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Fr. Jonathan,

You have written often about the need to be both Orthodox and American. I've felt a certain awkwardness about that combination, and perhaps your post helps me clarify one reason for that awkwardness: To be an American is, in general, to believe in the goodness of rebellion -- most especially the lauded revolution of 1776 but also other rebellions in its image. Do not the ringing quotes about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and about the price of liberty being eternal vigilance indicate a doctrine of "Polis semper reformandum" through violence?

If rebellion, especially violent rebellion, is inherently and unfailingly sinful, then the Founding Fathers are not praiseworthy heroes but uncommonly well-spoken murderers. Not only do they engage in inflammatory rhetoric, they lead their fellow colonists in shedding the blood of their British countrymen.

Of course the problems go down deeper to the sandy bedrock of secularism this nation chose for its foundation. The quotes above, for instance, rest upon a proud and false understanding of freedom as absence of constraint on man's will rather than fulfilment of man's nature (namely, the image of God). From where I sit that proud and false understanding is, and has always been, integral to American patriotism.

So if Orthodoxy denies the goodness of both rebellion and secularism, does being Orthodox require Americans to repent of being "American" (perhaps in similar fashion to how early Roman converts to Christianity had to repent of emperor worship and paganism, the supposed glue holding Rome together)? You have, however, written of the picture of being American that you have found in some of the literature and poetry of this nation. Is that a more noble picture, and could you elaborate on it a bit?

Also, you deplore the loss of civil discourse and the threats against our federal officials, yet such grievous events aren't astonishing are they? I suspect that holding a civil discussion about some topics is positively sinful. Is it not a sin, for instance, to hold a calm and earnest discussion about whether Jews or black men or unborn babies are fully human (or, for that matter, whether corporations are persons)? If it is not sin, it is the sort of insanity that Chesterton describes as not the loss of reason but the loss of everything but reason. In a nation that murders 3500 of its own precious children daily, the only topics suitable for civil discourse must be trivialities. And in a nation in which the federal government enforces the notion that this mass murder is a fundamental aspect of our freedom, there is a grievous consistency in the officials of that government becoming the targets of self-styled freedom fighters.

"Courteous words or hard knocks," King Tirian counsels. In our case, however, both options are sinful. I (who am not even Orthodox) continue to hope the Church will lead us in a third option, an option worthy of Christ. I remain, as always, grateful for your efforts to do so in this blog.

Thank you Fr. Jonathan, for your thoughtful response. I was not raised fundamentalist, and I agree that there is no synthesis of the parties (except maybe that they are both screwed-up and both for sale), at least not for me. I believed your article attributed the atrocities of Tucson to a right-winger, of which I disagree. I am fully aware that Christ "has us," but felt the expression I used better served to illustrate my hopes regarding what I was trying to say about how Christ transforms those who desire it. In this discussion, if I had said that I wished "Christ had" the killer, would I not have, at least rhetorically speaking, implied that Christ chose not to have him without having to explain at greater length what I meant? I did not believe I was being ambiguous or equivocating, my opinion is that the killer was an atheist (there is evidence for this) and a schizophrenic (also evidence), and simply acknowledged that he read not only Rand (which was the only author mentioned in your article), but Marx and Hitler (Hitler did not like Marx or the Communists), none of which can honestly be linked substantially except by Americans. The link I feel they all shared that most defined their character and decision making qualities was, unequivocally, their intense Atheism. We have no proof the shooter was aware of Sarah Palin's "crosshares" (I certainly wasn't, but admittedly, don't follow her or would vote for her) nor any evidence that the rhetoric we despise caused this (I'm sensitive to people being judged without any evidence linked directly to them). There has been made, without evidence, an assumption that the shooter was bolstered by the Tea Party and the Republican party (forgive me, as I realize that I am, to some degree, lumping you with others who have made your argument, but likely don't share your exact worldview) . From interviews made by friends and families of the shooter, his schizophrenia did not come on until later in life. My opinion is that had Christ "had" him earlier in life, his schizophrenia would have been far less a factor, presuming that his physiological issues (hopefully) would have also been dealt with in a healthy way had their been any. The position I am trying to defend, is simply my opinion that which we already know, a world which rejects openly Christ (which the martyrs knew all too well of) has little hope of a producing a cultural environment different from the one we find ourselves in today. I do not believe the current American political environment had the huge effect on his mental state many seem to imply, I believe human bias drove many to that conclusion (I too listened his youtube vids, and my opinion is that they were mostly incoherent and insane, I see no "synthesis" with the American right-wing other than superficially, which, while schizophrenic, "superficial" he did not appear to be, in my opinion, he hated everybody). If there was any part in my response that called into question anyone's devotion to Christ, forgive me, for certainly, none was directed or intended (simply poor writing skills of which I am guilty). I only read this blog because I am certain of your devotion and defense of Christ (as well as your writing abilities which far exceed mine and the rest of us bloggers on this page) of that I speak unequivocally. On this issue, it appears we disagree, but that we both love and wish to defend Christ and His Church, of this I am certain (while I am certain of your ability to do a greater job than myself). Again, thanks for the thoughtful response, I learn so much from thoughtful polemics!

MJ you are attempting to balance out the left and the right, as if they were positioned on some sort of stylized continuum. They are not. They are two different things. You may be trying to attain a sort of "synthesis" position, as if there were two extremities arranged symmetrically on both sides of "normal" opinions. This symmetry make make you feel better, especially as the transcendent synthesis is assigned to Christ, as you try to do in your rhetorical dialectic.

Give it up. The extreme left wing inhabited by real live marxists is such a crazy nuthouse in this environment that no significant population listens to it. The names you listed in that category I have never heard of. The problem is that non-Christians like Limbaugh and the weird Morman Glenn Beck command an enormous following -- including a lot of rectory and chancery offices.

And now I hear that rootin' tootin' Sarah Palin has just accused the media of "blood libel."

This is reprehensible, and utterly without defense. She has just thrown herself into the swamp of disgusting irresponsibility.

You may complain about the ire with which I am complaining about the "right." This is so for two reasons. One is that I am conservative, and will thus criticize the language with which I am most familiar. I don't think you were raised fundamentalist, but the denial of someone's professed Christianity resonates deeply, and offends the very fundamentals with which I was raised.

But the other reason is that the right, by their own self-definition, is in the ascendent, and should be grown up enough to take criticism. Heavens, they've dished it out enough in the lat two years. "The American people have spoken" is how the right characterizes their electoral victory in November.

Another thing: we would all like to say that Christ can overcome anything. MJ, this is rhetorically and practically meaningless. Frankly, He will not overcome a shooter's free moral choice to shoot. In this world, and in politics especially, "having Christ" is not the simple answer you suggest. The saintliest, most devout Byzantine emperors were assuredly not the best governors.

If someone "had Christ," then he not only would not have shot a little girl and other defenseless people, he also would not have taken a Glock to a Safeway, nor would he have purchased an ammunition clip, nor would he have written a hate letter to his representative, nor would he have authored the hate speech and extreme right wing remarks on his self-absorbed web pages, nor would he have listened to the anti-government rhetoric that, MJ, is coming from where it is.

If he had Christ -- which is not really an Orthodox phrase, since we hope that Christ "has us" -- then he would have controlled his emotions, he would never have yelled or exploded, he would have received slights and insult and peacefully returned forgiveness to his enemies, real or perceived.

No. The shooter is linked, whether you agree or not, to an anti-government rhetoric, which has been inflamed, over the last 2 years, by the extreme right wing. You can't equivocate everything.

I do not know what you are trying to defend: but I don't think the position is worthy of your effort.

P.S. Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful dialogue! My prayers are with you all!

The claims I made equivocating the struggles of the current administration now with those of the past are only unsupportable if we if we don't consider the prevailing culture. A seriously struggling economy with a government on the verge of bankruptcy will need a scapegoat on both sides. What I am annoyed at is the equivocation of this guy with the right, rather than with the environment, which was hinted at by the Ayn Rand comment, which overlooked, at the same time, the Marxist, Nazi influences of the shooter. Ayn Rand may have been a stone-faced, laissez-faire capitalist, but she was also an atheist. While I agree that this shooter was likely motivated by the heightened vigor in our current cultural debate, the blog that I am responding too wanted to attribute that ire to the radio (right-wing reference), excellent entertainment (Fox News), and people who don't like high taxes. My point is, America is not in turmoil alone, the whole world is. Europe is a financial mess, (see Greece), China is rising up (Marxist, Atheistic culture), the Russian people are looking to their leaders for more leadership (the wrong kind I fear, as Atheism is still terribly high and Putin is not Orthodox no matter how many times I see him on camera making the sign of the cross), and the world is turning its back on Christ and thus, all hope (I'm not without hope, just observing). The hard left in this country desires armed revolution (Ted Rall and Frances Fox Piven) and as much as those on the hard right(rights use more rhetoric, left are at least more honest about their violent intentions), and both are God-less. Getting caught up in the rhetoric only fuels it as both sides defend their positions (i.e. this tragedy is a result of justified anger from those on the right who have had enough, or this tragedy is a result of those on the right not listening enough to the "love and compassion" of those on the left). Both arguments are ridiculous! Christ is missing, our current world culture hasn't called on Him truly or, just as importantly, have not sought to know Him truly. This is the core of all problems, and as long as any of us appear to support either side or to believe the rhetoric of either party, we contribute to the negative dialogue. Agreed that the religious right is too sensitive to criticism, which acknowledges that Christ is not truly the center of their arguments, for all Christians must acknowledge their own sin and thus, their own fallibility. My small, inconsequential opinion is that in the initial blog which prompted so many responses, the implication came across to me that the shooter acted on heightened cultural tension, which was driven by the Republican party (radio, entertainment, Rand), rather than the ridiculous level of debate between the two parties, which, simply put, is lacking Christ. If the other comments linking the shooter to the right(which could have just as easily been made linking him to the left) were left out, and the great lack of Christ in the world today was listed as the cause w/out the "right-wing" references, I would have had nothing to inject! I choose to defend neither the right or the left, if the shooter had truly had Christ, this would not have happened, regardless of political persuasion and possibly, even in light of his mental state, as Christ can even overcome this type of human struggle.

Nicole, thank you for your kind concern about my response. But as someone who has worked with troubled youth and persons who were literally (and adjudicated by the courts as) insane, I insist upon the moral responsibility of the individual, especially when intelligence of planning is shown as a component of the the act. You are taking me for another shrill voice in the vitriolic chorus -- and for that, I am pained.
Yes, Nicole and MJ, the shooter was certainly not a a card-carrying member of a right-wing sect. Undoubtedly, he is insane -- I will say this long before he will be officially labeled as such. My point is that the disturbed are prodded into action by the irresponsible speech of the culture around them. And I would remind you especially, MJ, that during the Bush years (and the Reagan years), we were critical of the constant chorus of complaint. I do think, MJ, that your equivocation of the complaints about the present administration with the opposition against the Republicans is unsupportable.
I continue to expect better rhetoric from the Christian community. I will continue to criticize the religious component of the right wing for their failure to rein in their broadcast potentates. I am rather hopeless about the left wing, and my ire against leftist religious types is, I should think, a matter of clear record.
I do not understand why the religious right is so sensitive to criticism. They expect, of the left, an ability to receive exhortation.

I couldn't agree more that heightened political rhetoric is high, but there is no question that it is coming from both sides, and comments made on this blog back this up for me. It is interesting that in the initial blog that it was remarked that shooter had read Ayn Rand, it was not mentioned that the shooter listed on his very own FB page that some of his favorite reading material included Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto, it wasn't mentioned that the shooter allegedly appeared supportive of "flag burning", that his romantic interest had recently rejected him, that he had been cited for possession of Drug paraphernalia (he appeared to be a marijuana user), his classmates had noted that he despised and/or distrusted all religion, suffered a stint as a "goth type," and there seems to be information coming to light that he was connected with an organization that was anti-semitic (Congresswoman Giffords was Jewish). I typically wouldn't connect any of these things to the Republican party,(of which I am no defender), the Tea Party, (not a member) or the religious right (he distrusted religion and last time I checked the religious right were huge supporters of Israel). I'm not defending political conservatives, only saying that to say he was motivated to harm this woman because Sarah Palin or Fox News "drove" him to it, for me, seems anti-intellectual(sorry, not trying to make this an issue of intelligence for I find the substance of most of this blog and its respondents to generally be of the "highest stature" intellectually). I only believe that the anxiety we are feeling in the political debate began long before Obama. The rhetoric used against Reagan (which has been brought up in this blog, and against whom an actual assassination attempt was made), the rhetoric used against Bush the elder during Desert Storm, the rhetoric used against Clinton during Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the unprecedented rhetoric used against both Bush and Cheney in general, only show a great building of negative discourse that has risen from both parties. Palin's campaign was criticized for using "crosshares" in her website, while Sen. Joe Manchin (a Democrat) was overlooked for using in one of his political ads an actual rifle and firing it (the only ad of its kind during the last election) against proposed legislation in his ads. There is no question that we are being fooled, as a culture, into believing constant distrust and rage against the other side will help us achieve our goals, and the response within the media (and in some sense, this blog) proves it. I trust neither party, nor hold either responsible individually for this terrible atrocity at the hands of what appears to be a clinically diagnosable schizophrenic. May the rhetoric on both sides cease, and may the Lord God guide us through these tough times, to a place where man is ruled not by hate, or by the whims of men, or by political beliefs masquerading as love of country or God, but may we be driven by a love of Jesus Christ Himself! My prayers are with the families of those killed or injured, including our American congresswoman!

Orthodox are cautioned to control our passions. Please let us learn the truth behind this tragedy before embarking on speculation and attribution based on one's own emotion. IF this young man suffered from mental illness and/or drug use, his own tortured mind tragically may be entirely responsible. The hell within can sometimes spill over. I understand your upset but I would be sad to see you miss the truth in service of a different truth which does not apply here. That would be just as false and inflammatory as the rhetoric you decry. Please Father, wait.

And Dianne, you are right and poignant in your bringing the testy James to bear. He, of all people, would not have been surprised at this turn of events. I wonder whether we pay enough attention to St. James, especially to his arched and cryptic remark, "Above all, do not swear."



I am not sure, however, where the ambiguity serves any better. I, too, would probably cavil at the sheriff's "Mecca" remark. But I can only agree with his charge that the general climate of vitriolic rhetoric bears a major responsibility for this tragedy.

I also agree -- since I have heard the same assertion from others -- that the threats against officials are at an unprecedented level.

Since you have stated that the state of Arizona indeed requires background checks, and that the shooter passed an FBI check (a possibility which I find appalling), I will remove that accusation.

I do not know what to say, adequately, for how this tragedy has afflicted you and so many others in the Tucson area. Please accept the assurances of my prayers.

The closing comment was not directed at you, but at all of us. After I posted this and returned, I realized how it appeared.

Father Jonathan

I agreed much more strongly with your previous post than with this one. In your previous post, by remaining ambiguous in describing the targets of your ire, you were more accurate. The rhetorical excesses at both ends of the socio-political spectrum share the blame. Over the last few decades we have seen an increasing tendency to demonize the "other." This is a useful (but not moral) tool to marshal public opinion in support of war or increased security measures or other initiatives. Now it seem that it is the currency of public discourse or discord. An example was the immediate response of many to blame the right wing rhetoric for the heinous acts of Saturday. All practitioners of extreme rhetoric, demonizing the other, share part of the responsibility for the environment that fostered these violent acts.

Our media and national leaders have, for example, demonized Islam to the extent that the new church building being built by our parish has been criticized for looking too much like a mosque. But in Egypt, Muslims surrounded the Coptic Christian churches on Christmas to act as human shields so their Egyptian brethren could celebrate the Nativity of our Lord.

Additionally, if someone speaks out against same-sex marriage, they are branded as a homophobe or as a hater. The reasons for taking a stand on such an issue are deeper and more complex than fear or hate, but the distinctions are lost in the reflexive rhetoric. Pro-choice individuals are called baby killers and pro-life individuals are called oppressors of women.

Then some fact checking:
1. Arizona requires background checks for firearms purchases. The shooter passed the FBI check.
2. Sheriff Dupnick's first comments were quite inflammatory and unfounded. His later statements are those that appeared in most of the national press and were revised to be more moderate and appropriate. (Other local commentators and public persons also, wisely retracted or revised their initial statements uttered in the first hours of Saturday morning.)

Finally, some background:
My children have attended the same schools as the perpetrator albeit at different times.
One of my daughters was moving into a new apartment about a mile from the scene of the crime, while it was happening.
Another daughter was at work a couple of miles from the Safeway store in the other direction but along the same road.
One of the murder victims is a friend of a friend.
The husband of my church school co-teacher was in the Safeway store about an hour before the murders.
The husband of one of the church school coordinators is an attorney who appeared before the murdered judge within the last two weeks.

Hateful rhetoric and demonizing of others needs to stop.

As our priest said in his homily on Sunday morning, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Oops, edit phrase in my comment above to read, "that hateful and threatening rhetoric has no role . . . "

I am glad to see you take this clear stand on how egregiously un-Christian this hateful political rhetoric is.

It appears that many Christians have told St. James to leave the building. They are offended that people find their hateful speech, well, hateful. They seem to have decided that there is no connection--no, none, nothing to see here, move along--between angry words and violent deeds.

On the contrary. The tongue is a fire, and set on fire by hell.

Obviously, everyone has the right to protest, vigorously, against political leaders. But it's just wrong to do that with threats of violence. And it's not only that the rhetoric is violent; it's become so casually, off-handedly "normal" to use violent language instead of civil debate. It's not only that it's dangerous; it's also just, well, stupid.

But let's consider this proposition of theirs, that hateful and threatening rhetoric have no role in causing violent actions. If this is so, what great news this is for millions of children of these parents! They will no longer be forbidden to consume TV, movies, music, video games, and any other media previously considered inappropriate, because what you hear and see in the media has no effect on behavior. Likewise, your children have absolutely nothing to fear from schoolyard bullies who threaten them and brandish weapons on the playground, because there's no connection between such behavior and actual violence. In fact, by this logic, your kid can *be* the threatening bully, because hey, that doesn't mean he's actually going to hurt anyone! He's just exercising his right to free speech.

In other news, the advertising industry just collapsed, because speech and images have no influence on behavior.

One more thing. If the person who had published Sarah Palin's infamous cross-hairs graphic were not Palin but, say, a Muslim, would the conversation about free speech in relation to this shooting be shaping up exactly the same as it is now?

Thanks for the clarification. I have seen it argued in a democratic context like America, that secession can actually be the less contentious option. Certainly, if one side is completely opposed to secession, it will necessarily produce conflict. But if the parties involved have mutually exclusive interests, secession may actually spare them a good deal of political fighting.

Peter, for now I will stipulate that secession does not fall under the same interdiction as rebellion, revolution, insurrection and riot. I retain my suspicions, however, about the use of the term -- which is usually couched in historic ignorance and hackneyed cliches. I doubt whether God endorses either indissolubility or dissolubility. A Christian, except in extreme circumstances -- like the Greek under the Ottomans, or the Russian under the Tartars -- should be satisfied with his government.

I would be interested to hear more at some point about why secession also falls under the ban. Although it can certainly lead to violent action (most immediately on the side that opposes secession), it does not necessarily. It also doesn't seem to be a cut-and-dried issue of rebellion against God-given authorities, especially in a nation like the USA, which was born in an act of secession and constituted as *united states,* which retain a certain degree of sovereignty. Certainly there is difference of opinion as to whether that sovereignty includes a right of secession, but can it be said conclusively that the the indissolubility argument is the one endorsed by God?

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