Month: August 2014

Walker Percy, On Bourbon.

Not only should connoisseurs of Bourbon not read this article, neither should persons preoccupied with the perils of alcoholism, cirrhosis, esophageal hemorrhage, cancer of the palate, and so forth–all real dangers. I, too, deplore these afflications. But, as between these evils and the aesthetic of Bourbon drinking, that is, the use of Bourbon to warm the heart, to reduce the anomie of the late twentieth century, to cut the cold phlegm of Wednesday afternoons, I choose the aesthetic.

If I should appear to be suggesting that such a man proceed as quickly as possible to anesthetize his cerebral cortex by ingesting ethyl alcohol, the point is being missed. Or part of the point. The joy of Bourbon drinking is not the pharmacological effect of C(2)H(5)OH on the cortex but rather the instant of the whiskey being knocked back and the little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx and the hot bosky bite of Tennessee summertime — aesthetic considerations to which the effect of the alcohol is, if not dispensable, at least secondary. …

The pleasure of knocking back Bourbon lies in the plain [sic; plane?] of the aesthetic but at an opposite pole from connoisseurship. My preference for the former is or is not deplorable depending on one’s value system–that is to say, how one balances out the Epicurean virtues of cultivating one’s sensory end organs with the greatest discrimination and at least cost to one’s health, against the virtue of evocation of time and memory and of the recovery of self and the past from the fogged-in disoriented Western world. In Kierkegaardian terms, the use of Bourbon to such an end is a kind of aestheticized religious mode of existence, whereas connoisseurship, the discriminating but single-minded stimulation of sensory end organs, is the aesthetic of damnation.

Excerpt from Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays


"Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies"

Interesting … I did not realize this was published but have just come across its existence:

Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies

Encounter Books (September 27, 2011)

The intellectual and political elite of the West is nowadays taking for granted that religion, in particular Christianity, is a cultural vestige, a primitive form of knowledge, a consolation for the poor minded, an obstacle to coexistence. In all influential environments, the widespread watchword is “We are all secular” or “We are all post-religious.” As a consequence, we are told that states must be independent of religious creed, politics must take a neutral stance regarding religious values, and societies must hold together without any reference to religious bonds. Liberalism, which in some form or another is the prevailing view in the West, is considered to be “free-standing,” and the Western, liberal, open society is taken to be “self-sufficient.”

Not only is anti-Christian secularism wrong, it is also risky. It’s wrong because the very ideas on which liberal societies are based and in terms of which they can be justified—the concept of the dignity of the human person, the moral priority of the individual, the view that man is a “crooked timber” inclined to prevarication, the limited confidence in the power of the state to render him virtuous—are typical Christian or, more precisely, Judeo-Christian ideas. Take them away and the open society will collapse. Anti-Christian secularism is risky because it jeopardizes the identity of the West, leaves it with no self-conscience, and deprives people of their sense of belonging. The Founding Fathers of America, as well as major intellectual European figures such as Locke, Kant, and Tocqueville, knew how much our civilization depends on Christianity. Today, American and European culture is shaking the pillars of that civilization.

Written from a secular and liberal, but not anti-Christian, point of view, this book explains why the Christian culture is still the best antidote to the crisis and decline of the West. Pera proposes that we should call ourselves Christians if we want to maintain our liberal freedoms, to embark on such projects as the political unification of Europe as well as the special relationship between Europe and America, and to avoid the relativistic trend that affects our public ethics. “The challenges of our particular historical moment”, as Pope Benedict XVI calls them in the Preface to the book, can be faced only if we stress the historical and conceptual link between Christianity and free society.

Marcello Pera is an Italian philosopher and politian, president of the Italian Senate from 2001-06. Readers may recall his co-authoring with Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, published a few years into his pontificate.


The Vatican (re)discovers Humanitarian Intervention

In today’s news, the Vatican seems to be entertaining the notion of condoning military force in Iraq to stem the tide of Christian persecution at the hands of “The Islamic State” [“IS”], (formerly known as “ISIS”). John Allen Jr. explains:

For anyone familiar with the Vatican’s recent history of bitter opposition to any US use of military force in the Middle East, Rome’s increasingly vocal support for the recent American airstrikes in Iraq may seem, to say the least, a little disorienting.

On Monday, the Vatican’s previously tacit approval for the American intervention turned explicit, as two senior officials offered what amounts to a blessing through official communications channels.

Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the pope’s ambassador to Baghdad, told Vatican radio that the American strikes are “something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State forces] could not be stopped.”

In a similar vein, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio that “military action in this moment is probably necessary.

Coming from the Vatican’s prior adoption of a functionally-pacifist and “abolitionist” stance on military action in modern times, this is huge. Compare the above with Cardinal Martino (of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace)’s declaration in the National Catholic Register, circa 2003:

Question: “Are you suggesting there is no such thing as a just war anymore?”

Archbishop Martino: “Absolutely. I think with modern weaponry, there is no proportionality between the offense and the reply. It makes much more damage. War is so destructive now. It is not just a fight between one person and another.”

But what’s the reason for this sudden “about face”? — John Allen Jr. explains:

The face-value way to read Monday’s comments from Lingua and Tomasi, however, is as a recognition that there are times when the situation is sufficiently urgent that anyone who steps in, with or without a formal U.N. resolution, can claim the moral high ground.

Even if full legitimacy under international law remains the ideal, in other words, there’s now an exception on the record in favor of “unilateral” action.

Second, the emerging Vatican line clearly establishes a limit to pacifism as an option within Catholic social teaching. In effect, the take-away is that there are times when the use of force is the only option left to serve the greater good.

Third, and most basically, what’s different about 2014 with respect to 2003 isn’t so much the theory but the facts on the ground.

One core reason the Vatican opposed the two Gulf Wars, as well as any expansion of the conflict in Syria, was fear that the fall of a police state in the Middle East would lead to the rise of a radical Islamic theocracy in which Christians and other minorities would find themselves in the firing line.

That’s no longer a theoretical anxiety. It’s the lived reality of the new caliphate proclaimed by the Islamic State …

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Where have I heard that before? — seems to me the rationale for military action being posited by Allen (or rather, Lingua and Tomasi):

“there are times when the situation is sufficiently urgent that anyone who steps in, with or without a formal U.N. resolution, can claim the moral high ground”;

“there’s now an exception on the record in favor of “unilateral” action”;

“there are times when the use of force is the only option left to serve the greater good”

… sounds awfully similar to that bandied about by the dreaded neocons of yore.

And yet, while I can understand the reasoning for the Vatican’s opposition to U.S. military intervention in Iraq in Gulf Wars I & II — “fear that the fall of a police state in the Middle East would lead to the rise of a radical Islamic theocracy [contributing to the persecution of Christians]” — I confess that I’ve also found this kind of reasoning a little too “tribal” (for lack of a better term) for my taste.

What I mean is this — considering all that Iraqis had to endure under life under Saddam Hussein, just to hit a few high points:

  • The gas attacks by Saddam on the Kurdish town of Halabja (4,000-5,000 casualties);
  • The Al-Anfal campaign of Saddam against the Kurds in Northern Iraq 1988 (reported deaths of 50,000-182,000 people, many women and children);
  • Saddam’s brutal crackdown on his own people in June 1994 following Bush Sr.’s pull-out of U.S. forces in Gulf War I with full scale massacres of Kurds (20,000-100,000) and (60,000-130,000) Shiites. (Perhaps it was his father’s (perceived) abandonment of the Iraqis to their fate under Saddam through a policy of “non-intervention” — a move that Bush Senior perpetually regretted — that in part compelled Bush Jr. by conscience to desire to “finish the job”; as well as the development of “The Bush Doctrine”).
  • Lastly, you have the persecution, rape and torture of his own people throughout the reign of Saddam and his two sons. See Michael Totten’s account tour of Iraq’s “genocide museum” in the old headquarters of the mukhabarat

    The hardest thing to see was the cell used to hold children before they were murdered. My translator read some of the messages carved into the wall.

    “I was ten years old. But they changed my age to 18 for execution.”

    “Dear Mom and Dad. I am going to be executed by the Baath. I will not see you again.”

There are testimonies of life under Saddam I could relay that are just as blood-curdling and noxious as any you would read today under ISIS. And yet, what comes to my mind with respect to the Church’s predominant stance vis-a-vis Saddam is not one of clear moral condemnation of Hussein’s regime at the time (did I miss it?), but rather the mental image of the smug, cigar-chomping Taraq Aziz, Saddam’s Deputy Prime Minister — shaking the elderly Pope John Paul II’s hand after receiving “red carpet treatment”; the latter’s resounding declaration of “NO TO WAR”. No doubt the Holy Father was genuine in his intentions, but I couldn’t help but think Saddam got the better of that particular photo-op, or what those persecuted Iraqis under him might have felt.

To clarify: I do not wish to absolve or dispute the United States’ own complicity in the aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow, its incompetency and mismanagement of affairs in the course of helping to establish the new Iraqi state; the collapse of military discipline that resulted in the human rights abuses of Abu Ghraib and elsewhere (thus challenging Bush’s claim that “one thing is for certain … “there won’t be any more torture rooms or rape rooms”).

Nor am I opposed to the United States taking an armed response against IS[IS]. What is happening over there is horrible and forceful reaction on our part is merited. . . . in fact, I am very much in favor of a “you broke it, you fix it” policy with respect to Iraq, and am persuaded that the United States (perhaps at Obama’s wish to have another item to tack onto his post-presidential resume), pulled our troops out of there much too soon.

But to those in Rome who are so emphatic about acting NOW, I am moved to inquire:

Yes, humanitarian intervention NOW . . . but what about THEN?

What I find especially disconcerting about the Vatican’s sudden “about face” is the impression given that it’s only due to Rome’s identification of, and proclaimed solidarity with, the present victims of persecution (= Christians) that they are now urging military action for humanitarian reasons, when humanitarian reasons for intervening on behalf of persecuted minorities strike me to be just as pertinent when said minorities were other than Christian.


  • Saddam Hussein massacres Shiite Muslims, and the Vatican looks away, by Sandro Magister. 11/27/02.
    “Deafening silence from the heads of the Catholic Church regarding religious persecution underway in Iraq. But it´s fully documented. Here are the complete links to the condemning evidence.”

  • “No religion can justify such barbarity” – Statement of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue:

    the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation; -the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places; -the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of a tax (jizya) or forced exile; -the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of people, including children, elderly, pregnant women and the sick; -the abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as spoils of war (sabaya); -the imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation; -the destruction of places of worship and Christian and Muslim burial places; -the forced occupation or desecration of churches and monasteries; -the removal of crucifixes and other Christian religious symbols as well as those of other religious communities; -the destruction of a priceless Christian religious and cultural heritage; -indiscriminate violence aimed at terrorizing people to force them to surrender or flee. No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity.

  • DarwinCatholic on Vatican Middle Eastern Realpolitik? – Some questions for John Allen, Jr.:

    This certainly seems like a plausible ex post rationale, but is there any evidence that in 1991, 2003, and 2013 Vatican thinking was indeed driven by the idea that it was better to keep Middle Eastern police states in place in order to prevent radical Islamist regimes from coming to power? I remember vague discussion about violence never solving anything, but I don’t recall anything specifically making this argument and in some ways it seems out of character. …

The Islamic State and The End(?) of Christianity in Iraq — 2007-2014: Timeline

Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.

Archbishop Amel Nona
Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil
Corriere della Sera
August 14, 2014

Armenian Orthodox church in Raqqa, Syria, now an ISIS office

Statement of Fr Federico Lombardi SJ regarding the situation of Christians in Iraq Vatican Radio 08/08/14:

The Holy Father is following with deep concern the dramatic news reports coming from northern Iraq, which involve defenseless populations. Christian communities are particularly affected: a people fleeing from their villages because of the violence that rages in these days, wreaking havoc on the entire region.

At the Angelus prayer on July 20th, Pope Francis cried with pain: “[O]ur brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are pushed out, forced to leave their homes without the opportunity to take anything with them. To these families and to these people I would like to express my closeness and my steadfast prayer. Dearest brothers and sisters so persecuted, I know how much you suffer, I know that you are deprived of everything. I am with you in your faith in Him who conquered evil!”

In light of these terrible developments, the Holy Father renews his spiritual closeness to all those who are suffering through this painful trial, and makes the impassioned appeals of the local bishops his own, asking together with them in behalf of their sorely tried communities, that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace.

His Holiness urgently calls on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance – especially the most urgently needed aid – to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.

The Pope also appeals to the conscience of all people, and to each and every believer he repeats: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace! Let us pray in silence, asking for peace; everyone, in silence…. Mary Queen of peace, pray for us! (Angelus, July 20, 2014)”

  • Islamic State Torches 1200 Rare Christian Manuscripts 08/10/14:

    Members of the Islamic State, the new “caliphate,” recently seized as many as 1,200 rare, Christian manuscripts, and set them aflame.

    The manuscripts were seized from the churches of Mosul, which are under the control of the Islamic State. Many of these churches have stood in Mosul since the times of the apostles of Christ. …

    The Islamic State also took over and destroyed the Museum of Antiquities in Mosul, the second most important museum of ancient history in Iraq, which once housed some of the most important artifacts of early human history.

  • U.S. Approves Airstrikes on Iraq, Airdrops Aid Wall Street Journal 08/08/14.
  • Iraq’s largest Christian town falls to Islamic State Long War Journal 08/07/14:

    “Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants,” Joseph Thomas, the archbishop of the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, told AFP. Qaraqosh (or Bakhdida on the map) has a Chaldean Christian population estimated at 50,000. …

    The Islamic State previously issued an ultimatum to Christians in Mosul that they convert to Islam, pay a tax, or be killed. Thousands of Christian families fled Iraq’s second largest city after the Islamic State issued their directive. The Islamic State has also been destroying Christian, Jewish, and Muslim shrines, churches, and mosques in Mosul. Among the religious sites destroyed by the jihadist group are the tomb of Jonah and an accompanying mosque, and the tomb of George.

  • Islamic State pulls down church crosses in northern Iraq as 200,000 flee The Telegraph UK. 08/07/14. “Islamic State, the jihadist group formerly known as Isis, have occupied churches in Iraq, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts, witnesses report, having overrun Kurdish troops forcing 200,000 to flee.”
  • World’s top Muslim leaders condemn attacks on Iraqi Christians Vatican Radio / Reuters. 07/25/13:

    Two of the leading voices in the Muslim world denounced the persecution of Christians in Iraq, at the hands of extremists proclaiming a caliphate under the name Islamic State.

    The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims.

    In a statement, he officially denounced the “forced deportation under the threat of execution” of Christians, calling it a “crime that cannot be tolerated.” The Secretary General also distanced Islam from the actions of the militant group known as ISIS, saying they “have nothing to do with Islam and its principles that call for justice, kindness, fairness, freedom of faith and coexistence.”

  • Islamic State destroys tombs, mosques in Mosul Long War Journal 07/26/14:

    On July 24 the Islamic State destroyed the Nabi Yunus Mosque, which had housed the Tomb of Jonah, after destroying the tomb itself earlier this month. Islamic State fighters wired the mosque with explosives and detonated the religious site in broad daylight.

    Jonah is recognized as a prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and his tomb was visited and revered by members of all three religions.

  • Muslims in Baghdad Express Solidarity With Christians Aleteia. 07/21/14:

    A group of about 200 Muslims joined Christians in solidarity in front of the Chaldean Church of St. George Sunday to condemn the attacks on the Christian community in Mosul carried out by the Islamic State.

    Some Muslims held up signs or wore shirts with the words “I am Iraqi, I am Christian,” written on them. Others marked themselves with a “nun,” the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, “Nasrani” or Nazarene. The Islamic State has been putting “nuns” on Christian property marked out for seizure.

    The Chaldean faithful who joined them after Mass sang the national anthem along with them, as Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I Sako thanked them.

  • Iraqi Police: Abu Risha, head of Ramadi Awakening Council, killed [by Islamic State of Iraq] CNN. 06/03/14.

    The head of the Ramadi Awakening Council was killed Tuesday in a suicide bombing in Iraq’s Anbar province, police officials told CNN.
    Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha was on a joint patrol with Awakening Council members and Iraqi security forces when he was killed by a suicide bomber …

    Abu Risha has been among those leading the fight in Ramadi against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a rogue al Qaeda group know by the acronym ISIS.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But ISIS has claimed to have carried out several failed assassination attempts against him in recent months.

    Abu Risha is the nephew of Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening Council — a group composed primarily of Sunni Arab fighters who turned on al Qaeda in Iraq in late 2006 and joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition.

    The sheikh took over as head of the province’s Awakening Council after his brother Sheikh Abdul Sattar was assassinated [by Al Qaeda] in 2007.

  • Iraqi Sheik to Obama: We Miss You! The Daily Beast 09/06/12:

    A little more than four years ago in western Iraq, then-senator Barack Obama met for 90 minutes with a group of Arab sheiks, allies of the U.S. military in the war against al Qaeda. Known as the Anbar Awakening, the tribal leaders are credited by the Marine Corps’ own official historian with helping turn the tide of the Iraq War and creating the conditions on the ground for the country’s fragile government to survive. During the meeting the future president assured the group that there would be a long-term partnership between America and Iraq, according to two of the sheikhs who were there and a U.S. translator in the meeting. … Four years later, one of those sheiks, Ahmad Abu-Risha, says he feels betrayed.

  • Leaving the Sunni Awakening in Limbo New York Times 12/14/11.

    Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha is seen as America’s staunchest ally in Iraq. An article in Wednesday’s Times reports on how the withdrawal of the United States will leave Mr. Abu Risha and the militia units he commands, known broadly as the Sunni Awakening, to navigate increasingly troublesome relations with the central Shiite-led government of Iraq.

  • Anbar Awakening Leader questions Obama’s plan of withdrawal 07/22/08. “In the present, we do not have an army that can protect the country after the US forces leave. This army is not capable enough.”
  • FLASHBACK: The Vatican, The Anbar Awakening, and the “Protector of the Chaldean Catholics” 05/01/08.

    After hearing Sheikh Iyad’s account of the suffering that the Chaldean Catholics have endured in Iraq, Sheikh Ahmad publicly declared that from this time forward they would be under his protection, that anyone who killed a Chaldean will be regarded as one who has killed in a member of his tribe (under the medieval Islamic concept of qisas this is a capital offense), and money will be provided from the Sahawa al-Iraq treasury to rebuild the churches and cemeteries that al-Qaeda destroyed. He justified this by quoting from the Qu’ran and stating that there should be no compulsion in matters of religion because truth stands free from error.

  • FLASHBACK: Reunion of Iraqi Christians and Muslims 12/15/07:

    On November 19, 2007, Most Reverend Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Diocese for Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq officiated at a mass in St. John’s Church in Baghdad. He was welcomed home by a crowd of locals and American soldiers, who had fought hard to cleanse the streets of Al Qaeda. … According to [reporter] Michael Yon, the front pews of the Mass were filled with Muslims, to express their solidarity with their Christian neighbors and invite them back to Iraq.

  • FLASHBACK: “Thanks and Praise”: The rebuilding of St. John’s Church in Baghdad 11/08/07:

    “I photographed men and women, both Christians and Muslims, placing a cross atop the St. John’s Church in Baghdad. They had taken the cross from storage and a man washed it before carrying it up to the dome. A Muslim man had invited the American soldiers from ‘Chosen’ Company 2-12 Cavalry to the church, where I videotaped as Muslims and Christians worked and rejoiced at the reopening of St John’s, an occasion all viewed as a sign of hope. The Iraqis asked me to convey a message of thanks to the American people. ‘Thank you, thank you,’ the people were saying. One man said, ‘Thank you for peace.’ Another man, a Muslim, said ‘All the people, all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.’ The men and women were holding bells, and for the first time in memory freedom rang over the ravaged land between two rivers.

Edward Feser: Scholastic Metaphysics

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction
By Edward Feser.

Editions Scholasticae (April 1, 2014). 290 pgs.

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics. The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy. The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated. The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.



NOTE: This post will be updated with further reviews and information as it becomes available on the web.