Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Weird Sounds

last trumpThe Daily Mail looks into the phenomenon of weird, unexplained sounds:

A mysterious noise from the sky is continuing to baffle people all over the world – as well as giving those who hear it sleepless nights. Sounding like a trumpet or a collective from a brass section of an orchestra, a selection of videos shot from the Canada to Ukraine, via the U.S., Germany and Belarus show strange goings on above us.And the eerie sounds have been continuously heard at all different times and locations for almost a decade.

True to form, the Daily Mail looks into what could be going on and comes up with a number of theories including tectonic plates, aliens and, of course, the apocalyspe:

Seven trumpets are sounded, one at a time, to cue apocalyptic events that were seen in the vision of the Revelation of Christ Jesus, by John of Patmos. Somewhat more worrying as it would signal the end of the world…

“Somewhat more worrying”.

English understatement is not dead.

Full story here (my ability to link seems to have disappeared):



Meeting Raul

RaulFrancisCross-posted on the Corner:

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger on Pope Francis’s meeting with Raúl Castro (and France’s President Hollande’s with Fidel):

A beaming, star-struck Mr. Hollande on Monday received a one-hour audience (there is no other word) with the 88-year-old Fidel. The French president said, “I had before me a man who made history.”



“Bienvenido!” said Pope Francis to Raúl Sunday when they met at the Vatican. “Welcome!” The Vatican press office didn’t release details of the meeting, other than to describe it as “very friendly.”

Photographs of the meeting between the president of Cuba’s inhabitants and the leader of the world’s Catholics suggest they hit it off, with both men aglow in smiles. In fact, Raúl seems to have thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Baptized into Marxism while in college, he announced he might rejoin the Catholic Church. But let Raúl explain his sudden reconversion:

“I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.”

Who could doubt it?

When he says, “if the pope continues this way,” we assume the Cuban president is referring to Francis’ criticisms of capitalism, as when he wrote in 2013: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” Francis described this theory as an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts.”

Meanwhile we await the Pope’s encyclical on the environment with interest. That will, of course, only concern itself with facts.


Let us assume that instead of being the pope, Francis was just a guy in Cuba named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, living in Havana. If this guy no one had heard of summoned the courage to say something in public as harsh about Castro’s communist system as the pope did about capitalism, Raúl would do any number of things to Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Raúl would have the Cuban police grab him off the street and drive him far outside Havana, where they would beat him up and abandon him. Or they would dump Jorge in prison, where he’d get beaten some more and better not get sick because medical treatment for political dissidents is hard to come by. Or a mob might show up to scream obscenities at him anytime he showed up in public.

Shaming, harassment and humiliation is what Raúl and Fidel have done to, among many others, the Ladies in White, who are wives of jailed dissidents, and who march in Havana to—of all things—Sunday Mass. What they find on the way to Mass is not fellow communicant Raúl but his mobs or police, which routinely attack them.

We know this because Raúl’s brutal modus operandi for critics of Cuba’s system is described at length in reports by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch. But the Castros’ celebrity status with international elites transcends anything they do, and so Cuba is a member of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Sophisticated opinion holds that Barack Obama’s December “opening” to Cuba means the market and tourists will change the place—for example, Raúl’s release of 53 political prisoners. According to Hablemos Press, which operates inside Cuba, some of those 53 have been rearrested. Other post-“opening” dissidents have been beaten. How come? They tried to meet with an opposition group, Movement for a New Republic.

Good to know that the Pope had such a “friendly” meeting with the dictator.

· · ·



Strange New Respect


Cuban President Raul Castro has said he was so impressed by a Vatican audience with Pope Francis that he might return to the faith he was born into.

Mr Castro praised the pontiff’s wisdom, adding: “I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein.”

He thanked the Pope for brokering a rapprochement between Cuba and the US.

The communist leader had stopped at the Vatican after attending Russia’s World War Two Victory Day in Moscow.

The Catholic Church has maintained ties with Havana since the 1959 revolution. The Pope will visit Cuba on his way to the US in September.

For Pope Francis, the restoration of relations between the US and Cuba – agreed during secret talks at the Vatican – has been a major diplomatic achievement, says the BBC’s David Willey in Rome.

The US had imposed a trade embargo after Cuba’s revolution, which it began to lift late last year.

After the 50-minute private audience on Sunday, Mr Castro told reporters: “The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools.”

After suggesting he might turn again to the Church, he added: “I mean what I say.”

Both Mr Castro and his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, were baptised as Roman Catholics, but most Church activities were suppressed after the revolution.

Francis will be the third Pope to travel to Cuba, following visits there by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

Contrary to what his fiercer critics like to claim, Pope Francis is not a Marxist. He is more of Peronist (without the anti-clericalism!) a movement that saw itself as representing a ‘third way’ between conmmunism and capitalism. Under the circumstances it is no surprise that there may be quite a bit of the pope’s “wisdom” that the Cuban dictator can find to like.

· · · ·



From Carthage (Tennessee) to Rome

al-gorePosted earlier this week on the Corner:

Al Gore, speaking recently at Berkeley:

I think Pope Francis is quite an inspiring figure really. A phenomena. I’ve been startled with the clarity of the moral force that he embodies…

Well I’ve said publicly in the last year, I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, I could become a Catholic because of this Pope. He is that inspiring to me. And I know the vast majority of my Catholic friends are just thrilled to the marrow of their bones that he is inspiring this kind of spiritual leadership.

I would like to give credit to his immediate three predecessors, as Holy Father, who also had very powerful statements on Global Warming. But Pope Francis is going beyond them with this encyclical which, evidently, is expected around the middle of June, and of course there was a preliminary document which just came out yesterday, is likely to have a very powerful impact.

There are, I hear, wicked folk who like to argue that, for some, a belief in CAGW is akin to a religious faith. I cannot think where they get such ideas.

· ·



About that Encyclical

Pope against frackingPosted on the Corner last week:

The Economist clearly cannot wait to see the forthcoming encyclical on the environment:

Could Pope Francis become the world’s foremost campaigner on global warming? That is certainly the fondest hope (or in a few cases the darkest fear) of a lot of people who are closely involved in deliberations over the planet’s future. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, met the pontiff today and shared his mounting concern over the outcome of the Paris summit on climate change in December which is widely seen as the last opportunity for a global deal to manage carbon emissions and set some limit to rising temperatures.

Immediately afterwards, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an important part of the Vatican’s intellectual armoury, convened a brainstorming session with the UN secretariat and a gaggle of NGOs, including the New-York based Earth Institute, a study centre which advises the UN on sustainable development: at the Vatican’s behest, the agenda included not just climate change but forced migration and human trafficking, a scourge which has been exacerbated by desertification.

Elsewhere in the Italian capital, some strident climate-change sceptics from the Heartland Institute, a right-wing American organisation devoted to spreading climate-change scepticism, were urging the Pope not to believe in man-made global warming; the institute insists that claims of a human contribution to heating the planet are unfounded, and that proposals to mitigate climate change amount to “shutting down” the world economy.

This offers a hint of the flak that Pope Francis can expect from the religious right, including many Catholics, when he visits America later this year…

In keeping with the tone of what is a cleverly one-sided article, it is, I notice, only skeptics who earn that adjective “strident”.

Over at Breitbart, James Delingpole, who seems to have traveled to Rome in, well, “strident” company, describes a somewhat stage-managed press conference held at the Vatican with Ban-Ki Moon, but perhaps the most interesting item in his report are these comments from the UN Secretary-General:

I don’t think faith leaders should be scientists…What I want is their moral authority. Business leaders and all civil society is on board [with the mission to combat climate change]. Now we want faith leaders. Then we can make it happen.

All civil society? That may not be strident, but it’s certainly an exaggeration and, when you stop to think about it, just a little bit sinister.

Meanwhile this document has come out of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Here’s just one sentence that caught my eye:

The problem is not one of how well our children and grandchildren will fare in the world of the future, but whether civilization as we know it can be extended beyond the next 100 years.


And the beginning of another sentence:

Our problems have been exacerbated by the current economic obsession that measures human progress solely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth…


Strident much? But take the time to read the whole thing.

As you do so, remember that, for all the scientific discussion (which concerns not only what may or may not be going on, but what should be done about it) and the religious ‘frame’ within which the argument is set out, this is also a profoundly political document and, as such, it must, at least partly, be judged.

· ·



PEN and Sword

hebdoCross-posted on the Corner

Pen International is an association of writers intended both to promote literature and to defend it.

In May, PEN America will be holding its annual gala, an event set to include the award to Charlie Hebdo of PEN America’s annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award, citing the French magazine’s “dauntlessness in the face of one of the most noxious assaults on expression in recent memory.”

PEN America added:

The day after the attack, the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine vowed to continue publication, releasing their next edition on time with a print run expanded from 40,000 to over eight million under the mantra ‘All is Forgiven,’ donating all proceeds to the families of the victims. The Charlie Hebdo attacks dealt a blow to the bedrock principle that no act of expression, no matter how provocative or offensive, can justify violence.

Indeed it did. PEN America also made the obvious point that it was not necessarily endorsing the cartoons, merely the right to publish them (without, it had no need to add, being murdered).

But, the Guardian reports:

Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi announced on Sunday that they had withdrawn from next month’s PEN American Center gala, citing objections to the literary and human rights organisation’s honouring of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo…. [Francine] Prose told the Associated Press that… she was in favour of “freedom of speech without limitations” and “deplored” the shootings at Charlie Hebdo


…the award signified “admiration and respect” for its work and “I couldn’t imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo”.

Peter Carey (AFP reports) conceded that “A hideous crime was committed….


“All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

Salman Rushdie made the obvious point:

If PEN as a free-speech organisation can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name.

I’ll just take the opportunity to quote yet again from an article published in Jyllands-Posten in the aftermath of its publication of the original Mohammed cartoons, an article which included this phrase: “Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.”

The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”

Indeed there should not be.

Jyllands-Posten is singing a different tune these days, made all the bleaker by its bluntness.

As I noted in a post earlier this year, the newspaper declined to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons after the Paris murders, saying this:

“We have lived with the fear of a terrorist attack for nine years, and yes, that is the explanation why we do not reprint the cartoons, whether it be our own or Charlie Hebdo’s,” Jyllands-Posten said. “We are also aware that we therefore bow to violence and intimidation.”

That sad surrender makes it all the more important that PEN America took the stand that it has, and that it has stuck with it. As for authors actually attacking PEN America for standing up for the, yes, sometimes uncomfortable principle of free expression, well…

· ·



A View of the US (from the Vatican)

FrancisCrux has a piece on the planned canonization of Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish Franciscan celebrated as the founder of the Church on the West Coast of the United States.

This caught my eye:

Uruguayan layman Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America, said that as a saint, Serra will help the Latino community in the US not to feel like “barely tolerated foreigners,” but to recognize themselves in continuity with Hispanics who have lived in the country for centuries.

“Barely tolerated foreigners”?

Carriquiry was appointed to this job by Pope Francis who hails, of course, from neighboring Argentina, and wrote the preface to one of Carriquiry’s books.

· ·



Quote for the Day

Sverdlov Sq, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)I don’t often quote old Karl, but this (from the Communist Manifesto) isn’t bad:

“Christian socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.”



Happy Easter!



John Fisher, Again

John_Fisher_(painting)Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher refers, by implication approvingly, to St. John Fisher, “the English Catholic bishop who went to his death rather than conform to the king’s dictates.”

Say what you will, but Fisher was no defender of religious liberty. I posted about this sinister fanatic (a man who played an important role in the trial and execution of Thomas Hitton, the man often described as England’s first protestant martyr) a few years ago.

Let’s return to Wikipedia (in this case, why not?):

Hitton was a priest who had joined William Tyndale and the English exiles in the Low Countries. He returned to England on a brief visit in 1529 to contact the supporters of Tyndale and to arrange for the distribution of smuggled books such as the first English Psalter translated by George Joye. He was seized near Gravesend on his way to the coast to take a ship,and found to be in possession of letters from the English exiles. He was then arrested on the grounds of heresy, interrogated and probably tortured. He was condemned by Archbishop William Warham and by Bishop John Fisher and burnt at the stake at Maidstone on 23 February 1530.

As I noted in my earlier post, Fisher was no defender of freedom of conscience. What he was defender of his conscience, and, indeed, an enforcer of it on others. As for his fate, well, biter bit.


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