Friday, October 27, 2006

Sorry, I Forgot

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Many readers of this column know that Church of the Great God teaches that the Anglosphere (as columnist Mark Steyn phrases it)—Britain, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand—is composed of descendants of the biblical patriarch, Joseph. We go further by teaching that America derives its population from Joseph's firstborn,
Manasseh, and the other nations mentioned above descend from his second son, Ephraim. This belief is called by many "British-Israelism."

In simple terms, Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 48:19 foresees two major world powers, one of which—Manasseh—is a single great nation while the other—Ephraim—is "a multitude of nations." The United States of America is without doubt the greatest single nation in terms of both wealth and power that the world has ever seen. Similarly, the British Empire, upon which the sun never set, it was once said, was in its time even greater, especially in terms of its scope and control of the world politically and economically. These brother nations, bound by more than just a common language but also a common ancestry, have worked together for nearly two centuries to dominate world affairs.

God weaves clues to the character of these nations in His Word. One of the Bible's most consistent hints concerning peoples and nations arises from the meaning of their names. Genesis contains numerous references to the births of progenitors of nations and—interestingly—their parents' reasons for naming them as they did. Joseph's sons' births are mentioned in Genesis 41:50-52, along with their father's explanations of their names:

And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: "For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house." And the name of the second he called Ephraim: "For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction."

Thus, Manasseh means "forgetful" or "making forgetful," while Ephraim means "fruitful" or "productive." Joseph, by the way, means "He [the LORD] will add," implying blessing from God (see Genesis 30:22-24). Joseph, through Jacob's blessing of his sons, received the firstborn's portion of Israel's inheritance, and it was mainly upon Joseph that God's physical promises of wealth and power that he made to Abraham were fulfilled. God certainly added to Joseph by blessing his descendants.

The people of Ephraim have certainly been fruitful and productive, far out of proportion to their numbers and the size of their homeland. From the little isle of England, they sent ships and armies that seized and governed far-flung lands and peoples for generations. They used the resources of those lands to build a vast trade and industrial empire that is the envy of nations and would-be empires. They are a people who lived up to their prophetic naming.

In this way, Manasseh does not disappoint either. From its founding in early colonial days, its people have tended, if not desired, to forget the past and plunge into the future. Its first colonists left Europe to put behind them both religious and governmental persecution and economic disadvantage. Leaving behind family and fatherland, they came to these shores to exorcise the old ways and to forge a new life in the wilderness of America. What had happened before and in other lands was of little concern to them; what was important was what lay ahead. What Joseph said in naming Manasseh could have been said by many of those colonists: "For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house."

That America was removed from Europe by a wide and often tempestuous ocean encouraged the formation and solidification of forgetfulness in our national character. By the time the colonists decided to rebel against their British overlords in London, most Americans had little interest in the goings-on in Europe to the point that, though they were just a generation or so removed from the Continent, Americans considered themselves a distinct and unique people. "American" was its own brand, having left its European origins behind.

American forgetfulness is enshrined in its founding documents, in which European forms of government are rejected and a totally new form, American republicanism, is adopted. George Washington advised America not to become involved in foreign disputes and wars, fearing that the fledgling nation would be swallowed up in the perennial game of nations in Europe. Later, ideas like the Monroe Doctrine—written by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams during President James Monroe's administration, warning other nations, particularly European ones, that America would not stand by should they attempt to interfere in the Western Hemisphere—isolated the U.S. even further. As this self-enforced isolation continued, America readily forgot the old ways and became famous for "can do" ingenuity, inventiveness, and innovation.

But Manassite forgetfulness has a downside: It tends to repeat the same lessons because it refuses to remember what previous generations learned through rough experience. Thus, American history tends to progress in very similar cycles, in which one generation repeats the mistakes of former ones and succeeding generations must make the best of the pieces that remain and move on. So it appears that the American government never seems to make any progress in its various "wars": on poverty, on drugs, on crime, on illegitimacy, on terrorism, on illiteracy, etc. All of the same old programs keep being tried time and again, and we wonder why the nation's problems never get solved! As wise Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun"—and certainly not in forgetful America!

Please keep Manassite forgetfulness in mind while watching events unfold toward the crisis at the close of the age. Truly did Moses and Jesus tell us to live by every word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4)!

Sunday, October 1, 2006

What Is the Pope Up To?

Pope Benedict XVI, the German-born former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is the leader of over a billion Catholics worldwide and presides over a multi-billion dollar empire of land holdings, churches and cathedrals, companies, universities, institutions, hospitals, etc. His representatives, official and otherwise, are in every nation on the globe, influencing policy to the advantage of the Roman Catholic Church. He has hundreds of advisors and assistants, many of whom are among the most learned men on earth. He sits atop an organization that wields power and influence far beyond the confines of tiny Vatican City in Rome.

If he has all this wealth, knowledge, and authority behind him, why did he make such a colossal blunder in his comments at Regensburg University in Germany on September 12? Did he not know that even quoting a fourteenth-century Christian emperor's anti-Islamic remark would ignite protests and perhaps violence as well across the Muslim world?

Without a doubt.

The Pope, who turned 79 in April 2006, has observed the world long enough to be able to predict accurately just how his audiences will react to his ideas. The Vatican, long steeped in both politics and cultural sensitivity, understands the hair-trigger reactions of Islamic fundamentalists to anything even remotely offensive to "the religion of peace" or its prophet, Muhammad—remember that the furor over the Danish cartoons erupted just months ago. If his words, then, were not a thoughtless blunder, what were they designed to do? Why did he intentionally make them? What is the Pope up to?

There are probably at least two answers to these questions. The first is contained in the public response to Muslim demands of the Pope to apologize to the faithful for his "outrageous slander" of Muhammad. In his remarks to invitees to a meeting at his summer residence near Rome on September 25, the Pope regretted that his comments offended Muslims, yet he went on to explain briefly that Christians and Muslims "must learn to work together . . . to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence."

A reading of his Regensburg speech makes it plain that this was his intention all along. Notice this passage:

The [Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos II, a Christian] must have known that Sura 2,256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." . . . But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Quran, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, . . . he addresses his interlocutor . . . on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death. . . ."

Here he introduces his real subject, the relationship of reason and faith in religion. Muslim extremists—and frankly most Muslims period—have abandoned reason in their wholehearted devotion to Islam, and the result has been conflict, destruction, and death. On the other side, Western Christianity has rejected faith in favor of rationalism, producing cultural relativism and an essentially godless society. Benedict's speech was designed to steer a course toward the future between the two extremes.

At this point, the second answer to the why of the Pope's intentions comes to the fore. Upon ascending to the pontificate, Benedict dedicated himself to returning Europe to fundamental Christian values in response to increasing secularization. In a May 1996 address titled "Relativism: The Central Problem for Faith Today," he noted, presaging his papal theme:

Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego.

To counter this creeping narcissism, he recommends Europe's re-Christianization, urging Europeans "to open ourselves to this friendship with God . . . speaking to him as to a friend, the only One who can make the world both good and happy. . ." ("St. Josemaría: God Is Very Much at Work in Our World Today," L'Osservatore Romano, October 9, 2002). In early 2006, this theme still on his mind, he reiterated, "It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians . . ." ("Friendship with God," Zenit News, February 7, 2006).

In this light, his remarks at Regensburg were a rallying cry to Europe to reject the fanatical, violent faith of its burgeoning Muslim minority as well as the sterile, empty secularism of modern society—and to embrace the reasonable, traditional, and beneficial faith of Christianity. By doing so, he sets up himself and the Roman Catholic Church as sound-minded bastions of European solidarity and strength.

Despite the violence his remarks caused, he has calculated that they were worth the turmoil so that he could gauge, not the Muslim reaction, which was predictable, but the European response. He is hoping to see a shift in attitudes toward the Catholic Church and the papacy to defend Christendom from the ongoing Islamic assault. So far—and granted, his remarks still echo across the Continent—he has seen nothing from secular Europe to give him hope.