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Archive for December 2014

Dec/14

28

Coming to a Pulpit Near You?

Pope against frackingCross-posted on the Corner

The Guardian, excited:

[C]an Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it…”

We will, of course (!), have to see what the encyclical actually contains, but talk of “the god of money” already suggests that both reason and reality may struggle to make themselves heard.

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Dec/14

24

Christmas

ChristmastruceCaptain A. D. Chater, 2nd Batallion, Gordon Highlanders, Dec 25, 1914:

I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen. About 10 o’clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours.

We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas…

We exchanged cigarettes and autographs, and some more people took photos…I don’t know how long it will go on for – I believe it was supposed to stop yesterday, but we can hear no firing going on along the front today except a little distant shelling.

Sergeant A. Lovell, 3rd Rifle Brigade.

Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the frosty air!

First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is a most extraordinary thing — two nations singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

And these were by no means isolated incidents.

When the high commands (on both sides) heard about these ‘Christmas truces’, they did everything they could to bring them to an end and avoid their repetition, but just for a moment…

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ChaplinTake some superstition, throw in a hint of xenophobia and add a savvy PR touch…

USA Today:

MOSCOW — Russian fans of the writer J.R.R. Tolkien were disappointed Wednesday after a local art group abandoned plans to install a flaming eye from his book series The Lord of the Rings atop a Moscow skyscraper. The group, Svechenie, said it would not recreate the evil Eye of Sauron after the Russian Orthodox Church complained the installation would invite mysterious dangers on the capital….

The planned project — for a 3-foot-tall orb perched atop a 21-story building in Moscow’s business district — “does not have any religious or political subtext,” the statement added.

It was slated to be unveiled Thursday to mark the Russian premiere of the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, based on another Tolkien novel in which the eye appears.

But Vsevolod Chaplin, the controversial spokesman for the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, felt otherwise. He told a Moscow radio station Tuesday that the installation would be a “symbol of the triumph of evil … rising up over the city.”
“Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad,” he said. “You shouldn’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”

It’s not the first time the church, a key pillar of President Vladimir Putin’s drive to promote conservative values, has waded into the world of art and culture. Religious officials and Orthodox activists have rebuked and even disrupted a range of exhibitions and performances they believe betray church values and destroy Russia’s moral fiber….

Chaplin is always on the look out for perils that could menace his flock.

Here he is back in April:

MOSCOW, April 9 (RIA Novosti) – Angels and demons do really exist, but are often mistaken for “so-called aliens” by those who encounter them, a senior Russian Orthodox Church clergyman said.

“They are real creatures, humans come into contact with them as they sometimes reveal themselves,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who oversees the Church’s public relations, told RIA Novosti in an interview when asked about Christianity’s attitude to ufology.

And then there was the mini-skirt menace, identified by Chaplin as a potential source of “madness” as long ago as 2011.

The Christian Science Monitor explained:

A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a “national dress code” that would force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out “indecently” clad customers. Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can’t be trusted to clothe themselves properly.

“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work,” he said Tuesday. “If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”

“Moreover,” Archpriest Chaplin added, “if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness.”

…Chaplin’s proposed dress code has received applause from some conservative quarters. Russia’s Association of Islamic Heritage this week expressed its support for Chaplin’s call for “creation of a national dress code,” which might involve compelling women to wear headscarves, a rule already in force in Orthodox churches and church-run orphanages. Muslims make up about 20 percent of Russia’s population.

Orthodoxy! Nationality! Autocracy!

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Dec/14

11

Feeding the Seven Billion

collectivizationLate last month there was a conference in Rome organized by the UN food agency (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).

One of the attendees was the pope.
The Daily Mail reports:

The 77-year old said the world had ‘paid too little heed to those who are hungry.’
While the number of undernourished people dropped by over half in the past two decades, 805 million people were still affected in 2014.

‘It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular,’ Francis said.

Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall explains (again):

[J]just to lay it out in very simple terms in one place. Regarding that first point, about profit. Profit is the incentive for people to do things. If people don’t profit from their actions then they won’t do them. Of course, we can take a wide view of what “profit” is: we could, for example, say that the warm feeling a farmer gets from watching a starving child eating the food he has grown is a profit. And it would be as well. But as we’ve found out over the past century or so (looking at those various attempts at the collectivisation of agriculture is really most instructive) that that good feeling of having produced what others need is not actually enough. Any and every society that has relied upon such public feelings has had extensive malnutrition if not out and out famine.

So, we want the producers of food to profit from their having produced it. Otherwise we just don’t get enough food.

Then on to speculation and financial speculation. These move the prices of things through time. This is also highly desirable (as Adam Smith pointed out 238 years ago) as by moving prices through time we also move supplies of food through time (see the linked pieces for this in more detail). We move food from, as Smith said, a time of plenty to a time of dearth: thus reducing malnutrition and starvation. And yes, again, the incentive for people to do this highly desirable thing is to make a profit.

So we actually want both profit and speculation in food. For the end results are desirable. We get both the production of food in the first place and the movement of it, in both geographic and temporal, terms, to where it is needed….

That’s not (of course) to deny that there are people who are malnourished, but, as Worstall explains:

[E]conomist, Amartya Sen… has pointed out that, for the past century at least, starvation and famine have not been caused by an absence of food. They’re no longer supply side phenomena and they’ll not be solved by looking at that supply side.

No, instead, famine now is an absence of purchasing power among those who simply cannot buy the food that is available. This is such a well-known matter that even George Bush, when President, tried to get the rules about US famine relief changed (Obama is trying again now, too, according to reports). Instead of shipping US grain to starving people ship US money to starving people so they can buy the food that is already there. Or if not exactly there, then nearby. And we can rely upon the existence of that effective demand to incentivise people through that profit motive, through speculation, to ship the food from where it is to where the hungry people are.

That is, modern hunger is a demand side phenomenon and will be solved by demand side measures. Like, as above, giving poor people money to buy food with.

This is what actually works, this is how most NGOs now see hunger, many governments too. The problem is not that there’s no food for the poor to buy. It’s that the poor have no money to buy food. The answer is thus not to fiddle around with the supply side, that’s working just fine. For there are supplies of food available. What’s going wrong is the demand side so that’s where the solution must lie. We must turn actual demand (empty bellies) into effective demand (people with empty bellies with money to buy the food that exists)…

What the pope is suggesting is (essentially) to mess with the supply side, something that could very easily make matters worse.

And yet that’s what he suggests.

And he still seems unwilling to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that the free market has made to reducing malnourishment on a planet where the population has now swollen to seven billion.

It’s almost as if the pope is putting ideology (in this case his distaste for the free market) before the facts, facts he must know. It’s almost as if his ideology matters more to him than truly helping the hungry.

Those would, shall we say, be very revealing priorities.

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