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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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Jerry Brown Gets It Right

Jerry BrownCredit where’s credit is due: I am not exactly a member of the Jerry Brown fan club, but the California Governor’s decision to sign his state’s cautiously drafted assisted suicide law (perhaps too cautiously: to take one example, those with Locked-In Syndrome might still be left trapped in their hell) deserves some praise, not just for his signature, but also the reasons he gave for it.

The New York Times:

Gov. Jerry Brown of California gave a deeply personal explanation on Monday for his decision to sign legislation allowing terminally ill patients to obtain a lethal dose of painkillers from a doctor to hasten their death. When the law goes into effect next year, California will become the fifth state, after Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont, to enact and retain aid in dying or physician-assisted suicide laws. Many other states are considering similar laws; they ought to follow the example of these pioneers.

The California law has robust protections to protect patients from recklessly taking their own lives. Two different doctors must certify that the patient has six months or less to live before prescribing the drugs, patients must be able to swallow the medication themselves, and they must be of sound mind and not under coercion from their families. Hospitals and doctors can decline to participate.

Governor Brown, a Democrat, said that he had carefully read the opposition materials presented by a number of doctors, religious leaders and champions of disability rights and had considered religious arguments that shortening one’s life is sinful. He also consulted with a Catholic bishop, two of his own doctors, and former classmates and friends, who took a variety of positions.

In the end, he reflected on what he would want in the face of his own death. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he wrote. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

Well done, Governor Brown. That said, it remains troubling to read that, even after the vote in the California legislature, Brown thought it worth considering ‘religious arguments that shortening one’s life is sinful’. Much as I might disagree with them, there are good practical arguments to be made against assisted suicide, but why, beyond a certain point in the democratic process in a nation with a constitution providing for the separation of church and state, religious arguments should be given special consideration escapes me.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how ‘religious liberty’ is under attack in the US, but that’s a stance that can easily turn into an insistence on religious privilege, an altogether less praiseworthy objective. Under the circumstances, the determination of various churchmen to ensure that all Californians should be forced to submit to the prescriptions of a faith that they might not share was more than a touch ironic.

And for all the other arguments that those churchmen make, that infamous slippery slope and so on, in the end their objections are religious, based, at their core, on the argument that the rights of their God trump those of the profoundly sick, an argument made none the more palatable by attempts to elevate ‘suffering’ into some sort of sacrament.

I posted a bit about this phenomenon the other day, but clear signs of a morbid cult of suffering can be found in an article in America magazine by Jessica Keating, the program director of the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame. It was written in response to the assisted suicide of Brittany Maynard in Oregon earlier this year.


For those who cannot see beyond the material horizon of death, suffering that does not appear to have proximate material benefit is emptied of the possibility of meaning.

Well yes.

Indeed, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are as much about unseemliness and fear of suffering as they are about death.

Pretty much.

With the advance of utilitarian idealism and medical technology, it seems that nothing but a peaceful death will be acceptable, wherein peace is reduced to the absence of pain, emotional and physical suffering or the loss of cognitive and physical abilities.

To describe the wish for a peaceful death as ‘utilitarian idealism’ is telling. Fundamentalism is what it is.

There is another narrative that is routinely neglected or, worse, rejected out of hand, a narrative grounded in the logic of the Cross. This is a narrative in which suffering unto death can be penetrated and transfigured by the mystery of love—particularly in cases like Ms. Maynard’s, when one is surrounded by loving family and friends. This transfiguration occurs in hidden intimacies. Choosing to die early forecloses such possibilities. Had she not taken her own life with the assistance of a physician, she, like many who suffer terminal illness, almost assuredly would have been stripped bare of her abilities, perhaps even her mind. Indeed, there was nothing material for her to gain in suffering, only loss. Almost assuredly there would have been no inspiring recovery story to tell at the end. Rather, Ms. Maynard might have become unproductive, unattractive, uncomfortable. She would just have been. But she would have been present in a web of relationships. Even had she fallen unconscious, she likely would have been read to, washed, dressed and kissed. She would have been gently caressed, held and wept over. She would simply have been loved to the end.

That was a destiny that was hers to choose or to reject. ‘The logic of the Cross’, backed by coercion, would have denied her that freedom, that autonomy, that dignity, that relief.

As I said, ‘religious privilege’.


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Oregon shooter Chris Mercer disliked organized religion and considered himself “conservative, republican.” This according to the Daily Beast.

But then, an attempt to paint Mercer as a righty runs into problems. He also expressed sympathy for the race-card-playing black Roanoke shooter, e.g., and is himself half black (which sadly matters, even if that says more about the observers of these atrocities). On the other hand he appeared to be critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Though he loved guns, he also had beef with Christians, as those scary accounts of his actions Thursday inform us.

Secular rightists of course have a greater beef with Islam, not Christianity. (I’d say if forced to choose, but it’s not even a contest.)

The New York Times reports that Mercer chimed in on the topic of “commercialism” in online forums, which would suggest a progressive’s form of discontent – it’s unlikely he was approvingly citing passages from Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture, afterall – but then that’s not much to go on.

No, all we really know is that Mercer was in awe of the negative attention mass murder grabs; he liked guns; he had problems attracting women; and he might have had Asperger’s. There’s a manifesto apparently in police custody, but since Mercer opted to go the typewriter route ala 1965 and not post it on Medium, it’s not publicly viewable.

I think the blogger formerly known as Half Sigma might have it right: Beta Male Rage.

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On ISIS, Enchantment and Authoritarians against Totalitarians

DemocristianiOver on his blog, Sam Harris interviews Mark Riebling, the author of Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler. The historical ground covered is interesting—how could it not be?—but these passages, in particular, caught my attention:

Conservative, even authoritarian, religious structures can prove extremely helpful against revolutionaries who want to impose a far more radical, utopian political religion. If Sunni Islam had a hierarchy, we would see many of its leaders resist ISIS more effectively. By comparison, you are seeing the Shia capable of counteraction, not just because they are anti-Sunni, but because they have a clerical hierarchy.

The Sunni conservatives will at some point have to either fight the revolutionaries or obey them. It was similar in Cambodia under Pol Pot—finally the old-line communists in that part of the world couldn’t take it anymore. Likewise, who is now sending troops to prop up an authoritarian Assad to stop ISIS?

The former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Which should remind us that in the former Soviet Union, glasnost and perestroika did not come from “the Russian people.” They began within the most elite ranks of the Party—the KGB. I think the pope’s secret war against Hitler should be grouped with this family of phenomena—authoritarian resistance to totalitarianism.

And this (my emphasis added):

For half a century, the Marxist myth of the New Man was fairly successful in supplanting the old stories—but the magic’s gone out of that, too. So you have, unless you are mindful, a banalization of human experience. This banality is going to tempt some people to join ISIS for excitement, for re-enchantment, for remythification.

If you join ISIS, you have a story! Your life is numinous—it’s as if you’re living in the Iliad instead of, say, just playing soccer in the dust in a Bauhaus housing project in Basra. Or you’re channeling the Teutonic Knights while you’re horsewhipping Jews in 1930s Nuremburg—I think the personal hunger is the same.

As C.G. Jung said, you can chase out the devil, but he shows up somewhere else. Which is one reason why, when Jung was an agent for US intelligence in 1944, he urged propping up political Catholicism—in fact, through the Christian-socialist parties that came to dominate Cold War Europe, whose exiled leaders Pius sheltered in the Vatican. Jung was an atheist, but he preferred Christian socialism to the atheist communism he saw coming. He predicted that the freethinking atheist would fare better under the frowning brow of the Christian myth than under the trampling boot of the communist one.

Jung was a nut, but he had moments of clarity.


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The Political Religion of Jorge Mario Bergoglio

descamisadosThis intriguing piece by Claudio Ivan Remeseira is a (very) long read, but (very) well worth it. It underlines yet again how much Pope Francis remains shaped by the intellectual and religious traditions of his homeland. That might be disappointing for anyone who wants to slot him into the neat categories of the American political debate (Francis is neither liberal nor conservative) and it will disappoint anyone who might have hoped that a pope might be a little less, well, parochial, but there we are.

An extract:

During the first decades of the 20th century, after the so-called Modernist crisis and the battles against secularism and its offspring — unfettered capitalism on the socio-economic side, liberal democracy and communism on the political one — , the Papacy devised a strategy to regain center stage in world affairs. In Argentina, this political-religious creed took the form of what Italian historian Loris Zanatta called “the myth of the Catholic nation”.

…In this theology, the People are defined in a narrow sense as the poor and the dispossessed. Yet in contrast with the Marxist analysis of economic inequities deployed by Gustavo Gutiérrez, Juan Luis Segundo, Leonardo Boff and other stalwarts of Liberation Theology, the Argentine theologians emphasized the study of national history. Their interpretation of Argentina’s past, however, was also polemical. It was a rebuttal of the mainstream storyline that celebrated Argentina’s progress as a triumph of the Liberal elite that had ruled the country from the second half of the 19th century to the rise of populism in the 20th century. Starting in the 1920s, anti-liberal intellectuals who called themselves Revisionists turned that narrative on its head. Their hero was the bête noir of Liberal historians, Juan Manuel de Rosas, a governor of Buenos Aires who exerted his power over the whole country from 1829 to 1852, when he was deposed by a former loyalist.

As a young priest close to the Iron Guard, a right-wing Peronist group, Bergoglio absorbed those ideas, which have stuck with him to this day. According to fellow Jesuit theologian Juan Carlos Scannone, Bergoglio’s “four principles” of good governance (Time is greater than space; Unity prevails over conflict; Realities are more important than ideas; The whole is greater than the part), were extrapolated by him from a letter Rosas wrote in 1835 to Facundo Quiroga, another powerful Argentine caudillo, explaining why he opposed the drafting of a national Constitution. Those principles are constantly invoked by Francis and constitute the mainstay of the fourth chapter (“The Social Dimension of Evangelization”) of his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

In 1960 and 70s Argentina, the Rosas-Perón parallels were a truism of political debate — a popular leader who fought for the country’s wellbeing against all-powerful foreign interests and their treacherous local representatives. For Revisionists, the antithesis People vs. Anti-people is indeed the driving force of national history. The Anti-people encompasses all historical and present-day forces that thwart the People’s way to its Liberation: the political and corporate establishment, the anti-Peronist middle class, and an old enemy of Catholicism: the culture of the Enlightenment, the uprooted intellectualism of those who worship abstractions such as Liberty and Democracy and are always looking abroad for inspiration instead of embracing the originality of their own national experience.

The theologians of the People added to the mix a few more elements of the zeitgeist — anti-Imperialism, anti-colonialism, dependency theory and its center-periphery dualism — and wrapped it all up in the revolutionary language of the era. But their most lasting contribution was the justification of popular faith, another of Francis’ recurrent themes.

And (my emphasis added):

For all the efforts made after Vatican II to find an accommodation with contemporary world, there is something at the core of this world that rejects those efforts, a radical incompatibility. In the last analysis, the issue continues to be secularization. The challenge for the Catholic Church is how to accommodate to today’s world without being assimilated into its secular values.

Francis’ mindset straddles this divide. One Anti-Modern trait of his thinking is his mistrust of Liberalism. Despite his constant appeals to political tolerance, Francis’ political thought is rooted in a pre-modern, organicist view of the community as foundation of social and political life. Liberal democracy and the modern doctrine of human rights are the antithesis of that view. In Evangelii gaudium, the word “people” appears 164 times; the word “democracy”, not once.

Another trait is his hostility toward capitalism. Far for being inspired in any left-wing or Marxist philosophy, Francis’ anti-capitalism comes down from the European right-wing writers of the early 20th century, who in turn found their source of inspiration in the Middle Ages. At the final stage of the Cold War, John Paul II made a timid move towards accepting the market as an autonomous social force. In the age of the anti-globalization movement, Francis would have none of it. His critique of capitalism seems to go even further than the objections traditionally made by Catholic Social Teaching since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. It is when indicting the world’s economic woes that Francis strikes his most prophetic tone (which, by the way, is another characteristic of Argentinian theology). The encyclical Laudato si, his great jeremiad against the evils of capitalism, has established Francis as one of the world’s foremost critics of Neoliberalism….

Seen from this perspective, the fact that capitalism has done so much for so many counts for very little with a pope who continually–and with somewhat unbecoming ostentation–humblebrags that he is a pope for the poor, heading a church for the poor. And that church needs the poor to remain poor if they are to continue to be its foot-soldiers in the long war against modernity.


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