By Paul Malvern |





As with most revolutions, the scientific revolution has gone through all of the usual stages seen in movements for radical change. Bursting on the intellectual scene in 1543 with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus's treatise, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, it grew in influence in the 18th century, contributing in no small way to the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment. By the 20th century it had come to be viewed as the “go-to” explanation for pretty much everything. Sadly, as with all revolutions, it has slowly lost its original novelty and iconoclasm, causing some to worry that it may be in the early stages of becoming a secular religion – one with its very own creation story, pantheon of heroes and saints, core beliefs which must be embraced without question, and powerful sanctions to be used in punishing those heretics who depart from the One True Faith.

One key element in this new ‘religion in the making’ is Darwin’s theory of evolution which states that life as we know it on Planet Earth is largely the result of random mutation and the genetic consequences of ‘the survival of the fittest’.

Up until recently, Darwin’s theory has been regarded as ‘settled science’ (an obvious oxymoron given that refutability is a key element in the scientific method). And those who have refused to embrace this new orthodoxy have been scorned, ridiculed and marginalized – a task made easier by the fact that many of those objecting to Darwin’s theory were religiously inspired individuals who possessed little or no scientific training.

In recent years much has changed - with some critiques of Darwinian evolution now emanating from academics and researchers with impressive scientific qualifications. One such individual is Michael Behe, Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, and the author of a number of critically acclaimed books that question Darwinian orthodoxy and offer intelligent design as a possible explanation for phenomena evolutionary theory is hard pressed to explain.

As with so many new ideas in science, the starting point for Professor Behe was a seemingly arcane question – namely, how to explain the incredible complexity of the flagella in bacteria (the whip-like structures that propel them). After much study he concluded that evolutionary theory could not by itself explain this complexity – which drove him to consider other alternative explanations such as the possibility that intelligent design might have played a role in this phenomenon. Thus began an intellectual journey for Professor Behe which has propelled this gentle revolutionary into the media limelight and subjected him to sustained and highly personal attacks on him and his work by many in the academic and scientific establishment.

For more information on this unassuming scientific revolutionary and his ground-breaking ideas, have a look at the video on this page. And for more insights on intelligent design and the work of Behe and other intellectuals in this area, check out the links below which will help you to get started in exploring this fascinating area of study.

Related videos:
By Kelly Lang |

Since the January 22, 1973 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Rowe v. Wade case, a war has been waged on unborn babies in the United States. For since that controversial decision, over 61 million abortions have been performed - with more than 1700 occurring today alone as you read this.1

It is estimated that, by age 45, 24% of women in the U.S. will have had an abortion.2 To make matters worse the incidence of abortion is particularly high among minorities and the poor. For example, in 2014, the number of abortions per 1000 women, aged 15-44, was 27.1 for black Americans and 18.1 for Hispanics – both groups showing a much higher incidence than that for white, non-Hispanic women, which stood at 10 per 1000. In addition to the targeting of minorities, abortion has also increasingly become the lot of poor women – as seen by the fact that in the same year (2014) 49% of women who sought abortions were poor.3

Of course, numbers alone do not tell the story. For behind each abortion is a woman who in many cases was betrayed, manipulated, or deceived into believing that abortion was her only option.

Certainly, I have my own story to tell. When I was 17, I met the man who was the love of my life and whom I hoped I would marry, have babies and spend the rest of my life with. Just a few weeks after I graduated from high school, I discovered I was pregnant. When my mother found out, she hit the roof and forced me to go to an abortion clinic, threatening me with dire consequences if I did not comply. When I got there, I ran out of the clinic to escape, but was literally dragged back in and an abortion was performed on me. And my life changed forever after that.

Now I, like millions of other women in my country, regret having had an abortion – which is why I stood on the steps of the United States Supreme Court earlier this year to tell a large group of strangers why I regret my abortion and to express my hope that no one else will have to tell their own abortion story years from now.

Below is my own story which I told on that cold winter day on January 18, 2019.

On my dresser sits a beautiful multi-tone purple glass picture frame. It sits among framed pictures of my children and grandchild. It sits empty.

For no pictures were ever captured of her short life.

Rachel Charlotte would be 39 years old next month, had she lived.

She has three living brothers and one living sister. They are a doctor, a biologist, a city planner and a computer engineer.

Which career path would Rachel Charlotte have pursued, had her life not been taken while still in the womb?

I never heard her cry. I never felt her soft skin. I never sang her a lullaby. I never held my baby.

Would she have had the ivory white tone of me, her mother, or the warm olive skin of her father?

Were her eyes green or brown? Was her hair, curly or straight?

Would she be married by now?

How many babies would she have by now, had she not been aborted?

Would she be clever, pitch a softball, shoot a ‘three- pointer’, run for miles, or walk a runway?

Would she be a Kansas City Chief’s fan and wear the Royal’s blue?

I know she would have been proud of her Volga German heritage and she would have mastered the art of making ‘Bierrocks’.

She would of course have been raised Catholic and I would like to think that she would have embraced her faith with great enthusiasm.

Sadly, I never heard her cry. I never felt her soft skin. I never sang her a lullaby. I never held my baby.

After all these years, I still tear up when I think of all that was not.

She was not captured in a photograph, yet there is at least one seized memory that I cherish.

I remember that she did not like the smell at the meat counter. She turned in my tummy each time we walked by it. It goes without saying that, after all these years, I am reminded of her as I approach the meat section in the grocery store.

She lived only a short few weeks.

She was mine for only a moment.

Rachel Charlotte Koehn, I miss you

And that is why I am silent no more.



1. “Number of Abortions – Abortion Counter”. Retrieved from: http://www.numberofabortions.com

2. Guttmacher Institute. “United States – Abortion”. Retrieved from: https://www.guttmacher.org/united-states/abortion

3. Guttmacher Institute. “Abortion Is a Common Experience for U.S. Women, Despite Dramatic Declines in Rates”. Retrieved from: https://www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2017/abortion-common-experience-us-women-despite-dramatic-declines-rates
By Paul Malvern |

Being a prophet is hard. It’s volunteer work – so the pay is non-existent. You get no respect. And all too often you end up dying an early death – usually at the hands of an unruly mob or brutal tyrants determined to kill the messenger rather than change their wicked ways. Given the many pitfalls attending the prophetic calling, it’s a wonder that anyone ever takes on the role.

Equally puzzling is God’s reasoning behind these prophet-versus-humanity confrontations. For being omniscient, the Almighty obviously knows in advance that no one is going to listen to anything His prophets have to say. So why demand that they risk life and limb by denouncing evil doers for the acts they find so very profitable and pleasurable? And then there is the question of why God picks the most unlikely people for these theological kamikaze missions.

An Unlikely Prophet

One such unlikely prophet was the political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, whose books on totalitarianism and the nature of evil have won her a place of honour among the greatest thinkers of the 20th century.

Looking at her background there was little in her early years to suggest that she might one day take up the prophetical calling. Certainly, there was nothing in her family background that seemed to suggest this as a future possibility. For her parents, well-off Jewish merchants who had immigrated to Prussia years before her birth, had never been particularly religious – as seen by their strong support for the Social Democratic Party, which at the time frequently displayed a strong anti-religious bias.

Nor did they ever give much thought to moral issues. For as she notes, “My early intellectual formation occurred in an atmosphere where nobody paid much attention to moral questions … [E]very once in a while we were confronted with moral weakness, with a lack of steadfastness or loyalty, with this curious, almost automatic yielding under pressure …which is so symptomatic of the educated strata of certain societies, but we had no idea how serious such things were and least of all where they could lead.1

As if to underscore this seeming lack of interest in moral questions, her graduate studies in Philosophy skirted such matters, focusing instead on the process of thinking generally – which saw her study under the renowned philosopher, Martin Heidegger, whose ideas were to influence her for the rest of her life. Arendt’s intellectual (and brief romantic) connection to Heidegger was to prove problematic decades later when critics of Eichmann in Jerusalem would use this relationship to smear both Arendt and her book.

Still that was a problem for later on. For in her early years Hannah lived a charmed life, giving little thought to how being Jewish might impact her life. This lack of concern was hardly surprising since she and her family experienced little or no discrimination in the progressive and secular milieu in which they lived. This being the case, she and her family possessed a worldview remarkably similar to that of many well-off Germans. This charmed life continued well into her university years where Arendt enjoyed considerable praise and recognition from her professors who viewed her as something of a Wunderkind.

Then disaster struck with Hitler’s installation as German Chancellor in 1933 – an event which heralded a new and very dangerous era of virulent anti-Semitism.

And that, as they say, changed everything. For as she soon learned, this brutal new regime which Hitler imposed on Germany was to turn her world upside down – a fact which became painfully obvious when she was briefly jailed for anti-Nazi activities (after being informed on by a librarian). After that, her life became a constant struggle to stay ahead of the Nazis whose influence quickly spread across Europe. Fleeing from country to country, she eventually found refuge in the United States, where she settled into the comfortable life of a writer, editor, and academic - teaching and authoring the books that would ultimately earn her a place of honour among the greatest political theorists of the 20th century.

The Origins of Totalitarianism

Having seen at first hand the evil which totalitarianism inevitably brings with it, Arendt was determined to focus public attention on the perils of this growing threat to freedom and human dignity. The result was her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1950, which became an instant success. This book - which cobbles together her thoughts on antisemitism, imperialism, and totalitarianism – is an intellectually demanding book which can be heavy-going at times. These difficulties are compounded by Arendt’s love of long, convoluted sentences – a stylistic feature which owes much to the fact that her mother tongue was German. In spite of these difficulties the book was universally acclaimed – in part because it went a long way toward explaining why the two major ideologies of the time, Nazism and Communism, had proved so attractive to so many.

Eichmann in Jerusalem

This first book – and the fame that its radical critique of totalitarianism earned her – was to have a major impact on the rest of her life, as she was now seen as the ‘go-to’ figure for those interested in the origins and history of the Nazi movement. Indeed, it is generally believed that the success of her book on totalitarianism was largely responsible for her being commissioned by The New Yorker to attend the trial of Nazi war criminal, Adolph Eichmann, and report on the proceedings. The resulting articles would later form the basis for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem.2

To say that Arendt’s reports were controversial would be an understatement in the extreme. For in no time at all readers formed up into two warring camps.

On the one side were those who loved her work - and embraced her point of view wholeheartedly. For such people Arendt was a brilliant thinker whose writings spoke eloquently not only to the horrors of the Holocaust but also to the human condition generally and the very nature of evil.

On the other side were her detractors – many of whom viewed Arendt as a heretic and betrayer of Judaism. For such readers Arendt was guilty of excusing the crimes of Eichmann and blaming Jews for their own destruction. Some even went so far as to accuse her of being a Nazi sympathizer - as seen by the incendiary headline in Le Nouvel Observateur, which asked, “Hannah Arendt est-elle nazie?”3 (“Is Hannah Arendt a Nazi?”) So widespread and violent did this hatred of Arendt become that she quickly became a persona non grata for many Jewish intellectuals in the United States and Western Europe – a development which took Arendt by surprise since she had heretofore expected little more than a spirited debate of her observations.

While some of the criticism leveled at Arendt had an intellectual cast to it, the highly personal character of much of it suggested that this was no mere literary spat that could be settled over a good glass of claret in the faculty lounge. Rather her writings had affected many readers in a visceral manner, shaking them to their core.

In retrospect, none of this should have been surprising to Arendt who had herself been thrown into a Nazi jail and forced to flee Germany for her life. And Arendt’s inability to foresee such a reaction was all the more remarkable, given that her first article on Eichmann appeared just eighteen years after the end of the Second World War - which meant that for many the emotional scars were still quite raw.

So why did she miss this? My own guess is that, being an intellectual, she made the error of supposing that readers would be willing to set aside their emotions and preconceived notions in hopes of discovering the truth. This – sadly – was not to be the case.

Areas of Contention

So what were the main areas of contention? And why were readers affected so profoundly?

The Role of Jewish Authorities in Occupied Countries

One such area of contention involved her comments on the role played by Jewish authorities in those areas in Europe that had fallen under German occupation.

At the risk of oversimplifying her line of reasoning, her basic argument appears to come down to this – that the Jewish authorities living in those areas under German occupation failed to provide the leadership required and did in fact make a very bad situation significantly worse.

To support her point of view Arendt provided numerous examples of ineptitude, misjudgment and wishful thinking on the part of some Jewish leaders.

One such leader was Chaim Rumkowski, appointed by the Nazis to the position of Judenältester ("Chief Elder of the Jews") in Łodz, Poland. In this position he issued currency and postage stamps which bore his likeness – actions which led to his nickname, “King Chaim”. In addition he set up factories in the Łodz Ghetto, which produced goods for the Wehrmacht – no doubt in hopes of making inhabitants indispensable to the German war effort. Perhaps most horrifying of all was his speech, Give Me Your Children, which started a campaign which resulted in the deportation of 20,000 inhabitants (among them children under the age of 10 and those over the age of 65) to the Chełmno death camp.4 While the opinions of contemporary scholars are somewhat mixed as to the role he played, those living the nightmare were less conflicted. He was murdered in 1944 at Auschwitz in retribution for his crimes – reportedly by inmates from the Łodz Ghetto who had arrived at the camp before him.5

On the other end of the ethical scale was the scholarly Leo Baeck, former chief Rabbi of Berlin, who, while clearly a great and good man, nevertheless made a number of extremely bad decisions that negatively impacted many of his coreligionists. One such decision involved his refusal to tell other Jews of the fate which was to befall them in the concentration camps – his reason being that, “Living in the expectation of death by gassing would be all the harder. And this death was not certain for all…So I came to the grave decision to tell no one.”6 While this decision clearly flowed from a desire to reduce the suffering of others, the ultimate impact was far from positive. For, as witnesses at the Eichmann trial noted, being unaware of the danger which threatened them “people volunteered for deportation from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz and denounced those who tried to tell them the truth as being ‘not sane.’”7

Using such examples as her starting point, Arendt proceeded to launch an attack on the misdeeds and miscalculations of some of the Jewish community leaders in the Nazi occupied territories – thus violating the code of silence that had existed on the topic up to then.

This attack by Arendt was met by an even more violent response – with critics accusing her of betraying both Judaism and the memory of the 6 million Jews who had died in the Nazi death camps. As the campaign against her picked up steam, the accusations against her became increasingly frenzied – with some critics even suggesting that she had somehow become a Nazi sympathizer – the ‘evidence’ being the large numbers of Nazi documents she had consulted as part of her research.

All of which had a somewhat surrealistic quality to it since much of what Arendt reported had already been generally known. And the fact that a tiny minority of Jews had for whatever reasons cooperated or collaborated with the Nazis was far from being a deep dark secret.8 For example, it was well known that the Nazis had encouraged the creation of Jewish Councils and police forces throughout occupied Europe to act as go-betweens between themselves and the Jewish community and to facilitate the deportation of Jews and the creation of ghettos. The problem for Arendt was that the treatment of these Councils had up to that point been largely sympathetic – focusing on the difficult dilemmas facing Jewish community leaders as they sought to make the best of a very bad situation. This being the case, Arendt’s comments (many of them quite caustic) had the effect of shattering this consensus once and for all – a result for which few were likely to thank her.

To make things worse, Arendt took her critique one step further accusing many Jewish leaders of having actually made the situation worse by preparing lists of Jewish inhabitants (which told the Nazis who was to be singled out from the general population), doing inventories of Jewish property (which made it easier to confiscate later on) and assembling large numbers of Jews at predetermined times and places (so they could be quickly and efficiently crammed into box cars and whisked off to killing centers). According to Arendt, the Jews of Europe might well have been better off if they had been disorganized and leaderless. As she put it, “The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had really been unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between and four and a half and six million people.”9

Hardly the words of someone who was seeking to avoid a fight.

The Banality of Evil

But as contentious as this issue of wartime leadership was, the greatest difficulties for Arendt flowed from a very different area – namely, her observations on the character and motivations of Adolph Eichmann and the nature of evil generally. All of which is nicely summed up in the subtitle of her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which reads, “A Report on the Banality of Evil”.

For it was these few words contained in the subtitle of her book – and the concept they encapsulate - which has earned her the greatest acclaim from her supporters and the greatest contempt from her detractors.

Looking back, I recall the impact Arendt’s reports and book had in the late 1960s on myself and my fellow Political Science students. For like pretty much everyone else we took it for granted that the Nazis had been raving lunatics, frothing at the mouth and seething with hatred. So the idea that Eichmann - who had played such a key role in the Holocaust – might have been a grey bureaucrat, who Arendt claimed bore no particular animus toward Jews and whose sole motivation was simply a desire for career promotion, amounted to an intellectual earthquake.

Even now I am struck by her observations on the nature of evil – particularly as they relate to the totalitarianism that characterised much of the 20th Century and which continues to attract many in our own century. For what if she is right? What if much of the evil seen in our own age flows from the actions of quite ordinary people who are just doing what it takes to get ahead?

Certainly that was Arendt’s view of Adolph Eichmann, the man who managed the transportation infrastructure that sent 6 million Jews to their deaths (plus millions of Poles, Russians, Gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled). For what she saw during the trial was not some raging fanatic frothing at the mouth. Rather the accused appeared to be a rather ordinary man – something of a loser really - who was not all that bright, who could not make it on his own, and who needed to be part of a movement or large bureaucratic organization if he was to have an identity or any sense of worth. (Arendt’s judgment was confirmed by the court ordered psychiatrist who found him to be “a completely normal man, more normal, at any rate, than I am after examining him”.)10

According to Arendt, the answer for this seeming paradox was what she called Gedankenlosigkeit, which in English roughly translates as not being able to think things through or consider things properly. In Eichmann’s case, this meant not giving any thought to the reality of what he was doing. Nor did he appear to have considered the consequences of his role in transporting millions of innocent people to their death or the possibility that he might have committed terrible crimes. Rather, as was seen throughout his trial, Eichmann saw himself as an efficient bureaucrat who had simply done the work required of him – and who had done it very well. It was Arendt’s insistence that Eichmann was a rather boring and unimaginative “desk murderer” rather than a wild-eyed Anti-Semite that was to earn her some of the harshest criticism.

For many of Arendt’s critics such a characterization of the man minimized the terrible crimes he had committed. And her use of the term ‘the banality of evil’ seemed to many to suggest that she felt the disaster of the Shoah to be banal – that is, ‘trite’, hackneyed, or a cliché. Such a thing had of course never been her intention – especially given that she herself had barely escaped ending up in one of the extermination camps. Rather this phrase was simply part of her critique of Eichmann, whose beliefs and desires were those of a grey bureaucrat trying to make a career in the madness of Nazi Germany, and her attempt to say something about the nature of evil generally. For it was Arendt’s belief that our ability to think clearly about evil is hampered by the vision of the devil created in the Middle Ages – namely, of some heroic rebel standing alone against the universe and its creator (which was the image Milton painted in his epic poem, Paradise Lost).

For Arendt such a portrayal gives Satan and his minions too much credit. She preferred instead to see many of those people responsible for great evil as dreadful bores who are as exciting as cold porridge. One excellent example of this is the Soviet dictator and mass-murderer, Joseph Stalin, whose death toll far exceeded that of Hitler. Unlike Hitler, Stalin was not a charismatic figure and certainly not a riveting speaker. Rather, apart from his days as a bank robber early on in this revolutionary career, Stalin owed his rise to power almost exclusively to his control over the administrative machinery of the Communist Party and his unique gift for hatching plots behind the scenes. A classic “desk murderer” if there ever was one!

Arendt expanded on this theme – using Eichmann as her prime example of this phenomenon - in her book, The Life of the Mind, where she states, “I was struck by a manifest shallowness in the doer that made it impossible to trace the incontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. The deeds were enormous, but the doer – at least the very effective one on trial – was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.”11 In short Eichmann was very much like the people all of us have met at one time or other in our lives – who, given very different circumstances, might well do similarly evil acts to those of Adolph Eichmann. A chilling thought to be sure!

Eichmann in the 21st Century

While Adolph Eichmann is dead, the spirit that animated him lives on in our modern world – just as it has done throughout human history. For the truth is that Eichmann was not the first person to facilitate the killing of large numbers of innocent human beings. And, sadly, he will not be the last. For, as horrible as it was, the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews during the Second World War was not the first attempt at genocide - and it won’t be the last.

Many of those responsible for these new holocausts will likely be grey bureaucrats not unlike Adolph Eichmann – individuals who in their private lives are good and decent people but who in their professional capacities are prepared to do the most hellish things in order to make their way in the world. And the atrocities they will be responsible for will in all likelihood involve many of the elements contained in previous campaigns of genocide and mass murders.

For example, those targeted for destruction will be dehumanized – as seen by the current pro-abortion rhetoric which refers to unborn babies as ‘clumps of cells’ and more alarmingly as ‘parasites’. Contrary voices will be silenced – and those violating the tenets of officially approved speech will be persecuted. And an efficient machinery of death will be set up to ensure that the killing can be done as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.

Sadly, the outlines of such a future dystopia can already be discerned – whether it be the huge arsenals of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the hands of a growing number of nations (some of them quite mad) capable of bringing a sudden end to civilization as we know it, the determination of elites to protect and even extend the slaughter of unborn babies through abortion, or the extension of the culture of death via infanticide and assisted suicide (euphemistically referred to as Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) in Canada) which promise to kill off even more of those seen as too expensive or inconvenient to care for.

Even so, there is still hope. For just as Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR seemed invincible at one time – only to fall later on - the growing darkness we see in the West will also one day come to an end. Such a hope may seem vain in light of the growing evil we see around us every day. But this hope is ultimately more realistic than the lies that make up our daily media diet. For as the anonymous poem scratched on a concentration camp wall states:

“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even though I don't feel it.
I believe in God, even when he is silent.” 12

Eventually, all evil burns itself out. And one day it will be gone forever and every tear will be wiped away.


Photo Attribution: Bernd Schwabe in Hannover [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Hannah Arendt. “Personal responsibility under dictatorship”. 1964. Retrieved from: https://grattoncourses.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/responsibility-under-a-dictatorship-arendt.pdf

2. Arendt’s original articles which formed the basis of her later book may be found on the Internet. Her initial article on the trial may be found at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1963/02/16/eichmann-in-jerusalem-i

3. “Lettre collective – Hannah Arendt est-elle nazie?” Le Nouvel Observateur. Retrieved from: http://referentiel.nouvelobs.com/archives_pdf/OBS0107_19661130/OBS0107_19661130_037.pdf

4. “Give Me Your Children: Voices from the Lodz Ghetto”. Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved from: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/give-me-your-children-voices-from-the-lodz-ghetto

5. “Chaim Rumkowski “. Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Rumkowski#cite_note-Unger2004-4

6. “Leo Baeck”. My Jewish Learning. Retrieved from: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/leo-baeck/

7. Hannah Arendt. Hannah Arendt. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the banality of evil. New York: Penguin Books, [c2006]. p. 119.

8. “Collaboration with the Axis Powers”. Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collaboration_with_the_Axis_Powers#Jewish_collaboration

9. Amos Elon. “The Excommunication of Hannah”. Introduction to: Hannah Arendt. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the banality of evil. New York: Penguin Books, [c2006]. p. xvi.

10. Amos Elon. Ibid. p. xv.

11. Hannah Arendt. The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt Inc. [ c1978]. p. 4.

12. Matthew Day. “Survivors remember Auschwitz: ‘Every time I come here I feel fearful’”. The Telegraph. Wednesday 22 May 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/poland/11372941/Survivors-remember-Auschwitz-Every-time-I-come-here-I-feel-fearful.html

By Elishama |

On October 17, 2018 Canada removed a 95-year old prohibition on cannabis, becoming only the second nation – after Uruguay – to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Pope Francis — at the 2014 International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome — spoke strongly against the legalization of drugs for recreational purposes. In 2017 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops called the Liberal government’s decision to legalize marijuana “unwise” and “potentially dangerous.”

But now that marijuana is nonetheless legal in Canada, is it morally permissible for a Catholic to use it?

If one is talking about medical use – which has been permitted in Canada since 2001 – if prescribed by a physician, under proper controls and for a legitimate medical condition believed to be helped by it, then, yes, it is morally permissible. Recreational use however is an entirely different matter.

The law is a teacher and helps to establish social mores. As such, legalization sends a message to many people, especially to those who are impressionable, that recreation use of pot is morally acceptable.

Many people think the Church is against the use of marijuana because it was illegal. But this is not true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offence” (No. 2291).

While marijuana may not have as damaging effects as harder drugs like methamphetamine, heroin or cocaine, it does create a temporary impairment of the mind, and regular use may risk detrimental long-term effects to the brain.

Recreational pot consumers use cannabis to induce themselves into a state of euphoria. Their intent is to get “high” and to alter their consciousness. This entails an alteration of their perceptions and faculties of cognition. Since human cognition is a precondition for making any decisions, to impair our cognition means impairing our ability to make proper choices.

Even when we are habitually predisposed to acting well, we know that consistently doing so is still a demanding task. We face temptations from within, in the form of unruly emotions and desires, and from without, in the form of alluring but spiritually and morally destructive activities and the inducements of less conscientious persons.

So when we are stoned, it is even more difficult to make good choices, like behaving modestly, treating members of the opposite sex with dignity and respect, refraining from inappropriate speech, avoiding potentially dangerous activities (like driving stoned), eating and drinking moderately, being faithful to one’s daily prayer.

And so the Church’s official position will always be against the recreational use of any mind-altering drugs. As with all her moral teachings, the Church seeks guidance from Revelation (as found in Scripture and Tradition) but also appeals to reason reflecting on what it means to be a human being and what type of actions fulfil or frustrate the teleology of our human nature.

The Bible does not directly address “getting high” but it does speak about drunkenness. Saint Paul admonishes, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and calls us to “live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness” (Rom. 13:13).

The same moral assessment on drunkenness can be applied to getting high. Getting high, like drunkenness, is objectively wrong. It temporarily diminishes our ability to think clearly and weakens our resolve to act properly.

The Catholic moral tradition teaches that for human beings to flourish we must think and act in accordance with God’s design and right reason. If any activity undermines or degrades our rational capacities, we have moral obligation to avoid that activity.

Intoxication of any sort impairs our consciousness, makes us less receptive to carrying out God’s will, and lends to conduct unbecoming of a human being and a Christian.

But alcohol is different from marijuana in that alcohol can be used in moderation; in other words, without getting drunk. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points to the key principle here applicable, that of temperance. “The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine” (#2290).

By using alcohol temperately, it can have its intended effect of raising one’s spirits without altering one’s level of consciousness. Alcohol may represent a temptation to abuse – and in fact its misuse has caused untold harm to individuals, families and society – yet with moderation alcohol can be used in a morally responsible manner.

But unlike taking a glass of wine to relax, recreational use of marijuana is for the sake of getting stoned. It is true that you could ingest a miniscule amount of the THC in cannabis and not impair your reason but, talking realistically, who actually does that? People don’t do marijuana in order to stop after a mild buzz. They smoke or consume it with the intention of getting high. And a high is very easy got. Its mind-altering effects are felt almost immediately upon use.

So even though Canadian law may sanction the use of marijuana in order to get high, it still remains objectively morally wrong.

Freedom does not mean doing whatever we want as long as the law permits it. True freedom means exercising our human abilities in order to reach our intended God-given potential.

The effects on our physical and mental health of prolonged marijuana use are still being investigated and debated but there does appear to be potentially detrimental effects on intellectual ability and mental health, especially with long-term use from a young age.

The Catholic Church teaches that life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God and that we must take reasonable care of them.

As Archbishop Terrence Prendergast recently said: “Our bodies are ours to use, but we have to account one day to the Lord as to how we took care of them and what we did with them…. To steward our bodies well, we should abstain from substances that impair our decision-making and that harm our health. That includes cannabis.”

Or as St. Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body” (6:19-20).



Image:
By File:Canada Weed Flag.svg: Oren neu dagderivative work: AntiCompositeNumber (This file was derived from: Canada Weed Flag.svg:) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
By Elishama |

The argument is made that if homosexual partners love each other what is wrong with them finding pleasure in the sexual expression of that love, especially if they are in a “committed, long-term relationship”? The crasser version of this argument is, whatever two (or more?) consenting adults wish to do sexually is nobody else’s business, as long as no one is hurt.

One may respond to this argument from historical experience. Past and present experience has already demonstrated just how much effect private actions can have on the moral fabric of society. We have witnessed this with pre-marital sex. While originally presented back in the 1960s as solely a private matter between consenting adults, the eventual repercussions of its growth and social acceptance on rates of illegitimacy, the moral demeanor of adolescents, the stability and esteem of marriage, the acceptance and prevalence of contraception and abortion, on the psyches of children conceived outside wedlock (and often raised without their biological fathers), on state welfare programs, on civil law, on the courts, etc. have been beyond calculation. So while many argued pre-marital sex a private matter of no concern to others, its effects sure extended into the public realm and affected the common good and so is the concern of everyone.

This privacy argument has recently been reformulated into a directed question, ala Svend Robinson, along the following lines: “What difference does it make to you if my partner and I get married? How does it change your life in any real way?” This is as clever as it is naive or disingenuous. Why? Because it attempts to distract from the issue of objective moral norms and the common good, and even dismiss such concern if one cannot show direct personal negative consequence. Demonstrable self-interest (i.e. personal harm) is the only criteria it accepts. This is the criteria of a radical individualism and subjectivism. Used consistently such criteria could end public debate on any number of moral issues (e.g. “What difference does it make to you if the man down the street is sleeping with his daughter?” “How does it change your life in any real way if the U.S. invades Iraq?” “What difference does it make to you if companies start cloning human beings?”). The simple answer is, two men openly sleeping together may not have a direct and immediate impact on me per se, but this does not determine whether it is right or not. And given sanction of law it will make a difference on the sexual mores and institutions of our society. The common good should be of common interest. The recognition of same-sex marriage, for example, will be saying to all our children that a husband/wife or mother/father are merely optional for the family – and schools will be forced to teach that. Since public acceptance of homosexual relationships will affect the society in which we live it will have repercussions on me and my posterity. Private actions can have profound public consequences and that is of concern to me and should be to everyone.

But it is not only society at large that is affected. The participants who are sexually acting out are affected too. As G. K. Chesterton observed, “There is in sex a fury.” While at one level enchanting, sex easily becomes an obsessive craving (especially in men) or means of power (especially in women) that can coarsen one’s character and corrupt the way one thinks and behaves. Poet Robert Burns spoke from experience of the potential ill effect sexual license can have on the person: “It hardens all within/And petrifies the feeling.” Homosexual relations may make the partners happy at one level but at another cause serious harm to their character and personality and cost society dearly both financially (e.g. AIDS) and in its proper regulation of the sexual impulse. There is truth in the old Chinese adage: Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.

What is being popularly assumed today – that makes the case for the morality of homosexual relations seem tenable – is that sex is an autonomous matter, that everyone has a right to a sex life, that any type of sex act enjoyed between consenting partners is acceptable, and none of this has ill effects on one’s character or on society. We have addressed the issues of privacy, character and society. On the rights issue it needs be said that sexual relations are not an absolute right but, like most rights, a conditional one: based on right use, proper disposition and appropriate circumstance. Human rights are not subjectively based or civilly bestowed. Human rights flow from what it is to be a human being. Sexuality in human beings has an intrinsic nature and purpose. It is in seeking to fulfill that purpose that rights and responsibilities flow. Since sex is naturally ordered to procreation, as we have explained, then procreative-type genital acts are its rightful expression. The reason for this becomes clearer when we realize that the procreation of human beings, existentially speaking, is not the same as the reproduction of animals. Human life has nobility and worth that transcends that of mere animals. Since our sexual power can bring forth human life it too is imbued with a more transcendent significance than animal sex. How we treat our sex faculty, then, effects the way we look at the power of sex (i.e. as a means of participation in the creation of new human life) and the product of sex (i.e. the fetal human being). Since children need a stable environment in which to flourish, then the proper venue for sexual relations is within a committed, exclusive, and permanent marital union. Placing before the impressionable young the notion that pre-marital sex and deviations of the sexual act are as acceptable as marriage and conjugal love undermines the very basis of a stable and healthy society – the family – and perverts human sexual expression. Our society is a living testimony to this truth. Many people’s sex lives have become unstable and disordered; having gone from the permanent and procreative to the transitory and pornographic. The reverence for the sex’s power to procreate human life, and the human life thus procreated, has been denigrated by contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization, and new forms of eugenics.

The generosity and sacrifice that is required if young couples are to marry and undertake the task of raising a family requires every support from the community at large. Anything that separates sex from the context of marriage and family undermines the difficult ideal upon which we all ultimately depend. And the acceptance of homosexual partnerships as equal to heterosexual marriage effects that separation in the most comprehensive way.

Homosexual sex is obviously deficient from a procreative perspective. Is it also deficient in terms of the unitive aspect? What can be said of the love between two homosexuals? First, love is not the same thing as sex. Love does not inevitably or rightly always lead to sex. There are different kinds of love. A person who loves sports does not necessarily want to have sex with athletes. Friendship is a form of close interpersonal love that does not necessarily involve sex. Friendship is possible between any human beings. The love between homosexual persons may be real in terms of being a true friendship but when that friendship seeks to express itself sexually it misuses the purpose of sex in a parody of conjugal love and distorts the type of friendship natural to those of the same sex.

To understand why it is a distortion of their friendship let us use a different example: The paternal love of a father toward his daughter is natural and good. It can be affectionate and even be considered a type of friendship. But if the father has a strong sexual attraction to his daughter as well then he needs to recognize that this desire is deviant and, no matter how intense or even mutual, refrain from acting on it. It is contrary to the nature of true paternal love. Sex is a primal urge and can seek gratification by disordered means. Incest is a disordered means, as is homosexuality.

Even an exclusive, permanent homosexual relationship, a rare thing in itself, could not achieve the authentic communion proper to true spouses. This is because the authentic communion of spouses is only made possible by a commitment to the real goods of human love and sexuality. Homosexual acts are not true bodily unions, being anatomically incompatible for coitus. But even the coital union of bodies is not the fullness of conjugal union. It is meant to express the union of two personalities. When into the coital union of bodies all the shared life and shared love of a man and a woman are poured then you have the sexual union in its fullness.

Why is this so? There is a one-to-one completion inherent in conjugal love that is possible only for couples of opposite sex. A man and a woman represent, each of them, half of human nature: each needs the other for completion. Homosexual partners represent the same half of humanity, lack the natural complementariness of a man and a woman, and so cannot bring each other to completion. Their sexual acts are therefore never truly unitive. Homosexuals cannot therefore claim sexual relations as a rightful and necessary expression of their love. The giving of the bodies sexually is meant at once to symbolize, express, and help effect the giving of the selves. This is also why the giving of a self and the receiving of a self, the union of personalities, belong in marriage, and precisely in marriage that is monogamous, faithful and indissoluble. They are not always found in marriage but they are not easily had outside of it.

Some will protest do we not want homosexual persons to be happy? Of course we want all people to be happy. But that is not all that sex is about or what love means. People can be apparently happy while engaged in immoral conduct like adultery. Happiness is often misunderstood, just as love is, as simply a state of emotion. It is not. If it were then no one could ever really say he is happy except in reference to his emotional state at a particular moment. Objectively, happiness involves a life possessed of certain basic material goods that allows one comfort and good health, a moral life possessing virtues that give harmony between one’s actions and what is really good, an intellectual life in possession of truth, and a spiritual life united in love with God. You can see the difference between this state of being and a person whose life is in flux and bother, driven by disordered passions, caught up in vice and rationalizations, weighed down by guilt or resentments, indifferent to or angry at God. Both persons can experience moments, maybe even prolonged occasions, of emotional jubilation but only in the former case is his state of happiness not dependent on it nor reducible to it.

As for love, if it were merely a feeling, a mood, an engaged couple could never honestly vow their love to each other. Moods by their very nature are fickle while vows are steadfast. Only love understood as a self-donating commitment to another and a concern for his or her wellbeing can be vowed. Love keeps in mind the other person’s ultimate good. Such love is demanding, self-sacrificing. It should also take into account the common good of all. For love of a particular person never permits one to ignore or undermine what is in the best interest of others including society as a whole. We must love our neighbour too.

This leads to a final but important point. The sexual instinct does not exist just for the good of the person but also for the good of society. The sexual difference between men and women is in view of their sexual union; and their sexual union is in view of having offspring. The act of procreation is the only biological function of man that is for the common good of the race rather than simply the private good of the individual. The continuation of the human race and the healthy formation of its new members requires above all things an ordered framework of life. Yet these goods are entrusted to sex, which of itself makes for chaos. How to reconcile these two irreconcilables? This is what marriage does. The critics of marriage have simply not realized how incredibly difficult, and how totally necessary, is the reconciliation it effects. In marriage sex loses none of its strength, but it serves life and love. This is why sexual behaviour cannot be left to personal whim but needs to be regulated by moral law; both divine and positive. Both Church and state law should reinforce the natural tendency of most human beings to indivisible marriage. Good moral and social conditions depend, to a large extent, on the normalcy and indivisibility of marriage. State acceptance and support of pre-marital sex, cohabitation, and homosexual relations undermines the stability and normalcy of marriage.
By Patrick Meagher | originally published on Farmers Forum.



What if I told you that I had a new product that I knew would make tons of money but there were just a few health risks? What would you say?

If you cared about your fellow citizen, you would likely ask, “What are the risks?” My product will make tons of money for me and the tax revenues will be enormous. But there is a link between my product to addictions and damage to brain development among youth.

“Okay,” you say. “Let’s limit your product to adults.”

Yeah, that should work.

“Are there other risks?”

Well, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Paediatrician Society say that my product is also linked to depression, anxiety, psychosis, lung problems, asthma and emphysema.

As a reasonable person, you might reply: “You’re starting to worry me. Has anyone else looked at your product?”

The World Health Organization offered a small critique. But I’m telling you it will make tons of money.

“What does the World Health Organization say?”

My product will impair the user’s learning capabilities and memory, such as free recall of things you already learned. The product also impairs motor coordination and once you take my product you might have the affects of the impairment for up to 24 hours. If you use my product long-term it could lead to greater impairment. In fact, you might not recover from that impairment and it could affect how you function in daily life.

“That sounds like poison,” you might conclude. “Nobody is going to want to buy that?”

Are you kidding? According to the United Nations, Canadian youth are the most frequent users in the developed world. My product is new because it would be legal.

“So, it’s Illegal now? But if legalized you will make a lot of money. Is there anything else I should know?”

Canada’s police chiefs have said that if we legalize my product – which would make tons of money, by the way – crime would go up because of the need for cash to buy my product and there would be an increase in car accidents.

“So, like sniffing model airplane glue, your product can permanently tinker with one’s brain, inspire breaking and entering and now you’re telling me I am going to get a call in the middle the night saying that your product killed my aunt Jane on the Hwy 7.”

Think about it. It is going to make me tons of money, lots of tax dollars for the government and there’s demand for it.

“Why on earth is there demand for this sh--?”

It helps people relax and you only need one of my product to suspend reality for hours.

“Only buy one and you can’t drive?”

It’s therapeutic.

“You mean it makes people lazy and forget their responsibilities?”

It’s a nice product. You can make cookies out of it and candy in shapes of animals.

“And give them to children? You’ve just shut down Halloween.”

No one would give them to children.

“Of course, no one would.”

With proper education risks can be minimized.

“Not eliminated?”

My product will be regulated by the way and will make some people tons of money. I’m telling you that our youth want it.

“Would you encourage your teenage son to buy your product?”

He’s not interested.

“That’s not what I asked. I don’t think you’re being truthful.”

It’s his choice.

“It’s a bad choice.”

Well, that’s your truth. My truth is that it will make tons of money. Our youth want it. So do adults and it will be legal on Oct. 17.

"Does anyone care?"
By Elishama |

I must confess that the topic I will speak on today makes me uncomfortable. I suspect it must make you uncomfortable as well to hear me speak about it. For I want to address the scandal that continues to rock our Church: reports of clergy who sexually abused minors.

We have all been reeling this last month with the revelation that former Cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick sexually abused a minor and later seminarians and priests; that fellow bishops knew about it but did nothing; and that it did not even prevent his being promoted.

We have also heard about a Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania which found that over a period of seventy years 301 priests, deacons and religious in six dioceses were accused of abusing over 1,000 minors (by “minors” they mean anyone under the age of 18).

And most recently (and locally) we have heard again about Fr. Barry McGrory, who claims that he admitted to former Archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde that he was sexually addicted, attracted to adolescent boys and girls, and asked for help. Instead, he says, he was transferred to Toronto to head an organization that supported the northern missions – only to be convicted in 1993 of sexually assaulting a 17-year old Native boy. There are at least five other persons who have accused him of abuse in incidences that go back to the 1960s and 1970s.

So, what am I to say? What can I say!

First, I want to extend my deepest sorrow and apologies to the victims of the sexual abuse that has occurred in the Church; to them and their family members who suffer with them. My heart goes out to you. Such abuse can destroy faith, can destroy lives. Their suffering needs to be addressed. They need to be heard. Justice needs to be done.

My heart also goes out to all of you, dear parishioners, who have probably had your own faith tested by these continuing revelations and who may have to deal with family, friends or colleagues who challenge or ridicule your fidelity to the Church in the light of this scandal. It makes it harder to be joyous or proud to be Catholic.

I also sympathize with innocent clergy who are now viewed with suspicion and even maligned for things of which they had no part.

Like you I get frustrated, ashamed, and angry that this abuse has occurred and that for decades those to whom many victims turned, the leaders of the Church, our shepherds, frequently failed to deal adequately with the problem, have not infrequently protected the perpetrators, or sometimes been perpetrators themselves.

As Archbishop Terrence Prendergast recently said: “The scandal affects us all…. How can this not upset us? It involves a betrayal of trust and it wounds the hearts of Christians everywhere who hear the pain of the victims and question the integrity of the enablers who did not intervene.”

This whole scandal seriously undermines the sacred mission of the Church, entrusted to Her by Christ Himself, to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world and to sanctify souls. For although priests and bishops are merely human beings (and the Church is bigger than just them), nonetheless they have a God-given authority and mission, are the public face of the Church, and are meant to be, in the words of St Paul, “ambassadors for Christ.”

A bit of history. The revelations of clerical sexual abuse first came to public attention in the United States back in the mid-1980s, most notably with the case of a Louisiana priest who pled guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys. But it began to encompass the entire American Church after the Boston Globe published its famous 2002 expose.

As revelations of clerical sexual abuse surfaced across the nation, the USCCB commissioned an independent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice as to the nature and scope of the problem. In 2004 the John Jay Report was released. It is the most comprehensive study on child sexual abuse of any major organization ever conducted. The Report found that 11,000 allegations of sexual abuse of a minor (that is to say, someone under 18 years of age) had been made against 4,400 priests and deacons serving in the US between 1950 and 2002. That was about 4% of all clergy in the US during that period. Shockingly, 149 priests were responsible for almost 27% of all the allegations!

Of the more than 4,000 substantiated victims that the John Jay Report investigated, 19% were female and 81% were male. Of the male victims 77% were between the ages of 11 and 17, 13% were 10 years of age or younger. On average female victims tended to be younger than the male victims.

Whereas in the general population adolescent victims of sexual abuse are overwhelmingly female, the pattern among American Catholic clergy is quite the opposite. The majority of their adolescent victims were male.

The vast majority of the abuse cases found in the John Jay Report occurred from the mid-1960's to the mid-1980's. They peaked in the 1970’s and then began to decline. By the 1990’s the reported incidents of abuse were back to 1950’s levels.

In Canada the scandal erupted in 1988 with allegations of widespread physical and sexual abuse of children at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Newfoundland, run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. The next year similar allegations were made against another facility run by the Christian Brothers: St. Joseph's Training School for boys in Alfred, Ontario, in the Archdiocese of Ottawa. Soon allegations against individual priests of the Ottawa Archdiocese began to surface. In all eleven priests of the Archdiocese have been accused and seven convicted of sexual abuse against minors.

Since then clerical abuse scandals have arisen in many other countries; notably Ireland, Australia and Chile.

I wish I could say we are over the worst of this whole tragic episode. I don’t know, but I doubt it. Other American states will likely follow suit with Pennsylvania in setting up their own Grand Jury Investigations. Maybe similar type investigations will commence here in Canada? Other nations have still to begin, or to dig more deeply, into this whole matter. I think we will be hearing more about abuse scandals in the future.

While such a prospect is very troubling, I believe it also very good. Why? Because these things happened in the dark, they receive their power from the dark, and will continue as long as they remain hidden in the dark. But the light exposes them and ends their power. The light is stronger than the darkness. So, we must bring this evil to the light so that it may be faced and destroyed, and Jesus may heal.

I also think it is very good because all this can lead to a purification of the Church. It is a means by which Christ can cleanse His Temple, wash clean His Bride, and make Her beautiful once more. But it will not be pleasant thing to go through. The Resurrection will only happen after the Crucifixion.

And as this purification occurs many good Catholics may be tempted to give up in despair and disgust. It is understandable. But what should we do? We should look to Jesus and make the words of St. Peter our own: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”

I firmly believe that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, founded it to bring His revelation and His salvation to the world. The Church is His Kingdom on earth. He is the sower, it is His Field. There may be weeds in the field planted by the Enemy but there is also a great deal of wheat. There is more goodness in the Church than evil.

So, we must cling to our faith. But we need to remember that our faith is not in priests, not in bishops, not even in popes. Our faith is in Jesus Christ. We need to keep our eyes on Him. He is the one that founded the Church. He is the one that promised the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

This is a time of trial for all Catholics. The Church may become weaker and smaller but it is the Body of Christ. It cannot be destroyed, it will survive.

So, in this ongoing time of trial each one of us must make a conscious decision. A decision much like the one the Apostles had to make when Christ was suffering His Passion: were they going to remain faithful to Christ all the way up to Calvary or were they going to run away? You and I now have to make that same decision: stay or flee. Are we going to persevere with our fellow practicing Catholics through this long Good Friday? Or are we going to leave?

What has happened and what is happening is horrific, tragic and disgusting, but the Church is not the only place where such things happen. They happen in many secular institutions too but are little reported because still largely hidden in the dark.

St. Peter speaks to this in his First Letter: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pt 4:17). This cleansing is only starting with the Church - because the Church desperately needs to be cleansed.

So, this is not a time to fall into despair. It is not something we should run away from. We need to remain faithful. We need to continue to pray, to fast, and to gather together. We are going to go through some hard times but we have the promise of resurrection.

No matter what happens remain faithful to Christ. Remain close to Him in the Eucharist. Give encouragement to your brothers or sisters in Christ who may be close to giving up. We will get through this together! But, especially remain faithful to Christ by becoming the saint He calls you to be.

By Paul Malvern |

Learning from Each Other

Islam is a difficult topic for many people to discuss in a rational manner – in large measure due to the strong opinions held by partisans on all sides of the issue. For example, for some Muslims, it is nothing short of blasphemy to discuss their religion with others in any way that does not recognize it as the last and perfect revelation from God. Then too, many Christians view Islam as inherently violent and an existential threat to their faith which must be resisted at all costs. And for those secularists who have an animus toward Christianity, accusations of Islamophobia represent a heaven-sent chance to engage in some good old-fashioned virtue signaling.

And then there are the terrorist attacks – which horrify everyone.

In such an emotion-charged atmosphere, discussing in any dispassionate way the world’s second biggest religion which boasts some 1.8 billion followers1 is challenging at best. To my mind this is a great pity since both Muslims and non-Muslims can learn a great deal from each other. And indeed a great deal of mutually beneficial knowledge transfer has occurred over the last 1400 years.

One good example must surely be the contact between Muhammed and the Christian monk, Bahira, (aka Sergius) who is said to have had a significant impact on the founder of Islam – and whom a number of scholars believe may have been responsible for the inclusion of those elements in the Qur’an that are close to Christian teachings.2 (Sadly for Christians, this particular monk was also a member of a heretical Christian sect – possibly Arianism or Nestorianism – which has caused difficulties for Christians ever since.) Later on, Christians continued to influence the early history of Islam – one very good example being the work of Christian intellectuals and administrators in Iraq who were held in high esteem by Muslim rulers following their invasion of that country. For, having a greater level of education and more administrative experience than their newly arrived Muslim rulers, they continued to teach at universities and other educational institutions and hold senior administrative positions in the new regimes.

For their part, Muslim scholars and scientists played an important role in enriching the knowledge-base of medieval Europe through their own research and through their work in transmitting the writings of classical Roman and Greek authors to Western Europe, where these manuscripts formed the foundation of European knowledge in the areas of science and medicine up until the Enlightenment.

Even now there is much that Christians and Muslims can learn from each other. For example, the West has a vast storehouse of scientific and technological knowledge that can be of great benefit to the Muslim world. And it has much to teach Islam about the importance of tolerance and protecting the rights of minorities (lessons learned in the West through hard experience over the last millennium) which could temper some of the worst human rights abuses seen in a number of Muslim countries. For their part Islam’s greatest minds have much to teach the West particularly in such areas as the centrality of God in human society and the importance of following His laws and trusting in Him – lessons which many in the West have rejected, much to their detriment.

Ibn Khaldun – A Universal Genius

One of those great minds must surely be the 14th century historian, sociologist, jurist, teacher, and statesman, Ibn Khaldun, whose magnificent work, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, has much to teach us about human society even today.

My own introduction to this remarkable man and his ideas occurred when I was studying Arabic in Tunis, the city of his birth, where one of the streets near where I lived was named after him. During my time there, I heard frequent mention of the man and his many accomplishments – which is hardly surprising since Tunisians of all political and religious stripes are rightly proud of this great scholar. And well they might be, given the deep insights contained in his writings and the breadth of his vision of human society which transcends time, place and culture. For this was a man who in his role as a statesman and a jurist active in many quite different countries across the Muslim world saw firsthand what works and what doesn’t work in human society and government.

Much of what he has written and which has been written about his life reveals a complex and thoughtful man who was well placed to comment on the world of his time, given his close association with many of the key figures in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East. Of special interest were his lengthy discussions with the Mongol Emperor, Tamerlane (aka Timur), whose empire stretched from India to what is now Turkey and who was responsible for killing 5% of those human beings living at the time.3 This close contact with the great military and political figures of his time provided him with deep insights into the nature of power, the functioning of societies, economies and political systems, and the stages of development through which nations and empires pass before eventually succumbing to their own vices, foolishness and internal contradictions. From his writings, it is clear that he used these encounters to great effect. And his detailed observations and his insistence upon employing a rigorous analytical methodology have caused many to call him the father of both sociology and economics.

Unlocking the Code

Of course, for many in the contemporary West the idea of reading the work of a long dead Muslim historian who lived in a very different time and place may seem daunting, if not ludicrous. After all, what can such a person possibly say of value to those of us living in the technologically advanced West? Well, quite a lot really! For while technology changes, human beings do not – which means that their motivations, behaviour and errors remain very much the same, no matter what the state of technological development might be.

Even so there is a bit of cultural translation that is required for Western readers dipping into Ibn Khaldun’s thought. One such problem involves the many names, places and events cited in his book plus some of the specialized terms he uses. Coming as they do from the Arabic, Persian or Berber languages, these can be a bit daunting for those not previously exposed to these languages. In my experience, one of the best ways to address this difficulty is by simply glossing over such names and words – very much as people do when reading Dostoevsky’s novels. For what most readers are interested in are the concepts, not the nitty-gritty of North African, Arab, or Persian politics and linguistics in the 14th century.

Another much more important problem involves an issue which lies very much at the heart of Ibn Khaldun’s historical analysis – namely, the conflict between affluent city dwellers and those barbaric or semi-civilized tribes living on the periphery of civilization. Living in the 14th century Islamic world where nomadic tribes (e.g. Bedouin) could be found living close to many settled population centers, such a tension would have been obvious. However, for those of us living in the industrialized West, such a tension may not be instantly apparent. Still, before we dismiss this concept out of hand, it is important to note that for much of human history this tension has been a more or less universal reality. And indeed this conflict is a matter that many historians continue to discuss – the most famous being the great historian, Arnold Toynbee, who refers to these groups of poor and sometimes violent people living on the border of rich countries and empires as the ‘external proletariat’. While Toynbee is talking about largely the same phenomenon as Ibn Khaldun (namely, masses of poor people looking enviously at societies that resemble huge treasure troves of poorly guarded wealth), his term for the phenomenon has a more familiar ring to those who have studied sociology or been exposed to the ideas of the Left. And it’s safe to say that this particular concept now seems more credible than it used to in light of daily news reports dealing with the masses of poverty-stricken migrants flooding into Europe, the United States and now Canada. All of which suggests that our current world may not be all that different from that of Ibn Khaldun.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the key concepts in Ibn Khaldun’s vision of human history and how they may apply to the world in which we live.

Ibn Khaldun’s Great Work – An Introduction to History

While Ibn Khaldun’s literary and scholarly output encompassed a wide array of topics ranging from logic, to theology, law, and the history of the Arab and Berber peoples, the book for which he is best known must surely be his multivolume work, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, which attempts to track the history of the world as he understood it up to the time of writing. The power of this masterpiece, which weaves together philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics and history, to reach across the centuries and national borders is shown by the wide array of intellectuals and public figures who have sung its praises. This includes such famous individuals as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, economist Arthur Laffer, science fiction author Frank Herbert and British philosopher Robert Flint. One of his greatest admirers, historian Arnold Toynbee, declared Ibn Khaldun’s book to be, “undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.”4

The Task of the Historian

Part of the book’s success lies in Ibn Khaldun’s vision of what history is and how historians should undertake the writing of history. In the world in which he lived, many – if not most - historians confined themselves to chronicling dynasties, rulers, and important events. For Ibn Khaldun, this approach was a sterile exercise which missed the most important point about history – namely, that it is about people and how they behave both as individuals and as members of society. Given this understanding, he held that historians should seek to explain the underlying economic, societal and cultural forces that cause events to unfold as they do. And since the study of history embraces all of life, he believed that it should draw upon a wide range of disciplines to discover the forces that drive human history.5

The Importance of Group Cohesion

One such powerful force that played a central role in Ibn Khaldun’s thinking was what he calls Asabiyyah – a difficult term to translate into English which can be roughly thought of as unity, group cohesion, a sense of common purpose, social solidarity … or all of the above.

According to Ibn Khaldun, possessing a strong sense of social solidarity and a common purpose has over the ages allowed many weak, less-advanced, and numerically smaller groups of people to conquer large, rich, powerful and technologically advanced nations that have become decadent and corrupt. For having lost their sense of social solidarity and group cohesion, such wealthy nations become soft and lack courage and patriotism – thus fatally weakening their will to fight and their ability to defend themselves. To support this thesis he points to a very striking incident in history where a small, ill-equipped Arab army, whose members possessed a powerful sense of group cohesion due to their shared religion and common desert origins, was able to defeat a much larger and better equipped Persian army with a weaker sense of group identity.

Recent history suggests that this principle continues to be valid today. Take for instance the defeat of Soviet forces in Afghanistan which were forced to withdraw from that country in the face of dogged resistance by ragtag bands of ill-equipped guerillas often armed with little more than rifles and grenades. Or the experience of American forces in Vietnam which, while vastly superior in equipment and technological prowess, suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a much less sophisticated army made up largely of peasants.

Of course, the power of group cohesion is not restricted just to the realm of warfare. For it can also operate in the realm of politics – as seen time and again these days in Europe and North America where minorities and small, cohesive and highly motivated groups of people daily exercise influence far out of proportion to their numbers. Good examples include the powerful influence exercised by African-American politicians at all levels of government in the United State and the remarkable ability of Quebec to impact the Canadian national agenda. Even more striking is the disproportionate influence enjoyed by small, cohesive groups of LGBT and feminist activists - not infrequently with funding from wealthy donors and with the full support of our political and judicial elites - who have succeeded in overturning centuries-old customs and laws dealing with marriage, adoption and abortion, often contrary to the wishes of the great majority of the population.

The Rise and Fall of Regimes, Nations and Empires

Of particular interest is Ibn Khaldun’s use of the concept of Asabiyyah in explaining the rise and fall of regimes, nations and empires. According to Ibn Khaldun, nations go through stages of life similar to those experienced by human beings. They are born. They mature. They grow old and become senile. And then they die – only to be replaced by others.

At the heart of this societal or dynastic life cycle, he believes, is the strength of group consciousness, which he views as critical to the health and survival of nations. For as he points out, “Group feeling produces the ability to defend oneself, to offer opposition, to protect oneself, and to press one’s claims. Whoever loses it is too weak to do any of these things.”6 Unfortunately for nations and dynasties and those who live in them, group feeling varies in strength over time. Initially, when power is first seized, it is at its height. Over time it declines, as those in power become more individualistic, self-centered and corrupt. Eventually this group feeling and sense of solidarity becomes so weak that citizens and their rulers lack the courage and will to defend themselves and their state. At this latter stage those disenfranchised or external groups who possess strong group consciousness and a sense of common purpose seize the reins of power and the cycle begins again.

In Ibn Khaldun’s view, the strongest and purest form of group cohesion exists among nomads (or the ‘external proletariat’ to use Toynbee’s term) – because such people are forced to maintain close ties with those around them if they are to survive. And because they live in a very challenging environment, they are forced to become tough and courageous. (In part, I suppose, because they have little to lose by dying in battle.) Once in power these people and their descendants change for the worst over a number of generations (usually about three) and the cycle of history begins yet again.

The Sociological Critique

In Ibn Khaldun’s view, as successive generations become more and more accustomed to wealth, material comfort, and sedentary living, they also become less noble, less virtuous, less honest and more interested in the pleasures of life. And for him one particularly troubling expression of this phenomenon is a general decline in morality.

One area in which he detects such a trend is the economic sphere where people are now willing to do whatever it takes (no matter how dishonest or corrupt) to get the money needed to support their increasingly sophisticated lifestyle. Over time this reaches the point where, “People are now devoted to lying, gambling, cheating, fraud, theft, perjury, and usury.”7 While this moral laxity may initially be limited to relatively small numbers of especially greedy or unethical people, it quickly spreads to the population as a whole as competition for wealth increases and as people “adopt the qualities of their environment and company.”8

This growing wealth of society also disposes people more and more toward pleasure-seeking and overindulgence. While this may initially take the form of trying out new culinary delights, he also believes that it eventually expands to the “diversification of the pleasure of sex through various ways of sexual intercourse, such as adultery and homosexuality”.9 In Ibn Khaldun’s view these new forms of sexual expression come at a cost to society. For example, adultery results in confusion as to who the father of a child might be – with the result that “the natural compassion a man feels for his children and his feeling of responsibility for them is lost.”10 And homosexuality denies society those children who might otherwise have been born and who as adults would have contributed to the general well-being.

However, most troubling of all is the fact that this growing affluence also corrupts religion – which in Ibn Khaldun’s view has a profoundly negative impact on a nation. For as he points out, “When the strength of a man and then his character and religion are corrupted, his humanity is corrupted, and he becomes, in effect, transformed into an animal.”11

The Economic Critique

Judging from the lengths to which Ibn Khaldun goes in discussing economic issues in his multivolume work, he clearly believes that money plays a powerful role in influencing human behaviour and determining the fate of regimes and nations.

One of his most significant economic insights is that raising tax rates beyond a certain point actually reduces tax revenues while reducing tax rates spurs economic activity, thus increasing tax revenues overall. While such a phenomenon may seem counterintuitive to contemporary ‘tax and spend’ politicians, it has in recent years become widely accepted by many economists – with its theoretical foundations best explained by the now famous ‘Laffer Curve’ developed by American economist, Arthur Laffer. A good example of this can be seen currently in the United States where a potent combination of tax cuts, reduced regulation and the repatriation of manufacturing facilities has caused growth and employment to skyrocket. This ability of tax cuts to power growth and increase tax revenues was recently underlined by statistics from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which show that tax revenues for the first half of 2018 were $76 billion higher (a 9% jump) than those seen in the same period for 2017 - even though income tax rates were reduced in February of this year. This was supported by the Treasury Department which stated that it expects federal income tax revenues to continue to exceed last year’s figures for the rest of this year.12

Of course, this was not the only arrow in Ibn Khaldun’s economic quiver, for he also explored what happens when governments get overly involved in the functioning of the marketplace.

One such case involves the situation that occurs when a government or ruler becomes directly involved in the marketplace as an actual participant – an act he considers highly undesirable given its potential for harming the economy as a whole as well as the citizens who depend on it.

For example, because governments have much more money at their disposal, they can easily outbid private businesses when purchasing the resources, products and services needed to run a successful operation. And the power possessed by rulers and governments allows them to buy goods, resources and other assets at the lowest possible price - or even to expropriate them by force if necessary. Also, not wishing to offend those in power, many private sector businesses will be afraid to bid against their rulers or governments and may feel obliged to buy goods from them at an inflated price – goods which they may have to resell later on at a lower price due to poor market conditions. Plagued by these and many other aspects of unfair competition, a number of businesses will be forced into bankruptcy – which will in turn reduce the tax revenues received by fiscal authorities. Faced with lower tax receipts, governments may then succumb to the temptation to raise tax rates to make up the shortfall in tax revenues – which may in turn further reduce tax revenues for the reasons outlined above.

Finally, it is clear that Ibn Khaldun was a strong defender of property rights since he believed that attacks on private property represent an injustice which can bring about the ruin of a nation. He reasoned that attacks on people’s property remove their incentive to own and improve property – especially if they believe they are likely to have it taken away at some point in the future. And when the assets in question are commercial ones, this is particularly serious since it could negatively impact business activity. For the possibility of seizure would discourage people from setting up businesses – which in turn would reduce employment and take away people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families. When this happens, “the business of civilization slumps and everything decays.”13

Summing Up

These then are just a few of the important insights which this great Islamic thinker has passed on to us - insights that continue to be relevant even today. For example, the link he draws between great wealth and the decline in the moral fibre of a nation, patriotism, and religious feeling must surely give all of us pause to consider as we watch the world around us. And his observations on the impact of ‘tax and spend’ policies on the ability of citizens to provide for themselves and their families plus his defence of property rights should give all of us reason to be concerned as we watch governments of all political stripes continuing to pile up debt as if there were no tomorrow.

Still, while none of this makes for very happy learning, it nevertheless is learning that must be undertaken. For as the great philosopher George Santayana reminds us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Ibn Khaldun has done us a great service by telling us what worked and didn’t in his world. We can return that kindness by taking these lessons from the past and applying them to our current world in hopes of making it a better place for those who will follow us.




[1]  Pew Research Center. Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world. August 9, 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/09/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/

[2] “Bahira”. Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahira

[3] Ed West. “The Islamic historian who can explain why some states fail and others succeed”. The Spectator. August 3, 2015. Retrieved from: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/08/the-islamic-historian-who-can-explain-why-some-states-fail-and-others-succeed/

[4] “Ibn Khaldun”. New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ibn_Khaldun#cite_note-0

[5] Fida Mohammad. “Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Charge: A Comparison with Hegel, Marx and Durkheim”. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Summer 1998. p.27.

[6] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. [Abridged ed.] Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, [2005]. p.111.

[7] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, [1967]. Vol.2. p.294.

[8] Ibid. p.294.

[9] Ibid. p.295.

[10] Ibid. p.296.

[11] Ibid. p.297.

[12] “Income Tax Revenues Are Up 9% This Year — Is Trump Tax Cut Paying For Itself?” Investor’s Business Daily. July 11, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/income-tax-revenues-trump-tax-cuts-economic-growth/

[13] Op. cit. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. [Abridged ed. 2005]. p.238.


Photo Attribution: Tunisian Community Center [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons