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Sunday, April 26, 2015

General Petraeus, Conversion Events And ISIS

 General Petraeus

Friday just past, my mother and I found common political ground. She asked me what I thought of the General Petraeus sentencing. We both found it extremely odd that the ex-head of the CIA should be caught passing secrets out the door, and serve no jail time.

I said Edward Snowden was in exile, yet Petraeus will be on probation. She informed me that the someone on FOX has said the same thing, but with different emphasis: Edward Snowden was free as a bird, while poor Petraeus languished on probation.

That was a pathetic attempt, for it is apparent to people of every political persuasion that there are different justice systems: one for the run-of-the-mill citizens and another more lenient one for the elite, the politicians, generals, and the wealthy and powerful.

That is probably not a good development, but there's nothing I can do about it. So if the heads of the CIA and NSA and the Pentagon feel like passing secrets or taking bribes, I shall watch from afar, like Ausonius watching Rome collapse from his villa in Gaul.

Then my mother wondered why people were leaving fairly good lives to join ISIS.

I did not have an answer. If middle-class educated blokes and frails want to kill and maim for a caliphate, I do not know why.
She wondered what they blamed, society, their parents, Israel, poverty, etc.  I said I do not think they blame anything. That's what's scarey about it all.

I thought we should look at religious conversion events.
Even though we tend to think of conversion along the lines of St. Augustine's Confessions, detailing a long personal history of sometimes seeking God and sometimes not, but we think of it as the summation of a long history of life.
It is a story. I do not doubt Augustine's veracity nor his motives, but he tells a very good tale. And because it is a good story, it seeps into our consciousness.

However, consider St. Paul, who as Saul was intently going up and down persecuting Jewish Christians.
I asked my mother to think about if she had known Saul, and he said one day that he was going to Damascus, and he'd be back before supper Wednesday... and then you would never see him again! Or, if you did, his name would be Paul, and he'd be catching a ship to Cyprus or Athens.

Paul had a long history, too, but we do not have the same comprehensive story that Augustine gives.
Perhaps conversion events can be much more radical than we think.
Perhaps conversion can happen in the wink of an eye, even if the preceding history of divinity questing is rather exiguous.

What then?
What if there is no need of history for a man or woman to follow what they hear to be God tell them to do? What if it can happen over lunch, and to people who never gave much attention to such ultimate questions before? Or, if they did, seemed to confine themselves to one religion and fight against another, only to be thrown from their horses on the road to Damascus.

You know, come to think of it, we are mixed up in that civil war in Syria.
We are in times out of joint, where the leaders sift out secrets to their lovers.

We are on that Road to Damascus.


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