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That’s a question with a long history in the Church. Many of the Early Church Fathers directed Christians not to take up arms, but their argument often revolved around the particular problems of service in the forces of Rome. In the Roman military, worship of the Emperor, i.e., idolatry, was in many cases a required practice; thus, nobody with allegiance to the One True Living God could conscientiously participate.

Some of the Early Fathers, though, were very clear that no follower of Christ should deliberately take the life of a fellow human being, since Christ died for all, even our enemies. Since, as long as a person breathes, there is a chance for his conversion, we may not cut that life short. And yet, among the canonized saints of the Church, there are warriors and military leaders along with pacifists.

On the one hand, we see St. Francis of Assisi, who was, after his conversion, the very paragon of pacifism, going unarmed to the Muslim Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, to attempt to convert him to Christ. Francis did not succeed in persuading the Sultan to follow Christ, but the Sultan was so impressed with Francis’ holiness and purity of heart that he let him depart with his head still attached to his body. This probably would not have been the case had Francis come armed.

On the other hand, St. Ferdinand III, king of León and Castile, is also a revered saint — and he was a military leader who spent his career leading forces in numerous battles against the Muslims occupying southern Spain at the time, as well as personally slaying many Muslims himself. Other warrior saints include St. Louis IX and St. Joan of Arc.

What are we to make of all this? Some say that only those such as monks who have taken vows need renounce all violence, while the rest of us live with the Just War doctrine first formulated by St. Augustine, and further developed in later centuries. (A very good nutshell summation of it can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2309)

Others, such as Mennonites and Quakers, believe that pacifism — a refusal to ever do violence to another person, even under direct mortal threat to oneself and/or one’s family — is incumbent upon anyone calling himself or herself a Christian.

I used to be a pacifist, and a Mennonite. I now believe that that stance is yet one more example of how heresy always tends toward oversimplification. Heresy has often been described in terms such as these:

A heresy is not the total rejection of the Christian faith but a distortion of it. One essential truth is denied or exaggerated at the expense of another essential truth.

In the case of pacifism, one part of the Gospel — the default stance of nonviolence — has perhaps been exaggerated at the expense of other parts of the Gospel — such as the duty to defend the innocent and defenseless. Truth in its wholeness tends — at least, on this side of heaven — to seem paradoxical, holding seemingly opposite things in tension. I think of what my (Catholic) pastor once said — that when you come into the Church that Jesus founded, you will know that you are home — but that does not mean you will be comfortable. Since we are fallen creatures, and limited in certain ways during our mortal existence, when we come into the presence of Truth Himself there’s always a certain tension.

St. Ferdinand III (San Fernando Rey)

The question of when violence is justified, and when it is not, should be one that no Christian takes lightly. We do believe that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and is infinitely loved by Him. We also know that this earthly life is not all there is — we are each made for all eternity — and yet what we do here on earth has eternal consequences.

The great Ann Barnhardt has written a very important, brilliant (as usual) piece on this question. I guarantee she will make you think of some things you hadn’t thought of before! While I don’t agree with every particular of her argument, her essay is substantive and well worth reading.

 

 

Let’s go to Luke 22 – the Last Supper. Christ has just instituted the Eucharist and the Mass. By doing this in anticipation of His death on the Cross the next day, He has made Calvary the centerpoint of time. He has drawn the Old Testament forward to the Cross, and He has pulled the time after Calvary backward. Every moment in time will now pass through and be reconciled to Calvary. (“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself.” John 12:32) What I want you to appreciate is the enormousness of the occasion. This is one of the most important things that has ever or will ever happen. This isn’t just a farewell meal. The entire world and everyone in it is utterly pivoting on what is happening in this room.

Let’s go to verse 35 through 38. Jesus has just told Peter that he will deny Him three times.

 “When I sent you without purse and scrip and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said He unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip: and he that hath not, let him sell his coat and buy a sword. For I say to you that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in Me. And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning Me have an end. But they said: Lord, behold, here are two swords. And He said to them: It is enough.”

FYI: “scrip” means money. What He is telling them is that they are about to encounter evil, and in preparation for this they need to do whatever they need to do in order to prepare. He is saying that they need to reallocate their assets and “buy a sword”. In Latin, “emat gladium”.
Emat = buy, purchase, acquire, procure.
Gladium = sword.

Wow. I can hear the hippies screaming from here. “He didn’t really mean it! He wasn’t speaking literally! He was speaking figuratively!”

He was speaking, as God Almighty almost always does, on multiple levels, INCLUDING THE LITERAL. Oh, yes. I’ll concede that we should take from this scripture His call to reject materialism and gird ourselves for spiritual battle. No doubt. But if we delude ourselves into thinking that this is the ONLY sense in which He is speaking, we are missing something huge. Look at the last verse:

“But they said: Lord, behold, here are two swords. And He said to them: It is enough.”

Okay. Stop, stop, stop. Hold the phone. Put out the cat. First of all, this proves that He was speaking in the literal sense in addition to the figurative sense. But more importantly, do you realize what this means? At least two of the apostles arrived at the Upper Room wearing side arms, which they then took off so they could sit on the floor around the low table that was used in those days. What this also means is that there were side arms present, in the room, at the Last Supper.

Now here is where all of the hippies are going to absolutely lose it. What is the contemporary, technological equivalent of a sword? What is considered a “side arm” today? That’s right. A gun. Now you can scream and spit and stomp and rage and retch all you want, but you know I’m right. The apostles report that they have two swords, and Jesus says, “It is enough.” I saw in my research that some scholars try to paint Jesus as snapping at the apostles, trying to translate “Satis est (It is enough)” as “Oh, enough already!” I don’t hear that at all. I hear Him simply saying that two swords will be enough.

…[T]here were side arms IN THE ROOM at the Last Supper. What, are you going to argue that Jesus didn’t KNOW that there were swords in the room? Who is Jesus? He’s God Almighty. He knows EVERYTHING. Further, if this was just a horrible mistake or coincidence, why would Jesus make specific reference to swords and arming one’s self, thus leading the apostles to inventory the weapons arsenal in the room? FURTHER, why would the Holy Spirit, through Luke, put all of this down in writing? Why are we all sitting in front of our respective computer screens, poring through our Bibles, reading and discussing this 1978 years after the fact? Dude. It is not sufficient at this point to simply declare me a bloodthirsty, gun-toting war monger and then walk away. You have to refute and rebut the logical progression I just laid out. Good luck with that.

Now, let’s go to verse 49. They’re in the Garden, and Jesus has gone through His agony. Now Judas, with the Jewish guards, approaches. Judas kisses Jesus to show the guards which man they should arrest. The apostles see this and ask, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” Dude, they’re STILL ARMED. If Jesus was disgusted with the swords back in the Upper Room, why are the apostles wearing SWORDS in the Garden? Don’t you think that hippie, pacifist Jesus would have told them to LEAVE THE SWORDS BEHIND? And then scolded them? He didn’t do that. They put on their swords and walked to the Garden. You know why? Because Jesus is neither a hippie nor a pacifist. Lord, I want to be like Jesus. In my heart. In my heart. Lord, I want to be like Jesus, in my heart. Next, Peter (and we know it was Peter from John 18) struck one of the guards and cut off his ear.

“And they that were about Him, seeing what would follow, said to Him: Lord, shall we strike with the sword? And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.”

So just to make certain that we are all appreciating this, Peter, the prince of the apostles, is carrying a side arm and knows what to do with it. Now this next verse is the one that really surprised me:

“But Jesus answering, said: Suffer ye thus far. And when He had touched his ear, He healed him.”

Huh? What does “Suffer ye thus far” mean? …  In order to figure this out, let’s go to the Latin. “Sinite usque huc.”

Sinite: second person plural active imperative of “sino” Sino: let, permit

Okay, so sinite means “you all let” or “you all permit” in the imperative case, which means a command. (That makes sense! Like “suffer the little children to come unto Me” means “permit the little children . . . “)

Usque: adverb meaning “all the way”

Huc: adverb meaning here, hence, to this place, to this point

You all permit + all the way + here.

Jesus isn’t scolding them. Jesus isn’t saying “no more of this” and barking at them to stop. Jesus is giving them the command to hold and stand down. “You all permit all the way here.” This is a HUGE distinction. If a military commander gives his men the order to hold fire and stand down, is he criticizing them? Is he attacking and rebuking their use of weaponry? Is he communicating that they should be pacifists? Is he rejecting their vocations as soldiers? No. He is simply telling them to hold their fire and stand down because there is, at the moment, a tactical reason to do so. That is EXACTLY what is going on here. Jesus isn’t rebuking the apostles because they are doing exactly what they should do – they are defending their Beloved Friend. If your spouse, or your child, or your best friend, or whoever you love most in this world was being physically attacked and seized, what would you do? What would every fiber of your being be screaming out for you to do? Come to their defense and aid. This is called the Natural Law. God MADE us this way. God made us with the instinctual drive to physically fight to defend those we love. Failure to do so is the sin of cowardice. Cowardice is a violation of both of the Great Commandments: to love God above all else, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Cowardice places the self above both neighbor and God. And in the case of the apostles, they were engaging both commandments directly in the person of Jesus.

This is why Jesus had to give the order to hold and stand down. He had to specifically release them from the Great Commandments in that moment. Why? Two reasons: First, obviously it was the will of the Trinity that Jesus be arrested and crucified. These things had to happen. The apostles couldn’t be expected to understand this at the time, so there was no expectation for them to quietly sit and watch as Jesus was arrested.

Second, remember who Jesus is. Jesus is God. He knows everything and everyone. Jesus knew every one of the men who came to arrest Him. Not only did He know them, He loved them all infinitely. He MADE every one of them. He wove them together in their mothers’ wombs. He knew every detail of their lives, every thought, every deed. And He loved them. Every single one of them. He also had a plan for every one of them. Like, oh I dunno, CONVERSION? Can you imagine the amount of grace those guards were exposed to? They got to TOUCH Him. They got to look right at Him, and speak to Him. He probably locked eyes with every one of them at some point. Don’t discount that. Even though they were absolutely horrible to Him, they were primed for conversion. We know that Malchus, the guy who got his ear cut off, and then was healed by Jesus, converted. We don’t know about the other guards, but we do know that thousands and thousands of Jews were converted in the first years after the Resurrection.

We also know who the first Gentile convert was. It was the Roman Centurion Longinus. Longinus was the Roman soldier who drove the spear into Jesus’ side to make certain He was dead, instead of breaking His legs. When the spear went in, it bursted the cardiac edema, or the water sac that had built up around Jesus’ Sacred Heart as He died of heart failure. Longinus, standing beside and below Jesus, was sprayed with that water. Baptism. When the water had all come out, Jesus’ Precious Blood sprayed out. Eucharist. The first Gentile convert was a man who had just spent the past nine hours participating in the torture and execution of Jesus. Grace. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the Jewish guards in the garden were converted too. So we can see an additional reason, beyond the obvious, why Jesus told the apostles to stand down. It was His will that some or all of the guards survive and convert, not die in battle in that moment. Finally, some might reference Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel:

“Then Jesus saith to him: Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

Do you know what I think Jesus is doing here? I think this may be a veiled prophecy about islam. Islam teaches that the way to convert people is to put a sword to their neck and give them a choice: convert or die. This is referred to as “the Sword of islam”. This is how all other evil, satanic political systems operate as well. Marxism leaps to mind. In Marxist tyranny, people are arrested and imprisoned, given the choice to “learn the new system” or die. In addition to a veiled prophecy, Jesus is telling Peter that Christianity does not and will not convert with the sword. It converts only with love. AND, He is telling Peter and us that Christians do not and will not punish apostates (people who leave the faith – like Judas) with the sword. Both islam and Marxism execute apostates. But the second phrase, “shall perish with the sword” is very telling. Jesus is saying that those who “take the sword” and try to convert people to, and hold people in their evil systems by force will in the end be killed WITH THE SWORD. Who will be wielding that sword? Christ will be victorious, so doesn’t it stand to reason that the Army of Christ will be the one wielding the sword, in justice and charity, in the second phrase? Boy, this sure sounds like a ratification of self-defense and just war, doesn’t it?

 

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

As a good little middle-class girl growing up in a small town in the 1960s, I had the all-importance of niceness drilled into me pretty thoroughly. It has taken me my whole adult life to get over it.

About ten years ago, I realized I had some unresolved issues with “niceness” after an incident that happened to my then-17-year-old niece. At a basketball game, a boy had approached her and made a very lewd suggestion. She responded quickly, appropriately and, to my mind, brilliantly. But not “nicely.” She dumped her large cup of iced Coke all over the guy, her eyes blazing as she said most emphatically, “Don’t you ever talk to me that way again!” It worked. The guy never bothered her again.

When I heard the story later from her mother, I was very impressed. And bemused. For my niece is one of the sweetest-spirited, most loving, giving individuals I’ve ever known. Moreover, she was raised in an exceptionally devout Christian home, and in one of those “fundamentalist” churches that does not dodge St. Paul’s teaching that wives should submit to their husbands. At that time in my life, I had not been a believing Christian for very long. I was not yet Catholic and did not yet have the spiritual eyes to really understand Paul’s teaching. At that early point in my Christian development, my sweet niece’s bold behavior struck me as paradoxical. How could a church that raised females to be submissive produce a girl who, when faced with male piggishness, could instantly respond more boldly than I, a supposed feminist, had ever summoned the nerve to do? Even in my most radical feminist days, whenever difficult situations arose, I did what my “nice girl” conditioning had trained me to do — avoid, evade, ignore, let it pass. Don’t confront, don’t make waves, don’t incur people’s anger.

I soon figured out that there was no paradox at all in my niece’s behavior: She’d been raised to see herself as a precious child of God, made in the Divine Image, with intrinsic, inviolable dignity. Of course you don’t let people treat you like an object. Of course you don’t tolerate abuse of any sort.

Her example affected me deeply. I found myself reeling with shame and rage and grief. For several weeks, every time I thought about what my niece had done, I broke down sobbing. Not for her, but for myself. My niece’s behavior — the almost automatic readiness with which she’d defended her own honor while teaching someone a needed lesson — brought up to the surface all my own long-submerged pain and frustration from the various psychological abuses I’d endured, from my early teens to my early 30s, never quite knowing how to fight back. The contrast between my own debilitating confusion whenever I’d been faced with sexual harassment and my niece’s simple, instinctive response caused an emotional reaction in me that to any outside observer would have looked way out of proportion. But the weight of countless insults, endured over many years, crushed me with remorse for all the times my conditioned, habitual “niceness” had inhibited me from responding appropriately. I felt that I had been launched into life without one of the most basic tools of survival.

But enough of true confessions. The issue of whether to be “nice” or not goes way beyond the personal and individual. The fate of nations can depend on it.

Breitbart vs. Weiner: The virtue of not being nice

I was inspired to ponder the pros and cons of “niceness” recently after watching the way Andrew Breitbart fought back after Rep. Anthony Weiner, in an effort to divert attention from his own wrongdoing, tried to “kill the messenger” by attacking Breitbart. Weiner and his cronies in the liberal media accused Breitbart of hacking Weiner’s Twitter account and lying about it. Well, as we all know now, Andrew was completely vindicated, and Weiner is the one who was lying all along. Just one more case of a Leftist projecting their own bad deeds and intentions onto a conservative. Leftists use that tactic all the time; unfortunately, there’s nothing unusual about it. But what inspired me was the way Andrew Breitbart, as is his wont, righteously fought back. I wish I could send every Republican in Washington to an Andrew Breitbart Boot Camp. No more pussy-wussy-footing around! No more Georgetown cocktail-party schmoozing. No more playing golf with the President. No more sitting next to our enemies at the State of the Union address. No more assuming good intentions on the part of any communist, including the one in the White House and the ones in Congress (otherwise known as the Congressional Progressive Caucus.)

It would be an injustice to their victims to be nice to these people. Obama’s political mentor and sponsor (and likely, his ghostwriter) Bill Ayers once chaired a meeting where his fellow Weather Underground terrorists talked about “eliminating” 25 million Americans if they refused to be “re-educated.” Now he’s a professor of education at the University of Illinois, and is one of the leading figures in academia on curriculum development. Ever wonder why your kids’ heads are being filled with poisonous claptrap at school?

Ayers and his fellow “progressives” have declared war not only on conservatives, not only on America, but on the most basic foundations of society, including especially the family. They’re following Saul Alinsky’s playbook, Rules for Radicals, and it is not a nice book. It’s even dedicated to Lucifer, a.k.a. Satan! Saul Alinsky was not a nice man. (He was mentored by Al Capone’s enforcer, Frank Nitti, for crying out loud. ) His followers are actively implementing the Cloward-Piven strategy, which is not nice at all, but vicious and manipulative and cruel. Frances Fox Piven herself, not long ago, expressed her disappointment that the revolution had still not arrived, that Americans were not yet killing each other in the streets.

Every time some “conservative” politician or radio host says that “Obama’s a nice man, I just don’t agree with him,” I want to vomit. They can’t really believe that. Not only are Obama’s policies specifically designed to inflict as much misery on as many people as possible, but his personal treatment of individuals he doesn’t like has ranged from rude to thuggish. Even the densest member of the Party of Stupid must know by now that Obama does not have good intentions. He’s a mean-spirited, vengeful, narcissistic bully, and everybody knows it. But there’s a reason so many Republicans keep giving Obama the benefit of the doubt (at least, publicly): It’s because it makes them sound like nice, broad-minded, kind, enlightened people. That’s the way they want to see themselves — and the way they want us to see them — even if they have to lie to themselves to keep up their illusion.

Andrew Breitbart, that happy warrior, has shown what a crock this is.

Had Breitbart been “nice” and “turned the other cheek” and backed down in the face of the Left’s attacks, he would have been an enabler of Weiner’s sick behavior. And for all the salacious jokes generated by the scandal, Weiner’s actions incurred deadly serious risks: They made him vulnerable to blackmail. Suppose the offensive tweets had not come to light when they did, and someone without our nation’s best interests at heart had gotten hold of them and used them as a threat against Weiner in order to extort classified information from him? Weiner sat on the Energy and Commerce Committee; he had access to information that our enemies might find quite useful.

When Andrew Breitbart fought back against Weiner’s false accusations, he wasn’t just defending his own character and reputation. He was, by extension, fighting on behalf of all of us who oppose the atheist/communist Left. Breitbart was striking a blow for truth, which always needs able defenders, but especially in a society so dominated as ours is by “people of the lie.” It is a righteous deed to expose those who bear false witness. As Andrew Breitbart has repeatedly shown, there are times when we have a duty to not be nice.

I’m not saying we should aim to offend people, especially in our personal lives. But I do believe niceness for its own sake is often a very bad idea. True Christian charity is one thing. But being “nice” out of habit, or timidity, or reluctance to hold others accountable for their own bad choices is destructive to oneself, to the wrongdoer, and to others. Plus, it diminishes the standing and the presence of Truth in the world. Ultimately, that hurts people.

Being “nice” (politically correct) vs. true compassion

Decades ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, found out, as Breitbart has, how viciously some people will react when you speak truth — even if you are motivated by sincere compassion and concern. As assistant secretary of labor and a key policy adviser to President Johnson, Moynihan put a copious amount of research and thought into an effort to find out why, after decades of progress, black families had started slipping in numerous indices of social and economic well-being. In 1965, Moynihan published his findings and recommendations in a landmark study titled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Moynihan warned that the greatest danger to American blacks was fatherlessness. A generation of young men was growing up without fathers in the home, and if that continued, there would be disastrous consequences, as young men without fathers were growing up vulnerable to drugs, gangs, crime and dropping out of school.

America freaked out. You can’t say such things. You are not a nice person! You’re racist! Well, what is more racist — telling the truth, so that people are empowered to make good choices for themselves — or succumbing to “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” giving people the message that you don’t have any faith in them as decent, competent human beings capable of acting wisely on their own behalf?

A man who cared deeply about his fellow man, of whatever race, was labeled a racist. But a few decades earlier, on the other side of the world, the most bigoted man who ever lived was regarded by many as… a nice, caring man.

Hitler’s beautiful smile

Several years ago, I read an elderly Italian woman’s recollection of an incident from her childhood in a small town in northern Italy. One day, when Hitler was already widely known but before he’d come to power, he toured through the area. It was a big day for the town. Hitler was riding in the back of a car and waving to everyone, shaking hands with people, and beaming with what she described as a beautiful, winning smile, a smile that people remembered long afterward. They liked him because they felt that he cared for them, the common people. Girls and women were smitten with him.

In contrast, when Winston Churchill was at the equivalent point in his own career — widely known, but not yet in power — he was not very well liked at all. His countrymen thought him a pessimist and a doomsayer, because he just wouldn’t let up with his warnings about some distant threat in Germany that nobody wanted to hear about or think about. Churchill was insightful enough to perceive the truth — and bold enough to speak it. But it didn’t win him many friends. That is, not until Hitler’s tanks rolled into Poland.

N.I.C.E. is not

Speaking of great Englishmen, have you read C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength? It’s a futuristic novel, the third in Lewis’ sci-fi trilogy. In it, Lewis’ antipathy toward scientism — not science, but scientism — comes through clear and strong. Scientism is the fetishizing of science; it’s an ideology holding that the only things that are real are things that can be proved empirically. Further, the rules for empirical proof are formulated — and can be arbitrarily changed — by scientists, who have their own biases just like everyone else, but who don’t see their biases as biases.

In Lewis’ novel, scientific research has broken free of all moral and ethical concerns save one: utility. The ends justify the means, so there are no unethical means (think Nazi doctors), and the end, or goal, is whatever the powers-that-be deem useful. The prime national research agency is the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E. The experiments they do there are not nice at all. Let’s just say that the current abortion regime in the U.S. and the current euthanasia regime in the Netherlands pale by comparison to the things that go on at the N.I.C.E. Thank goodness it’s a work of fiction.

Ironically enough, in the real, present-day Britain, the National Health Service’s agency for deciding who gets what kind of medical care — the British health-rationing board or, dare I say, “death panel” — is called… NICE. The National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness. I kid you not.

The $64,000 question, of course, is: Did they give it that acronymically portentous name accidentally or intentionally? Are British bureaucrats so culturally illiterate that they never read their fellow Englishman’s famous book? Or are they diabolical, knowing very well the literary significance of that acronym — and deliberately using it as a kind of perverse inside joke? The present-day NICE is, after all, the board that decides who shall live and who shall die. (The U.S. version of that board — Obamacare’s 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB — is to be tasked with evaluating the “comparative effectiveness” of various treatments, so once Obamacare kicks into full gear, we too will have a NICE….)

Beware of  “nice” governments

Barack Obama got elected in spite of — or, depending on whom you talk to, because of — his promises to talk, talk, talk to our enemies. But as we have seen in the past 2½ years, from China to North Korea to Venezuela, from Syria to Iran to Pakistan, our enemies are not very impressed with “nice.” As with all bullies, appeasement only emboldens them. You’d think we might have learned something from the example of the terminally nice Neville Chamberlain. Tens of millions of people died in the war that proved Chamberlain’s talk-nice approach to have been the wrong one.

Count me in with those nasty warmongers Churchill and Reagan. Count me in with those pugnacious pundits Andrew Breitbart and Ann Coulter. Lucifer (and the people who read books dedicated to him) has got a hold on America. We don’t have the luxury of playing nice.

UPDATE:  The incomparable Ann Barnhardt considers “niceness” one of Satan’s most effective tools in his efforts to destroy Western civilization, the United States of America, and orthodox Christianity.

Is Islam evil?
(Or just certain interpretations of it?)

Can Islam be reformed?
(Or does its very nature make that impossible?)

Should we be encouraging and supporting “moderate” Muslims?
(Or is that just wasted effort?)

Ever since 9/11, Americans have been asking themselves these questions.

Christians often ask an additional question:

Is it worthwhile, or even morally right, for the Church to “dialogue” with Muslims — or should all our effort be focused on converting them?

Personally, I’ve gone back and forth on these questions more times than Barack Obama’s head goes back and forth as he reads off his TelePrompTer.  As a Christian, and particularly as a Catholic, I feel like I get mixed messages from Scripture, history, Church teaching, and reason. Christians from St. Thomas Aquinas to C.S. Lewis, and all the way back to St. Paul (see Romans 1:19-20; Acts 17:22-28), have explained that God reveals Himself even to those who have never heard the name of Jesus, and that glimmerings of truth exist within other religions. In the words of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II declaration on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions,

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. [emphasis mine]

Of Muslims (note: Muslim persons, not Islam itself) the document states:

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth….

On the other hand, St. Paul said to “test the spirits” to discern whether they’re good or evil, and Jesus said we can judge a tree by its fruit.

Roy H. Schoeman, a Jewish Catholic, in his book Salvation Is from the Jews, has this to say about Islam:

[Satan] has one goal — to deprive man of salvation, of eternal happiness — and one of the ways to achieve that is through the propagation of false religion, the primary victims of which are its own adherents…. Of all the major religions of the world, only Islam arose after God’s full revelation of Himself to man in His incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ…. Only Islam’s revelation came after Christ, aware of Christianity yet contradicting it. Hence one must ask what the source of the revelation was — was it of human or of supernatural origin? If of supernatural origin, did it come from God or from fallen spirits?… One must ask just what spiritual entity lies behind the revelation of Islam. [pp. 295-300]

And yet… I believe that beauty is one of God’s attributes, and I have personally seen and heard things within Islam that are stunningly beautiful — Sufi dancing (in which I have participated), the poetry of Rumi, the goosebump-inducing sound of certain Muslim melodies.

On the other hand, when I tried to read the Qur’an for myself, I had to stop, because it so disgusted and outraged me that I could not continue. It’s as if someone tore all the pages out of the Bible, discarded 90% of them, put the remaining 10% through a shredder, cut and pasted the shreds together randomly, threw in a lot of hatred, then tried to cover the ugliness of it all by dressing it up with absurdly flowery language.

But that’s just my subjective opinion. If we want to stick to more objective criteria, we can look at the statistics on the cold, hard facts of life in Islamic countries, such as clitorectomy, polygamy, burqas, honor killings, forced child marriages, wife-beating, domestic imprisonment, acid attacks, gang rapes, and other cruelties toward Muslim women and girls.

So… Is Islam the direct work of the devil, and was Muhammad possessed by demons? Or, is Islam merely a very faulty instrument through which God in His omnipotence and mercy can nevertheless reach people — the way a cheap toy flute, with badly spaced holes and flimsy keys, might still make music in the hands of a master?

Should Western Christians band together with virtuous atheists, such as the late Oriana Fallaci, to fight the anti-human cult of Islam? Or, should we join forces with Muslims of goodwill in order to combat what may be the even greater evil of secularism, what Pope Benedict XVI termed the “dictatorship of relativism”?

Can Islam be reformed and made compatible with the modern world of progress, liberty and individual rights? Or, is it inherently unreformable?

To stage a debate on the question, “Can Islam be reformed?” you’d be hard-pressed to find two more qualified and articulate principals than the two men you’ll see in the video below.

For the affirmative, we have Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who is, hands down, my favorite Muslim in public life. He’s earnest, likable, accomplished, patriotic, has integrity and goodwill, and is smart and engaging. A medical doctor and formerly an officer in the U.S. Navy, Jasser is founder and head of a group called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), whose goal is genuine Islamic reformation. He has started a number of programs, but his particular passion seems to be a program that aims to inculcate in young Muslim Americans the principles of our Founding Fathers, a love of liberty, and commitment to the Constitutional rule of law, and separation of mosque and state.

If you can’t watch the whole debate, try to at least watch from the 5:10 mark to the 10:20 mark, which is the first segment in which Dr. Jasser comments. If you’ve never seen Jasser interviewed or read his articles, you owe it to yourself to hear his views, for he is an entirely different breed from the duplicitous, seditious CAIR types who dominate the discussion of Islam in our media. I don’t agree with everything Jasser says, but I appreciate having his perspective; he makes me think. I believe he is completely sincere — which makes him a very brave man.

On the other side is another brave man, Dr. Robert Spencer, head of Jihad Watch, co-founder of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), and one of my longtime personal heroes — right up there with Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, all of whom face constant death threats because of their leadership in the fight to defend liberty and human rights against the creeping imposition of shariah all over the globe.

Moderating the discussion is Andrew McCarthy, author of Willful Blindness and The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. McCarthy headed the legal team that prosecuted and convicted Sheikh Abdel Rahman, “the blind sheikh,” who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. McCarthy knows more about Islam than 99% of Americans — but on the questions raised in my first paragraph, he freely admits he’s ambivalent. Introducing the debate topic, he says, “I’ve been having this argument with myself for about eighteen years!”

I’ll be honest. Although I, like McCarthy, am ambivalent, I mostly tend to think that, while countless individual Muslims are good people, Islam itself is an evil ideology, Muhammad was demonically possessed, and the Twelfth Imam in Iran is probably the Antichrist. There. I’ve said it.

But, if there is anyone who could make me doubt all that, it would be Zuhdi Jasser.

The debate took place on April 3 at a retreat sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Enjoy!

UPDATE:  Walid Shoebat, former Muslim, has given a lot of thought to this issue, particularly to Dr. Jasser’s arguments, which Shoebat rebuts in his piece “The Problem With Reforming Islam.”

Christ is risen!

Some 1,700 years after St. John Chrysostom first gave this homily, in Constantinople, it is still proclaimed every Easter in churches around the world. One of the best capsule summaries of the Gospel message ever composed:

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

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