Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Isaiah Berlin: Half Right

Riga, Aug 09 (AS)

Isaiah Berlin:

As for the meaning of life, I do not believe that it has any: I do not at all ask what it is, for I suspect it has none, and this is a source of great comfort to me — we make of it what we can, and that is all there is about it. Those who seek for some deep, cosmic, all-embracing, teleologically arguable libretto or god are, believe me pathetically deluded.

So far as I’m concerned, Berlin is right about that meaning of life thing. It’s nothing but a relief to me that there is none, and for the reasons he gives.  On the other hand, to describe those who have found some sort of god as ‘pathetically deluded’ is too smug and so far as that ‘pathetically’ is concerned, often inaccurate. As a species we seem to be hardwired for faith. Upbringing and culture will generally dictate the form that the faith takes, sometimes disastrously so, frequently not.




“Another Emergency”

FourHorsemenThe Economist, at it again:

THE political masters of the world are gathering in a Paris traumatised by terror to consider another sort of emergency, climate change.

Trivialize much? Exaggerate much?

The magazine’s ‘Erasmus’ goes on to note:

The unusual thing about this gathering is that mankind’s religious guardians have also been preparing for it; their voices have been rising in a crescendo of moral concern.

Unusual? Not really: “mankind’s religious guardians” (a phrase so sycophantic and so syrupy that it beggars, well, belief) were pretty noisy before the failed Copenhagen climate conference too.

But we shouldn’t be surprised by those expressions of “moral concern”. The science of climate change is one thing (I’m probably a ‘lukewarmer’ myself), but the way it is understood is another, and the usual ‘narrative’ of climate change, with its implicit attack on materialism and warnings of an apocalypse to come,  fits very neatly into the teachings of any number of faiths. No wonder “mankind’s religious guardians” want to get involved.

Back to Erasmus:

When the French president toured typhoon-stricken areas of the Philippines in February, he brought along Patriarch Bartholomew, the “first among equals” in the Orthodox Christian world and a veteran campaigner for the planet. Then in July, Mr Hollande hosted an eye-catching “summit of conscience” that involved faith leaders of many stripes; they ranged from the Orthodox Patriarch to Sufi Muslim sages; from Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana (speaking for the pope) to indigenous people from fragile parts of Latin America. The co-organisers included R20, an environmental and green-energy movement started by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, and Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a British-based NGO launched by Prince Philip.

With the exception of Hollande (and, once upon a time, Schwarzenegger) these people are, of course, unelected, a reminder that much of the climate change ‘process’ is a post-democratic exercise.

And talking loftily about faith, morality and ‘the planet’ will not change that most inconvenient truth.




Free Speech is not a ‘European Value’

VaginaprotestThe Local (Spain):

[Three Spanish feminists] are facing charges for crimes against religion for mimicking Spain’s Easter processions – replacing the Virgin Mary with a giant plastic vagina. Three women who carried a giant plastic vagina during a march to celebrate Worker’s Day, held every year on May 1st, are facing charges of “crimes against religious sentiment”.

The three women, who have not been named, allegedly mimicked Spain’s famous Holy Week processions that take place in the run up to Easter. The women “carried a plastic vagina a couple of metres high in the style of the Virgin Mary,” said the Seville-based judge.

Many Spanish religious festivals feature processions during which locals carry a statue of the Virgin Mary above their shoulders. The prosecution argue that the women made a mockery of this religious practice by lifting the plastic vagina onto their shoulders and parading it during a march organized by the Spanish union the General Workers’ Confederation (CGT) on May 1st 2014.

Some of the women also wore mantillas, the black lace veils commonly worn by devout Catholic women during religious celebrations in Spain while others sported the conical hoods commonly worn by the members of religious brotherhoods over Easter. The three women have been ordered to appear in court in February 2016 for a crime against religious sentiments….

Childish?  Sure, but it should not be criminal.

And as for the precedent that is being set, well…

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The New Atheist’s interview with Salon – a publication largely hostile to the Bertrand Russell-style liberalism of Harris and his ilk – is better read at Harris’s own website, in its unedited form. (A portion of the interview that badmouths Salon was cut by the site, not shockingly.) Below are some choice excerpts.

On American foreign policy and Islam:

You can make the list of U.S. crimes and missteps as long as you want, but it still doesn’t explain ISIS. The fact that we invaded Iraq is merely a background condition for a local explosion of jihadist triumphalism and horror – one that is fully explained by a commitment to a specific interpretation of Islamic scripture. Medical students and engineers, who are second- and third-generation British citizens, have joined ISIS. There is nothing about Western foreign policy, global capitalism, or white privilege that explains this.

I agree that the history of colonialism isn’t pretty, but….there are (or were) Christians living in all these beleaguered countries. How many Christian suicide bombers have there been? Where are the Pakistani, Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian Christians who are blowing themselves up in crowds of noncombatants?

On the problems of the multicultural left:

These people are part of what has been termed the “regressive Left” – pseudo-liberals who are so blinded by identity politics that they reliably take the side of a backward mob over one of its victims. Rather than protect individual women, apostates, intellectuals, cartoonists, novelists, and true liberals from the intolerance of religious imbeciles, they protect these theocrats from criticism.

On religion and the GOP:

Ben Carson is a perfect example of how even the process of becoming a neurosurgeon is insufficient to correct for this indoctrination. It’s astonishing: The man is both a celebrated neurosurgeon and a moron. Apparently, becoming a neurosurgeon can be like becoming an electrician or a plumber—you can learn it like a trade, and your mind can remain more or less untouched by the scientific worldview.

I felt that I glimpsed the possibility of Christian theocracy in the U.S. when Sarah Palin addressed the Republican National Convention. She was at the height of her powers, and she hadn’t yet unraveled in those interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. This was terrifying—because I knew her to be both a religious lunatic and total ignoramus. The fact that she had any chance of acquiring so much power and responsibility seemed to make a mockery of the entire career of our species.

On the potential of P.C. mission creep to leave only fringy undesirables asking the probing questions:

I worry that such Christian demagoguery could become even more attractive politically because the secular Left has made it so painful to speak about the threat of political Islam. By conflating any focus on Islamism and jihadism with bigotry, there may come a time when only real bigots and Christian theocrats will be willing to address the problem. And they could gain political power because then even sane, secular people might feel that they have no other choice [see the appeal of Marine Le Pen to a surprising number of gay voters].

Read it all.

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Intellectual Liberty and the Student Demands

Of the demands being made by protesters in the current wave of unrest on American campuses, some no doubt are well grounded and worth considering. Some of them, on the other hand, challenge academic freedom head on. Some would take control of curriculum and hiring out of the hands of faculty. Some would enforce conformity of thought. Some would attack the rights of dissenters. Some would merely gut the seriousness of the university.

Last night I did a long series of tweets drawing on a website which sympathetically compiles demands from campus protests — — and noting some of the more troublesome instances:

  • From Dartmouth: “All professors will be required to be trained in not only cultural competency but also the importance of social justice in their day-to-day work.”
  • From Wesleyan: “An anonymous student reporting system for cases of bias, including microaggressions, perpetrated by faculty and staff.”
  • From the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: “White professors must be discouraged from leading and teaching departments about demographics and societies colonized, massacred, or enslaved under white supremacy.”
  • From Guilford College: “We suggest that every week a faculty member come forward and publicly admit their participation in racism inside the classroom via a letter to the editor” in the college paper.

My series drew and continues to draw a strong reaction. Now I’ve done a Storify pulling it together as a single narrative and including some of the responses. Read it here. (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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Here’s an interesting piece on Kurdish Syria, wherein the influence of American far-left thinking on the region’s secular politics is explored. Specifically, its influence on Kurdistan Workers’ Party co-founder Abdullah Ocalan, who is currently languishing in a Turkish prison:

One of his supporters gave Ocalan his first book by an obscure Vermont-based philosopher named Murray Bookchin. After Ocalan read it, he requested everything Bookchin had ever written. Oliver Kontny, a translator and P.K.K. sympathizer who was working for Ocalan’s lawyers at the time, told me that Ocalan let ‘‘all of us know that he was working on a paradigm change based on what he learned from Bookchin.’’

In solitary confinement, Ocalan studied Bookchin’s magnum opus, ‘‘The Ecology of Freedom,’’ at once a sweeping account of world history and a reimagining of Marx’s ‘‘Das Kapital.’’ In it, Bookchin argues that hierarchical relationships, not capitalism, are our original sin.

Bookchin favored what he called the ‘‘Hellenic model’’ of democracy, the type of direct, face-to-face government once practiced in ancient Greece.


As W.E.I.R.D. as both Bernie Sanders’ supporters and libertarians are, the former really are less parochial.

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Multiculturalism, Free Speech: Choose One?

blasphemyNational Secular Society:

Labour MP Keith Vaz has expressed his support for the reintroduction of UK blasphemy laws – provided they “apply equally to everybody.”
His comments were reportedly made at an event organised by the Muslim Council of Britain to explore responses to terrorism and extremism, held in London on 12 November. During discussions on how to respond to ‘slurs’ and “grossly irresponsible” coverage of Muslim issues in the media, attendees called for Britain’s Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to use its powers to pursue complaints of discrimination against groups of people, such as those of Muslim faith, even if no individual is specified in an offending article.

Miqdaad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of the MCB, said “Muslim communities need to be able to respond to accusations [against] Muslims, or against the Prophet, in a more effective way.”

He added: “Whether there should be legislation is something that really is a more complicated question.”

But in response to discussion on new blasphemy legislation, Vaz, who is the chairman of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, told Al Arabiya that under certain conditions he would have “no problem” with the reintroduction of blasphemy laws in the UK.

“Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to [a blasphemy law] … but it must apply equally to everybody,” the longstanding Labour MP added.

Free speech, it seems, is not so “very special”.



New Heights in Wishful Thinking

A Facebook friend posted this today:

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This person isn’t particularly political – a well-intentioned but corny meme isn’t really the stuff of those more consumed by politics, in my experience – but their taken-for-granted progressivism was kicked into gear following Friday’s Paris attacks by declared Islamists.

“The people behind these attacks weren’t Muslims.” 

Funny, white progressives are typically fearful of being labeled a “problematic ally,” i.e. a white person who purports to speak on behalf of minorities without their consent to or approval of the dialogue. We see here the limits of that fear.

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Cognitive Dissonance in Paris

After reading this piece from Haaretz dubbed “In Paris Neighborhood Heavily Hit by Terrorists, Residents View Attackers as Victims,” one wonders if the idea of the “liberal mugged by reality” is itself more fantasy than real-life:

They aren’t angry, at least not at the perpetrators. “They’re stupid, but they aren’t evil,” their friend Sabrina, an administrative worker in one of the theaters in the 11th arrondissement, said. “They are victims of a system that excluded them from society, that’s why they felt this doesn’t belong to them and they could attack. There are those who live here in alienation, and we are all to blame for this alienation.”

The cliche of the left that the right holds – that it’s always “society’s fault” –  is around for a reason: it’s accurate. This amorphous responsibility-generating entity called Society can be blamed for all ills (despite it being difficult to actually hold it accountable for anything).

One member of the group said they had come to the square to demonstrate “unity,” but they didn’t seem to feel solidarity with the victims of the last wave of terror. There were signs calling for unity, but it wasn’t clear what they were meant to unite around.

Indeed. Submission 101.

No one wanted to talk about Islamists or the Islamic State, even after it took responsibility for the attacks and French President Francois Hollande announced that the group was behind them.
It was hard to find anyone at this gathering who would say a bad word about the attackers, and expressions of patriotism were restrained. Perhaps it should be no surprise in this part of town. Most residents of the 11th arrondissement are what the French call “bobo,” bohemian and bourgeois, middle-class academics in their 30s and 40s with clearly leftist leanings.

“Bobo”? I thought David Brooks invented that.

Remember when it was in vogue to condemn the attackers but not their religion? Even that’s too much to ask, apparently, in 2015. I suppose it’s a step in a more honest direction, sparing certain platitudes and coming clean with the the fact they don’t feel much of anything in the wake of the attack. What’s the French word for “Meh“?

It’s a tolerant area, where migrants and minorities feel safe walking around. Among those who had assembled were several mixed-race couples. Now the restaurants and bars that they frequent every night were attacked and some of their friends were killed and wounded, and they were having a hard time reconciling this with their worldview.

But friends killed and wounded? That definitely provokes an emotional response, hence the cognitive dissonance.

As much of the left sees it, the likes of Marine Le Pen and “Islamaphobia” are to blame for the attacks, and the alienation they allegedly bring about. But missing from the official ISIS statement on Friday’s horror is any mention of xenophobia, Le Pen, or the dangers of the far-right. No, it’s just a bunch of premodern Temptations-of-Babylon-style talk about Paris as the center of “perversions” and “abominations.” And of course lots of stuff about infidels. If fear of being “othered” by white nationalists is inspiring ISIS, there’s no evidence of it from the terror group itself. Indeed, we get bluster and supreme confidence instead, and talk of demon rum.

The left is clearly living in a different rhetorical universe from those they seek to defend. Or at least explain. Somehow.

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Liberal Churches Most Discriminatory?


That’s according to new research on display in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion:

This article reports the results of a nationwide audit study testing how Christian churches welcome potential newcomers to their churches as a function of newcomers’ race and ethnicity. We sent email inquiries to 3,120 churches across the United States. The emails were ostensibly from someone moving to the area and looking for a new church to attend. That person’s name was randomly varied to convey different racial and ethnic associations. In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black- or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.

Go figure.

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