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Archive for August 2013

Aug/13

31

Nuns on the Bus, Nonsense on a Roll

nunsThe leftist Catholic News Service reports:

Members of Congress may be out of town and immigration reform legislation may be stuck until at least this fall, but the summer recess has been time for Catholic activists to rally their forces and pressure elected representatives.

During the first weekend after Labor Day in some dioceses, priests have been asked to preach, celebrate special Masses or hold other events to educate about the church’s position on comprehensive immigration reform. Catholic colleges and universities are being asked to do the same the last weekend in September.

In addition, a conference hosted by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, was scheduled just outside of Washington for late September. It will focus on the next step, offering help in planning for the process of mass legalization, a component of the Senate-passed immigration reform bill.

The Nuns on the Bus tour revved up again in May and June, taking religious women on a 6,500-mile trip through 15 states. Over the course of 53 events in 40 cities, stretching from the Northeast across the South and to California, the sisters and others who joined them along the way talked about the need for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. Gatherings of as many as several hundred people were held in church halls, congressional offices, social service agencies and at a Mexican border crossing.

In a more localized pilgrimage for immigration reform, Sacramento, Calif., Bishop Jaime Soto on Aug. 12 blessed 11 pilgrims who were walking the 285 miles from Sacramento to Bakersfield, holding events along the way to talk about immigration. The 21-day Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship, planned by PICO National Network, a faith-based community organizing group, started at Sacramento’s National Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe and has been making its way from one (mostly Catholic) church to another across central California’s agricultural valleys.

After talking to the public and trying to meet with members of Congress as they travel, the pilgrims planned to end their trek Monday at a rally that organizers expect will draw up to 5,000 people.

On the other side of the country, the Washington-based organization Faith in Public Life has spent the summer building coalitions at Catholic colleges and universities to work for immigration reform through letters, postcards and texts to members of Congress.

In July, more than 100 presidents of Catholic higher education institutions, joined by dozens more faculty members, wrote to Catholic members of Congress about the church’s teaching on migration in an effort organized by Faith in Public Life in collaboration with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities….

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Aug/13

31

Desperate

Henry VIII 2Writing in the Catholic Herald, a priest, Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, compares Kim Jong-Un with Henry VIII, the king who (according to paper’s headline-writers “founded the Church of England”: nope, it was Elizabeth I who did that, but no matter):

…The court of Mr. Kim might well be riven by deadly infighting. Indeed, it would be surprising were it not. If Mrs. Kim has persuaded her husband to get rid of Ms Hyon, this was no more than what went on in another court. Anne Boleyn constantly nagged Henry VIII to have Katharine of Aragon and her daughter the Lady Mary executed; she was also keen to see Cardinal Wolsey go to the block; as it turned out, he resisted her nagging at least with regard to the Queen and the Princess, and in the end had Anne executed, about which she could hardly complain.

There are other parallels with the Tudors. Mr. Kim seems to favour novel methods of execution. Ms Hyon was machine gunned; Anne Boleyn was executed with a sword rather than the axe, even though, as the historian Alison Weir has pointed out in her excellent The Lady in the Tower, a sword may in fact be much more painful. But Mr. Kim goes further than Henry VII ever did. He had one general, according to the Telegraph, executed by mortar round, which is highly original.

The idea of guilt by association is also reminiscent of Tudor times. When Anne Boleyn fell, her uncle the Duke of Norfolk was keen to show his disapproval of his niece, and presided at her trial and voted for her death. When he second niece to marry the King, Katharine Howard, fell, his protestations were even more voluble, especially as several members of the Howard family spent some time in the Tower, thanks to guilt by association. Katharine Howard’s brothers rode through the City of London in their best clothes in a bid to disassociate themselves from the wretched girl’s misfortune; it was a move that worked.

Just as both of Henry’s wives, and indeed his other victims, may have been condemned on trumped up charges, so it seems that Ms Hyon and her colleagues were condemned to death for incoherent indeed contradictory offences: for making pornographic videos of themselves and for the possession of Bibles. The pornography charge sounds as convincing as Anne Boleyn’s alleged witchcraft.

We may well condemn what happens in North Korea, but this sort of thing is to be expected in places where there is no rule of law beyond the will of the presiding autocrat, who is anything but benign…

It’s a silly comparison. Henry the Liberator was a savage man in a savage era, but regardless of his motives, he established the principle that Englishmen should be governed by English laws, a principle that—more or less—endured until Britain joined what became the EU.

At this point, there’s no better course than, yet again, to quote the (admittedly controversial) English Conservative statesman, Enoch Powell:

The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event…

The whole subsequent history of Britain and the political character of the British people have taken their colour and trace their unique quality from that moment and that assertion. It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].

And childish, ahistorical comparisons with a psychotic North Korean playboy will not change that fact.

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Aug/13

31

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Alamogordo, Aug 2001 (AS)From Seeing Things (1991):

Lightenings viii

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Aug/13

27

Russia Takes on the Pastafarians

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (July 2000, AS)I’ve always thought that the joke about the Great Spaghetti Monster was a touch on the leaden side, but compared with Russia’s response to the “Pastafarians”…

NBC reports:

MOSCOW, Russia — The march of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had all signs of being a satirical stunt – some of its 100 participants were armed with colanders on their heads and pasta in their mouths.
But the reaction of Russian authorities to so-called Pastafarians has been anything but lighthearted.

Police and members of a Russian Orthodox group set upon the group last Saturday, knocking some to the ground. Eight members of the church were detained and subsequently charged with organizing an unsanctioned rally. Although those detained have since been released, they are due back in court before the end of August. Pastafarians are part of an international ‘religious’ movement founded in the U.S. in 2005 in opposition to the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. It has become an international movement, generally recognized as satirical poke at organized religion. But its adherents insist that it’s a ‘real religion’ and the dogma they follow is the rejection of dogma. They claim to have 15,000 adherents in Russia.

Aside from demonstrating how some Muscovites may not appreciate the Pastafarians’ sense of humor, the recent crackdown reveals just how close Russia’s Orthodox Church and state agencies have become in what was once an officially atheist nation…Alexei Romanov, a member of the Pastafarian Church, called the move and subsequent legal proceedings against it “absurd.”

“The country is gradually turning into an authoritarian state,” he said.
Romanov’s fellow Pastafarians are falling victim to a recently introduced law that bans insulting the religious feelings of believers.

This time members of an unregistered Orthodox Christian group who call themselves “God’s Will,” called the police when they found out about the procession, according to Romanov.

They accused the spaghetti worshipers of insulting the religious feelings of believers – an accusation that, if found to be true by a court of law, can have mean up to three years in jail….

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Aug/13

25

Chávez: Still With us?

Hugo-ChavezCross-posted on the Corner:

The Financial Times reports:

[Venezuelan president Maduras] campaigned on the basis that his predecessor spoke to him in the form of a little bird. Last week, he admitted that he regularly sleeps in the mausoleum where the comandante’s remains are kept for inspiration.

He is not alone in making that pilgrimage. Mariana Alcalá recently travelled from the western city of Barquisimeto to Caracas to lay flowers at a shrine set up by devotees near the military barracks where the former president’s remains are kept in a sarcophagus surrounded by the presidential guard of honour.

“Our giant has left us in person, but he will always be with us in spirit. I think that the majority [of chavistas] believe, have faith, that one way or another he is helping us, not only socially but also spiritually,” says Ms Alcalá. “We ask him for help, and he helps us, he illuminates us.”

The “Saint Hugo Chávez” shrine in the 23 de Enero slum in central Caracas is one of many that have sprung up around the country since the socialist leader, who described himself as a Christian, died in March. In poor areas like the 23 de Enero, one of Chávez’s strongholds where he was revered in life, his image hangs next to those of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Pope Francis I.

“This is a product of the empathy he developed with the majority of the unassisted, unprotected, forgotten population of Venezuela. When he took power they felt that some sort of father had arrived, a saviour, a protector, an Almighty,” says Lizbety González, a Venezuelan expert on cults. “His death generated a deep pain and that vacuum was filled by a cult, a cult that is evident all over Venezuela now.”

Some even believe the former president could be more powerful dead than alive. “Chávez is a god, a messiah, a warrior of light,” says Humberto López, who likes to dress as the Argentine-Cuban guerrilla fighter Ernesto Che Guevara.

Okey dokey.

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Aug/13

24

The Timeless Appeal of the Apocalypse (Again)

ResidentEvil_AliceCross-posted on the Corner:

To my disappointment, I missed this event:

Uncivilisation 2013 is a gathering of people searching for answers to questions about our collective future in a rapidly-changing and depleting world. For one long weekend in August, the woods and chalk downland of the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire will be home to a festival of literature, music, art and action. It will be a place of encounters and conversations, learning and sharing, stories, ideas, music and performance. There will be campfires, wanderings in the woods, children’s activities, and workshops in everything from writing to scything.

Scything.

Some background:

The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We see that the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unravelling, and we want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.

Something tells me that the “cultural response” that the Dark Mountaineers are planning does not involve the acquisition of heavy weaponry, canned goods, a comfortable, yet invulnerable, mountain redoubt and the recruitment of Resident Evil’s Alice, a handy companion in the event of any apocalypse I can envisage.

H/t: David Thompson, who anticipated the event in a possibly sarcastic fashion:

Who here could resist a congregation of climate catastrophists and unemployed poets – sorry, “artists and thinkers” – who tell us their words “will be elemental” and will “weave reality,” and who also tell us they will write these elemental, reality-weaving words “with dirt under our fingernails.” These brave People Of Tomorrow™ will gather in tepees and fiddle with twigs, while awaiting the end of capitalism and bourgeois decadence. They will dine on halloumi burgers and Fair Trade carrot cake. Women will blossom in a “creative making and conversation space.” Men will be helped to “reconcile their polarities.” Oh, and there’ll also be a scything workshop. Poetry and scything is clearly the way forward.

Yes, scything.

Then again, what good is the apocalypse without a grim reaper?

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Aug/13

22

Francis & Bloy

leon-bloyIn the Daily Telegraph, Tim Stanley writes:

A chance click on a blog by Alejandro Bermúdez, head of the Catholic News Agency, leant me a fascinating insight into [the Pope’s] intellectual character. During his first homily, Pope Francis quoted the 19th century French convert Léon Bloy. And it’s a striking quote:

“When one does not confess Jesus Christ, I am reminded of the expression of Léon Bloy: ‘He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.’ When one does not confess Jesus Christ, one confesses the worldliness of the devil.”

Oh my! To anyone who doubts Pope Francis’ orthodoxy, there it is in black and white. God is a reality and to reject him is to embrace the only real alternative – the devil. Note that it’s “the devil” with a small “d”, because he’s much smaller than God and cannot possibly win the Final Battle between the two. Satan is a pipsqueak and a born loser, and you’d have to be pretty dumb to pick him for an ally.

Bloy was a radical Catholic. He was obsessed with capturing and embodying the essence of Christian doctrine, to the degree that it made him the sworn enemy of compromise. Born in 1846, he was raised in Paris in the French republican tradition – rationalist, secularist. In his twenties he underwent a dramatic conversion to Catholicism that left him craving constant encounter with the divine. Like anyone who thinks they have discovered The Truth, he was impatient with the fake consensus that others tried to force him to live by. Christ on the Cross was the only fact worth knowing, martyrdom was the only death worth experiencing. Bloy embraced poverty and gained the nickname “the ungrateful beggar” for his habit of refusing to get a job, begging for money, and then using the fresh ink he acquired to attack the lifestyles of the rich who kept him. We might today call him a hippie bum, but no bum ever wrote with this kind of passion:

“Every man who begets a free act projects his personality into the infinite. If he gives a poor man a penny grudgingly, that penny pierces the poor man’s hand, falls, pierces the earth, bores holes in suns, crosses the firmament and compromises the universe. If he begets an impure act, he perhaps darkens thousands of hearts whom he does not know, who are mysteriously linked to him, and who need this man to be pure as a traveler dying of thirst needs the Gospel’s draught of water. A charitable act, an impulse of real pity sings for him the divine praises, from the time of Adam to the end of the ages; it cures the sick, consoles those in despair, calms storms, ransoms prisoners, converts the infidel and protects mankind.”

Purity not just in deed but in purpose. Bloy wanted us to live heroically as living saints; always giving, never taking – motivated in everything by pure love. A barrier to love was wealth (if you have it and you love others, why wouldn’t you give it away?), so Bloy hated the wealthy….

Ah yes, always the hate. It’s curious how often advocates of “pure love” of this type seem to have so much room for hate.

To be sure, it’s important to note (as Stanley does) that this was just one citation by Francis, and it’s even more important to admit that I’d never heard of Bloy until yesterday. That said, even very cursory research throws up some fairly disturbing information about him. Long-distance medical diagnosis is always a dangerous temptation, and it rarely yields much more than a glorified guess. Nevertheless, on this occasion I shall give in to it: It certainly looks as if Bloy had some sort of breakdown, and, sadly, the personality that emerged from this “dramatic conversion” (if you prefer that gentler term) was both unpleasant and more than a little sinister.

Stanley attempts to draw a distinction between Bloy’s rhetoric and the language of Marxism by focusing on the fact that Marxism is a materialist creed. Superficially, perhaps, but Marxism is better seen as a manifestation of the old millennialist tradition of which Bloy-style Catholic radicalism is yet another expression. To read Bloy’s turn-of-the century ravings is to glimpse a shadow of the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution and the “Democratic Kampuchea” to come.

To get a very quick flavor of Bloy, read the rest of Stanley’s fascinating article and then go over to the French wikiquote. See Bloy sounding off against Protestantism, democracy and modernity, (vaccination was “un ordure”, apparently, a favorite word of this somewhat excrementally-obsessed writer, and cars and trains were not much better). Check out the repeated demonization of the rich and the bourgeois as “pigs”, dehumanization of a sort that was the prelude to so much twentieth century massacre.

Bloy’s morbid and violent prose appears to be the product of a genuinely totalitarian spirit (”Je suis pour l’intolérance parfaite”), and of a mind that recognized only one truth. God, so to speak, help anyone who disagreed.

For Francis to quote this man was, well, interesting…

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Aug/13

21

Meanwhile…..

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Via Bloomberg News:

A Jeddah criminal court judge has sentenced Saudi Arabian journalist Raif Badawi to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for the crime of “insulting Islam.” It could have gone worse for Badawi: Had the judge not thrown out the charge of apostasy, he would have received a death sentence. He’ll probably survive the whipping only because it comes in four sessions with planned hospitalizations in between. He has until Sept. 6 to file an appeal.

Badawi, 30, is the co-founder and editor of the website saudiliberalnetwork.com, which encouraged people to post their thoughts about the role of religion and politics, among other things, in their lives. (No longer, however: The site has been shut down.)

…Can any human being survive 600 lashes? I asked Waleed Abu al-Khair, a Saudi Arabian human-rights lawyer who is handling Badawi’s case, to tell me about this particular form of punishment.

“The lash is like a horse whip,” he said during a telephone interview from Jeddah. “You stand with your face to the wall. They lash his back from top to legs. 150 lashes are given at a time. Then he will need to go to the hospital.”

Badawi was given five years for “insulting Islam.” Two more are for insulting both Islam and Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

According to the global watchdog group Human Rights Watch, a popular cleric, Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak, called for Badawi to be charged with apostasy for allegedly saying that “Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists are all equal.”

The judge, Faris al-Harbi, tacked an additional three months onto the sentence, al-Khair told me, for “parental disobedience.” Badawi’s father, he says, went on TV to condemn his son’s statements and the website.Badawi has repeatedly claimed that he never attacked Islam and that he only sought to provide a forum for open debate. He even convinced al-Harbi of his own faith, which led to the dismissal of the apostasy charge….

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Aug/13

17

Rubbish Tories

British RecyclingCross-posted on the Corner:

If recycling is, as the saying goes, the liberal equivalent of prayer, what does this make the rubbish bins of Britain?

Over at the Daily Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill gives an update:

You would think the solution to the blighting of Britain’s residential streets with more and more household bins was pretty straightforward – stop forcing people to sort their rubbish into myriad different bins in the name of “saving the planet”. Instead, let them cram all their waste into one bin, like we did for decades, before some bloke in a donkey jacket and flat cap turns up to whisk it all away, no questions asked. Right? Apparently not. Eric Pickles’ [he’s the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government] preferred solution to the “bin blight” is to institute new planning guidance that will force developers to create a special bin-storage bit to all the new homes they build. In short, he plans to counter local councils’ petty meddling in people’s daily habits by launching some petty meddling of his own into the work of building firms. So much for Tory promises to shrink Big Government.

Pickles has a point when he says there is a “ghastly gauntlet” of bins and recycling boxes on Britain’s streets. “Ugly bin clutter” is ruining residential streets, he says, with “the proliferation of multiple bins [creating] a blot on the landscape”. Yet rather than address the source of this bin invasion – which is local authorities’ embracing of environmentalist dogma and their enforcing of the entirely pointless ritual of recycling on to households across the land – Pickles prefers to take the easier route of forcing developers to build shelters to accommodate all these unnecessary, annoying, eye-sore bins. This provides a keen insight into the New Conservatives’ political cowardice: don’t ask awkward questions of modern-day eco-pieties and instead create a whole new layer of infrastructure to negate their worst consequences.

At this point, I shall rudely interrupt Mr. O’Neill to note recent reports showing that Conservative Party membership figures are reaching new lows, down from some 250,000 when David Cameron (an example for the GOP, we were told at the time) became leader to below 100,000 today (perhaps as low as around seventy thousand: there are different ways to slice the data).

But back to O’Neill:

The bin situation is spiralling out of control. Gone are the days when you could unthinkingly chuck everything from a banana skin to a plastic bottle into one binbag and not have to worry about what would become of it all. Now, in some parts of Britain, people have up to seven different bins to separate their waste between. In the past you’d walk down a suburban street and admire the best-kept gardens or fanciest net curtains; now you finding yourself marvelling at how many differently hued bins are plonked outside every home and wondering how waste disposal and collection came to be such complicated endeavours.

Well, the cowardice of the Tory Party is one of the reasons for this mess, but it is a cowardice that is not confined to “eco-pieties” (many of which the Cameron Conservatives have, incidentally, actively embraced), but also in its dealings with the EU, often the key regulator in this area.

O’Neill:

Personal recycling is a complete waste of time too, in environmental, “planet-saving” terms, given that household waste is a pretty small proportion of overall waste in Britain. Enforced recycling of household tat is less a practical stab at rescuing Mother Earth from climate change and more a punishment of families for being wasteful, a ritual designed to remind us of our greed and overall dirtiness by making us muck through everything we chuck away.

Sounds like a religious ritual to me, maybe more of an act of penance than a prayer, but religious nonetheless.

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Aug/13

17

Pastoral Care

Snake handlersThe BBC reports:

Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.

Medical staff told the BBC a minority of pastors in England were endangering young church members by putting them under pressure to stop medication. Healing is central to Pentecostalism, a radical belief in the power of prayer and miracles. But one pastor denied people would ever be told to stop taking their medicine….

Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.

“We don’t say to people ‘don’t take your medication don’t go to the doctor’. I mean we never say that,” he said.

Pentecostalism is booming. The number of Pentecostal churches in London, for example, has doubled since 2005. The overall number of incidents of HIV patients being told to give up medicine is thought to consist of a minority of churches and a small group of people. But the Rev Israel Olofinjana, who is a former Pentecostal pastor and now a Baptist minister, said he had seen it happening.

“I’ve heard languages like that – ‘put your trust in God, don’t put your trust in medicine’.”

He said many of these churches served migrants with an exalted view of the authority of pastors.

“Within the context of African churches, if you’re coming from a culture where the pastor is like your fathers or mothers, like your community keepers, the word of your pastor becomes very important,” he explained.

“It becomes very significant… there is a minority who say ‘because God can heal absolutely… what’s the need for medicine?’.”

Dr Steve Welch, who is chairman of the Children’s HIV Association, said it found it difficult to engage with the faith leaders of churches where healing was an integral part of the worship.

Ah multiculturalism, working out well as usual, I see.

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