comprehend it; its glory is inaccessible, its counsels unsearchable. It is eternal because it is beyond time, invisible because thought cannot comprehend it, though it may perceive it. 

-St Simeon the New Theologian

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Physician, Heal Thyself



    The doctor prays for the stricken.

The Massillon Independent yesterday reported that faith healer Dr Issam Nemeh made an appearance on Sunday at Walsh University (I had earlier discussed the man and his ministry here).

The paper said over 125 people showed up to have Dr Nemeh pray over them. It sounded like the typical charismatic healing service, with people swooning and falling backwards into the waiting arms of “catchers” (boy, does that take me back).

No healings were reported.

Did I say it sounded like a typical charismatic healing service? Not quite. These seekers paid $95 each for tickets to be prayed over.

Let’s see. That’s around $12,000 for the good doctor. Not a bad afternoon’s take, even for a physician.

Lord, have mercy.

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Food Sovereignty

The impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement has been devastating to Mexican farmers. In 2008, farmers’ organizations drove their tractors on the route Pancho Villa took during the 1910 revolution, traveling from the U.S. border to Mexico City as part of the “Without corn there is no country” and “The land can’t take anymore” campaigns, demanding support for sustainable food production. Photo: David Lauer.

On the movement for Food Sovereignty, from the Other Worlds blog:

From community gardens to just global policy, a national and global movement is growing to reclaim food, land, and agricultural systems from agribusiness and put them back in the hands of citizens. A common thread links innovations and successes happening simultaneously around the globe: a vision of a society that values life and the earth over profit. In the U.S., the parts of the movement have often worked in isolation from each other, but in fact they are all pieces of an inseparable whole. Together, they address:

  • The ability of all to eat adequate and healthy food;
  • The well-being of the land, air, and waters;
  • The fair wages, rights, and health of those who plant, harvest, produce and prepare our food;
  • The need to restore and protect small farms and local food systems;
  • The ability of Native and traditional peoples to control their own land, grow their own food, and preserve their own cultures;
  • The need to privilege the rights and needs of women, as the world’s primary food producers and providers;
  • The right of every nation to control its own food and agriculture; and
  • An end to corporate control of food and agriculture, including an end to trade rules and international agreements that put profit first.

Read the rest here.

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The first fundamental principle upon which Catholic social doctrine rests is the right to ownership of private property…”

So begins a sentence in the first of a three part article on Catholic social teaching in Sophia, the quarterly journal of the Melkite Catholic Diocese of Newton.

The idea would be laughable were it not for the fact that it was published in a Catholic periodical. My puzzlement over how any editor could have allowed such a false rendering of CST to be printed was resolved when I saw that the author, one Deacon Paul Leonarczyk, was production head for the magazine.

Lest one think that perhaps Fr Paul was really trying to say something else, he later reiterates the notion: “”…the fundamental principle that forms the foundation of all Catholic social doctrine is ‘the sacred and inviolable’ right to the private ownership of property…”

This is absurd; in every social encyclical there are lines that refute this, that emphasize that the right to private property, which the Church does in fact endorse, is not an absolute right, but is contingent on the greater principle of the common good not being violated. If one is to speak of a fundamental and foundational principle that would be the universal destination of goods. Here is the Catechism:

2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.”188The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

2405Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.189  (Emphasis added.)

And here is Paul VI:

If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.

I could go on.

In the second part of his series Fr Deacon Paul uses the libertarian distortion of insisting on “subsidiarity” divorced from solidarity, which possesses a certain primacy, to promote ideas found nowhere in papal thought.

All of this was frustrating to read, but not to worry.

In a letter to the editor a certain Christopher Dodson, who signs himself “the only Melkite in North Dakota” very ably refutes the good deacon’s errors, displaying a deep knowledge of the subject. And kudos to Sophia for publishing his letter.

Would that this was the only example of attempted dissembling of Catholic social thought in the Eastern churches; a few months ago Eastern Christian Bulletin Services, which provides the bulletins used by most Byzantine Catholic and many Orthodox churches, issued as an insert a guide to the Year of Faith. Among other things it made reference to a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam. This is an idea common to neoconservative readings of modern history, but nowhere endorsed by the Pope. It is purely the creation of whoever wrote the thing.

I intended to write and challenge the statement, but alas, never found the time.

Let’s hope that the Lone Melkite rose to the occasion.

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rich-and-poorRight wing pundits are quick to decry “redistribution of wealth” whenever there is talk of raising taxes on the wealthy, raising the minimum wage, or any other thing to lessen, however little, the increasing gap between the affluent few and the rest of us.

Warren Buffett famously said, when the pundits started whining about “class warfare” during the too-brief Occupy uproar, that “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning”.

And  it is true that redistribution of wealth has been occurring for many years in this country. It’s just happening backwards, from the bottom to the top, and the wealth produced by labor is being grasped by capital.

For it is the workers who produce wealth. This is the teaching of  Catholic social doctrine, from Leo XIII saying that   “It is only by the labor of working men that states grow rich” to John Paul II saying that  Labor is always the “primary efficient cause” and capital a “mere instrument” in the production of wealth. In this the popes agree with socialist analysis. As the “primary efficient cause” of wealth, the worker is in justice entitled to the fruits of his or her labor.

But what, in fact, has been happening? Well, here are a few charts chronicling the gaps between the rise in productivity and profit and the erosion of wages over the last several decades (click on the image to enlarge):3-US-labor-productivity-1947-present

And here is what has been happening to corporate profits:


And here is a chart on how workers are being recompensed for their efforts:


So even as workers work harder and produce more, and even as profits- ie, the surplus wealth created by labor- rise for the owners, wages fall.

All of this is a huge injustice, and it is good to remember that, in Christian tradition, defrauding a worker of his wages is one of the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. In the words of Our Lord: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24).

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Lord Have Mercy

While I have not been uncritical of Pope Benedict, when Rod Dreher begins pontificating -sorry- about him, and Catholicism in general, it is beyond annoying (Dreher recently pronounced Benedict’s pontificate a “failure”).

I wanted to write about this, and have started about a dozen times. Every time what comes out is snarky in the extreme. It would be easy to brutalize Mr Dreher; after all his very public record since leaving the Roman communion for Orthodoxy makes him an easy target.

Note that unlike more conservative Catholics I do not call him an “apostate”; surely that is not the term for someone who has joined a church which holds to the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the unbroken Church, possesses all the means of sanctification, and is viewed by Catholics, at least most of the time, as a “sister Church”. Nor is it as unassuming as “joining a different jurisdiction”, which is how many Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox see it. But at the least, in light of his personal history in his new church, one would think that he would just lay low, keep his eyes and ears open, and his mouth shut.

This may be coming. While he seems to have landed on his feet after his missteps, he announced in the latest issue of The American Conservative, where he is an unlikely senior editor, that he is involved, in his Louisiana small town, with an Orthodox mission composed entirely of converts from evangelicalism. In his mid-40s, Mr Dreher is the eldest of the bunch.

I have a number of friends who did this and every one of them was totally traumatized.

None of the missions survive.

He may be headed for the knock upside the head that the Almighty reserves for those who need it (and I speak as one who has gotten that knock more than once).

But enough.

Lent began a few days ago for those of us who are Byzantine Catholic, and yesterday for my Roman brethren  (and not for weeks for the Orthodox this year, alas). I will do what I preach and pray for Mr Dreher:

For the servant of God, Rodney, for his health and salvation and acquiring of wisdom, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

I hope that was not too snarky.

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The Human Dilemma

It has been my fate, and perhaps my curse, to be one of those ever trying to figure out the mystery of things, and not least to understand humans and our (I first wrote “their”!) ways. Of course this unscrewing of the inscrutable is always tenuous, always open to revision as more evidence comes in as life goes on.

In the last couple of years I have read a couple of authors that challenged me and made me rethink things yet again. The first of these is Steven Pinker, whose book The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined is so counter-intuitive that I almost didn’t pick it up. And when I did I nearly threw it across the room only a chapter or so into it, as his animus toward religion, and especially Christianity was so odious (Dr Pinker is a secular Jew). Indeed, while he argues that modernization and the advent of the State have been a blessing for mankind in diminishing violence, he credits Christianity not at all for any this, aside from a couple of mentions later in the boook about Christ’s teaching on love of enemies and the pacifist witness of certain Christians. Aside from those, which he does not elaborate on, the influence of religion in history is completely odious.

But his writing is so good, and his theses so challenging that I decided to just factor this in and continue.

This main contention of the book, that violence is in decline, seems outrageous, until you read the well-documented arguments. While the 20th century was indeed the bloodiest in human history by sheer numbers, Dr Pinker shows that when you consider the growth in population that in fact the percent of men dying violently has declined dramatically, while other socially sanctioned violence- beating wives and children, public executions treated like entertainment, capital punishment for trivial crimes, etc- have also diminished.

Enter Jared Diamond, whose 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies, which deals -among many other things- with the rise of tribal culture from bands, chiefdoms from tribes, and the state from chiefdoms.

Both books describe the state of so-called “primitive” humans, living in small bands, deciding things by consensus, sharing resources, with no gap of rich and poor. Sounds like the anarcho-socialist paradise, right? Wrong. The great drawback to these societies, for all their blessings, was that a huge number of (especially) men died violently; sometimes 50-60% or more of the male population. When food production through agriculture or herding (or in a few places, like the Pacific Northwest,  superabundant natural resources) produces a rising population various degrees of centralization set in. The undeniable good thing about this is that violence decreases as more organized ways of settling disputes take form: no longer is the cycle of violence and vengeance left to the individual and his or her kin. What Dr Diamond more than Dr Pinker notes is the evil effects of this: the surplus of goods produced by the workers is no longer distributed evenly, but is confiscated by the now-powerful rulers (Marx’s insight) and often very unjustly hoarded, or used to build the State. Thus we see the sort of bottom-to-top redistribution of goods like that in the contemporary US, where worker productivity and corporate profits have risen over thirty years, even while the earnings of workers, and their general state, have declined.

Dr Diamond also notes that whether by nationalism or religion a new impetus is given to sacrifice one’s life in suicidal war, something unknown to tribal and pre-tribal peoples, who favor ambushes and other forms of attack that guarantee few casualties.

Thus, the human dilemma: how to regain the benefits of our decentralized ancestors while retaining the benefits of the State, how to use the State to justly redistribute goods produced by workers, how to live in peace with our neighbors, as well as with other States, how to curb nationalism and destructive religion while retaining localism and faith.

I don’t know the answer to any of this, but the questions are at least becoming clearer.

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