Thursday, December 31, 2009

Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit

A few selections from Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece.

In the hour in which we are tempted we must be patient and pray. Temptation is a clever craftsman. He is able to make small things loom large. Temptation disquiets, saddens, and creates external battles. He knows many arts. He brings man to doubt. For this reason we have many shipwrecks. When we are beset by temptations, that's when the grace of God comes. When one undergoes temptation, he recognizes his weakness, is humbled and attracts the grace of God. Don't let the winds of temptation affect you. They can't do you any harm.

Elder Amphilochios

I am not afraid of death. Not, of course, because of my works, but because I believe in God's mercy.

Elder Epiphanios

Whatever we don't give to God for Him to use, the other will use. For this reason our Lord gave us the commandment to love with all our heart and soul, so that the evil one won't be able to find a place of rest within us.

Elder Joseph

No sacrifice is more fragrant in the sight of God than purity of body, which is realized through blood and great struggles.

We mustn't despair when we struggle and continuously see nothing but the slightest progress. We all do nearly nothing, some a little more, some a little less. When Christ sees our little effort He gives us an analogous token and so our nearly nothing becomes valuable and we can see a little progress. For this reason we mustn't despair, but hope in God.

My brother, don't ask for anything in prayer except for repentance. Repentance will bring you humility, humility will bring you the grace of God, and God will uphold you in His grace and will give you whatever you need for your own salvation, as well as whatever is needed, should the case arise, for you to help another soul in need.

Elder Paisios

Life without Christ is not life. That's the way it is....If you don't see Christ in everything you do, you are without Christ.

It's possible for people to come to the point of despair and see before them the living reality of chaos and say, "We're falling into chaos! Everyone get back, get back, go back, we've been deceived," and thus return to the path which leads them to God, and for our Orthodox Faith to shine. God works in mysterious ways and doesn't want to influence man's freedom. He arranges things so that slowly, slowly, man goes where he is supposed to.

I am not afraid of hell and I do not think about Paradise. I only ask God to have mercy on the entire world as well as on me.

You mustn't wage your Christian struggle with sermons and arguments, but with true secret love. When we argue, others react. When we love people, they are moved and we win them over. When we love we think that we offer something to others, but in reality we are the first to benefit.

What can politicians do for you? They are confused by their psychical passions. When a person is unable to help himself, how can he help others?

Elder Porphyrious

Never be jealous of wealth. Always live modestly and humbly, without egotism. egotism is a terrible sin. When you hear someone being accused, even though it may be true, never add more accusations, but always say something positive and be sorry for the person. take care to always love the poor, the elderly, the orphans, the sick. Spend time with poor people and with those who others humble. Earn your living with the honest sweat of your brow. Don't forget to give alms. this is the path you must tread. Always think of what good thing you will do. These are the things that make up the life of a Christian.

Don't be sad, for we will all depart from here. We are passing travelers. We came here to show our works and to leave.

Elder George

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On Beauty

I have generally thought well of the work of Roger Scruton, though I have not followed him since the days when I subscribed to The New Criterion. His current association with the neocon American Enterprise Institute is troubling, and certainly raises my suspicions. I do recommend, however, his recent article, The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty, in which he writes of the importance of architecture to the well-being of any culture. A few excerpts:

That question might prompt us to revise the assumption that beauty is subjective. Aesthetic judgements may look subjective when you are wandering in the aesthetic desert of Waco or Las Vegas. In the old cities of Europe, however, you discover what happens when people are guided by a shared tradition which not only makes aesthetic judgement central, but also lays down standards that govern what everybody does....Maybe we see beauty as subjective only because we have given the wrong place to aesthetic judgement in our lives—seeing it as a way of affirming ourselves, instead of a way of denying ourselves.

When it comes to beauty, our view of its status is radically affected by whether we see it as a form of self-expression, or as a form of self-denial. If we see it in this second way, then the assumption that it is merely subjective begins to fall away. Instead beauty begins to take on another character, as one of the instruments in our consensus-building strategies, one of the values through which we construct and belong to a shared and mutually consoling world. In short, it is part of building a home.

No greater aesthetic catastrophe has struck our cities—European just as much as American—than the modernist idea that a building should stand out from its surroundings, to become a declaration of its own originality. As much as the home, cities depend upon good manners; and good manners require the modest accommodation to neighbors rather than the arrogant assertion of apartness.

A street in which people live, work, and worship renews itself as life renews itself; it has eyes to watch over it, and shared forms of life to fill it. Nothing is more important than defending the street against expressways and throughways, against block development, and against zoning provisions that forbid genuine settlement.

How do we get out of the mess?...there must be planning, but it should be envisaged negatively, as a system of side-constraints, rather than positively, as a way of “taking charge” of what happens and where.

And here, it seems to me, is where beauty matters and how. Over time, people establish styles, patterns, and vocabularies which perform, in the building of cities, the same function as good manners between neighbors. A “neighbor,” according to the Anglo-Saxon etymology, is one who “builds nearby.” The buildings that go up in our neighborhood matter to us in just the way that our neighbors matter. They demand our attention, and shape our lives. They can overwhelm us or soothe us; they can be an alien presence or a home. And the function of aesthetic values in the practice of architecture is to ensure that the primary requirement of every building is served—namely, that it should be a fitting member of a community of neighbors. Buildings need to fit in, to stand appropriately side by side; they are subject to the rule of good manners just as much as people are. This is the real reason for the importance of tradition in architecture—that it conveys the kind of practical knowledge that is required by neighborliness.

Traditional architecture concentrates on the generality of form, on details that embody the tacit knowledge of how to live with a building and adapt to it. Hence traditional architecture in turn adapts to us. It fits to our uses, and shelters whatever we do. Hence it survives—in the way that Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria have survived, though hampered, alas, by zoning laws. Modernist architecture cannot change its use, and architects assume that their buildings will have a life span of 20 years. Building with that thought in mind you are not building a settlement, still less a neighborhood. You are constructing an extremely expensive and ecologically destructive tent. The environmental impact of its demolition is enormous, and the energy that goes into building it must be spent again on demolishing it and yet again on replacing it.

People need beauty. They need the sense of being at home in their world, and being in communication with other souls. In so many areas of modern life—in pop music, in television and cinema, in language and literature—beauty is being displaced by raucous and attention-grabbing clich├ęs. We are being torn out of ourselves by the loud and insolent gestures of people who want to seize our attention but to give nothing in return for it. Although this is not the place to argue the point it should perhaps be said that this loss of beauty, and contempt for the pursuit of it, is one step on the way to a new form of human life, in which taking replaces giving, and vague lusts replace real loves.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"If Jesus were alive today"

Occasionally, I may be guilty of constructing Evangelical straw men, from which I wax sarcastic about the excesses and inanities of American pop-religiosity. Not that this takes any great skill, mind you, given the surfeat of material with which to work. In this season of resolutions, perhaps I should resolve to do better in the coming year. Or not.

But this article--Metro Churches Turn to Technology to Spread the Word--truly troubled me, as I found it sillier and even more offensive than most. (Owen by way of Aaron has previously noted the article.) This story is a familiar one by now. To those who turn a critical eye towards the state of religion in America, many of these evangelical churches became unmoored long ago, and are now far at sea. This newspaper account differs little from countless others I have read in recent years documenting evangelical trendiness....except for one line.

Journalist Malena Lott posits: "If Jesus were alive today, would he Twitter? Have a Facebook profile? Flickr account? Post proof of his miracles on YouTube?" I once heard Zbigniew Brzezinski--not one to suffer even good-natured fools gladly--characterize a question put to him by Joe Scarborough as "stunningly superficial." Ms. Lott's inquiry is worthy of the same treatment. Indeed, it is so light and fluffy that the words are in danger of floating off the page.

The entire line of thought is so patently absurd that I completely missed the real significance of the passage. Ms. Lott begins with If Jesus were alive today. Think about it. I do understand what she is trying to say, namely "If Jesus were physically walking the earth today, etc." But that is not what she said.

Such sloppiness can be excused, perhaps, from a journalist. But then, the person to which the question was addressed--the "online community pastor at"--used the exact same wording in his response. He replied: If Jesus were alive, I don’t think he’d have to use social media...His followers all have mobile phones. They’d be spreading his message for him.

I found it absolutely stunning for a purported Christian pastor to say "if" Jesus were alive today. Everything else in the story is secondary when compared to this unintended statement of faith. That is the whole point of the empty tomb, is it not? This is no quibble over semantics. One cannot equivocate on such matters. The whole point of our Faith is that Jesus Christ is alive, and and the only life we have as Christians is when we lose our lives in His.

Such statements should be expected, I suppose, in churches where The Word has become words on a page, where the Living Christ has became the author of useful moralistic teachings, where cheap sentimentality and"assurance" have replaced any sense of asceticism. I do not see this trend abating at all. It will become increasingly difficult, however, to characterize adherents as anything discernibly Christian.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Meryam Ana Church

Earlier, I made note of the recent Swiss referendum which bans the construction of new minarets. Obviously, this action has not gone unnoticed in the Islamic world. A h/t to Josephus Flavius for linking this article, originally from Mere Comments.

It seems a group of Muslims confronted the priest at a Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey. The three men threatened the priest with death unless the church's bell tower was demolished within the week, this in retaliation for the Swiss action. The priest, Fr. Yusuf, did notify the authorities, but added "It is my job to protect the church, so I will stand here and leave it in God’s hands.”

I particularly took note of the story, for back in 2006, I visited the Meryam Ana Church, briefly met the priest and remained for Vespers. I had read several travel accounts of this beleaguered church, and was determined to see it for myself.

The church dates to the late 4th-century, and is located in the oldest part of the walled Old City of Diyarbakir. A modern city of 1.5 million has all but swallowed up the original town. Even though protected somewhat by its walled compound, the church's location makes it particularly vulnerable to attack. The population swelled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as Kurdish villagers fled the fighting between the Turkish army and Kurdish guerrillas. The city remains the epicenter for Kurdish nationalism in Turkey.

And, it is a dangerous place. Deservedly or not, Americans have the reputation of being squeamish travelers, generally staying with the herd and keeping to the main road. Upon coming home, I have always been baffled by those who ask me if I was frightened over there. No, if I am frightened of anything, it is when I come home to one of the most violent countries on earth. But Diyarbakir is the exception to the rule in Turkey. You take extra precautions in the Old City, and you do not venture out after dark, even in the hotel district. My point is just this: Diyarbakir is the kind of place where such threats made against the priest of Meryam Ana are not idle ones.

Were this barbarity to be carried out, most Turks would be horrified and embarrassed. Such thuggery is in no way representative of the country. But if the small Orthodox community at Meryam Ana--witness of 1700 years of the Faith in that city--were to disappear forever, there would be no tears in Ankara for the loss. For in Turkey, all things must be Turkified, and the existence of these Suriani--as also the Ecumenical Patriarch--are inconvenient reminders of what came long before, and by implication and comparision, highlight the relative newness of a purely Turkish Anatolia.

(I wrote of my visit, here, back in 2006. I had been an Orthodox Christian for only 7 months at that time, so some of my commentary on such matters may be more crudely put than I would do so today.)

This photograph graces the cover of the latest Eighth Day Books catalog. The image of Londoners calmly scanning the shelves of a bombed-out London bookstore in 1940 is one that captivates me. The picture, I think, is also one rich in symbolism for our age. Considering this, what caption would you give to the photograph?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Cross at the Side of the Road

I have been doing quite a bit of job-related driving recently. Last week I drove to near Beaumont, then over to Austin and back home on one circuit. Earlier this week, I was on the Oklahoma border. In better economic times, I would have probably declined these jobs, as they are outside of our normal trade area. These days, we do not turn anything down. Not only can we do that job, we can do it tomorrow.

A drive deep into southeast Texas is an interesting experience. Of all the regions of our state, I would have to say this area is the least stereotypically Texan. To those of us located even just a few hours north, it seems more an extension of southwestern Louisiana, but without the Cajun flavoring. The flat land was always poor and never much good for farming. The region remains impoverished, given to logging and trailers.

I never mind driving, for there is always something to see along the way. Roadside churches are a never-ending source of interest. In one town, I passed a storefront church--the New Life Church (but of course)--which, in its storefront window promoted not only the church, but its fresh shrimp and catfish, as well their print shop for tee-shirts and banners. They also managed to find room for a poster denouncing "Obamacare." Further down the road, I passed the ramshackle Church of Ace, which struck me as funny, in a "Church of Butch" kind of way. But, I later discovered that Ace is the name of a now near-extinct community there, which explains the wording. Still further on, I passed the Community Missionary Baptist Church, a modest structure to be sure, but neat as a pin. On the sign out front, they proclaimed: "Teaching the Bible, verse by verse." You have no doubt what these people are all about. About 750 feet down the highway, I passed another, more substantial Missionary Baptist Church. The story here is clear, if you know how to read the signs. The smaller church split off from the larger church, and their statement of purpose, as spelled out on their sign in front, served as something of a rebuke to the older church, where apparently, they perceived that the Bible was not being taught, verse by verse.

But poking gentle fun at small-town Texas religious idiosyncrasies is not where I am going with this story. The placing of crosses and memorials at the site of highway traffic deaths has become a common practice (This was not done in my youth, and seems to be a phenomenon of the last two decades or so.) On a long stretch of straight highway, I noticed a particularly large white cross in passing. Something about this memorial caught my eye. I pulled over and made a u-turn and went back to verify what I thought I had seen. A small sign next to the cross said simply "We will miss you Josh Henry." Upon closer inspection, I noticed that friends had written notes to his memory all over the white cross. His cap was hanging over the top of the cross, and his hard-hat was hanging on the left bar of the cross. A football had been propped-up against the foot of the cross. A couple of beer bottles were standing upright nearby. The immediate area had been swept clean, and in what had originally caught my eye, a ring of crushed Bud Light beer cans encircled the cross.

I did a google search a few days later, and learned a few more details. Josh died after being thrown from a truck that wrecked on October 17th. He was 21 years old. The particulars follow a sadly familiar script: 2:30 in the morning, 92 miles per hour, and of course, driving under the influence of alcohol. The driver walked away from the mishap, but has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

I do not know about his religious affiliation, but would guess him to be nominally Baptist or Pentecostal or some variation thereof, as is normative for the area. His funeral was probably overflowing in attendance, and no doubt the preacher comforted the family with his assurance of heaven, based on a childhood profession of faith. Back in my Church of Christ days, we snidely referred to this as "preaching someone into heaven." [We, of course, eschewed such behavior, as I am not sure we really believed anyone was actually going there.] This is all speculation of course, on my part. I am just guessing, based on my knowledge of the culture.

But Josh's makeshift memorial serves a stark rebuke to any funereal platitudes, smooth words and warbling Southern gospel hymns. It seems to me that the friends who erected this memorial weren't buying any of that at all. This young construction worker loved football, beer and having a good time with his friends. And now, for his buddies, abruptly and incomprehensibly, he is gone, leaving a gaping hole where once existed their life with him. We exert so much time and effort in the construction, maintenance and nurturing of the Lie--the unreality of our existence, if you will--that is to say, our denial of the fact that every day is the day of our death; if not today, then certainly tomorrow. And for all of us, there comes a time when this edifice crumbles in the face of the Real. Josh's friends--confronting eternity--struggled to comprehend this reality. Does he live on only in their memories? Or is there more? And why this way? Their messages and testimonies scribbled on the roadside cross, in a pitiable attempt to hold on the memory of Josh, and the placement of tokens of their life with him, spoke volumes to me. For we are all pitiable and feeble. We all seek to hold tight to that which is slipping away. We mourn over death, and ask why. For Josh's friends, my prayer is that they one day will know that this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality and that in the end, Death is swallowed up in victory. And for Josh, all I can say is all I know to say--With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Thy servants, where there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life unending.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orthodoxy in Colonial Virginia?


Orthodoxy in Colonial Virginia? It seems that way.

Read here and here.

And by all means, set aside an hour to listen to the podcast.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mourning in Seborga

It is with some sadness that I note the passing of Giorgio I, Prince of Seborga. You know.....Seborga. His recent death marks the end of a remarkable 46-year reign, and throws the future of the principality in some doubt. There may be some readers who have not followed Seborgan events closely, and I dare say even some who are not quite certain of the principality's exact location. Seborga, within sight of the Mediterranean, and near the Franco-Italian border, occupies a hilltop midway between Fascia Piana and well, the end of the road. Seborga encompasses a total of 5 square miles, and is home to 2,000 citizens, 350 of whom live in the capital city.

Prior to 1963, the prince was simply Giorgio Carbone, a wholesaler of mimosa flowers. But that year was pivotal in the annals of Seborgan history. According to Carbone, about 280 years ago, Seborga slipped through the cracks of European diplomacy and empire-building, leaving it, in effect, independent. From 954 until 1729, Seborga was a principality in the Holy Roman Empire. In 1729, the Vatican sold it to the House of Savoy. The new owners, however, failed to register the transaction which invalidated the sale, according to Carbone. Seborga was omitted from the dictates of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and was not specifically included in the act of unification of Italy in 1861, nor in the formation of the Italian republic in 1946. To Carbone, it was clear that Seborga had never been a part of Italy. And by 1963, a majority of Seborghini agreed.

The principality rewarded Carbone by electing him prince, as historically Seborga had an elected, rather than hereditary prince. By a vote of 304 to 4 in 1995, Seborgans ratified their independence and made Carbone prince for life. Giorgio graciously accepted the title of "His Tremendousness" from his loyal subjects. But he remained steadfastly a man of the people, holding court in the Bianca Azzura bar.

Lest anyone think that the Prince Giorgia did not take his responsibilities seriously, it must be noted that he "established a palace, wrote a Constitution, and set up a cabinet and a parliament. He chose a coat of arms, minted money (with his picture), issued stamps (with his picture) and license plates, selected a national anthem and mobilized a standing army, consisting of Lt. Antonello Lacala." Perhaps his most memorable achievement was the formulation of a national motto: Sub umbra sede (Sit in the shade).

About 20 nations, in one fashion or another, have recognized Seborgan independence. Unfortunately, Italy is not one of them. Rome, a bit thin-skinned in these matters, remains insistence that the Seborghini pay Italian taxes.

One of the highlights of his reign was his championing of smoking in the principality. "Early in his reign the prince, a heavy smoker, passed a law to encourage smoking." His Tremendousness engaged in a brief power struggle with the mayor of Seborga. This tension soon passed as the mayor recognized that the princely court was something of a tourist draw, and the prince, in turn, realized that the mayor did all the boring work.

I generally take a dim view of secessionist movements--though the prince would contend that you cannot secede from something you were never a part of to begin with. We have our own secessionists here in Texas. They are generally regarded as being bores and crack-pots. We like to think (hope) they are a distinct minority. Texas is too big and crazy to secede. I think we would be a menace on the world stage. But if you are small enough, and eccentric enough, with just a dash of panache, then I think it is something I could get behind and support. There are certainly worse ways to confront our soulless modern world. So, three cheers for Seborga! They make a hellavu stronger case than does say, "South Ossetia." Those interested in further Seborgan studies might start here , here and here.

At the Seborgan border

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Problem with Infamy

To Americans of a certain age, this date never passes without notice. Obviously, I am referring to the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. President Roosevelt famously pronounced it a "date that will live in infamy." Though long before my time, I grew up hearing of it from those who lived through that era. The significance fades, however, as later generations come to view it as just so much old history, a date to memorize for a test.

Ironically, FDR's memorable phrase was eerily similar to one made almost 55 years earlier, when King David Kalakaua was forced to cede the harbor to the Americans. His sister, later Queen Liliuokalani, termed this "a day of infamy." And it was not long (1893), before American business interests had cemented their hold on the country, forcing her abdication in one of our earliest, and most ignoble efforts in regime change.

Our national myths are of increasing fascination to me. By the word "myths," I certainly do not mean any untruth, but rather stories, and the way in which they shape and form our historical consciousness as a nation. With Pearl Harbor, the narrative emphasizes the unexpected and brutally inexplicable nature of the attack. And of course, it was. But in the simplest telling of the story, Americans were just out in the middle of the Pacific, minding our own business, if you will, when "out of nowhere" we were attacked without cause. The heroism and sacrifice of that day should never be forgotten, nor its significance diminished. And academic revisionist history simply for the sake of revisionism and/or notoriety is a tiresome by-product of our cynical post-modern world. And yet, history is a complicated thing. The only point I want to address is why we view the attack as something totally unforeseen and unimaginable (and yes, there were those, both in and out of government, who feared an attack, and large, we were caught completely off-guard.)

My point is this: nothing in history is unprecedented, save for that one Event, the very hinge of history itself, and even that was foreshadowed. The attack on Pearl Harbor--as true of other attacks before and after--was not at all arbitrary, but the natural consequence of policies, actions and events. Diplomacy That Will Live in Infamy, written by James Bradley, examines that very point. The author is himself the son of a flag-raiser of Iwo Jima, and he was long-intrigued by what motivated the Japanese attack and the resultant war in the Pacific. He found the answer not in the pre-war policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but rather in those of his kinsman, Theodore Roosevelt during the days of the Russo-Japanese War. Teddy Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in mediating the end of that war. But TR was hardly a disinterested party, strongly favoring the Japanese position. As early as 1900, Roosevelt was pushing for Japan to obtain the Korean peninsula.

President Roosevelt was no fan of the Russians: “No human beings, black, yellow or white, could be quite as untruthful, as insincere, as arrogant — in short, as untrustworthy in every way — as the Russians,” he wrote in August 1905....The Japanese, on the other hand, were “a wonderful and civilized people...entitled to stand on an absolute equality with all the other peoples of the civilized world....When, in February 1904, Japan broke off relations with Russia, President Roosevelt said publicly that he would “maintain the strictest neutrality,” but privately he wrote, “The sympathies of the United States are entirely on Japan’s side.” ”

Roosevelt's duplicity as an honest broker between the Russians and Japanese is apparent in correspondence with his son.

“I have of course concealed from everyone — literally everyone — the fact that I acted in the first place on Japan’s suggestion ... . Remember that you are to let no one know that in this matter of the peace negotiations I have acted at the request of Japan and that each step has been taken with Japan’s foreknowledge, and not merely with her approval but with her expressed desire.”

And of course, with our acquiescence the Japanese did get Korea. But Roosevelt, thought the Japanese would be content to stop there, and let the great powers--of which we were now the junior member--divvy-up the rest of Asia. The Japanese, it seems, thought differently. Bradley notes that they reference that very point in their 1941 Declaration of War: “It is a fact of history that the countries of East Asia for the past hundred years or more have been compelled to observe the status quo under the Anglo-American policy of imperialistic exploitation and to sacrifice themselves to the prosperity of the two nations. The Japanese government cannot tolerate the perpetuation of such a situation.”

The attack of Pearl Harbor can be better understood in light of Japanese actions during the Russo-Japanese War, and our strong support for them at the time. Adm. Yamamoto, who planned the 1941 attack, patterned it on their surprise assault on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, in Manchuria, noting “favorable opportunities were gained by opening the war with a sudden attack on the main enemy fleet.” At the time, the Tsarist government protested this violation of international law. Theodore Roosevelt, however, wrote "I was thoroughly well pleased with the Japanese victory, for Japan is playing our game.”

For his efforts, Theodore Roosevelt became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No one in Oslo was aware of his collusion with the Japanese. Bradley contends that it was his support that "emboldened them to increase their military might — and their imperial ambitions. In December 1941, the consequence of Theodore Roosevelt’s recklessness would become clear to those few who knew of the secret dealings. No one else...realized just how well Japan had indeed played 'our game.'"

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Not in our neighborhood

Interesting news out of Switzerland this week...In a national referendum,the Swiss voted by a margin of 58% to ban the construction of minarets. Okay. Frankly, I have mixed feelings about this. First, Switzerland is not exactly being overrun by minarets (there are currently 4), and most Muslim immigrants to Switzerland are from the former Yugoslavia--in short, already European. I think, perhaps, that the horse is already out of the barn, as they say. This law will do nothing to facilitate Muslim assimilation into Swiss society, if that is even a possibility. And one suspects that the Swiss are not alarmed at how a growing Islamic presence affects the remnant of their Christian culture, but rather that Muslims threaten Swiss secularism.

As expected, there has been considerable outcry over the measure, it being roundly condemned by secular Europeans who find themselves a bit embarrassed by it all. Oh, the intolerance! One woman huffed, "this is not my Switzerland." Yes, nothing says Switzerland quite like Heidi, Edelweiss and minarets.

All that said, I find myself in sympathy with the measure. When thinking through the ramifications of this measure, I remembered the medieval churches of Bulgaria. There's not that many of them, really. 500 years under the Ottoman thumb took its toll on that sort of thing. The ones that survive from that era (several I visited in Arbanassi) are not typical soaring Orthodox temples. They are somewhat squatty and barn-like in appearance, as the Turks disallowed churches from being higher than the local mosque. But one might say that that is ancient history. [I think the secular West--we Americans, particularly--may be the only people who think in terms of "ancient" history; to everyone else, there is simply history.] Contemporary restrictions against Christians remain the norm under Islamic regimes, excepting perhaps Syria, Jordan and Lebanon--for now. So should Swiss Muslims--even Europeanized former Yugoslav Muslims--expect the very consideration from the West that their coreligionists refuse to grant? I simply think the question should be framed for discussion in this context. Finally, the minaret is not simply a quaint Arabic architectural preference. The infamous old quip of now Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan--"minarets are our bayonets"--was much quoted by proponents of the measure. And while he may now regret having ever said it, there is much truth in the statement. The minaret is meaningless if not connected to the adhan, the Muslim call to pray. As is commonly known, the muezzin's call to prayer is usually broadcast by loudspeaker from these minarets, 5 times a day. In Islamic countries, the adhan is all-pervasive and intrusive, impossible to ignore or escape--as is the intention. The minaret and the adhan are inherently triumphalist. As I understand it, the adhan is not broadcast from Switzerland's 4 minarets. For now. Finally, the vote may offer a bit of hope that perhaps the cultural suicide of western Europe is not completely a foregone conclusion. We'll see.