Saturday, March 24, 2012

And they are unconsciously so blinded by Americanism that they unthinkingly dismiss anything in the words of Jesus Christ or Church teaching that challenges their faith in America, in its exceptionalism and goodness.

I stumbled across this quote on a Catholic site, referencing a certain type of Catholic, in the context of their support for a particular Presidential candidate. The warning here, of course, is not just for Catholics. Such thinking--perhaps our nation's besetting sin--is commonplace across the American religious landscape, Orthodoxy included.

The article can be found here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Irish Offering for St. Patrick's Day

In the old days I never paid much attention to St. Patrick’s Day, or at least the phoney-baloney fake-Irish popular American version. I thought it all just so much silliness, such as the commercial I just endured--Burger King promoting french fries with green ketchup, all in fake Irish brogue, of course. Now of course, saint’s days have actual meaning to me, and I have since taken it upon myself to learn a little of the real story behind St. Patrick. (I wonder what percentage of the revelers on Saturday know that he was not even Irish? I would guess it would be in single digits toward the lower end.)

Of course, any real comprehension of the saint behind it all is lost in our frenzy to evoke all things green and "Irish." In my extended family, my paternal cousins (with whom I am very close) consider me the keeper of the family lore. One of my favorites was a career flight attendant for Delta, making the Atlanta-Dublin run every week for many years. My cousin fell in love with Ireland, considered it a second home, and maintains friendships there still. She almost pleaded with me once-- “don’t we have any Irish blood in us?” My answer was "well, yes, but..."

The story, of course, is in the “but.” We actually do have Gaelic blood, through a wonderfully wild and eccentric and slightly rough-around-the-edges Irish clan--the Gollihars (which is just the phonetic back-country spelling of Gallagher.) My dad and his brothers were pretty wild themselves when they were young. In exasperation, my long-suffering grandparents would sometimes scold them in a usually futile attempt to shame them into better behavior. The miscreants would be told that they were "acting just like little Gollihars.” It was not a compliment. My grandad's two sisters were the sweetest women one could hope for--and they were, in fact, the absolute salvation of my family after my grandmother’s death. They were proper Presbyterian ladies of the Edwardian era--prim, polite, and truth be told, a bit proud. My grandad would tease them, and one of the subjects he knew would get under their skin was to start talking about their grandmother's family, the notorious Gollihars. My aunt remembers her aunts getting embarrassed and saying, "Brother! hush!" Aunt Willabelle's daughter thought she would also try that line of teasing with her mother. She told me once that that was the only time her mother ever slapped her. In my great aunts' world view, you just did not talk about the Gollihars in polite society.

The first of my line of whom we have any real record was a Patrick Gollihar (sometimes Gallagher), appearing at Harrodsburg, on the Kentucky frontier in the mid 1780s. His wife's name is unknown, but we do know that she was Choctaw. There is no proof, of course, other than my grandfather’s word. But in every generation since, there have been descendants who look like they were part native American, even down to my dad's generation. The Indian blood was never the problem, however. The Irish Gollihar strain
was another matter, apparently.

Patrick’s son, Charles Gollihar, established himself in the Arkansas territory by the early 1820s. He fathered a few children by his first wife, and upon her death, married Margaret, the daughter of an old German Dunkard neighbor. Charles and Margaret had 8 or 9 children of their own. Gollihar made his living by operating a tavern out in the countryside, in a community with the misnomer of "Harmony." It seems the establishment did not have a good reputation (though in fairness, I do not imagine this was unusual for taverns of that day and place.) Some cynics noted that well-healed travelers who stopped at the inn had a way of turning up dead. In fact, at the time of his daughter Jane’s marriage to my great-great granddad John Cowan, Charles Gollihar was in jail in Arkadelphia awaiting trial for murder. I do not know how the trial was resolved, other than that Charles Gollihar was eventually released. It seems, however, that the authorities in Clark County thought it advantageous that he remove himself elsewhere. Charles and Margaret and most of their children moved to Texas in the mid 1850s. John and Jane, along with his sister Martha who had married Jane’s brother Drew Gollihar, followed the Cowan family to the Fort Smith area instead.

The Gollihars were hard to pin down once they arrived in Texas. Mention of them is found here and there throughout the Hill Country of central Texas, while others appear on the Texas Gulf Coast, in the general area of Corpus Christi. The Civil War (I am one Southerner who refuses to play the silly word game of saying “War Between the States”) disrupted the life of this family, as it did for most. Three brothers in Texas—Crittenden, Grandison and Charles, Jr.—were drafted into the Confederate Army, while Drew and brother-in-law John Cowan were drafted into the Confederate Army in Arkansas. Significantly, none of them enlisted. Only Gran seems to have taken it all seriously. He became ill and died in camp in 1864. All the others deserted early on. The Cowans were straight-out Unionists, and were persecuted for their stance during the war years. John’s younger brother and brother-in-law fought for the Union, while he went home on Christmas leave in 1862, loaded up the family and slipped across the line into the Indian Territory, and then on to Texas, where they laid low for the remainder of the conflict. The Gollihars gave no evidence of being so principled, but seemed to take a dim view of the Confederacy, nonetheless. Drew deserted and hid out in the Indian Territory. Crit and Charlie deserted and hid out with others in the brush country in Victoria County along the Texas Gulf Coast. Uncle Crit was a giant of a man, and was the leader of the gang of deserters. Their main concern was avoiding the vigilante Rebs (or “Heel Flys”) who took control in many Texas counties. Other than that, it does not seem that they were up to much good. In the revealing and little-known memoir, “Heel Fly Time in Texas,” one of the more humorous incidents was when these county men raided Uncle Crit’s farm, stealing all of Aunt Frances’ chickens.

The post-war years did not signal better times for the Texas Gollihars. Uncle Crit was killed in a gunfight in 1866. In 1867, his older half-brother, Uncle William, was hanged for horse theft. Also during this time, 70-year old Charles Gollihar who had evaded the hangman's noose back in Arkansas, was not able to avoid a Comanche's arrow on Wolf Creek in Burnet County in the Texas Hill Country. He managed to escape, but died shortly after making it home.

John and Jane Gollihar Cowan lived on 200 acres on Cowan Mountain in southern Bell County. He worked as a teamster and she was the community midwife. The remaining siblings were scattered. Aunt Laura Snider lived in San Antonio. Aunt Mauguerite Nichols lived in Copperas Cove, and if her tombstone is any indication, did well in this life. Uncle Charlie lived out his life down in Corpus Christi.

The Gollihars were no doubt Catholic upon their arrival in America. Catholicism would have been hard to maintain on the Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas frontiers, however, and it seemingly slipped away in most of the family. My family emigrated before Catholicism became so heavily tied to Irish nationalism. But nevertheless, once Uncle Charlie and Uncle Gran moved to Corpus Christi, you might say that they reverted to type. There must have been some nascient Catholicism within the family during those frontier years. Uncle Gran never married and his grave is one of the oldest in Holy Cross Cemetery, the historic Catholic burial ground. Uncle Charlie is there too, along with his large family. He lived on until 1939, dying at age 96. His buckboard was a common sight on Corpus Christi streets long after automobiles had become the norm. His family were tradesmen and shopowners in the city, well known but never exactly prominent. Today they are considered the oldest Anglo-Catholic family in Corpus Christi. One of the major streets is named after them, as is a park.

In my dad’s youth, he remembered the occasional visit of a Tobe Gollihar, a kinsman who was described as “simple-minded,” in the old terminology. The old man would just show up and hang around the various family farmsteads, with no apparent inclination to ever return home. My dad recalls that once his great-uncle George gave Tobe a new pocket knife if he would return home. And so, Uncle George put Tobe on the train home. My dad conflated this story with the story of the uncle in Corpus Christi and thought they were the same man. It took me a while to untangle this, but Tobe, it turns out, was the son of Uncle Will the horse thief.

About 4 years ago, I paid a hurried visit to Corpus Christi, and met with a few of my distant kin there. My contact in the family was Sister Patrice, principal of Incarnate Word Academy. She wanted me to meet her two surviving aunts (both since deceased), as well as their cousin, Miss Margaret. Uncle Charlie’s oldest son was also named Charles. He never married, but late in life had something of a common-law arrangement with a much younger Mexican lady. Two years prior to his death, she gave birth to their child, Margaret. The daughter never married, and at that I met her she was 80 years old. She was a quiet and dignified Mexican matron. She brought a grocery sack with her, and before our visit was over, pulled out two carefully-wrapped large fragile portraits—one of her grandfather (my uncle Charles,) and another of her grandmother (my Aunt Martha.) They were her treasures.

So that is the story of my Irish family on this St. Patrick's Day. And my great-aunts were wrong. I am glad to claim them, rough edges and all.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Church Website

Due to the generosity of a parishioner, our church has a new and improved website. There's a few items left to be loaded, but the site is basically up and running. I think it is all very well done, for this sort of thing. Our East Texas mission has been in existence for 5 1/2 years, in an area that is overwhelmingly evangelical Protestant. The site is designed with that demographic in mind. Check it out here.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

HHS, Pat Buchanan, Hitchens on Thatcher, Charles III In Waiting, John Maynard Keynes, D. G. Hart, and Right-Mindedness

On the masthead of The American Conservative are the words "ideas over ideology" and "principles over party." I am an enthusiastic booster of this publication. Ideologues of all stripes will find something to offend on almost every page. A few selections, and some comments, from the March 2012 issue, following:

1. The lead editorial--"Liberal Misconceptions"--tackles the recent flap over the HHS ruling regarding contraception. Personally, this issue is not the hill upon which I wish to fight a battle to the death. But the TAC writer zeroes in on the question that has bothered me--namely, why the insistence that contraception absolutely must be covered in health plans, with its denial being characterized as a denial of rights? I have health insurance, but with no dental coverage. When I go to the dentist, I pull out my wallet, and I do not feel as though I am somehow being denied my rights as a patient.

...the HHS ruling did combine two fundamental precepts of modern liberalism--that true freedom requires other people to foot the bill for one's choices and that women in particular are not free until they have been pharmaceutically liberated.

...the notion that lack of a subsidy is infringement of freedom has to be understood in light of the larger principle....At stake is the core liberal principle of autonomy: while anyone can choose when to have sex, without the aid of technology women cannot control when they conceive. Pregnancy circumscribes many freedoms, including the freedom to work; thus individual liberty requires "free" provision of contraception.

This liberal view is itself a religion of sorts--certainly it is as intimate and foundational as most faiths. And as sectarian, too. Just as it would not be right to tax one church to support another, liberals are in no position to demand that people who hold other understandings of human life and liberty conform to the rituals and liturgies of their worldview. Few liberals, blind to their own biases, see this however.

Such matters aren't settled by political brawls; a much larger project of suasion is required. Churches understand this better than their critics, and in fighting to preserve the domain of conscience--the right to refuse to participate in someone else's encompassing worldview--the opponents of mandates like this are in fact championing the most basic freedom of all.

2. Pat Buchanan defends his recent termination from MSNBC in "Blacklisted But Not Beaten." The publication of his most recent work, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025, and in particular the 4th chapter entitled "The End of White America," has stirred up a hailstorm of criticism from the professional Left. A group called Color of Change, Media Matters, the Human Rights Campaign, and of course Abe Foxman's Anti-Defamation League beat the drums for Buchanan's termination from MSNBC. The president of the network bowed to the pressure, first putting him on leave, and in recent weeks firing him. Buchanan notes that he said nothing more than did the Atlantic and Newsweek in 2009 when they ran cover stories entitled "The End of White America," and "The Decline and Fall of Christian America" respectively. Frankly, I take Buchanan much the same way I do Ron Paul--appreciative of their warnings against our over-reaching foreign policy, but a bit spooked when they turned their attention to domestic issues. And being a Texan, I do not share Buchanan's alarm over our changing demographics. I still watch MSNBC, and it remains the best US news channel, but there is a big hole where Buchanan's commentary used to be. I miss him already, and the discussion is diminished by his absence.

3. Peter Hitchens writes of "The Myth of Margaret Thatcher." He rightly bemoans the cruelty of the recent movie of her career, but notes that "Conservatives must come to grips with the noble failure of the Iron Lady." Living for many years overseas, Hitchens came to see Britain as foreigners did, which he said made him melancholy. "They thought we were still polite. They thought our schools were still good. They thought we were law-abiding and hard-working and patriotic....And with this went an absurd, uncritical worship of Margaret Thatcher..."

He faults her on a number of accounts: her Falklands War was to "save her own bacon," with a Royal Navy she had been trying to "cut to ribbons" only weeks before; her coal mine, steelworks and shipyard closings "look thin in an age where it is generally recognized that manufacturing industry is still important after all;" the gigantic welfare state continues unabated; British state education "annually turns out tens of thousands of some of the most ignorant and unemployable teenagers in the industrialized world;" political correctness run amok under the Equalities Act, etc.

Perhaps above all, the hideous cultural and moral revolution of the 1960s goes completely unchallenged. Civility, beauty, tradition, the small and the particular are all still despised and trampled on....Marriage, the family, and private life continue to fade away, blasted by the chilly interference of the state and the roar of all her years she did little or nothing to reverse the demoralization brought about in the 1960s, when she had the power to try.

4. Rod Dreher's "Philosopher Prince" attempts the unenviable task of casting Prince Charles as champion of "traditionalist ideals and causes." I am generally sympathetic to monarchies and monarchism. Just not the British. My preference runs to the Ruritanian or in-exile variety. Outside of the Japanese, the Plantagenet-Tudor-Stewart-Hanover-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Windsors are no doubt the longest show running, and I have no desire to see a 946-year act come to a close anytime soon. I just have a hard time warming-up to any of them, particularly Prince Charles. I get the idea that while the Windsors have been enormously successful in protecting and nurturing their particular family franchise, that they have no larger loyalty to the institution as a whole, or in fact, anywhere outside their borders.

Dreher writes that "Charles believes Western civilization took a wrong turn at the Enlightenment, is headed toward destruction (especially environmental) and cannot save itself without an abrupt change of intellectual and spiritual course."

I agree with every word of that. It is just that I have a hard time taking that as my marching orders when they come from Prince Charles. To be sure, he has put a bit of his money where his mouth is: supporting historical preservation, funding the teaching of traditional arts and skills, supporting localism, decrying modernist architecture, creating new urbanist communities, and turning his 1,000 acre farm into a successful organic gardening enterprise. This is all well and good, and certainly doable if you are one of the richest men around.

In the past, some American Orthodox Christians have made much of his visits to Mount Athos, or clandestine meetings with Orthodox priests in England, creating speculation that Prince Charles is a secret wannabe Orthodox. To his credit, Dreher does not even hint at that, noting in fact that the Prince is just as enamored with Tibetan Buddhism, and Islam and "its insistence on the essential unity of all things," as well as being a thorough-going Perennialist devoted to the teachings of Rene Guenon, all the while being a "prayerful and devoted Anglican communicant." In today's parlance, he would be dubbed "spiritual."

Most of his critics are on the Right, who find him incredibly naive about Islam and its leaders in Great Britain, as well as being dangerous in his ignorance of economics. Localism, traditionalism, organic farming, historic preservation and such like are all issues I support. Indeed, Charles seems to be someone who is given to thinking about things, which is something of a novelty in his line. I will give him that. I just think that if I am being lectured about "godless, hedonistic materialism in the modern age," that it needs to be from someone with less godless, hedonistic, materialistic baggage. God Save the Queen!

5. I do not understand economics, but I did appreciate the following paragraph in "Why Stimulus Fails," by William W. Chip.

Conservative critics of today's Keynesian stimulus spending may be right, but not necessarily because Keynes was wrong. Unlike philosophy or physics, economics is a social science that seeks to explain the events of its time, not to reveal eternal verities. It may be that Keynes got the formula exactly right for the 20th century but that we have entered a new era in which his theory has become as obsolete as classical 19th-century theories that Keynes himself debunked. As Keynes famously said: "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."

6. D. G. Hart weighs in on contemporary American Christianity in "Church Not State: Christians must choose between faith or worldly relevance." Well, yes. Hart divides adherents into 2 broad camps--the "republican Christians" and the "Augustinian Christians." (To me, the larger story seems to be the extent to which Americans have fallen off the grid of either one.) He places his particular Presbyterian sect into the "Augustinian" category, along with right-thinking Lutherans and Roman Catholics. This did not seem nearly as natural to me as it apparently did to Hart. I suppose for some people, church history really does begin in 1517. But no matter. I also found it interesting that he had nothing to say at all about Episcopalianism in this country--in either category.

These quibbles aside, I agreed with most of the points he raised. Extended quotes, following:

Over the last 30 years, born-again Protestants have overwhelmingly backed Republican candidates in the belief that for religion to matter, it must influence not only what people do when they gather for worship but also what they do every other day of the week....arguments for taking religion seriously in politics have coincided with the resurgence of the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan.

Consequently, to propose that a truly conservative position is to contend for faith's own inherent merits, quite apart from any benediction from the civil government, is to risk sounding liberal--or even worse, secular.

The idea that faith is important to the degree that it shapes public life--especially the workings of government--although asserted with the most laudable of motives, is in fact the greatest impediment to taking religion seriously. (emphasis mine.)

The ideas and standards that inform most faith-based politics do not arise from religion's own ideals but from the shifting demands of policy, legislation, and re-election.

Hart believes that if we are to take religion and its theological and liturgical convictions seriously, then we need to be prepared for the kind of disagreement and balkanization that come with the most devout of faiths. Americans have not been well prepared for this kind of religious antagonism. the largest and most influential religious bodies have not only failed to explain such disagreements, they have actually established the dynamics that undermine faith's importance.

Hart concludes that the "republican Christians" that have been most eager to assert the relevance of faith, have also been the most responsible for its secularization. Meanwhile, the "Augustinian Christians" who objected least to secularization, who were least likely to talk openly of their faith, were often the ones who took faith "in all its details more seriously."

Hart notes that the Second Great Awakening (1820-1860) established "conversion" as the standard of genuine faith, leading to the combination of revival and reform as being normative for republican Christianity.

The republican Protestants demonstrate how a desire for a relevant faith redirects Christianity from convictions about the supremacy of eternal realities to the demands of the present. In the hands of republican Christianity, faith ceases to be otherworldly. Instead, it uses cultural health or social order as leading indicators of the world to come. In effect, republican Christianity immanentizes the eschaton.

For Augustinian believers, a modest republic free from continental, let alone global, ambitions was a worthwile endeavor becuase the church, not the nation, was the only vehicle for real and lasting greatness. The logic behind this Augustinian concession was that the truths and practices of a church did in fact mattter irrespective of liberty, democracy, and free markets, while republican Christians too often gave the impression tht their faith only mattered if it could be shown to advance the cause of political independence, republican government, and the creation of wealth.

I found it interesting that Hart did not buy into the Manhattan Declaration, and questioned the usefulness and wisdom of the project. He closes with H. L. Mencken's obituary for J. Gresham Machem (1936), a piece that is familiar to me, as my late, great friend Milton Burton was fond of quoting from it. Lines like this--"Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony"--were made for Milton.

Hart closes strong--"the biggest obstacle to taking religion seriously are those well-meaning republican Christians who do not understand...that the more deep-down-diving and mud upbringing faith is, the less it will need to prove that it matters in national life."

7. And finally, Samuel Goldman writes of "Right Minds."

Classical conservatism is a coherent theory of opposition to the French Revolution and its consequences. And it does insist on hierarchy in human affairs, both public and private.

But what the great sociologist Robert Nisbet called the “dogmatics” of conservatism cannot be understood by reflecting on Irving Kristol, William F. Buckley, or other 20th-century publicists….The counterrevolutionary ideology has to be articulated on its own terms before it is connected to the dilemmas of contemporary politics.

The French Revolution was not the first revolution in human or even European history. Mobs had ruled the streets before; princes had often enough been deposed. Yet Burke insisted that that the Revolution was “the most astonishing thing that has hitherto happened in the world.” What was so astonishing about it? Burke’s answer was that the French Revolution was the consequence of an extraordinary new theory of society.

According to this theory, which Burke attributed to the philosophers of the Enlightenment, human beings are naturally free and self-sufficient. Because each man is potentially a Crusoe, any relations between individuals are essentially voluntary.

The question, then, is whether the “chains” that bind one person to another reflect the will of every individual involved. If so, they are legitimate—a term that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the first to transform from a principle of dynastic succession into the moral justification of rule as such. If not, they lack moral authority and may be rejected, potentially with violence. So, in Burke’s view, went the philosophical argument behind the revolution.

This reasoning was mistaken, Burke argued, not so much in its logical structure as in its first principle. In fact, human beings are born into networks of sympathy, obligation, and authority. These networks make us what we are, transforming unformed potential and dispositions into concrete identities. On this view, there is no Archimedean point from which the legitimacy of existing social relations can be assessed. As Maistre put it in a brilliant formulation, “In the course of my life, I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians… . But, as for Man, I declare that I have never met him in my life. If he exists, I certainly have no knowledge of him.”

If the social arrangements that characterize national communities are background conditions of humanity, they are not legitimatized by the consent of those who participate in them at any given time. Instead, they derive their authority from the way that they bind together past, present, and future in an enduring partnership. It follows that men and women of today have no right to dissolve the partnership in which they are involved merely because it seems inconvenient to them. Society, which always means a particular society, is an “entailed inheritance,” like a landed estate whose owner is legally prohibited from selling.

From this point of view, the radicalism of the French Revolution was not that it aimed to alter relations of authority in favor of the previously subordinate. The desire of subjects to rule kings, servants to dominate their masters, sons to command fathers might be misguided. But it was readily understandable, and certainly nothing new. The real issue was the Revolution’s implicit aim of establishing a condition in which nobody would obey anyone else unless he agreed to do so.

This aspiration, the conservatives insisted, was not merely unwise, but actually insane. The insistence that power be embedded in restraining traditions and institutions is the crucial distinction between classical conservatism and the fascism that would eventually replace it on the European right. Conservatism defends the authority of lords, of generals, of kings—but not of a “leader” who emerges from and rules over the disorganized mob.

But despite its anti-egalitarianism, classical conservatism cannot be assimilated to anything like fascism. This is not because it is more or less “extreme,” a comparative adjective that has no ahistorical meaning. It is because conservatism insists that authority is constituted but at the same time limited by the network of relationships that make up society.

What does this backward-looking, theologically inflected ideology of hierarchy have to with the contemporary America conservative movement? The answer is: not much. In addition to the historical distance, the concept of individual rights imposes an unbridgeable theoretical gap between the two positions. Classical conservatism is essentially communitarian, and locates individuals in structures of obligation that are not derived from their choice or consent. The American conservative movement, on the other hand, appeals to many of same beliefs about natural freedom and equality that inspired the French Revolution.

These appeals are most obvious in the libertarian strand of the movement, which cannot simply be dismissed as an apology for economic exploitation. They are most destructive, however, when they are used to motivate and justify our perennially adventurist foreign policy. According to the ideologues of American exceptionalism, there really is such a thing as Man in the abstract. And Man has the same rights and desires in Afghanistan that he has in Arizona. The purpose of government is to secure these rights. To the extent that it aims to do so universally, the government of the United States is therefore the universal government, with the responsibility to reorder all the traditional loyalties and obligations that define “illegitimate” societies.

No matter which party endorses this vision, it is difficult to imagine anything more distant than from “the contrary of revolution” inspired by Burke and articulated by Maistre. For it is a mirror image of the very Revolution that they opposed.

Monday, March 05, 2012

“we need to make sure that this president…not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest.” (emphasis added)

Eric Cantor on President Obama's AIPAC speech

It is refreshing to have all the niceties out of the way and to forthrightly clarify our foreign policy objectives as practiced by both political parties--i.e. what our allies think is in their best interest.

Oops sorry, I misread that. It is ally not allies. And so, we are not to contradict what this particular ally and this ally alone thinks is in their best interest. Too bad Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia, Turkey, etc.

Read it here.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

"The Ecumenical Patriarch is Right"

For the occasional visitor here, I apologize for the long blogging dry spell. Real life keeps intruding into online life--financial concerns, work (or the lack thereof), teaching, church, family, and all that. And, I do not see much let-up in the foreseeable future. I did want to post, however, the following article regarding the Ecumenical Patriarch's address to the Turkish Parliament.

Mustafa Akyol is a young Turkish journalist and writer I have followed for several years. He formerly blogged at White Path, but his more recent articles can be found here. Someone wanting to really understand developments in the Middle East--and Turkey's growing influence there--could do far worse than by following this writer's columns. While a few American commentators take note of what is happening in Turkey (Zbigniew Brzezinski for one,) far too many succumb to superficial and cheap demagoguery (for example, the last debate performance of the unlamented former GOP Presidential candidate from Texas, and most any Cal Thomas columns), concluding that Turkey is sliding into an "Islamist" state.

In the real world, the Turkish government invites the Ecumenical Patriarch to address a parliamentary commission. I will be the first to admit that Turkish relations with its Orthodox subjects and neighbors have long been infuriating and frustrating (the Phanar, Greece, Cyprus, etc.) Often it seems that progress is one step forward and two steps back, and that a final resolution is just at the cusp--but only just. That said, real progress has occured in recent years, and it has all come durring the watch of the AKP--the "Islamist" party--rather than under the secularists. Anyway, the article speaks for itself. I have copied it in full, and highlighted significant passages.

The Ecumenical Patriarch is right

Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, visited the Turkish Parliament the other day. This was a first, for His All Holiness had visited the Turkish Parliament only once before, and only to attend the funeral of the late President Turgut Özal. But this time, he was invited by the Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Commission, in which deputies from all parties work together to draft a new charter for Turkey.

After his meeting at the commission, where he expressed his expectations from the new constitution, His All Holiness said the following to journalists:
“It is the first official invitation to non-Muslim minorities in Republican history. We don’t want to be second-class citizens. Unfortunately there have been injustices in the past. These are all slowly being rectified. A new Turkey is being born. We are leaving the meeting with hope and are extremely grateful.”

What a great summary that was. It underlined the bitter fact that throughout the history of the “secular” Turkish Republic, non-Muslims were seen as second-class citizens, if not enemies within. It also heralded that “a new Turkey is being born,” in which the anti-non-Muslim prejudices of the past were being abandoned “slowly.” (I, too, wish the change were faster.) The Ecumenical Patriarch also noted that this current transformation in Turkey made him, and his fellow Christians, hopeful and grateful.

Now, if you are among those who believe that Turkey is being drawn away from its bright secular past to an Islamist “darkness,” you might find these hard to believe. But please do believe the Ecumenical Patriarch, and let me explain to you why he is right.

His All Holiness is right, because the main threat to Turkey’s Christians and Jews has not been Islam, but Turkish nationalism. In fact Islam respects the religious rights of “the people of the book” – Jews and Christians – and that is why non-Muslims had freedom of worship throughout the Ottoman centuries.

In the mid-19th century, the
Ottoman Empire also gave equal citizenship rights to non-Muslims, leading to the appearance of many Christians and Jews in the Ottoman bureaucracy and Parliament.

In the 20th century, however, both the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the nation-state model imported from continental Europe led to the emergence of Turkish nationalism. This secular yet illiberal ideology had little respect for “the people of the book” and wanted to create a non-Muslim-free Turkey – not for its love of Muslimness, but Turkishness. Hence came the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians, Greeks or the Assyrians, or the “Wealth Tax” on all non-Muslims including the Jews.
Kemalism, the official ideology of the Turkish Republic, was the embodiment of this nationalist paradigm. Clueless Westerners often praised Kemalism for its “secularism” and “modernism,” but little they noticed that the persecution of Turkey’s Christians (and Kurds, for that matter), from which they rightfully complained, was carried out by none other than the Kemalist Jacobins and their sans-culottes. (By the latter, I refer to the vulgar ultra-nationalists of Turkey, whose ideology is a crude but natural reflection of that of the more sophisticated Kemalist elite.)

That is why post-Kemalist Turkey, just like the pre-Kemalist (Ottoman) one, will be more amiable to non-Muslims. And we are seeing the evidence of that day by day.

P.S.: You might have noted that I did not call the Ecumenical Patriarchate “Fener Rum Orthodox Patriarchate” as the Turkish state and mainstream media does. For I believe that every religious institution has a right to define itself, a right that should be respected by others.