The Long View 2006-09-11: Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device

Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.  CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

I'm back after a nice vacation. Let's jump back into the Long View re-posting project!

This is a reprise of Pope Emeritus Benedict's tour of Bavaria in 2006. 

The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."
"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."
"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device

 

Regarding the attacks of September 11, 2001, I have no remarkable recollections, though I live maybe a mile and a half from the WTC site, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. In retrospect, I recall just three useful points:

(1) The National Guard and the state either had plans on-file or improvised very effectively: emergency medical facilities appeared out of nowhere. What seemed like every fire-truck pumper in creation was heading through the Holland Tunnel within two hours.

(2) The local police were clueless. They managed to panic the quiet crowd that had gathered on the river at Exchange Place. They are still no good at this kind of thing, to judge from the way I saw them handle a bomb scare in the same neighborhood a few months ago. If you want t move a crowd out of harm's way, you must promise information even if you don't have it; simply yelling at the crowd to move produces obduracy and actually slows the evacuation down.

(3) The Internet, which was designed to maintain communications even in the event of an atomic attack, stopped working completely for most of the day. It was unreliable for several days thereafter. Similarly, cellphones seem to be the one form of communication you can be sure will not work in a civil emergency.

My area is crowded with commemorations today; I'm going to one myself this evening. These memorial events are all well and good; certainly they are better than the permanent architectural memorials that have blighted the landscape since 2001. It's uncanny: all the ones I have seen are dreadful. They are maudlin and awkward; many of them incorporate rusting bits of metal from the World Trade Towers, which seemed like a good idea at the time but which now makes them look like trash. (The one successful use of WTC material is in the memorial at St. Francis of Assissi Church in Manhattan, in a little memorial to Fr. Judd, the Fire Department Chaplain who died at the World Trade Center: the Franciscans had the sense to burnish the metal and laminate it.) The memorial to be built at the World Trade Center itself looks as if it will be the worst of all.

The one saving grace about these mistakes is that, for the most part, they are strangely fragile and will be easy to throw away when they quickly deteriorate. But why are they so unsatisfactory?

* * *

Meanwhile, this news from the shabby heart of Islam:

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Officials are considering an unprecedented proposal to ban women from performing the five Muslim prayers in the immediate vicinity of Islam's most sacred shrine in Mecca [the Grand Mosque]....one of the few places where Muslim male and female worshippers can pray ... Some say women are already being kept away....Osama al-Barr, head of the hajj institute...He said the restrictions apply only to the five daily Muslim prayers and that women would be free to roam the premises at will after the prayers and to circle it during the main annual hajj pilgrimage.

One would think that the chief city of a world religion would be a splendid showcase of architectural treasures and a seat of learning. There are in fact such places in the Islamic world: Qom and Najaf, and even bloated Qairo, for instance. By most accounts, however, people who make the Hajj find that Mecca is outwardly as inspiring as Kennedy Airport, and the structures associated with the holy sites are as banal as a post-Vatican II Catholic Church. The interesting point about the story I quote above is that the authorities who have so poorly served the physical needs of the holy places seem also to be making arbitrary changes to the rituals at the physical heart of the religion. The Saudi regime has neither the authority nor the theologically credibility to do this kind of thing. For that matter, their propaganda of Wahhabism seems, at last, to be causing a backlash.

As I have remarked before, it is a mistake to look a Reformation in Islam: Islam is a Reformation. The instability in the religion comes from Islamism, which is archaistic but not really traditional, and for that reason not stable. It's the negative image of the liberal Christianity of the first half of the 20th century. Hard as it may be to imagine now, it could share the fate of liberal Christianity.

* * *

Evangelical Christianity at least has a future, according to the ever-dyspeptic Spengler at Asia Times, but yet he finds it wanting:

Evangelical Christianity is the source of America's strength and the long-term key to its global influence, as denominations of US origin gain converts faster than any other faith. Faith has kept the angel of demographic death away from America's shores while the first-born Christian cultures in Europe wither and die. Yet evangelical leaders display episodes of appalling silliness, betraying a bucolic backwardness that bans the enormous evangelical movement from America's governing classes....That is the misery of the West. The evangelicals have no fear of offending Muslims and say what they think; the crafty old men of the Vatican understand the issues far better, but are afraid to speak them above a whisper.

However, the craftiest of the crafty old men in the Vatican is Benedict XVI; who, on his current tour his native Bavaria, observed that the problem with the West is not Islam, but the West's own loss of the transcendent. Though he would never put it so tactlessly, he seems to agree with Mark Steyn that the jihad against the West is in the nature of an opportunistic infection. More interesting, Benedict also seems to be taking up Hocking's project of securing the "unlosables" of modernity by anchoring them in a transcendental framework:

"The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."

On a more immediate level, Benedict continues to wax evangelical:

"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."

"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Readers may be surprised at how shocking this sounds to many Christian theologians today, even in the Catholic Church.

* * *

Writing a thriller, are you? You will need at least one secret society. The World Federation of Nocturnal Adoration Societies isn't really a secret, but they do have the advantage over the Illuminati of actually existing:

History: The federation was established at a meeting of representatives of National Nocturnal Adoration Societies, organized in Rome by the Venerable Archconfraternity of the Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, of which they are all members, enjoying the privileges and benefits granted to the archconfraternity by Pius X in 1906...The federation is governed by the general assembly which convenes every four years, coinciding with the international Eucharistic congresses, with the participation of the delegates of the member associations; the executive board, comprising the president, the vice president, three directors including a canon lawyer, a secretary-treasurer, a deputy secretary and the ecclesiastical assistant.

There is nothing sinister about all-night prayer vigils. So, if you must use the federation as a plot device, let them number among the good guys.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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