Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Apr/18

21

Mobile Phone, Immobile Superstition

Yet another reminder that, to quote (yet again) Carl Jung, the Middle Ages…live on merrily.

The Catholic Herald:

Priests have been carrying out exorcisms over the phone as demand continues to rise, a Cardinal has said.

Speaking at the Vatican’s annual exorcist training conference in Rome, Cardinal Ernest Simoni said priests are delivering prayers of liberation, part of the exorcism ritual, remotely.

“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” he said.

However, some warned that the practice was not wise, as people who are possessed often writhe around violently and have to be restrained during exorcisms….

Annual exorcist training conference?

Yup.

Around 250 priests from 50 countries are attending this year’s conference at the Regina Apostolorum university as prelates from around the world report an increase in demand for exorcisms.

The course started in 2004, and since then the number of priests attending each year has more than doubled.

And this pope, of course, that man of science who has taken it upon himself to lecture us all about climate change, will approve:

In his most recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis warns that the devil is not a myth but a “personal being who assails us”

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” the Pope wrote. “This mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”

And among his naughty tricks is, lest we forget, same sex marriage.

Or so this pope believes:

Here’s a 2010 story from the National Catholic Register about the then Cardinal Bergoglio (my emphasis added):

A Jesuit cardinal has become the latest Church leader to speak out forcefully against a government’s push towards same-sex marriage, and has called on his nation’s contemplatives to pray fervently to prevent such laws.

According to an article in tomorrow’s L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, has said that if a proposed bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children should be approved, it will “seriously damage the family.”

He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.

He wrote: “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

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Apr/18

21

Liberalism as Faith

Cross-posted on the Corner (and a post, I would hope, that ‘Secular Humanists’ would read):

The British philosopher John Gray is not someone to shy away from ‘difficult’ topics. If you are looking for a provocative long read this weekend, his new article in the Times Literary Supplement ought to be a contender. I didn’t agree with all of it (for example, I would argue that the supposedly secular totalitarianisms of the twentieth century—essentially millenarian sects, as Gray rightly observes—were even more ‘religious’ than even he would claim), not that that matters.

Above all, Gray’s take on where the arguments of John Stuart Mill, one of the saints of traditional liberalism, have led is, to say the least, intriguing.

An extract:

 [Mill’s] assertion that human beings would prefer intellectual freedom over contented conformity was at odds with his empiricist philosophy. Essentially unfalsifiable, it was a matter of faith.

While he never faced up to the contradictions in his thinking, Mill was fully aware that he was fashioning a new religion. Much influenced by Auguste Comte, he was an exponent of what he and the French Positivist philosopher described as “the Religion of Humanity”. Instead of worshipping a transcendent divinity, Comte instructed followers of the new religion to venerate the human species as “the new Supreme Being”. Replacing the rituals of Christianity, they would perform daily ceremonies based in science, touching their skulls at the point that phrenology had identified as the location of altruism (a word Comte invented). In an essay written not long before the appearance of On Liberty but published posthumously (he died in 1873), Mill described this creed as “a better religion than any of those that are ordinarily called by that title”.

That may or may not be true, but at least Mill recognized its essentially religious nature, not that that took much doing.

Gray:

Like Comte, [Mill] believed that humanity is a progressive species, though he diverged profoundly in how he understood progress. And what is “humanity”? The conception of humankind as a collective agent gradually achieving its goals is not reached by observation.

Like the brotherhood of man, just another delusion, unless it’s old Cain who we have in mind. Whether it is—as some delusions can be—a useful or even necessary delusion is a different question.

But back to Gray:

The politics of identity is a postmodern twist on the liberal religion of humanity. The Supreme Being has become an unknown God – a species of human being nowhere encountered in history, which does not need to define itself through family or community, nationality or any religion….

Liberals who are dismayed at the rise of the new intolerance have not noticed how much they have in common with those who are imposing it. Hyper-liberal “snowflakes”, who demand safe spaces where they cannot be troubled by disturbing facts and ideas, are what their elders have made them. Possessed by faith in an imaginary humanity, both seek to weaken or destroy the national and religious traditions that have supported freedom and toleration in the past…

Food for thought, to say the least.

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Apr/18

12

Like An Oscar, But Not

Blocked! I don’t know what brought on my inclusion on this sort of reverse Index librorum prohibitorum (I don’t think I’ve ever engaged with this particular site) but recognition is recognition…

 

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Apr/18

4

A Bahai Walks Into YouTube HQ…

Yesterday’s YouTube shooter, Nasim Aghdam, was an adherent of the Bahai faith, which appears to be a kind of Middle Eastern spin on Unitarian Universalism. Despite the Rastafarian look of the above pic, she ain’t about that. Heavy.com has more:

According to the Mercury News, the father says he warned police that his daughter had gone missing and was angry at YouTube but they called and said they found her sleeping in her car. She had recorded a video ranting that YouTube was discriminating against her. However, she did write about religion in the context of the Baha’i.

The blog post starts, “At the turn of 2014, one of our campaigns led us to the Baha’i. Thanks to Supreme Master Ching Hai et al, we were already aware of some Baha’i texts containing guidance on diet and abstinence from animal flesh. Therefore, was very keen to meet people from the Baha’i community and learn more. Not long after, we were invited to attend a local Baha’i meeting on the 8th of January 2015 at Leeds Quaker house. It is now down to the universal house of justice to take affirmative action, to ensure that the growth of Bahai principles increases it must pay special tribute to Abdul’s prophecy, about the ‘pity’ and ‘compassion’ that he observes in his verses animals/vegetarianism.”

Nobody could have predicted the likes of Aghdam to be the first to go on the (very) offensive with regard to Big Social Media and their widely acknowledged, frustratingly opaque, and seemingly arbitrary practice of filtering certain content, a.k.a. “shadowbanning.” Like others, I’d have guessed a disgruntled white male intellectual of perhaps a libertarian bent. (Complaints of a censorious nature directed at Silicon Valley do appear to be coming from the right in recent days.) Initial reports had it that the shooter stepped on to YouTube’s meatspace property for something related to a domestic dispute. Boy were they wrong about that! While her beef may have been personal, it wasn’t exactly interpersonal. And while unheard of in the US until yesterday, Aghdam, or “Green Nasim,” was something of an internet celebrity in Iran.

This attack was notable for at least two reasons: its type and the type of perpetrator. Both are fairly novel. One blogger suggests that Aghdam may very well be the world’s first Shadowban Shooter.

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Mar/18

4

The Devil as Recruiting Sergeant

The Middle Ages, as that dodgy sage Carl Jung once wrote, “live on… merrily”. That’s no surprise, really. Superstition will always be with us, in new forms—and in old.

Crux:

ROME – With reported demonic possessions on the rise in Italy, the Vatican is hosting a week-long training to better prepare exorcists for ministry. Catholic leaders have said that the country needs more exorcists, and better training.

“Today we are at a stage crucial in history: Many Christians no longer believe in [the devil’s] existence, few exorcists are appointed and there are no more young priests willing to learn,” said one of the event’s speakers, exorcist Father Cesare Truqui, according to Vatican News.

Now, of course, it’s true that the devil has a major role to play both in the traditional Christian story and in some expressions of Christian belief today (some: I don’t remember him playing much of a role in the teachings of the splendidly mild Church of England in which I was raised). Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see the obvious concern with which Father Truqui contemplates the fact that many Christians apparently no longer believe in Old Nick. Part of the reason for the anxiety that causes him will, undoubtedly, be spiritual, but on reading that paragraph, with its giveaway claim that we have arrived at a “crucial” stage (there always has to be a crisis; see Rahm Emmanuel for details), it’s hard not to detect the professional anxiety of someone who is worried that the demand for his guild’s services may no longer be required.

But more than that, it’s revealing that this conference is being hosted at the Vatican. The current Pope, like all demagogues someone with a shrewd grasp of what pulls in the crowds, is noticeable for the emphasis he places on the devil. He knows that fear is a good recruiter.

What that does to the mental health of the psychologically vulnerable is not something that appears to count for too much.

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Mar/18

4

Abusing “Frankenstein”

Ronald Bailey, writing in Reason:

The meme of Frankenstein as a mad scientist who unleashed a disastrously uncontrollable creation on the world has been hijacked by anti-modernity, anti-technology ideologues to push for all manner of bans and restrictions on the development and deployment of new technologies…

For decades, the specter of Frankenstein’s monster has been invoked whenever researchers report dramatic new developments, from the use of synthetic biology to build whole genomes from scratch to the invention of new plants and animals that can better feed the world. Experiments in repairing defective genes in human embryos, which have been conducted in China and the U.S., are routinely described as precursors to the creation of “Frankenbabies”—the long-dreaded but not yet seen “designer babies.”…

There is nothing immoral in Frankenstein’s aspiration to “banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death.” The people who will choose to use safe enhancements to bestow upon themselves and their progeny stronger bodies, more robust immune systems, nimbler minds, and longer lives will not be monsters, nor will they create monsters. Instead, those who seek to hinder the rest of us from availing ourselves of these technological gifts will rightly be judged moral troglodytes.

Despite the din raised by anti-technology ideologues and the claque of conservative bioethicists, our world is not filled with out-of-control Frankensteinian technologies. While missteps have occurred, the openness and collaborative structure of the scientific enterprise encourages researchers to take responsibility for their findings. During the past 200 years, scientific research has indeed poured “a torrent of light into our dark world.” At nearly every scale, technological progress has given us greater control over our fates and made our lives safer, freer, and wealthier.

The punch thrown at “the claque of conservative bioethicists” is well aimed: They are, for the most part, a wannabe priestly caste trying to wrap ancient superstitious fears in the modern, more respectable-sounding name of bio-ethics. In reality what they are peddling is the same old same old, Prometheus, Galileo and all that.

Bailey concludes:

Victor Frankenstein variously condemns his creature as a “demon,” a “devil,” and a “fiend.” But that is not quite right. “My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy,” the creature insists. “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend.” He was endowed with the capacity for hope, sharing the same moral faculties and free will exercised by human beings.

Frankenstein is not a tale about a mad scientist who looses an out-of-control creature upon the world. It’s a parable about a researcher who fails to take due responsibility for nurturing the moral capacities of his creation. Victor Frankenstein is the real monster.

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Our Lady of Peace Shrine in Santa Clara, CA

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (HT Tyler Cowen) ruminates on the past and present of Catholicism and how it stacks up to the influence of Silicon Valley. In short he claims that it’s, well, falling short in the modern age:

A simple glance at the history of the church should show that the current situation is anomalous. As Rodney Stark, the invaluable social historian of Christianity, notes, Christians in the Roman world had longer life expectancies than their non-Christian peers, a fact that can be largely attributed to the church’s welfare system, which was the first organized and professionally run welfare system in recorded history—in other words, a radical, world-changing innovation. It is attested by both Christian and pagan sources that Christians in antiquity provided health care lavishly to their own and to others; it is less often noted that in the process they literally invented the hospital, another rather important innovation.

He laments that Bill and Melinda Gates have done more to help eradicate malaria in Africa than Catholics have. Gobry is smart to point to Catholicism’s internal contradictions that e.g. pit environmental conservation against birth control:

Catholic doctrine includes care for creation, but also includes the condemnation of artificial family planning. How does one reconcile environmental conservationism with a moral vision that, if applied consistently, would lead to explosive population growth?

Seeing as how the center of gravity in the Catholic world has moved to the Global South – with Argentinian Pope Francis its official spokesperson –  it’s difficult to see how Catholicism will ever be on equal footing with Silicon Valley in both the near and long-term future. Argentina ain’t Japan. It should come as no surprise that a religious figurehead who is down on euthanasia might be at loggerheads with the “spiritual” home of transhumanism, a sizable minority of godless libertarians, and abortion as taken-for-granted.

One area of surprising agreement between the Catholic Church and Silicon Valley is global warming. But that’s about it.

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Feb/18

10

Ideologies of Undivided Devotion

From Yuri Slezkine’s magnificent The House  of Government’, a Saga of the Russian Revolution, a book centered around the idea that Bolshevism was, at its heart, just another millenarian sect, if a peculiarly malevolent one:

“Of the seventeen prisoners, thirteen, amongst whom were close friends of Radek, had been condemned to death, while he himself and three others had been sentenced only to imprisonment. The judge had read the verdict, and all of us had listened to it standing up..

Radek offered himself—along with Bukharin, among other friends—as a scapegoat, a metaphor of unopposed temptation, the embodiment of forbidden thought. He may not have murdered anybody, or even conspired with any murderers, but in Bolshevism, as in Christianity or any other ideology of undivided devotion, it was the thought that counted. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

His offer was accepted.  Radek, an enabler of mass murder, was sentenced to ten years in a Soviet concentration camp, where he was killed. He need not be mourned.

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Feb/18

8

China: Holy See No Evil

Cross-posted on the Corner:

It’s no great secret that Roman Catholic ‘social’ teaching, normally seen as a form of corporatism, is a touch difficult to reconcile with free market economics, even more so in the era of Pope Francis, a man who absorbed too much and understood too little during his youth in Peronist Argentina.

That said, this (via the Catholic Herald) was, well, quite something:

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

A national conscience so positive that, until recently, it positively insisted that women should only have one child each, and positively reinforced that insistence with methods up to and including forced abortions, a practice that may not have disappeared quite so completely as the Chinese regime now likes to suggest.

A national conscience so positive that it can’t see what’s wrong with the Laogai, China’s gulag, the largest system of forced labor camps in the world.

And a national conscience so positive that Mao, the murderer of tens of millions, remains venerated.

Back to the Catholic Herald:

The bishop told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that in China “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”

They would? What they might say is that in the U.S. there is more of a separation between the economy (and thus the individual) and politics (and thus the state), than corporatists—whether of the Vatican or Chinese Communist variety—might like.

The Catholic Herald:

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added.

He accused US president Donald Trump of being “manipulated” by global oil firms, and said that, as opposed to those who follow “liberal thought”, the Chinese are working for the greater good of the planet.

This bishop, like his pope, cannot, it seems, resist the lure of conspiracism: Demagogues—a  species certainly not confined to the Vatican—tend to be like that.

Note too Sorondo’s obvious disdain for the very idea of “liberal thought” – and, to be clear, by “liberal” he  means classical liberal.

That should come as no surprise.

And this was no one-off.

Here’s Sorondo last year (via Crux):

“China could be a model we need today to respond to globalization, a model for the dignity and freedom of human beings…”

Sorondo’s remarks are, I am sure, the product of deep ideological conviction, however revolting, but they also, doubtless, come with another, more cynical objective, flattering a dictatorship with which the Vatican is currently very keen to cut a deal over the appointment of bishops.

A sort of Lateran Two, you might say.

 

 

 

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Jan/18

27

Pope Francis: Probably Not The Best Man To Be Attacking ‘Fake News’

Pope Francis  has  been attacking ‘fake news’ again, not for the first time (my emphasis added):

The term “fake news” has been the object of great discussion and debate. In general, it refers to the spreading of disinformation on line or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.

The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. Secondly, this false but believable news is “captious”, inasmuch as it grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration.

Coming from a demagogue notable both for his use of the language of conspiracism and, surprisingly often, the violence of this  words, that’s a bit rich. For an example, let’s go back to the notorious talk he gave in Lampedusa near the beginning of his papacy, and Theodore Dalrymple’s dissection of it for Law and Liberty.

Here’s an extract (again, my emphasis  added):

In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’

The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’

… The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?

The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Lesotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…

But to return to the Pope’s more recent pronouncements:

Praiseworthy too are those institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing the phenomenon…

This is a pope who likes  a  spot of censorship. In the Vatican, it seems, some very old habits die very hard.

And then:

To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose.

A  truth is only true if it delivers the correct message.

An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful.

A fact is only true if it generates the right results.

And journalists are expected to play their part.

A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice. A journalism less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes.

“Virtuous processes”.

Ah.

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