Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Three Sobering Reads

Convergence? You decide.

From Patrick Deneen, Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame, writing at Front Porch Republic ("Res Idiotica"):
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten its origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself....

We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, historyless free agents, and educational goals composed of contentless processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.” Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical). In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps. Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.

Above all, the one overarching lesson that students receive is to understand themselves to be radically autonomous selves within a comprehensive global system with a common commitment to mutual indifference. Our commitment to mutual indifference is what binds us together as a global people. Any remnant of a common culture would interfere with this prime directive: a common culture would imply that we share something thicker, an inheritance that we did not create, and a set of commitments that imply limits and particular devotions. Ancient philosophy and practice heaped praise upon res publica – a devotion to public things, things we share together. We have instead created the world’s first res idiotica – from the Greek word idiotes, meaning “private individual.” Our education system excels at producing solipsistic, self-contained selves whose only public commitment is an absence of commitment to a public, a common culture, a shared history. They are perfectly hollowed vessels, receptive and obedient, without any real obligations or devotions. They have been taught to care passionately about their indifference, and to denounce the presence of actual diversity that threatens the security of their cocoon. They are living in a perpetual Truman Show, a world constructed yesterday that is nothing more than a set for their solipsism, without any history or trajectory.
From Myron Magnet, writing at City Journal ("Liberty -- If You Can Keep It"):
Worse still is the mindless orthodoxy that passes for intellectual life on today’s campus. Do colleges offer illimitable freedom to explore whether there might be differences in the minds of men and women that make them excel at different academic subjects, or that there may be no out-of-the-ordinary global warming caused by human activity, or that mankind’s fate might require that marriage be defined as between a man and a woman, or that affirmative action and welfare might harm and degrade their supposed beneficiaries, or that Islam may not be a religion of peace, or that environmental cleanliness may not be man’s highest value, or that money ought to speak in politics, or even that all lives—not just black ones—matter? Here the fountain of Truth has indeed sickened into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition, as Milton knew such unthinking dogma as political correctness ensures....

... As for what college students know of every subject susceptible of contemplation, a hilarious film, Politically Challenged, that Texas Tech students produced does not reassure. To the question of “Who won the Civil War?” 11 students had no idea, though two thought it might have been the South, one suggested “America,” two didn’t know who fought it, and one wondered if the questioner meant the one that occurred in 1967. Only one answered, “The North; the Union.” Only one of nine students could name the current U.S. vice president. None of five students knew from whom America gained its independence, though one thought it might have happened in the 1970s—or else the 1670s. But all of them knew the names of actor Brad Pitt’s current and former wives and that “Snooki” was a character on the TV show Jersey Shore.

Finally, from Victor Davis Hanson -- one of his best columns ever, over at Pajamas Media -- "Weimar America":
No one can figure out how and why America’s youth have borrowed a collective $1 trillion for college tuition, and yet received so little education and skills in the bargain. Today’s campuses have become as foreign to American traditions of tolerance and free expression as what followed the Weimar Republic. To appreciate cry-bully censorship, visit a campus “free-speech” area. To witness segregation, walk into a college “safe space.” To hear unapologetic anti-Semitism, attend a university lecture. To learn of the absence of due process, read of a campus hearing on alleged sexual assault. To see a brown shirt in action, watch faculty call for muscle at a campus demonstration. To relearn the mentality of a Chamberlain or Daladier, listen to the contextualizations of a college president. And to talk to an uneducated person, approach a recent college graduate.

If all that is confusing, factor in the Trimalchio banquet of campus rock-climbing walls, students glued to their iPhone 6s, $200 sneakers, latte bars, late-model foreign cars in the parking lot, and yoga classes. Affluence, arrogance, and ignorance are quite a trifecta.
The authors also reach remarkably similar conclusions. First, Patrick Deneen again:
I care deeply about and for my students – like any human being, each has enormous potential and great gifts to bestow upon the world. But I weep for them, for what is rightfully theirs but hasn’t been given. On our best days together, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself. But even on those better days, I can’t help but hold the hopeful thought that the world they have inherited – a world without inheritance, without past, future, or deepest cares – is about to come tumbling down, and that this collapse would be the true beginning of a real education.

Next, Myron Magnet:
Western civilization arose on why. We had better keep asking it, draining every fetid pool of political correctness that lies in the way of an answer.

And the final word goes to Victor Davis Hansen:
I wish all this could end well. But history’s corrective to 1930s chaos was a different—and deadlier—sort of chaos. And so ours may well be too.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Antonin Scalia, RIP

Justice Scalia's past law clerks provide an honor guard as his coffin comes to the Court.
(Click to enlarge.)

In today's highly polarized political atmosphere, the death of a sitting Supreme Court Justice is a guaranteed flash point. To have a sitting conservative Justice like Antonin Scalia die in an election year, however, in which different parties control the White House and Congress, is a true test of our political system.

Justice Scalia's was one of the most articulate and penetrating intellects ever to grace the Court. His colleagues could disagree with him, but that was because he always made it perfectly clear where he stood. He never knuckled under to public pressure or opinion polls, and for nearly 30 years he applied his originalist jurisprudence consistently to the cases that came before him.

Here are some samples of his pointed observations -- from his opinions, speeches and interviews:

Dissenting last June in Obergefell v. Hodges (the same-sex marriage case) -- one of the worst decisions ever to come from a 5-4 divided Court:
This is a naked judicial claim to legislative — indeed, super-legislative — power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government. Except as limited by a constitutional prohibition agreed to by the People, the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like, even those that offend the esteemed Justices’ “reasoned judgment.” A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.
Calling an interviewer's attention, in 2011, to the dangers flowing from trying to "keep the Constitution current" -- which is what the majority did in Obergefell:
Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
Upholding the Second Amendment's limitation on government's power to  restrict the right to own guns, in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008):
Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right.
Dissenting in 2001 in the case of PGA Tour v. Martin, where the majority decided that a disabled professional golfer had a constitutional right to use a golf cart in the PGA Tour:
I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a “fundamental” aspect of golf.
Dissenting again in Lee v. Weisman (1992), where the majority held that prayer led by a priest at a public school graduation ceremony was unconstitutional:
The Court presumably would separate graduation invocations and benedictions from other instances of public "preservation and transmission of religious beliefs" on the ground that they involve "psychological coercion." I find it a sufficient embarrassment that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence regarding holiday displays, has come to "requir[e] scrutiny more commonly associated with interior decorators than with the judiciary." But interior decorating is a rock hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs. A few citations of "[r]esearch in psychology" that have no particular bearing upon the precise issue here cannot disguise the fact that the Court has gone beyond the realm where judges know what they are doing. The Court's argument that state officials have "coerced" students to take part in the invocation and benediction at graduation ceremonies is, not to put too fine a point on it, incoherent.
And dissenting in the 5-4 decision upholding Roe v. Wade -- Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1991):
By foreclosing all democratic outlet for the deep passions this issue arouses, by banishing the issue from the political forum that gives all participants, even the losers, the satisfaction of a fair hearing and an honest fight, by continuing the imposition of a rigid national rule instead of allowing for regional differences, the Court merely prolongs and intensifies the anguish. We should get out of this area, where we have no right to be, and where we do neither ourselves nor the country any good by remaining.
Justice Scalia was known for his dire predictions of the consequences of poorly-reasoned majority decisions, and he has more than often been proved right. As far back as 1988 he warned in Morrison v. Olson that the majority was ignoring the Framers' carefully designed balance of powers by upholding the right of Congress to take away the President's power to appoint a special counsel:
That is what this suit is about. Power. The allocation of power among Congress, the President, and the courts in such fashion as to preserve the equilibrium the Constitution sought to establish — so that "a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department," Federalist No. 51, p. 321 (J. Madison), can effectively be resisted. Frequently an issue of this sort will come before the Court clad, so to speak, in sheep's clothing: the potential of the asserted principle to effect important change in the equilibrium of power is not immediately evident, and must be discerned by a careful and perceptive analysis. But this wolf comes as a wolf.
He concluded by pointing out the utter lack of standard in allowing a simple majority to decide just "how much" of the executive power could be taken away:
The ad hoc approach to constitutional adjudication has real attraction, even apart from its work-saving potential. It is guaranteed to produce a result, in every case, that will make a majority of the Court happy with the law. The law is, by definition, precisely what the majority thinks, taking all things into account, it ought to be. I prefer to rely upon the judgment of the wise men who constructed our system, and of the people who approved it, and of two centuries of history that have shown it to be sound. Like it or not, that judgment says, quite plainly, that "[t]he executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States."
He was again prescient in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which overruled a decision upholding sodomy laws that had been handed down just 17 years earlier. He predicted that the decision would lead to the Court's eventual sanctioning of gay marriage, precisely as it did last summer:
Today's opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.... 
One of the most revealing statements in today's opinion is the Court's grim warning that the criminalization of homosexual conduct is "an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres." Ante, at 14. It is clear from this that the Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed. Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as "discrimination" which it is the function of our judgments to deter. ... 
Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of sexual and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best. That homosexuals have achieved some success in that enterprise is attested to by the fact that Texas is one of the few remaining States that criminalize private, consensual homosexual acts. But persuading one's fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one's views in absence of democratic majority will is something else... What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new "constitutional right" by a Court that is impatient of democratic change. It is indeed true that "later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress," ante, at 18; and when that happens, later generations can repeal those laws. But it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best. 
One of the benefits of leaving regulation of this matter to the people rather than to the courts is that the people, unlike judges, need not carry things to their logical conclusion. The people may feel that their disapprobation of homosexual conduct is strong enough to disallow homosexual marriage, but not strong enough to criminalize private homosexual acts -- and may legislate accordingly. The Court today pretends that it possesses a similar freedom of action, so that that we need not fear judicial imposition of homosexual marriage ...  At the end of its opinion -- after having laid waste the foundations of our rational-basis jurisprudence -- the Court says that the present case "does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter." Ante, at 17. Do not believe it. More illuminating than this bald, unreasoned disclaimer is the progression of thought displayed by an earlier passage in the Court's opinion, which notes the constitutional protections afforded to "personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education,"and then declares that "[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do." Ante, at 13 (emphasis added).  
Today's opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned. If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is "no legitimate state interest" for purposes of proscribing that conduct, ante, at 18; and if, as the Court coos (casting aside all pretense of neutrality), "[w]hen sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring," ante, at 6; what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising "[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution," ibid.? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry. This case "does not involve" the issue of homosexual marriage only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with the decisions of this Court. Many will hope that, as the Court comfortingly assures us, this is so.... I dissent.
Of all his writings and interviews, however, this one in October 2013, given to New York Magazine, has to count as his most candid and personal: follow the link and read the whole thing (it's eight pages) for a true insight into what motivated him. Note that he denigrated his potential legacy:
50 years from now I may be the Justice Sutherland of the late-twentieth and early-21st century, who’s regarded as: “He was on the losing side of everything, an old fogey, the old view.” And I don’t care.
Justice Scalia's sudden demise leaves a vacancy on the Court that will become the football of politics. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already thrown down the gauntlet, saying that his place "should not be filled until we have a new president," while President Obama has taken up the gauntlet by declaring that he plans to make an appointment "soon" -- and that he expects a fair hearing and a timely vote. Count on Obama to play the politics of the situation to the hilt. Partisans are already rushing to take sides in what promises to be a major confrontation between the Senate and a lame-duck President.

The history of nominations and confirmations of Supreme Court Justices in an election year does not bode well for the Democrats, since they are in a minority in the Senate. The most notable recent instance was the failure in 1968 to get a vote on Lyndon Johnson's nomination of Abe Fortas. Even though the Democrats also controlled both houses of Congress, they could not muster the votes in the Senate to stop the Republicans' filibuster of the nomination. And as related in this article, the last time a President was successful in having his nomination in an election year confirmed by a Senate controlled by the opposition party was in 1880.

Justice Scalia was a strong and capable figure on the Court, and will be extremely difficult to replace. For what it is worth, I agree with this summation of what made Antonin Scalia such an iconic figure:
Justice Scalia is one of the few jurists who vindicate Carlyle’s great man theory of history. Because he brought three large and different talents to the Court, he changed the course of its jurisprudence. He had the intellect to fashion theories of interpretation, the pen to make them widely known, and the ebullience to make it all seem fun.
Prayers of consolation go out to Justice Scalia's family, especially his wife Maureen. Both devout Roman Catholics, they met on a blind date in 1960 when he was at Harvard Law School and she was at Radcliffe. They married that fall, and eventually raised five sons and four daughters.

Requiescat in pace, Antonin Scalia.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Global Warming Alarmism Debunked: It's the Sample Size!

Over at the Web's most-viewed global climate-change site, Watts Up With That, guest blogger Dr. Tim Ball puts the genie of "global warming" back into the bottle -- and hopefully makes it embarrassing for those who still are trying to alarm the rest of us.

His point about all the global warming alarms is extremely simple: "It's the sample size, stupid!"

Nearly all of the publications by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as by those scientists promoting their models of disastrous future global warming, are based on a data record which reaches back for at most a century or two. But the earth itself is four-and-a-half billion years old, and we now have ice core data (showing temperature fluctuations) going back for millions of years. So here is how Dr. Ball describes the mismatch:
Recent discussion about record weather events, such as the warmest year on record, is a totally misleading and scientifically useless exercise. This is especially true when restricted to the instrumental record that covers about 25% of the globe for at most 120 years. The age of the Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years, so the sample size is 0.000002643172%. Discussing the significance of anything in a 120-year record plays directly into the hands of those trying to say that the last 120-years climate is abnormal and all due to human activity. It is done purely for political propaganda, to narrow people’s attention and to generate fear.

The misdirection is based on the false assumption that only a few variables and mechanisms are important in climate change, and they remain constant over the 4.54 billion years. It began with the assumption of the solar constant from the Sun that astronomers define as a medium-sized variable star. The AGW proponents successfully got the world focused on CO2, which is just 0.04% of the total atmospheric gases and varies considerably spatially and temporally. I used to argue that it is like determining the character, structure, and behavior of a human by measuring one wart on the left arm. In fact, they are only looking at one cell of that wart for their determination.
Here is a graph, for example, of Antarctic ice core records, smoothed by a 70-year moving average, that goes back half a million years (click to enlarge):

The little red rectangle at the far right of the plotted data represents the time range chosen by most climate modelers. By blowing that small area out of proportion to the rest of the record, virtually any argument for an increasing pace of warming could be supported -- except that they try to pin what is happening on man's recent activities. But as the longer-scale graph demonstrates, the variations in average temperature -- from minus eight to about plus three degrees -- are cyclical, and the earth has been there at least three times before, without man's help.

Another graph from Dr. Ball's article, of just the last ten thousand years, shows a different way of putting the current temperature rise in perspective (again, click to enlarge):

By focusing on just the last two or so hundred years, i.e., by choosing a ridiculously small sample size, the alarmists are engaging in deceptive manipulation of the real data. Anyone who wants us to close down industrial plants, stop driving gas guzzlers, and the like, while ignoring what the longer-term data show, simply wants to exercise political power over the rest of us for no good reason.

The Watts Up With That? website is a splendid place to bookmark, and to visit regularly for unbiased updates on the climate change debate. Be sure to go and read Dr. Ball's entire article, as well as the interesting comments on it at the bottom of the page. You will be better informed than many of your peers as a result.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mere Anglicanism 2016: a Report (II)

In the first part of this report on the 2016 Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston, South Carolina last week, I covered the four lectures that related to Islam as an ideology and as an historical movement. In this second part, I will recap the three remaining talks, which focused on experiences and techniques for engaging Muslims at an individual level.

There were two perspectives from Christians whose duties bring them into daily contact with Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere. The first, by the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, who trained first in Egypt as a doctor and hospital administrator before being ordained as a priest in 1999 and then consecrated as a bishop a year later, stressed that Christians and Moslems co-existed in Egypt for fourteen centuries before relations began to change in the 1970s. That is when Islamists, Salafis and jihadists started to agitate for a restoration of the caliphate, which required the subjugation of other faiths. Christianity and Islam differ fundamentally in that Christians accept Jesus' substitutionary atonement for their sins; Muslims believe that no such substitution is possible in Allah's eyes. Each person on his own must strive to have his good works and pilgrimages to Mecca hopefully outweigh  his failings, in order to receive forgiveness from Allah and admission into Paradise.

In recent years, the growth of Christianity in Egypt has far outpaced the growth of Islam. In Dr. Anis' experience, the things that bring Muslims to inquire about Christianity are (1) visions and dreams they have of Jesus; (2) the lifestyle of Christians who evince their love and respect for others; (3) the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount; and (4) healing in answer to prayers. In welcoming such inquiries, Christians should avoid certain unwise assumptions:
  • thinking that we, and not the Holy Spirit, can transform lives
  • thinking that people can be won to Christ through deceit
  • thinking that local churches lack the vision to reach out to their community
  • witnessing to Muslims by taking advantage of their weakness at a crucial point
  • witnessing to Muslims without an understanding of their culture
  • being "un-Christ-like" by attacking their beliefs, and
  • acting from other wrong and unbiblical motives

In summary, said Dr. Anis, Christians who witness to Muslims must depend entirely on the Holy Spirit, and should be authentic, humble and generous in all their dealings. Muslims who convert frequently must pay a heavy price in loss of family relationships and everything they had held dear; the Christian community must be prepared to do all that it can to mitigate those losses. He closed his talk with a short film that showed the various kinds of Christian outreach his own diocese is sponsoring, with an emphasis on providing the best possible loving care to Egyptians from all walks of life in Christian-run hospitals, and offering testimonies from those whose lives had changed in consequence. God's love, shown to Muslims and others through freely given medical and other care, brings results on God's timetable. "Our job is to witness to Christ's love, to pay the price when asked, and to involve the local community of believers."

Another perspective on witnessing to Muslims was offered by Fouad Masri, a Lebanese-born, third-generation pastor who trained in the United States, and then in 1993 founded the Crescent Project, based in Indianapolis, through which he has taught more than 21,000 Christians how to share their faith sensitively and caringly with Muslims. He stressed that Muslims generally do not know what Christians believe, that they never read the Bible for themselves, and have repeatedly been told that it is unreliable (its text is, e.g., hopelessly corrupt in comparison with the Qu'ran that was dictated directly from Allah).

"Because you have been at this conference," he predicted, "God will put a Muslim in your path. Be an ambassador for your faith: represent it truly, humbly, and without apology or evasion. Be friendly -- don't criticize Muslim beliefs; build bridges, biblical bridges, from your faith to theirs, with which you can reach them. Invite them to your home, and share what you have. Remember that God, not us, makes people Christians; we are God's humble servants, and our involvement is His involvement with the world." There are many more resources, and much more detail, at the Crescent Project Website, as well as videos at this related site, and individual apps and study materials here. Together, they embody a wealth of personal experience and wisdom that no conference participant should ignore.

The seventh speaker, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, gave his talk between Mouneer Anis and Fouad Masri, who each provided the bookends to frame his highly compelling and moving personal testimony. Born in America of Pakistani parents, Dr. Qureshi was raised as a devout Muslim, albeit in one of its more  recent (and peaceful) offshoots, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He was well-educated, and highly motivated by his parents, with whom he was extremely close. They had him reciting regular daily prayers before he could even understand what they meant. Nabeel looked to his father as the authority on all things Islamic, and trusted his views implicitly.

Change came when Nabeel went away from home to attend college, and met several new influences. One of them, a devout and well-educated Christian named David Wood, was on the debating team with him; they became roommates and the closest of friends. Each would challenge the other about his faith, and no waffling, evasion or exaggeration of facts was allowed. Nabeel found that his second-hand information about the Christian Bible was inadequate, and that its text was far more reliable than he had been led to believe. To his great chagrin, the same inadequacies appeared with respect to his knowledge about the real origins of Islam, the questionable authorship of the Qu'ran, and the true character of its prophet -- who even sanctioned giving captured wives as "sex slaves" to his soldiers, just as ISIS is doing today.

Over the course of his four years at college, in which he was a pre-med student earning top grades, Nabeel's conversations and explorations of Islam and Christianity with David Wood occupied thousands of hours. Through another friend, they had several lengthy sessions talking to Dr. Gary Habermas, an authority on the evidence for Christ's resurrection (which Muslims are taught did not happen, because Jesus -- who was wholly human -- either survived crucifixion, or the Romans nailed up someone else in his place).

The evidence for Christianity proved so compelling in the face of the more dubious backing for Islam that Nabeel was eventually brought to a crisis in his second year of medical school. He was so torn between his love of truth and his love and respect for the family who had raised him that he begged God to provide him with a clear sign one way or the other -- knowing in his heart of hearts that he most likely would be disowned by his parents if he renounced Islam and converted to Christianity. God answered his prayers, Nabeel converted, and he remains estranged from his family today -- as he gave up his medical career to tour with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, preaching and spreading the gospel to all who will listen. For those wanting to experience his conversion in all its gripping ups-and-downs, I highly recommend the book he has written: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

The conference closed with a panel of all the speakers (except for Dr. Boa), who fielded questions culled from previous submissions by the audience. The Rev. Christopher Royer, the Executive Director of Anglican Frontier Missions (and who had delivered two excellent sermons at the conference services, based on his front-line experiences in Turkey), moderated the panel.

It began with a short summation of the conference as seen through the eyes of Bishop Nazir-Ali. He noted that the subject of the conference was Muslims, whom we all are called to love. Thus, we have to engage with Islam -- while Islamism (Islam's politicization) is the obstacle to our engagement. Using the insights of Archbishop Anis and Pastor Masri, Bishop Nazir-Ali stressed that such engagement requires (1) the presence of the Christian community among Muslims (especially those seeking exodus); (2) a duty of hospitality; (3) building bridges which both may use to connect (e.g., faith-based hospitals); (4) dialogue using (5) a common language, which leads to (6) witness, which accepts (7) that everything is ultimately in God's hands. Christians have a duty, he said, not so much to convert Muslims, as to "bring them to a point of decision," where they could welcome "the possibility of assurance."

The first question to the panel asked whether the teachings of militant Islam are entitled to protection under the First Amendment. Professor Jenkins drew the distinction between ideas and beliefs, which are absolutely protected, and exhortation to violence, which is not.  Dr. Anis responded to a question about the influence of imams, and stated that it was dependent on the militancy of the individual. He reminded the audience that the Shiite sect is awaiting the reappearance of the twelfth imam, who "disappeared" in the tenth century, as part of their eschatology.

Nabeel Qureshi fielded a question about allowing in Muslim refugees from Syria, and drew the same line that Dr. Ken Boa had drawn: as Christians, we individually are called upon to welcome all our fellow humans in distress, but our safety rests in the hands of our government, which bears the responsibility to screen those coming here in order to keep out terrorists. Dr. Craig had a short answer to a question about how history textbooks should present the story of Islam: "Accurately", he responded. Bishop Nazir-Ali took a question about the long-term prospects for female equality in Islam. He observed that as long as Sharia held sway, its in-built inequality of treatment toward women would continue. Muslims, he added, have only three choices about the sources from which they derive Sharia: ignore them, become apostate, or else radicalize and apply the texts as written. In response to a question of how the West should deal with increasingly repressive regimes in the Middle East, Dr. Nazir-Ali pointed out that lasting democracy needs a full supporting infrastructure, which is just not present there.

The conference came to a close after Dr. Craig responded to a question about how Christians can square the brutal extinctions ordered by the God of the Old Testament with the "God Is Love" message of the New Testament. He gave the standard rationale for differentiating in time and space: God had announced that he would give the land of Canaan to the Israelites, but only after the latter had been in captivity for 400 years, and the Canaanites in that period had reached the culmination of their evils in God's sight. The Israelis were not engaging in genocide, he said, but were carrying out God's judgment declared against the Canaanites, who refused to leave the land voluntarily, and so were killed. Muslim jihad, he said, was not similar in any way, because it was a vehicle for extending the spread of Islam through violence.

This response brought a strong reaction from Professor Jenkins, who protested that "these commands of the Old Testament God have killed millions upon millions!" -- referring to later conquerors and tyrants who justified their genocide by citing them as precedent. Dr. Craig defended his position, and noted that Scripture is often abused for personal (and dynastic) ends, but that does not make Scripture at fault. After a kind of agreement between them to disagree, the conference closed with prayers and a blessing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mere Anglicanism 2016: a Report (I)

[A note to my readers in South Carolina: As of this moment (7:25 PST Wednesday, February 3, 2016), the Supreme Court of South Carolina has not announced any decisions today. Should that change, I will immediately publish an update here. And thank you for your wonderful, welcoming hospitality to me and my spouse while we were your guests at Mere Anglicanism!]

The theme of this year's Mere Anglicanism Conference in Charleston, South Carolina was "The Cross and the Crescent: the Gospel and the Challenge of Islam." Over the course of four sessions, seven speakers gave the sold-out audience a comprehensive view of Islamic ideology and history, along with the understanding and tools which Christians need in their personal dealings with Muslims.

The Conference was carefully balanced. Two of the speakers analyzed the tenets of Islam and their contrasts with those of Christianity; two of the speakers spoke to the historical and present-day conflicts between Islamic countries and Western ones; two offered insights and approaches to discussing religion with followers of Mohammed, garnered from their years of experience in dealing with Muslims from all walks of life; and the seventh speaker offered a moving personal testimony to his own conversion from Islam to Christianity -- a decision which cost him his closest ties to his own family. In order to keep my report easier to follow, I shall divide it into two parts. I will first discuss those speakers who gave analytical and historical critiques of Islam, and then cover those who offered pragmatic advice in the second part.

Dr. William Lane Craig, a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology (La Mirada, California), and also a Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptists University, opened the Conference on Thursday evening with a talk on "The Concept of God in Islam and Christianity." He explained that he had been interacting with Islam, both academically and in debates with leading Muslim advocates, for over thirty years. In that time, he learned how to address the issue of the God that each religion worships. We should not ask: "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?", because that approach gets tied up in differences over terminology and semantics. A more useful inquiry is: "What is the concept of 'God' in Islam, and in Christianity? Are they the same? And if not, which one is true?"

(The last question exposes the falsity of the notion that all religions express different versions of the same truth, each in its own way. When one demonstrates that the respective fundamental concepts of two faiths are irreconcilable, then only one of them -- or possibly neither one -- can be true. In any event, because religions do contradict each other, it is wrong to say that all religions are in some manner "true".)

Islam and Christianity differ in a number of key concepts, but most of all in their concepts of God. For Islam, Christianity errs fundamentally in holding that God is three persons of one nature. The Qu'ran expressly avows that God could never have a son, because Allah is one and indivisible, wholly perfect and unique, and goes on to say that anyone who asserts to the contrary is an infidel -- an unbeliever. In Dr. Craig's view, Mohammed's misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity may have come from his failure to distinguish what Christians of the time meant by calling Mary the "Mother of God" -- referring to Mary as the human mother of the human Jesus only, and in no way implying that she was the mother of the divine Son. As a divine being, the most perfect conceivable, God must be all-loving (because a god who was incapable of the fullest possible love would be less than a god that was). It is the essence of love to give oneself to another -- but a divine being naturally gives that love to another who shares that same divine nature, since the fullest possible love is a necessary attribute of divine, but not of created, beings. Thus the triune deity of Christianity expresses love internally, by the inextricable and wholly divine relationships among Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Nonetheless, God's love is inexhaustible and all-encompassing (to the point of sending the Son to redeem sinning humans), and thus all humans are the beneficiaries of it.

The Allah of Islam, on the other hand, is focussed only on himself, and according to the Qu'ran, does not love sinners or infidels, but only those who please him by doing enough good works. Allah's love is thus not unreserved (like God's love), but is reserved for those who earn it. Dr. Craig concluded that the objections which Christians have to the concept of God in Islam have a rational basis to them, in comparison with the objections of Muslims to the concept of God in Christianity. Indeed, Mohammed became more irrational towards Jews and Christians as he grew older and more warlike. Islam, in brief, is not a church for man's salvation, but a way of life that makes no meaningful place for Christians and their beliefs.

Dr. Craig's thesis was a powerful and unstinting one. He made the point that politicians will never express directly what is wrong with Islam, because of their fear of offending voters. It was left to another theologian/philosopher, Dr. Ken Boa, to carry the point further and articulate more exactly the proper role of governments toward Islam in contrast to how individual Christians should relate to Muslims.

Dr. Boa was a last-minute substitution for Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the history of Islam and  Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University, who became too ill to travel. He is the head of Reflections Ministries in Atlanta, and holds two doctorate degrees (one from Oxford and the other from New York University) as well as a Masters in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He gave a shortened version of the four hours of lectures on Islam which can be viewed for free on his Website.

Dr. Boa explained the Qu'ran's Principle of Abrogation, by which Allah reserved to himself the right to replace, or abrogate, certain verses with later ones that contradict or conflict with the earlier ones. Thus many of the Qu'ran's positive statements about respecting the "people of the Book" (Jews and Christians) were abrogated by later commandments to kill Jews and unbelievers wherever they can be found. This evolution in the Qu'ran corresponded with the Mohammed's move from Mecca, where he had lived in accordance with treaties he had made with Jewish tribes, to Medina, where he spent much of the last ten years of his life at war with both fellow Arabs and Jews, and in robbing caravans for their riches.

Another unique principle espoused in the Qu'ran is that of "deception", or taqiyyah.  Muslims may freely lie and deceive infidels, according to Mohammed, whenever necessary to save their own lives or to advance the cause of Islam. Accordingly, this principle makes it practically impossible to achieve any lasting treaties with warlike Muslim nations, who are encouraged by their Qu'ran to hide their real intentions until they can attack with advantage an enemy that has been deceived into letting down his guard.

At the same time, Dr. Boa stressed that Islam is not monolithic, and that there is much variation (and strife) between its differing factions (which go way beyond just Sunnis vs. Shiites). These different factions are further split into different interpretative views, according to which the Qu'ran is read either figuratively or more literally, and with greater or lesser emphasis upon its more peaceful or warlike passages. It is only a minority of Muslims who read the Qu'ran to command the killing of all unbelievers and the subjugation of the entire world to the rule of Islam; many others are made uncomfortable by those interpretations. (Over 60% of the world's Muslims are not Arabs.) But no final authority exists, and so each faction looks to its own leaders and imams for guidance.

Dr. Boa made it clear that as Christians, we are called upon to love our enemies, and to pray for them. But what is proper for individual Christians at the personal level provides no guidance for entire countries or their governments in dealing with the rampages of ISIS or other Muslim terrorists. Such abuses must be met with overwhelming force, as the West learned during the first 900 years of Islam. (I was reminded of a remark by Justice Robert H. Jackson: "The Constitution," he once wrote in a memorable dissent, "is not a suicide pact.")

Taken together, the talks by Drs. Craig and Boa provided a comprehensive and thoroughgoing critique of Islam as a religion, and left no doubt about the irreconcilable conflicts of its militant side with the New Testament. Those who would argue for "peaceful co-existence" between the faiths simply do not understand how militant Muslims read their Qu'ran. And while many Muslims may well be peaceful, and have nothing but honorable intentions, it is precisely those Muslims who are not the problem at the international level.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and Professor Philip Jenkins, both experts in the history of religion (and of Islam in particular), gave complementary overviews of the arc of relations between Islamic and Western societies and their governments. For Bishop Nazir-Ali, the history of Islam is rich in details that show a broad range of adaptability to times and circumstances, from the years at the beginning, when Islam was uncertain about its mechanism of succession and accommodative toward Jews and Christians, to the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, when it was so weak that the fires of nationalism broke it apart. Drawing on the materials in his book Conviction and Conflict, Bishop Nazir Ali concluded his extemporaneous presentation with a list of still unresolved issues: 1) the role of religion vis-à-vis the state; 2) the role, if any, that democracy -- with its long history of consulting its citizens on a regular basis -- can play in an Islamic state; 3) whether government is more a matter of taking power (i.e., power that is worth fighting for) than of giving it up (e.g., should Muslims have a Bill of Rights?); 4) the relationship between religion and law (e.g., Islam and Sharia, with its basis in the perceived inequality of the sexes, versus Christianity and Western law, with its emphasis on equality); and 5) the role of jihad -- can Islam be dealt with as an ideology, apart from how (and where) it grows?

On the whole, Bishop Nazir-Ali appeared to be more optimistic about our ability to resolve these issues before the conflicts between Islam and the West are exacerbated, although he did not play down in the slightest the hard work that such a resolution would require. Baylor University Professor Jenkins, on the other hand, outlined a more grim picture, in which the back-and-forth struggles of the Crusades have never really ceased, and will continue until war becomes ever more likely.

In and of itself, "crusade" is not a word which the so-called Crusaders ever used to describe what they did; the word is a nineteenth-century romanticized gloss that recently has acquired a pejorative connotation. (When Pope Urban called for warriors to go on what is now called the First Crusade, his call was for a "pilgrimage.") The first four crusades were marked by extraordinary brutality and cruelty on both sides, and the forces driving them have abated but little since. In the West, the Church made other sects in other countries the object of ongoing crusades, as (for instance) in the case of the Albigensians, and of Santiago Matamoros ("St. James the Moorslayer") in Spain. Islam, for its part, continued the struggle with the siege of Otranto in 1480-81, by retaking Constantinople in 1543, and Cyprus in 1571 (notwithstanding its huge loss at the Battle of Lepanto later that same year). In 1578, the Portuguese king called for "the last crusade" in Morocco. The Ottoman advance was finally halted only at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Had they not been defeated there, the Hapsburg Empire would today be Muslim.

Beginning again in 1917 with General Allenby's entrance into Jerusalem (ill-timed to coincide with the anniversary of Hannukah), the Middle East has gone back and forth, and been in constant flux, ever since. That is where the most sacred places are, and "sacred places will be the focus of new attacks," said Prof. Jenkins. Just as a global cooling in the 13th-14th centuries forced many conversions, he predicted that present day global warming would also lead to new conflicts -- but primarily along the 10th parallel (i.e., in north-central Africa). Europe's weak demographics, combined with its rampant secularism, make it ill-equipped for these future struggles with militant Islamists.

“The prospects for religious war in the next decade are extremely high unless groups like Boko Haram and ISIS are uprooted,” concluded Prof. Jenkins. "The last person to die in a crusade has not yet been born. And if you are not distressed by this lecture, then we need to talk."

This concludes the first part of my report on Mere Anglicanism 2016. In Part II, I will take up the talks of the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, Fouad Masri, and Nabeel Qureshi.