Friday, 10 February 2017

FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 793 8 February 17



‘Cowardly crusaders bite the dust’, ISIS gloated online. Meaning three Western young men killed while fighting alongside Kurdish forces near Raqqa, the Caliphate capital. One of them, 20 year old Englishman Ryan Lock, shot himself to avoid capture.

Branding enemies ‘crusaders’ is an emotive, propaganda-effective way to damn them. It is also misleading. Historically, a crusade was a war of religion preached and summoned by the Pope. To establish Christian rule over the Holy Land. A business gone out of fashion centuries ago. It is unlikely Pope Francis – he who took Syrian refugees with him to Rome - incited Ryan Lock and his comrades to take pot shots at Muslims, never mind how reprehensible. Besides, the Kurds belong to Islam’s fold. They would not welcome soldiers of the Cross in their midst, would they?

There is no suggestion Ryan Lock saw himself as a Christian. His suicide argues against it. Because a grave sin in Christianity. St Thomas Aquinas calls it ‘crimen maximun’, the most serious crime. A triple offence against (a) self-love, (b) society and (c) the Creator. So, for St Thomas the English boy first transgressed against that natural instinct of self-preservation God implanted in him and which he shared with all the animal kingdom. Second, he sinned against his British community by depriving them of a useful member. Third, he offended against the Creator who alone has the right to take away the life he once bestowed.

However, pace St Thomas, the Bible contains no explicit divine command against self-killing. Instances are ambiguous. It must be significant that Judas Iscariot, the infamous betrayer of Christ, committed suicide. Conversely, you can cite the case of a positive Hebrew hero, the strong man Samson. Captive, he ended his life by bringing down the pillars of the temple of the Philistine idol, Dagon, and so slaying his assembled foes and tormentors into the bargain. His primary aim was to punish his people’s oppressors. His life was a means to that, just as a soldier may choose to put himself in harm’s way if combat demands it. Yet Samson’s case troubled St Augustine. In his discussion the Saint affirms that the Holy Spirit instructed Samson to act that way. Check your Bible, pray - you will not find mention of the Spirit in Judges 17:28-30. Augustine was a bit economical with the truth here. Thus, whether Ryan sinned or not in blowing his brains out to prevent ISIS from using him as a prisoner, a pawn to taunt the West, must remain a matter between his conscience and God.

Not everybody believes the crusades were bad. ‘We must start a crusade again’, declared a bellicose electrician who came to fix my place, launching himself into an anti-Muslim diatribe. I patiently explained to him that only the Pope would have the authority and the power to proclaim a crusade. When Pope Urban II did so in 1095 at Clermont, many Christian princes heeded his call with alacrity. Fast forward to 2017. Can you imagine the poncey secular rulers of contemporary Europe – wishy-washy Angela Merkel, socialist Francois Hollande, unholy Theresa May, all that gang – giving a toss for what the Pope says? Regardless of whether it is Francis or Benedict or John Paul or any other modern Pontiff? Come off it! My would-be crusading electrician looked a bit crestfallen after that.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels mentioned the crusades as examples of European zest and energy. Just as well they did not say ‘success’. Only the first crusade managed to take Jerusalem and set up Christian principalities in the Middle East. In 1187 Saladin re-conquered the holy city for Islam. Despite the efforts of the valiant Richard the Lion Heart. An English King unlikely to be emulated by ageing Prince Charles, or by his jejune son William, when their turn comes. As to the other military adventures named as crusades, they achieved nothing. After Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, Pope Pius II appealed to the kings of Europe, inviting them to a new crusade. None paid attention. All the Pope could do was to invite conquering Sultan Mehmet II to become a Christian. Well, Mehmet must at least have admired the Pope’s cheek!

It seems there are other young foreigners, some British, fighting the ISIS non-caliphate in the Middle East. Whatever they are, they aren’t lily-livered. The risk of falling into the hands of brutes who chop off limbs, heads and burn people alive cannot be one a coward would ever take. Ryan Lock had been wounded on his face by Turkish bombs but asked to be sent to the frontline against ISIS – definitely a brave boy.

Like many youths bursting with testosterone, I guess these non-crusaders look for adventure, excitement, a cause. So did lads of my generation, running away to join the French Foreign Legion. (Aaargh!) Foolish perhaps but so, too often, is youth.

The Times writes that the Foreign Office has offered its sympathies to Ryan Lock’s family. Kind of the Whitehall mandarins but…does it mean they approve of British citizens who go and bear arms and fight in Syria and Iraq? And, if so, why penalise those who go and join ISIS? Only a rhetorical question, of course…

Revd Frank Julian Gelli

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