Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jul/16

23

Bernie Sanders, Sinister Atheist!

sandersWell, well, well..

The Independent:

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.”

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Jul/16

23

Not Erdoğan (2)

Mustafa_Kemal_Atatürk_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…

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Jul/16

19

Not Erdoğan

kemal_ataturkGiven 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.

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Jul/16

4

Happy Independence Day!

Jul/16

2

Demons On The Couch

late-15-cent-demon-conjuredWriting 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.

Hmmm…

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.

Gallagher:

 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.

Gallagher:

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.

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Jul/16

2

“Paris Vaut Bien Une Messe”

TrumpJesusPolitico:

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.

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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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May/16

21

Doubt as Sin.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fogIn the course of reading around a story about how the Portland Public Schools board has unanimously approved a resolution aimed at “eliminating doubt” about climate change and its causes in schools, I came across this quote  from Nietzsche (It’s from Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality):

Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.

That’s rather fine.

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May/16

19

Smashing The Spirit Level

PoltergeistThe Guardian:

When Morgan Maguire was growing up, she struggled to find a role model. As a young Catholic schoolgirl in Hanover, Pennsylvania, she was often teased about her love of history and scary stories, and when it came to one of her most beloved hobbies, there were no women on television or in her life to inspire her.

It’s a story familiar to many young girls, although the male-dominated field she wanted to join is one that’s rarely associated with debates on gender equality and sexism.

Maguire wanted to be a ghost hunter.

“I’ve been fascinated with the paranormal, God, probably since birth,” said Maguire, 24, who now works in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which some say is one of the most haunted cities in the US. “When I was little, I didn’t have any female ghost hunters to look up to.”

Maguire is now part of a group that claims to be one of the country’s first-ever all-female team of “paranormal investigators”, which means they search for evidence of ghosts and help people respond to spirits haunting their homes. The women are part of a movement of female ghost hunters that they say has grown in recent years, and they’re hoping many more young girls will be encouraged to join after the highly anticipated women-led remake of Ghostbusters hits the big screen….

Although Ghostbusters is a comedy, the women of Gettysburg Ghost Gals and similar groups take their work seriously and have no doubts that ghosts and spirits are real – and that hunters provide a vital service.

Real-world ghostbusters respond to inquiries from clients concerned about ghosts lurking in their homes. They conduct lengthy investigations to confirm or deny their presence and sometimes help families cleanse their homes of unwelcome intruders.

They do. Really?

And, of course, female ghost hunters have an edge:

“I think we get better results because we’re women,” Goode said. “Women are much more sensitive … we’re not a dominating force.” Female ghost hunters said they can connect better with frightened families seeking aid – and they’re more successful at communicating with child spirits.

Child spirits

I’ll just let this story stand there.

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