The Radical Christian Faith of Frederick Douglass

by D. H. Dilbeck | The great abolitionist spoke words of rebuke—and hope—to a slaveholding society. (image: iStock)

As Frederick Douglass looked out on the boisterous crowd that had gathered to celebrate America’s independence, he thought of Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land? (v. 1–4)

The Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society had invited Douglass to deliver the keynote address for their Fourth of July celebrations in 1852. Fourteen summers earlier, Douglass had escaped from slavery. Now, at only 34, he was America’s most famous abolitionist orator.

Douglass usually felt a certain anger and sadness on the Fourth of July. That day, as he stood behind the speaker’s lectern, he felt like an Israelite in exile called upon to sing for his Babylonian captors.

The crowd wanted him to venerate the Founding Fathers and celebrate their heroic deeds. At the start of his speech, Douglass seemed happy to oblige. But those who listened closely might have shifted uneasily in their seats if they noticed how Douglass used the word your. He spoke of your independence, your freedom, your nation, your fathers. The Founders succeeded in creating a new nation, Douglass said, “and today you reap the fruits of their success.”

To the slave, Douglass told his white audience, “your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

He reserved his harshest judgment for the nation’s churches. Nearly every white Christian either defended slaveholding or refused to speak against it. Douglass ridiculed their pretensions to righteousness with a warning from Isaiah: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (1:15, KJV).

Forgotten Prophet

February marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass. Born a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Douglass fled to freedom in 1838 and became a champion of liberty and equality.

In his 77 years, Douglass delivered thousands of speeches. He published three autobiographies. He founded and edited newspapers. He attended the first great women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. He met with President Abraham Lincoln to lobby for emancipation. He championed the cause of African American civil and political equality after the Civil War. He lived to see the tragic onset of Jim Crow and fought the oppressive system of racial segregation, disenfranchisement, and violence until he died in 1895 (a year before the notorious Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine).

Yet there’s a side of Douglass that’s not often remembered or celebrated: his radical Christian faith. Douglass was a kind of prophet crying in the wilderness of Christian slaveholding America. It’s no coincidence that in the most famous speech of his life—“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”—Douglass quoted the prophet Isaiah at length. He aspired to speak to America as biblical prophets once spoke to their people: with words of warning and rebuke, grace and hope.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has written that ancient Hebrew prophets “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.” They offer “an alternative perception of reality,” one that allows people to “see their own history in the light of God’s freedom and his will for justice.”

Douglass tried to do the same thing in his long struggle against bondage. Slavery, as an elaborate system of racial oppression, offered a flawed “perception of reality,” a poisonous account of who we are as human beings and how we ought to live together. Douglass spent a lifetime pleading with white Christians, as members of the dominant culture, to acknowledge how thoroughly slavery had distorted their view of reality and kept them from loving as Christ loves.

He had no illusions about the possibility of eradicating all evil and fully realizing the kingdom of God on earth. But, in hopeful anticipation of a world without slavery, the prophetic Douglass implored his fellow Christians to hew to the narrow path of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

‘Not Color, but Crime’

The crucible of Douglass’s prophetic Christian faith was his childhood suffering as a slave. Before his escape at age 20, Douglass witnessed and endured great cruelty, especially at the hands of Christian masters.

Young Douglass spent most of his earliest childhood days on the sprawling plantation of the Lloyd family, one of Maryland’s wealthiest slaveholders. There, Douglass first saw the grotesque violence and depravity that accompanied slavery: brutal whippings, cold-blooded murder, the daily trials of physical and psychological abuse.

Early one morning, Douglass woke to the desperate cries of his aunt Hester. A 15-year-old girl of striking beauty, Hester had been courted by Ned Roberts, a Lloyd family slave. Aaron Anthony, the slavemaster, commanded Hester to stop visiting Ned, but she continued, which incited Anthony’s rage. When Douglass peered out of his bedroom, a closet in the Anthony kitchen, he saw Hester stripped to the waist, her wrists bound together and fastened to the ceiling above her head. Anthony cursed Hester as he methodically delivered blow after blow with his three-foot-long cowskin whip. Blood flowed down her back as she pleaded for mercy. Douglass watched in terrified silence as Anthony delivered 30 or 40 lashes, before untying Hester and letting her body fall bloody and exposed on the kitchen floor.

How is a child, no more than six or seven, supposed to make sense of such violence? Douglass was a bright boy, so he soon asked the hardest questions: Why am I a slave? Why must slaves like Hester endure such pain, even unto death? Where is God? Why is he silent in our suffering?

Douglass suspected that the answers he heard from white southern Christians could not be right. How could God, in perfect wisdom and goodness, have made black people to be slaves and white people to be masters? Perhaps, he thought, it “was not color, but crime, not God, but man” that created slavery.

In 1826, Douglass was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld. Late one Sunday night, he woke to the sound of Sophia, a devout Methodist, reading from the first chapter of the Book of Job. Douglass heard about a man who feared God and eschewed evil yet still lost everything—his livestock, servants, and children. Half-awake under a table on the Auld floor, Douglass decided he had to know more about this man Job—how he could say, despite his suffering, “blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Sophia began to teach Douglass the alphabet, but Hugh forbade the lessons. So Douglass secretly taught himself, laboring over well-worn and well-hidden copies of Webster’s spelling book and Methodist hymnals. By the time he was 13 or 14, he could capably read and write. Soon after, he formally converted to Christianity, shepherded by free black Methodists. Within the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Douglass first learned that there might be more to the call of Christ than the proslavery gospel he had heard his entire life.

Salvation, though, came slowly. For several weeks, tortured by the knowledge of his sin, Douglass remained “a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through the darkness and misery of doubts and fear.” But once he cast all his cares upon God, Douglass wrote, he found faith in Christ as “Redeemer, Friend, and Savior.”

Not long after, in March 1833, Hugh Auld unexpectedly sent Douglass back to the Eastern Shore. For the next three years, Douglass labored for the first time as a field hand, physically and spiritually exhausting work. During this time, he saw just how completely slaveholders distorted the Christian faith to justify their violence and oppression. His most outwardly religious masters were the most depraved in their cruelty.

On Sabbath mornings, Douglass often stood on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay and gazed upon the white sails of vessels that traveled the globe untrammeled. The sight tormented him. One Sabbath, in his misery, with no audience but God, he cried out a psalm of lament: “O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave?”

In his brokenness, comfort slowly came. Douglass’s sorrow that morning transformed into hope for deliverance. He felt God’s presence and resolved on the banks to do his part to win his freedom: “I will run away. . . . God helping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave.”

Douglass took few possessions on his long journey to freedom. He left behind his chains, but not his prophetic Christian faith that first took root in slavery. At the foundation of that faith rested certain assurances: that God suffers with the oppressed and will not tolerate injustice forever; that slaveholders perverted the Christian faith in their religious justifications of oppression; that Christ, in bidding all to come and die, offers a new way to live, radically different from the world’s hatred and violence.

‘The Christianity of Christ’

Douglass would settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts, hoping only to earn a fair wage as a caulker. But he soon gravitated toward the abolitionist movement. He avidly read William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, the nation’s leading antislavery newspaper, which “took its place with me next to the Bible,” Douglass wrote, because of its bold condemnation of “hypocrisy and wickedness in high places.”

In 1841, Douglass became a paid lecturer of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The society’s president offered Douglass the job after hearing him make an impromptu speech at an abolitionist rally. Douglass would now make a living traveling through the North, telling the story of his life and denouncing slavery and its defenders. His task was to convince Americans to see the antislavery cause as a great moral necessity. To that end, he repeated a chastening refrain: “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”

Douglass delivered this message to greatest effect in his first autobiography, the iconic Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Published in 1845, the book was an instant hit, selling 30,000 copies within five years. Douglass’s Narrative is one of the great texts of the black prophetic Christian tradition, full of scorn for religious hypocrisy and oppression but also full of hope that Americans might still commit themselves to the path of true righteousness.

In the famous “Appendix,” Douglass condemned the “corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity” everywhere present in America. As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent churchgoers. “The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday,” Douglass scoffed, “and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.”

But the tragedy went deeper than the fact that individual slaveholders professed Christianity while failing to live up to Christ’s commands. Every believer shared that failure. Far worse was how, at an institutional level, slavery and the Christian church—in the North and South—remained inextricably connected. “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master,” Douglass lamented. The slaveholder fills church coffers with gold, and, in turn, the pastor “covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass then quoted from Matthew 23, where Jesus Christ calls the scribes and Pharisees “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (v. 27, KJV). Douglass insisted that Christ’s words held true for “the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America.” Slaveholders and their apologists “attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” They had utterly abandoned the true Christianity of Christ and invited the wrath of a just and avenging God.

Hope of Redemption

Douglass rejoiced in 1865 when the Union triumphed in the Civil War and the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever. But he did not believe his prophetic work had ended. At the end of his life, equality under the law remained an aspiration, not a reality. African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. The ghost of slavery lived on in oppressive economic arrangements like sharecropping. Jim Crow carved rigid lines of racial segregation in the public square. White mobs lynched at least 200 black men each year in the 1890s.

He had good reason, then, in 1889, to mourn how the “malignant prejudice of race” still “poisoned the fountains of justice, and defiled the altars of religion” in America. Yet Douglass also rejoiced in the continued possibility of redemption. A new way of seeing the world, and living in it, still remained—one that rested, Douglass said, on a “broad foundation laid by the Bible itself, that God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

In these unsettled times, it’s only natural to want to summon Douglass from the grave—to have him speak directly to the particular problems that still fester at the intersection of race and religion in American life.

That desire reminds me of a story about a great 20th-century American historian, Don Fehrenbacher. As the story goes, he once was lecturing in Boston during the mounting crisis over forced busing to integrate public schools. After his talk, a man asked, “What would Abraham Lincoln say about busing?” Fehrenbacher replied: “I think he would probably say, ‘What’s a bus?’ ”

Douglass’s America is not our America. A chasm of historical change separates us, much of it nearly unimaginable when Douglass died. And yet, we’re still heirs of the history Douglass faced and forged. The “malignant prejudice of race” lives on, a mockery of our common Creator and the likeness of the God we share.

If he could stand before us today, I doubt Douglass would presume to offer simple solutions to our racial dilemmas. But I suspect he would remind us of the promise made in Isaiah: “Cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:16–18, KJV).

D. H. Dilbeck is a historian living in New Haven, Connecticut. This article is adapted from his book, Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet (The University of North Carolina Press).



The Defective Love of Judaic Law (OT)

by Prof. Dr. Pr. Jairo Goncalves (December/2017) | The “defective Law of Moses” never perfected anything (Heb 7:19; Heb 8:7). The Law of Moses contains “shadows” (Heb 8:5-7, 10:1, Col 1:17) and “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14, Isa 45:7, Prov 16:4, Prov 22:2).

The Law of the Lion of Judah (VT) commands: “You shall love your friend and hate your enemy” (Mt 5:43; Ps 139:22; Ps 3:7). The Law of the God-Abba-Lamb (Gal 4:6; John 1:29) states: “Love your enemies; do good to those who mistreat you; love as Christ the Lamb loved you (Mt 5:44, Lk 6: 27,35, Jn 15: 12-14). “Husbands, love your wives as Christ the Lamb loved the Bride Church (Eph 5: 25-28).

The “defective Law of Moses” never perfected anything (Heb 7:19; Heb 8:7). The Law of Moses contains “shadows” (Heb 8:5-7, 10:1, Col 1:17) and “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14, Isa 45:7, Prov 16:4, Prov 22:2). Christ-Lamb began his ministry here on earth by rebutting the Law of Moses and the diversion of the Jewish lineage (Mt 5:21,27,33,38,43;etc; Jn 6:60,66; John 8: 39-44 ). Christ-Lamb was condemned to death because he prophesied the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (Mt 24: 2; Mt 21:42); called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites (Matthew 23:13), scandalized the disciples of Moses (John 6:61 Mt 26:31) and stated that the Jews are “children of the devil” (John 8:44). equal to all other human beings not yet converted (Rom. 3:23; 1 Cor. 15:22; John 1:12). But, unfortunately, the “Churches” of Brazil and the World follow the Old Testament and the Law of Moses to build their temples, their altars and to carry out the priestly offices. More information and arguments in the warrior book: “Gospel of the Glory of the Cross of Christ – All Truth”.

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The Line between Pride and Confidence

by Ryan Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Pride and confidence cannot both exist in the same person. Pride is an overestimation of yourself; confidence is the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations. Consequently, prideful people are in constant need of justification to maintain the facade that they are something greater than their reality.

Unfortunately, confidence is an elusive goal for many people. And that’s because we fundamentally misunderstand the way it works.” So describes Quartz’s Melody Wilding in a fascinating article about why so many struggle with their sense of self-esteem and how the key to confidence often lies in failure as much as success.

Wilding writes of how many parents in the 1980s and 1990s worked to instill self-confidence in their children through participation awards and constant praise—earned or otherwise. The reality is that because parents helped their kids avoid failure rather than learn from it and work to become better, many of those children now struggle to build confidence on their own. As a result, we live in a culture where many either wrestle with self-doubt or overcompensate through baseless pride.

That latter temptation is especially troubling because the line between pride and confidence is often hard to discern.

As Christians, we are well aware of the dangers pride poses. So how do we live with confidence in who the Lord made us to be without crossing that line? The key is understanding where confidence ends and pride begins.

Pride and confidence cannot both exist in the same person. Pride is an overestimation of yourself; confidence is the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations. Consequently, prideful people are in constant need of justification to maintain the facade that they are something greater than their reality.

However, confidence does not require that sort of justification because it is already a correct view of one’s abilities and character. As a result, the confident person can be humble when the prideful person cannot because his or her limitations are not threats to be dealt with but limitations to be explored and improved upon. When we can view those aspects of our lives that need improvement as an opportunity rather than a danger, it’s a good sign we’re on the right path.

Part of the reason we’re told to base our identities in Christ is that a right understanding of how he sees and loves us despite our flaws enables us to have confidence without pride. We can see our shortcomings and deal with them without feeling that they threaten our sense of identity because that identity is already fixed in a right understanding of who we are in relationship to the Lord.

Unfortunately, many of us are frequently more proud than confident of who we are in Christ because we have yet to take that next step of allowing our identity in him to become the defining characteristic of our lives. But we’ll never be able to consistently and appropriately deal with our shortcomings until admitting them doesn’t threaten our self-image.

Paul is a good example of this balance. There are many times throughout his letters where he seems almost arrogant about his relationship with the Lord, telling the people of Corinth to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and describing all the reasons he has to be confident in his standing with the Law (Philippians 3:4–6). What keeps him on the right side of that line, however, is his understanding that any good in him is the result of Christ’s presence in his life (Philippians 3:9). As a result, he’s confident and secure enough to deal with his shortcomings and learn from his past in order to become a more effective ambassador for the kingdom in the present.

So, are you proud or confident today? Scripture is clear that we have every reason to be confident in who we are as Christians because, more than anything else, we are the beloved and valued children of God. Failure to live up to those standards will always be part of our lives this side of heaven, but sin is most destructive when we allow it to eat away at an identity that is safe in our Savior’s hands.

Will you live with that confidence today?

Please visit www.denisonforum.org for more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture.



A Response to Enemies of the Faith

by Anthony Esolen | For the person whom we show to be ignorant is not the only one in the picture. When in doubt, err on the side of gentleness, and never resort to cheap abuse. Keep the truth in mind, and then fight as well as you can (images from Inspiration Ministries).

Charlie Brown and Linus are sitting on the floor, looking at something in a book and laughing. Lucy comes up to them and asks what they are laughing at. They show her, and she asks, “Why are you laughing at it?”

“Because we don’t understand it,” they say.

In old days, people among the intelligentsia who rejected the Christian faith were not entirely ignorant of what they were rejecting, even if they were usually also not deeply learned in Christian history, art, literature, philosophy, and theology. Sometimes they were learned, as was Henry Adams, who compared the cathedral to Our Lady at Chartres favorably to the “dynamo,” the most impressive invention on display at a great scientific exposition in Paris. Sometimes, like the sad and humane Matthew Arnold, they knew that the Christian faith had brought to the world the highest and noblest morality that man had ever found, and they wanted to preserve and even enhance that morality, if such a thing were conceivable, even while they could no longer accept the faith itself. Sometimes they were embittered enemies, like Nietzsche, who still understood, though in a monstrously distorted way, the grandeur of the God whose death they declared.

None of that is true now. None of it. We must say it to ourselves over and over. The enemies of the faith are no more learned than are all too many of our fellow believers. One Ta-Nehisi Coates, a self-described atheist, and a recipient of a popularly called “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation, caused something of a stir a year ago when he admitted, without embarrassment, not only that he had never read Saint Augustine, but that he had never even heard of him. The self-styled “new atheists” do not read Thomas Aquinas, or John Henry Newman, or Etienne Gilson, or anybody, except perhaps once in a while in snippets detached from the whole and misunderstood. It’s downhill from there, if you are talking even about college professors in the humanities, let alone professors in the usually hostile social sciences, professors in other fields, school teachers, television personalities, journalists, and everybody with a computer and an account on social media.

We would be far better off with people who had never heard of Jesus Christ, and who would therefore approach our faith with some humility and care, just as any ordinary thinking person would do, upon encountering a culture that was utterly foreign to him. Instead we are dealing with people whose brains are filled with scraps and rags of what used to be the faith, and who therefore think they know all about what they have never bothered to investigate at all. Worst among them are those who went to a Catholic school, as I did, and picked up a small bundle of moral laws, tarnished, bent, and broken, without any connection one to another, to the human good, or to the nature of God himself. As they see it, they are in the know.

The danger that these people pose to our young people is severe, and not ever to be underestimated. We know, for example, that very few people are ever moved to accept the faith as a result of rational demonstration. Pascal understood this—Pascal with the relentlessly mathematical mind, who, as his sister writes of him, played with conic sections when he was a small boy. “When they do help some people,” says Pascal of the metaphysical proofs of God’s existence, “it is only at the moment when they see the demonstration. An hour later they are afraid of having made a mistake.” And even when they assent to the validity of the proof, that is not sufficient; that is not the virtue of faith. Satan knows that God exists, and knows it to his burning rage and despair.

But the converse of this truth is that people will lose their faith also not by rational demonstration, but by appeals to their feelings, by the powerful motion-in-inertia of the crowd, and by such things as ridicule. For a good man can hold his head high in noble suffering, and pride himself on his faithfulness; ridicule is harder to endure than the scourge. Ridicule rips the heart out of a young person. The young man who would bloody his knuckles in a fight for the faith may hang his head in shame when his friends laugh at him. The young woman who in a better time would inspire others with the nobility of her virtues and the purity of her love, will wilt like a flower in a dry land when her friends aim at her the barbs of false compassion for sinners and sentimental approval of their sin, letting her know without needing to say it openly that she would be contemptible if she did not go along with them on their sweet LOL way to vanity and delight.

How do we arm them, then, for the battle as it actually will be engaged? You do not send somebody into the field with bayonets when the enemy has hand grenades. You do not suit up with shoulder pads and a helmet for a basketball game.

My readers here may have many suggestions, born from their own experience in the battle, and they are most welcome to make them public. I have one here—one among many, but I have time only to mention this one. I give it with some hesitation, because it makes all the difference whether we are arguing with someone directly and not in public, or rather arguing publicly on behalf of one of our fellow Christians, or on behalf of the faith itself. It must also be done with some care, with some eloquence and poise, lest the weapon backfire. The suggestion is that stupidity and absurdity must be exposed as such.

Let me illustrate. Someone says that we should not force our morality down people’s throats because of some “archaic sky-god” we believe in. Such a person is massively ignorant. Christians do not believe in a “sky-god,” and indeed that is the very point of the first verse of Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He created the heavens; the sacred author mentions the sun and the moon as mere instruments for bestowing light upon the earth, and not as divinities, and mentions the very stars as if they were afterthoughts. No Christian has ever believed that God dwelt in the sky. That sky may well be used as a feint, hardly even an image, of the “heaven of heavens” that is the presence of God; it is natural in man to do so. But God has placed his throne no more in the sky than in New Jersey, or rather he is infinitely present everywhere in his creation, in New Jersey no less than beyond the Milky Way. When Dante has ascended with Beatrice to the final sphere, the Empyrean, she is careful to say to him that this ring has no location but in the mind of God. All “where” and “when” spring from this place that is no place and this time that is no time, because it comprehends all place and all time.

So we might train ourselves and our children to answer back: “Tell us, since you know it so well, where in the New Testament the Father is said to dwell in a sky, or where Saint Augustine says that God is hovering over our heads? Or tell us, since you know, what sky-god it was that Father Georges Lemaitre believed in? Do you not know who Father Lemaitre was? He was Einstein’s friend, and the first proposer of what we call the Big Bang theory. Did you not know this? About what other great fields of human thought and human culture do you deliver your sentences of contempt, without knowing anything about them? Do you treat Chinese culture the same way, without knowing anything about it? Do you treat other human beings the same way, whom you have never met? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Or I hear that the moral teachings of the Church are “archaic.” Not old and venerable, even, but archaic, like a horse and buggy, or windmills. What is meant, of course, is that the Church’s sexual teachings are archaic, because, well, people want what they want and don’t care too much how they get it. How to respond?

We might do so in this vein. “I was not aware that human nature had changed. When did it do that? Or is human nature different also from one place to another? Does right turn into wrong and wrong turn into right when you cross a time zone? Does right turn into wrong and wrong turn into right when your odometer flips to 100,000, or when you tear off a certain month from your calendar? But assuming you are right, and we are now so enlightened in this particular feature of human life, where is this joyous wonderland you promise us? For surely new and improved morals must bring about joyous and wonderful people. Where is this land of new and improved wisdom, where joyous and wonderful people are all eager to marry, and do marry, and have plenty of happy children, and have only words of appreciation and gratitude for members of the other sex—men for women and women for men, rather than just for the one not-so-bruised apple out of a bucket of stinkers? Where is all this joy? When was the last time you yourself expressed gratitude for the other sex, and admiration for their virtues, rather than just for the one you culled from among the brown and soft and wormy?”

We can’t all fight in this way. But some people, in some situations, can and should. We must be ready with a response, and we should keep in mind the whole rhetorical and spiritual situation. For the person whom we show to be ignorant is not the only one in the picture. When in doubt, err on the side of gentleness, and never resort to cheap abuse. Keep the truth in mind, and then fight as well as you can.

Professor Anthony Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).



True Diversity Found in the Unity of Christ

by Anthony Esolen | We are too used to the habits of everyone around us. We conform ourselves to the time, and save no one, because we can hardly tell in what regard we have anything to give them.

At the school where I used to teach, diversity has become the word of faith, an intellectual idol to conjure by. It does not mean that you study a variety of cultures. It couldn’t mean that. Otherwise we would have been in very Diversity Heaven, as we introduced our students to ancient Babylon, Homeric Greece, the Greece of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, ancient Israel, republican and imperial Rome, the early Christians spread from Asia Minor across North Africa all the way to Spain and Britain, the Germanic tribes—and that was just in one semester. No, it couldn’t mean that. By the testimony of the haters of the program I have described, that was the great offender against diversity. But now you can fulfill your “diversity proficiency” by taking one of any number of courses in modern feminism, a western phenomenon so familiar to graduates of American schools, they might well repeat the catechism in their sleep:

“Why did God make you?”

“She made me to battle against the patriarchy now and forevermore.”

“What caused humanity’s fall from grace?”

“Humanity fell when society adopted hierarchical structures that oppressed women and minorities.”

“What does the body mean?”

“The body means what I want it to mean. I own my body. My body is mine to do with as I please.”

“What is the first commandment of sexual liberation?”

“The first commandment is that I own my body, and no one shall have any say over what I choose to do with it, not parent, not spouse, not priest.”

We came to a parting of the ways, that school and I. And it occurs to me that that must happen in all Christian churches, schools, and homes, if we really wish to show man a way of life that diverges from the world’s gloomy stumbling on to unhappiness in this life and Lord only knows what futility and loss in the next. We must not be like our neighbors anymore.
    

I’m reading, for one of my classes at Thomas More College, Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel set in the last days of Saints Peter and Paul, Quo Vadis? The Rome of that imperial matricide, mass murderer, poetaster, and buffoon, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus Nero, was “a nest of evil,” “a seat of power, madness but also order, the capital of the world and also mankind’s most terrible oppressor, bringer of laws and peace, all-powerful, invulnerable, eternal,” so wicked, that Peter cannot fathom why God should lead him to build the Church upon such a foundation. Even the libertine Petronius understands that such a Rome cannot endure. “A society based on brute force and violence,” thinks that arbiter of taste, “on cruelty beyond anything possible among the barbarians, and on such universal viciousness and debauchery, could not survive forever. Rome ruled mankind, but it was also its cesspool and its seeping ulcer. It reeked of death and corpses. Death’s shadow lay over its decomposing life.”

Rome, pagan Rome, was exhausted. She would, in the next few centuries, produce a few fine public buildings, some aqueducts and roads, one near-great poet (Juvenal), a sad philosopher king (Marcus Aurelius), and a brief efflorescence of Platonic mysticism not uninfluenced by Christianity. That was it.

The west, the post-Christian west, is exhausted. She exceeds ancient Rome in population by twenty to one, she enjoys plentiful food and drink, and labor-saving (and labor-eliminating) machines, and the moral heritage of its Christian past, mainly spent down and in many places mortgaged. But she is exhausted.

I call to witness our opponents. I do not say that there is a “rape culture” on our college campuses. They do. I do not say that men and women share no fundamental interests. They do. I do not say that it is impossible for people to remain innocent and sexually pure before marriage. They do. I do not say that the murder of a child in the womb is a fair price to pay for—a fair price, a job, economic autonomy. They do. I do not say that sex is meaningless. They do. I do not say that historical developments are inevitable and must carry us along with them willy-nilly, as dead things on a swollen river. They do. I do not say that freedom of speech is an outmoded notion. They do. I do not say that the pursuit of truth, outside of the quantifiable sciences, is a chimera. They do. I do not say that human existence itself must be transcended, or rather cast away. They do. I do not say that a man who is suffering from a terminal illness, or who knows that he is going to suffer it, has no more to live for, and nothing to give to God or his fellow man. They do. I do not say that churches ought to be turned into antique stores. They do.

They are exhausted. What wisdom does Hollywood have to impart? Or our rulers by the million in Washington and its fungal environs? Or professors, who write so poorly and read so little? Or artists, who strain their nerves and drain our wallets to produce what is ugly, garish, and stupid? Exhausted.

Quo Vadis? is a story of the irruption of the Christian faith into that exhausted world. Its protagonist, a young patrician named Marcus Vinicius, learns of a God who makes the Roman pantheon look ridiculous and shabby, and a force, a new thing in the world, Christian love, that the world dreads and yet desperately needs. Greece brought the world beauty, and Rome brought the world power, says his uncle Petronius, but what do these Christians bring? From what Petronius can see, all they bring is gloom; they spoil what few and fleeting pleasures are available to man in this life. But by the end of the novel Petronius admits that it is not so, though he cannot share in this new thing, this adoration of the God of love.

Vinicius will become a baptized follower of Christ. His passionate and violent desire for a young Christian woman—whom he would kidnap and rape rather than not enjoy—will be transformed, through his own defeat and humiliation, and a veritable miracle of Christ that saves her from the bloodthirsty Nero, into a love that he had never known, and that requires him to change his life forever. So he writes to Petronius, pleading with him to become Christian also. “Compare your fear-lined delights,” he says, “your concern for material objects when none of you is sure of tomorrow, your orgies that seem like funeral suppers, and you’ll find the answer. Come to our thyme-smelling mountains, to the shade of our olive groves, and to our ivy-covered coast. Peace waits for you here, the kind of peace you haven’t known in years. And love waits for you here, in hearts that truly love you. You have a good and noble soul, Petronius. You deserve to be happy. Your brilliant mind can recognize the truth, and when you’ve seen it, you will come to love it.”

What Vinicius holds forth to his uncle is to all appearances an ordinary human life, but it is not ordinary at all, because it is permeated with the only really new thing in this old dead world, the love of Christ. The Christians do not divorce their spouses. They do not expose unwanted children. They do not go on sprees of sad debauchery. They are grateful when God blesses them with peace, and grateful when he blesses them with the suffering that unites them with the Son. They possess all things as if they possessed none. They think first of the kingdom of God.

If we are not then conspicuous by our divergence from the world, we have not been faithful enough. I am as much to blame as anybody. We are too used to the habits of everyone around us. We conform ourselves to the time, and save no one, because we can hardly tell in what regard we have anything to give them.

Here I can say at last that I have found a place of true diversity. Yet I note that this divergence of Thomas More College, a place of cheerfulness and youth and wisdom and health, from the way of the world depends upon our being at one. We come to a fork in the road. It will not be possible to be half for Christ and half for the world. The choice must be made. Nor can it be made as individuals here and there. If the world is ever to see a truly divergent way of life, the people who take that way must take it in earnest and not pretend.

The very existence of Thomas More College depends upon unity in that regard. We are all aiming for the same good things. You could not have, among the Christians of old, some people who still sacrificed to Bacchus and men who still went after boys and women who still procured abortions; that would have been the same old world, with a little perfume. So now we cannot have a diversity that means no more than conformity to the world. Things are clearer than ever. Unity in Christ alone can give the world the diversity it needs.

Professor Anthony Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).



Enemies of Christianity at the Time of the Reformation

by Benjamin D. Wiker | Catholics and Protestants have been the object of persecution by radical secularist political regimes for the last hundred years, beginning with the rise of the atheistic communism with the Russian Revolution of 1917 (Prints, Huguenots Fleeing by Jan Luykens).

Nearly everyone knows the basics of the Reformation, the first being that 500 years ago, it began with Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg castle door on October 31, 1517—except that scholars now think that what probably happened was that Luther mailed them, not nailed them, to his archbishop, Albrecht of Brandenburg. A much less dramatic beginning, perhaps.

But this is a rather trivial historical point. There are much larger and more important things that regularly get overlooked in basic histories of the Reformation, things all Christians need to know.

The first is that, after 500 years, the Reformation is coming to an end. Christians both Protestant and Catholic are finding out, more and more, that what they have in common is more important than what divides them. The impetus for focusing on what is common arises largely from a rather unpleasant set of sources: the persecution of all Christians by radical secularism and by radical Islam.

Catholics and Protestants have been the object of persecution by radical secularist political regimes for the last hundred years, beginning with the rise of the atheistic communism with the Russian Revolution of 1917. More Christians were martyred in the twentieth century, than all other centuries combined. The turn into the twenty-first century has brought a new wave a persecution, with 100,000 Christians martyred every year, largely at the hands of radical Islam, and an ever more aggressive secular attack on Christian morality and faith. The good that God is bringing out of this evil is that Christians are uniting against these common enemies, and thereby bringing, slowly but surely, the Reformation to an end.

But something else you may not realize about the Reformation is that radical atheistic secularism and radical Islam were there 500 years ago at the time of Martin Luther, and were aiming back then at the extermination of Christianity.

We think that radical atheism is our problem, something that Christians didn’t have to contend with way back then in the “age of faith.” Not true, as it turns out. Modern atheism arose in the 1300s and 1400s with the Renaissance rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman pagan atheists such as Epicurus, Lucretius, and Lucian. Reading these pagans produced what may rightly be called neo-pagans, the first modern atheists, a large number of whom were Italian, such as Marsilius of Padua (1275–1342), Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457), Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525), Pietro Aretino (1492–1556), Cesare Cremonini (1550–1631), Lucilio Vanini (1585–1619), and of course, Italy’s most famous atheist, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), who believed that all religions were bunk, but should be used by clever unbelieving rulers to better control the credulous masses. The next generations of atheists counseled a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy against Christianity, taking advantage of the Protestant-Catholic divisions to weaken the cultural hold of faith.

You can see the problem this spate of Italian atheists would cause from the vantage point of the German Augustinian monk Martin Luther: Italy looked like a seedbed of atheism, and the luxurious and very worldly papacy was in Rome. Had the seat of St. Peter been taken over by a secret atheist? Many Reformers had their suspicions.

And what of radical Islam? Islam had been conquering Christians since the latter 600s. At the time of the Reformation, it looked as if triumphant Islamic armies were going to overrun Europe. The Holy Roman Emperor, Catholic Charles V, was unable to deal with Luther in Germany because he was largely absorbed in fighting back the Muslim advance. On his part, Luther proclaimed that the looming victory of Islam over Christendom was a divine punishment for the sins of the papacy, and that this impending grand battle was a sign that the prophecies of the book of Revelation were coming true (with the pope, of course, playing the part of the Anti-Christ).

Speaking of Islam, while you probably know that Luther published his own German translation of the New Testament, you aren’t aware that he ensured that a translation of the Koran was done (1543), and he provided the preface for it. The reason? He believed knowledge of Islam would undermine the papacy, showing how similar a religious aberration it was to Roman Catholicism. More accurately, he considered Islam to be superior, even though it was erroneous.

Ironically, Luther’s (muted) trumpeting of the virtues of Islam and his translation of the Koran contributed to the cause of radical secularism. While atheists in the century following Luther believed that all religions were bunk, they also asserted that Islam was superior—to all Christianity, not just Catholicism. This was the historical origin of the secular Left’s notion, today, that Christianity is an evil to be removed, and Islam a beneficent religion to be welcomed.

These are just a few of the things you need to know about the Reformation 500 years later.

Benjamin D. Wiker

Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need To Know. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com, and you can follow him on Facebook.



Making Better Choices

by Julia Attaway | In the heat of anger, how to step back and get a better perspective on the situation (images, Coaching Magazine)

My husband did something jaw-droppingly thoughtless last week, and I’ve been intensely irritated with him ever since. I’ve tried all the usual paths to forgiveness and peace of mind, without the tiniest bit of success. This morning I prayed, in a rather annoyed tone, “Lord, I honestly don’t know what to do. No matter what I try, I’m still feeling angry and hurt. And I’m running out of tongue-biting capability.”

A word came to mind: temptation. I rolled it around in my thoughts.

What if, instead of thinking about how to rein in my feelings, I looked at my distress as a type of turmoil deliberately stirred up within me?

It was astonishing how different this made the situation look. When I viewed my inner turmoil as something happening to me instead of something within me, I could take a teeny tiny step backwards and see the anger that had plagued me for days from a different perspective. Just that little bit of distance took the venom out of my emotions. The hot intensity of anger decreased. I was still mad, of course, but it was a normal mad, a manageable one.

In cartoons, there’s a little angel hovering near one ear and a little devil by the other, taking turns whispering their recommendations. In real life, we sometimes experience a cacophony of feelings and thoughts and impulses, with everything all shouting at once. That noise alone can confuse us and lead us down the wrong path. But if we look at the chaos itself as a distraction, a temptation, or something imposed on us, it’s possible to detach from it a bit… and that allows us to make better choices

Julia Attaway is a freelance writer, homeschooler and mother of five. She is the editor of Daily Guideposts: Your First Year of Motherhood, a book of devotions for first-time moms. She lives in New York.



Only This Love Can Heal Las Vegas – and the Rest of America

by Michèle Phoenix – The grit and grace embody our resolve and demonstrate a hope that will not be destroyed—not by the blows of nature’s rage nor by the hand of man. (images, YouTube/WBUR)

We feel it as a nation.

A headline startles our phones awake. A quick glance. Disbelief. We swipe to read the article or click to turn on the TV—and blood-curdling reality assaults our senses and humanity. The fleeing crowds breach barriers with screams that feel torn from our throats. Heroes in blue, civilians too, rush toward a savagery we can scarcely comprehend.

News stations blur the sheet-draped forms and opt for more wide-angled views—but those staccato shots we hear—they brutalize us still. Each pop another body slammed, another helpless loved one begging God to stem death’s flow. And 59 times—59.times—a universe of past and present and still-untasted future collapses on itself. On all of us.

We feel it as a nation.

This grief. Again. Helpless and raw. We’ve seen it crash its aching waves over this land before. We’ve heard it supplicate and roar. We’ve sensed its darkness seeping impotence and dread into our common core and we fear, with each new tide, that it will anchor there forever more.

And yet we dare.

We’ve dared since we began—before we even were One Nation Under God. We dared to reach this shore. We dared to dream of something more. Of something greater than the flaws of individual man. We dared to strive for lofty ideals we knew we couldn’t realize, yet still we tried, with blood and work and stubborn hope, to birth a greater good, a hard-won brotherhood.

And in this time of deepest grief, I see us as we truly are—courageous and compassionate, displaying the rare dignity of selfless grit and grace. In the faces of physicians, the tales of bruised survivors and the broken fortitude of victims’ families—such grit. Such wounded strength. And grace—it’s right there too. In the sacrifice of strangers laying down their lives for others. In the kindness of our citizens offering deeds and words and tears to heal their still-shocked spheres.

The grit and grace embody our resolve and demonstrate a hope that will not be destroyed—not by the blows of nature’s rage nor by the hand of man. They bridge the chasms, dismantle the barriers and let us see each other at our noblest best.

And they are fueled by love.

A love that dares—as we must dare—to hold and help and overcome. A love that soars over fallen towers and blood-soaked, trampled earth, declaring its tenacity—defining our humanity.

Today, despite the horror—no, because of this atrocity—I choose this love that manifests most mightily when we’re brought to our bloodied knees. A love that points to heaven’s peace and binds our wounds and soothes our pain and rises every time with bright audacity when we can stand no more.

Michèle Phoenix is the author of several books, including her new novel, The Space Between Words, which deals with hope and healing in the face of adversity.



Creation of Man in Islam and Christianity

by Derya Little | I believe the most crucial difference between Christianity and Islam is how each system views the human person.

It has been much harder than I expected to explain to Westerners why Muslims, even the moderate ones, behave the way they do. How does one describe the trees to a kid who only ever saw the desert? Even though it is fading, Christianity has been in the very fabric of the West, making all the wonderful things about Western culture possible, like critical thinking, respect for human rights and selflessness. None of these are fundamental in an Islamic culture. A Muslim child grows up in a world where sin and salvation mean something completely different, a world where the concept of grace is hollow and confusing. If we do not understand the culture, all our dealings with Muslims, either during daily encounters or engaging in dialogue, will remain shallow and fruitless.

I believe the most crucial difference between Christianity and Islam is how each system views the human person.

Memorizing prayers and learning to recite the Quran were crucial parts of my summers as a dutiful little Muslim girl. From an early age, I was filled with fear and awe of Allah, who demanded absolute submission without a smidgen of doubt or disrespect. However, in my child’s heart, occasionally I had the audacity to try to picture this supreme being. These irreverent falls of mine usually lasted mere seconds as an image of a pure bright being with rainbow eyes hovered in my mind. These moments of light-hearted imagination were followed by crippling fear. How dare I try to fit the all-knowing and all-powerful Allah into my measly human mind? After that, for days, I would struggle with this fear, waiting to be struck down or to be turned into stone.

Given that trying to picture Allah is forbidden, is it really hard to understand why Incarnation is not a good place to start a conversation with a Muslim friend? The most fundamental belief of Christianity is that God himself became man to bring us eternal life. But, the mere suggestion of God-man is enough for many Muslims to tear off their clothes and cry out blasphemy. Why does the thought of Incarnation incite such strong emotions? There are many reasons for this outrage, but one needs to first understand how man was created in the beginning and where Allah stands concerning this imperfect creation of his.

In Genesis, Scripture tells us that God created man and woman in his own image. Before sin severed their connection, God and man were in perfect union, for man was a creation of love as a result of Triune perfection:

The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves. (CCC 1702)

This image alone paves the way to God lowering himself to become man in order to bring salvation. Creation of man is first and foremost an act of love, a reflection of the perfect divine love among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. From the beginning, Incarnation was God’s design.

The story of man’s creation and the relationship between Allah and man could not have been more different in Islam. To begin with, we cannot talk about love as the cause of man’s origin. Without the Trinity, there is nothing for Allah to express, for he does not know love, neither is he love. A consistent view of why the man was created in the first place is lacking in Islamic thinking; however, these verses in the Quran reveal that it was not as a result of a relationship or an act of love Adam and Eve came to be:

Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him. (76:2)

I did not create the jinn [the demons] and the humans except to worship me. (51:56)

The idea that Allah the all-powerful would desire a relationship with us is laughable without the existence of a prior relationship among the Three Persons of the Trinity. Therefore, even before Adam was created, his place was set. He would be nothing but a slave who feared his master. His fate was to be tried over and over again until he pleased his master with obedience and worship so that the gates of heaven will one day be opened before him.

Thus, the first man was fashioned from dirt, and then life was breathed into him. Then, his descendants were created through a sperm-drop (nutfah):

It is He Who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old, —though of you there are some who die before; —and lets you reach a term appointed; in order that you may learn wisdom. (40:67)

The nutfah, semen, is a despicable fluid that is produced by shameful parts of man, only to be washed off and discarded. It is inherently dirty and something to be hidden, ashamed of.

Have We not created you from a fluid (held) despicable? (77:20)

Even though there are verses that proclaim everything Allah has created is good, there are a number of verses that keep reminding man of his beginning, lest he forget his place:

Now let man but think from what he is created. He is created from a drop emitted. Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs. (86:5-7)

Who made all things good which God created, and he began the creation of man from clay; And made his progeny from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised. (32:7-8)

In other verses man’s origins are mentioned as sticky clay (37:11) or black mud (15:28) to emphasize his infinite lowliness compared to Allah. The Quran establishes an uncrossable chasm between Allah and man, a chasm, in fact, that cannot be compensated even by an omnipotent creator. Not because Allah is not able, but because it is unthinkable that the maker of the universe would lower himself to bestow his own image upon men, let alone become one of those utterly inferior creations. This is not to say that man is the least among others. Because Allah breathes life into Adam from his own spirit, man is elevated above the angels, who were created from light as opposed to dirt. However, even Allah’s own breath of life is not sufficient to bridge the eternal gap that remains between master and slave.

Even from the creation of man, gnostic elements in Islam are visible, and they get more pronounced in the daily life of a Muslim. For instance, ritual cleansing is a crucial aspect of religious life. One cannot enter the mosque if one has not been ritually cleansed beforehand. If any natural urges were satisfied, such as passing gas, the cleansing must be repeated. Following sexual intercourse, both man and woman need to be cleansed before praying, touching the Quran or entering a mosque. A woman on her period is banned from all religious activities. This idea that things related to the human body are unclean and in constant need of restoration start with the creation of man who came from despicable fluid and black mud. This infinite inferiority of man not only puts too much emphasis on man, but projects a deity who is capricious, incapable of love and in constant need of admiration and worship.

Without love being the most essential part of this divine equation, there is no room for incarnation. Without God’s love first expressed in the Trinity, man cannot be created out of love. The invulnerable baby who needs the attention and protection of Mary and Joseph is unimaginable to a Muslim mind, for Christ’s miraculous entry to our world is only possible with love.

Derya Little

By Derya Little
Derya Little has a Ph.D. in politics from Durham University in England. Her articles on foreign affairs have appeared in academic journals and Catholic World Report. She is the author of From Islam to Christ, published by Ignatius Press (2017).



How Does the “Selfie Culture” Affect Young Women Today?

by Rachel Marie Stone | It’s not healthy to dwell too much on how we look.

A selfie? Whether it’s spelled with an ‘ie’ or a ‘y’, Oxford defines it as;

“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Branding yourself is not a new concept. However branding yourself with the image that you want the world – or your followers to see – is a new form of personal branding. And the way you see yourself in a selfie is tailored toward the way you expect others to see you and not the way your close family, friends and relations sees you.

 

 



Did Pope Francis Put Migrant Safety Ahead of National Security?

by Thomas D. Williams | According to Catholic teaching, the common good and the good of each individual person are not in opposition to one another, because the common good does not refer to some abstract collectivity such as “the state” but to the human community made up of real persons. (Photo credit: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

On August 21, the Vatican released Pope Francis’s 2018 message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a commemorative feast established by Pope Pius X in 1914. The message collects some of Francis’s now well-known considerations regarding migration, bringing them together into a four-point program: “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.”

While much of the content of the message is therefore familiar to attentive followers of the pope’s statements, one particular expression stands out not only for its novelty, but indeed because of its apparent dissonance with earlier statements by the pontiff and with elements of Catholic teaching more broadly.

In what is perhaps the most puzzling line of the message, the pope asserts that the principle of the centrality of the human person “obliges us to always prioritise personal safety over national security.” In the full text, Pope Francis even invokes his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, as the underlying source of this notion:

The principle of the centrality of the human person, firmly stated by my beloved Predecessor, Benedict XVI, obliges us to always prioritise personal safety over national security. It is necessary, therefore, to ensure that agents in charge of border control are properly trained. The situation of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees requires that they be guaranteed personal safety and access to basic services. For the sake of the fundamental dignity of every human person, we must strive to find alternative solutions to detention for those who enter a country without authorisation.

Despite the explicit mention of Pope Benedict, the footnote provided has little bearing on the statement in question. The note redirects to Caritas in Veritate 47, in which Benedict indeed speaks of “the centrality of the human person,” but in the context of development, with no reference whatsoever to national security, immigration or the common good.

The statement provoked a good deal of comment and wound up highlighted by numerous media outlets as the most newsworthy expression in the entire message. The Guardian, for example, titled its story: “Pope Francis: prioritise migrants’ dignity over national security,” while the Washington Post printed the AP article with the headline “Pope: Rights of migrants trump national security concerns.” For its part, Reuters posted a piece called “Pope says migrants’ rights should override national security concerns.” Even certain Catholic media, such as the UK-based Catholic Herald, underscored this aspect of the Message, with the title “Pope Francis: put migrant safety before national security.”

This declaration provoked some consternation because it seems to contradict the ancient Aristotelian principle asserting the priority of the common good of society (koinion sumpheron) over the particular good of individuals, a concept fully incorporated into traditional Catholic theology and teaching.

According to Catholic teaching, the common good and the good of each individual person are not in opposition to one another, because the common good does not refer to some abstract collectivity such as “the state” but to the human community made up of real persons. It entails all the social conditions necessary for the material and spiritual flourishing of individuals, families and groups. Still, there is an understanding that individuals must look beyond their particular good to direct their activities to the common good as well.

Catholic teaching insists that the primary function of government is the pursuit of the common good of society, which explicitly includes national security.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the role of the state “is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society” (1898) and political authority itself derives its “moral legitimacy” from its effective commitment to the common good (1902). Authority is exercised legitimately, the Catechism continues, “only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned” (1903).

These statements are particularly germane when one considers that one of the three essential components of the common good, as expressed by the Catechism itself, is “the stability and security of a just order” (1909). The common good “presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defence,” it explains.

In other words, national security is one of the core components of the common good and therefore a fundamental responsibility of public authority.

The pope’s message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees must, of course, be read within the context of Catholic tradition, and in dialogue with other statements by Francis himself, which gives a better sense of what Francis was trying to express.

Pope Pius XII, in a letter of December 24, 1948 to the American Bishops, urged openness to migrants and refugees, with the sole caveat that the common good—or public welfare—of society be protected.

The sovereignty of the state, Pius stated, “although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public welfare, considered very carefully, does not forbid this.”

It is noteworthy that the one condition Pius places on his plea for openness to “needy and decent people from other nations” is the “public welfare” (publicae utilitati). In other words, Pius asserted that public welfare be placed above the particular good of individual migrants.

Pope Francis himself has seemed to express this very point in earlier statements.

In an extended interview earlier this year with the Spanish daily El País, the pope reaffirmed basic Catholic doctrine regarding immigration, namely, that sovereign nations have the right to maintain secure borders and to receive immigrants in an orderly and controlled fashion. He also seemed to imply that where threats to national security exist in the form of terrorism, nations may impose stricter criteria in admitting migrants.

“Yes, every country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes,” Francis said, “and those countries at risk—from terrorism or such things—have even more right to control them more.”

In this statement, Francis seemed to imply that concerns for national security—and therefore the welfare of citizens—legitimizes greater vigilance on the part of public officials in the regulation of migration.

This also falls within the Pope’s broader perspective that immigration flows be regulated in a “rational” fashion.

In May of 2016, a reporter asked Pope Francis whether Europe should be welcoming so many migrants, to which the pope responded that “it is a fair and responsible question because we cannot open the doors irrationally.”

In his most recent message, Pope Francis has shown once again that he has a particular gift for stimulating dialogue and debate on topics that affect Catholics in a particular way, and society in general. Moreover, the pope has a way of saying seemingly contradictory things at different times, which require being read together in order to garner the full sense of what he is trying to convey. Taken singularly, they can appear incomplete or even discordant with traditional teaching, whereas when taken together, their full meaning often becomes clearer.

In this particular instance, Francis is plainly not mounting a case to undermine the importance of national security or the duty of the state to protect its citizens. He is rather underscoring the dignity of each human person and the moral requirement to treat each one—whether a citizen or a foreigner—with the respect due to that human dignity.

That being said, the frustration experienced by many Catholics over the pope’s often imprecise language and seemingly studied ambiguity is not without merit. To say something that taken at face value is simply incorrect—such as the above affirmation, which came not in an off-the-cuff remark but in a formal message—can seem to many a disservice to the immense teaching authority that has been placed in the pope’s hands as successor to Saint Peter.

by Thomas D. Williams
Thomas D. WilliamsThomas D. Williams is the Rome Bureau Chief for Breitbart News. He is a Catholic moral theologian, professor of ethics and author of 15 books including Who Is My Neighbor? Personalism and the Foundations of Human Rights (2005) and The World As It Could Be: Catholic Social Thought for a New Generation (2011). Williams holds a doctorate in theology, a license in philosophy and a BBA in business administration and economics.

 



Transformation Through Walk for Water

by Iain Chester, ELCA Youth Gathering | As we look toward Houston and the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering, I am excited to see the ways in which God will transform us, our world, and our understanding of one another.
My first experience of the ELCA Youth Gathering was less than two years ago in Detroit. I learned quickly that a Gathering is unique and that there is nothing quite like worshiping in an NFL stadium filled with 30,000 people. As children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman walked out on to the stage during worship, she summed it up perfectly saying, “You are incredible.”

My role at the ELCA Youth Gathering was to help with ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water. This interactive experience invites participants to learn more about access to clean water by following the story of someone who does not have easy access to clean water. Participants can feel what it is like to collect water by carrying a five-gallon jug of water (about 41.5 pounds when full).

Looking out at the crowd, Marian Wright Edelman challenged us saying, “With your energy we are going to transform America and make it understand that God did not make two classes of children.”

Since the Gathering, many congregations, youth groups, and high schools across the ELCA have hosted their own localized versions of ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water. I believe that this experience, taken home by so many who came to the Gathering, has been a small part of the transformation Wright Edelman spoke about.

Congregations and youth groups have also been part of transformation through giving. Many who attended the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering brought gifts to support ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water. To date, over $1 million has been raised to support ELCA World Hunger water-related projects. This transformation all began at the Gathering and will continue to provide clean drinking water like spring boxes and boreholes, support for irrigation systems, education about sanitation in rural villages, and so much more.

God did not make two classes of children, some with access to clean water and others without.

As we look toward Houston and the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering, I am excited to see the ways in which God will transform us, our world, and our understanding of one another.

Iain Chester is a writer and member of Team ELCA. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States with more than 3.8 million members in 10,000 congregations across the nation and the Caribbean. You may donate to Team ELCA here.



Missing Church Doesn’t Make You a Sinner

by Tommy Zimmer | “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9 (image: Mary Beth Bonacci)

Many Christians think if they miss church service, they might be damned to hell for all eternity. This can be very much seen in Catholic doctrine. “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice,” The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states. “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” However, that is only one denomination of Christianity. Most other denominations can have significantly different interpretations. It's helpful to have a clear understanding of the different sects of Christianity.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod explains where the phrase “by faith alone” comes from. It comes from various parts of the Bible but particularly Ephesians 2:8,9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast,” the passage wrote. This is a very clear departure from the Catholic view, who believe you have to speak to a priest in confession in order to receive absolution for the sins you committed. This has been a particular stressor and important piece of the puzzle. Slate noted this in an article they published. “A generation ago, you'd see a lot of us lined up inside Catholic churches on Saturday afternoons, waiting to take our turn in one of the confessionals,” the article said. “Yet in most parishes, the lines for these confessionals have pretty much disappeared.”

Slate speaks about a cultural change as to why Catholics aren't confessing their sins at mass. However, Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, has been advocating for confession and how helpful it can be. “Moreover, it helps to verbalize your sins with another person,” Martin wrote. “And hearing the words of absolution, viva voce, is a lot more powerful than intuiting them in prayer,” Martin alleges he has spoken with many Catholics and understands how tiring confession can be. But, he still believes in the benefits of confession.

So, the question of missing church can greatly depend on your particular Christian views. It could also be based on whether or not you are very liberal or conservative. Many Catholics can be conservative and pro-life while others might be pro-choice and care more about social justice issues. While individual Christian churches have attempted to set standards, it is tough to enforce them in one country alone but across the world too. It would seem the Lutheran standardsare more sensible. But, we can leave the answer up to you.

About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery and the entertainment industry.


‘God and Donald Trump’ Generates Strong Early Response

by  Steve Strang | God and Donald Trump is a powerful first-person account of one of the most contentious elections in American history, with exclusive interviews and insightful commentary from the men and women who were there.

God and Donald Trump has now been officially announced in the market. Writing it has consumed my life for the last month. I am very encouraged by early response from buyers, interview requests from secular media and the enthusiasm of leaders whom we have asked to read and endorse it.

I decided to share the press release (below) that went out to the media this week because it contains a lot of information. However, I also have a very specific request, and I'm hoping you'll want to read the book.

If so, it would really help me if you would go ahead and preorder a copy either on BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com right away. Early presales, a very good indication that a book will take off, actually influence the retailers who stock it in the brick-and-mortar stores.

If you know you want to read God and Donald Trump, pre-ordering it now will make certain you get one of the first available copies. The release date is Nov. 7. Make sure to give me your comments below and share this exciting news with your friends.

Here is the press release:

'God and Donald Trump' Explores the Spiritual Aspects of His Miracle Victory and What This Means Now for America

New book by Stephen E. Strang, due out in November, provides powerful first-person account of one of the most contentious elections in American history, with exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes 'scoops' and insightful commentary.

LAKE MARY, Fla.—Donald Trump is six months into the U.S. presidency, and opinions about his job thus far certainly fall all along the spectrum of approval or disapproval.

One fact that can't be overlooked is that President Trump has embraced the guidance of Christians who helped elect him.

A new book out this fall from Charisma Media CEO Stephen E. Strang, who strongly backed Trump in the election, will consider how the president's faith has perhaps grown and strengthened in office. God and Donald Trump, set to release Nov. 7, seeks to help readers understand who Donald Trump is, what he really believes, where his vision for America will lead us and where God is in all of this.

"With pundits asking, 'How did he win?' my new book explores whether there was a supernatural element involved," Strang said. "Christian leaders prophesied before the election that God had raised up Trump to lead the nation through a time of crisis. But could this billionaire reality-TV star actually convince the voters he was for real? And if so, what is God doing now, not only in Donald's Trump's life, but also in the nation?"

Donald Trump is an enigma—a brash self-promoter, casino owner and man of the world. Yet he is also a devoted husband and father who has surrounded himself with men and women of faith and has made religion a key component of his image. Strang's God and Donald Trump explores:

  • How family and childhood influences shaped Trump's character and worldview
  • How openness to evangelical leaders helped build his commitment to religious liberty
  • How his election as president was predicted years before by charismatic prophets
  • How he captured the largest evangelical vote in history and won the Electoral College
  • What he really believes and how those beliefs helped shape his campaign promises

God and Donald Trump is a powerful first-person account of one of the most contentious elections in American history, with exclusive interviews and insightful commentary from the men and women who were there.

After interviewing Trump, Strang, an award-winning journalist and successful businessman, was involved with other Christian leaders who campaigned for his election. He attended Trump's 2017 election-night victory party in New York because he believed the prophetic ministers who said he would win.

Steve Strang is the founder of Charisma Media and President of Christian Life Missions. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Click here to subscribe to the Strang Report podcast, and here to sign up for the Strang Report newsletter.



Standing Out: When You Don’t Fit In

by Jarrid Wilson | God has called us to be different. To stand against the grain (image: Shutterstock).

We all want to be liked, cherished, and appreciated by our peers. But what if I told you that God could care less about these things? What if I told you that God didn’t care how many Facebook friends you have, or how many people follow you on Twitter?

And what if I told you that God isn’t worried about how popular you are? In fact, what if i told you that the purpose of the Gospel isn’t to fit in at all, but to in fact stand out…

Romans 12:2 – Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

In today’s worth-seeking world, being “liked,” and “wanted” is something we all yearn for. And whether we want to admit it or not, It’s how our culture forces us to feel, and not to mention it’s how our culture advertises us to feel.

The World Says:

  1. Failure is not an option.”
  2. “If you are not first, you are last.”
  3. “If you’re not somebody, you’re nobody.”

But when we begin to look into the depth of Scripture, none of those things are actually true.

God has called us to be different. To stand against the grain. To be a city on a hilltop (Matthew 5:14). And to be the change for a world that lacks hope.

Realizing you don’t fit in is a good thing. You weren’t made to fit in. You were made to fulfill your calling in Christ. You were made to fit out.

Stand tall. Press on.

Jarrid Wilson is a pastor, blogger, and aspiring world-changer. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.