Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Struggle for Identity Among Syro-Malabar Catholics, by Jaisy Joseph

The Syro-Malabar Catholics claim origin with the Indian mission of the Apostle St. Thomas. They adopted the East Syrian liturgy of the Nestorian Christians, but came into communion with the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century with their cousins, the Chaldeans of modern-day Iraq. This book looks into sociological questions of identity among the Syro-Malabar Catholics, particularly in the USA. They often experience tensions with the combined identity of being Catholic but Syro-Malabar and being American, yet Indian. Such questions of identity are similar to those experienced by other immigrant groups, though perhaps particularly acute for Syro-Malabar Catholics because of the complexities of their origin.

In the historical introduction, the author defends the claim that the St. Thomas Christians really did begin with the mission of St. Thomas. She points out evidence of trade links between the Roman Empire, ancient Persia and the Malabar coast of India, suggesting that it was both possible and plausible that the apostle travelled to India. She also goes on to look at how the Portuguese Catholics attempted to impose Latin traditions on the Syro-Malabar community, which makes for depressing reading.

This is an interesting look at an easily forgotten, but very venerable branch of our Catholic Church.

Kyle W. Orton: Abandoning Syria to Assad Helps Al-Qaeda

Kyle W. Orton: Abandoning Syria to Assad Helps Al-Qaeda

"Allowing Assad free rein, as current policy does, protracts the war. The regime and its supporters have no intention of abiding by conditions that limit their capacity to subdue the insurgency, but they are unable to complete that task. What the pro-regime coalition can do is continue with their chosen tactics in the attempt, collective punishment and mass-displacement, which leave a desperate population amenable to appeals from anybody who can help. Al-Qaeda will continue to fill this void for as long as it is allowed to.

By fostering a vanguardist co-dependency, taking on the population’s concerns as its own and working toward them, al-Qaeda is able to use that population to protect itself and to push its ideology among them, working toward socializing people into its vision of an Islamic state and co-opting the rebellion. Leaving al-Qaeda as the only viable actor for protecting civilians from the Assad regime and its allies is creating a dangerously durable future base for Islamist terrorism."

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Sergius Bulgakov on Mary as Queen of the Universe

"From her innate nature flows out her sophianic significance as guardian of all creation, Queen of heaven and earth. Appropriate titles include sovereign of the seas, abundant provider of grains, fragrant flower, protector of cities and realms, and guardian of the vegetable kingdom. In general there is no creature which would not be subject to the Queen of heaven and earth. In this sense- but of course only in this sense- she can be called the soul of creation, more precisely the soul of the soul: for humankind as Adam, as lord of creation, is the soul of the world, and the Mother of God is the soul of the human race. As the pardoning heart, as maternal mercy and pity, not judging but only grieving and forgiving all things, the Mother of God appears at the Last Judgment where according to the iconographic witness of the Church, she prays the King on behalf of the human race and serves as advocate for sinners before the One who came to save sinners."

Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God

The Telegraph: Western voters have made foreign intervention almost impossible. That is a dangerous mistake

The Telegraph: Western voters have made foreign intervention almost impossible. That is a dangerous mistake

by Rupert Sutton

"Last week, as David Cameron’s decision to intervene and protect the citizens of Benghazi from Colonel Gaddafi’s murderous attentions was heavily criticised, future British intervention in overseas conflicts suffered another setback as a policy tool. Unfortunately, this is happening at the very time it is needed most.

Largely based on the findings of a dubious Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, Cameron’s critics railed against intervention. They did this while ignoring Syria, where three years after planned action to prevent President Assad butchering his own citizens was called off, independent monitors recently put the body count at 430,000 and rising.

Those slamming intervention also continued regardless of a stream of arrests across Europe, each revealing more individuals planning terrorist attacks who had been incited by Syria-based Isil recruiters intent on replicating the grisly successes of Brussels, and Paris."

The opponents of intervention seem to think we should have just let Gaddafi slaughter his own people, just like Assad continues to do in Syria.

Politics According to the Bible, by Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, 2010 Zondervan

It is tempting to re-title this book 'The Gospel according to the Republican Party.' Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem attempts to provide here a collection of insights into how the Bible can speak to modern politics. It turns out the Bible teaches all the things that Republicans agree with. The Bible approves of a flat rate of tax, school vouchers, waterboarding, gun ownership and holds that illegal immigration is one of the greatest evils of our age. I don't think its unfair to say that at times Grudem forgets his purpose in providing a general Biblical perspective on politics and at times just argues for his own opinions, based largely on his own interpretation of contemporary politics, offering only a superficial engagement with the Biblical texts.

The biggest problem with the book is the social, cultural and economic distance between today's political issues and the world of the Bible. The Bible is written for societies whose concerns were not the same as those of the contemporary USA. We cannot expect it to provide an answer as to whether school vouchers are a good idea or not. Nor do the principles it teaches easily translate between two very different socio-economic contexts. Grudem uses Biblical law to argue for private property as a fundamental principle. However, it seems arguable that the notion of private property held by the Israelites was not identifical to the individualistic understanding of property held by Grudem. He completely ignores the restrictions on property transfers in the law of Leviticus.

Grudem's attempt to use Scripture to proof text political positions is often very weak. For instance, he uses the tithes of the Old Testament to prove that there should be a flat rate of tax. Firstly, it is doubtful that the tithes were a tax, as opposed to a contribution to the religious cult of Israel. Secondly, we may ask how it is legitimate to argue for the single rate of the tithe as absolute, while holding the specific rate (10%) to be relative. Grudem uses 1 Samuel 8:10-18 to condemn 'big government' spending:

10 And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.

I have used this text to make the same point in the past. Is this really a legitimate use of it? Some of the government spending in this text would seem to be military expenditure, which Grudem would heartily approve of. The rest of it seems to be about personal enrichment of the king, in the manner of some of the self-serving dictators who blighted Africa. People on any side of the political spectrum should object to that sort of thing. There is nothing in this text about spending on health, education or social security.

Thankfully, Grudem does not advocate abolishment of the welfare state as some American conservatives do. He seems to accept the need for some minimal social security. He does not, however, spend any time engaging with the huge problem of poverty and homelessness in American society. On economic questions, there is a little inconsistency. On the subject of recessions and the question of whether a Keynesian fiscal stimulus might be needed, he argues that the best stimulus would be tax cuts. However, he had already argued that too few Americans pay any tax at all. Therefore it seems doubtful given that premise that tax cuts would do very much to stimulate the economy in a recession.

Grudem offers strong arguments for the capital punishment. I would personally like to be able to say I was opposed to capital punishment, but I have never yet read a completely convincing case against the death penalty, particularly one written from a Biblical perspective. I don't feel at all comfortable with capital punishment and I cannot bear the thought of a woman being executed. I am just glad we no longer have capital punishment in the UK.

Our author rejects concerns about the environment, arguing for climate change scepticism. He quotes the work of the Danish environmental moderate, Bjorn Lomborg. I like Lomborg and I think he has a a lot of important things to say. However, I don't think he takes such a strongly climate change sceptic position as Grudem.

I very much agree with Grudem's support for a hawkish neocon foreign policy and his defense of the Iraq War. I also particularly liked the absence of the harsh Islamophobic rhetoric that has become alarmingly mainstream among Evangelicals. He talks instead about building alliances with Muslims to combat Jihadism. In this he seems much more at home in the Bush era than in the hysterical conservatism of today. Sadly, however, he has recently endorsed Donald Trump for president.

I think Wayne Grudem has some good things to say in this book, but the title unfortunately gives it an authority that it does not deserve.

Friday, 23 September 2016

New Atlanticist: Crimean Residents Vote in Russian Elections, Reluctantly

New Atlanticist: Crimean Residents Vote in Russian Elections, Reluctantly

by Eleanor Knott

"Finally, some reports demonstrate a lack of interest in the elections, as if there was little belief that much could change or be changed by participating, despite concerns of rising prices since annexation.

Overall, it is important for the international community to denounce the holding of Duma elections in Crimea as illegal and illegitimate, and it is important to refute Russia’s use of elections to normalize Crimea as a de facto part of Russia. But it is also prudent to recognize that the Duma elections do not indicate resounding support for the post-annexation authorities and Putin’s regime.

Low turnout across Russia indicates a systematic slowing of support for United Russia. Crimea’s annexation may have given the Putin’s Russia an initial “hit of cocaine,” but domestic economic paralysis and international isolation are becoming a sobering reality for the Kremlin."

Liberal Democrat Voice: Grammar schools are not the answer

Liberal Democrat Voice: Grammar schools are not the answer

by Simon Perks

"The Prime Minister claims that her plans to create more grammar schools will enhance social mobility and will help to bring about a truly meritocratic society. They will, she says, create ‘a country that works for everyone’.

Sure. Because grammar schools proved so good at doing just that the first time around.

What Mrs May’s proposals will do, of course, is appeal hugely to the seething mass of baby-boomer Tory voters who just can’t wait to get us back to the good old days of the 1950s and serve as a temporary distraction from the Government’s shambolic approach to all things Brexit."

BBC News: UK 'did not vote for hard Brexit', George Osborne warns

BBC News: UK 'did not vote for hard Brexit', George Osborne warns

Britain did not vote for 'hard Brexit' in the EU referendum and will have to compromise in exit talks, former Chancellor George Osborne has warned.

He said Leave campaigners were naive for thinking the UK could secure everything it wanted in negotiations.

In a speech in Chicago, he also warned against "the dangerous purity of splendid isolation" over co-operation.

He campaigned for the Remain side and was criticised for warning of a £30bn "black hole" if the UK voted to leave.

Mr Osborne's speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is one of few public interventions he has made, since being sacked as chancellor when Theresa May became prime minister.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

11th Armoured Cavalry Division

Church Society| Ministry Monday: A Plea for Hymn Books

Church Society| Ministry Monday: A Plea for Hymn Books

by Liam Beadle

The choice of hymns in a service is rightly the province of the minister, because what we sing is bound to form and re-form us. But when the hymns appear on a screen, the ordinary Christian is only exposed to what the minister has chosen, and cannot allow his or her eye to wander to neighbouring verses. To ask a provocative question, is a form of evangelical popery? When Cranmer produced the Book of Common Prayer, he placed in the hands of the layman the prayers of the Church. Perhaps it is time to put the hymns of the Church back in their hands, too.

Most of the Evangelical churches I regularly attended had abolished hymn books and used a screen. Maybe one day they will realize what they have lost.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Russian Aggression against Ukraine

The Feast of Saint Matthew

O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew, the tax collector, grant that, sustained by his example and intercession, we may merit to hold firm in following you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Matthew, pray for us, for all civil servants and for the Jewish people.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Feast of Saint Theodore of Tarsus

Almighty God, you called your servant Theodore of Tarsus from Rome to the see of Canterbury, and gave him gifts of grace and wisdom to establish unity where there had been division, and order where there had been chaos: Create in your Church, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, such godly union and concord that it may proclaim, both by word and example, the Gospel of the Prince of Peace; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint Theodore of Tarsus, pray for us and for England.

Mary as Mediatrix in Sergius Bulgakov

"The meaning of the Mother of God in this respect is twofold: on the one hand as a human being she represents in herself the whole creaturely world, the whole human race, every human soul. With her and in her in heaven nature (natura naturata inseparably from natura naturans) remains and bears witness through her about itself, about its creaturly impotence and its hunger for divine existence. On the other hand, in her the whole creation prays to God with a prayer formed by the Holy Spirit himself "who intercedes for us with inexpressible sighs" (Romans 8:26) Every prayer of a weak and sinful human is powerless and limited in as much as it belongs to him, but when done in the Spirit and completed by the church it finds churchly wings which make it a prayer of the Church and raise it up to the very throne of God. Then, its might, power and authenticity bear no relation to its creaturely limitation any longer. But as much as it is a church prayer and in it there is something personal, by outstripping itself it grows into something universal, it becomes necessarily also the prayer of the Mother of God who according to the testimony of church hymns, prays without ceasing to her Son for all people and all things. None of our prayers, not only one directed immediately to her but one addressed directly to God, passes her by; rather, it becomes her own prayer, it is offered in and by her."

Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush: The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God

Those words just inspire me with awe! Our prayers become the prayers of blessed Mary, Mother of God.

Mary, Mother of Jesus, by Sarah Lawrence

I think this short book is written by a Protestant. The author seems to imply that Catholic veneration of Mary and the saints is idolatry. Her book surveys what the Gospels tell us about the Blessed Virgin Mary, but does not touch on any of the Catholic dogmas about Mary. Lawrence does not even discuss the question of whether Mary had children by St. Joseph. She also does not really reflect on the theological significance of Mary bearing God in the flesh, which is the root failing of Protestant failure to understand Mariology. It is a fairly edifying read in general, however.

As with a lot of books on Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, this is in need of better proof reading to address errors in grammar.