By Charlie Johnston
Late in the colorful baseball career of pitcher Dizzy Dean, a reporter remarked that he wasn’t throwing as hard as he did when he was younger. Dean indignantly responded that he was throwing as hard as he ever did; it just wasn’t getting there as fast.
In normal times, I’m pretty good at turning a vivid phrase. They just pop into my mind as I mentally run along on high, dry ground under sunny, mild skies. When I get a bad cold, suddenly my mind starts mucking through mud. I’m thinking as hard as ever, but the vivid phrases don’t pop. I hate boring prose. This last month, I have had as nasty a cold as ever I have. Finally, yesterday morning, I started to have an appetite again. Then in the afternoon, the clouds cleared off and the ground dried up in my head – and vivid phrases started popping again.
Not to worry…I didn’t have the Coronavirus. As I told my team, I had the Dos Equis virus – the most interesting virus in the world. I don’t always get a virus, but when I do…
President Trump unveiled a detailed Middle East Peace Plan earlier this week that would give Palestinians their own home state, with twice their current territory and a capitol in East Jerusalem. Astonishingly, as of this writing, 23 nations have endorsed the plan, including Eqypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.
Of course, one of the entities that has rejected the plan out of hand is the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian leaders will accept no plan that does not wipe Israel off the map and expel all surviving Jews from the Middle East. Even so, this meticulous plan could very well be a game-changer. Arab nations have generally backed the Palestinians since the 60’s, when the failed Arab war of extinction against Israel left so many refugees in the area. They preferred to foment trouble for Israel while refusing repatriation to their own failed countrymen. That so many of the most prominent Arab nations have signed onto this plan sends a signal to the Palestinians that gamesmanship may be over. If they can’t count on Arab support, the Palestinians will have to get serious about peace or find themselves wiped off the Middle Eastern map.
Two other entities that have rejected the plan are Iran and…the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land area because…Orange Man Bad, I suppose.
Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary in Los Angeles and a popular Catholic apologist, wants to set up a system to police Catholic laymen on social media, establishing a mandatum to show which sites are approved by the Bishops. There are a host of serious problems with this. I will quickly address just three.
First, under canon law, every baptized Catholic has the right to publicly express his opinion on matters of the faith and current controversies. If he ventures into mystical or theological matters, his Bishop has the right – and sometimes the duty – to correct matters that are contrary to the faith or speculative in a manner that could endanger the faith of others. But a Catholic even has the right to publicly advocate for a dissident interpretation of faith and morals EXCEPT on those matters that are defined. No mandatum can change that. It would be unjust to honorable laymen.
Second, any time you give formal endorsement from a position of authority to a site, you end up sharing in the responsibility for what that site publishes. To give that sort of status to an unsupervised site is a formula for disaster, either intentional or unintentional. I know something about being under obedience. I am neither approved nor condemned by my Bishop – and do not submit anything to the Diocese in advance. I do not pretend to have Diocesan approval and the Diocese does not interfere in my work – except to comment afterward if I have strayed. It has sometimes done that publicly and at other times privately. Only I am responsible for what I write here – and part of that responsibility is to my Bishop, who has authority to make sure I follow the rules under point one above, but does not accept responsibility for mere opinions of mine, even if they are provocative and different than his, provided I respect the boundaries of his authority on faith and morals. Bishop Barron’s proposal would impose responsibility on Bishops for things they do not control. It would be unjust to honorable Bishops.
Third, in a time when few are satisfied with the hierarchy’s response (or lack thereof) to myriad abuse and financial scandals; when many Catholics doubt the hierarchy’s commitment to defending the Magisterium and the Deposit of Faith, setting up a formally approved roster of social media sites is liable to have the opposite effect of what Bishop Barron thinks it will. Everyone can easily determine what the formal position of various Church authorities are by checking their formal sites. Best leave it at that rather than further muddy the waters.
I know many people here take great comfort from the good work Bishop Barron has produced through his Word on Fire Ministries. I particularly am grateful for his orthodox shepherding of the Mundelein Seminary before he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles. Yet I have some serious concerns on some of his pronouncements. First, there is his famous statement that we have a “reasonable hope” that all are saved in the end. He has spent much time trying to explain that, but on the above link to his site, he confirms that that is what he believes. Apokatastasis is the heresy that all men might be saved, denying the eternity of hell. Barron avoids outright heresy by saying that he does not insist that all men actually are saved, but only on the reasonable hope that all men might be. Jesus, on the other hand, insists that there is a hell, that it is eternal, and that it will be well populated. “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” – Luke 13:24
With respect, when I have to choose between what Bishop Barron has to say on the subject or what Jesus Christ has to say, I will stick with Jesus every time.
Again, I appreciate the good and consoling work Bishop Barron does. I just pray that he adds docility to Scriptural and Magisterial teaching to his many virtues.
I have been working on a strategy for this year’s elections. I believe the over-arching electoral desire for this cycle is a return to some semblance of normalcy. This is complicated by what I also believe is the electorate’s growing rejection of the screamers on the left (and the right) and its rejection of the uncertain trumpets on the right who are always suing for peace with activist ideologues who will only accept victory or destruction.
The biggest complication, though, has been the sudden GOP collapse in the suburbs. Three cycles showed that the collapse is real, however much GOP strategists want to dismiss it. I have thought that with the obvious over-reach on impeachment and Democratic refusal to do anything but attack Pres. Trump, along with fanatical extremism in Virginia on both abortion and gun rights after Democrats took legislative control, the left may well be squandering an opportunity to cement the suburbs into their camp. To avoid wishful thinking, though, I like to wait on hard data that supports my theories – especially in such a volatile and shifting time as this. I now have some hard data.
There was a special election in Texas House Dist. 28 last Tuesday (Jan 28, 2020). It is a suburban district just southwest of Houston. Personally, I had rated it an R+3 district (that is, Republicans have a three-point generic advantage). With the ongoing GOP collapse in the suburbs, this district seemed a perfect target for Democrats to show that their dreams of turning Texas blue are more than just fantasies. Houston suburbs have been the first and fastest to turn left, so this was the logical showplace for Democrats to show their stuff. They went all in. Beto O’Rourke made it his top priority, while Democratic Presidential contenders Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg all came in to endorse Democrat Eliz Markowitz AND funneled over a million dollars into this statehouse race. Republican newcomer Gary Gates won by 16 points, 58% to 42%, double the margin of the previous Republican incumbent.
In an object lesson on the corruption of polls as tools of political advocacy rather than honest snapshots of voter sentiment, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee released a poll two days before this blowout election showing that Markowitz and Gates were statistically tied.
I am confident that the shrieking extremism of the left has caused a lot of buyer’s remorse among suburban Republicans who went Democrat. It is a volatile situation, though, and traditional “safe” methods are not going to win the day. I now have the last piece I need for a proposed generic strategy that will win the day for Republican candidates throughout the country, avoiding the shoals and reefs to gain safe harbor. The Democrats have put themselves in position to suffer a transformative and comprehensive defeat if they don’t correct course. Republicans must navigate with a sure hand, though. I will publish this within a week or two.
Earlier this month Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin shook up the entire Russian government. Most Western observers interpret this as a move to facilitate Putin holding onto power past 2024, when his current term expires. This may be part of his motive, but I have a contrary view.
When Putin took control, Russia was coming apart at the seams under former Pres. Boris Yeltsin. Job number one for Putin was to establish stability – to ensure that Russia would survive. In a nation under sway of ravenous wolves, the west criticized Putin because he was not a fluffy bunny. Had Yeltsin been succeeded by a fluffy bunny of a leader, that leader would have been deposed within a month and Russia’s collapse would have been epic.
Don’t get me wrong. Russia is a serious competitor with and sometime opponent of the United States. What a shock! Russian interests are not identical to American interests. I think the safest, most predictable way to conduct foreign policy is from the perspective of national interest – and diplomacy is best conducted by candidly understanding and acknowledging a foreign power’s legitimate interests (and what its leaders rationally believe those interests to be) and then finding ways to accentuate mutual interests while de-emphasizing and managing divergent interests.
I frankly think that Putin is the most gifted geo-political thinker in top leadership in the world right now. Nothing he has done has seemed irrational to me when examined in detail. Much of it has been spectacularly deft under deeply trying circumstances.
When analyzing these things, I like to posit various alternative explanations to myself to see which fits best. Putin IS a tough and often brutal man. Not what I would like for my national leader, but kind of a prerequisite for holding post-Soviet Russia together. During the Obama years, when widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa went viral, Russia was the nation that did more to defend those Christians than any other, including the U.S.
What if Putin genuinely loves Russia and is genuinely Christian? Well, being a shrewd man, he would first make sure that the nation could survive. Then, dealing with an unreliable America, he would have to manage the uneasy encounter with both China and Islam, potentially hostile forces right on his border. After having achieved stability and managed border rivalries, he would want to establish sufficient reform to give his fellow Russians and their posterity real hope and prosperity.
I have predicted often that, ultimately, alliance between America and Russia would be indispensable to establishing a new global stability. Right now, Russia is the most useful potential alliance I see for establishing a new balance of power. China is determined to become a hegemonic power. Israel, Japan, Hungary and Poland are noble allies, but lack the raw power to decisively tip the scales toward liberty. Western Europe is a shell, a paper tiger, incapable of defending its own, much less anyone else’s, interests. With Brexit, England has reclaimed its sovereignty. The fact is, though, that if ISIS were to seriously re-constitute itself, the safest place for it to do so would be in Western Europe, including England. Western Europe has already fecklessly facilitated a massive Jihadist invasion into its borders.
For good or ill, restoration of Western Civilization is dependent upon a vigorous alliance between the United States and Russia.
Of course, the satan attacks most violently what he most fears. It is notable to me that the two leaders treated with the most contempt these days are Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. There is more here than meets the eye.