Archive for January 2010
Death the end? Ah no, my friend, only a turning of the wheel. Don’t you remember the beer ad from Kentucky Fried Movie?
“You’re only reincarnated six or seven times in life …”
Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient mid-winter festival dating back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.
Saturday’s celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran’s once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country’s ancient traditions.
At the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Iranians buy fruit, nuts and other goodies to mark the feast of Chelleh, also known as Yalda, an ancient tradition when families get together and stay up late, swapping stories and munching on snacks.
Both were discouraged by authorities in the early years after the Islamic Revolution by the conservative clerical regime, but without success.
Islamists and their ilk are regularly termed “conservative,” but they’re actually often enemies of the old and traditional. Consider the proactive destruction of Ottoman-era architecture from Mecca by the “conservative” Saudi regime.
After a parent complained about an elementary school student stumbling across “oral sex” in a classroom dictionary, Menifee Union School District officials decided to pull Merriam Webster’s 10th edition from all school shelves earlier this week. School officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the “sexually graphic” entry, said district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. The dictionaries were initially purchased a few years ago for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms districtwide, according to a memo to the superintendent.
“It’s just not age appropriate,” said Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district. “It’s hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we’ll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,” Cadmus said. She explained that other dictionary entries defining human anatomy would probably not be cause for alarm.
I love that “probably”.
Despite its deployment of some somewhat questionable history (as least so far as the Church of England is concerned) and no less questionable predictions about the current pope’s impact on the English church, this piece by Mary Eberstadt takes some beating as a glimpse into the thinking of a smart, conservative Roman Catholic fundamentalist. I couldn’t care less about the theological implications of what she is discussing, but what I do find interesting is the more important political, historical and anthropological question that implicitly runs through it. Does a religion have to be “strict” to flourish? Looking beyond (and not always beyond) the history of the three great Middle Eastern religions, I’d say that the answer is a cautious no, but it’s a question that in turn raises questions about exactly which psychological and social needs religion evolved to address. The answers are, of course, not always that comforting…
While the sneaking suspicion that death means the end of it all will, if proved accurate, lead to a state of affairs immensely preferable to an eternity in hellfire, that doesn’t mean that the prospect of extinction doesn’t leave me a little sad on occasions, an emotion sharpened by the recent arrival through the mail of a prospectus inviting me to reserve a place in a local (well, Queens) cemetery ($1,000 off!).
Making this sad situation even more depressing are all those good hymns there out there on the splendid destiny awaiting those lucky enough to make it through St. Peter’s gates.
So, to push a little in the other direction, here’s a cheery little ditty by the great Stephin Merritt celebrating (sort of) the idea that all there is is one time round.
It’s important to remember that there is a decent scientific basis to the AGW hypothesis, but then there are moments like this (from The Sunday Telegraph):
The United Nations’ expert panel on climate change based claims about ice disappearing from the world’s mountain tops on a student’s dissertation and an article in a mountaineering magazine. The revelation will cause fresh embarrassment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which had to issue a humiliating apology earlier this month over inaccurate statements about global warming. The IPCC’s remit is to provide an authoritative assessment of scientific evidence on climate change.
In its most recent report, it stated that observed reductions in mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and Africa was being caused by global warming, citing two papers as the source of the information.
However, it can be revealed that one of the sources quoted was a feature article published in a popular magazine for climbers which was based on anecdotal evidence from mountaineers about the changes they were witnessing on the mountainsides around them. The other was a dissertation written by a geography student, studying for the equivalent of a master’s degree, at the University of Berne in Switzerland that quoted interviews with mountain guides in the Alps.
The revelations, uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph, have raised fresh questions about the quality of the information contained in the report, which was published in 2007. It comes after officials for the panel were forced earlier this month to retract inaccurate claims in the IPCC’s report about the melting of Himalayan glaciers.
Sceptics have seized upon the mistakes to cast doubt over the validity of the IPCC and have called for the panel to be disbanded. This week scientists from around the world leapt to the defence of the IPCC, insisting that despite the errors, which they describe as minor, the majority of the science presented in the IPCC report is sound and its conclusions are unaffected.
Well, maybe, but what those errors (and the uncritical way in which they were allowed to enter the climate change “narrative”) have to say about the way that the climate change machine operates (and is operated) is very telling indeed.
As is this from the London Times:
The chairman of the leading climate change watchdog was informed that claims about melting Himalayan glaciers were false before the Copenhagen summit, The Times has learnt.
Rajendra Pachauri was told that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 was wrong, but he waited two months to correct it. He failed to act despite learning that the claim had been refuted by several leading glaciologists.
The IPCC’s report underpinned the proposals at Copenhagen for drastic cuts in global emissions.
Whole thing here.
One of the features of a good number of religions is their tendency to urge asceticism /simplicity/don’t bother with all those material things on their followers. Another no less striking feature of those same religions is the way that such hair shirt commandments are so often broken by their priests and, for that matter, high priests.
If this report by Mail on Sunday is correct, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the UN’s IPCC, and a man notorious for urging the simple life on the rest of us, has yet to do the same thing himself:
He is the climate change chief whose research body produced a report warning that the glaciers in the Himalayas might melt by 2035 and earned a Nobel Prize for his work – so you might expect Dr Rajendra Pachauri to be doing everything he can to reduce his own carbon footprint. But as controversy continued to simmer last week over the bogus ‘Glaciergate’ claims in a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which he heads – Dr Pachauri showed no apparent inclination to cut global warming in his own back yard. On Friday, for the one-mile journey from home to his Delhi office, Dr Pachauri could have walked, or cycled, or used the eco-friendly electric car provided for him…But instead, he had his personal chauffeur collect him from his £4.5million home – in a 1.8-litre Toyota Corolla…
As he waited outside the institute office for Dr Pachauri, the chauffeur said: ‘Dr Pachauri does use the electric car sometimes but most of the time he uses the Toyota.’ The electric car might be kinder to the environment and more suitable for short trips, explained the chauffeur – who has worked for the environmentalist for 19 years – but it was simply too small for Dr Pachauri and a driver to share. ‘When he uses it, he has to use it by himself,’ he said.
More knockabout stuff here.
Over at ScienceBlogs I have a post up where I explore the differences by state between the American Religious Identification Survey in 1990 and 2008. I then compare these data to the national election results in 1988 and 2008.
Here is a chart which shows the relationship between % “No Religion” and proportion of votes for George H. W. Bush in 1988:
And here is a chart which shows the relationship between % “No Religion” and proportion of votes for John McCain in 2008:
What you see here is that there is no correlation on the state by state level between those with “No Religion” and voting for Republicans or Democrats in 1988, but that by 2008 the proportion with “No Religion” can explain 20% of the variation by 1988. Some of this is just due to the rapid expansion of the proportion of the American population which avows “No Religion”. But the secularization process exhibits geographic patterns; Vermont now has a plural majority for those with “No Religoin,” and perhaps tellingly it is a state which has shifted much further to the Left than the national average since 1988 (it voted for Bush in ’88, but was a deep blue state by ’08). Secularization in fact has been most pronounced in northern New England, which has seen a shift toward the Left over the past generation.
What relevance does this have for current politics? 21% of political Independents have “No Religion,” as opposed to 16% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans. The role of Independents in Scott Brown’s recent victory, and in New England in general, is notable. There is no doubt that today the Republican party is defined by its white Protestant core, and this will be the basis for any future Republican majority. But I think Scott Brown’s election shows the importance of demographics outside of the core in creating a viable majority party. Though Brown himself is an Evangelical Calvinist, his campaign did not seem culturally colored in a way that the secular Center-Right might find off-putting. I think this is an important insight, and suggests further analogies between Scott Brown and Barack Obama.* Though Obama does not seem to be personally a particularly religiously devout individual, he managed to appeal to substantial numbers of religious voters through his mastery of rhetoric and presentation. Similarly, though Scott Brown’s personal beliefs are conventionally Christian, his tone and presentation was such as that voters otherwise skeptical of the Religious Right coloring of the modern Republican party found him acceptable.
* Because Scott Brown is pro-choice and is by necessity ideologically somewhat marginal with the party I am not suggesting here he could ever be a viable presidential candidate as a Republican. Unless he changes his views appropriately, at which point he would lose any shred of credible authenticity for pulling “a Romney.”
In an earlier post, Heather argued that it was a touch difficult to reconcile the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount with the notion of Christianity as an ideology of the free market. In the comments, I noted that the Parable of the Talents was a better place to look for that, but the better answer is, of course, that a faith need not be defined by its source materials. Religions change. Religions both shape and reflect the different societies into which they spread. They are a natural phenomenon and, as such, they evolve, not infrequently to the point when they have taken forms in which the connection to what their founders may or may not have said in the distant past is, to say the least, stretched. And that’s something that is often all for the good.
In this connection, British blogger Archbishop Cranmer’s decision to post a 1977 lecture by Mrs. Thatcher is timely. You don’t have to agree with it all to find it fascinating, not only for what Mrs. Thatcher is saying, but on how she draws on a religious tradition that has quite evidently come a long way from the Middle East of two millennia ago. Here’s a key extract:
There is much that the state should do, and do much better than it is doing. But there are also proper limits which have long since been passed in this country.
To understand the reason and how these limits can be adduced, we must come back to the nature of man. This is a matter where our understanding and our case, based on religion and commonsense, is so much sounder than that of the socialist doctrine. Yet the socialist travesty has succeeded in gaining wide acceptance by default, even among our own people. I refer to the question of self-interest as against the common good. The socialists have been able to persuade themselves and many others that a free economy based on profit embodies and encourages self-interest, which they see as selfish and bad, whereas they claim socialism is based on and nurtures altruism and selflessness.
This is baseless nonsense in theory and in practice; let me explain why. Let us start from the idea of self. There is not and cannot possibly be any hard and fast antithesis between self-interest and care for others, for man is a social creature, born into family, clan, community, nation, brought up in mutual dependence. The founders of our religion made this a cornerstone of morality. The admonition: love they neighbour as thyself, and do as you would be done by, expresses this. You will note that it does not denigrate self, or elevate love of others above it. On the contrary, it sees concern for self and responsibility for self as something to be expected, and asks only that this be extended to others. This embodies the great truth that self-regard is the root of regard for one’s fellows. The child learns to understand others through its own feelings. At first its immediate family, in course of time the circle grows.
Our fellow-feeling develops from self-regard. Because we want warmth, shelter, food, security, respect, and other goods for ourselves, we can understand that others want them too. If we had no desire for these things, would we be likely to understand and further others’ desire for them?
You may object that saintly people can well have no personal desires, either material or prestigious; but we do not legislate for saints.
Read the whole thing. Really.
In 2008, astonished Americans could read this by SF Gate’s Mark Morford:
Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious mind you but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order and they speak not just to reason or emotion but to the soul.
Now, in 2010, we can read this in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Ellie Light sure gets around.
In recent weeks, Light has published virtually identical “Letters to the Editor” in support of President Barack Obama in more than a dozen newspapers.Every letter claimed a different residence for Light that happened to be in the newspaper’s circulation area.
“It’s time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can’t just wave a magic wand and fix everything,” said a letter from alleged Philadelphian Ellie Light, that was published in the Jan. 19 edition of The Philadelphia Daily News.
A letter from Light in the Jan. 20 edition of the San Francisco Examiner concluded with an identical sentence, but with an address for Light all the way across the country in Daly City, California.
Variations of Light’s letter ran in Ohio’s Mansfield News Journal on Jan. 13, with Light claiming an address in Mansfield; in New Mexico’s Ruidoso News on Jan. 12, claiming an address in Three Rivers; in South Carolina’s The Sun News on Jan. 18, claiming an address in Myrtle Beach; and in the Daily News Leader of Staunton, Virginia on Jan. 15, claiming an address in Waynesboro. Her publications list includes other papers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and California, all claiming separate addresses.