The Crisis of post-Christian Culture

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A very interesting and provocative video from Catholic podcaster and former Anglican priest, Gavin Ashenden[1]:

«The great flaw in the defence of Western civilization seems to be that it’s abandoned the faith which created it: Christendom. It voluntarily and energetically orphaned itself from Christianity. Christians and liberal secularists are going to face a serious challenge this coming remembrance weekend, when, as seems likely, Islamic protests “spill over” to confront the vestiges of remembrancee culture.

Will all the secularists realize that pleasure-seeking consumerism isn’t powerful enough, ideologically, to provide boundaries to contain Islamic expansionism and missionary ambition? They refused to think this so far. And if the secularists wake up to their own limitations and existential instability, which way then will they turn?

They will only have three possibilities:

  • More secular pseudo progress with the dragon eating its own tail, slipping into increasing incoherence and contradiction as the DIE (diversity, inclusion, and equity) agenda sucks it into a growing totalitarian madness;
  • or Islam itself, promising, once again, other forms of totalitarian control such as we find in Iran;
  • or, thirdly, Christianity and Christian culture, where freedom of conscience, freedom of choice, the dignity of the individual made in God’s image, the priority of forgiveness, and the promise of those basic freedoms we’ve taken for granted, is offered

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  1. Gavin Ashenden is a former Anglican priest who four years ago joined the Roman Catholic Church, being disillusioned by the increasing revisionism of the Church of England. Now a layman, he writes and podcasts on current issues in the church and in the world.[]
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The West: Lacking Convictions

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In this panel discussion at the ARC conference in London this month Greg Sheridan pointed out that all those on the world stage hostile to the democratic West (China, Russia, Iran, as well as their prixies) are led by people of deep religious or ideological convictions, and that we are taken by surprise by their actions because we don’t understand these convictions.

In reply, historian Niall Ferguson hit the nail on the head by saying, in part,

“Part of the difficulty we have in understanding conviction, ideological conviction, is that we have none. It’s very hard to understand that kind of motivation if your belief system has become so eroded that it becomes at best a cost-benefit analysis problem.”

I don’t agree with everything said at this conference, but the talks and panels are very interesting and well worth listening to:

https://www.youtube.com/@arc_forum

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The Gospel of Peace in a Time of Terror

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A Guest Contribution by Heinrich Arnold [1] from the Bruderhof Community.

Note: This article by a leader of the Bruderhof Community [2], Heinrich Arnold, provides a valuable challenge and contribution to our considerations on the complex topics of enemy love/self-defense/state violence/just war (bellum iustum), which has become extremely relevant due to recent events in Israel.[3]

The Gospel of Peace in a Time of Terror

A Bruderhof pastor asks how Christians should respond in the aftermath of Hamas’s attack on Israel.

By Heinrich Arnold
October 12, 2023

Last Friday, October 6, 2023, was a day of festivity in Israel, as throngs of people attended synagogues to celebrate the end of Sukkot and the beginning of Simchat Torah, “rejoicing with the Torah.” As this joyful holiday dawned on Saturday, unimaginable evil was unleashed. Thousands of rockets struck nearby towns as well as cities as far away as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Masked gunmen breached one of the most heavily surveilled borders in the world, massacring whole families still sleeping in bed, raping women, and rounding up an estimated 150 hostages.

By now, everyone has heard of the shocking atrocities perpetrated by Hamas in Israel over the last week. In the face of this horror, how should Christians respond?

The New Testament calls on us to mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:14). At a time like this, we should grieve with the people of Israel, especially the survivors of Hamas’s attack. And we should mourn too, with civilians in Gaza who are already suffering as collateral damage in the military response to it.

We must pray for peace. To say this may sound like a platitude. But if we believe in God’s power to intervene in history, prayer remains vital all the same.

Beyond grieving and praying, what else should we do?

From many corners, there are demands for stern action from world leaders. This is more than understandable because of the depth of fury, fear, and panic that Israelis feel at being violated in such terrible ways by an organization that has pledged to eradicate their country. The desire for a swift and severe reaction is at the core of our human response to evil. Like many, I have traveled to Israel and the West Bank on several occasions, most recently last year, and have made close friends on both sides of the long-standing conflict in the region. Many of them have spent years working for peace and dialogue in order to overcome the deep-seated hatred in their communities. When I’ve spoken with some of these in the last few days, they describe their incredible pain. They are living through a level of anger and dread of the future beyond anything I can imagine.

In my church community, the Bruderhof, one way that the terror has come close to home is the massacres that took place in kibbutz communities such as Kfar Aza and Be’eri, in which hundreds were killed, including toddlers and babies. The ties of friendship between the kibbutzim and the Bruderhof as two community movements go back ninety years. Though the Bruderhof is a Christian church and the kibbutzim are Jewish, we share a commitment to a communal way of life and have historical roots in common. Our hearts go out to these communities, and to all who are suffering the anguish of the past few days.

For my own part, as a pastor, I am not in a position to tell the governments involved what actions they should take. Nor do I have any say over how other world powers will respond. Government leaders will do what they do anyway. Let us pray that their decisions in the coming days and weeks are for the wellbeing and protection of all the people affected, especially the most vulnerable.

But though I don’t know what governments should do, I do know what followers of Jesus are called to do.

The only thing Christians can do with absolute certainty is to testify to Christ’s gospel of peace. Our calling is to pray for peace and for all the victims of violence, to refuse to support violence ourselves, and to be peacemakers. As members of his church on earth, we are to be an embassy in the present world of the future peaceable kingdom.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9). He taught: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43–45).

We should deplore all war; we can never cheerlead for violence, however justified it may seem to be.

Christians should protest the barbarity of the attacks on Israel – the coldblooded targeting of civilians, the rapes, the massacre of children, women, and elders. We should speak up, too, against depriving civilians of water and electricity and the bombing of residential targets. We should deplore all war. That is our duty; to be silent is sinful. Especially in moments when the public mood grows bloody-minded and vindictive, we can never cheerlead for violence, however justified it may seem to be.

What force can overcome such evil? Again, Jesus teaches us the answer: Only love can truly win over enemies.

The apostle Paul echoed Jesus’ teaching on peacemaking, writing in his Letter to the Romans: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

For Christians, it can be easy to lose sight of Jesus’ teachings about how to confront evil. It is tempting to reach instead for answers that seem more “realistic.” Yet hard-power responses to enmity are no guarantee of safety (witness the massive intelligence failure that left open the door to the Hamas attack); in fact, it’s easy to think of examples of how they can backfire. In any case, above and beyond considerations of effectiveness, Christians believe that Jesus’ way of peacemaking is the only truly realistic answer to evil.

We who profess Christ must testify confidently to his command to love rather than to trust in armed force. Christians must hold fast to his promise that his kingdom of peace will come, and that in it is the world’s hope. That is the future promised by the Psalmist:

Come and see what the Lord has done …
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


This article was oiginally published in English on Plough.com as “The Gospel of Peace in a Time of Terror.” Copyright ©2023 by Plough Quarterly. Posted here by permission.

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  1. Heinrich Arnold is the Senior Pastor of the Bruderhof Communities in the USA and worldwide. Heinrich is a great-grandson of the Bruderhof founder and is a father and grandfather, a teacher in the Bruderhof schools, and a medical practitioner. He regularly writes for the Bruderhof’s magazine, Plough Quarterly, and delivers a Gospel message every Sunday on his YouTube channel . He lives with his wife and family at the Woodcrest Bruderhof. Twitter: @JHeinrichArnold[]
  2. The Bruderhof Community is a movement in the Anabaptist tradition that practices a communal sharing of goods, oriented towards the example of the early Christian community in Jerusalem. Its origins can be traced back to Eberhard and Emmy Arnold, who founded the first Bruderhof Community in Hesse in 1920. After being expelled by the National Socialists in 1937, they initially found refuge in the Principality of Liechtenstein and later in England. Today, there are Bruderhof settlements in Australia, the United Kingdom, Paraguay, the United States, Germany, and Austria (in Retz and Stein/Furth[]
  3. I have posted two articles here on the blog in the days since the terrible Hamas massacre on October 7, 2023, and many more on Facebook, in which I emphasized Israel’s right to self-defense. Due to Hamas’ inhumane strategy of placing terror facilities (which are a legitimate target of Israeli attacks) in residential areas, hospitals, schools, etc., many civilians become victims in this legitimate defense. And I maintain: this ultimately does not change Israel’s right to self-defense.
    I also know that there are quite a few people in the Israeli army (Israeli Defense Force, IDF) who believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. I know of such a family that has five children at the front, three of their own and two in-laws, and according to my understanding of the New Testament, this is legitimate.
    However, there has been a tradition of pacifism in the church from the very beginning, i.e., since the apostles and early church fathers, the conviction that disciples of Jesus should not resort to any form of violence under any circumstances, even as soldiers or as policemen. This tradition somewhat faded into obscurity in the Middle Ages and was then rediscovered and embraced by the Anabaptists during the Reformation period (often referred to as the “Radical Reformation” or as the third wing of the Reformation, alongside Lutherans and Reformed). Today, the Anabaptist movement continues in the form of the Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites. The Bruderhof Community, which emerged in Germany during the interwar period of the 20th century, is very much in this tradition and was also very closely connected with the Hutterites for a while.
    I consider this tradition to be very valuable, and especially today, as an important challenge and counterweight to currents in the church that are too uncritical of state violence.[]
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Fake Etymologies

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A few days ago I posted about the annoying habit of preachers and Bible teachers to illustrate their sermons or lessons with wholly made-up or insufficiently fact-checked stories or claims. but the problem is not limited to preachers and Bible teachers.

Today, on Facebook, I came across a supposed explanation of the origins of the word “hangover“, which is unfortunately entirely fictional.

The claim is that in Victorian England, there were establishments called “penny hangs” where, for a penny, a person could sleep while leaning over a rope. In the morning, the rope would be dropped, and the patrons would be “hungover.”

While it’s true that there were extremely low-cost lodging houses in Victorian England, and conditions in some were dire, there’s no solid historical evidence that “penny hangs” existed in the way the myth describes. Additionally, there’s no direct connection between this concept and the origin of the term “hangover” as it relates to the aftereffects of alcohol consumption.

The story makes for a compelling narrative, but it’s not the true origin of the word “hangover“, and it is because of its compelling nature rather than it’s (non-existent) factualness that it survives and keeps circulating, just as some sermon illustrations survive and are used again and again.

The actual origin of the word is much more mundane and prosaic:

The word has been in the English language since the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

The term “hang” in English has had many different meanings and uses throughout history. One of its meanings relates to the idea of something that remains or is left over. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “hangover” was used to describe something that “hangs over” from one time period to the next.

In the context of the unpleasant aftermath of alcohol, it’s as if the effects of the alcohol are “hanging over” into the next day. By the early 20th century, “hangover” was being used in print to specifically refer to the aftereffects of drinking.

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Thoughts on French Riots and What Caused Them

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France has been rocked the past few days by riots and unrest in the wake of the killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merbouz at a traffic stop.

I don’t condone the riots and violence of the protesters (and Nahel’s grandmother agrees), but I cannot deny a certain amount of sympathy for the mostly young Arab and Black people of cities like Paris who have long complained of police discrimination. Since their complaints are basically being ignored by the authorities (a charge confirmed by the UN) the politicians cannot escape responsibility for creating the circumstances which lead to these riots.

Now French politicians, including President Macron, accuse social media of stoking the current riots and unrest.

It seems that what they are referring to is the wide distribution, via TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and other platforms, of videos which document police discrimination and brutality towards non-white citizens, such as the video giving the lie to the claim by police officer Florian M. that he shot Nahel in self defence; it shows Nahel fleeing the scene rather than attacking the officers by driving towards them.

Nahel was not, of course, an innocent; but in our societies driving without a license  and not stopping for a traffic stop are not supposed to be crimes deserving capital punishment.

That Mr. Macron and others apparently perceive the riots and the wide distribution of such videos as more problematic than what these videos show speaks volumes.

Florian M. has been charged with voluntary homicide; look forward to more rioting if he should be acquitted or convicted of a lesser offence.

Undoubtedly France has a massive problem with “foreigners”, i.e. people from different cultures. as do other European countries including my own, Austria, and I am not letting any of them off the hook when it comes to dealing with them fairly and equitably. But France’s problem, unlike Austria’s, is home-grown; it is the result of France’s colonial past. It is, so to speak, the sins of the fathers being visited on the children. All efforts to deport, incarcerate, or otherwise dispose of all these people from North and Sub-Saharan Africa will fail: the “ethnically pure nation-state” is an unrealistic pipe dream, and if the French, from the top politicians to the ordinary citizens, do not learn to live peacefully with all ethnicities and cultures in their country, I fear that we will see even more of such scenes in the future.

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First Reaction to the Refugee Boat Tragedy off the Greek Coast

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Here is my reaction to the recent refugee boat disaster in the Mediterranean, with more than 500 dead:

I believe it is time that all of us here in the affluent West, both our governments and we as individuals, undergo serious soul-searching about how we deal with refugees.

1. We must stop using the lack of agreement within the EU as an excuse for doing nothing ourselves. To make our mercy and helpfulness dependant on that of others is a  declaration of moral bankruptcy.

2. We must abandon the distinction between those fleeing war and persecution (‘genuine refugees’) and those fleeing abject poverty in their countries of origin (‘economic refugees’). It is morally reprehensible to sit here in our still comfortable circumstances, despite inflation and rising prices, and shrug our shoulders at the desperate poverty of others.

3. To refuse assistance to those in need so as not to encourage traffickers is deeply immoral. In our countries we all have the criminal offense of Failure to Render Assistance; we are collectively guilty of this towards the refugees.

4. I disagree with those who want to pit defense spending against adequate aid to those in need: The past year has shown quite clearly that external military defense is necessary, just as  a functioning police force internally. And relying on the increasingly dysfunctional United States for our defense is recklessly dangerous.

5. In all of our countries there is enough savings potential in non-essential projects to be able to help much more effectively. We just have to want it and set the right priorities.

6. There are deeply indecent political parties in our countries that find it acceptable not to help strangers for some perverse ideological reason. If decent parties with a Christian or social-democratic value system pursue a “strict policy on foreigners” in order to steal votes from the indecent parties, then this is not only not very successful (because xenophobic people prefer to vote “the blacksmith than the blacksmith’s apprentice”), but also constitutes an immoral betrayal of one’s own values. Rather, what is needed are broad coalitions of the decent, even across ideological borders, in order to keep the indecent out of power.

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On Stupidity (D. Bonhoeffer)

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A few days ago I came across this video:[1]

It is based on a text Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1943 while sitting in a Nazi prison.[2]

Bonhoeffer says that stupidity is more dangerous than malice because, as the saying goes, there is no cure for stupidity. or this reason stupidity is not an intellectual deficit but a moral one, a character flaw.

I find this explanation of stupidity and the danger it represents to be as relevant and compelling today as it was when he penned it. This is confirmed for me by the pervasive impact of conspiracy theories and the popular acclaim of politicians who promise their voters the moon, usually at the expense of some group of people or another.

A long time ago I came across the tag line, “Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by ignorance,” and it resonated with me so much that I used it in my e-mail signature for many years. And it reminds me, in this context, of a crucial difference between stupidity and ignorance:

Stupidity is willfully unteachable ignorance, denied ignorance, which does not want to be confused by facts which contradict its own, ignorant convictions.

I believe that part of the stupidity that prevails today is the pervasive rejection of faith in God: as the Psalmist says, The fool (the stupid person) says in his heart, “There is no God.”[3]

I am not a historian, but I would not be surprised ad all if the seed of the destruction of all past civilizations and empires was stupidity: the conviction that one knows it all, and knows it better than anyone else, and thus has no need to learn anything new or listen to any advice.

I fear that this could be the end of our civilization as well, if Christ does not return before then and makes an end to all stupidity and all malice.

 

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  1. Video by Sprouts, www.sproutsschools.com[]
  2. On Stupidity is an excerpt from Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison.[]
  3. Psalm 14:1[]
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Gender Craziness

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I guess I am about to wade knee-deep into controversy, but this article highlights beautifully the bizarre mess of the current gender change fad:

Matilda Simon, the 3rd Baron of Wythenshawe, is tipped to stand in a by-election to replace the Liberal Democrat Viscount Falkland, voted on by all sitting peers, with entries closing on May 15.

If successful, they would become the only woman, self-identified, among the chamber’s 92 hereditary peers, despite holding a title because they were born a man

I am basically with Jordan Peterson on this:

While I reject any legislative or other attempt to compel me to use terminology contrary to a person’s biological sex, usually I will, out of politeness, voluntarily address a person by the name and the gender pronouns (masculine/feminine) the person prefers. I will not, however, use any pronouns which imply the existence of more than two genders or the absence of gender.

Particularly I find the abuse of the plural “they” to refer to a singular person an intentional and ridiculous degeneration of the English language

  • If one accepted gender change as real, one should refer to this person as “she”;
  • If, on the other hand, one rejected gender change as real, one should refer to this person as “he”.

Beyond this grammatical travesty I agree with the women criticizing this person:

  • If she is a woman she should not attempt to claim a position reserved for men;
  • If he wants to claim that position he should stop claiming to be a woman.

In any case, s/he should not appempt to have his/her cake and eat it, claiming a trans privilege over biological women.

 

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ChatGPT, or The “world” is not the “Kingdom”

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Recently a Christian leader I respect and follow on Facebook commented,

Chat GPT is the most biased tool used to  propagate anti-christian worldview. Be careful. It rarely gets stuff correct, always adding a slight tint meant to demean Christianity.

That hasn’t been my experience. Of course ChatGPT is not a Christian tool and thus won’t give Christian answers, and of course it gets a lot of things wrong (not just about Christianity or the Bible), and of course, being a product of 21st century secular society it prioritizes “equality, inclusiveness, and diversity” over the free exchange of ideas and appends politically correct disclaimers to any potentially (politically or ideologically) controversial answer (after all, it doesn’t want to be cancelled), but so does just about any tool or platform which today’s secular world offers, whether Google, Bing, Wikipedia, and even Facebook where this brother posted his comment.

However, even if those assertions about ChatGPT were true, this comment seems to reflect an expectation that the world should cease to be the world and become more like the Kingdom of God, or that the world, as well as it’s institutions, tools, and laws, should conform to Bible-based Christian or Judeo-Christian values.

While this has for a long time been the expectation of many Christians in the United States and among Christian communities elsewhere influenced by American missionaries, it is an expectation that is foreign to most Christians outside the “Christian West” and to many within it.

I know many American Christians believe that the “Founding Fathers” had exactly that expectation in mind, but whether this is true or not, given Jesus’ words in Mt. 7:13+14, if you set up a society based on democracy (i.e. majority rule, with freedom of religion), the largely secular and non-Christian societies we have today in the US and in the West in general are exactly what we should expect: over time a majority of people choosing the wide gate, and building secular society in conformity with that path, regardless of the founders’ convictions or intentions.

This expectation and the belief in a “Christian society” which we have to somehow recover or restore leads to much frustration, with Christans spending much energy on turning society around through legislation, with all the attendant political belligerence and partisanship, instead of spending their energy on building a counter-cultural community that witnesses to Christ’s saving power, and which will have our unbelieving neighbors saying, “Look how they love one another! Can I be a part of that?” (Jn 13:34+35)

Mind you, I am not advocating that we withdraw from the world (á la the “Benedict Option[1]), or abdicate our responsibility as citizens of a democracy to speak truth to power and influence the world through the political process; but we do so primarily as individual citizens rather than as the church, and we follow the rules of the “game” and accept results which don’t go our way.[2] Most of all we don’t pin our hope on our political efforts and get too emotionally invested in them[3] for if we do, not only will we be disappointed but the world will perceive us as bellicose and belligerent political combatants rather than as loving witnesses to the Kindom of God.[4]

This Kingdom of God will not be fully realized until Christ returns; and we cannot hasten its realization “by might and by power” (Zech. 4:6) or by electing the right politicians.[5]

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  1. or at least, as the Benedict Option is often construed and understood[]
  2. And we don’t argue for our positions primarily by pointing to the Bible but by arguments which appeal to those who don’t see the Bible as an authority[]
  3. for example, to eliminate discrimination against Christian positions, as if we could somehow work our way around Jesus’ assertion that “in the world you will have tribulation” Jn 16:33[]
  4. When we publicly rail against laws that contravene our values, in ways that paint our opponents as immoral wr are actually trying to “convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment” (Jn 16:8), and that is not our job but the Holy Spirit’s. He is much better at it than we can ever be.[]
  5. Psalm 146:3 says, “Put not your trust in princes (or presidents, or governors, or Supreme Court justices), in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs (or he loses his re-election bid), he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.[]
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And so it goes on and on …

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    Photo & Clipping Credit: Washington Post website

And so it goes on and on and on …

But private gun ownership with minimal checks and controls remains a sacred right protected by a particular reading of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The right to keep and bear arms is here clearly linked to the citizens being organized as a militia. But for some reasons otherwise rational Americans ignore this and insist that every Tom, Dick, and Harry should be able to walk into a store and buy not just a pistol or a hunting rifle but a machine gun or assault rifle.

An American friend told me that as a European I do not understand that. For a long time I thought I did, but with every incident like this I my understanding wanes.

Some folks tell me that without the right to bear arms the U.S. would still be under the British Crown[1]. But for this to hold true, for freedom-loving citizens to rise up against a despotic government and actually prevail, you would also need private ownership of tanks, fighter jets, war ships – the full arsenal of modern warfare. Ludicrous!

What is most difficult for me to wrap my head around is that many of the people who put forth such (unpersuasive) arguments for this particular interpretation of the Second Amendment are all evangelical Christians, followers of the Prince of Peace, quite a few of whom have served as missionaries in Europe. What a testimony!  Unbelievable!

So we can look forward to more such incidents in 2023, an uninterrupted stream fom 2022 and years past.

When our application to stay on in the U.S. long term was denied in 1989, it was with disappointment and regret that we returned to Austria. It pains me to say so, but today I am so relieved and thankful that we are no longer in that hopelessly polarized and divided country and that our kids grew up without only a minimal threat of a shooter going on a rampage in their school.

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  1. Not that this would be so much worse than the current political situation, especially in the past seven years, with no end in sight![]
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