Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jul/14

27

The ‘Return’ of the Religious Left?

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Pope FrancisWriting in Salon, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig;

If the Reason-Rupe and PRRI reports are right, millennials just might be opting out of the partisan approach to politics altogether, which means the partisan leash on religious constituencies might just be fraying. This makes coalitions like the faith and family left — which has commitments all across the political spectrum, founded in faith rather than political expediency — seem a lot more viable in the long run. In short, the weaker the partisan system becomes, the more nuanced the religious story about politics can become. And this means prime time for the Christian left to re-enter the political stage.

The idea that the Christian left ever left the political stage is ludicrous. What it destested, however, was sharing that stage with the religious right.It says quite a bit about Ms Bruenig–and how far her notions of intellectual diversity stretch–that she appears to equate being made to share a stage with having no presence on it.

Anyway, back to the celebration, complete with the inevitable praise for the (more or less) Peronist in the Vatican:

And what a smashing re-entry we’re set for, with figures like Pope Francis casually backhanding capitalism and corporate greed in graceful continuity with his praise of family life, solidarity and a culture of life. At this very moment, different factions of the religious left are duking it out over Obama’s proposed executive order banning discrimination against LGBT workers on behalf of federal contractors, and though the diversity of the religious left might concern some, the big picture is that the religious left is a growing force for political influence. As time passes and the mantle of political participation passes from prior partisan generations down to millennials, we might see that influence continue to grow, re-invigorating some of the finest features of the Christian tradition: to resist categorization, pull hard for the oppressed and downtrodden and insist upon hope while coping with the realities of power.

Oh joy.

Jul/14

26

Star Turn

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The BBCA.Duerer, Der Astrologe - Duerer / The Astrologer / -:

A Conservative MP has spoken of his belief in astrology and his desire to incorporate it into medicine. David Tredinnick said he had spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and was convinced it could work….Explaining his beliefs to BBC News, Mr Tredinnick said he had been right about herbal remedies and healing, which he said were now becoming accepted in parts of the NHS [National Health Service], and he now wanted to promote astrology, which was not just predicting the future but gaining an insight into personal problems.

He stopped short of suggesting astrological readings on the NHS, but said he wanted to raise awareness of it as an alternative among patients and clinicians.

“I think it’s something that people should be aware of as an option they have if they are confused about themselves.”

He said he had compiled astrological charts for his fellow MPs – he declined to reveal names – adding: “If you look at the charts I have done for people I have certainly made their lives easier.”

Oh yes, there’s this:

The MP for Bosworth [is] a member of the [House of Commons] health committee and… science and technology committee

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Jul/14

22

Superstitions Old and New

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Library of CongressRaw Story:

Televangelist Pat Robertson advised a mother on Monday that she could cure her son’s stomach pains by finding someone to cast out demons that were possibly caused by an ancestor who practiced witchcraft. In an email, a viewer named Dianne told the TV preacher that her son had “painful shock-waves thru his body” that originated in his stomach while she was praying for him and calling on “the name of JESUS.”

“My son said it felt like something hit him very hard in the stomach,” the mother wrote. “I know this is not of God. He is a Christian. Can Christians be attacked by demons?”

Instead of recommending that the mother seek medical attention, Robertson said that the boy could be “oppressed or possessed by demons.”

“You need to get somebody with you who understands the spiritual dimension and doing spiritual warfare,” he continued. “If I were you, I would look back in your family. What in your family — do you have anybody involved in the occult, somebody in witchcraft or tarot cards or psychic things?”

“Has there something been there that you don’t know about. Some grandparent, great grandparent or something. Look into the family tree, and then get some people in there and cast this stuff out. But that does not sound like normal.

Laura Helmuth, writing in Slate:

Most paranoid, grandiose, relentless conspiracy theorists can’t call a meeting with a U.S. senator. Then there’s Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A profile of Kennedy in this weekend’s Washington Post Magazine shows that Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Bernie Sanders listened politely while Kennedy told them that a vaccine preservative causes autism.

It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country has evaluated the evidence and concluded that the preservative thimerosal is safe. The question is settled scientifically. Thimerosal, out of an abundance of caution, was removed from childhood vaccines 13 years ago, although it is used in some flu vaccines. And yet Kennedy, perhaps more than any other anti-vaccine zealot, has confused parents into worrying that vaccines, which have saved more lives than almost any other public health practice in history, could harm their children.

Mikulski and Sanders, to their credit, both politely blew Kennedy off.

That’s a sign of great progress: Not that many years ago, Rep. Dan Burton held congressional hearings on the entirely made-up dangers of vaccines. I’m especially proud of Sanders, who represents Vermont, a state with one of the highest rates of vaccine denial and misinformation.

But the more people dismiss Kennedy, unfortunately, the more obsessive and slanderous he becomes. Keith Kloor describes some of Kennedy’s recent outrageous claims in the Post profile:

The more Kennedy talked on the subject, the more his rhetoric became hyperbolic. During one 2011 segment on his Air America radio show, he accused government scientists of being “involved in a massive fraud.” He said they skewed studies to demonstrate the safety of thimerosal. “I can see that this fraud is doing extraordinary damage to the brains of American children,” he said.

Last year, he gave the keynote speech at an anti-vaccine gathering in Chicago. There, he said of a scientist who is a vocal proponent of vaccines and already the object of much hate mail from anti-vaccine activists that this scientist and others like him, “should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away.”

I got a taste of Kennedy’s delusions last year. After Slate’s Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait, criticized Kennedy for speaking at an anti-vaccine conference, Kennedy called me to complain, and I wrote about our very one-sided conversation. He told me scientists and government agencies are conspiring with the vaccine industry to cover up the evidence that thimerosal is “the most potent brain killer imaginable,” and journalists are dupes who are afraid to question authority. He claimed that several specific scientists had admitted to him that he was right. I called these scientists up. Here’s one representative answer, from a researcher who preferred I not use his name because he gets death threats from anti-vaccine activists: “Kennedy completely misrepresented everything I said.”

To recap: Kennedy accuses scientists of fraud, which is pretty much the worst thing you can say about a scientist. He distorts their statements. He says they should be thrown in jail. He uses his powerful name to besmirch theirs. That name, the reason he has power and fame, is inherited from a family dedicated to public service. He now uses the Kennedy name to accuse employees of government agencies charged with protecting human health—some of the best public servants this country has—of engaging in a massive conspiracy to cause brain damage in children.

And this nonsense has consequences:

The number of measles cases in the United States tripled last year—an entirely preventable disease whose resurgence has been made possible in part by Kennedy’s tireless efforts

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Jul/14

19

Balkanization Watch

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kirpanIt’s difficult not to despair sometimes when confronting some of the excesses of the zero tolerance crowd in the nation’s schools: the toddler sent home for pointing in a way that made his fingers look like a gun, and all the rest.

Nevertheless, the news contained in this report produced by the Becket Fund, a group named, tellingly enough after a defender of priestly legal privilege, ought to give to rise to a degree of concern:

Amandeep Singh, a ninth-grade honor student in New York, was reprimanded and suspended indefinitely for wearing a kirpan—a ceremonial religious item worn by members of the Sikh faith—to school.

Amandeep became a baptized Sikh at age eight, requiring him, like 20 million other Sikhs worldwide, to follow the five Sikh articles of faith. The best known of these is the requirement to wear hair uncut in a turban. Another requirement is the kirpan, an item shaped like a sword that reminds Sikhs of their duty to speak out against injustice and stand up for the defenseless. In deference to school security concerns, school-age children like Amandeep typically wear a very small, blunt kirpan that cannot be used to harm anyone.

For over seven years, Amandeep attended local public schools and continuously observed all five articles of his faith, including the wearing of the kirpan, without any incident. Many of his teachers were aware of his kirpan and specifically commended him for his dedication to his faith. None ever told him that his kirpan–which was duller than a butter knife and secured underneath his clothes–posed any sort of danger.

Without explanation, school officials suddenly reversed course in February 2005 and declared Amandeep’s kirpan to be a prohibited “weapon.” Moreover, they refused to allow him to set foot on school grounds unless he abandoned his article of faith. At that point, Amandeep retained The Becket Fund to protect his religious freedom.

The Becket Fund intervened on Amandeep’s behalf, meeting with school district officials to explain the kirpan’s religious significance and Amandeep’s rights under the First Amendment. The district quickly changed course, agreeing to allow Amandeep to continue his education without compromising his faith.

This was a victory not only for Amandeep and other Sikhs, but also for free religious exercise in public schools. The district’s actions were “evidence of religious discrimination,” Jared Leland, media and legal counsel for Becket, told the Journal News . “He was really being forced to choose between attending a public school and practicing his faith, and that’s something that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

Now, I have no problem with the idea allowing a Sikh child—or any other child—to wear a safe, very small, very blunted and entirely symbolic sword under their clothes at school. The school’s security policy should never have been so narrow as to ban it. But to permit this exception purely on the grounds of religious belief is more troubling, not particularly in itself (Amandeep’s kirpan seems completely harmless), but for the precedent it may set. What other school rules or procedures could children be exempted from in future purely because compliance with those rules or procedures contravened a possibly less benign aspect of one or another creed?

A generous and broad assertion of the principle of freedom of religion is something that makes America America, and rightly so, but so too is the notion of equality before the law, and, for that matter, something else too. How to put it? Well, this will do: E pluribus unum.

There has to be unum as well, so to speak, as pluribus

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Jul/14

10

Pope vs. Pot

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Pope Francis Leads The Solemnity Of The Most Holy Body And Blood Of ChristFrom a week or so back, CNN reports:

That’s the message Pope Francis seemed to be sending lawmakers Friday, saying the growing worldwide trend toward legalizing recreational drugs is a very, very bad idea. “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” he told participants at the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome. The Pope’s call isn’t shocking. Francis has spoken of the dangers of drug use before.

It’s no surprise at all that the pope is opposed to drug use as a personal choice (that’s a perfectly respectable position to take, and from a pontiff I’d expect nothing else) , but the vigor of the language with he goes on to attack any form of drug legalization is striking.

Reuters has more:

“Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that,” [the pope] said.

“Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs’, are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects,” the pope said.

Quite how the pope knows that legalization fails escapes me. Prohibition has not, shall we say, been a great success. Marijuana legalization, by contrast, has barely been tried.

No fear though, Francis has a solution:

Francis, who has spoken out against drug use several times, said that to ensure young people did not fall prey to drugs, society had to say “‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities”.

“If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction,” he said in remarks to a drug enforcement conference in Rome carried on the website of Vatican radio.

That, I am afraid, is drivel.

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Jul/14

5

Pressing Some Buttons

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Exorcism?The Raw Story:

The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, giving its blessing to a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who claim to save the possessed from Satan.

The association’s practice of exorcism is now recognised under canon law, the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper reported Thursday.

Pope Francis often insists on the need to fight “Satan” and “demons”, and was captured in dramatic images last year placing his hands on the head of a boy in a wheelchair who appeared to slump at his touch — an act of prayer exorcists claim was intended to free the victim from the devil.

The first association of exorcists was founded by Father Gabriele Amorth, the Holy See’s chief exorcist for almost 30 years, who has described intense sessions with possessed people who scream, blaspheme and spit shards of glass.

He set up an Italian exorcists association in 1991, after which he began organising meetings with devil fighters from other countries, leading to the establishment of the international group.

Francesco Bamonte, the head of the association, told L’Osservatore that the recognition was “a cause for joy for the whole Church,” saying that “exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer”.

The Middle Ages, wrote that old crank Carl Jung, “live on… merrily”.

And so they do.

They are good box office too. As this cannily populist pope understands very well.

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Jul/14

4

Happy Independence Day!

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Empire State Building, May 2013 (AS)

“Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.”

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

Jul/14

1

Longer Spoon Needed

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FrancisReuters:

Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have prompted some to label him a Marxist, said in an interview published on Sunday that communists had stolen the flag of Christianity. The 77-year-old pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome’s local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday. He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticised capitalism and called for radical economic reform.

“I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel,” he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

“Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian’,” he said, laughing.

The Raw Story (reporting on the same interview):

Pope Francis has accused communism of stealing its ideas from Christianity, and said its founding thinker Karl Marx “did not invent anything.”

Commenting on suggestions in the media that his world view is not dissimilar to communist ideology, the pope responded that it was the church that got there first.

Let’s just say that’s a rather benign interpretation of what communism actually is. Nevertheless, as The Raw Story goes on to note, the pope has in the past rejected the idea that he is a Marxist. That’s fair enough. To start with, although communism has many of the characteristics of a millennialist religion, there is that whole ‘no God’ thing.

The pope’s critique of capitalism, if not the demagogic language in which he makes it, is better seen as a radical application of Rerum Novarum than as an attempt to give Das Kapital a clerical twist. At the same time, as I read Francis’s comments I couldn’t help thinking of Ayn Rand’s remark about Christianity (and, more specifically, its collectivist tradition) being “the best kindergarten of communism possible.” As so often with Rand, an oversimplification, but…

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From the House on the Embankment, Moscow Aug 96) (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Here’s Radio Free Europe with a reminder of how “traditional” values are playing out in today’s Russia:

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has awarded Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov with an order for “glory and honor.” Patriarch Kirill gave the order to Zyuganov in Moscow on June 27, one day after the longtime communist leader celebrated his 70th birthday.

Kirill said Zyuganov — who in 2010 called for the re-Stalinization of Russia and has called the Soviet Union “the most humane state in human history” — deserves the award as “one of the most famous Russian politicians who has expressed interest in the welfare of the nation and the protection of traditional moral values”.

And to think there are those who still believe that Pussy Riot was the problem.

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Jun/14

27

Papal Economics, Again

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173266444TP054_Pope_FrancisA week or so ago (yes, I’ve been away) Pope Francis’s views on economics took an even deeper turn into the swamplands of conspiracy theory.

Business Insider reports:

The 77-year-old leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said some countries had a youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, with many millions in Europe seeking work in vain.

“It’s madness,” the pope said in an interview with the Barcelona-based Vanguardia daily’s Vatican correspondent Henrique Cymerman.

Well, that’s not entirely unfair; it is madness that so many are unemployed in countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. But the madness is that these high levels of unemployment are in no small part the consequences of the euro, a currency that is in many ways the antithesis of the free market economics that the pope so disdains.

But I don’t think the struggling single currency union is what the pope is really referring to when he talks about “an economic system that no longer endures”.

No, what the pope is talking about is free market capitalism;

“We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures, a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done,” Francis said.

“But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies — the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money — are obviously cleaned up.”

Nonsense, of course, poisonous nonsense, but skilfully deployed.

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