Archive for July 2016
The news that some in the Democratic Party might have tried to ‘out’ Bernie Sanders as an atheist was neither particularly surprising nor particularly shocking. Atheism doesn’t play well with the electorate. What’s more, to the extent that a candidate’s religious faith (or lack of religious faith) might influence his or her policies, it’s something that voters have a legitimate interest in knowing.
Nevertheless, as was probably inevitable in an age of taking offense, people have been offended.
Writing for Bustle, Raina Lipsitz grumbles that “one important group is missing from the DNC’s platform: atheists.” Naturally the word “problematic” makes an appearance later.
Naturally, “atheist groups” have called for the firing of the Democratic operative who wanted to raise Sanders’ supposed atheism. Naturally he has apologized to “those [he] offended.”
One voice of sanity is “outspoken atheist and Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times science columnist Natalie Angier”. Asked whether this exclusion bothers her, she replies:
“Yes, I’m an atheist … But do I care whether the Democratic platform includes an explicit nod to us atheists? Hell no….”
On the other hand:
Toni Van Pelt, president and public policy director of the Institute for Science and Human Values, disagrees. “This is the time to call on the Party to officially recognize the nonreligious as true Americans…Atheists are on a relentless march to be recognized and valued by the larger community. We will no longer accept a back seat to those who profess a faith … it would behoove the Democratic Party to reach out in a public statement to those of no religion … and [acknowledge] that the philosophy of living life to the fullest here and now is of great importance.”
Living life to the fullest!
Cross-posted on the Corner.
I posted something yesterday on Pope Francis’ disconcerting (there are other adjectives) response to the murder of Father Hamel in Normandy earlier this week, specifically with reference to this comment:
“I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”
This, I argued, was wrong-headed for any number of reasons, not least the way that it effectively tried to downplay the wider religious significance of Father Hamel’s killing. That’s a topic that Damian Thompson has now addressed in The Spectator. Mr. Thompson, I should add, is not only an associate editor of The Spectator, but also the editorial director of the Catholic Herald:
Father Hamel was killed while re-enacting the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the essence of the Catholic Mass, which — unlike Protestant commemorations of the Last Supper — is presented to the faithful as the same sacrifice offered by Jesus. To kill a priest who is saying Mass is therefore an act of unique desecration. You do not need to be a believer to grasp this point. Enemies of the church have understood it since the beginning: an early pope, St Sixtus, was beheaded during Mass in 258 ad by agents of the Emperor Valerian. Islamists, who reach back to the Dark Ages for so many of their actions, have rediscovered this crime. Their intense (and very successful) campaign to cleanse the Middle East of Christians reached its symbolic peak on 31 October 2010, when Father Thaer Abdal was shot dead at the altar of the Syrian Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad. Fifty-seven other innocent people, many of them worshippers, died with him.
The gunmen who broke into the church during Sunday Mass were heard to scream: ‘All of you are infidels… we will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell.’ They were members of an Iraqi faction of al-Qaeda that had declared war on churches, ‘dirty dens of idolatry’, and in particular ‘the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican’. The motives of Islamic terrorists are sometimes hard to disentangle from their personal biographies and factional infighting. But sometimes they are obvious, and the only thing obscuring them is the politically correct preciousness of the liberal western media and commentariat. Many Islamic fundamentalists, including those who don’t participate directly in violence, loathe Christianity with a poisonous passion reminiscent of medieval Christian anti-Semitism. Its practice must be suppressed — either without violence, as in Saudi Arabia, or amid carefully staged scenes of bloodshed, as in Baghdad or Rouen.
In the 21st-century Middle East, Christianity has been suppressed on an astonishing scale….
Thompson goes on to ask whether the murder of Father Hamel will “awake Christendom from its torpor.” As evidence that it will not, he cites comments by Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis and a former spokesman for the English Catholic Church. Mr. Ivereigh is quoted as referring to the ‘pointless banality of the Rouen murder’ and as urging us not to glorify it by ‘ascribing religious motives’.
Well, to me at any rate, the “religious motives” were all too clear.
In a long, closely-argued piece for ABC, Mr. Ivereigh has now discussed the Pope’s response to Father’s Hamel’s killing, and specifically the description of the attack as “absurd” act of violence.
Absurd violence? The words seemed almost trite. There was no mention of martyrdom, or even of Father Hamel. The Pope’s attention was neither on the victim nor the perpetrator, but on the nature of the act; and rather than ascribing to it any religious or ideological motive, the Pope reduced it merely to an outpouring of hate. For Francis, it was not an attack, assault or a slaying – or any of the other terms we journalists love to use to dramatise – but a meaningless, pointless act; mere hatred; an absurdity…
Ivereigh duly tweeted the Pope’s words and duly received a disapproving response:
I was drawing attention, I said [to one critic], to the Pope’s focus on the act rather than the motives of the killers, which are at this stage – I was writing just hours after the event – frankly obscure. But based on previous ISIS-inspired acts, not least in Nice, the attackers were likely to be vulnerable, depressive losers lured into violence by radicals on the internet; to call them religious, I warned, was to buy into the Da’esh narrative, that this was a war of Islam on the West and Christianity.
This will not do. The murderers’ motives were never, frankly, that obscure, although elements in their mix might have been. Perhaps it’s easier for me, someone without any religious faith, to accept than it would be for Mr. Ivereigh, but people can be drawn to religion for any number of reasons, some noble, some far less so. Some of these people may be talented, secure and successful. Others may be “vulnerable, depressive, losers”, but they have all arrived at a religious destination, even if they may well have very different understandings of what that destination is.
Yes, there are good reasons to resist giving the current conflict with elements in Islam an incendiary label, and those reasons are strong enough to justify a noble lie or two, but lying to ourselves is not only unwise, but also dangerous.
Ivereigh cites the Archbishop of Marseilles:
“We are no longer in the realm of ideas,” he said – no small thing for a Frenchman to declare – but confronted with a very new kind of war, unknown until now.
Yes and no: Part of the effort to defeat ISIS must involve trying to understand its ideas. Ivereigh argues” that violence has no part in God’s plan; it is no-thing; it is absurd.” Well, that may be true of his God, but, God is in the eye of the beholder, and He can take forms that are not always so benign as Ivereigh believes.
[ISIS] is a wholly modernistic creation, a vehicle of power, the “technocratic paradigm” of domination and exploitation, applied to an ancient faith. ISIS militants are engineers, IT experts, lawyers and literalists; they are utterly Western, utterly modern, utterly unreligious.
I can’t agree. In a post last year on the topic of whether ISIS is nihilist (it’s not) I noted:
ISIS, like most millenarian movements, believes in a cleansing fire (and, in its case, in setting it), and ideologically it explicitly looks back (to the teachings attributed to Mohammed)… but to think that this also involves an embrace of the technologically pre-modern is evidently a mistake.
And in another post on the same subject, I cited the British philosopher John Gray:
[F]ar from believing in nothing, Isis militants are possessed by faith. Though some reports suggest that the militants may have been fuelled by euphoria-inducing drugs, their attacks are not random acts of terror. They are moves in a methodical strategy of savagery that serves an apocalyptic myth. Isis is an explicitly eschatological movement, infused with fantasies of cataclysmic end-time battles and a universal caliphate.
Indeed it is. It’s not the first of its kind. It won’t be the last. And it will not be wished away.
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in politics
Cross-posted on the Corner.
The day after an elderly Catholic priest is butchered in his church by Islamic extremists, Pope Francis offers up his explanation (my emphasis added):.
Pope Francis says the world is at war, but is stressing that it’s not a war of religions. Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland, where he began a five-day visit Wednesday. Asked about the slaying of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday, Francis replied: “the real word is war…yes, it’s war. This holy priest died at the very moment he was offering a prayer for all the church.”
He went on: “I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”
Let’s look at the Independent’s account of the murder of Father Hamel:
One of the terrorists had a handgun and began to shout “Allah Akbar” and the other had a fake bomb with a timer… They then gave a “sermon in Arabic” at the altar.
That looks like an act of religious war to me.
And as for the Pope’s claim that “religions don’t want war”, I can only suggest that he spend more time with the history books and, for that matter, some of the less benign passages in various sacred texts.
The final insult both to the truth and thereby to the victim is Francis’ resort (yet again) to conspiracy theory, with his references to some shadowy conflict over “interests, for money, for resources”.
Demagogues typically resort to conspiracism out of delusion or malice, as a device to mislead and, often, to draw the audience’s attention away from what is really going on.
I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Well, well, well..
The Democratic National Committee – a supposedly neutral organisation – apparently hatched a plan to try and undermine Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton by getting someone to claim he was an atheist.
The Sanders campaign for months complained that people in the DNC were biased in favour of the establishment candidate, Ms Clinton. The campaign even sued the DNC to allow it access to its voter database.
Now, the release of a more than 20,000 internal DNC emails by Wikileaks, suggests that senior DNC officials plotted against Mr Sanders.
An email from May 2016 and sent from DNC CFO Brad Marshall suggested that they should “get someone to ask” Mr Sanders his views on religion,
“It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist,” wrote Mr Marshall.
“This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
With Islamist Turkish president Erdoğan continuing to take advantage of the failed coup that he has described as a “gift from God”, here’s another quote from an infinitely greater Turk, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk:
Religion is an important institution. A nation without religion cannot survive. Yet it is also very important to note that religion is a link between Allah and the individual believer. The brokerage of the pious cannot be permitted. Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people; it is against just such people that we have fought and will continue to fight…
Given the news from Turkey, a quote or two from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk seemed appropriate:
I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go….
We do not consider our principles as dogmas contained in books that are said to come from heaven. We derive our inspiration, not from heaven, or from an unseen world, but directly from life.
Writing in the Washington Post, a psychiatrist (Richard Gallagher) essentially gives up on the ability of his profession to understand the complexity of the human mind. Some cases of ‘demonic possession’ are, he has come to believe, real.
For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions….
The Vatican does not track global or countrywide exorcism, but in my experience and according to the priests I meet, demand is rising. The United States is home to about 50 “stable” exorcists — those who have been designated by bishops to combat demonic activity on a semi-regular basis — up from just 12 a decade ago, according to the Rev. Vincent Lampert, an Indianapolis-based priest-exorcist who is active in the International Association of Exorcists. (He receives about 20 inquiries per week, double the number from when his bishop appointed him in 2005.) The Catholic Church has responded by offering greater resources for clergy members who wish to address the problem. In 2010, for instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a meeting in Baltimore for interested clergy. In 2014, Pope Francis formally recognized the IAE, 400 members of which are to convene in Rome this October. Members believe in such strange cases because they are constantly called upon to help. (I served for a time as a scientific adviser on the group’s governing board.)
… But I believe I’ve seen the real thing. Assaults upon individuals are classified either as “demonic possessions” or as the slightly more common but less intense attacks usually called “oppressions.” A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.)
I have not witnessed a levitation myself.
Back to Gallagher:
We are not dealing here with purely material reality, but with the spiritual realm. One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand.
This is very reminiscent of the arguments used by the Harvard psychiatrist John Mack (I wrote something about him in National Review back in the day) who, at the height of America’s obsession with ‘alien abductions’, began to see such stories as, to a greater or lesser degree, a spiritual phenomenon. That allowed him to dispense with normal scientific discipline and even to caricature it as somehow retrograde, evidence of a narrowly ‘western’ mindset.
Gallagher’s comment about video equipment also reminds me of a joke from that era.
Q: What’s the best way to stop yourself being abducted by an alien?
A: Install video cameras at home and set them to record.
But anthropologists agree that nearly all cultures have believed in spirits, and the vast majority of societies (including our own) have recorded dramatic stories of spirit possession. Despite varying interpretations, multiple depictions of the same phenomena in astonishingly consistent ways offer cumulative evidence of their credibility.
Not so much. Demons, like gods, are a product of the human mind, an evolutionary by-product, an end in themselves, or a bit of both: It would be astonishing if they did not recur in society after society. We are all human.
In the end, however, it was not an academic or dogmatic view that propelled me into this line of work. I was asked to consult about people in pain. I have always thought that, if requested to help a tortured person, a physician should not arbitrarily refuse to get involved. Those who dismiss these cases unwittingly prevent patients from receiving the help they desperately require, either by failing to recommend them for psychiatric treatment (which most clearly need) or by not informing their spiritual ministers that something beyond a mental or other illness seems to be the issue. For any person of science or faith, it should be impossible to turn one’s back on a tormented soul.
Yes, delusion can be used combat delusion (think of exorcisms as a kind of placebo), but the psychiatrist who takes the reality of demonic possession seriously is taking on a heavy responsibility, not only with respect to his patient but, by promoting a belief in this phenomenon, to the vulnerable elsewhere.
Jung talked a great deal of nonsense, but, he was right when he wrote this:
The Middle Ages, antiquity and, prehistory have not died out, as the “enlightened” suppose, but live on merrily in large sections of the population. Mythology and magic flourish as ever in our midst and are unknown only to those whose rationalistic education has alienated them from their roots.
Well, he was not so right about that last bit. A rationalistic education will not, of itself, lead to enlightenment.
Human nature is stronger than that. As Richard Gallagher reminds us.
Trump met with hundreds of evangelical leaders in New York earlier this week, and while some well-known figures — such as Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr. — have endorsed the candidate, others are more hesitant to do so.
However, Dobson, a Christian psychologist and founder of the Focus on the Family group, said he knows “the person who led [Trump] to Christ. And that’s fairly recent.”
“I don’t know when it was, but it has not been long,” Dobson said in an interview with Pennsylvania megachurch pastor Michael Anthony following that meeting in New York. “I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian.”
….“I’ve been a Christian, and I love Christianity and the evangelicals have been so incredibly supportive,” Trump said in the private session with evangelicals this week, according to audio obtained by POLITICO. “Don’t forget, when I ran, and all of a sudden I went to states that were highly evangelical, like as an example, South Carolina, and they said, ‘Well, Trump won’t win this state because it’s evangelical’ … not only did I win, I won in a landslide.”
All this is another reminder, as if one were needed, that Jesus is in the eye of the beholder. And, of course, it’s also a reminder of that religion is about much more than its teachings, not least the extent to which its bolsters a sense of group identity: ‘our team’, come what may, Donald Trump ‘baby Christian’.
As for Trump, whatever one might think about him (generally not much…), his cynicism in this respect is worth a smile, and perhaps even a round of light applause.