Month: February 2011

The Monk-Martyrs of Tibhirine

On the night of 26-27 March 1996, seven Trappist monks from the monastery of Tibhirine in Algeria — Dom Christian de Chergé, Brother Luc Dochier, Father Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Father Bruno Lemarchand, Father Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville — were kidnapped. They were held for two months, and were found dead on 21 May 1996.

The actual cause of their death remains in dispute. Their captors, the Armed Islamic Group, initially lay claim to the murders — but a French military attaché, retired General Francois Buchwalter, later reported that the deaths were accidental in a botched rescue attempt by the Algerian army.

The fate of these monks was the subject of a book by John Kiser, The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria (2003). A new film has been made — “Of Gods and Men” — recipient of many awards and glowing reviews. America‘s Fr. James Martin SJ has lauded it “the greatest film I’ve ever seen on faith.”

In 1996, First Things published an English translation of a letter by the superior of the monastery, Father Christian de Chergé, “to be opened in the event of my death”. In light of the movie it seems appropos to re-post it here, as food for thought:

If it should happen one day–and it could be today–that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of Islamism encourages. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims–finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these people must realize that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills–immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything. In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families–the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”–and this adieu–to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything. In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families–the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”–and this adieu–to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.



"Carlos" (2010)

Carlos, the film, chronicles the life, and often-bungled operations, of infamous Venezualan terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, aka. ‘Carlos the Jackal’ in service to various Marxist and Islamicist fronts (bankrolled by Syria, Libya and oh, yes — Iraq).

For one so fervently committed to “anti-imperialism”, the end of the Cold War must have been quite disillusioning. The toppling of the Berlin Wall and unification of Germany, the downfall of the Soviet Union, the implosion of the Socialist bloc, the mass revolt sweeping across Europe — the culmination of these events left the once proud, once feared, once notorious “Carlos the Jackal” a relic of ages past, now bereft of support and shelter. You almost feel sorry for the guy: Syria wants nothing to do with him; he flees to Libya, and is likewise informed that his presence is “unwanted”. He country-hops until he finds refuge in Khartoum, offering his services to the Islamic revolution. In the end, he is handed over to the French authorities by his own personal bodyguards.

Carlos now serves life imprisonment in Clairvaux Prison for the murder of two French secret agents and an informant. In November 2011 he will stand trial again, this time for his alleged role in 4 deadly terror bombings in the early 1980’s.

For a film made in 2010, I found Carlos‘ ability to capture the appearance and atmosphere of the 1960’s amazing — from the fashion, decor, vehicles, to the soundtrack (largely featuring the post-punk group ‘Wire‘). It is similar in feel to Spielberg’s Munich, howbeit several hours longer (330 minutes!) and disappointingly lacking in moral substance. For example, whereas in Munich the Israeli agents tasked with eliminating the masterminds of the Munich Olympics massacre were presented as morally conflicted about adopting the tactics of assassination, Carlos feels absolutely no compunction about tossing a grenade into a Jewish-owned pharmacy, bombing a bank or a passenger train — all in the name of “the revolution.”

Cinematically well done, Carlos the movie contains a great deal of plotting but is light on substance; for one who claims to have imbibed Marxist “dialectics” Carlos the man comes across as a vapid, narcissistic playboy with an itchy trigger finger — his surface commitment to “the oppressed” excluding the dozens of women he willfully uses, abuses and discards over the course of his career (how’s that “sexual liberation” working out for you?).

That said, you do get a clone of the Slovenian Marxist theorist Slavoj Zizek playing one of Carlos revolutionary sidekicks.


Stephen Schwartz via Michael Totten

“From San Francisco to Sarajevo” – An interesting take on current affairs from Stephen Schwartz, a former Communist born of an interfaith (Jewish/American) family, whose intellectual journey led him into Republican-neoconservatism and ultimately conversion to Sufi Islam (via his encounter with Albanian Catholics, no less):

I had been interested in Islam, and especially Sufism, since I was a teenager. You see, even though I was an “official” atheist, I realized at age eight that I believed in God. But I was not what we call in California a “shopper for God.” I kept my religious feelings to myself. I did not leave the Communist milieu for religion, though I was tempted to do so.

After I was about 15, I started to read anti-Soviet literature on the sly, in the library away from my parents, who were appalled when I told them I read Whittaker Chambers and Ayn Rand and National Review. I was more interested in Chambers than Rand. Though I rather like some of Rand’s writings, I was not drawn to her philosophy. …

Interview courtesy of Michael Totten, one of my favorite foreign correspondents, particularly on all things Middle East, with a forthcoming first book: The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel

Here and There …

  • Peter Sean Bradley (Lex Communis) reviews Susanna Heschel’s The Aryan Jesus:

    [I]nsofar as the Nazis were Christian, their Christianity was essentially a heretical version of Christianity that would have been unrecognizable in its Marcion-like willingness to amputate such “Jewish” aspects of Christianity as the Old Testament. Heschel’s book offers a nuts and bolts view of how that amputation took place under the Nazi regime. …

  • Natural Law, Natural Rights and American Constitutionalism – brought to you by the Witherspoon Institute, “to create an online archive containing the seminal documents of these traditions with educational resources” — made possible through the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and with direction from scholars associated with the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.
  • Jake Tawney (Roma Locuta Est): “The Problems with Facebook”:

    My aim is not to discuss the overt misuses of Facebook. These are obvious enough to most. Instead, my aim is to disclose the subtle philosophical formation that can occur by using Facebook, particularly if we are not properly grounded in a Christian personalism.

    The irony of promoting this article not only through a blog but also specifically through Facebook has not escaped me. …

  • Fr. Regis Scanlon: Did Vatican II reverse the Church’s teaching on religious liberty? (Homiletic and Pastoral Review):

    Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, many heterodox theologians have claimed that Dignitatis Humanae “reversed” past papal teaching on religious liberty.3 In 1985, for example, the excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre claimed that Quanta Cura “condemned” an “assertion” which was later found in the Vatican II document, Dignitatis Humanae.4 But other “progressive” theologians like Charles Curran and Richard McBrien also saw, and welcomed, an utter reversal of Catholic teaching.5 So, on this point both the excessively “conservative” and “liberal” meet, but what are the “centrally” orthodox to make of the Church’s current teaching on religious liberty?

  • Stuart Buck: “C.S. Lewis on 16th Century English”:

    I’ve been slogging my way through C.S. Lewis’s book English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, which is the only Lewis book that I haven’t yet managed to read. It’s been slow going, and I now understand why Lewis sarcastically referred to the book as OHEL (i.e., the Oxford History of English Literature), pronounced “O Hell.” …

  • Michael J. Totten — one journalist whose reporting on Middle East affairs I’ve come to value — asserts:

    “Now is an excellent time to take a fresh look at the interview I conducted with Paul Berman last year about his newest book, The Flight of the Intellectuals which focuses on Tariq Ramadan, the false-moderate grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.”

  • Deacon Greg Kandra shares his impressions of the new exorcist film, “The Rite”:

    … the real point of the story isn’t the devilish doings – frogs materialize mysteriously at one point, too – but something much more compelling, and infinitely more absorbing: the battle between doubt and faith. The young seminarian’s journey from unbelief to belief, and finally to certainty, struck me as credible and, ultimately, moving. It’s rare that you see a young religious depicted sympathetically on screen these days, so it was gratifying to watch a lukewarm vocation heat up and boil over – and the movie’s conclusion, in a confessional, struck just the right tone. Sin happens. And it’s not always accompanied by bellowing voices from hell.

    “Faith becomes you,” the old priest says to his young protégé near the end. That may well be the movie’s moral right there – and one many of us need to hear, no matter how much we believe, or how much we don’t.

State of the Nation.

Talk about a public philosophy for the American experiment strikes many today as nonsensical or utopian. In the view of numerous scholars and philosophers, for example, a common public discourse has been shattered, leaving only the shards of myriad “constructions of reality.” Abandoning the very idea of moral truth, politics is no longer the deliberation of how we ought to order our life together but is now, according to some, warfare carried on by other means. All politics is combat politics. There is no longer, we are told, a common American culture, and we should stop pretending that there is. There are only subcultures. Choose your subculture, take up its grievances, contentions, and slogans, and prepare to do battle against the enemy. Liberated from the delusion that opponents in the political arena can together say “We Hold These Truths,” we are urged to recognize the futility of being locked in civil argument and accept the fact that there is no substitute for partisan victory.

Such, it is said, is our unhappy circumstance, and many think it not unhappy at all. They relish the battle, with no holds barred, no compromise, and no goal short of the opponents’ unconditional surrender. Our circumstance is not entirely new. Today’s “culture wars,” as they are aptly called, bear striking similarities to the moral and political clashes that existed prior to the Civil War. […]

In the half century since Niebuhr, Murray, and Lippmann, the churches that had been a primary bearer of the American story have been of little help in restoring a politics of democratic deliberation about how we ought to order our life together. Those Protestant churches that were once called mainline, and are now viewed as oldline or even sideline, have in recent decades planted
the banner “Thus Saith the Lord”on the cultural and political platform of the left. The evangelical Protestant insurgency has planted the same banner on the cultural and political platform of the right. It matters little that those on the right have greater political potency. With notable exceptions, both undermine a religiously informed public philosophy for the American experiment; both contribute to the political corruption of Christian faith and the religious corruption of authentic politics; both have forgotten that, as it is said in the Letter to the Hebrews, we have here no abiding city.

As for the leadership of the Catholic Church in this country, it oscillates between a touching desire to be accepted by the now faded oldline Protestant establishment, on the one hand, and cobelligerency with evangelicalism on great moral and cultural questions, on the other. There are also some Catholics, including bishops and theologians, who remember that the Church is to be
the “contrast society” embodying Madison’s prior allegiance. As such a contrast society, the Catholic Church is not above the fray, but neither is she captive to the fray. Her chief political contribution is to provide a transcendent horizon for our civil arguments, to temper the passionate confusions of the political penultimate with the theological ultimate, and to insist that our common humanity and gift of reason are capable of deliberating how we ought to order our life together.

Richard J. Neuhaus, American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile [pp. 52-55]

A momentary lapse of reason.

When I read tripe like this …:

And yet, standing so near the truth, Thomas Peters and Mark Shea and many of like-mind totally lose their minds. Example: they have likely Marched for Life in Washington D.C., but not before attending the idol-worshiping ceremonies that precede it, where the multitudes pledge their allegiance to a flag soaked in blood, to a Republic prostituted for Mammon, to a nation kneeling under a god called Constitution. “That’s just proper patriotism for the good parts of America,” they might say. But anyone who pledges allegiance to the American flag or gets goosebumps at the National Anthem just doesn’t get it: America is the greatest force for evil in the world in the history of mankind.

and this:

… Is America a (rather than the) Beast of the Apocalypse? Has it gone beyond the authority willed by God and made itself a deity? Have false prophets induced people to adore it? I would affirm, yes. Without doubt, the United States is another Beast of the Apocalypse, like Rome, like Babylon, like every degenerate civilization that worshiped its own power rather than God.

That’s the problem facing us: some people only see the horror of abortion, some only the horror of poverty, some only the horror of war . . . but if we put together all the pieces, we would see that we only held different parts of a Beast — a Beast that Saint John tells us to resist and escape rather than reform and heal.

I am reminded that the same poster was capable of admitting this:

How could the Pope repeat United States propaganda, and express admiration for US bloodshed? I racked my mind for ways to interpret his words in another way, but I couldn’t. Not in that context. Not at the White House with the President standing next to him. Not as the Iraq war rages on. The Pope meant what he said, but not as propaganda. He spoke sincerely. He marvels at American monuments and sees those who “sacrificed their lives defense of freedom”. Pope Benedict looks at our country and sees . . . goodness. When I look at our country, I see . . . evil. I want the Pope to condemn war and abortion, not to call our country ‘great’ and ‘religious’. I want brimstone and fire and words of fury! But from the mouth and heart of our Pope come nothing but goodness.

I have so much to learn.

After a great deal of reflection and prayer, my heart has moved, my neck has bent. I have seen something startling: we live in a society where “defense of life” and “nonviolence” are mostly mutually exclusive, and because the defense of life must take priority over a commitment to nonviolence, most Christians are duty-bound to defend life with the least amount of violence possible.

and so, I don’t get too bent out of shape about it. Chalk it up to a momentary lapse of reason. 😉

* * *

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations. […]

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.

— Pope Benedict XVI, Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Welcoming ceremony at the White House. April 16, 2008.

Certainly, nobody could accuse the Pope of moral blindness with these words. But if Benedict, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, could even at this point in time praise the United States of America for the good it has done in the world, and to call its citizens to faithfully embody the worthy principles upon which this nation was founded . . .

Well, who am I to disagree?

Anne Rice

I wouldn’t describe myself as an Anne Rice “fan”. I did enjoy reading Interview with a Vampire way back when, but really didn’t give much thought when, with the publication of her “Jesus books” and memoir Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession the world recognized her reversion to Catholicism.

Now, it appears that Anne Rice has “reverted”. Or, in the words of her memoir, lapsed into darkness. In fact, according to her, she

came to the conclusion 12 years later that [Catholicism] was not a fine religion, that it was dishonorable, that it was dishonest, that it’s theology was largely sophistry… and that it was basically a church that told lies. And that it was for me, for my conscientious standpoint, an immoral church; and I had to leave it.”

What I do happen to notice is that, for one who has allegedly “quit” the Catholic faith, and “quit as a believer“, she has retained a pathological obsession with the content of the faith — taking up permanent residence in the comments boxes of various popular Catholic bloggers and Catholic forums, spending what seems every waking moment breathlessly reiterating her objections to this or that Catholic dogma and espousing her Jesus-fashioned-in-her-own-image.

Anyway, a few others on Ann Rice:

  • Nice Anne Rice, by Fr Dwight Longenecker (Standing On My Head):

    From her writing and her letters to me I could tell she was very much the intuitive, emotional, heart to heart kind of person. A sympathetic, loving and kind person, and a mama as well–she’s simply allowed heart to triumph over head. To put it bluntly, she’s a sentimentalist, and locked into a society where sentimentalism rules, she simply couldn’t swim stronger than the sentimentalist undertow. […]

    The problem is that, for whatever reason, we feel that we can be the judge of the church and not the other way around. We want the church to live up to our expectations, when in fact, we should be asking how we can ever live up to the church’s expectations.

    Beneath this problem is good old fashioned spiritual pride. Anne spotted the hateful hypocrites, the lying loonies, the uncaring apologists and pompous prelates and thought she was better than them. What she (and all of us) need to do is see these folks and mutter in shame, “Geesh, they’re awful, but they’re my brothers and we’re all in the same lifeboat, so we’d better pull together.” Anne couldn’t do that, and like so many of her sort, thought she rose above it all, only now to end up saying stuff that’s just as judgmental and shallow and uncaring as the people she was blaming.

  • Ignatius Press’ Carl Olson on Anne Rice (a response to Rice’s latest ouburst, and a roundup of his prior posts):

    Maybe it’s just me, but admitting to ignoring “facets of Christianity”—why oh why doesn’t she simply say, “tenets of Catholic doctrine”?—makes it sounds as though Rice 1) wasn’t willing to engage with the entirety of Church teaching, 2) was perhaps unfamiliar with basic moral teachings of the Church, 3) and wasn’t willing to put her own beliefs and notions to the Truth Test. …

    Note that Rice never, as far as I’ve seen over the past five years, provided any reasoning or arguments for her stances on issues such as “same sex marriage,” contraception, and women’s ordination. She simply assumes her position is correct and she apparently believes that clichés and emotive sound bites are all that are needed to demonstrate the validity of her position. Meanwhile, the Church has formally issued all sorts of documents about those various matters and numerous Catholic authors—both at academic and popular levels—have written articles and books explaining and defending Church teaching on these and other issues. Yet, apparently, folks should simply accept by faith Rice’s statements as infallible pronouncements of objective truth.

  • Some insight from an Anne Rice reader:

    I read Ms. Rice’s Christ the Lord novels, and (like many orthodox Catholics, including Peter Kreeft) found them to be beautiful and moving, particularly The Road to Cana, which imagines Christ’s adult life just prior to the beginning of his ministry, up to and including the Wedding at Cana. I loved her depictions of Mary, Joseph (who is depicted as an enormously holy and admirable man, the unquestioned head of his extended household), Jesus’s half-brother James, and of Jesus himself, a man patiently waiting for the time to begin his ministry, while his contemporaries wonder when he’s going to make something of himself.

    But I can’t help noticing that Ms. Rice’s book left off at precisely the moment when she would have to deal with the decidedly unimaginary Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus who warns strenuously of Hell, who tells us that he has come to set family members against one another, who informs us that “mere” lust is equivalent to adultery, among many other hard sayings. And I’ve wondered if Ms. Rice’s “unversion” was at least partly driven by the stark incompatibility between her imaginary Christ and the real one. We Christians all at various times have to face up to the fact that Jesus is not the person we might wish him to be (one who gives us free passes and lets us bend the rules when it suits us), but very few of us have set ourselves the task of writing novels about him. Perhaps when she realized that she couldn’t shoehorn the Christ of the Gospels into her preferred narrative, she was left with the options of either conforming herself to him, or rejecting him. Sadly for herself and for us, she chose the latter.