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May 18, 2003


If there is a picture emerging from the war on terror, it resembles a Picasso on drugs. Any attempt to make sense out of Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., seems doomed to failure from the start. There are no achievable goals in this war unless your goal is to kill people. And yet, one canít resist trying to discern the motives behind the continuing round of senseless bombings.

Ostensibly, the problem is Israel and the occupied territories. Forgive me if I am not persuaded. The deal that was on the table, brokered by President Clinton, with the offer of land for peace made by Barak would have settled the question of the occupied territories. Arafat walked away from that deal because it was not what he really wanted. What he wanted was the destruction, not merely of Israel, but of Jewry. Witness the bombing of a Jewish center in Morocco. That had nothing to do with Israel, but everything to do with hatred of the Jews. That bombing had nothing to do with Arafat? No, but he is inexorably tied to the entire terror movement. Anyone who thinks they donít communicate isnít paying attention.

No one is even claiming credit for the latest round of bombings. No one is making any demands or asking for any concessions. This in itself is said to be typical of Al Qaeda. In truth it is typical of Islamist terrorists of any stripe. The object is killing.

The roots of terror in the Islamic world run very deep and they have become confused in the extreme in recent years. What many do not seem to realize is that there is a very strong element of organized crime in the Islamist movement. Yes, there are religious zealots ready to kill themselves in the name of Allah. But these are not the people with the money. The zealots are being used by criminal elements who engage in the traffic of weapons, drugs, and whatever else makes money. Add to this mix a gang of thugs who simple enjoy inflicting pain and death on people and who take special pleasure in torturing the weak, and you have the real picture of terror in todayís world.

Common thugs and criminals are the organizing element in Islamic terrorism. Religion merely gives it the fuel it needs dominate more people and control greater wealth. Doubt it? Perhaps you didnít hear about the three semi trailer loads of hundred dollar bills Saddam and his son spirited out of the banks in Iraq before the war started?

Where all this will lead is anybodyís guess, but at least the world is finally coming to grips with the real nature of the threat. The world order is beginning to change in ways none of expected 20 years ago. Stay awake. 

May 26, 2003

More Terrorists?

It isnít easy to get a clear view of things these days. It has become increasingly evident that everyone has an axe to grind and, after all, we have an election year coming up. One of the things that became clear to me in watching all the TV coverage of the Iraq war was that one had to take everything, even the TV images that we saw, with a grain of salt. We have long known that seemingly objective newspapers regularly let their editorial opinions bleed over into the coverage of the news. We just had a classic example of how television does the same thing. It is still going on in the coverage of the rebuilding process in IraqĖwhich surely qualifies as a messy business with an uncertain outcome.

But once in a while, a voice is heard that helps get things into focus. It is not always a matter of good reporting, but of sound logic applied to the reporting that is out there. Christopher Hitchens gives us a really good analysis of the psychological and cultural effects of the Iraq war and subsequent terror activities. Much of what we read today is more Chicken Little than sound journalism, but Hitch thinks it through and arrives at some surprising conclusions. Read it by clicking here.

May 27, 2003

Paul and Galatians

Sometimes we answer questions too quickly, when we would be far better off saying "I donít know" and waiting until we do. Nowhere is this more true than in religion. It is hard to discuss theology and make any progress because everyone thinks they know already. And because religious and theological arguments have raged back and forth for centuries, it is exceedingly difficult to think about these things from a fresh point of view. The terminology has been corrupted so that we often donít mean the same thing when we use the same words. I find it very hard to talk to people about Old Covenant and New Covenant issues because the words have been overused and have special meaning attached to them.

Covenant is a perfectly good word in law, but if you use it in a doctrinal or theological discussion, things go south in a hurry. Thatís why, when I come to a passage in Galatians, I try to get a fresh look at it without all the baggage we carry with us. Consider this one.

Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. (Galatians 3:15-17)

Paul has a bad habit of dropping little ideas into his letters with no explanation. You can miss them if you are not careful. This covenant with with Abraham was confirmed by God in Christ. It would not be wrong to call Abrahamís covenant a "Christian covenant."

I know this may seem obvious, but it must be said: Christianity and Judaism are two very different religions. I think Jews know this better than Christians. We speak of things "Judeo-Christian" as though they were two denominations of the same faith. Jews and Christians share one thing: that book we call the Old Testament. At some level of understanding, we may share a belief in the same supreme being, but there are some who would even dispute that: Christianity believes that Jesus is God, and Judaism most certainly does not.

Christianity believes that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of ourselves. We believe we are made righteous and saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. Judaism believes that salvation, whatever that may mean, is something achieved through the study and application of the law to our lives. In a sense, they believe we save ourselves. To that end, they believe in obedience, not only to the written law of the Old Testament, but to the traditions of the Fathers as well.

Christianity sees the law as defining sin. Judaism sees the law as defining righteousness. Both are correct, but in Judaism, one pursues righteousness by works of law. In Christianity, one pursues righteousness by faith in Christ. It is in this fundamental conflict that a great deal of misunderstanding arises when people read the NT... They assume that there is a conflict between Law and grace, when in fact, the conflict is between Judaism and Grace.

The NT writers do not make this easy for us. They canít, because they are writing to their own worldĖthere is no way they could have anticipated our difficulties with their writings. Nevertheless, if we can just understand the nature of the real conflict, then most of it will fall easily in line. In the first century Christian church, there were those who held to the tenets of Judaism while embracing Jesus as the Messiah. They taught, as Rabbinic Judaism still does, salvation by works of law. And since laws are good, we need to create more of them, which Judaism had done.

Not long after Paul had passed through Galatia, members of the circumcision party from Jerusalem followed him into the area, seriously confusing the issue of salvation. Paul does his best to clarify the issues.

Galatians 3 and 4 are now posted in the Reflections section.

May 30, 2003

Yahweh of Zion

"Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings" (Psalm 9:11).

"Yahweh who dwells in Zion" is and interesting construction. You may have noticed that the Bible only uses first names to identify men, occasionally adding the word, ben, "son of," to designate which person we are talking about. Men were also identified by their tribe or their city. Hence, "Yahweh of Zion." This becomes more significant when you realize that there were other Yahwehs among the Canaanites. Some even had consorts.










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