Monday, August 23, 2010

Before the Ottoman Empire

Looking back on a era all but forgotten . . . . . .

In Julian Barnes book, “A History of the World in 10½ Chapters,” he wrote: “Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? No, that’s too grand. History just burps, and we taste again that raw onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago.”

Ambrose Bierce wrote “history is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”

These sneering cynics may or may not be serious, but their mocking take on history is too sarcastic and disparaging for me. I have been a lover of history from the grade school text that started with: “In fourteen hundred ninety-two/ Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Columbus’ tale has been told by hundreds of historians in many languages from all points of view. Some have seen him as a saint and God’s apostle. While others see him as a savage adventurer-explorer. When you round out the edges, he was definitely both of these and more. He was a man who became a legend. Most of history is a record of facts that evolved from myths and legend, or the village storytellers. After forms of writing developed, someone said: let’s write this down.

Back a few years (when the Byzantines were in charge of most of the “known” world), illiteracy among their middle and upper classes was all but unknown. Citizens of Constantinople could read and usually more than one language. The Byzantium Empire, through its kings and queens, saved a great deal of the ancient (mostly Greek and Persian) literature, mathematics and the sciences from the Iberian Peninsula to the shores of India.

Here is where we have a problem with history. Writers of history are nearly always the winners of wars, we seldom get the losers story. Add to that short-coming is that men did most or all of the recording of history. Finding a woman’s view of anything is of rather recent invention.

The Roman Empire of the East was founded by Constantine the Great on the eleventh of May in the year 330. The Christian faith was made a legal and honored religion. Viewed as a good thing in those days, history has shown worldly, material power has a weakening effect on the faith. The Christian faith may have spread faster with deeper spiritual roots had they not become dominate in politics. In those days a nation or village had to have a god, goddess or some version of religion. Even the pagans seemed to have a union or distinct denominations.

Empires do not last forever. This is evident following Columbus’ “discovery” as all the New World empires slowly disappeared. The Byzantium Empire came to an end on Tuesday, May 29, 1453. During those 1,123 years, the kingdom was led by some great, courageous men and women, who spread the Christian faith as far as Vienna and Moscow (Russ), and eastward to Baghdad and south to Egypt. But mixed with politics lost much of its spirit and true meaning.

Sidelights and footnotes of history are sometimes the most interesting reading. To the Greek world ‘Tuesday’ (the day of the week on which the Turks defeated Constanople) is still believed to be the unluckiest day of the week. That is why the Turkish flag “still depicts not a crescent but a waning moon, reminding us that the moon was in the last quarter when Constantinople finally fell, … [and] stands as the city’s grandest and most tragic monument” (Norwich).

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Patriotism Is Not Enough

Peter J. Gomes, American Baptist minister, writes in his book “Strength for the Journey,” that immediately after the events of September 11, 2001, Anthony Lewis, formerly of The New York Times, spoke in morning prayers at Harvard University’s Memorial Church, words that caught the attention of the congregation.

Anthony Lewis said that if the purpose of the terrorists of 9/11 was to destroy our confidence in our own American values, then he feared, they had succeeded. That through a culture of intimidation, our government suspended our constitutional liberties, stifled dissent, and defined a good American as one who goes along with the powers that be; a “My way or the highway” mentality.

If that is the case, reducing patriotism to narrow jingoistic sound bites, it is possible that the ancient cynic, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s definition of patriotism as “last refuge of a scoundrel,” is right.

There is a white marble statue of a British nurse near the National Gallery near Trafalgar Square in London. My wife and I noted it on a brief visit to England. It is the statue of Edith Cavell, a nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the early years of World War I. She cared for wounded soldiers of the war, anyone, German, French or English. Thus she was a traitor, arrested and shot by the Germans.

Her final words, as described by an eyewitness she said: “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”

At the base of her statue are the words: “PATRIOTISM IS NOT ENOUGH.”

An Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, is recorded as saying: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:22-23, New American Standard Bible)

The prophet says that wisdom, strength and riches are total opposites of love, justice, and righteousness. How we do like to boast of our achievements, our wealth and mighty power. This is but human nature. We all do it. The “no holds barred” wealthy; the pastor of the largest church; the win at all costs politicians. Being the number one football team in the nation. No longer just win your conference, but lead the nation. This attitude is easily one of the Christian’s greatest failings. It can be observed on a national scale as well (The World’s Only Superpower).

God is not interested in all our wisdom, strength and riches. Re-read Jeremiah’s words carefully. God delights in what? What are the things God delights in? Preacher Gomes asks, “If we do not delight in the things that the Lord delights in, why should the Lord delight in us?”

God bless the U.S.A., closes talks by our presidents of late. A good thing. But why should God bless America? Are we doing those things that are pleasing to Him? Would not God bless the world (with all it’s sin, selfishness and waywardness) be closer to what pleases God?

Patriotism is not enough.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Religious Freedom for all??

"Religious freedom" being put to the test

My July 30, 2010, newspaper column regarding the insecurity of many Christians opposing the proposed Muslim Center and Mosque, two blocks from New York City's "Ground Zero," raised the hackles of many West Texans.

Of the more than thirty who took the time to write, none even mentioned the thrust of the article: the First Amendment of the American Constitution. There it is written that this country will not be like others, but allow real religious freedom. One of the great "firsts" of history. My critics only expressed their hatred for Muslims.

Now the renowned educator, Glenn Beck, has falsely claimed the mosque would be dedicated next year on Sept. 11. Adding to the mix of confusion, as usual was Sarah Palin's tweet: "Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation, it stabs hearts."

Robert Parham, editor of Ethics Daily, contributed a piece in the Washington Post in which he wrote: "If religious liberty is an American hallmark, then the mosque near Ground Zero would be an American landmark to our nation's commitment to religious freedom for all. What better cultural signpost could we offer than one that says America is guided by its better angels, not its dark demons of fear and politicians of demagoguery."

Parham went on to remind us that the Baptist Thomas Helwys wrote to King James I advocating religious freedom for "Turks" in England. And Virginia Baptist minister John Leland, upon the adoption of the Constitution, "rejoiced that it would be possible for a pagan, Turk, Jew or Christian to be elected to political office."

A former U.S. congressman, thrice-married Newt "Do what I say and not what I do" Gingrich (he said to a former wife), wants to be president. He proclaimed that there were no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. That country is hardly a high-water mark when it comes to religious liberty.

I like (in spite of his vulgar vocabulary) Comedian Jon Stewart on television's Daily Show. I watched the other night as he sarcastically replied to Gingrich: "Why should we as Americans have higher standards of religious liberty than Saudi Arabia?"

And on Monday, Aug. 16, the highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate officially came out against construction of the mosque in its current location
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," reads a statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office (D-Nev.). "Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."

Reid, like many, "respects" the Constitution, but not enough to enforce it.

I mentioned last month that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said if it were Methodists or Presbyterians planning a church two blocks from Ground Zero, there would be no such reaction from both left and right. Last Tuesday (Aug 3) he again made a strong speech for religious liberty.

The Atlantic's James Fallows said about that speech, "I have to say that all Americans are New Yorkers today, in the wake of Mayor Bloomberg's brave and eloquent defense of American tolerance, and the resilient strength of America's diverse society, in welcoming the vote that cleared the way for construction of a mosque near the site of Ground Zero. ... Nothing is more admirable about this country in the rest of the world's eyes than the big-shouldered unflappable confidence demonstrated in that speech."

Protestant churches have both bad and good members. Some (i.e., televangelists) pervert the Christian faith with their promising miracles while bilking their followers for their money. Some even preach violence and pray for death of the those they do not like. Where is the protest against these Protestant expressions of "religious freedom"?


Britt Towery, Free-lance writer. San Angelo resident, contact:

U.S. Constitution no longer valid?

American presidents swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution. President Obama has done that and the right wing and some others (who should know better) don't like the Constitution now. They want limits on religious freedom in the "Land of the Free."

How can these hypocrites sing any song of "this land is my land" and "American the Beautiful" while leaving out a segment of our citizens? America is unique as far as religious freedoms go. No other land has ever walked such a path. Now, the TeaBaggers and lot of Republicans and even Democrats and Independents and "I don't know who-all" want to kick the Muslims out. That is easier for them than obeying the law of the land -- or believing the Greatest Commandment IS NOT AN OPTION: to love others as ourselves -- including folks we don't particularly like or trust.

Here is an example of a far-out, weird bit of Christian group-think:

"Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government."

That is by the opponent to RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE AMERICAN WAY, and BASIC CHRISTIAN FAITH AND BELIEF. That quote is from the fear-monger and "more right wing" than Christian: Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association.

In most of Texas, especially West Texas, the radio airwaves have only right-wing hate Obama programs. I mean, morning to night and even re-runs of Russ Limbaugh after midnight!! And repeats of the "great American" Shawn Hannity, as he constantly refers to himself.

With a chance to heal some wounds with Islam, these guys only want to fight and prove to the world that this is NOT the land of the religious free!!!

What a lost opportunity. Former President George W. Bush had a chance after 9/11. He flubbed the whole thing: going to war when there was no war. A police action would have cleaned out the terrorists without war. But, now firebomb Afghan towns and mountains while the enemy fades from view only to continue after nine years a war that should never have been.

Guess all this hot air does little good. I know better, but find it so impossible that history challenged Americans can act and think this way. I wrote in 2001 that an invasion of the Middle East would begin a century of war. It has so far, and if we listen to the opponents of peace, it will go beyond the 21st century. Happy thought!

May the God of peace have mercy on us all. "We have met the enemy," Pogo said so long ago, and "he is us!"