Flying with a Corpse Used Not to be News

The story–which Drudge dutifully linked to–of a British Airways passenger who suffered a fatal heart attack and whose body traversed the Atlantic is one of those things the Internet magnifies. Before the Net, it would have barely deserved a notice.

For me, it brought back memories of a commercial competitor. Joost Werner Jansz was a Dutch engineer who invented theHydroblok” hydraulic pile driving hammer. In 1979, he was returning home with his wife from a business trip to the U.S. (the Offshore Technology Conference, I think) and suffered a heart attack. KLM opted to leave his body next to his wife, who rode back to Amsterdam next to her dead husband. (BA relocated the body of their dead passenger body.)

First class passengers might find the thought of riding with a corpse hard to take, but sooner or later all of them (along with everyone else) will take a ride into eternity.

Our prayers go out to the widow on the BA flight. For the rest of us, click here.

The Army of Joshua

We have a friend at church who always goes about wearing a shirt–golf, button-down, you name it–silk-screened with the Ten Commandments on the back. (We really think he needs to embroider his better shirts.) He isn’t a marginal type of fellow, really; he is a successful businessman and his family is very prominent and successful in our church. But his idea is that, until America “comes back to God,” he will wear the Ten Commandments. (He’s also trying to sell the shirts as well.)

One of the things that liberals used to teach in schools is to think rationally. Part of rational thinking is in defining terms properly. What do we mean when we post the Ten Commandments in public places, let alone on the backs of our shirts? What is our real objective? How we respond to such things depends on the real answer to such questions.

We have our own idea as to why it’s good to post the Ten Commandments. For everybody else, the answer depends on how you look at it.

For the Freemason, the Ten Commandments, like any other religious artifact, is strictly symbolic of some higher truth. That’s one reason why our country has taken such a casual attitude towards the display of religious items in a secular state. Many in leadership in the U.S. have traditionally been Masons, and in the Lodge the Bible, along with the Qu’ran or whatever other holy book or artifact they might like to put there, are pure symbols of the “religion beyond religions” that Masonry claims (and then obscures its claim) they have, a religion which in itself may be purely symbolic. So setting up the Ten Commandments on public property isn’t a big deal.

For the liberal, the Ten Commandments represent a patriarchic, homophobic and theistic way that they are trying to rid the country of. Moreover like the Islamicist, liberals see setting up such things as a power challenge to them, to be eradicated at the earliest possible opportunity. One evening I expressed a similar opinion to a Christian, a Ten Commandments activist, and his reply was, “It’s (control) the issue for them.” But it’s ultimately the control issue for everybody, at least in a secular sense.

For the Christian, things have been a little more fuzzy.

Most Christians say that they want to see the U.S. come back to God, but most are not adept enough (a good Masonic term) at politics to understand the road one must take to get at that conclusion. They feel that things have been better for Christians in the past, that the society in general more perfectly reflected their values, and they long for a return to such a state. At one time Christians were content with the force of shared values in a country without an established church, but the growth of government and the agressive attack of the liberals have dislodged a great deal of that content, and we have seen a decidedly theonomic bent in Christian thinking coming to the surface in this decade.

So what does the Bible say about this? Last year we wrote a piece entitled If You’re Going to Take the Land Take It, where we contrasted the decidedly mild idea of “taking the land” current amongst Christians and modern Israelis with the brutal, complete destruction of the enemy that that ancient Israelis were commanded to do and that modern jihadis are attempting today. Although the Ten Commandments are an important document for our conduct–if nothing else, even Karl Marx admits that capitalism started with “Thou shalt not steal”–the fact is that the Commandments are simply the cornerstone of the entire Jewish law enumerated in the rest of Exodus, continued in Leviticus, completed in Numbers, and reiterated in Deuteronomy. Once this law giving was complete, the command was given to take the land, and that conquest was a military one.

This leads us to but one conclusion: if you want to impose the law of Moses, you’ll need the army of Joshua, and that army isn’t a spiritual one either.

Liberals will immediately jump on this and say that Christians are a threat to the state. (Caught in Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma, their response may not be as definite as their rhetoric.) But before we let liberals jump off the cliff on this one (maybe we should let them jump off the cliff!) we need to make two statements on why a violent solution to this problem is unacceptable.

The first is that our Founder, Jesus Christ, made it unacceptable to take this course of action. This is what separates Christianity from Islam and, in reality, Judaism as well. Jesus Christ came to change the human heart at a time when Judaism was looking for a political solution to their problem. This is why most Christians’ thinking is “fuzzy” on this issue. Christianity–and evangelical Christianity in particular–has not gone far enough down the road of becoming a form of Monarchic Judaism to shake the memory of a Founder who forstalled his disciples’ questions about the re-establishment of the Jewish state and ultimately allowed himself to be nailed to a cross by the collusion of the secular and religious authorities of the day. Perhaps, in this regard, the thinking of American Christians is more Biblical than some of its leadership.

The second is that revolutions in the modern world inevitably start out to free people and end up enslaving them. The dreary succession of Marxist revolutions tops the list, but in every case revolutions turn tyrannical because their tightly organised vanguards become dictactorial. This is a central fact that the milita movement never got a hold of; it is why we cannot support it.

So where does this leave us? It depends which side of the issue you’re on.

Liberals need to realise that they’re dependent upon Christians and other conservatives to keep them out of the clutches of the jihadis. Liberals have a great deal more to lose than Christians with the triumph of radial Islam. As we noted before, people won’t die for the right to party, and that’s just about all that liberalism has to die for. Demoralising large portions of the population can also lead to the same result that the Roman Empire experienced when Islam made its early meteoric rise, i.e., the sour mood of the people as a result of the endless demands of Late Roman bureaucracy led to the welcoming of the Muslim conquerors. And the first ones were, in many ways, more enlightened than the group we’ve got today. (Roman Britain went through the same kind of “throw the bums out” mood, ultimately with disastrous results.)

Christians, more than anything else, need to grasp the simple fact that their exaltation of the state as an instrument of righteousness (which the New Testament doesn’t really support) only throws the focus of the church into an arena it was not created to operate in. Moreover doing this only legitimises the coercive activity of the state, which plays straight into the hands of liberals. Christians need to understand that, while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the number one objective of the church is to make disciples. Any political activity needs to be geared to preserving the freedom of the church to do just that. Recent events have shown that the church’s mission has social value; if Christian people are properly oriented to live as Jesus Christ intends for them to, both the social and eternal missions of the church will be fulfilled and the world will know that God has sent us.

And, as Bossuet used to say, if the world knows that God has sent us, the world will be converted, which is the liberals’ worst nightmare.

We have reached the point where both sides have some hard choices to make. To be frank, knowing that triumphalistic Boomers dominate the leadership of both sides in the U.S., I am not optimistic that there will be a happy result for either side. But since this is a Christian blog, my message to my fellow believers is clear: Christians are going to have to decide that they are either real Christians or just latter day members of the tribe of Judah with an inside track to eternity. If they choose the latter, it would be a tragedy, because they will figure out sooner or later that the only road to theonomy is trod by the army of Joshua.

The Dilemma of Islamic Civilisation: St. Thomas was Right

As the deadline for a proper response from the Iranians regarding their nuclear weapons programme passes, it probably behooves a few of us to step back and think: what is Islamic culture and civilisation all about? What would things be like if they actually achieved their objectives?  This is not an idle question. In the early years of Islam, conquest of vast civilisations was the rule rather than the exception. The early Muslim generals were right not to pursue conquest in Europe too hard; Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia were far more valuable places. All of these had been great nations at one time and even at the rise of Islam were still advanced from remote, crude places such as Britain and France.

Early Islamic civilisation was a wonder in many ways, especially when it got past the usual power holder/power challenger/careerist Arab politics. A good example of this were the Crusades. Muslims were not only able to (eventually) run the Christian forces out of the Holy Land, they were also able to demonstrate to same forces that they were living like pigs (and, as Moses Maimonides reminded us, with them) back home. Such was an impetus to do better. And Europe did. The whole genesis of modern Islamic radicalism is a shame-honour reaction to “Western” superiority, especially in the sciences. So how did this reversal take place?

One explanation comes to us in a book entitled The Ancient Engineers, written by one L. Sprague de Camp. He describes what happened to Islamic civilisation in the wake of the devastation of the Mongol invasions by the likes of Tamerlane as follows:

As a result of these devastations, Islam underwent another change: a return to religion. Many caliphs had been indifferent Muslims–skeptics, materialists, winebibbers. In view of the disasters that had befallen upon Islam, the time was ripe for a return to the true faith. In +XII and +XIII lived two of the greatest philosophers of the age. The first was an Iranian, al-Ghazzali; the second, a Neapolitan, Tomaso d’Aquino or St. Thomas Aquinas.

The pious and learned Saint Thomas (1225-74) spent much of his life arguing, at enormous length and in tiny illegible handwriting, that there was no conflict between science and religion; that all truth was one, and that therefore Aristotle’s logic must fit into the Christian faith. In face, Saint Thomas promoted Aristotle to a kind of pre-Christian saint.

The pious and learned Ghazzali (1058-1111) also studied the science and philosophy of the Greeks but came to different conclusions. After mature and searching consideration, he decided that these studies were harmful, because they shook men’s faith in God and undermined religion: “they lead to loss of belief in the origin of the world and in the creator.”

Europe followed St. Thomas, while Islam followed Ghazzali. For example, in 1150 the Khalifah of the moment proved his piety by burning the books of a philosophical library of Baghdad. As a result of these diverging trends, science and technology flowered in Europe so richly and advanced so swiftly that the rest of the world is still breathlessly trying to catch up. On the other hand, science in Islam withered away.

The real irony is that Ghazzali was right and Saint Thomas wrong. Sciences does shake men’s faith in God and undermine religion. It has been doing so for many years and shows every sign of continuing to do so . As to how it will all end, and whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, only our remote descendants–if any–will be able to say. (L. Sprague de Camp, The Ancient Engineers. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993, p. 285 (original copyright 1960))

Although there is much truth to this quotation, Sprague de Camp overlooked an obvious fact: although he asserts St. Thomas was wrong, the Christian civilisation he contributed to moved forward in ways that the Islamic one Ghazzali contributed to did not. Like most secularists, Sprague de Camp both underestimates people with religious conviction and tends to run all religions together as the same when in fact they are not. This is why the secularists that inhabit the high places of North American and Europe just can’t quite fathom what they’re looking at when attempting to deal either with radical Islam or the Religious Right. (It also explains the many foreign policy errors that Western governments make when dealing with the “war on terror.”)

There are many was of explaining the disparity between Aquinas’ Christianity and Ghazzali’s Islam, but we prefer to go to the heart of the matter: the differing concepts of God. Anyone who has read St. Thomas Aquinas knows that he depicts a God who has free will, who chooses to consistently do good, and who has brought into being a creation that has order and structure (even though Aquinas and other Aristolelians don’t quite get how that order works.) That concept is backed up by the Bible, which shows us an orderly process from Creation forward. God himself has chosen to interact with his people on their level, which reached its culmination in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Such a concept invites people to look at the creation both inferior to its maker (an idea Christianity shares with Islam) and of interest to study and use. This proved a springboard for the Renaissance (which ended up being more than just a “rebirth” of the ancient world) and beyond. It survived its greatest challenge with the Reformation. For all of the positive things that came out of that, the radical Augustinianism that moulds Reformed theology is simply too close to an Islamic concept of God.

Turning to that, the Qur’an has an unbending consistency in setting forth the absolute sovereignty of God. Many of the self-imposed limitations (and we emphasise the phrase, “self-imposed,” we still hold that God is omniscient and omnipresent) of God as he interacts with his creation are out the window: goodness, caring and love for his creation and people, allowing his creatures free will, just about anything. Allah does as he pleases, and our only response is to submit. Such a concept leaves little room for anything else. This is why the two religions–and civilisations–went in two different directions.

As long as the Middle East and other Islamic areas were ruled by “local” rulers, especially the Ottomans, no one there gave the disparity much thought. It is the forced invasion of Western power, first colonial, then economic and last the establishment of a very Western (if not Christian) State of Israel proved a civilisational “shock and awe” the reaction to which the West is dealing with every day. It’s one thing to try to win by destroying your opponent, but what do you do for an encore? Islam has already dealt with this problem once. As we said above, the Crusades were a great victory for Islam. But the aftermath was centuries of decline. This may explain why most Muslims are defensive about the Crusades; they may have won the war but they followed up by losing the peace.

And this is the dilemma that thoughtful Muslims must wrestle with. We know from personal experience that there are many fine minds out there in the Islamic world labouring in scientific and technical fields. (We’ve helped a few along, too, with our free civil engineering downloads.) For the last half century, many Muslim nations have had the revenue to develop their countries in many ways, but far too much of this has been squandered. For example, the Iranians should have been able to develop their own nuclear capabilities without help from the Russians, but they did not. There are bright spots, but overall the impression is not a happy one.

Islamic radicals may be able to inflict a great deal of damage on the West, especially if our governments don’t shake off political correctness on the one hand and the raw, untempered desire to prove manliness on the other. But if such Muslims don’t adopt a more positive view of their purpose on this earth, someone will sooner or later defeat them, if they don’t inflict defeat amongst themselves. Can they find this in Islam? History, in this regard, is not encouraging. al-Ghazzali’s ghost still haunts the halls of power in Riyadh, Tehran and in bin Laden’s cave too, and until it is exorcised forward progress will be impossible.