Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thoughts for 2012

Happy New Year's to all who read this post!

Just a few thoughts before I run off to bed--

I wish I had a green dollar for every time I turned on the TV last year, and saw some show about how the Mayan calendar says that we are entering the last year of the world, or something about Nostradamus (whom I have never read). I'd be a rich man.

Well, Jesus Christ says that no man knows the day nor the hour, so Uncle Cephas confidently predicts that 2012 will NOT, I repeat NOT, mark the end of the world.

May God crown this new year with grace.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

Now that Christmas has come to our land, and Santa Claus is on every child's mind, it might be worthwhile to review a little bit about the original Saint Nicholas--Santa Claus arising from a childish German and Dutch corruption of his name.

There actually was a bishop of the Lycian city of Myra, now in southwestern Turkey, by the name of Nicholas, who died somewhere between 345 and 352 A.D. Apparently, as a young man, he went on a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine, and shortly after his return became the Christian bishop of Myra. His association with the city of Bari in Italy stems from the theft of his relics from Asia Minor by a group of Italian merchants in 1087. But, to return to his actual life, he was famous for his generosity towards the poor, including providing dowries for impoverished young women. This, apparently, is the origin of the medieval tradition that associates him with gift-giving. In the medieval Roman Church, his festival was celebrated in December, so it was not difficult for it to be assimilated to Christmas, the remembrance of God's ultimate gift of His Son, Jesus the Messiah.

However, Nicholas' life took interesting turns in the early 4th century. In 302-303 A.D., Diocletian, the Emperor of the East, initiated the last major persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Among those arrested and tortured was Nicholas, for as a bishop, he was very prominent among the Christians. However, Diocletian's health failed while the political star of Constantine was rising,so when Constantine became emperor and declared Christianity a legal religion, Nicholas avoided becoming living lion chow and was released to go back to his prior work of winning and nurturing souls for Christ.

But things did not end happily ever after. In Alexandria, a presbyter by the name of Arius anticipated the Jehovah's Witnesses by more than fifteen hundred years by declaring that Christ, as God the Son, was not co-eternal with the Father, but the first created being. Much of the Greek-speaking Eastern Empire accepted Arian teaching, although Nicholas did not. When Constantine called an ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325, Nicholas attended, where he was such an ardent supporter of the formula that Christ is "very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father" that he punched out Arius when the two men met. Things probably did not go all that well for Nicholas in the following years, since despite the pronunciations of the bishops of Nicaea, the heirs of Constantine tended to favor the Arian or Semi-Arian (Christ is of "like substance" with the Father) positions.

However, when all is summed up, Nicholas remained a witness to the deity of Jesus Christ as taught in the Gospel and Epistles of John the Apostle, and stands as an exemplar of Christian charity. As such, he deserves to be remembered fondly by those who know and love New Testament truth.

Uncle Cephas wishes all a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Original Sin, Total Depravirty, and Modern Politics

The influence of theology on politics has become a minor cottage industry in academic political science. The late Daniel Elazar wrote a multi-volume work on The Covenant Tradition in Politics, in which he argued that Reformed covenantalism played the key role in shaping the ideals of federalism and political cocmpact. While it is true that federalism and political compact sank deep roots into countries that were historically Reformed,covenantalism per se does not seem to be the most important element in shaping at least the ideal of political compact.

Elazar find most of his support in the Politics of Johannes Althusius, city syndic and Reformed church elder in the northwestern German city of Emden in the early 1600's. Althusius' argument holds that the Holy Roman Empire constitutes a federation of states and cities held together by a kind of compact, hence Emden should be allowed to stand as a Reformed city in the Lutheran Duchy of Oldenburg (East Friesland) within the still heavily Roman Catholic Empire. Elazar (a Sephardic Jew) duly notes the biblicism of early Reformed theology, its adherence to covenantal theology, and then concludes that it was the idea of covenant that gave rise to that of political compact and political federalism.

Elazar is, of course, correct in noting how the idea of covenant informs classical Reformed theology. But Elazar's excursions into the realm of classical Reformed theology are those of an outsider seriously misled by various streams of modern academic theology, which he rightly recognizes as deviations from Reformed Orthodoxy, but from whose guidance he cannot quite escape. For instance, in his volume Covenant and Commonwealth, dealing specifically with the continental Reformed and British Puritan theorists,he follows J. Wayne Baker in seeing "Calvinism" (identified as first, last, and always predestinarianism) and "Covenantaalism" as alternative Reformed "theologies" (in the plural), whose schism was averted by the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549. Unfortunately for Elazar's argument, the Consensus Tigurinus settled no debate between predestinarianism and covenantalism (which was non-existent, save in the minds of 19th century liberal theologians eager to live down their "Calvinist" past), but represents the theologians of German-speaking Switzerland accepting Calvin's doctrine of Christ's spiritual presence in the elements of the Lord's Supper as close enough to their own, and not a capitulation to the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. Further, Elazar does not see how covenantalism in Reformed theology is the means whereby the eternal decree to save the elect enters into and takes effect in the time-bound world of finite human exisstence. Hence, Elazar's work requires correction.

However, from reading in a range of early Reformed political thinkers from the Huguenots on down to the Puritans, the doctrine of total depravity played a much larger role.

The number of early Reformed writers on politics is large, and virtually all (with the noteworthy exception of Thomas Erastes) oppose the state or civil magistrate impinging on the church's independence within its sphere and criticize the idea that the divine institution of government grants the monarch an unlimited power over his subjects. Rather, public law represents an agreement between rulers and people, and that if this law is broken, the lesser magistrate has both the right and duty to lead the people in rebellion against the monarch. Hence the title "monarchomach" given to the critics of royal absolutism by royalist writers of the 16th and 17th centuries.

One of the most common justifications for limited government was, as Samuel Rutherford said, that unlimited power in one that can sin is an "accursed power". Rutherford, as a devout Calvinist, saw sinfulness as the natural heritage of all descended from Adam by ordinary generation, hence its taint affects all members of the human race save Jesus Christ. However, government is a divine institution to protect mankind. Hence, there had to be compact between people, rulers, and God to prevent the rulers from having a power that might destroy rather than preserve the people.

By the same token, Calvin himself urged the best government as a mix of democracy and aristocracy in the last chapters of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. His reasoning was simply that kings could not always be trusted to do what is right. While Calvin differs from many of his disciples--Knox, Buchanan, Marnix van St. Aldegonde, Hotman, Junius Brutus, and others--in shying away from declaring a right of rebellion against a tyrant, his conclusions about the best constitution are remarkably similar to theirs.

The Reformed doctrine of total depravity grates on modern, democratic sensibilities. Yet the seed of the constitutional, limited governments that marked the North Atlantic countries were planted by something quite unlike the sunnier estimate of human nature springing from the French Enlightenment.

A Song for Obama

OBAMA'S FACE (with apologies to Spike Lee)

When Obama say we're all for hope and change
And not to love Obama seems so strange
It means there's no pipeline across the Bison Range
For Red State poverty just mustn't change!

When Obama says he's full of peace and love
And unlike Bush he's a very peaceful dove.
On Yemen and Libya there rained from above
A most explosive kind of peace and love!

Are we not Progressive folk?
Yes! We are progressive folk!
And this progress is no joke!
In self-righteousness we soak!
We are SUCH progressive folk!

When Dame Hill'ry says the Ikhwan is just fine
And those who criticize them are just swine,
For the age of Newspeak she doth sigh and pine
Because Obama is our Fuehrer fine!

When our spokesmen say the Arabs have a Spring,
And for the world it's just a peachy thing,
The Mainstream Media loves to clap and sing
Forgetting that the Copts now feel the sting!

When the papers say that you're a racist pig
'Cause you won't buy Obama's lousy gig,
Just remember, Wright's positions weren't so big
And for his ravings you mustn't care a fig!

For Obama to unite us is a breeze,
Just forget about Old Blago's graft and sleaze,
And that Obie wants to punish enemies
Of whom not one is overseas!

ANOTHER SONG FOR OBAMA--revised and updated, with no apologies to Horst Wessel or the rotten movement he represented.

With Fannies high, Obama's marching minions
Go prancing down America's main drag.
It's time to pack up all your un-PeeCee opinions,
Whether in speech, on airwaves, or in mag.
It's time to pack up all your un-PeeCee opinions,
Whether in speech, on airwaves, or in mag.

The media, subservient and ga-ga,
Care not that Geitner cheats the IRS.
Chicago pol's tale has become a sacred saga,
"Messiah's come!" They loudly doth profess.
Chicago pol's tale has become a sacred saga,
"Messiah's come!" They loudly doth profess.

His entourage is full of Maoists, Truthers,
Alinsky fans, and commies like Van Jones.
No Colbert dares to stand up as a comic spoofer--
Such things are now deeply forbidden zones.
No Colbert dares to stand up as a comic spoofer--
Such things are now deeply forbidden zones.

You're in the way if you're not with the program!
It's criminal to disagree, demurr--
No matter if his plans will bankrupt the whole country,
You must roll over, play dead, wag and purr!
No matter if his plans will bankrupt the whole country,
You must roll over, play dead, wag and purr!

Next thing, our youth will join in brown battalions
To sing and chant our fearless leader's name.
And prance along like well-trained gelded stallions,
To once-free people's deep and lasting shame.
And prance along like well-trained gelded stallions,
To once-free people's deep and lasting shame.

Our fearless leader--he would never fib ya'--
Has promised no more Middle Eastern fights,
Please don't remind us that he's bombed Yemen and Libya
To let Al-Qaida followers have rights.
Please don't remind us that he's bombed Yemen and Libya
To let Al-Qaida followers have rights.

With Fannies high, Obama's marching minions
Go prancing down America's main drag.
It's time to pack up all your un-PeeCee opinions,
Whether in speech, on airwaves, or in mag.
It's time to pack up all your un-PeeCee opinions,
Whether in speech, on airwaves, or in mag.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt and the "Palestinians"

Go, Mr. Former Speaker!

The time is long past due for the world to tell its Arabic-speaking portion that it needs to naturalize the Falastin Arab refugees and their descendants.

It ought to be a mandatory talking point for everyone in the US foreign policy community that there are roughly around 30,000 victims of an-Nakhbar and their descendants in the USA, and that these people carry US passports whenthey travel, may freely buy and sell real estate, vote in US elections, and even run for office. Yet in the whole of the Arab world from Iraq and the Gulf to Mauretania, only Jordan, the PA, and Israel itself give the Falastin Arabs real citizenship--and even the PA is thinking of denying it to those from pre-1967 Israel.

Yet the Arab states, which insit on keeping the Falastin Arabs stateless, dare to use them as an excuse to trash US embassies and demonize the USA in their government-controlled media (Egypt, the recipient of so much US aid, was notorious in this regard).

The enormity of this travesty is that Lahore-born Manmohan Singh and Delhi-born Pervez Musharaf sat down to talk about defusing Indo-Pakistani tensions, when both men were young refugees in 1948, and ended up as leaders of their countries. Further, Jews descended from the Arab countries--and there were Jews in Egypt, Iraq, and the Maghreb before there were Arabs--are now no-questions-asked Israelis. This is perhaps one of the most obscene imbalances in the Middle East.

Good for you, Mr. Speaker--and I was raised Democrat!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Two Witnesses of Revelation

After a discussion on Revelation Chapter 11, I discovered that once again, I seem to have a dissident view of the book of Revelation. Others seem to believe that the Two Witnesses mentioned in the chapter are two specific individuals to appear at the end of days, but I think they are probably symbolic of the church's entire ministry of witness from the first coming of Christ to his second advent.

In the interest of avoiding lengthy quotes, the reader is invited to have a copy of the Bible at hand, and refer to the various points cited.

This chapter has numerous references and allusions to other portions of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments:

1. The man with a measuring rod (reed)—Ezek. 40:3

This continues an allusion to Ezekiel which begins in Rev. 10:9-11, in which John, like Ezekiel, is made to eat a scroll, which is sweet in his mouth and bitter in his stomach (cf. Ezk. 2:8-3:2).

2. Temple and Holy City to be trod underfoot by the Gentiles for 3.5 years--This echoes Jesus' own Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 and 25.

3. Two witnesses – Christ sent out his disciples by twos. (Lk. 10:1).

4. Two Olive Trees—Zech 4:3-7. These stand before a golden lampstand, as if to provide it with oil. Their message is, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts" (Zech 4:6). This has been the witness of believers both before and since the coming of Jesus Christ.

5. Shutting Heaven—This refers to the ministry of Elijah, who may be taken as the archetype of the Old Testament prophets: I Kgs. 17:1 refers to his predicting drought on the land of Israel.

6. Killing fire—also Elijah (I Kgs. 1:1-16)

7. Smiting the Earth with plagues – cf.,, Moses, in Exodus.

8. Killing the Prophets—cf., Jesus own lament over Jerusalem (Mt. 23:37-39).

9. Egypt—House of bondage and oppression (Dt. 5:6; Ex. 20:2).

10. Sodom – City of great wickedness (Gen. 18:20,21).

11. The song of the elders in Rev. 11:16-18 refers to the coming of the day of general resurrection and judgment, as in Paul's Thessalonian letters.

I gladly note kinship with William Hendricksen, who, in More than Conquerors, his study of the book of Revelation, and with Robert L. Reymond's study of eschatology in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Both view the current portion as a part of the third of seven visions that make up the book of revelation.

The portion speaks of a trying, difficult time for the Christian church. This, perhaps, is why many evangelical commentators assign it to a special period called The Great Tribulation, which is supposed to occur just before Jesus' return to raise the believing dead and establish the millennial kingdom. However, the passage surely had some relevance for believers during John's own time (Irenaeus of Lyons, a former disciple of John's) tells us that the book was written when the emperor Domitian was persecuting the church. It may also refer to the time just prior to the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70 A.D., when the Jewish Christians left Jerusalem to avoid the siege that was about to begin.

Also, Jesus' warned his disciples that they would face the hostility of the world because they would testify against its sins and call people to repentance and faith. The Gospel has never entered any society without initially encountering hostility. Hence, it can be said that the church's witness is like prophets who "torment" their hearers with words the hearers do not wish to hear.

But God also gives his church relief, which is what is meant by the two witnesses being raised up after their enemies kill them. Someone once said that the Christian faith is an anvil that has worn out many a hammer. It has had persecutors who have come and gone, yet, somehow, it always rises again.

The verses 7-9 also speak of "the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." This may speak of the actual city of Jerusalem. It is a warning that the place and society which God has raised up to be His witness and to exhibit faith and righteousness, may turn evil, and become "salt that has lost its savor" (cf.Mark 9:50). This is also a warning to the church (as are the seven letters which begin the book of Revelation) to maintain its witness.

So, what will our response to the witness of the "two witnesses" be? Will we love our sins, or will we repent and accept the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for us (Rev. 11:8), and hence participate in the resurrection of Christ, and the one to come which he promises?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dating the New Testament

When was the New Testament written?

This question arose when a group of us were studying the book of Revelation; but it led me to consider what is written elsewhere in the New Testament, not least because a number of writers find in Revelation echoes not only of the Old Testament (which, of course, had been around a long time by the timme Jesus Christ was born), but of other books in the New Testament as well.

Apart from Revelation, which, Irenaeus tells us, was written during the time when the Emperor Domitian was persecuting the church in the late 1st century, the New Testament was written prior to 70 A.D. Most was probably written even before 66 A.D. The internal evidence is what compels this conclusion.

The Gospel of Luke, which is the first half of a two-part work consisting of itself and the Book of Acts, borrows much from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. It also gives a description of the ministry of the Apostle Paul. The Book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome, under house arrest after using his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar, awaiting his hearing.

But Eusebius and certain earlier Roman historians tell us that in 66 A.D., the Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for burning Rome, and ordered a persecution in which the Apostles Peter and Paul were both martyred. Hence, Luke-Acts (along with Matthew and Mark), must have been written prior to that time. This also means that all of Paul's letters and the two letters of Peter must predate that time. The fact that Acts ends on a fairly upbeat note, as if Paul (and Luke, his companion) was confident of acquittal, also indicates a pre-persecution date.

Further, none of the books of the New Testament take the destruction of Jerusalem as a fait accompli. While Matthew 24-35, Mark 13, and Luke Luke 21 all record Jesus' prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem,none of the New Testament books sees the event as past. This would be hard to imagine had the vindication of the founder's prophecy occurred prior to the composition of one of the New Testament books.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Jewish Conspiracy to Take Over the World--more on Revelation

Every so often, because I am a conservative, some fringe group wants to enlist my support in warning the land of a sinister Jewish conspiracy to put the whole world under a Jewish ruler. Indeed, given the Left-Islamicist alliance, it seems that such sentiments are no longer a monopoly of the loony right.

But I will add my two cents worth. There is indeed an ancient, international Jewish conspiracy to put the world under the rule of a Jewish king. It's called Christianity.

Looking at Revelation 7, I am more convinced that the Apocalypse is a densely coded picture of the Christian era.

Revelation starts with 144,000 from the tribes of Israel and moves to a great redeemed multitude from every people, tongue and nation. This looks suspiciously like the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem and Judaea, then to Samaria, then to the ends of the earth as commanded by Christ in the first chapter of Acts. The Christian faith was first announced to the world by the Jews Simon Bar Jonah, James and John the sons of Zebedee, and others in the very shadow of the Temple itself; and from them spread not only to the Jews, but also to the Greeks. And from the Greeks it spread to everyone else.

This leads me to identify the Great Tribulation described in Rev. 7:14 is, given what is recorded in Revelation 6, nothing but the general vicissitudes of the history of a world in which redemption is still and ongoing process.

Friday, October 28, 2011

On Revelation--The Rider on the White Horse is not Antichrist

I found out that I have a dissident view of Revelation, at least in some Evangelical circles.

During a Bible study on Revelation, I found out that many resources used by others describe the rider on a white horse mentioned in Revelation 6:2 as Antichrist. I have long been under the impression that this rider is none other than Jesus Christ himself.

The text states:

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow, ans a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer (KJV).

Having looked up a number of online resources, I note the following reasons why this figure is associated with Antichrist:

1. He is accompanied by riders who represent war, famine, and death.

2. The passage of the seven seals speaks of the wrath of God against the earth.

Yet, against this, I note that the rider on the white horse appears again:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many diadems, and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself. And he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood, and his name is called the Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, he Almighty. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:11-16)

How this figure can be anyone other than Jesus Christ is beyond me. The slaying of the wicked by words that are weapons echoes Isaiah 11:4; smiting and ruling the nations with a rod of iron echoes Psalm 2:9. Clearly this is the fulfillment of all of Israel's Messianic hopes of defeating the oppressing nations!

As for Jesus' association with the terrors of the other horsemen of the apocalypse and the trumpets and bowls of God's wrath following Revelation 6:2, this can be understood as comforting a persecuted and pressured church by reminding them that, as Matthew's Gospel assured them, all authority in heaven and earth, including over the terrors the shatter humanity, is held by the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:18). In these disasters, the hope of wicked men perish, but all ultimately ends with the Lord vindicating his people.

The 20th century was one in which contempt for Christ and his Gospel was widespread. It was also an age of uncritical faith in man-made institutions and programs. Yet the dreams of peace unleashed by a League of Nations in 1920 and a United Nations in 1945 have been illusory. The confidence of most "thinking people" (a thundering herd of independent minds, perhaps?) in so-called "scientific socialism" proved a mockery, and a very bloody one after the political murders of over 150 millions in peacetime. These are indeed horrible things to contemplate, but could this not be a case of our Lord shattering like earthen pots the kings of the earth who have gathered themselves against him (Psalm 2)? Is this not a call for us to reconsider the claims of our Lord, as many indeed are doing even now?

Yes, it is terrifying to consider the hand of our loving God in the vicissitudes of history. This may well lead many to hate God all the more. But let us not forget the garment sprinkled in blood in which our Lord Jesus appears. It is not the blood of his enemies, but his own sacrificial blood which he shed to atone for our sins when he, the righteous one, died for the unrighteous to bring us to God (I Peter 3:18). In that is the true refuge from the coming wrath.

The "Natural Born Citizen" Issue Rides Again: Revisiting Wong Kim Ark

Once again, in questions posed to candidate Rick Perry, the issue of whether or not President Barack Obama is a "natural born citizen" has surfaced. It strikes me that the birther movement, our conservative answer to the truthers, has gone out of control and has derailed many.

I have said before that to prove that President Obama is not a "natural-born citizen" would require proof that his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was not a US citizen with eligibility to transmit citizenship, even if, by some hook or crook, it could be proven, as Obama's grandmother claimed,that Barack Obama, Jr. was indeed born in Mombassa, Kenya. Never, to my knowledge, has the birther movement offered statutory or case law proof that "natural-born" means anything other than being born a US citizen by either jus soli or jus sanguinis.

And, this is being said by an unabashed rightist who believes that the Obama presidency is a disaster.

Perhaps the most important Supreme Court case related to the issue of who is a "natural-born citizen" was Wong Kim Ark v. US (1898).

Wong Kim Ark (the Hoisan Yue pronunciation of Huang Jinde) was born in San Francisco, Chalifornia, to Chinese parents who were not naturalized as US citizens. His return to the US after a youthful visit to China was not questioned, even after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, due to his birth in the USA. However, in 1895, after returning from another trip to China, he was detained at San Francisco due to the fact that his parents remained subject to the Emperor of China, and were not citizens at the time of Wong's birth in the 1870's. Wong therefore sued for habeas corpus.

His case ultimately reached the US Supreme Court, which, in 1898, ruled in a 6-2 decision that Wong was indeed a US citizen. It was observed that his parents had been involved in commerce rather than official business on behalf of the emperor of China; that they were legally in the USA during the 1870's; they were subject to the jurisdiction of US law (the language of the 14th Amendment); they clearly were not connected to a hostile occupying power in wartime; and that they were clearly not of a recognized Indian tribe (then theoretically their own jurisdictions and separate "nations" rather than officially part of the USA). Wong's citizenship later became the basis for allowing three of his own sons born in China whose relationships could not be questioned to enter the US during the period of Chinese Exclusion (in those days, many Overseas Chinese maintained wives in their ancestral places in China, and only occasionally visited).

The majority (including Justice Brewer) viewed the case through the prism of US definitions of citizenship; the dissent by Harlan and Fuller involved recognition of international legal doctrine, in which citizenship definitions of foreign powers were to be recognized. At the time, renunciation of allegiance to the Chinese emperor was a capital offense in China, so the non-naturalization of Wong's parents was understandable, since their business involved occasional returns to the country of their birth, apparently. Still, the majority remained unswayed, noting that the USA, as an independent power, had the right to establish its own rules for citizenship.

The Wong case has long been understood to ensure the jus soli citizenship of children of legal immigrants or other foreign parents not in diplomatic or visiting head of state status (the children of foreign students, for example). Indeed, in view of the language of the 14th Amendment, which defines those born in the USA and under the jurisdiction thereof, it is very hard to justify the denial of citizenship to such persons.

The issue of whether the Wong decision allows the US-born children of those illegally in the USA to be counted as citizens has been disputed in legal journals. However, until now, it does not seem that the citizenship of US-born children of illegal immigrants has been challenged either by statute or case law. Given that the illegal parents might be charged with violation of immigration law if apprehended, it would be clear that such persons are indeed under the jurisdiction of the USA!

As for our president, it seems that as the US-born child of a US citizen parent (Stanley Ann Dunham), Barack Obama's citizenship cannot be questioned; and it is unlikely that anyone would be ready to deny citizenship to countless out-of-wedlock children sired by visiting foreigners (tourists, students, etc.) and born to US citizen mothers. Further, given that the requirements for jus sanguinis citizenship to children born abroad to US citizen parents (the citizen parent needs to have been resident in the USA for five years, two of which have to have been over the age of fourteen years) would have guaranteed Obama citizenship even if Stanley Ann Dunham had given birth to him on a trip to Kenya. And, can the birthers reasonably claim that anyone but the American woman Stanley Ann Dunham was Obama's birth mother?

So, Uncle Cephas urges his conservative brethren to focus on Obama's increasing the national debt, ill-advised Libyan intervention, bailouts, radical connections, having never met an abortion procedure he didn't love (such as partial birth abortion, which he defended as a state senator in Illinois), and being beholden to the whole lifestyle liberalism crowd. Please, leave the issue of Obama's citizenship alone.

However, Uncle Cephas is ready to entertain any evidence from standing American statute of case law that may define "natural-born citizen" as something other than a person born a US citizen by either jus soli or jus sanguinis.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More Thoughts on Revelation

People speak of Revelation 6 as a terrifying chapter, with the angels opening seven seals to reveal what is to come. Yet the chapter may also be cause for great hope for Christians.

The first seal reveals a conqueror on a white horse. As a young Christian, I was told by many that this is the Antichrist whom Paul mentions in the Thessalonian letters. But I have come to the conclusion that this is, in fact, Jesus Christ who rides forth to conquer. This is because of the unfolding of the Apocalypse, and because in Chapter 19 the rider on the white horse appears again, and is identified as one who is called Faithful, True, and the Word of God. These titles can only be Jesus Christ.

But how can Jesus' conquest be accompanied by war, death, disease, and disaster? Are Christians being encouraged to be the carriers of these things, as Muslims are encouraged to wage violent jihad in the Qur'an? In fact, this is no exhortation to violence, but a reminder that history, with all of its vicissitudes, is guided by our loving God and Savior. This becomes all the more clear as we look at where the passage leads.

The fifth seal reveals the martyrs of Christ. The sixth reveals a great earthquake and exlipse, and terror among all men. But after this, John sees 144,000 servants of God from the twelve tribes of Israel, and after them, an innumerable multitude of the redeemed from every people, tongue, and nation. Since, as the book of Acts tells us, the Gospel started in Jerusalem, then spread to Judaea and Samaria, and thence to the ends of the earth, this is a picture of the progress of the Gospel in the earth.

Yes, the world is a frightening and scary place, and history can be terrifying. But through it all, all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, who gave his life for us and conquered death on our behalf, and he is spreading redemption among us. The hopes and ambitions of sinful men are overthrown in the vicissitudes of history, but Christ is also at work bringing many sons to glory.

Hence, the counsel of God in Revelation is not terror or despair, but faith and hope.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Call for Commemoration

Few people notice it, but December 27, 1814, will be the bicentennial of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 between the USA and Britain.

It is an important anniversary because it marks the beginning of period of unbroken peace between the USA and UK, and, later, Canada. Throughout the history of the world, it is all too easy for three states with a lot in common other than a common government to adopt postures of mutual hostility that can easily turn into armed conflict. Hence, two centuries of peace, the world's longest unguarded border, and theoretical wars that never took place (the UK-US showdown for mastery of the Atlantic, for which both navies trained down to their joining as allies in World War II) are a remarkable achievement, and the generations of diplomats, statesmen, and ordinary citizens who made it possible deserve some recognition and celebration.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Congratulations, Republic of China

As a former resident of Taiwan, Republic of China, Uncle Cephas wishes to congratulate that state on the hundredth anniversary of its founding.

Few Westerners realize that the issue between Mainland China and Taiwan is chiefly an unresolved and uncompleted civil war. Taiwan has not declared itself independent of China chiefly because it sees itself as the rump of a larger Chinese Republic, one founded by Dr. Sun Yixian (Sun Yatsen in Cantonese) on October 10, 2011.

Further, since back in 1992, former ROC President Lee Teng-hui declared his side's acceptance of its loss of the Mainland in the Chinese civil war, and invited peace talks on the basis of equality, Uncle Cephas would also like to express his respect for the ROC. Whether it continues to call itself the rump of Sun's Republic of China, a new Republic of Taiwan, Great Liuqiu, Dongning, or even Bob, it deserves international recognition. If we Americans could accept the separate existence of those reactionary running dogs of English imperialism in Canada, China can live with a separate Taiwan.

The Arab Spring and the end of the Dhimmi Populations in the Arab World

Two news items ought to be required reading for every Western official dealing with policy towards the Middle East. one is the Italian Psychoanalyst David Gerbi's failed attempt to re-open a Synagogue in post-Qaddafi Libya; the other is the increasingly ferocious attacks on Egypt's Christian minority. Both suggest that the Arab revolts against the long-reigning strongmen of the Middle East will bring about more radically Islamicist and anti-Western regimes.

Gerbi, who is of Libyan Jewish birth, apparently believed the propaganda about the Libyan rebels representing a more open, tolerant, and democratic regime. Having been booed out of his natal country with howls for his immediate deportation, perhaps he can take comfort that these were not howls for his death. Maybe this is the moderation that the "Arab Spring" represents. Or, perhaps, along with the attacks on one of the last functioning synagogues in Tunisia a few months earlier, it proves that the Arab peoples once again face a change of thugs-in-power who will whet a deep-seated desire for more anti-Jewish and anti-Western demagoguery.

The attacks on Egypt's Christians--the last carriers of the language (in the form of liturgical Coptic) and elements of the culture of the ancient, Pharaonic Egyptians--further warns of the power of Muslim radicalism across the Arab world. The attacks of the last week are not de novo, but have a number of precedents reaching back into the waning years of the Mubarak dictatorship, when the regime was often successful in deflecting hatred of the regime towards the Coptic Christian minority. With Nasser's successful snuffing out of Egypt's millennia-old Jewish community as a precedent, Islamic radicals apparently hope that they may now make Egypt purely Islamic, by snuffing out the Copts.

This wave of Islamic radicalism bodes ill for the Middle East Peace Prospect. The very existence of states like Israel, and Christian Lebanon earlier, are an affront to Islamic doctrine, which posits perpetual Muslim supremacy over the Peoples of the Book; for these states exist on lands that have been under Muslim rule for centuries, apart from the very brief interlude of Western colonialism (which, incidentally, were the only period since the eruption of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula when a non-Muslim's word in court carried as much weight as a Muslim's). The likelihood that an Egyptian regime dominated by the Islamic Brotherhood will maintain its cold peace with Egypt is small; the likelihood that an Islamicist-dominated Egypt will throw its weight behind an increasingly Hamas-dominated Palestinian Arab entity is great. This rejectionism probably will further continue to dominate until a future Arab-Israeli War results in the Islamicists producing no more than an unbearably high number of "martyrs" killed by an Israel that will recognize that it has no alternatives but clear-cut victory or death. Should such a wave of Islamic radicalism engulf Israel, the Balkans and Spain are probably the next countries that must get very, very worried.

At present, most of the Western world is in a state of denial (not a river in Egypt, pun intended) about the danger posed by the new Arab regimes. We have convinced ourselves too long that Islam is at heart, a "tolerant" religion (ask the Armenians, extinct Mizrahi Jewish communities, the Copts of today, or Pastor Nardakhani aawaiting execution in Iran for apostasy from Islam about "Islamic tolerance"), especially since a line of cultural elites from the writers of the French enlightenment to today's so-called multi-culturalists have ever sought convenient sticks to beat the dog of the West's Christian heritage. But the handwriting is on the wall, and it is our choice to read and heed it if we will.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On Samuel Rutherford

It gives modern people a shock
That Rutherford, in cleric's frock--
It's most certain fact
That of social contract,
He wrote decades before Old John Locke.

Samuel Rutherford (1600?-1661) was a theological and political spokesman for covenanting Scotland during the 1640's. He was a professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at St. Andrews University as well as a pastor of firm Presbyterian conviction. Persecuted by the disciples of Archbishop William Laud, he rose to prominence in Scotland after the Bishops' War of 1638.

He is best known for his collected letters, written from exile to former parishoners to urge them to remain steadfast, and for his Lex Rex (1644), in which he argues that government is divine in origin, but popular in mode, representing a compact between people, government, and God in which law is superior to either king or magistrate. This work justifies revolt under leadership of a lesser magistrate should the supreme ruler prove unfaithful to his part of the political compact.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Reading Revelation

Our adult Sunday School class is working its way through the book of Revelation. Last week, we read the fifth chapter.

I came away from the study thinking that John's purpose is showing the Lord Jesus Christ as the proper focus for worship. The angels, living creatures, and elders before Christ's throne fall before him crying, "Worthy is the Lamb!" This is an echo of the doxology sung to the Father in Chapter 4. Jesus Christ, slain for our sins as the Lamb of God, risen and glorified, shares worship with the father, his seven horns (symbols of power) and eyes sending for the Spirit. Few other passages of Scripture underscore that Jesus Christ is God.

Jesus in Glory is not only the Son of Man figure from Daniel 7, whom we see again in Revelation 1. He is also the sacrifice for our sins. John's description of Jesus as the Lamb of God in both John 1 and Revelation 5 cannot have confused his earliest readers, who, as Jews living when the ministry of the Jerusalem Temple was still a living memory, would have known of its animal sacrifices, especially the ritual killing of the Passover lambs. The adored one who is worthy is the one whose shed blood covers the sins of his people and renders them worthy to approach and worship.

Jesus is also the one worthy to open the book with seven seals. What is this book? I take it as a symbol of the whole Scripture. This is because no other book of Scripture is as rich with reference to other portions of the Bible than Revelation. I remember Mormon missionaries during my youth who argued passionately that John's warnings in Revelation 22:18-19 referred only to John's own work. Yet this cannot possibly be true when Revelation shows a heavenly figure measuring the temple and those worshiping therein as in revelation; Jesus describing himself as beginning and end as YHWH does in Isaiah; the reminder of the covenanted community's status as kings and priests as mentioned in Exodus; worship scenes reminiscent of the building of Solomon's Temple and the Book of Psalms; strange beasts as in Daniel; and mention of the death and resurrection of Jesus as in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament. John knew what he was doing: he was putting the capstone on Scripture, and reading the whole through his knowledge of Jesus slain for our sins and triumphant over sin and death.

Perhaps the reason why our witness today lacks power is that our exposition of apocalyptic ignores the Gospel of Christ's finished work. Heaven sings in triumph before Jesus who shed his blood for sinners and conquered death for them. We on earth tremble and quake, as if we have no hope to share with those around us. May God forgive us.

The image reproduced above is the Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck.

Anwar al-Awlaki's Death

The news of Anwar al-Awlaki's death from an American drone strike provokes a storm of soul-searching over whether the president can order this kind of "assassination" (in ROn Paul's words) of a US citizen. While Uncle Cephas has never been a fan of Barack Obama, and probably won't vote for him in 2012, Uncle Cephas still believes that the president deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one.

What's wrong with you, American liberals? The head of the ACLU, Dean of Yale Law School, and all others uncomfortable about this action are cordially invited to go to the deserts of Yemen or mountains of Waziristan to serve the appropriate summons the next time an American-born terrorist plots an ongoing set of terrorist actions against American civilian targets--or, military ones, for that matter.

We are still in the midst of Mr. Bush's war, begun after consultations with Congress in the aftermath of 9/11/01, and it is now Mr. Obama's war. While Anwar al-Awlaki was born in the USA, and hence legally a US citizen, his actions, blogs, and statements leave the impression that he did not wish to be considered an American. Indeed, his influence on people like Nidal Hassan and other Islamic terrorists in the USA leave no doubt that he wished to inflict serious, act-of-war harm on the country where he was born.

Granted, this does not negate his legal citizenship. But there are a number of circumstances that are parallel to the Obama administration's actions. Given that immigrants to and emigrants from the USA take residence in other countries--including, as in the Awlaki case, return to countries of origin--there are doubtlessly enemy casualties from World War II, especially German and Italian, who were technically US citizens. If an American-born criminal were to enter an American school anywhere inside the territory of the USA and start shooting people, and, if an armed policeman happened to find himself in a position to gun down the shooter, would anyone condemn the officer of the law? The state exists to discourage and punish evil behavior. The declaration of Jihad by some Muslims against all Americans is a behavior against which any American administration would be required to protect the citizenry. In taking out Anwar al-Awlaki, the Obama administration simply did its duty.

Frankly, if it had been possible to serve an arrest warrant and read Miranda rights to the likes of Usama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki before leading them off in handcuffs, that would have been much better. But, once again, all the agonized consciences out there are cordially invited, the next-time an American-born terrorist joins a war against his country from a haven outside the USA (especially a failed state on the order of Yemen), to hop on a plane with the appropriate legal paperwork, carry out the arrest, carry out the extraction, and deliver the culprit to the appropriate American jurisdiction.

And you've heard it from someone who still says, "No 'Bama '012!"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bible vs. Qur'an on Violence.

Often, when discussing ferment in the Islamic world, people near anad dear to me say, "The Bible and Christian fundamentalists are just as bad as anything the Dar-ul-Islam can produce." It's a sentiment that grates on me, if only because it reveals a profound ignorance of both the Qur'an and the Bible. It reflects a profound, and even willfully studied, ignorance of the Biblical and Christian influences on Western legal, moral, and political thought and reflects a profound desire to find one's most dangerous enemies at hand (among fellow Americans of the Christian fundamentalist persuasion) rather than face, a long-term existential threat from abroad.
The moral equivalence game is a case of Christianity’s “cultured despisers” who since Marx and Freud have consistently declared all theisms to be equally false joining hands with those nominally Christian elements who lightly declare all theisms equally true, while ignoring the real gaps between Christianity and Islam.
Unfortunately, I have not seen many good blog postings addressing these differences. Worse, many Christians who attempt to do so often take a wrong approach and end up disparaging important parts of their own tradition and faith. Hence, Uncle Cephas takes up the gauntlet. This essay will focus on the question of violence in the scriptures of the two religions.
(I) Grace for Sinners
The first issue is the attitude which the two religions attempt (with or without success is another matter) to inculcate in their followers. Christianity values humility, Islam encourages pride.
As a Christian fundamentalist himself, Uncle Cephas readily admits that Christian fundamentalists can be as bad as any group of Muslims. But the reason for this is that it is a biblical "fundamental" of his creed that we are all conceived in sin (Psalm 51), sin from birth (Psalm 58), and that our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Confession of sin and repentance are part of both daily personal worship and corporate worship on all Lord's Days for most who call themselves Christians. No wonder that one of the most common objections against Christianity that I have heard is that it doesn't let us think very highly of ourselves! Our salvation is not a careful balancing so our good deeds outweigh our bad, for in such a “balancing act”, our sins would invariably outweigh our supposed merits. We confess the necessity of Christ's coming, atonement, and resurrection for our salvation--precisely because God's grace has allowed us to see the deep-seated evil of all human hearts, including our own.
In contrast, if I have heard the Da'wa people correctly, Islam denies that there is any such thing as original sin; and Adam's transgression affects only himself. The Qur'an congratulates Muslims on being "the best of peoples" (Surah 3:110--Al'-Imran). If this is indeed the self-image that Islam inculcates, a serious Christian can only see it as flippant.
The Gospel is not a code, but news: news of the saving work which God has done in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said of his work, “the Son of Man [a Messianic title taken from Daniel 7] came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The death of Jesus Christ is necessary for our salvation in that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). This was why Adam and Eve covering themselves with leaves after their transgression did not suffice; and God made for them garments of skins (Gen. 3:21). This is why the laws of Moses have a detailed system of animal sacrifices described in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, to which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews refers.
Further, the blood of sinful man atones for no sin. This, not a divine decision to outlaw human sacrifice per se, lies behind the test of Abraham found in Genesis 22. The atoning blood must come from one who is sinless—namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. When John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus, declared “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), he was not calling Jesus a cute little animal, but calling attention to how the Messiah came to be the final sacrifice offered for sins; for the lamb was the animal most used in the Old Testament’s sacrificial system.
But the Gospel is not only about death. It is also about the victory Jesus won for us not only in bearing our sin and making atonement for us on the cross, but also in rising from the dead. If Jesus was not truly risen, writes the apostle Paul, our faith is in vain, and we are of all men the most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:14). But Christ’s resurrection shows that he now has dominion over all things, for the sake of his people.
Yes, Christians are called to do the good works defined in the moral law. But this is not to accumulate merit; rather it is to express gratitude for what God has done.
It is in the light of this, the final revelation of God to man, that Christians read the whole of divine revelation given in the Old and New Testaments.
(I) Scriptural Violence: A wrong approach
The moral equivalence people are correct to note that both the Old Testament and the Qur'an include a plan for political and military conquest of lands. Much of the Octateuch (the biblical books from Genesis through Ruth) is taken up with a blueprint for the conquest of Canaan, including bone-chilling commands to thoroughly exterminate the Canaanites, which even John Calvin himself, that bugaboo of all liberals, theological or anti-theistic, spoke of this as a frightening decree. In these sexually liberated days, it is also popular to note that the Torah decrees death for such sexual sins such as adultery and homosexuality.
Usually, modern Christian apologists speak of a "higher morality" in the New Testament than in the Old, correctly noting that Jesus' final marching orders to his followers are to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19-20) rather than to march through the land on an extermination campaign. This is often accompanied by an appeal to some kind of spiritual evolution between the times of Moses and those of Christ.
Yet this disparages the only Bible Jesus ever read while he “pitched his tent among us” (John 1:14) and was training his twelve disciples. In the Gospels, Jesus neither scorns nor disparages the Old Testament. The image of Jesus as a more highly evolved spirit or rebel against the Old Testament's "primitive" or "unworthy" character has nothing at all to do with what the apostles of Christ, the earliest church fathers, or Jesus himself had to say; but it does have a lot to do with a bacillus which the modern church caught from a number of often fiercely anti-Semitic German academic critics active in the 19th and early 20th centuries--and thank God that He preserved some "fundamentalists" who refused to accept the "assured findings" of such men!
The often unreflective acceptance of the New Testament as a "higher stage" than the Old in distinguishing Christian ethics and beliefs from those of Islam also serves to obscure profound differences between the Old Testament's theology, spirituality, anthropology, and ethics on the one hand and those of the Qur'an on the other.
Many portions of the Octateuch catalogue sins of the Canaanites, which the Israelites were forbidden to practice. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 lists sins of spritism, necromancy, and witchcraft; Leviticus 18 gives a list of forbidden marriages (generally defining the sin of incest), in the midst of which we also find a prohibition against burning one’s children in honor of Molech. It was for such sins that the Canaanites were to be dispossessed. Yet God, in his mercy, reserved a portion of the Canaanite nation for himself. Such, no doubt, was Melchizedek, to whom Abraham offered a tithe of the spoils of the war he waged against the kings of the east in order to rescue his nephew Lot (Gen. 14). When God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, he was told that he could not inherit it himself, “for the sins of the Amorites [also known as Canaanites] was not full (Genesis 15:16). This “filling up” of the sins of Canaan occurred some time later, shortly before the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.
Yet a surprising lack of self-righteous self-congratulation appears in Hebrew Scripture. The land was not given to the Israelites on account of their own righteousness. Deuteronomy 6-9 reminds them that they were a stiff-necked people, and that God was remembering his promise to their forefathers. Further, should the conquest tempt Israel to boast of its own prowess and might, or should Israel fall into the selfsame sins of the Canaanites, Israel itself would perish from the land (Dt. 8:19).
Indeed, Israel is repeatedly warned in Numbers and Deuteronomy that it would be punished for the sins committed by the Canaanites. The sin is a sin regardless of who commits it; and not even those chosen by God are exempt from the curses of the moral law. This should always been considered whenever the ban on Canaan is read—for, potentially, Israel may also find itself under a similar ban.
(II) A Unique Event and the Flow of Biblical History
The following Old Testament history and prophecy reveals the unfolding of Israel’s apostasy and punishment. The prophets arose as God’s prosecuting attorneys, reminding the Israelites of their sins against the covenant which God had made with them. Yet throughout the history of the Hebrew kings, there is the depressing refrain that “he walked in the all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat …wherewith he made Israel to sin” (I Kings 16:26).
The end of all this was that the Assyrians and Babylonians came down on Israel and Judah, destroying their kingdoms and exiling their peoples. Isaiah spoke of the invading Assyrian as the “rod of God’s anger” (Isaiah 10:5 ff.). Covenant-breaking not only destroyed the people of Canaan, but destroyed ancient Israel and Judah as well, exactly as Moses had warned.
Thus, the horrific command to exterminate the Canaanites can be understood only in the context of the whole of Old Testament history; a sacred history inspired by the Holy Spirit himself. The ban on Canaan is not an eternal instruction on how to wage war, but a warning that certain nations and men can become so hardened in sin that they must be swept out of the way. Perhaps this is a judgment to be left to the Almighty, since we do not today possess prophets (and those who claim to be such in our time sooner or later tend to prove themselves false). It is not at all a call to put aside all compassion, but it does remind us that God does execute his judgments in time and space, and that today, as then, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7).
The ban against the Canaanites is a reminder that God is judge not only of individual souls, but over whole nations and peoples. Nor do God’s judgments spare his own people. This should remain a practical warning even to Christian peoples in the period since the coming of the Messiah Jesus. If we are careless or scoffing towards what God has revealed to us, our churches also may be destroyed, as Jesus himself warns in Revelation 1-3. Perhaps the blight of Islam over much territory that once was the cradle of Christianity, or the degeneration of once great churches in Europe in our own time may well be a more recent out-working of the same warnings which God gave to ancient Israel. The lesson is not to engage of a self-righteous love of war and punishment, but to seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing.
(III) Conlcusion
The extermination of the Canaanites was a unique event in Scripture; not the blueprint for just war in all ages. Indeed, the bulk of Scripture, Old Testament as well as New, praises the man of peace and calls us to seek it. Christians therefore are not to disparage the command to exterminate the Canaanites as “inferior” or “less evolved”, but to recognize in it the fearfulness of God’s wrath against sin, and to therefore rejoice that God chose to deal with us in mercy, through Jesus Christ, who bore the wrath and curse of the broken covenant in his own body on the tree.
Further, it is proclamation of the “good news” (evangellion in Greek), ethical example, and prayer that are the spiritual weapons which God gives his church for the subduing of nations; not sword and spear. The command to exterminate the Canaanites is to be remembered in humble recognition of divine justice; but the latest marching orders the church possesses call not for the extermination of nations, but that they may be made disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
This is a stark contrast to the place of violence in the Qur’an. It is true that many Muslims prefer to read the command to jihad as an inner struggle to purify oneself; but no school of Islamic thought rules out aggressive, violent jihad as a means to spread the faith and the subsequent humiliation, oppression, and exploitation of the conquered.
At most, the holy war ideal in the Bible and Qur’an are only superficially similar. But underneath, they reveal a very different understanding of the relationship of God and man. The Qur’an calls for pride and self-righteousness; the Scriptures—even in their “scariest” verses, call for humility.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Tale of Social Contract

Meet George Buchanan!

George Buchanan was 16th century Scottish humanist, scholar, religious reformer, and tutor to the young King James VI of Scotland (later King James I of England). He was a pioneer of social contract theory almost a century before John Locke was born. He was also second moderator of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, the only layman to hold such a post. He knew John Knox in his later years, and was comforted toawrds the end of his long life by none less than his friend Andrew Melville--the selfsame cleric who reminded King James that the monarch was nothing but "God's silly [small] vassal."

This site is one where you can view King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) as a boy. He was Dr. Buchanan's student. Although Dr. Buchanan advocated rule of law and political compact (an older word for social contract), King James grew up to be a strong supporter of royal absolutism--or, the belief that kings must answer only to God.

Once, when James was around twelve years of age, he did not want to do his Latin lessons. He got saucy with Dr. Buchanan. Dr. Buchanan, in good, 16th century pedagogical style, took a birch rod to the young, royal backside.

The young King James then went complaining to his step-mother, the Countess of Mar (actually, some stepmothers in days of old, were actually kind). The COuntess of Mar was indignant, and stormed into the royal classroom.

"How dare you strike the Lord's Anoitned" The Countess cried, wagging a nobly-born finger at Dr. Buchanan.

Dr. Buchanan looked up from the book before him. "Madam," he said, "I have whipped his arse; you may kiss it if you please."

There are two morals to this story:
(1) Social contract whipped royal absolutism.
(2) Even kings have to do their homework!

James VI and I as a booy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

An Old but Important Article for 9.11

For 9/11, here is an article that is some years old, but nonetheless very relevant to the crisis at hand. While it is clear that not all Muslims support a jihad against the United States, it is important that Americans remember that the 9/11 attacks were carried out as an act of jihad; and for our policy makers to recognize the importance of the doctrine of jihad to our current enemies.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Undiplomtatic Activity in Egypt

I fear that the Egyptian mob actions show that all governments are representative of their peoples, whether they intend to be or not; and that people's theologies matter.

John Adams famously said that the US Constitution was made for a moral and religious people, and would work for none other. The religiosity he understood was that bounded by the Anglican Church on the Right and his own Unitarians (still biblically oriented in his day, rather than the free-form faith we know today) on the Left, with the Reformed (Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Dutch and German Reformed) right in the middle; and a few sprinklings of Roman Catholics and Jews. Indeed, he spoke after two centuries of agitation for rule of law and checks on the balances of kings, which, in his Anglophone context, meant the politics of the more thoroughly Reformed persuasion. This stemmed from a deep humility about what human nature was after the Fall of Adam, and a corollary that, rather than have Leviathan grab all power and right to prevent the war of all against all (viz. Hobbes), no set of human hands should ever have too much political power.

In the Muslim lands, it seems that there is a choice only between strongmen and uncontrolled mobs. The strongmen, when they take power, must pander to the supremacism, hatred, and violence of the Muslim street lest they open the way for new strongmen to come and topple them. This is why Sadat was assassinated and why Mubarak prudently allowed the government-controlled media to spew venom.

Islam lacks a doctrine of original sin and holds its followers to be "the best of men". Hence, it can never conceive of Muslims truly wronging the Kufr, and when things go wrong, it causes people to ask "Who did this to us?" rather than "Where did we go wrong?" Add to this, its ethics represent a standard far below that of either Judaism or Christianity; as if fearing the charge of hypocrisy, it sanctified the lust, greed for plunder, and violence of at least the males among its members. Hence, it will sooner or later injure itself and blame another.

It is clear from this incident that the peace between Israel and Egypt, while sincere at the official level when Sadat made it, was sincerely greeted by the populace of only the Israeli side.

I also suspect that after the mob driving out the Israeli embassy, the Obama administration's use of good offices to secure the rescue and evacuation of the last Israeli diplomats will further enrage the Egyptian Muslim street. it may very well decide that it has the power to seize the US Embassy in Cairo, and precipitate a new major crisis between the USA and the Muslim world.

The apologetic tone Obama took towards the Muslim world at Cairo may thus prove repetitive of the Carter administration's stance towards the Pahlavi regime in Iran, and with the same unhappy results.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Experience, the best Teacher

They often tell you that experience is the best teacher, but they never tell you why.

I'm a professional swindler--oops, public high school social studies teacher--and I know something about how people learn. If a kid comes into my class interested in learning something about the subject matter, willing to listen, and willing to open the book, I or any other fool can teach him.

But then there's Mr. Experience--his job is to teach those who neither listen to their elders nor read. Their number is legion, and they can't learn from anyone else.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Reminder for 9/11;_ylt=A0PDoX1RkVpOkBUAYBCJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

China Insults America Again--the MLK Monument

Communist China has taken a dump on American ideals and values again.

This time it is on the National Mall in a sculpture that presumes to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Judging from photographs online, the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixing, looks like typical Communist propaganda: determined stance, crossed arms, severe and glowering visage, everted lips evocative not of Sub-Saharan heritage, but of surliness. Indeed, MLK has been made to look like Mao Zedong or Lei Feng with short, tightly curled hair. MLK appears not as someone with a dream about people being judged by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin, but ready to deliver a kick to the gonads.

Most other official portraits of MLK capture an intense, yet thoughtful and hopeful person. This was a man who cast a giant shadow not by calling for the destruction of cities or the political murder of others, but by using the very Evangelical idiom honored by his enemies to shame them into repentence. Lei Yixing's sculpture captures none of this, but oozes the unrepentant Stalinism of the Beijing government from every surface, curve, and angle.

Surely the United States of America has enough gifted sculptors out there who might have done a better sculpture.

Indeed, that the monument is made of Chinese granite by a Chinese sculptor who, to my knowledge, is not a naturalized citizen or even a lawful permanent resident, is a further travesty. It insults worldwide struggles for human rights and dignity, and supports a nation whose record on minorities stinks. Had MLK confronted the kind of Han Chinese chauvinism which, despite five Autonomous regions and numerous autonomous prefectures and counties scattered around China's periphery, he would have been treated no better than the Tibetans or Uighur. Had he spoken his Christian conscience to the China of the Mao he has been made to resemble, he would have been executed as surely as Wang Zhiming, the ethnic Miao pastor from Yunnan executed in 1973 for refusal to participate in denunciatory meetings organized by the Red Guard. Worst of all, the government would have told the people for whom a Chinese MLK might have spoken that they ought to be grateful that their Han "elder brothers" had liberated them from their backwards superstitions in the name of Karl Marx's Historical Necessity, and were sending their best young people to populate their farmlands and pastures and take the best jobs in their localities.

Washington D.C. has numerous monuments to famous Americans and foreigners, some warriors, some peacemakers, some statesmen, some poets, some spiritual, some materialist. Numerous sculptors American and foreign have captured their subjects sensitively and skillfully, beautifying the nation's capital. French's Lincoln that overlooked the spot from which King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech exudes meditation, sorrow, compassion, and depth. But this work is not alone in capturing the better side of the American spirit. Lei's Martin Luther King is simple as a carelessly placed hammer dropping on the floor.

US Government, shame on you for commissioning a sculptor steeped in an alien political culture to commemorate a great American. Lei Yixing, go home and take your disgusting Stalinist idol with you. Martin Luther King Jr. deserves a better statue.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sobering News and Civilizational Suicide

This is a link to an article on cohabiting families and their impact on children.

It's sobering to note that pre-school children are 47.6 times more likely to die if in a cohabiting household than with married heterosexual parents. I have a suspicion that part of this may be that parenting requires a strong commitment to other persons,which heterosexual marriage gives, while cohabitation (and homosexual relations) are more associated with the indulgence of sexual whims. And, by the way, to the argument that allowing homosexual marriage might raise the pool of responsible parents, I note that in countries where it is legal (and criticism of it is proscribed as "hate speech"), such as Sweden, homosexual marriage is both rare and unstable.

Back in the 1960's, many in the counterculture advocated imitation of the sexual "spontaneity" of the African-American community--which then had an illegitimacy rate of roughly 23%, compared to the 75% today. A generation later, we have an increasing number of children at risk, phenomena such as the Frank Lombard case (in which a homosexual man allowed to adopt a child prostituted his five-year-old adopted son online), and an "acceptance" of alternative life-styles that truly kills. We are not in an evolving society, but one that seems determined to commit civilizational suicide

Friday, August 19, 2011

A wonderful parody

Gates of Vienna, which has been unfairly tarred as a contributor to the Oslo killings by all who have ever grovelled at the feet of Stalin, Mao, or Castro, has posted this wonderful imitation of a Gilbert and Sullivan number:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Thought on Science and Faith

"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?"
(Psalm 8:3-4)

Throughout my life, I have heard of a "warfare between science and religion". Yes, the tentative, groping, supposedly empirical findings of science often conflict with revealed doctrine. Yes, one eminent scientist, contemplating the "Big Bang", complained that he had spent years toiling up a mountain, only to find a band of theologians picnicking at the summit.

But the contemplation of God in his infinity, eternity, and unchanging character gives me a different perspective.

Since David, in Psalm 8, spoke of the work of God's fingers, imagine the magnification of a fingerprint, and suppose it it is the mark left by the index finger of God's right hand (please bear with my admittedly crude anthropomorphism). There are marks left by whorls, tents, and ridges, and blank spaces between the long, uneven marks left by the fingerprinter's ink. There is one long ridge over towards the right side of the fingerprint.

It is along that ridge that all of our science has been working from the beginning of recorded history.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thoughts on the Prophets: Survival Strategies

Recently, I've been reading Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. Jeremiah wrote just prior to Judah's exile to Babylon; Lamentations, a collection of five Hebrew acrostic poems, is said to be Jeremiah's lament over destroyed Jerusalem; Ezekiel's prophecies deal with both the fall of Jerusalem and exile.

Ezekiel notes the glory of the LORD leaving the temple by the east gate (10:19), symbolic of God's going into exile with his people. Jeremiah instructs the exiles to carry on with their lives and seek the peace of their cities of exile (Jer. 29:4-7).

These are important lessons for Christians following our loss of influence over the wider culture of the West. Yes, we must confront and criticize, and recognize that the apostate, morally obtuse, and willfully ignorant culture surrounding us is itself heading for judgment, and must inevitably pass away. But, in the meantime, we are to go on living as Christians, remembering the saving acts of God, and presenting our witness.

The Old Testament exiles doubtlessly thought that they had lost everything, that God had somehow let them down, that they were without hope. Yet from the perspective of 2500 years, we can see that the exile also gave something very positive to both Jews and Christians. As Ezekiel's visions show, it taught the Jews of old that God is not limited to a specific place. It taught them as well that they could survive even if it was difficult to "sing the LORD's song in a strange land" (Ps. 137:4). It also created a Jewish presence across much of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean worlds; and from the New Testament, we learn that these communities were the seedbed from whence the proclamation of Messiah's name went out to the nations.

Perhaps, as the wider culture grows more hostile to Christ and to Christians, it is time to remember to survive, spread, and prepare for the next stage of God's plan of the ages to unfold.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Iranian Water Fights and US Policy

There is now news that the Iranian authorities have become ever vigilant lest young people engage in water fights in parks during a spell of hot weather. There is fear that such incidents would be used as cover for opposition demonstrations.

While Uncle Cephas always supporsts the right of the young [and old] to cool off on a hot day, official US support for the Iranian opposition would be a lose-lose proposition for both. US policy ought to be to let Iran stew in its own political juices. Their irresponsible and foolish "thinking" class needs to be deprived of any plausible scapegoats and excuses.

In any event, the strongest force in the Iranian opposition has long been the Mojaheddin-e-Qalq, who, I understand, always claimed to be the first "revolutionary fighters" into the "nest of spies" back in 1979. They represent a mix of Marxism and Militant Islam, about as poisonous a combination as you can get. These are the same people whose US representatives can be found buttonholing people on the National Mall in Washington to solicit signatures on petitions to free various Iranian oppositionists and scold the mullah-ocracy. Uncle Cephas' own feelings about the group is, given its history in 1979, that a self-respecting US administration would instruct its Justice Department to investigate all MEQ admitted to the USA for possible revocation of either immigration status or citizenship (whichever applies in each case), detention, and deportation. The group made it clear long ago that the only possible relationship between Iran and the USA is hostility, so the USA truly has no excuse for letting them in.

The Iranian people have a long-standing grievance with us over the 1953 ouster of their hero Mossadegh, that fierce lion over British oil interests in his country and meek, timid, crippled mouse towards Soviet oil interests and out-and-out looting of northern Iran at the end of World War II, whose policies would have led to Iran's suffering in the late 1950's and '60's the fate Afghanistan suffered in the 1980's.

Perhaps the ferment going on in the Islamic world is a good reason for the US to let that entire civilization sort out its own problems--jut as long as they confine their calls for jihad against what they all recognize as the Dar-al-Harb--House of War,or legitimate target for Islamic aggression--verbal and contained.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The USA, Religious Defamation, and Islam

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has stated that the USA supports the efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to declare defamation of religion a violation of human rights. While this appears respectful to all religions, it is in fact a veiled bid for Islamic supremacism, and as such needs to be opposed. Fundamentally, it strikes at both traditional American free exercise of religion and freedom of speech

The OIC represents a number of countries that are egregious violators of religious freedom. Pakistan is notorious for mob action against its small Christian, Hindu, and Sikh minorities that go uninvestigated or unpunished by the courts. Especially, in recent years, there have been numerous reports of abductions, rapes, and forced conversions of Christian and Hindu girls to Islam, with the Pakistani courts recognizing the marriages of these young women to their Muslim abductors, and the force of Islamic personal law over their persons.

In Egypt, permission to build a new church requires permission of the head of state. During the Mubarak years, security organs often encouraged the deflection of anti-regime anger into anti-Christian channels. Egypt also has had a number of cases in which people have been imprisoned after conversion from Islam to Christianity, and the refusal to allow former Muslims to re-register their religious identity as Christian. Further, attacks on the ten percent of Egypt's population that identifies itself as Christians--mostly of the Coptic Orthodox Church--have been growing in frequency and intensity over the past several years, and the removal of Mubarak does not seem to have lessened intercommmunal tensions.

The OIC called for this ban on defamation of religion in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where possession of a Bible is a crime, and conversion to Christianity a capital offense. Similar treatment of apostates is both legislated and enforced in Iran and Afghanistan, even after the fall of the Taliban.

The target of this "anti-defamation" campaign is a rise in both Western awareness of Islam and Western criticism of Islam since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. While the criticism has found little resonance in Western governments, it has found a following among non-Muslim people. Many who have inquired into Islam since then have not like what they have found, especially the close link between mosque and state and the division of the world into realms of Islam and the Dar-al-Harb (Lands of War), which is seen as a real or potential target for Islamic aggressive war. Non-Muslims who have noted such things have spoken up against Islam in both America and Europe. Bloggers such as Robert Spencer have developed large followings due to their careful research into Islamic doctrine and tradition, and their exposing clear theological links between core Islamic texts and teachings and the practice of political terror. While such bloggers do not call for violence against Muslims per se, they have spawned a fierce reaction from both Muslims and the political Left (which sees Muslims as a "minority", and hence a client group needing special protection and deference).

Since 9/11, Muslims have been quick to claim victim status as targets of "hate crimes" (although statistically, proven "hate crimes" against Muslims remain many times fewer than those perpetrated against Jews). Official American endorsement of an OIC-sponsored UN resolution against "defamation of religion" could easily turn into a judicial weapon to punish all who might criticize that religion, no matter how respectfully such criticism might be couched. This would have a very negative bearing on traditional American free exercise of religion and freedom of speech and the press.

But could not the same resolution be used for the protection of Christianity (or Judaism, or Daoism, or Buddhism, or Mormonism)? Perhaps. But the biases of influential jurists against Christianity could easily cause the prosecution of defamation cases to be skewed in favor of protection of the supposed "discrete and insular minority" of Muslims, or any other that is willing to use courts to silence their critics.

The USA has already proffered the hand of friendship towards the Islamic world several times, most noteworthily during the Obama administration. Mr. Obama's address to assembled Islamic representatives at Cairo was obsequious in the extreme. His administration has also backed politicized Islam in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and will probably do the same in Syria. Noteworthy spokesmen from our Department of State and CIA have dubbed the Muslim Brotherhood "moderate" and "secular", most likely out of unhappy recognition that it enjoys widespread support in the Islamic world and is likely to win the current power struggles going on among Arab Muslims; certainly not because these American leaders have read anything written by Seyyid Qotb or noticed the rise in attacks on non-Muslim minorities since the much-touted "Arab Spring".

Prior actions by the current administration have not endeared the USA to the Arab and wider Islamic street, nor have such attempts at outreach uncovered the supposed reserves of "moderate" Muslim sentiment in the Islamic world. It would be far better policy for the USA to remain aloof from the OIC initiative, and reiterate its commitment to its own First Amendment.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Favorite Sayings

Spit at heaven, and you get it back in your face.

Misha: My dog is wiser than my wife.
Grisha: Why do you say that?
Misha: My dog knows not to bark at his master.

It's hard to get off when you ride a tiger.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thoughts on Education

We're always told that experience is the best teacher, but never the reason why:

Mr. Experience is that rough, tough, mean guy who has his job because he's the only teacher in the school of life who can handle that vast crowd of people who will neither read nor listen to their elders.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What is the Gospel?

I have recently been reading up on Islam--what kind of thinking American hasn't in the wake of 9/11?--and actually have come to recognize a few commonalities between that religion and the kind of liberalized Christianity prevalent in the America of my childhood and youth.

One of the chief commonalities is a misconception that the "original Gospel" was a set of humanly accessible rules given by a uniquely good man named Jesus or Nazareth/ Jesus Son of Mary/ Jesus the Carpenter, etc.

But, later, I discovered the much-maligned Evangelicalism. This is the belief that salvation is applied to us by receiving the Word of God rather than the practice of a certain set of ceremonies under the direction of a specially ordained set of men (sacerdotalism), or our following a prescribed set of ethical rules which, it seems, nobody knows for sure (theological liberalism). The word "Evangelical" means "of the Gospel". Hence, it is the view that the Gospel saves.

But what is the Gospel, really?

Here is the New Testament's own answer to that question:

"Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
And that he was seen of Cephas [not me; the original one--UC], then of the twelve:
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto the present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."
(I Corinthians 15:1-8)

Paul here tells us that the Gospel is not a code, but an announcement. It is the story of the saving acts of God in Jesus Christ.

First of all, note the stress on the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. This is truly crucial (pun intended). The Gospel is not about people "cleaning up their act" by performing a checklist of do's and don't's, but of the atonement for our sins by Jesus' satisfaction of divine justice in bearing the death and curse due to all those who violate the divine law. And it is also about his triumph over death, which assures us that not only is our penalty paid; but that the sins and condemnation which he bore for us remain buried, while Jesus himself, our substitute and representative, rose body and soul from the dead. As God and man in one person, Jesus is the lens through which God now looks at us; seeing our sins paid for and accepting us as righteous in Jesus.

The words "according to the Scriptures" cast us back to the Old Testament; especially the system of sacrifices for kipporeth (atonement) described in Leviticus and passages such as Psalm 22, Hosea 6:2,and Isaiah 53. Jesus' saving work is not something that hangs in a vacuum, or stands as an abstraction, but stands in the flow of a specific history of divine acts that are recorded for us. This Gospel does not nullify the need for the previous revelation, but appeals to it, and calls us to make use of it in our worship, worldview, and ethics. How different is the Christian church from Islam, in that the first freely uses what it sees as prior revelation while the latter discourages such use!

And the Gospel is something to which God left witnesses. First there were the living apostles and five hundred to whom Paul points his original first century readers. Since then, there remain the New Testament writings.

If the Gospel were merely a set of rules about meat and drink, the proper posture for prayer, and how to wipe out which sins by the practice of certain good works of our own doing, it truly deserves to perish. But this is not what the Spirit of God has proclaimed. Rather, the Gospel is the announcement of God's saving work in Christ. May many, many more embrace this glorious news that in Jesus Christ, God has truly visited and redeemed his people.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott 1921-2011

For an excellent, outside view of this recently departed minister of the Gospel, see:

Browsing around the web, I have learned that John Stott, retired pastor of All Souls Parish in London, England, has gone to be with the Lord.

As a college student, I was active in the Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship chapter at my Midwestern Alma Mater, and it was there that I first encountered Mr. Stott's little book _Basic Christianity_, one of many volumes which he penned. Hence, in 1972, when I went to England to visit my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and niece, I made it a point to take in a Sunday service at All Souls.

After emerging from the "chyube", I looked at street signs and maps, and probably looked like a typical, lost American tourist. But God sent two well-dressed Ugandan students who asked me where I was headed, and, when I explained my mission, they asked me to follow them to my destination. All Souls, a CofE parish, was probably the first heavily attended "Mainline" church I ever visited. Although clearly the crowd that Sunday was mostly local English people, there was a clear smattering of former colonials, like my guides, who had found there a church home away from home. On a summer Sunday, there was space only in the balcony for someone who arrived just a few minutes before the beginning of the service. I don't remember much of the service apart from the quiet dignity of "Low Church" Anglicanism, but the sermon has remained with me for almost forty years.

Mr. Stott preached on Gal 4:4-7. In clear, eloquent educated British English, he first noted the Trinitarian character of the passage. Having grown up among theological modernists and at that time new to Evangelicalism, I had heard very little doctrinal preaching before then; and after that one Sunday at All Souls, I was hooked. Mr. Stott expounded the Father's control of the flow of human history down to that "fulness of time" when Christ should come; the cooperation of the Trinity in our salvation; Christ's working salvation for us and granting us an "introduction to the Father" (a jolt, for among my new Evangelical friends, there was something of a "Unitarianism of the 2d Person" afoot); and the Spirit's application of divine grace to us, causing us once again to focus on the Father as we address hims as "Abba". How interesting that even when writing to a Gentile audience, the Apostle Paul should use his native Aramaic to express the fatherhood of God...

But that last sentence is myself. In he course of his ordinary pastoral duties, Mr. Stott showed this wet-behind-the-ears young American tourist the importance of the Trinity, how it is relevant to everything in the Christian walk, and began to make it understandable. Of course, there was not time on that one Sunday morning to review all that the Greek Fathers and Reformers had written on the subject, but never again could anyone tempt me to believe that the doctrine of God as three persons in one substance was not plainly taught in the pages of Scripture. This has informed my prayers and private worship, and when I seek a new fellowship after a move, I know what to look for.

Many of the tributes I have read this night were from people who knew Stott better than I ever could, and all noted that Stott was a humble, saintly, pious Christian prior to his being a powerful and thorough exegete and preacher. David Brooks, a secular Jew, opined that if we Evangelicals had a Pope, Stott would have been the man. Perhaps I cannot quite agree, but can understand why Brooks may have said such a thing.

Mr. Stott died at the age of ninety, after several years' retirement, "in good old age", as the Book says. But may God raise up more preachers like him.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Christians Cannot Recognize Muhammad as a Prophet

In a recent press conference, Ambassador Turki al-Faisal, who is also a Saudi Arabian prince, made the following observation:

"We [Muslims] revere from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David, Solomon, you name it, Jesus, Jonah, Jacob. All the prophets of the Old Testament and the New Testament, we consider them to be our prophet. And we also accept that the divine revelations to these prophets, the Torah and the—(inaudible)—are our books, along with the Koran. And our question to Christians and Jews is that why don’t you reciprocate and believe in our prophet as we believe in your prophets? Why don’t you accept our Koran as your book as we accept your Bible in its entirety, whether Old Testament or New Testament?"

The Prince deserves an answer.

As a diplomat, the prince knows that peoples of different cultures, religions, and outlooks often must deal with one another. The rhetorical questions at the end of his statement above suggest that a politic recognition of Muhammad as a prophet and the Qur'an as a "Third Testament" may possibly solve a multitude of problems between Christians and Muslims. His statement that Muslims "accept" the Old Testament prophets and Jesus, along with their books, has become a commonplace in the great swindle that passes for the teaching of history in American public schools, and doubtlessly seems reasonable to many of his hearers.

With all due respect, Your Highness, your proposal does not work.

Islam does NOT accept the Old and New Testaments in their entirety. They claim that the Jews and Christians corrupted the original Tawrat, Zubar, and Injil ; hence Muslims are not encouraged to read the Bible, and, indeed, may be punished for owning one in some Muslim countries. The Prince's own country bans the Bible's import.

The New Testament makes much of Christ's death as the atonement for our sins, understands Old Testament passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 as prophetic of the event, and understands the Old Testament sacrificial ritual described in the Torah as foreshadowing the Messiah's sacrifice. Yet the Qur'an categorically states that Jesus did not die on the cross. Further, the New Testament presents Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man in one person; the Qur'an says he was merely man. The Qur'an charges the Jews with making Ezra the son of God analogous to Jesus Christ in Christianity, but no Muslim has ever presented extra-Qur'anic corroboration of such a belief (I have discussed and argued theology and religion with many Jews, read something of Talmud and Midrash, and know of no Jewish tradition that deifies Ezra).

Further, Christians are not discouraged from reading the Old Testament. Quite the contrary, the prophets of Israel have long informed the way Christian thinkers view history; most instructed Christians are aware that Jesus' injunction to love God and neighbor come from Leviticus and Deuteronomy; the decalogue is taught in every catechism class; Christian worship is unthinkable without the Psalms; and Christian ethics draws heavily from the Pentateuch and Wisdom Literature. Christians do not dismiss the Old Testament as "falsified", but base the authority of the New Testament on that of the old, and bind the two together as one volume. Four-fifths of the Christian Bible is shared with the Jews, differing from the Jewish Tanakh chiefly in the order of the thirty-nine books.

Perhaps His Highness will pull off the mask and explain that the "original" Tawrat and Injil were corrupted, and that Islam honors the "original" ones rather than the extant ones. This is a commonplace of Islamic polemics. Yet I doubt that the Prince could come up with the "original Old and New Testaments"; nor could he explain how the Jews and Christians, who were always mutually suspicious and never cooperated, could come up with the same Old Testament that the other side recognized, while the competing Christian sects came up with the same New Testament. And as for the Jewish and Christian scribes being conniving, careless, corrupting, or some combination of the three, how could that be when both allowed witnesses against their own practices to remain in the Biblical text? The Rabbinical conservators of the Hebrew Old Testament did not change Abraham's serving both milk and meat to his mysterious visitors in Genesis 18, when it violated their own tradition; nor did theysmuggle into the biblical text the beloved tale of Abram arguing with Terah about idolatry in from the Genesis Rabbah. How could the hierarchical churches of East and West, which were long the stewards of the Greek New Testament, have allowed Philippians 1:1 to stand when it clearly mentions a plurality of bishops in one city? It seems that there is not a single Greek manuscript of the Pauline letters that "corrects" this by the clear tradition of the medieval churches. All this suggests to me that these ancient conservators of the text, both Jewish and Christian, were highly scrupulous in handling texts they saw as sacred rather than conniving and jealous of their own prerogatives and man-made traditions.

I will happily accept Muslim neighbors who wish to live in peace with me; and I'll be the first to call the police if I see a suspicious figure lurking around the mosque when I am feeling insomniac and take a late night stroll. But for some of the reasons listed above, I cannot recognize Islam as a continuance or inheritor of the biblical traditions.

Perhaps His Highness wants to say that he wants our respect for his religion; and I feel I can respect a belief that commands the allegiance of hundreds of millions, even if I disagree with it. But I cannot say I recognize the biblical Jesus Christ when I read the Qur'an. Further, reflection on the implications of the Messiah's coming, his being God in the flesh as well as the promised man of David's line, his eternally valid atonement for our sins, and his victory over death in the resurrection make it all but impossible for me to think that God has a later "word" to "correct" this.

And if Islam so respects Moses so much, how come it mandates the amputation of the thief's hand when Exodus 22 mandates that the thief pay restitution to the victim? Indeed, it is my understanding that the Prince's own country practices these hudd punishments and is proud of doing so.

Further, Christians believe that God became man and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-18); that Christ obeyed the divine law on behalf of his people, offered himself as atonement for their sins, and rose to conquer death on their behalf on the third day. Paul, in First Corinthians 15, says that this is the essence of the Gospel, not some new set of rules. But with such a message, how can any Christian sanely believe that there is room for some new revelation of rules for the direction and postures to use in prayer, kinds of legitimate meat and drink, and the proper positioning to use when performing ablutions? No, it is not for nothing that the Risen and Glorified Jesus Christ warns us against adding to the biblical testimony or taking away from it at the end of Revelation, the last book of the Biblical canon. After Christ, Muhammad is frankly a let-down.

The Prince would have served us all better had he spoken of the need to accurately understand each others' beliefs and practices, and to examine our sources and evidence more thoughtfully. To say that an informed Christian can somehow accept Muhammad as a later prophet, however, demands a deep ignorance of both Bible and Qur'an.