Austria, Russia’s Tunnel Into the Heart of Europe?

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In an article in the “New Statesman” entitled “Austria is Russia’s tunnel into the heart of Europe Liam Hoare writes, “The country’s attachment to neutrality has led it to cultivate obsequious relations with Russian energy and espionage,” and elaborates further on the cozy relationship between Austria and first the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation.

Some folks asked me whether I considered this a fair assessment; here is my response.

Austria’s Neutrality Law of 1955 (which has the status of a constitutional amendment) specifically defines neutrality in military terms and only forbids (a) membership in military alliances and (b) the establishment of foreign military bases on Austrian territory.

Facsimile of the “Federal Constitutional Law of 26th October 1955 concerning Austria’s Neutrality”

But throughout the history of the “Second Republic”[1] Austria has stressed that she isn’t (and isn’t required to be) politically neutral but rather is clearly part of the “West“—when it suited her purposes, i.e. in talks with Western governments. And when it suited her purposes, she has stressed her neutrality, interpreting it much more broadly, when talking to the Soviet Union/Russia and East Bloc countries.

At the same time, Austrian governments of both persuasions (ÖVP and SPÖ)[2] represented to the Austrian people that of course we are not morally neutral, voicing criticism of such Russian actions as the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the threat of an invasion of Poland in 1988; and that our neutrality uniquely enabled us to act as broker and mediator between the blocs. However, at the same time as condemning Russian aggression Austria continued to maintain profitable business relationships with the Soviet Union and her client states, and then with the Russian Federation; and like all other Western countries, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union Austria welcomed Russian oligarchs and their money, even though it was obvious to every thinking person that so soon after the collapse of the Soviet economy such wealth could have been amassed only by the corrupt appropriation of the public wealth of the Soviet successor states.

In a situation where there was never any risk of hostile action by Western nations or NATO but very much a risk of hostile action by the Warsaw Pact, the official position conveyed to the citizenry was that each of the two blocs guaranteed our security vis-a-vis the other bloc, and that our military, small and ineffective as it well might be, only served to symbolically show of our willingness to defend our neutrality while leaving the heavy lifting to the signatory nations of the “State Treaty”.

In the Austrian population today the idea is widespread that criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by Austrian government figures violates our neutrality and is thus ill-advised; in the face of news that as a result of Russian aggression Finland and Sweden are prepared to abandon their neutral status and join NATO, the percentage of Austrians who believe that Austrian neutrality, perceived much more comprehensively than the text of the law, is essential to Austria’s existence and well-being, has risen to 91%. This seems to cut across the entire spectrum of political views and ideologies.

Austria’s opportunist attitude to her neutrality is cut from the same cloth as her official insistance that she was one of the first victims of Nazi Germany rather than an integral part of the Third Reich or a nation of largely willing collaborators and perpetrators of Nazi atrocities. I grew up with my father quipping, “In Austria, Hitler was a failed house painter; it took the Germans to turn him into Der Führer”, thus blaming the Germans for Hitler and Nazism while ignoring the fact that not only had Hitler’s ideology grown and thrived in the political and intellectual climate of the “First Republic”, but that a sizeable proportion of Austrians had welcomed the 1938 Anschluß.

It wasn’t until 1991 that then-Chancellor Franz Vranitzky acknowledged and apologized for Austrians’ role in the Nazi reign of terror both at home and abroad, thus abandoning the claim to have been Hitler’s first victim—and he was not universally praised for that admission and apology.

So in my view the New Statesman article describes reality as it is now and has been ever since 1955.

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  1. Austria became a republic in 1918 after the First World War and the demise of the Habsburg monarchy. That republic, which ended with Austria’s annexation by Germany in 1938 (the “Anschluß”), is typically referred to as the “First Republic“. At the end of the Second World War Austria regained her independence and became a republic once again; this is typically referred to as the “Second Republic” and continues to this day.[]
  2. During the Second Republic Austria has been governed by two parties, the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) which identifies itself as  “Christian social” and used to be characterized by alignment with the Roman Catholic Church and conservative values, and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (formerly Sozialistische Partei Österreichs) (SPÖ). These two parties either governed alone, or in coalition with each other, or one of them in a coalition with one of the smaller parties.[]
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Consecration to the “Immaculate Heart of Mary”?

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The Catholic News Agency reports that on March 25 Pope Francis will consecrate the Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,  and in another article explains what exactly this means.

In recent decades many Protestant denominations have abandoned, revised or relativized essential aspects of the Christian faith as attested by the Bible. This, together with the emergence of renewal movements within the Catholic Church whose spirituality is very close to that of evangelical Christians, has led to an increasing approachment between the Catholic Church and the Evangelical movement, with the realization that our two traditions can at least both recite the ancient creeds[1] without reservation.

As an Evangelical with Roman-Catholic roots, and with both family and many friends in the Catholic Church this planned act saddens me because it underlines the major disagreements which still divide our traditions.

In view of what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says about the cloud of witnesses which surrounds us[2] even as an Evangelical I don’t have too many problems with the notion of asking the saints, i.e. believers who have preceded us in earthly death and whom the Church recommends to us as examples of a faithful Christian life, for their intercession; this does not seem too different to me from the practice common among us Evangelicals of asking for the intercession of believers who still live among us.

But I cannot find any support or justification in Scripture for a piety focussed on the saints which credits them, including the mother of the Lord, with miracles; which considers prayers to the saints more efficacious than prayers to God himself; and I particularly cannot find any justification for consecrating people or countries to anyone other than God himself. As far as I can see this skates perilously close to the line between honoring  exemplary men and women on the one hand, and worshipping God on the other; a line which, when crossed, results in idolatry. And we have not yet even addressed whether the heart of Mary is indeed immaculate (sinless) when Scripture clearly suggests otherwise[3].

I find this planned act all the more regrettable as we have come together during the pandemic to pray across denominational boundaries for our countries, both in Germany (Deutschland betet)) and Austria (Österreich betet gemeinsam), and are just coming to the end of a week of Europe-wide, cross-denominational prayer for peace in Ukraine and Russia (Europe prays together). This act will break this unity: some will commend these two countries to God himself, while others will commend them to the mother of Jesus, as if she were on a par with the Trinity.

And this act suggests something else: that in the Catholic Church the supposed revelation of Mary in Fatima has primacy over the revelation of God in Scripture.

Sad.

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  1. even if reciting the creed is not a standard part of most evangelical worship services[]
  2. Heb. 12:1[]
  3. Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-12[]
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“The Russians” are not the enemy!

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On social media, in addition to many positive posts and comments of support for Ukraine, and the rather annoying comments from Putin’s defenders, there are unfortunately also comments which condemn and castigate “the Russians” and hold them responsible for the disaster happening in Ukraine.

Folks, please keep in mind that Russia is still not a true, functioning democratic country; that despite the fact that there seem to be relatively free elections, the operative word is “relatively” and information in the run-up to these elections is very much restricted, and candidates are randomly excluded or sent to prison camps on various pretexts.

And unlike in our western countries, once elected the Russian president is subject to hardly any checks of his power and he can pretty much do as he pleases.

The war in Ukraine was started and is controlled by Vladimir Putin and a relatively small inner circle of influential people; a wider circle including many of the well-known oligarchs supports this system because they have used it to accumulate their millions.

Ordinary Russian citizens, including most of the soldiers on the ground in Ukraine, have no influence at all on these decisions; if they speak out against them they risk their livelihood and a prison sentence.

For all these reasons we should be really careful not to blame “the Russians”. And the Ukrainians demonstrate this.

In this photo taken from a video clip circulated on Telegram and Twitter, a captured young Russian soldier is seen sipping tea and eating a snack as he tries to compose himself. A woman standing next to him is trying to connect a video call to his home. Soon the call connects and the soldier breaks into tears. He looks too stunned to speak but he blows kisses to the camera, as people pat him on his back to calm him down.  In the video a bystander can be heard saying in the video, “These young men, it’s not their fault. They don’t know why they are here.” Another person joins him and says, “They are using old maps, they are lost.”

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Ukraine Invasion: Idle Speculation

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In the days since the beginning of Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine I have come across some comments from fellow Christians which leave me scratching my head. I want to address two ideas from these comments.

The End Times Scenario

This is the idea that the war in Russia is part of the scenario for the End Times predicted in the Bible, and that therefore it is (a) fruitless and (b) contrary to God’s will for us to pray for an end to that war. It’s been prophesied, it’s happening, and there is no point praying.

Folks, that is cynical, unbiblical, un-Christian nonsense!

Scripture tells us that God does not desire the death of the sinner; it tells us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that we should be peace makers. And while we should always be prepared and ready for Christ’s return we are to avoid idle speculations about its timing.

Therefore it is never wrong to pray for an end to war, suffering, poverty, etc; rather, it is the sacred responsibility of all who claim to be Jesus followers.

What God does in response to our prayers, how He hears and answers them, is another question; but there is no doubt that we may and should pray—and help in practical ways as we are able.

The God’s Punishment Scenario

Some Christians have advanced the idea that Putin’s invasion is God’s punishment for the Ukraine’s liberal abortion legislation and the many unborn children who die there every day – and who are we to pray against God’s punishment?

I think that is selfrighteous nonsense, a private interpretation which cannot be justified either biblically or by other facts.

For one thing, many more abortions are taking place in Russia than in Ukraine; for another, both countries have inherited their abortion legislation from the Soviet Union where laws were not arrived at democratically, by any stretch of the imagination.

Our “western” countries, on the other hand, are democratically moving to ever more “liberal” laws, not only regarding abortion but also assisted suicide and euthanasia.

So, if there is a country that has deserved such drastic punishment from God, it is hardly Ukraine; and proclaiming some catastrophic event a punishment from God is not only arrogant but also contravenes the biblical injunction not to judge.

And Putin as the defender of Christian values is a truly perverse notion.

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Censorship?

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Every now and then, accusations of censorship are tossed around, recently with regard to a video clip from a John McArthur sermon on “biblical sexuality”, and currently with regard to several prominent artists removing their material from Spotify over the presence of the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast on the streaming service.

But what is censorship? Here is the introductory paragraphs from the Wikipedia entry:

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information. This may be done on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient”. Censorship can be conducted by governments, private institutions and other controlling bodies.

Governments and private organizations may engage in censorship. Other groups or institutions may propose and petition for censorship. When an individual such as an author or other creator engages in censorship of his or her own works or speech, it is referred to as self-censorship. General censorship occurs in a variety of different media, including speech, books, music, films, and other arts, the press, radio, television, and the Internet for a variety of claimed reasons including national security, to control obscenity, child pornography, and hate speech, to protect children or other vulnerable groups, to promote or restrict political or religious views, and to prevent slander and libel.

Direct censorship may or may not be legal, depending on the type, location, and content. Many countries provide strong protections against censorship by law, but none of these protections are absolute and frequently a claim of necessity to balance conflicting rights is made, in order to determine what could and could not be censored. There are no laws against self-censorship.

That is a good starting point because it points out that censorship is not always illegitimate. Typically, in our Western democracies, constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression impose limits on government censorship, with exceptions, but private individuals and organizations typically have more freedom to suppress unwelcome speech and expressions. Thus, while the government may not prohibit a poster proclaiming, “God is not real”, the private owner of a billboard is not required to allow this poster to be put up on his billboard; while the government may not prohibit someone from talking to people about his atheism, you are not required to invite that person into your home and allow them to talk to your family or guests about his atheism. Nor is a church required to allow this atheist to preach his views from their pulpit, or to allow anything at all which contradicts their doctrines to be preached from their pulpit.

When it comes to YouTube removing material from its site, such as a John McArthur clip proclaiming, “‘There is no such thing as transgender. You are either XX or XY. That’s it.”, the big question is, to what extent is YouTube a public space? The same thing is true of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. These are, after all, private companies, huge though they are, and their platforms correspond to private venues. Additionally, when you sign up to put content on these platforms you typically have to agree to their Terms and Conditions which usually incorporate content guidelines. If their content guidelines prohibit “hate speech”, and their definition of “hate speech” includes the denial of the reality of transgender, or the denial of the legitimacy of various sexual orientations, or the denial of same-sex marriage, then they are fully within their right to remove content that contravenes their guidelines.  And this is not really censorship, because they are not suppressing your right to speak or express your opinions, they simply refuse to provide a venue for certain types of speech. It’s the same as your church prohibiting someone preaching atheism or Buddhism or Islam in their sanctuary.

In the matter of artists removing their materials from Spotify because they disagree with Joe Rogan’s speech in his podcast hosted on the streaming service, the argument is somewhat different. Those who accuse the artists of censorship do so because in their view the artists are are trying to persuade Spotify to censor Joe Rogan. That may well be what they are trying to do, but I would say that  there are a number of reasons which make it perfectly legitimate for these artists to want to leave Spotify, and the economic reality is that their decision will not sway Spotify anyway:

  1. Spotify started out,  and signed these musicians, as a music streaming service, and is now, because of the greater profits they expect, morphing in a podcast platform where the more controversial the views, the greater the revenue. These artists signed up for a music platform; should they be expected to remain with a controversy-focussed podcast platform?
  2. There is a huge discrepancy between what Spotify pays musicians (peanuts) and what they are willing to pay podcasters like Joe Rogan or former British royals Meghan and Harry (millions). I don’t think Spotify is evil for acting doing what they do but neither are the musicians who are not willing to put up with this and are pulling their music — both sides are exercising their freedom.
  3. The artists also raise the question of being affiliated  or associated with Joe Rogan and the views he is willing to tolerate on his podcast. This is ultimately a question of personal conscience. There’s a parallel with COVID-19 vaccines. Some people feel they cannot accept a vaccine because fetal cell lines from an aborted baby may have been involved in the development, testing, or production of the vaccine. Others are either not bothered by that at all or  they agree with the Vatican that while that may indeed be the case, the distance to that initial abortion is so great that it can be discounted. We do well, both with the vaccines and with Spotify, to respect people’s consciences, even where our conscience directs us differently.
  4. And finally, censorship presupposes that the one accused of censoring has some kind of obligation to the one they are censoring, to permit, finance, or facilitate their freedom of speech. I would say that while Neil Young et al may have an obligation to not actively hinder Spotify’s or Joe Rogan’s free speech, they certainly have no obligation to facilitate it by continuing to do business with Spotify. And publicly announcing WHY they are pulling their music falls under their own right to free speech.

I believe that we simply have to live with the fact that Google, YouTube, Facebook, Spotify etc., are private, secular organizations whose management is dominated by people who are not favorable to the Christian faith (or most other faiths, for that matter), and who are motivated primarily by money. They tolerate Christian content to the extent that it does not offend their own views too much, or is unlikely to get them into trouble with influentual segments of their clientel, or makes enough money for them. The same is true with regard to Joe Rogan and other contriversial podcasters: what motivates them is the money they hope to make by hosting these podcasts. But they have no commitment to freedom of speech and expression on their platform, and our legal systems do not require them to have such a commitment. Add to that the fact that most of us, both content providers and content consumers, use the services provided by these companies without a paid contract, and the reality is simply that they have no obligation to us.

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Christians persecuted in Germany …

... just as in Communist Romania!

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(Sorry, video is in German only)

These parents, Camelia and Petru Furdui from Romania, who now live in Walsrode in northern Germany, must feel themselves transported to their homeland during the time of Communism which they probably only know from their own parents’ stories –but they are living in that model member state of the European Union, Germany!

On April 26, 2021 local Child Protective Services removed their seven children, David, Naomi, Estera, Natalia, Ruben, Albert, and Lea from their care without advance warning and placed them with foster families and in children’s homes. At that point Lea was just over a year old; she recently celebrated her second birthday without her parents and siblings.

After the initial reason given for this drastic measure, an accusation of child abuse, proved to be without basis in fact, the new charge now is that the children’s religious upbringing (the parents are members of a Pentecostal church) is “out of step with the values of the majority society.” A charge like that is clearly a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and of the right to bring up one’s children. The “Basic Law”, the German constitution, says in Article 6,

(2) The care and upbringing of children is the natural right of parents and a duty primarily incumbent upon them. The state shall watch over them in the performance of this duty.

(3) Children may be separated from their families against the will of their parents or guardians only pursuant to a law and only if the parents or guardians fail in their duties or the children are otherwise in danger of serious neglect.

An upbringing that is “out of step with the values of the majority society” is conspicuously absent as a legitimate reason for separating children from their parents.

Of course one may wonder whether this description of events by the parents Furdui corresponds to the facts, or whether there’s not more to the story — after all, CPS are usually very circumspect when it comes to the removal of children. In this context I note with interest that when one googles “Furdui Walsrode” there are dozens of media reports, mostly from secular media in fact, which bascically tell the same story as the Furduis. I find it hard to believe that no secular journalist could find a legitimate reason for removing those children — if such a legitimate reason were to in fact exist.

Based on other reports about the treatment of Christian parents by German authorities and about the causes of conflicts between Christian immigrants to Germany and the German school system and CPS a very likely scenario would involve one or more of the Furdui school children speaking up in school against some of those values of the majority society which in German schools are increasingly being communicated across the curriculum, such as the full equivalence and legitimacy of all sexual inclinations and expressions. Combined with the immigrant status of the Furdui family I can see CPS taking such action, for examle after a complaint by the school about those maladjusted immigrant children.

And after all, this buzz phrase about being out of step with the values of the majority society fits in very well with this scenario, coming as it does about from a segment of academia which equates conservative Christianity with fundamentalist Islam and paints the horror scenario of parallel societies which the state has to combat.

Mind you, I am not even imputing malicious intent to the CPS officials. In the modern, “progressive” view religion is not just unnecessary, but many aspects of a traditional Christian view of mankind and the world are considered wrongheaded and even immoral (such as the insistance of lifelong marriage between one man and one woman, the disapproval of sex before or outside of such marriage, the condemnation of abortion, the insistance that men and women cannot be arbitrarily exchanged and that a person cannot change his or her sex (or “gender”) at will, etc.). And children have to be protected from wrongheaded and immoral opinions. However, Germany claims to be a country governed by democratically defined laws, and in such a country the standard for measuring the legitimacy of any government action has to be the law, not officials’ individual sense of morality.

If you want to contribute to the family’s legal costs, please use this GoFundMe link.

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Diese Schmutzkampagne hat Papst Benedikt nicht verdient!

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Angesichts der öffentlichen Empörung über den emeritierten Papst Benedikt aus Anlaß des kürzlich veröffentlichten Münchner Mißbrauchs-Gutachtens finde ich diese Stellungnahme des Passauer Bischofs Stefan Oster sehr hilfreich und fair.

Die relevante Stelle in Peter Seewalds Buch

Natürlich muß auch Papst Benedikt / Joseph Ratzinger Verantwortung übernehmen für das, was er getan oder auch verabsäumt hat, aber man sollte bei der Beurteilung dessen fair bleiben. Das Gutachten wirft Benedikt vor, seine Anwesenheit bei einer bestimmten Sitzung bewußt geleugnet zu haben, um die Ermittler in die Irre zu führen; Bischof Oster weist darauf hin, daß Benedikts Anwesenheit bei und Teilnahme an dieser Sitzung bereits in Peter Seewalds Benedikt-Biografie dokumentiert ist, welche mit Benedikts Mitwirken entstanden ist, und es sich daher bei der gegenteiligen Aussage in Benedikts Einlassung tatsächlich um einen redaktionellen Irrtum gehandelt haben dürfte. Und er weißt auch darauf hin, daß es bei dieser Sitzung, anders als im Gutachten behauptet, nicht um den seelsorgerlichen Einsatz eines beschuldigten Priesters in München ging, sondern um dessen Aufenthalt zur Therapie.

Es ist völlig normal, daß sich ein körperlich nicht mehr ganz fitter 94-jähriger für seine Korrespondenz, insbesondere in Rechtsangelegenheiten, auf Mitarbeiter verläßt; einen Fehler eines solchen Mitarbeiters für eine derartige Schmutzkampagne zu mißbrauchen, und dabei auch den Inhalt der Sitzung falsch darzustellen, wirft ein bezeichnendes Licht auf die Verfasser des Gutachtens sowie auf die Medien, die das jetzt ausschlachten.

Ich bin als evangelikaler Christ in vielen Dingen anderer Meinung als der emeritierte Papst, aber die Lektüre seiner Jesus-Bücher[1] hat mich beeindruckt als das Zeugnis eines zutiefst Jesus-gläubigen Mannes, als eines Bruders im Herrn, und ich kann all jene, die ihn jetzt über die Maßen verurteilen, vor allem jene, die sich selbst als Christen sehen, nur auf Römer 14,4 hinweisen:

«Wer bist du, dass du einen fremden Knecht richtest? Er steht oder fällt seinem Herrn. Er wird aber stehen bleiben; denn der Herr kann ihn aufrecht halten.»

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  1. wobei ich auch nicht in allem mit ihm einer Meinung war[]
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Some thoughts on Covid-19

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(This post is a work in progress; it is likely to get changed and updated whenever my opinions shift or I have had occasion to think more about different aspects of the subject. Last update: 2022-01-18 17:15:18)

We’re at the beginning of the third year of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and the widely differing opinons on the pandemic, and on the various measures taken by governments and businesses to deal with it increasingly divide society, affecting families, churches, workplaces, and of course politics. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

First a few words regarding my personal situation: I waited a long time to get vaccinated because it seemed a logistical nightmare, due to my health-related mobility problems. My GP does not vaccinate, and normally does not do house calls, either. The various vaccination stations either required long walks from the car park, or else (in the case of mobile stations) long waits outside, neither of which appealed to me. And in view of my living arrangements, in a remote village and again, due to my mobility problems, my largely house-bound state, I did not see the urgency.

In mid-December the opportunity arose, on the occasion of a visit with my daughter, to have her GP come to the house and give me a jab, and in a couple of weeks we will repeat this exercise for my second jab.

In my immediate family there are several people who are unvaccinated by conviction, and who wish to remain so, and I must and can live with that, and live well with that.

When it comes to the big discussion the first question is, of course, whether the pandemic is a thing or not, whether it isn’t simply a new variant of the flu, which we ought to treat just like the flu, with voluntary vaccinations, vitamins, and rest, and nothing more. Those who hold this opinion usually doubt official statistics on the higher mortality of Covid-19 or the strain on the healthcare system; they assume that the numbers have been manipulated by governments in order to justify those draconian restrictions of our civil rights which they impose for undefined but certainly malevolent reasons.

I find this hard to believe:

When I look at our politicians, both here in Europe, in America, and elsewhere on this earth, they do not strike me as intellectual giants, nor as the most knowledgable and able people (those typically occupy the much better paid positions in the business world). I don’t believe for one second that these basically second-rate people, across the entire political spectrum, manage to conduct a worldwide conspiracy which only a handful of cogniscenti have penetrated; that they manage to seduce the media, business (which, with the exception of vaccine and mask producers suffer from the restrictions), as well as the entire medical establishment to quietly go along with their conspiracy. After all, we are here talking about people who are surprised that their text and WhatsApp messages can be used to blow their corrupt deals wide open; we are talking about people who are surprised that the voters are not thrilled when they impose restrictions on us and then flout them, etc.

For such a conspiracy to work the majority of the world’s medical doctors would have to be corrupt and play along; business people whose companies are at risk because of lockdown etc. would have to be quiet; really all politicians would have to be corrupt.

It’s the adherents of such conspiracy theories who drive the divisions in society because they consider anyone who complies with the restrictions to be complicit and traitors who cannot be trusted.

There are others however, who do not believe in a worldwide conspiracy but have various doubts about the need for and the efficacy of the measures imposed by government, whether it is masks, social distancing, or vaccinations. Others consider the potential risks of vaccination to be greater than the risk of dying from Covid-19; or, among Christians, who do not see death as a huge tragedy and prefer it to potentially disabling permanent side effects of vaccination. I think that such considerations, such views deserve some respect even where we disagree; we should feel free, however, to restrict our contact with people who hold such views if we consider it necessary for our own safety.

So what do I think of the various measures imposed by government to deal with Covid-19?

I have absolutely no doubt that the measures are not always well thought through, and of course they are not either argued or communicated in an optimal manner. The reason for this is exactly that weakness and imperfection of our politicians which has me doubt the global conspiracy, as well as the tension between the need for measures and restricitions on the one hand, and the realization that implementing such restrictions could negatively affect a future election outcome: If government does not implement measures and restrictions to guard against the risks of the pandemic, and there is a sudden rise in the number of deaths, or a collapse of parts of the health care system, they will get blamed and may loose the next election. If, on the other hand, they implement all the measures recommended by the experts, when they, for example, require that masks be worn, or impose a lockdown, people may get so annoyed that they will vote for someone else next time around. This tension frequently causes politicians to do what is likely to result in the biggest number of votes, rather than what their conscience tells them is the right thing to do; this is one of the biggest weaknesses of democracy, however, the alternative systems of government have their own, even worse weaknesses.

Add to this the fact that politicians, both those in government and those in opposition, are typically neither medical nor economic experts but depend on expert advisers. Even when there is broad consensus on the necessary measures and restriction, there are also frequently very loud and vocal dissenters, and this makes it even more difficult to know what is the right course of action.

The other big question is how we as Christians should deal with the pandemic and with the “Covid Culture Wars”. I maintain a directory of evangelical churches in Austria, and have recently added a page summarizing the relevant government rules and regulations as they pertain to churches and church services. On this page I linked to two videos by two German Christian leaders, Johannes Reimer and Johannes Hartl, and I also linked to statements from the Evangelical Alliances in Austria and Germany (sorry, all of that is only in German).

 

Das andere große Thema ist die Frage, wie wir als Christen sowohl mit der Pandemie als auch mit dem großen Streit darüber umgehen. Auf der Covid-Infoseite auf dem Österreichischen Freikirchenatlas habe ich zwei Videos verlinkt, eines von Johannes Hartl, und eines von Johannes Reimer, sowie Stellungnahmen der Evangelischen Allianz in in Österreich und Deutschland.

I also wrote the following: “As Christians we are called to regard others higher than ourselves, and to obey the laws of the state as long as they do not contradict the commandments of God. And we are not to usurp God’s role as judge, and for this reason I would like to challenge us, as followers of Jesus, to be very careful in how we express our opinions. Much of what irritates us when it comes to government measures is most likely not the result of lies or an attempt to brazenly restrict our civil rights, but rather the result of politicians being overwhelmed by the situation and the tension between possibly necessary measures and the desire to win the next election and thus not to excessively annoy voters. I am expressly not saying that we should not criticize government — that is our constitutional right — but we should not be quick to attribute malevolent motives  to people, not to mention dealing in conspiracy theories.”

On January 18 German evangelist Ulrich Parzany posted on Facebook, “In view of the painful conflicts in Christian churches regarding vaccination and Corona restrictions I recommend reading Romans 14 and 15. However, there’s still plenty of conflict potential there: Who are the strong, and who are the weak? Those who advocate vaccination? Those who oppose it? In any case, it would be helpful if both sides stopped swinging their moral baseball bats.”

That was not a very successful appeal as the comments show: with a few exceptions, both sides continued to swing their “moral baseball bats”.

And actually, one can read Romans 14 in such a way as to defuse this situation. Let me paraphrase Romans 14:2 in two different ways:

One person believes he should be vaccinated, while one who is weak does not want to be vaccinated. One who is vaccinated must not judge one who is not vaccinated, because God has accepted him.

and—

One person believes vaccination to be unnecessary and dangerous, while one who is weak considers vaccination to be good and necessary. One who is not vaccinated must not judge one who is vaccinated, because God has accepted him.

 

The argument that opposition to vaccination is objectively wrong, or that it springs from a sinful ideology (as one of the commenters writes rather judgmentally) is as irrelevant here as the fact that Paul says that the Jewish food rules absolutely don’t apply to Christians. Accepting the other because God has accepted him (or her) has absolute priority here.

We should also remember that the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:5 that we should take every thought captive to obey Christ. And Christ tells us in Matthew 5:22f, «Everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister will be subject to the court. Whoever says “You fool!” will be subject to hellfire.» Therefore we would be well-advised, when we think of those we disagree with, even if we consider their views wrong and foolish, to discipline our thoughts to think “This man, or this brother, is wrong!”, rather than “This idiot is wrong.” I am convinced that if we disciplined our thoughts in this way, we would end up treating each other differently.

And let us not forget that we owe each other respect not because of our correct opinions, but because we are all created in the image of God, however distorted that image might be by sin or ignorance.

Then, when some argue that love of neighbor requires one to be vaccinated, keep in mind that every one of us is responsible for our own loving or unloving actions; pointing the finger at others has never been helpful.

Here are a few more thoughts on the notion that the pandemic and the restrictive measures implemented by government are some sort of conspiracy to restrict and take away our civil rights:

Especially here in Austria I would be very careful with such accusations. Unlike in some other countries, here in Austria churches and church services are explicitly excempted from the various Covid-related regulations; the public health orders explicitly excempt “venues for the practice of religion”, and every lockdown, including the lockdown for the unvaccinated which is still in force, had as one of the exceptions the “satisfaction of basic religious needs”, with government clearly stating that that his includes attendance at church services.

Basically Christian churches (and other religious organizations) are responsible to make their own rules as seems good and necessary to them; the most elaborate such rules are the Guidelines for Church Services (sorry, German only) by the Austrian Roman-Catholic Bishops’ Conference. It contains this remarkable sentence which evangelical churches would do well to adopt: “In order to not exclude anyone a priory from attending church services participation continues to be possible without proof or minimal epidemiological risk as defined by government regulations (i.e. tested, vaccinated or recovered).”

This situation concerning church services, as well as the fact that regular public demonstrations against the government’s measures continue unhindered, despite the fact that a majority of demonstrators ignore the distancing and mask requirements, is  sufficient evidence for me that the government is not simply trying to restrict or take away our civil rights — else this is where they would have started.

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Allister Heath on the Fall of the American Empire

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Allister Heath of the British Telegraph newspapers has recently published two compelling – to me, anyway – commentaries in the Daily Telegraph, one on Aug. 4, 2021 on the American “woke” crisis, and one on Aug 18, 2021 drawing conclusions from the chaotic fall of Afghanistan. Because these articles are behind a paywall, here are a few excerpts which seem to summarize his main points.
 
Despite my growing conviction that the stance most compatible with the New Testament is Christian pacifism, I have nothing but gratitude for the role of America in defeating the Nazi regime and providing Marshall Plan aid to rebuild Germany and Austria, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we lived in Texas. So I regard the current situation not with “Schadenfreude”, but with sadness and a heavy heart.
 
(Italic emphasis is mine; “liberal” and “liberalism” does not carry the derogatory meaning in which the terms are used by American conservatives and Evangelicals.)
 
«America’s elites, led by younger graduates, have abandoned their post-1960s liberalism and embraced instead what Wesley Yang has described as its “successor ideology”: the sinister “woke” secular religion of so-called “social justice warriors” who see the world through the distorted prism of “intersectionality”, oppression, identity politics and the catch-all of “white supremacy”. These people say they want to fight racism but, in reality, are Balkanising America and have no interest in a truly meritocratic, colour-blind society finally at peace with itself, the original liberal ideal.»
 
«In the authoritarian, anti-democratic worldview which now dominates universities, big business, government and cultural institutions, free speech is dismissed as violence, conservatism as fascism and differences of opinion as “micro-aggressions”. Capitalism is loathed, as is free enquiry. The old elite – whether Left-liberal or Reaganite – tried to help the poor: the new elite dislikes the working class and seeks to deploy “cancel culture” to stamp out dissent. It attacks selective state schooling and campaigns to defund the police, moves that have led to an explosion of crime and are hitting minorities especially badly.»
 
«The Right, for its part, has also gone mad: too many Republicans have ditched their old principles – be it free markets, limited government or social conservatism – and instead embraced a dumbed-down, populist demagoguery on a long list of issues. Many Republican voters still believe, against all facts and evidence, that the election was rigged; on Covid, conspiracies have been rife. Trumpism could be the death of the Republican party. Left and Right hate each other: they refuse to talk, to live together, and they don’t want their children to marry one another. Race relations are also deteriorating again after years of gradual progress, according to polling.»
 
«No empire is eternal: all eventually fall amid hubris and humiliation. The heart-wrenching, humanitarian calamity that is the botched Afghan retreat is merely the latest sign that the American era is ending: Washington is no longer the world’s policeman, and an unsettling future of clashes between expansionist, authoritarian regional powers beckons.»
 
«In the late 1980s–early 1990s America’s global clout peaked.»
 
«Twenty years on, America’s global plan lies in ruins, its elites confounded on almost every issue, the stupidity and incompetence on display over the Afghan withdrawal confirming that they don’t understand the rest of the world, and aren’t fit to govern their own country, let alone the globe. Blinded by a simplistic universalism, they no longer understand religion, tribalism, history, national differences or why countries want to govern themselves.»
 
«America’s internal problems are immense: its constitution is broken, its predilection for second-rate gerontocrats such as Biden unrivalled. Racked with self-doubt, its elites in the grip of a bizarre “awakening” centred around a nihilistic, ungrateful self-loathing, it no longer has values to sell, neither capitalism nor democracy nor the American dream. How can people who live in terror of “micro-aggressions” find it in themselves to defeat real evils? As to the public, it doesn’t want to know about the rest of the world: how, under such circumstances, can the US empire not be in terminal decline?»
 
«The West has lost control: there will be mass population movements, currency wars and battles over natural resources. The American empire at least believed in freedom and democracy; what replaces it won’t even pretend to be liberal.»
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Lived Experience Trumps Open Debate – Should It?

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Let’s get this out of the way first: I am so sorry for the Trump reference in the title of this post—it does not refer to the former POTUS but is a quote from one of the articles I refer to in this post.

In an opinion column in today’s Daily Telegraph (unfortunately behind a pay wall for many) spiked columnist Ella Whelan comments on The Twitter mauling of Joe Rogan in the wake of the US comedian and podcast host suggesting that «the trajectory of “woke” culture is such that eventually “straight, white men won’t be able to talk”».

Her article illustrates and confirms something American theologian Voddie Baucham said in a recent interview (text summaryvideo) with Church Leadership Magazine and in his book, Fault Lines.

Here is the section from Ella Whelan’s column in the Telegraph:

According to some Black Lives Matter activists, white people need to “sit down” and stop talking about race. Feminists have long argued that men need to “lean out” or “shut up” and listen to women when it comes to issues relating to women. Transgender activists claim that any non-trans person deviating from the repetition of their “trans women are women” mantra must be a bigot, and therefore should be silenced. Teenage climate activists tell us we should be quiet and “listen to the science” rather than debating the best way to tackle environmental challenges.

In a recent online debate on intimacy during lockdown, I was told I couldn’t possibly comment on the benefits of dating apps for sexual exploration because I am married. In almost all aspects of contemporary politics, lived experience has trumped open debate, meaning that unless you fit into whichever identity or experience is being discussed, your views are deemed less valid.

In the interview in Church Leadership Magazine, Dr. Baucham discusses Critical Race Theory (CRT) which underpins the current social justice movement. He says it isn’t just a pseudo-religion but is rather its own religious movement. It has all the trappings of religion, a point which even atheists have made. The movement has its own cosmology, its own saints, its own liturgy, and its own law.

And here is the section where it meshes perfectly with what Ella Whelan says in her column:

What we have in our culture is not an objective truth, but we have a cultural hegemony that is designed for the purpose of oppression. Because of this we have to look at other ways of knowing. This is where narrative becomes very important, story telling becomes important, it’s one of the central tenets of Critical Race Theory. So in Critical Race Theory, if you want to know the truth when it comes to race and racism, you have to elevate black voices, you have to listen to the voice of the marginalized. And this is what people are talking about in church today, right: We have to listen to black voices, we have to elevate the voice of the marginalized. Well, in Critical Race Theory we do this because that’s the way you know truth—not through knowing God, not through knowing God’s Words, but through listening to the voices and the experiences of  the people who we determine to be marginalized.

So, even when we talk about having the conversation—and people will say, “You’re just trying to shut down The Conversation About Racism!”—that’s rooted in principles of Critical Race Theory, that’s saying that storytelling is the way we find knowledge and not through pursuing objective truth.

Since narrative, story telling, are the ways to find true knowledge, when folks tell their story they must be believed, their story must be taken at face value, however much it flies in the face of your own experience, of objective—even scientific—knowledge, or revealed truth.

But because it is only the narrative and the stories of the oppressed and marginalized, whether it be people of color, women, or those who identify with “alternative sexualities”, only their stories are worth listening to, and others, especially privileged white males, need to shut up rather than contribute their own experiences or opinions.

And finally, even those who belong to the oppressed and marginalized groups are only welcome to tell their stories and experiences if they fit into the grans narrative of Critical Race Theory. A black man, like Dr. Baucham, who tells a different story is dismissed as having “internalized racism.”

This edict, that all who are not fully supportive of the narratives and stories considered authentic voices of the oppressed need to be silenced, is at the root of what has come to be called the “cancel culture”, with the “de-platforming” of speakers who represent contrary views.

One of my own observations, and which all this bears out, is that it is typically those who call for tolerance and even affirmation of their own views and positions end up most intolerant of other views and positions. Even Christians are guilty of this: demanding freedom of religion for Christians in places like Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, etc., while at the same time discriminating against followers of visibly foreign religions in our own countries. It seems to be part of our sinful human nature.

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