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Archive for March 2012

Mar/12

28

No Longer?

The Wall Street Journal reports on the Pope’s visit to Cuba here.
Three details.

First this:

One incident at the start of the papal visit left little doubt as to the state of political freedom in Cuba. Before an outdoor mass in Cuba’s second city of Santiago, an unidentified man yelled anti-government slogans before being bundled off by security agents.

Video of the incident showed him being escorted out from the crowd and accosted by an apparent first aid worker wearing a white T-shirt with a large red cross.

The Vatican confirmed the incident, but said it had no further information.

Cuban dissident groups expressed concern for the young man’s safety and urged the government to release him unharmed. “Until now, we’ve been unable to locate the whereabouts of this man who protested peacefully and was assaulted … and beat violently,” said a statement by Elizardo Sánchez, who leads a group that tracks detentions

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I may be wrong, but I cannot see that sort of thing happening in the course of John Paul II’s visits to Communist Poland.

And then this:

On his way to Mexico last week, the pope bluntly criticized Cuba’s official orthodoxy, saying Marxism “no longer corresponds to reality.”

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No longer? When did it ever?

And finally:

But on the island itself, the pope’s message has focused heavily on spiritual matters, and his potential criticisms of Cuba’s regime have been oblique and open to interpretation.

Again, contrast the behavior of John Paul II when, as Pope, he returned on a number of occasions to a homeland still under Communist rule. The code that he used to criticize the regime was easy to translate and sometimes it wasn’t even (really)code.

See, for example, this description of the Pope’s words at a mass held at Solidarity’s Gdansk birthplace:

The highlight of the 1987 visit was John Paul’s homily during his “Mass for the working people” in Gdansk-Zaspa (the district of Gdansk where Lech Walesa lived). In this homily, delivered on “Solidarity’s” and Walesa’s home turf, John Paul II spoke openly to delirious applause: “There cannot be a struggle more powerful than solidarity. There cannot be an agenda for struggle above the agenda of solidarity”. (Note the characteristic ambiguity: solidarity or “Solidarity”? Is he speaking religion or politics? Is he talking about moral or political struggle?) After an interval of deafening applause, he added the most famous words of this visit, which also rank among the most famous of all his words: “That’s exactly what I want to talk about, so let the Pope speak, since he wants to speak about you, and in some sense for you”. In his visits to post-communist Poland in the 1990s, John Paul referred to these words several times as expressing one of his main missions during his earlier visits: to give voice to the silenced nation, to speak what they could not and to speak in their name to those who would not talk with them, as well as to the world at large

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To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church was much more of a national symbol in Poland (even if we exclude the extraordinary impact on a captive nation of seeing one of their own being made Pope) than it is in Cuba today, and, to be no less fair, this current Pope may yet surprise his hosts in Havana.

Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that, when it comes to confronting a dictatorship, Ratzinger is more Glemp than Wojtyła.

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Recently I watched this Christian duet’s paean’s ode to Rick Santorum and was struck by the references to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I am aware that Christian conservatives have a “Constitutionalist” focus, and often suggest that the Founding Fathers were “Bible believing Christians.” In regards to the latter the historical record speaks rather easily on this issue because many of the founders were men of letters, and have left their opinions. Aside from a few exceptions such as Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen most would have accepted the appellation Christian, but then again most Mormons also assert that they are Christians. Unitarian Christians such as John Adams explicitly rejected Trinitarian Christianity.

In other words, by and large a substantial proportion were heretics from a modern conservative Christian perspective. Others, such as Thomas Jefferson exhibited skepticism of revealed religion more generally over most of his adult life; even producing a bowdlerized Bible. Again, as noted above aside from Paine and Allen most of the founding generation of American statesmen would not be confused with militant secularists. Their cultural presuppositions and contexts were radically different. But they were a generation which matured during an era where educated elites tended to view belief in institutional supernatural religion with more indulgence than sincere ardor.

But it is issue of cultural presuppositions that I want to get back to, as this is actually the largest rupture with the conservative Christian patriotic paradigm which strikes me. The American republic organized as a federal entity was a radical break with thousands of years of human history, explicitly separating the sacral and the profane. The radicalism of the American republic existed int the political dimension, certainly. Many thinkers were skeptical that republican forms of governance scaled upward in size. The failure of ancient Rome being the classical example known to all educated men of the era. But another issue from a mainstream perspective was the tearing away of the divine sanction which a political order must receive. The decoupling of faith and state was a great innovation (only a few American states had done so at the time!). We know now that the rise of the state and civilized political order was accompanied by the liberal mixing of religion and politics. Many of the early states which were vehicles for antique civilizations were famously more religious than political in character. But the American republic took the process of secularization farther than had been conceivable. I can grant the proposition that even the Deist founders might be curious and confused as to the details and passions of church-state separation policy in today’s America. But I do not think that that negates the radicalism of their secularism in their age.

All this goes to show that modern political movements draw inspiration from the past, but they refashion the past to suite current propositions. I have had friends of Left-liberal persuasion who have suggested that the founders were pioneers in multiculturalism! Again, I doubt that the founders would even recognize terms of the debate. As a factual matter both the Right and the Left draft the past to suit present ends. This is not wholly without merit or utility. We see the past darkly, collectively and personally. So long as we can separate the past as a positive and empirical matter, and a romantic, almost mytho-poetic one, cold truth and nurturing falsity can coexist usefully. For much of the population the lived reality is that positive matters of truth are of little concern. They are consumers of fiction and the novel, not connoisseurs of monographs. The key is to keep a balance between the reality that was, and the myths we cherish going forward.

Mar/12

25

Why reinvent the wheel?

Alain de Botton and Robert Wright have a long discussion about atheism and the “need for religion” (or at least the exoteric accoutrements of religion). But the conversation seems ahistorical. Confucianism seems to address many of their “wants”; that is, a moralistic framework that makes positive claims with communitarian presuppositions which are not necessarily contingent upon supernatural agents.

No tags

Mar/12

24

Wise Man, Charles II

EU Referendum’s Richard North could not resist this, and nor can I:

Charles II, hearing of a high character of a preacher in the country, attended one of his sermons. Expressing his dissatisfaction, one of the courtiers replied, that the preacher was applauded to the skies by his congregation: “Aye”, observed the king, “I suppose his nonsense suits their nonsense”.

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Mar/12

23

Note on theme

The previous theme was slowing down the loading of this website. So for now we’re switching to this.

Mar/12

21

Preparations for a Visit (Ctd)

Cross-posted on the Corner

Via MSNBC:

HAVANA — Cuba released 70 members of the dissident Ladies in White group detained during the weekend but warned them not to attend activities related to next week’s visit of Pope Benedict, the group’s leader told Reuters on Monday.
The women, known in Spanish as the “Damas de Blanco,” were freed without charges after being arrested in three separate incidents on Saturday and Sunday when they attempted to march in Havana.

Leader Berta Soler, who was detained twice during the weekend, said in a phone interview she was released on Sunday night and given the warning about the pope, who will come to Cuba March 26-28 and give two public masses.
“They said we couldn’t participate in the masses when the pope comes, neither in Santiago nor in Havana,” Soler said.
“They are mistaken because who is going to prohibit us from being close to Christ, being close to God, to the pope who is represents Christ on earth?” she said.

The Pope should extend these heroines a very specific, very public, invitation to attend.

Soler has said her group would like to meet briefly with the pope to discuss human rights in Cuba but Roman Catholic Church authorities said last week a visit with dissidents was not on the schedule.

The EU’s hierarchy has long had a distinctly feeble (and sometimes worse than that) approach towards the Cuban dictatorship. Agreeing to meet Cuba’s dissidents (and welcoming them to those masses), will give Benedict XVI, a frequent critic of what he sees as the lack of moral foundations underpinning the EU, an ideal opportunity to show how his approach differs from that of the oligarchs of Brussels.

More important, it would be a massive signal of support to the people of Cuba, a nation that has lived under tyranny for far, far too long.

Inevitably, these days, there is an online petition (organized by One Cuba) urging the Pope to meet some of the Cuban dissidents. I see that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has signed. Good for her.

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Mar/12

21

Preparing for a Visit (2)

Cross-posted on the Corner.

Via the Miami Herald, more on the Pope’s upcoming visit to Cuba:

Nearly 750 Cuban activists have signed a letter to Pope Benedict XVI warning that his planned visit to Cuba will “send a message to the oppressors that they can continue” to abuse Catholic opponents, dissidents reported Thursday.
“We would be very happy to receive you in our country, if the message of faith, love and hope that you could bring us also would serve to halt the repression against those who want to go to church,” the letter said.

It did not directly urge the pontiff to cancel his planned March 26-28 visit to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, but added, “May the Holy Trinity illuminate your mind so that you can make a correct decision.”

The letter was the latest word from those Cuban dissidents who are concerned that the pontiff’s visit will only legitimize Raúl Castro’s government and do little or nothing to improve human rights on the communist-ruled island…

Among the signers were some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, such as Roque, Guillermo Fariñas, Sara Martha Fonseca, Vladimiro Roca, Jorge Luis “Antunez” García Pérez and his wife, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar. Other dissidents have cautiously welcomed the papal visit as a ray of hope for the Cuban people and the Catholic church. Not signing the letter were Catholic activists Oswaldo Payá and Dagoberto Valdés, Ladies in White leader Bertha Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, and dissident Oscar Elias Biscet. Roque said that she has been asking for an interview with the Vatican’s diplomatic envoy in Havana, Msgr. Bruno Musaro, for the past month to hand over the letter but has received no reply.

The letter argued that since abuses against Catholics only increased after the papal visit was announced, Benedict’s presence in Cuba “would be like sending a message to the oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the church will allow it.”

It cited three cases in which government-organized mobs harassed or threatened dissidents who had gathered in churches, including one Feb. 19 in which the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba had to intervene to protect 14 Ladies in White surrounded at the Our Lady of Charity shrine in El Cobre.

“One should add that on top of all that, some of the faithful are visited by the political police between Friday and Saturday of each week, to be warned that they will not be allowed to attend mass — and indeed they are arrested on Sunday,” the letter added.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady piles on:

Cuban dissidents had hoped the pope’s visit would help them expose the twisted jailors who run the island prison. So what are we to make of the fact that the pontiff will not be meeting with any of the island’s Christian human-rights advocates? These communicants have endured unspeakable acts of state terror to be witnesses to the faith. They have earned papal recognition. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe their dashed hopes….

Berta Soler—Mr. Moya’s wife and the spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, who since 2003 have withstood beatings, arrests and harassment by the regime to attend Mass as a group and protest political imprisonments—has gone even further. She delivered, through the papal nuncio in Havana, a formal request from the Ladies to see the pope, “even for one minute.”

Numerous other Christians on the island have made similar requests…Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s office told the Ladies in White that the pope’s schedule is too tight…

…In case all this is not enough to destroy Cuban confidence in the pope as an ally, the government newspaper Granma said this in an editorial last week: “We are sure that His Holiness will affectionately treasure the memory of this Caribbean Island, which values his visit as a manifestation of trust and a renewed expression of the excellent and uninterrupted relations between the Holy See and Cuba.”

All Cubans know that the “revolution” persecuted the faithful. They were sent before firing squads or to the dungeons, Catholic schools and churches were shuttered, and the island was declared an atheist paradise.

But now Fidel is reminding Cubans that relations were never broken with Rome and he is claiming that all the while he has gotten on fabulously with the pope. Will Pope Benedict, who is by no means a Castro sympathizer, allow the regime to get away with this?

Not if he insists on meeting some of Cuba’s heroic dissidents. A few fine words on freedom are not enough. Not at this point.

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Mar/12

21

Preparations for a Visit

Cross-posted on the Corner

Via Fox:

Cuban authorities detained a prominent dissident and dozens of her colleagues early Sunday, then rounded up more activists while they staged a weekly protest march through Havana just days before a visit by Pope Benedict XVI. Police took away Bertha Soler and three dozen supporters of the Ladies in White dissident group hours before they were to take part in a regular march down Quinta Avenida in the leafy Miramar neighborhood of Havana.

“They were arrested,” said Angel Moya, Soler’s husband and a former political prisoner himself. Soler was also detained briefly Saturday evening, he said.

About 30 other Ladies supporters did make it to the march, which began peacefully, but state security agents moved in when the Ladies tried to extend the protest into streets they don’t normally enter. All were escorted onto a bus belonging to state security. By Sunday evening, many had been released and some driven back to their homes, though Soler was apparently still being held. The Ladies in White formed in 2003, shortly after authorities jailed 75 intellectuals, activists and social commentators in a notorious crackdown on dissent, sentencing them to long prison terms. All have since been freed, and many have gone into exile.

Cuba has cleared its jails of most political prisoners, but human rights groups say the government of President Raul Castro has stepped up short-term detentions and other forms of harassment against the island’s tiny opposition. Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners, and says the dissidents are nothing more than common criminals and mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble. It scoffs at criticism of its human rights record by the West, saying its Marxist system provides citizens with free health care and education, and many other subsidies, while capitalist countries are plagued by poverty.

“Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners.” The Big Lie is alive and well.

It is to be hoped that the Pope makes sure that he sees some of the extraordinarily brave Ladies in White. I’m pretty sure that his predecessor, John Paul II, would have insisted. And while the Pope is on the island, he might also have a word with Cuba’s Cardinal Ortega:

The detentions came just over a week before a March 26-28 visit by Benedict, who is likely to encourage the government to adopt increased religious, political and human rights during his tour, at least privately. It also comes days after Cuban Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega asked police to remove a group of 13 opposition members who had occupied a church in Central Havana for two days.

While the church won assurances that the group members would not be prosecuted, the church-sanctioned raid and its hardline stance throughout the standoff was derided by many dissidents, even those who had opposed the initial occupation.
While many praise Ortega for mediating the release of political prisoners in 2010 and occasionally speaking out in favor of greater economic and political freedom on this Communist-run island, others say he has not done enough. They say Thursday’s decision to call in police to remove dissidents from the Church of Charity demonstrates Ortega’s lack of sympathy. Sunday’s events will likely provide more fodder for those critics.

Elizardo Sanchez, who monitors human rights on the island and acts as a de facto spokesman for the opposition, expressed astonishment at the posture of Ortega, whom he has often praised in the past.

“I can’t get over my astonishment over what has happened in these last few days,” Sanchez told The Associated Press. “The cardinal is acting like the first two of the three wise monkeys,” who could neither see evil nor hear it.
Even as members of the Ladies in White were being detained, Ortega was performing Mass at the grand Cathedral in Old Havana. His sermon inside the baroque, stone edifice before several hundred worshippers did not mention the week’s drama, nor did he say anything about human rights in general.

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Mar/12

18

Hmmm….

Via the BBC:

Cuban dissidents who had occupied a church in Havana to demand an audience with Pope Benedict when he visits later this month, have been evicted. The group of 13 want the Pope to press Cuba’s communist government on issues such as the release of political prisoners and an end to repression.

The protesters were removed from the Church of Charity in central Havana late on Thursday at the request of the city’s cardinal.

The Pope is due in Cuba on 26 March.

“Cardinal Jaime Ortega addressed the competent authorities to invite the occupiers to abandon the sanctuary,” Roman Catholic Church spokesman Orlando Marquez said in a statement.

The dissidents were removed without resistance, it added.

The group of eight women and five men had entered the church on Tuesday night, occupying an area off-limits to worshippers.

Pope Benedict has not announced any plans to meet Cuban dissidents during his trip.

His trip will begin in the eastern city of Santiago, where he will meet Cuban President Raul Castro.

During his time on the island, he will also visit the shrine of the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre and travel to Havana, where he will say mass in the main plaza.

A Castro & The Cardinal

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Mar/12

17

The Saudi Way

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Via the Washington Times:

If the pope called for the destruction of all the mosques in Europe, the uproar would be cataclysmic. Pundits would lambaste the church, the White House would rush out a statement of deep concern, and rioters in the Middle East would kill each other in their grief. But when the most influential leader in the Muslim world issues a fatwa to destroy Christian churches, the silence is deafening.

On March 12, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” The ruling came in response to a query from a Kuwaiti delegation over proposed legislation to prevent construction of churches in the emirate. The mufti based his decision on a story that on his deathbed, Muhammad declared, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula.” This passage has long been used to justify intolerance in the kingdom. Churches have always been banned in Saudi Arabia, and until recently Jews were not even allowed in the country. Those wishing to worship in the manner of their choosing must do so hidden away in private, and even then the morality police have been known to show up unexpectedly and halt proceedings.

This is not a small-time radical imam trying to stir up his followers with fiery hate speech. This was a considered, deliberate and specific ruling from one of the most important leaders in the Muslim world. It does not just create a religious obligation for those over whom the mufti has direct authority; it is also a signal to others in the Muslim world that destroying churches is not only permitted but mandatory.

It is something of an exaggeration to describe the grand mufti as the “most influential leader in the Muslim world” (and the writer seems to backtrack on that claim a little later), but his views certainly carry a great deal of weight, and, doubtless, Egypt’s Saudi-inspired Salafists will be amongst those paying attention.

That’s yet more bad news for the Copts.

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