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Archive for June 2016

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An interesting criticism of the notion of “Islamophobia,” translated from French, has made an appearance at Charnel House, a Marxist blog that’s nearly equally fascinated by architecture. (They say the last remaining Marxists are to be found in English departments, but that’s not the only place, perhaps.) Dubbed “On the Ideology of Anti-Islamophobia,” the piece by Alexandra Pinot-Noir (heh) and Flora Grim is  an interesting window into the thinking on a part of the left that is far from in vogue in 2016.

Some excerpts:

Even though the term “Islamophobia” probably dates back to the early twentieth century, it only recently came to designate racism against “Arabs” in its widespread use. Through this artifice, religion is assimilated to “race” as a cultural matrix in what amounts to a “cultural mystification… by which an entire cross-section of individuals is assigned, on the basis of their origin or physical appearance, to the category of ‘Muslims.’ Any criticism of Islam is perceived not as a critique of religion, but as a direct manifestation of racism, and thus silenced.” […] We mainly recognize the specter haunting the left as third-worldism [emphasis added], which entails uncritical support for the “oppressed” against their “oppressor.”

The authors likewise point to the phenomenon of the New Right and its “identitarian” orientation as being in perfect solidarity, so to speak, with the general framework used by the “culturalist” left, e.g. in their essentialism that links anyone who’s Arab with Islam; hence Islamophobia, hence racism.

The position of far-left anti-Islamophobes regarding political Islam is, to say the least, ambivalent. They want to bar any criticism of the Muslim religion, a practice they say is racist. This moralizing outlook reveals a lack of analysis of how political Islam has evolved in the world since the 1979 Iranian revolution and, for some, a denial of its very existence. Nor does jihadism disconcert these anti-Islamophobes. After each attack perpetrated by jihadists in Europe — adding to their long list of atrocities, especially on the African continent and in the Middle East — they worry mainly that it might lead to fresh outbreaks of “Islamophobia” and repressive measures, with good reason. So they ascribe sole responsibility to Western imperialism.

Or in the case of some of among the trendy hoi polloi, a denial that the attacks are even Islamic.

For these worthy anti-Islamophobes, the issue is quite simple: the Muslim religion must be viewed with exceptional benevolence as the “religion of the oppressed.” They apparently forget that social control is the function of all religions and that political Islam in particular proclaims everywhere its determination to keep tight control over the society it intends to govern.

Read the rest, but don’t be surprised to find yourself rolling your eyes at points, when the class talk rears its head. These are Marxists after all…

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Jun/16

4

The GOP: Losing Its Religion?

Trump BibleWriting in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne ‘worries’ that GOP may be losing its religion

Some extracts:

But especially among Republicans, religious issues have taken a back seat in the party’s discourse and religious leaders are playing a diminished role in the 2016 campaign.

This was not how things started. Many had the remarkable experience during the primaries of hearing Ted Cruz declare to his followers: “Awaken the body of Christ that we might pull back from the abyss.” You can’t get much more religious than that.

But Cruz failed to awaken and unite religious conservatives, a reason that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. The split this year among conservative evangelical Christians was profound.

On the one side were those, mainly Cruz supporters, still voting on abortion, same-sex marriage and other moral issues. On the other were those among the faithful so angry about the direction of the country and what they saw as the marginalization of conservative Christianity in public life that they opted for the strongman who could push back hard against their enemies.

Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, spoke for the second group. “Most Americans know we are in a mess,” Jeffress declared, “and as they look at Donald Trump, they believe he is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly.”

… in imagining that Trump will somehow reverse the trend, Christian conservatives are taking a big risk. As he has on so much else, Trump has been entirely opportunistic in his approach to religion. By some measures, he’s running the most secular Republican campaign since the 1970s.

… Trump’s comments on immigrants, political correctness and Muslims suggest he is far more anti-multicultural than he is pro-religion. He talks more about symbols and public icons than about faith or morals. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store,” he said last October. “The ‘Happy Holiday’ you can leave over there at the corner.”

It’s an empty promise, since no president could force “every store” in America to give a Christian greeting. But the fact that he chose to make the media-driven Christmas wars a centerpiece of his argument to Christians shows that his real engagement is with identity politics, not religion.

In a way, yes.  But there’s not necessarily a contradiction between the two. I cannot speak for Evangelicals, of course,  but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to think that that label covers a wide range, from the deeply devout to those who use it as some sort of broader ‘tribal’ or social-cultural identifier.

Turn to another Washington Post article (by the appropriately named Geoffrey Layman) back in March and we find this:

The key to understanding Trump’s support among evangelicals is to realize that some evangelicals’ commitment to the faith is shaky, too. Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church. In short, the evangelicals supporting Trump are not the same evangelicals who have traditionally comprised the Christian Right and supported cultural warriors such as Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz.

But evangelical support for Cruz and Carson, who are grouped because of their close association with evangelicalism and moral conservatism, was higher among those who attend church more frequently. In contrast, Trump did best among evangelicals who are never, almost never or only occasionally in the pews.

These aren’t the only evangelical Trump supporters. He still attracted a plurality of those who attend at least every Sunday. Nevertheless, Trump performed worse among devout evangelicals than among non-devout evangelicals.

Why is this? A considerable literature on religion and politics suggests that evangelicals who attend worship services irregularly tend to have less formal education and lower incomes than more devout evangelicals. They tend to care less about moral and cultural issues and vote more on the basis of economic concerns. In some cases, they are less tolerant of religious and racial minority groups….

Infrequent church attenders cared less about the traditional Christian Right policy agenda and more about Trump’s agenda of creating jobs, improving Americans’ economic welfare and stemming the tide on immigration. The graph below shows that infrequent church attenders were less likely to prioritize two “moral and cultural” issues (abortion and “morality and religion in society”) as one of their four most important issues. But they cared much more about jobs and economic welfare.

Similarly, evangelicals who attend church less frequently are also less socially conservative. They are less likely to favor religious exemptions to the federal requirement that employers cover prescription birth control in their health-insurance plans. They also are less enthusiastic about allowing business owners to refuse on religious grounds to provide services for same-sex weddings. Trump’s lack of commitment to social conservatism may not bother these less-observant evangelicals very much…

Even allowing for this distinction (which sounds convincing), it would be wrong to assume that the more devout Evangelicals will not opt for Trump this fall. How they decide to vote when there is a Santorum or a Cruz on the ballot is one thing, but when the alternative is Hillary Clinton the calculation could be very different.

As to the longer-term influence of the Trump candidacy on the internal politics of the Republican Party, we’ll have to see, not least to see whether he wins (unlikely, in my view, but I’m not known for the accuracy of my predictions concerning Trump). If I had to guess, the religious right (loosely defined) will continue to remain a powerful force in the GOP, although one that is deferred to a little less and understood somewhat better.

That’s no bad thing.

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Henry and BecketAccompanied by somewhat morbid spectacle, a fragment of the elbow (!)  of Thomas Becket  (1118-70), an Archbishop of Canterbury who came to a rather sticky end, has been briefly returned to England.

The BBC reports:

A bone believed to be a fragment of St Thomas Becket’s elbow has been carried into Canterbury Cathedral, 845 years after he was murdered there. St Thomas was killed by four knights inside the cathedral in 1170 after he fell out with King Henry II.

The fragment is now kept in Hungary. It had arrived on loan.

BBC:

King Henry II [had]  made his close friend Thomas Becket Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161. The friendship came under strain when Becket stood up for the church in disagreements with the king. In 1164, Becket fled to France, returning in 1170.

On the 29 December 1170, four knights, believing the king wanted Becket out of the way, murdered him in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was made a saint in 1173 and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became a focus for pilgrimage.

…The shrine at Canterbury containing most of Becket’s remains was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII when the practice of venerating saints was condemned.

To say that that is a rather incomplete description of the split between Henry and the archbishop is an understatement.

But first the Catholic Herald:

[Westminster’s] Cardinal Vincent Nichols encouraged priests to persevere in their ministry despite distressing circumstances, during his homily yesterday for the Jubilee of Priests at Santa Maria Regina degli Apostoli alla Montagnola in Rome.

The cardinal said: “A priest who is always complaining about his troubles, about his lack of free time, about his lack of money, about his companions, about his bishop, is a counter-sign. Yes, there is hardship; but, yes there is faithfulness; yes, there is resurrection, the true source of our daily hope, joy and perseverance.”

The Cardinal also mentioned the visit of the Hungarian relic of St Thomas Becket as a reminder of the saint who “became a symbol of the resistance of the Church to powerful and unscrupulous rulers”, saying that Thomas should be an “inspiration” for all priests.

Hmmm

Take a look at this from The Spectator, written back in 2012:

Accommodation between the temporal and spiritual swords, Guy passingly indicates, was getting harder. The claims of papal sovereignty and church or canon law, backed by powerful ideals of spiritual authority and moral regeneration, were ever extending. Becket and his associates liked to invoke the Church’s ‘liberty’ against forces of tyranny and oppression. What they meant was its right to independence of, and immunity from, the secular power, through papal protection and the exemption of the clergy from the courts that tried and punished the laity. Any king worth the name, brutal or not, would have fought back.

What the church was after was not religious liberty (not a commodity much in evidence in early-Medieval Europe), but religious privilege (not least the clerics’-and cleric was a widely defined term on that era— immunity from the law of the land), a theme that still resonates in today’s political debates.

That Cardinal Nichols fails to acknowledge this is…telling.

Over at the Huffington Post, Ronald Lindsay of the Center of Inquiry weighs in:

 What was the nub of the dispute between Henry II and Becket? Henry—who is rightly considered a ruler who did much to reform the English legal system, laying the foundation for English common law—wanted clergy accused of serious crimes tried in secular courts. Becket insisted that clergy be tried only in ecclesiastical courts. These courts were ineffective and lax, allowing many serious offenders to escape punishment. Church discipline was as meaningless for clerical murderers and thieves in the 12th century as it has been for clerical sexual predators in our times. It’s worth noting, by the way, that as much as one-sixth of the male population in England could claim “the benefit of clergy.”

Becket’s defense of special privileges for clergy didn’t justify his subsequent murder, of course, but neither should his murder transform him into someone who should be honored for his advocacy of religious freedom. He didn’t advocate religious freedom; he obstinately argued for immunity from the law for the church and its clergy.

As Lindsay notes:

The blurring of the distinction between true religious freedom and special privileges for the religious has, unfortunately, affected current public policy debates. In the last few years, not a day goes by when someone isn’t invoking religious liberty when they really mean religious privilege.

And then there is the national issue. It is (or ought to be) a fundamental principle that English law is determined in England.

The Spectator:

Conflicts over rights of law and property assumed in Becket’s mind, as he steeped himself in biblical and theological study, a cosmic import. Quickly the quarrel spread to Rome and to the courts of Europe. How international it now looks, set as it was in a Europe to which the Church gave a coherence that modern bureaucracy cannot match.

The Reformation, by nationalising the Church and subjugating it to the state, ended all that. Henceforth Henry II’s interpretation of Becket’s international lobbying as treason, questionable at the time, would seem uncontentious. Henry VIII had Becket’s shrine demolished and despoiled. ‘There appeareth nothing in his life’, the Tudor king proclaimed, ‘whereby he should be called a saint, but rather esteemed to have been a rebel and traitor to his prince.’ Even Charles I, whose readiness to back an archbishop of Canterbury bent on restoring lost powers of the Church would baffle his subjects and help cause the civil war, declared, to the relief of the earl who heard him, that ‘he thought Thomas Becket as arrant a traitor as ever was’. The state had won.

No, the nation had won. Henry VIII was, to say the least, an accidental liberator, but he had established the principle that in England English laws prevailed.

Writing in 1972, as Britain teetered on the edge of joining what is now the EU, the British politician Enoch Powell, undeniably controversial, and undeniably erudite, wrote this:

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.

Indeed. And the same was true of the dispute between Becket and Henry II, a dispute on which Becket was on the wrong side.

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