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Archive for October 2013

Oct/13

31

‘Religious Freedom’ (Again)

Thomas MoreThe fact that the current clutch of campaigners for ‘religious freedom’ (brought together by their opposition to Obamacare’s contraception mandate) has adopted Thomas More, a less than admirable proto-Dzerzhinsky, as a symbol of freedom of conscience, a principle for which More showed not the slightest sympathy, should tell you all you know about their protest. It is based, not on the idea of religious freedom, but of religious privilege, an idea that is not only unlikable in its own right, but also (in an increasingly multicultural nation) can only help reinforce the drift to the Balkanization that is a very real menace to a shared American future.

Writing in the (leftish) National Catholic Reporter, David DeCosse takes a critical look at what the Cardinal Dolan crowd is now arguing:

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia articulated the problematic logic behind the bishops’ religious liberty campaign. “The purpose of religious liberty is to create the context for true freedom,” he said in his 2012 homily at a “Fortnight of Freedom” Mass organized in support of the campaign. “Religious liberty is a foundational right. It’s necessary for a good society. But it can never be sufficient for human happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.”
Here we can see a subtle but significant shift from the logic of the Declaration on Religious Freedom. In the conciliar document, the respect for human dignity that is the basis of the right is an end in itself. The right so understood belongs to all people — Catholic, lapsed Catholic, Muslim, Jew, atheist and more. But, in Chaput’s homily, the right is not an end in itself; he says so explicitly. Instead, the right is instrumental: Its real value lies not so much in the freedom to believe but in the “deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.”

Here Chaput has introduced a tiered, imbalanced justification of religious liberty in civil society. The devoutly religious are more entitled to it than anyone else.

Quite: It’s about privilege, not freedom.

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Oct/13

25

No Idle Hands Here

Santorum (Well, Savanarola)The Devil has been busy again, but Rick Santorum is on the case.

Right Wing Watch (I know, I know) reports:

Rick Santorum is asking you to do your part to free movie theatres from the Devil’s clutches by purchasing tickets to his upcoming movie, The Christmas Candle. He appeared on the Trinity Broadcasting Network last week to plug the new movie of his film company EchoLight Studios, which apparently is in a state of internal strife after his arrival as CEO. While speaking on a network where televangelists on a daily basis tell viewers that God will reward them financially if they send in contributions, the former senator and presidential candidate spent most of the time criticizing movies for being too materialistic.

Santorum, who has previously said that Satan has control over mainline Protestantism and universities, thanked viewers in advance for seeing the movie. “This is a tough business, this is something that we’re stepping out,” Santorum said, “and the Devil for a long, long time has had this, these screens, for his playground and he isn’t going to give it up easily.”

It may just be me, but I’m not entirely convinced that Santorum is helping build a GOP brand that can sweep to victory in 2014 and 2016.

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Oct/13

19

Open That Needle’s Eye!

One of the things that I have always appreciated about Christianity is its seemingly infinite capacity for syncretism.

In its own nutty, hopelessly kitsch way, this is rather splendid:

business jesus

And it beats Pope Francis’s rehashed Peronism any day.

H/t: The American Jesus (who doesn’t seem to approve)

Oct/13

16

Left-Right synergy that could have been

This is not the time to be talking about Left-Right alliances. I know. But this piece by Kevin Drum got my attention. He’s responding to the fact that asthma inhalers are very expensive because of the way pharmaceutical companies have gamed intellectual patent law. Here’s Drum:

In other words, pharmaceutical companies didn’t just take advantage of this situation, they actively worked to create this situation. Given the minuscule impact of CFC-based inhalers on the ozone layer, it’s likely that an exception could have been agreed to if pharmaceutical companies hadn’t lobbied so hard to get rid of them. The result is lower-quality inhalers and fantastically higher profits for Big Pharma.

As someone with asthma I have kept track of this issue more than most. There’s someone else who pointed out how ridiculuous banning CFC-based inhalers was in light of their trivial contribution, Sen. Jim DeMint aims to overturn inhaler ban:

“It’s a stupid regulation,” DeMint told POLITICO. “It’s just one more example of just out of control regulation that’s harming the quality of life for Americans.”

DeMint argues the inhaler emits just a tiny fraction of chlorofluorocarbons.

While Republicans especially have gone after a series of Obama administration EPA and other regulations this Congress, the FDA rule actually traces back to the George W. Bush administration.

FDA began public discussions about the use of CFCs in epinephrine inhalers in January 2006 and finalized the phase-out for using CFCs in the inhalers in November 2008. It is part of the U.S. commitment under the international Montreal Protocol agreement that aims to reduce ozone-depleting substances.

Many inhaler manufacturers are now using a more environmentally friendly propellant called hydrofluoroalkane. Primatene Mist — marketed by Armstrong Pharmaceutical Inc. — is the only FDA approved inhaler for relieving mild asthma that is sold over-the-counter without a prescription.

FDA last month said there are “many other safe and effective inhalers to treat asthma symptoms,” which would require a prescription.

In general I agree with those conservatives who believe that the Republicans have been emphasizing style over substance recently. But it’s a reminder that people like DeMint on the “Far Right” have who adhere to principle over pragmatism can sometimes surprise those Left critics would argue that Republican populism is always a facade.

Oct/13

12

Asimov!

I_RobotMaria Popova has written an interesting piece on Isaac Asimov’s attitude towards religion.

Here’s the great man himself:

I have never, not for one moment, been tempted toward religion of any kind. The fact is that I feel no spiritual void.

Well, quite.

That Asimov never “felt” the tug of any faith, let alone any God-shaped hole is, I suspect, a reflection of the fact that an individual’s susceptibility to religious belief or even to “spirituality”(to use that gelatinous term) almost certainly owes more to his or her psyche (we can debate how much of that is down to the genes) than to anything else.

Asimov then succumbs to hubris:

I have my philosophy of life, which does not include any aspect of the supernatural and which I find totally satisfying. I am, in short, a rationalist and believe only that which reason tells me is so.

Oh come on. The idea that anyone’s beliefs are founded solely on reason is a leap too far. Robots may be built that way. Humans are not. Judging by the section I have highlighted in these comments below, Asimov was no exception:

The soft bonds of love are indifferent to life and death. They hold through time so that yesterday’s love is part of today’s and the confidence in tomorrow’s love is also part of today’s. And when one dies, the memory lives in the other, and is warm and breathing. And when both die — I almost believe, rationalist though I am — that somewhere it remains, indestructible and eternal, enriching all of the universe by the mere fact that once it existed.

Eh?

Under the circumstances it’s perhaps not a surprise that Asimov bought into the soft-left mush that is so much of Secular Humanism (there’s a reference to that creed elsewhere in the piece), but I did like this:

There is nothing frightening about an eternal dreamless sleep. Surely it is better than eternal torment in Hell and eternal boredom in Heaven. And what if I’m mistaken? The question was asked of Bertrand Russell, the famous mathematician, philosopher, and outspoken atheist. “What if you died,” he was asked, “and found yourself face to face with God? What then?”

And the doughty old champion said, “I would say, ‘Lord, you should have given us more evidence.’”

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Oct/13

8

That’s all Folks

endtimesInclude me in the ranks of those who are skeptical about what the US is trying to do in Syria. This particular analysis, however, forms no part of my thinking:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) over the weekend accused President Obama of arming al Qaeda militants in Syria and said it was evidence “we’re in God’s end times.”



“This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists,” Bachmann said in a radio interview with Understanding the Times that was first reported by Right Wing Watch. “Now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.”

“Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice,” she continued. “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, his day is at hand. When we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this; these days would be as the days of Noah.”

Okey dokey.

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Oct/13

6

For the Children (Not)

IVFMuscular dystrophy is an inalienable human right (or something).

The Daily Telegraph reports:

A group of 34 European politicians, including eight British MPs and peers, has signed a declaration attacking plans which will make the UK the first country in the world to permit the new IVF technique. Under legislation being drawn up by ministers the treatment will be offered to a handful of parents at high risk of having children with conditions such as muscular dystrophy, as early as next year.

The therapy can dramatically reduce the risk of children inheriting disorders of the heart, brain and muscle which are caused by faults in the mother’s mitochondria, structures which supply power to cells. But it has proved controversial because it involves substituting a small fraction of the mother’s damaged DNA with that of a healthy female donor.

Because the swap takes place at the “germ line”, the third party’s DNA would not only be passed on to the child, but also to any future generations down the female line. The therapy was recommended to government by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority earlier this year after a public consultation revealed general support. Doctors developing the treatment have emphasised that the DNA in question lies outside the nucleus of the cell and will have no bearing on the child’s personality or appearance.

But a declaration made by members of the Council of Europe, a human rights and ethics organisation made up of politicians from across Europe [it’s rather more than that], strongly condemned the decision to permit the technique.The declaration proposed by Jim Dobbin, a British Labour MP, which compared the technique to a “eugenic practice”, was signed by 34 members of the human rights organisation’s 318-strong parliamentary assembly.

It said: “The undersigned members of the Parliamentary Assembly affirm that the creation of children with genetic material from more than two progenitor persons, as is being proposed by the United Kingdom Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, is incompatible with human dignity and international law”.

Superstition, nothing more. Well, on reflection, monumental arrogance too.

It was signed by five other Labour MPs and peers as well as Edward Leigh, a Conservative MP, and the Earl of Dundee, a hereditary peer along with politicians from twelve other nations. The declaration, in effect a statement of opinion by the signatories, does not reflect the view of the whole Council but could now become the subject of a full debate or report.

That Leigh, supposedly a conservative, believes that this is a matter for some international and unaccountable body rather than something to be decided by Britons for themselves only makes matters worse.

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Oct/13

5

Teed Off

Jesus and MoCross-posted on Ricochet.

The Tab reports:

[The London School of Economics] has sparked a free speech row after banning atheist students from wearing t-shirts which depicted Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed. Two members of the uni’s atheist society were threatened with expulsion from Freshers’ Fair unless they removed or their t-shirts

Student Union officers and security guards surrounded Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos and forced them to remove their t-shirts because they were “in danger of eroding good campus relations and disrupting efforts to run a Fresher’s Fair.”

When they finally agreed to cover up their t-shirts, staff instructed security to follow them round the event. The atheist students, were manning a stall as representatives of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. They say they were approached by Community and Welfare Officer Anneessa Mahmood who removed material from their stall without explanation.

A number of SU representatives allegedly then told the group to remove t-shirts they were wearing containing pictures from the satirical ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon. According to the Phadnis and Moos, when the group asked the officials which rules they had broken, they were told that the SU did not need to provide a reason at that time.

Phadnis and Moos said: “We refused to take off our t-shirts or leave without appropriate explanation, we were told that LSE security would be called to physically remove us from the building”.

After resisting expulsion from the event, without being informed as to which rules they were in breach of, they say they were then approached by the Head of Security and a member of LSE’s Legal and Compliance team who informed them that the T-shirt could be considered ‘harassment’ towards other students.

I suppose it’s pointless to note that there is no right not to be offended.

Yes it is:

…five security guards [allegedly] then positioned themselves around the stall and insisted that the group wear jackets or coats to cover up their t-shirts. According to the students, after they agreed to cover up the cartoon, “the head of LSE security told us that as he believed that we might open the jackets again when he was going to leave, two security guards were going to stay in the room to monitor our behaviour” and that the group were subsequently followed around for the rest of the event by security. The Student Union denies restricting freedom of expression and say the t-shirts “were clearly designed to depict Mohammed and Jesus in a provocative manner” and that action was taken after they “received a number of complaints from other students”.

Because God forbid (if it’s not indelicate to put it that way) that any university should ever have room for anything that could be construed as “provocative”.

Atheist and professor Richard Dawkins has spoken in support of the students, tweeting that “Everything probably offends somebody, to be on the safe side, LSE Student Union, better ban everything.”

He later added: “I’m ‘offended’ by backwards baseball caps, chewing gum, niqabs, ‘basically’ and ‘awesome’. Quick, LSE Student Union, ban them all.

Dawkins also described the student union’s censorship squad as “sanctimonious little prigs”.

Too kind, I reckon.

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Oct/13

5

‘Religious Freedom’ (Again)

The Daily Mail:

Two teenage Muslim pupils have been put into ‘isolation’ and banned from lessons after refusing to shave off their beards for religious reasons.

Mount Carmel Roman Catholic High School, in Accrington, Lancashire, has said the two 14-year-olds are in breach of the dress code, which bans beards as well as false nails, fake tan, make-up, dyed hair and inappropriate jewellery.

But the boys’ families have said they are suffering discrimination because beards are a symbol of faith and their religion forbids them to shave…

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Oct/13

2

The Pope and His Politics

descamisadosCross-posted on the Corner:

Kathryn, I was interested to read this passage from that new interview with the Pope:

Personally I think so-called unrestrained liberalism only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker and excludes the most excluded. We need great freedom, no discrimination, no demagoguery and a lot of love. We need rules of conduct and also, if necessary, direct intervention from the state to correct the more intolerable inequalities.

Reading the first sentence, I (perhaps mistakenly) was left with the clear impression that the Pope believes that he has seen “unrestrained [economic] liberalism” at work. I am curious to know where.

Looking at the Pope’s second sentence, fair enough, but when it comes to the avoidance of demagoguery, I wonder how, on reflection, the Pope would classify certain sections of the speech he made on a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, sections analyzed by Theodore Dalrymple in an analysis (previously posted on the Corner here), of which this is a key extract:

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.’

With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. 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 Losotho 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…

Then we turn to the Pope’s final sentence. Its contents were perfectly reasonable in one sense. Few would deny that the marketplace needs rules of conduct. The real question is what those rules should be. And so it is with the Pope’s observation that it is at times “necessary” for the state to “correct the more intolerable inequalities”. Yes, sure, but the real question is when, and how.

And when it comes to answering those questions, I somehow doubt that this pope is on the side, metaphorically (if not theologically), of the angels.

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