Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for April 2017

Apr/17

30

Pope Francis against the Individual

On stage, Pope Francis, like Juan Perón, his predecessor in so many respects, can be a vivid speaker. The same cannot be said of his prose, where his arguments are all too often swamped by jargon, citation and the failed, muddy language of someone who cannot, I am afraid, quite keep up.

In the course of a new screed the Pope turns his attention (as so often) to neo-liberalism, that rarely seen, frequently imagined bogeyman that seems to spend so much time rattling around the papal skull:

A society in which the true fraternity dissolves is not capable of having a future; a society in which only “giving in order to have” or the “giving out of duty” exist, is not capable of progressing. That is why neither the liberal-individualist vision of the world, in which everything (or almost) is an exchange, nor the state-centric vision of society, in which everything (or almost) is a duty, are safe guides for overcoming inequality, inequity and exclusion that now overwhelm our societies. It is a search for a way out of the suffocating alternative between the neoliberal thesis and that neo-state-centric thesis.

Leaving aside the fact that Francis’ description of the ‘liberal-individualist vision’ is little more than stale demagogic caricature—something of a specialty of this pope–his call for a ‘third way’ between free market systems and socialism shouldn’t be missed. In reality, that’s we already have across the West, but what Francis wants is something akin to the corporatism (there are unkinder words) that did so much damage to his native Argentina.

And as always with Francis, his perspective is saturated with conspiracism, often vintage conspiracism:

Almost one hundred years ago, Pius XI [warned of] a global economic dictatorship that he called the “international imperialism” of money.

Hmmm

And then Francis turns his attention to a fresh enemy—demagogues can never have enough enemies—in this case the “invasion…at high levels of culture and education in both universities and in schools…of libertarian individualism”, an invasion, it must be said, is not immediately apparent to me.  Looking at today’s schools, and even more so the universities, very little libertarian individualism seems to be on display. On the contrary, we see the collectivism of the left, being enforced with ever increasing degrees of rigor, something that this Pope whether by ignorance, malice or willful ideological blindness or a blend of all three has chosen to overlook.

The Pope continues:

If individualism affirms that it is only the individual who gives value to things and interpersonal relationships, and so it is only the individual who decides what is good and what is bad, then libertarianism, today in fashion, preaches that to establish freedom and individual responsibility, it is necessary to resort to the idea of “self-causation”.

But individualism does not affirm (or does not have to affirm) that it is only the individual who gives value to things…

Over at Reason (of course!), Stephanie Slade writes:

As with [the Pope’s] comments about capitalism, then, the problem is not so much that he’s speaking to issues that go beyond the scope of his office; the problem is his speaking to matters on which he is ill-informed. In this case, his statements betray a shallowness in his understanding of the philosophy he’s impugning. If he took the time to really engage with our ideas, he might be surprised by what he learned.

He might, for instance, be taken aback to discover that many libertarians hold beliefs that transcend an Ayn Randian glorification of selfishness (and that Ayn Rand rejected us, too, by the way)…. Or that lots of us are deeply concerned with the tangible outcomes that policies have on vulnerable communities, and that libertarians’ support for capitalism is very often rooted in its ability to make the world a better place. Or that some of us are even—hold on to your zucchetto—followers of Christ.

Most of all, he would likely be startled to find that, far from thinking “only the individual decides what is good and what is evil,” few libertarians are moral relativists. (Except the Objectivists, of course. Or am I getting that wrong?) Speaking as a devotee of St. John Paul II, one of the great articulators of the importance of accepting Truth as such, this one is actually personal.

It’s hard not to wonder whether Pope Francis knows any libertarians. In the event he’s interested in discussing the ideas of free minds and free markets with someone who ascribes to them, I’d be happy to make myself available.

Stephanie should not hold her breath. Locked into his own convictions, and, like many demagogues, both bully and intellectual coward, Francis has shown himself prepared to talk things over with those whose disagreement—a tame atheist or two—runs on predictable lines unlikely to dent his faith, but to be prepared to debate people who offer a serious challenge to his political prescriptions, well…

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Apr/17

16

The Fires of Easter

From the not always reliable The Golden Bough:

 In Münsterland these Easter fires are always kindled upon certain definite hills, which are hence known as Easter or Paschal Mountains. The whole community assembles about the fire. The young men and maidens, singing Easter hymns, march round and round the fire, till the blaze dies down. Then the girls jump over the fire in a line, one after the other, each supported by two young men who hold her hands and run beside her. In the twilight boys with blazing bundles of straw run over the fields to make them fruitful. At Delmenhorst, in Oldenburg, it used to be the custom to cut down two trees, plant them in the ground side by side, and pile twelve tar-barrels against each. Brush-wood was then heaped about the trees, and on the evening of Easter Saturday the boys, after rushing about with blazing bean-poles in their hands, set fire to the whole. At the end of the ceremony the urchins tried to blacken each other and the clothes of grown-up people. In the Altmark it is believed that as far as the blaze of the Easter bonfire is visible, the corn will grow well throughout the year, and no conflagration will break out. At Braunröde, in the Harz Mountains, it was the custom to burn squirrels in the Easter bonfire.  In the Altmark, bones were burned in it.

Happy Easter!

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Apr/17

8

Welcome, Republican Atheists!

Writing over at Patheos, the Friendly Atheist reports on the formation of the group Republican Atheists.

That’s good news, I reckon, but the Friendly Atheist seems a little, well, skeptical:

The group hopes to “build awareness of Atheist presence in the Republican Party,” though it may have more success building awareness of Republicans among the broader atheist community. The 116 likes on Facebook and 37 followers on Twitter suggest there’s a lot of room to grow. A survey conducted in 2015 among members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation revealed only one percent identified as Republicans — the low end — while a 2014 Pew Research Center survey said Republicans represented 15% of atheists.

According to Lauren Ell, the president of Republican Atheists, the group’s main intention isn’t to influence the legislative or electoral process. Not yet, anyway. Instead, she said in an email, they want to “challenge the concept that atheist equals Democrat and Republican equals religion.”

This is an important time to note that disbelieving in deities doesn’t mean a person necessarily aligns with any particular ideology, political or otherwise. If the existence of this group has you scratching your head — why would any atheist align with this Republican Party? — keep in mind that many of them may support a GOP that even many Republican politicians no longer recognize. They support the ideas of smaller government, fewer taxes, and more personal freedom, but not necessarily a party that seems to have merged with the Religious Right.

Oh come on.

That wasn’t true before Trump, and it’s even harder to claim that now.

Political parties, like (for the most part) religious groups, are coalitions. The faithful agree with this, they disagree with that, but on balance they stick with the creed with which they are, as a whole, most comfortable.  What’s more, a choice of political party is often a vote against rather than a vote for. For all its faults, the Republican party is still the best bulwark there is against the Democrats.

To the Friendly Atheist, the Republican Atheists may be displaying “cognitive dissonance”, but that observation might say more about his beliefs than theirs.  Some of the GOP policies most associated with the religious right (opposition to abortion, say) can be supported for reasons unrelated to the supposed commands of a mysteriously elusive God.

Equally, there is no reason that atheists, if they believe that religion is hard-wired into most of us (as I do), to be disturbed by a little God talk by a politician on the make (or, even, sincerely). Nor is there any need for atheists to waste time and goodwill pushing the church-and-state separation contained in the First Amendment to the bizarre extreme that they sometimes do. Religion can be a useful social glue (that’s probably part of the reason it evolved), and, as such, it is something that a conservative atheist might be expected to appreciate even if he or she believes that the underlying premise is nonsense.

To be fair, the Friendly Atheist notes:

 “[A]theist” only means one thing: you don’t believe in a god. While there’s obviously a large overlap between atheists and liberals, it’s not an ironclad rule.

No it is not, either in the US or, even more so, Europe.

If I had to guess, the ‘large overlap’ here in the US owes more to the specifics of American history and culture rather than any ideological imperative.

All that said, there’s a reason that this blog is named Secular Right rather than Secular Republican or, even, Secular Conservative.

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