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Archive for January 2014

Jan/14

30

Melancholy, Long, Withdrawing

surrenderMore on the Maajid Nawaz affair, and specifically, a letter from Britain’s National Secular Society on the next step in Britain’s retreat from the open society:

We are writing in response to a package presented by news correspondent Katie Razzall, on Tuesday 28 January 2014, which looked at the controversy surrounding Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Maajid Nawaz, and his recent tweeting of a Jesus & Mo cartoon.

We were surprised and extremely disappointed to see that Channel 4 News took the decision to cover up the image of Mohammed when showing the Jesus & Mo cartoon, and we are thus keen to elicit the rationale behind that particular editorial decision.

During the report, it was noted that this decision was taken so as not to cause offence to some viewers; however we would like to point out that by your making this decision you have effectively taken a side in a debate where a Muslim man has suffered violent death threats after he explicitly said he did not find the cartoons offensive. You have taken the side of the reactionaries – the side of people who bully and violently threaten Muslims, such as Mr Nawaz, online.

By redacting the picture of ‘Mo’, you have contributed to a climate of censorship brought on by the unreasonable and reactionary views of some religious extremists. Rather than defending free expression, one of the most precious pillars of our liberal democratic society, you have chosen instead to listen to extremists and patronise British Muslims by assuming they will take offence at an irreverent and satirical cartoon. By taking the decision you did, not only did you betray the fundamental journalistic principle of free speech, but you have become complicit in a trend that seeks to insidiously stereotype all Muslim people as reacting in one uniform way (generally presented as overly sensitive and potentially violent).

Given that your editorial decision seems to be have been weighted by a concern with offence, we might also note that you ended up with a report that was, in fact, very offensive to many; offensive to those who take seriously and cherish our basic freedom to speak and question, and offensive to many Muslims, whose voices you do not hear because you insist on placating the reactionary voices of people claiming to represent what it is to be an ‘authentic Muslim’…

Quite.

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Jan/14

26

Red in Tooth and Claw

Dove on the runThere’s a lesson lying somewhere in this Haaretz story:

Two white doves that were released by children standing alongside Pope Francis as a peace gesture have been attacked by other birds.

As tens of thousands of people watched in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, a seagull and a large black crow swept down on the doves right after they were set free from an open window of the Apostolic Palace.

One dove lost some feathers as it broke free from the gull. But the crow pecked repeatedly at the other dove.

It was not clear what happened to the doves as they flew off.

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Jan/14

26

‘A Modern Bedlam’

Mohammed_receiving_revelation_from_the_angel_GabrielCross-posted in the Corner.

Writing in the Guardian, Nick Cohen, with more grim news about the state of multiculturalist Britain:

Extremists are menacing the career and life of a Liberal Democrat politician and respectable society hardly considers these authentically scandalous threats to be a scandal at all. The scandal, in short, is that there is no scandal.

The reasons for the attacks on Maajid Nawaz are so bland, it makes me yearn to live in a grown-up country where I could shrug them off. But we don’t live in a grown-up country and I had better explain. The BBC asked the executive director of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist thinktank, on to a discussion show. Two atheist members of the audience wore T-shirts showing Jesus saying: “Hey” and Muhammad saying: “How ya doing?” I beg you to keep the innocuous nature of the cartoon at the front of your mind as we descend into a modern Bedlam.

The BBC decided that extreme Wahhabi and Salafi Muslims, who would ban all images of Muhammad, represented all Muslims. It ordered its producers not to show the offending T-shirts.

A few days ago Theotory blogger Cranmer weighed in on just this point:

Setting aside the irrefutable historic fact that Shia Muslims have a centuries-old tradition of depicting Mohammed, and this sort of strict censorship being principally a Sunni assertion of belief (including the malignant Wahhabi-Salafi strain), it is surely not for the state broadcaster to take a dogmatic view of the deeply-held sensitivities of one religious denomination, or to impose a moral view of religious blasphemy when Parliament has abolished the concept.

Quite.

Back to Cohen:

Nawaz left the studio in some disgust. He tweeted the cartoon of Jesus saying: “Hey” and Muhammad saying: “How ya doing?” and added: “This is not offensive & I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” God may not have felt threatened, but his supporters did. A Liberal Democrat activist called Muhammad Shafiq took it upon himself to organise a national and international campaign against Nawaz. At the time we went to press, about 20,000 people had signed Shafiq’s petition to Nick Clegg, saying that the tweet had caused an “extreme amount of insult, hurt and anguish”. The Lib Dems must stop Nawaz standing as their candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn at the next general election, they demanded. Nawaz told his critics he had merely said that he did not think the BBC should censor a mild cartoon. He then went to the core of what is wrong with extremist religion and Britain’s thoughtless multiculturalism which, in the name of “diversity”, spatchcock people into ethnic and religious blocks that deny their individuality. If you want to ban inoffensive images of the prophet, Nawaz said, then I am sorry, I am not that type of literalist Muslim.

In other words, neither “community leaders” nor multicultural bureaucrats could talk of “the Muslim community” whose taboos must be observed. There were many “Muslim communities” and ex-Muslims, too, and they should be free to argue without fear.

As for the “Liberal Democrat” activist objecting to Nawaz:

…Shafiq is not your standard Liberal Democrat. He is in charge of the Ramadhan Foundation, which has hosted speakers whose attitudes towards gay people and Jews are anything but liberal.

The keeper (allegedly) of Britain’s liberal flame (and David Cameron’s partner in coalition government) has, it seems, ‘evolved’, and it will be interesting to see how the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg responds. To their credit, Nawaz’s local party branch, at least, is standing behind him.

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Jan/14

26

On Papal Economics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACross-posted on Ricochet.

Over at City Journal, Guy Sorman has something to say about the pope’s demagogic attack (although he’s too polite to describe it as such) on the free market:

In his December apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis had harsh words for “the new invisible tyranny of the market.” This familiar denunciation of capitalism brings to mind a famous text by the French economist Frédéric Bastiat, published in 1848. Addressing the socialists of his day, who were already attacking the market economy, Bastiat replied that it is easier to identify and criticize what one can see (poverty or inequality) than it is to discern what one cannot see: the relentless economic growth that the market engenders.

With all due respect to the pope, he has fallen into a rhetorical trap. In the name of the poor, to whom his life as a priest has been devoted, he denounces the visible and ignores the invisible…

That’s too kind. The pope did not fall into “rhetorical trap”. Francis is a smart man and he knew exactly what he was doing. And no, that says nothing good about him.

Then Sorman throws in some history:

One of Francis’s predecessors, John Paul II, also pronounced on political economy. When Poland was freed from the Soviet empire in 1990, John Paul tried to prevent his country from slipping into capitalism, which he then abhorred as much as does Pope Francis. John Paul II believed sincerely in a Third Way, neither socialist nor capitalist, which would lead Poles from poverty to prosperity and social justice. Lech Wałesa, who had moved from union leadership to the presidency of the Polish republic, was singing the same tune. Post-Communist Poland soon sank deeper into poverty. John Paul II, honestly concerned, then took some lessons in economics. He chose as one of his mentors Michel Camdessus, then managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a fervent Catholic. Camdessus helped convince him that the market economy was only a mechanism, which, however imperfect, was the most effective means ever discovered for reducing mass poverty. Poland, still Catholic and converted to capitalism, is now the only European country to have escaped the crisis of 2008. Average income there has doubled over 20 years.

Camdessus was right: we should judge the market economy by its results, not by its values. Thus, Pope Francis is mistaken when he claims, in Evangelii Gaudium, that “the market is held up as divine.” I know no one who considers the market “divine”—certainly neither economists nor entrepreneurs. Similarly, when Pope Francis recommends “returning the economy to the service of human beings,” we can only agree, while observing that the market never functions except in the service of human beings. What human beings do with the products of growth, as well as how they distribute them, is an entirely different matter, and the Church has a legitimate interest in employing moral suasion in this area.

Meanwhile, as the economic crisis deepens in his native Argentina, the pope has an excellent opportunity to see where the sort of economic policies and attitudes that he advocates tend to lead. It will be interesting to hear what, if anything, he has to say about it.

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Jan/14

25

Huckabee, ‘Libido’ & Ambition

elmer gantryOver at Breitbart, John Nolte calls out Huckabee’s ‘libido’ comments for the gift to the Democrats that they were:

While speaking before the Republican National Committee’s national convention Thursday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee blundered his way into the mainstream media’s War on Women trap with comments that have already lit up Twitter, MSNBC, CNN, and elicited condemnation from the White House.

While Huckabee was obviously trying to make a point about how Democrats view women, his phrasing is already catnip for a hostile media that looks for any reason to permanently define the GOP with one of the Democrat Party’s phony narratives:

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.”

To anyone who understands how today’s media operates, Huckabee’s use of this kind of phrasing and language boggles the mind and seems almost intentionally designed to damage the Republican Party. Already engines of feminist outrage are firing up to scream about Huckabee’s “crass” view of Democrat women and the government programs that help them.

Huckabee’s remarks appeared to have been prepared. So you have to ask yourself why risk launching a thousand cable news segments that ask, “Does Mike Huckabee believe women who use birth control can’t control their libidos, and is that a problem for the GOP?”

Nolte’s question is reasonable enough. Why would Huckabee, who is no fool, say something like this? My first guess was to blame it on the intellectual bubble in which he clearly lives.

But perhaps there is something else. Maybe, looking at it from his perspective, these remarks were not a mistake. Huckabee knows that he has no chance of winning the White House, and next to none of winning the Republican nomination. On the other hand, language like this (and the controversy it stirs up) may appeal to that segment of the Republican base that will be essential to his being a potential contender in the GOP primaries for 2016, a position that is, of course, key to his continuing career in the media.

In the meantime he has done his bit to contaminate the broader Republican brand, and in an election year at that.

Not really a team player, Mike Huckabee, is he?

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Jan/14

25

Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Argentina’s Latest Crisis

CK (BA) (Aug 2011) (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Under first Nestor, and then Cristina, Kirchner, Argentina has been pursuing an economic policy that, in its suspicion of free markets, distrust of globalization and strong redistributionist vein, reflects a long Argentine tradition that extends far beyond the Kirchner camp, and, indeed, finds some reflection in some of the pronouncements of, ahem, one rather prominent Argentine now resident in the Vatican.

So how’s it working out?

The Guardian reports:

Following the sudden collapse in the peso this week, some Argentinians fear their country may be lurching into a new episode of the crises that seem to hit the country’s economy almost every decade. Scrambling to protect the country’s perilously low central bank reserves, which dropped 30% last year and fell below $30bn (£18bn) this month, the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seemed at a loss how to proceed. It started the week introducing tight controls on the purchase of online goods from abroad, to prevent Argentinians from spending dollars in ever larger quantities – especially on Chinese products which, as a result of 30% inflation, can be cheaper delivered to their door from abroad than bought at local stores.

But on Friday the government seemed to do a U-turn, saying it would relax its grip on the dollar. From next week it will remove some of the controls it introduced two years ago which banned Argentinians from trading their pesos for dollars, a customary practice in a country with a long history of inflation.The dollar freeze paralysed the property market, which operates in dollars, but failed to stem the rush away from the peso. Instead it created a black market where the dollar has risen from eight to 13 pesos in the last year while the central bank continued using – and losing – reserves trying to keep the dollar in check. Its battle was ultimately lost this week in view of the peso’s sudden collapse.

Seemingly oblivious to the country’s economic plight, Fernández has referred to the last 10 years – since her husband assumed Argentina’s presidency in 2003, and she took over in 2007 – as the “victorious decade”. But this week’s forced devaluation of the official exchange rate may make it difficult to continue repeating a slogan habitually used in speeches by government officials, printed on billboards and even emblazoned on a recent series of commemorative stamps.

To 68-year-old Aida Ender, after 40 days without power in her eighth-floor apartment in the middle-class neighbourhood of Almagro in Buenos Aires, the slogan grates like a bad joke. “There’s no plan, the president is out of touch with reality, she’s lost like Alice in Wonderland,” says Ender, who has had to move out of her apartment, where she has had no water, no working lift and no refrigeration since 16 December. Her plight is shared by thousands of neighbours and even hospitals, in the middle of unusual summer highs of close to 40C. Economic observers blame the government’s populist policies – including keeping utility prices artificially low to disguise inflation – for the power crisis. They say this has made it impossible for firms to invest in maintaining power lines.

The government denies the charges and says that inflation is fuelled by anti-government businessmen.

…At least 11 people were killed and hundreds injured last month when a wave of supermarket looting spread across Argentina, fuelled by a combination of rising food prices and a police strike for higher wages.

The Economist adds:

As of Monday January 27th, the government will supposedly lift this invisible “clamp”. Today’s announcement by Jorge Capitanich, the cabinet chief, lasted only a minute and left his audience with more questions than answers. He revealed only that the exchange restrictions will be lifted for individuals, not for businesses; and that Argentines will still need to present tax affidavits along with their requests for dollars. Those making dollar purchases for travel will be charged a 20% tax advance on such purchases, down from 35% now.

One explanation for the events of the past week is that the authorities can no longer afford to prop up the peso by using Central Bank reserves. Although the 2011 dollar restrictions succeeded in stanching capital flight, they failed to stop the fall of Argentina’s international reserves. In 2011, when the clamp was implemented, the reserves were around $47 billion. They have since dropped below $30 billion. With an energy bill of $15 billion and debt obligations of $10 billion to pay this year, the Central Bank cannot endure much more pressure.

On the other hand, letting the peso plummet as Argentines rush to swap their money into dollars could quickly lead to panic. Even if the Central Bank stops intervening, AFIP, Argentina’s tax agency, will continue to control dollar sales, meaning Argentines could still face rejection of their exchange requests without explanation. Despite this morning’s announcement several black-market exchange houses in Buenos Aires, unsure of what the next week might bring, are still hungrily buying and selling at a rate of roughly 12 pesos to the dollar, well above the official rate of 8.1.

But at least Argentines are being spared the horrors of the free market!

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Jan/14

22

Wendy Davis more conventionally impressive

On Wendy Davis, it turns out that she elided aspects of her biography to burnish a particular image. I don’t think this will be a long term problem, anymore than Newt Gingrich’s history of philandering was an issue for social conservatives. Those who were with her will stay with her, and those who were against her will have more reasons to be against her. But as someone with only a passing familiarity with her biography the key detail that comes out of the piece is that Wendy Davis misrepresented a major aspect of her class background, and therefore how much hardship she overcame to get to Harvard law school. Though she was obviously not born with a silver spoon, by her mid-20s Davis had married a man with an upper middle class income (he was a attorney with a real estate related business). This makes the fact that she finished college, and matriculated at Harvard law, somewhat less impressive than the image of her has a single mother, which was definitely what even a high-information voter would have assumed was the case from the reports in the media.

Granted, juggling two children and finishing college, let alone getting into Harvard, is still highly noteworthy and laudable, and not a trivial accomplishment. But the narrative arc here is one of bourgeois striving, and pooling of the resources of a married couple where one earned substantially more than a middle class income. It seems that most of the time when politicians try to sell you a tale of overcoming lack of privilege, many of the details fall apart upon closer inspection.  That probably tells us a lot about how much deprivation actually is overcome in American society, and how often those nearer the bottom reach the top.

Addendum: The allegations of focusing on one’s career as opposed to family, adultery, and selfish exploitation of ex-husband for her own ends (e.g., staying with him long enough for him to apply his resources to paying off her loans), are not shocking. They’re probably not atypical for most elite politicians in terms of behavior because of their average personality type (i.e., narcissistic). I wouldn’t be surprised if they pan out (in any case, it doesn’t seem like most people behave like saints in the midst of a divorce). The qualification that she should have been more “precise” with her language is laughable coming from someone with a Harvard legal education, but exactly the kind of slippery argument that a politician would make. But that’s democracy. It tends to reward that personality type from what I can tell. I don’t know that it matters for governance one way or another.

Jan/14

22

A Guide to Getting Your Saints Recognized

saintsUS Catholic has a report on Pope Francis’s efforts to clean up the Vatican Bank. It comments that “Francis has repeatedly railed against corruption, and his reforms at the bank are quickly becoming a test case for those efforts”. Fair enough (and a touch belated given the Vatican’s repeated attacks on wicked financiers in recent years), but then came this:

This week, [the pope] took another, less controversial step in that direction, calling for a “spending review” that includes settling on a cap for expenses tied to the canonization causes of would-be saints. In the past, critics charged that figures backed by well-financed supporters usually became saints more quickly than their more meagerly financed counterparts.

One learns something new every day. Amazing.

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Jan/14

19

Everywhere is Nowhere

God, Adam etc.In an admiring review for The Week of theologian David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, Damon Lineker writes that it “demolishes” the “straw man Atheism” of those who treat “God as if he were the biggest, most powerful object or thing in, or perhaps alongside, the universe”:

But, of course, the major world religions don’t view God in this way at all. They treat God, instead, as the transcendent source, the ground, or the end of the natural world. And that is an enormous — actually, an infinite — difference.

And one, I suspect, that may be lost on many of their followers.

Back to the review:

[God] is certainly not one of the many contingent causes within the natural world. But neither is he the first contingent cause, setting off the Big Bang from some blast-resistant fallout shelter lodged, somehow, outside of and prior to the universe as we know it.
On the contrary, according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality — of absolutely everything that is — from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.

This can be a difficult concept to grasp [possibly because it is, at its core, a cop-out], but Hart does an exceptionally good job of explaining it — as he does the way this classical idea of God makes sense of the experience and unity of consciousness, as well as the ecstatic longing for the good and the beautiful that lies at the heart of moral experience.

It does? “Ecstatic”? Really?

Lineker:

In a move sure to enrage atheists, Hart even goes so far as to argue that faith in this classical notion of God can never be “wholly and coherently rejected” — and not only because it may very well be self-contradictory to prove the nonexistence of an absolute, transcendent ground of existence.

“Enrage”? I doubt it. A gently raised eyebrow would suffice.

And then comes the inevitable Hallmark moment, some sweetener thrown in to what looks to me like very thin gruel:

The deeper reason why theism can’t be rejected, according to Hart, is that every pursuit of truth, every attempt to be good, every longing for beauty presupposes the existence of some idea of truth, goodness, and beauty from which these particular instances are derived. And these transcendental ideas unite in the classical concept of God, who simply is truth, goodness, and beauty. That’s why, although it isn’t necessary to believe in God in some explicit way in order to be good, it certainly is the case (in Hart’s words) “that to seek the good is already to believe in God, whether one wishes to do so or not.”

Okey dokey

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Jan/14

16

Satanic Versus

SatanicRitualJoseph Laycock of Religion Dispatches talks here to (and about) “Lucien Greaves”, who is, apparently, the man behind the piece of Satanic kitsch now planned for Oklahoma.

Disappointingly, Greaves turns out to be a rather wishy-washy devil worshiper:

In 2005, Greaves had lunch with Peter H. Gilmore, high priest of the Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey. Greaves felt that a cultural shift had occurred with the rise of the New Atheist movement, led by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and that Satanists should participate in this new conversation about religion in the public sphere. As a cognitive scientist, he was suspicious of Dawkins’ claims that humanity can live without religion since he felt that humans are “hard wired” to interpret the world through a rich language of symbol, narrative, and ritual. So Greaves imagined Satanism as a religion that could combine Dawkins’ aversion to supernaturalism with powerful and compelling symbols—what might be called a “sacralized” atheism.

Greaves is dead right about the hard wiring, but somehow I cannot see old Nick as an entirely plausible object of veneration to be used in the rites of—no God help us—“sacralized” atheism. There’s just too much baggage there, souls in torment, fire, brimstone, apocalypse, Rosemary’s Baby, you know how it goes.

Read on further, and it turns out that Greaves is using his supposedly Satanic agenda to make a decidedly political point.

Greaves was eventually approached by The Satanic Temple, a group that shared his political goals and saw Satanism as a “poison pill” that could be used to check the erosion of the establishment clause by reminding the public that privileges afforded to Christians could also be afforded to Satanists….

Future plans involve legally ordaining ministers and using the free exercise clause to claim privileges for Satanists. Satanic ministers could, for example, illegally marry a gay couple and then, when the state refuses to recognize the marriage, claim that their free exercise rights have been violated.

So satire then?

Laycock continues:

To gain any legal traction, Greaves will have to demonstrate that he is sincere about Satanism and that these projects are more than just pranks, which may prove difficult for a newly formed group that denies any belief in the supernatural. His opponents understand this too. Greaves described how, before his work with the Satanic Temple, advocates of SRA produced conspiracy theories about him, claiming that only someone secretly connected to criminal Satanism would challenge their claims. But now that he’s demanded Constitutional rights for Satanists, his detractors have reversed course. In an interview with Fox News he was repeatedly challenged as not being a real Satanist. Even the Church of Satan has joined the queue to call Greaves a phony Satanist.

In an article for Time, the Church’s High Priestess Magistra Peggy Nadramia, claimed that Greaves is not an authentic Satanist and merely “riding the coattails” of the Church of Satan, adding that “The Church of Satan is decidedly uninterested in politics.”

Greaves dismissed these attacks, asserting that preserving their status as the monolithic embodiment of Satanism appears to be the Church’s only goal. For his own part, Greaves claims he has no interest in being the public face of Satanism and that struggles over leadership are at odds with Satanism’s anti-authoritarian philosophy.

Satanism has an “anti-authoritarian” philosophy? That’s not how it looked in The Omen.

The conclusion to this piece though is well worth pondering

Greaves feels that a community centered around Satan—not as a literal entity but a potent metaphor for values that he holds sacred—is more than just a philosophy and should enjoy the same Constitutional protections afforded to religion. If the Satanic Temple’s campaign has any traction it will force a public discussion not simply on the Constitutional issues surrounding religion, but on the perennial problem of what religion is.

Once-in a saner era-there would have been no problem at all about defining what a ‘proper’ religion was. Well, not too much, anyway. But now…

To repeat the point that I made the other day, those pursuing a highly expansive definition of “religious freedom” in today’s very changed America may well not appreciate where such arguments may lead.

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