Manama: Saudi Arabia’s efforts to edge closer to setting a minimum age for marriage have received a blow after the Grand Mufti said there was nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married.
“There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh said, quoted by local daily Al Riyadh on Sunday.
In a bold attempt to force changes on the grounds, the justice ministry has been pushing for setting up the minimum age.
Over at the XX Committee, John Schindler takes a look at what he calls “Putin’s Orthodox Jihad.” Trying to make sense of Putin’s ideology, much of which appears to have been adopted on the hoof as Russia’s leader attempted to fill the vacuum left first by Communism and then by the failure of Western-style democracy to “take” in Russia, is not a straightforward process (not least because Putin’s loyalties appear to be more to institutions than to ideas) but Schindler’s intriguing analysis makes an increasing amount of sense:
Putin is a complex character himself, with his worldview being profoundly shaped by his long service as a Soviet secret policeman; he exudes what Russians term Chekism – conspiracy-based thinking that sees plots abounding and is reflexively anti-Western, with heavy doses of machismo and KGB tough-talk . . .
This year ending also saw the mask drop regarding Putin’s ideology beyond his bone-deep Chekism. In his fire-breathing speech to the Duma in March when he announced Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin included not just venerable KGB classics like warnings about the Western Fifth Column and “national traitors,” but also paeans to explicit Russian ethnic nationalism buttressed by Orthodox mysticism, with citations of saints from millennia past. This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy. Behind the Chekist sword and shield lurks the Third Rome, forming a potent and, to many Russians, plausible worldview. That this take on the planet and its politics is intensely anti-Western needs to be stated clearly….
Whether this faith is genuine or a well-honed pose, Putin’s potent fusion of KGB values and Orthodoxy has been building for years, though few Westerners have noticed. Early in Putin’s years in the Kremlin, the younger generation of Federal Security Service (FSB) officers embraced a nascent ideology they termed “the system” (sistema), which was a sort of elitist Chekism — toughness free of corruption and based in patriotism — updated for the new 21st century. However, this could have limited appeal to the masses, so its place was gradually taken by a doctrine termed “spiritual security.”
…It suddenly became fashionable for senior FSB officers to have conversion experiences, while “spiritual security” offered Putin’s Russia a way to defend itself against what it has long seen as the encroachment of decadent post-modern Western values. Just how seriously Putin took all this was his statement that Russia’s “spiritual shield” was as important to her security as her nuclear shield.
Nearly all Western experts, being mostly secularists when not atheists, paid no attention to these clear indications of where Putin was taking Russia…
There’s quite a bit to that aside, and there is also something of a parallel with the failure of many in the West to take the rise of militant Islam as seriously as they should have done. People (particularly in Europe) simply could not conceive that a religion could matter so much “in this day and age,” a mistake that arose from the belief held by many secularists/atheists that religious faith was something that would eventually wither safely away, a conviction that owed much to smugness and not a little to denial. There has been an unwillingness to accept the (to them) inconvenient truth that the religious instinct seems to be something with which the vast majority of people are born.
And there is something else. To believe that religion would either wither away or fade into some sort of benevolent irrelevance took a quite remarkable ignorance of history. The modern academy has been delighted to oblige.
There’s a great deal more to Schindler’s piece that’s worth mulling (so read the whole thing), not least the connection that Putin has developed with some (and I would emphasize that “some”) on the European right and the way that virulent opposition to what is only one interpretation of America has provided him with the great enemy that regimes such as his always need.
Check out also Schindler’s focus on a recent speech by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a curious character he describes as a “media gadfly cleric.” Well Chaplin is certainly that, but as Schindler points out, he is also a very senior spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church (FWIW I blogged about Chaplin at this secularist spot a few weeks back):
Chaplin minced no words, proclaiming that Russia’s God-given goal today is halting the global “American project.” As he explained:
“It is no coincidence that we have often, at the price of our own lives … stopped all global projects that disagreed with our conscience, with our vision of history and, I would say, with God’s own truth .. Such was Napoleon’s project, such was Hitler’s project. We will stop the American project too.”
We’ll see, but we should not fool ourselves that sanctions and Russia’s worsening economic plight will be enough to see off the challenge from Moscow any time soon. As Schindler observes:
[Putin’s] regime has created and nurtured a virulent ideology, an explosive amalgam of xenophobia, Chekism and militant Orthodoxy which justifies the Kremlin’s actions and explains why the West must be opposed at all costs. Given the economic crisis that Russia now finds itself in, thanks to Western sanctions, during the long and cold winter now starting, we ought to expect more, not fewer, Russians turning to this worldview which resonates with their nation’s history and explains the root of their suffering.
That is not a comforting thought.
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in politics
Cross-posted on the Corner:
With the latest crackdown in Cuba showing just how Havana has ‘read’ Obama’s policy shift towards the Castro dictatorship, this new Foreign Affairs article by Victor Gaetan giving some background to the Vatican’s involvement in the deal that was eventually struck makes timely reading.
Here’s an extract (my emphasis added):
In Cuba, in other words, the church is still strong. Havana’s Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino has followed a strategy of reconciliation on the island, avoiding confrontation with the state while winning more independence to carry out the Church’s religious mission. Under Ortega’s 35-year leadership, the Catholic Church, to which about 60 percent of all Cubans belong, has emerged as the only national institution that functions independent of the state.
Still, Ortega was never popular with regime opponents because of his determination to avoid confrontation. While Benedict was in Cuba, Ortega refused to arrange a meeting between the Pope and opposition leaders. Instead, devout Catholic opposition leaders such as Oswaldo Paya found Cuban security surrounding his house to prevent him from attending Benedict’s public Mass. Five months later, Paya was killed in a car accident suspected of being engineered by state agents. No investigation has ever been completed. Although Ortega presided over Paya’s funeral, his family says the cardinal did nothing to protect or promote the democracy movement Paya fostered. Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo, the regime opponent’s daughter, wrote an eloquent critique of the U.S.–Cuba deal in The Washington Post. Many other dissidents are similarly disappointed with the news.
But Ortega likely isn’t losing sleep about this criticism. He has a different vision of Cuba’s future: A few days after Francis was elected, the Havana Archdiocese published a document containing 23 proposals produced by a group, Laboratorio Casa Cuba, comprised of “professors and researchers of diverse ideologies (Catholics, critical Marxists, republican–socialists, and anarchists).” It’s a Christian social–democratic program, with an anti-American cherry on top.
And that seems sort of fine with Pope Francis. Fancy that!
Cross-posted on the Corner
The Guardian, excited:
[C]an Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.
“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”
Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.
According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it…”
We will, of course (!), have to see what the encyclical actually contains, but talk of “the god of money” already suggests that both reason and reality may struggle to make themselves heard.
Captain A. D. Chater, 2nd Batallion, Gordon Highlanders, Dec 25, 1914:
I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen. About 10 o’clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours.
We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas…
We exchanged cigarettes and autographs, and some more people took photos…I don’t know how long it will go on for – I believe it was supposed to stop yesterday, but we can hear no firing going on along the front today except a little distant shelling.
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the frosty air!
First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is a most extraordinary thing — two nations singing the same carol in the middle of a war.
And these were by no means isolated incidents.
When the high commands (on both sides) heard about these ‘Christmas truces’, they did everything they could to bring them to an end and avoid their repetition, but just for a moment…
MOSCOW — Russian fans of the writer J.R.R. Tolkien were disappointed Wednesday after a local art group abandoned plans to install a flaming eye from his book series The Lord of the Rings atop a Moscow skyscraper. The group, Svechenie, said it would not recreate the evil Eye of Sauron after the Russian Orthodox Church complained the installation would invite mysterious dangers on the capital….
The planned project — for a 3-foot-tall orb perched atop a 21-story building in Moscow’s business district — “does not have any religious or political subtext,” the statement added.
It was slated to be unveiled Thursday to mark the Russian premiere of the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, based on another Tolkien novel in which the eye appears.
But Vsevolod Chaplin, the controversial spokesman for the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, felt otherwise. He told a Moscow radio station Tuesday that the installation would be a “symbol of the triumph of evil … rising up over the city.”
“Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad,” he said. “You shouldn’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”
It’s not the first time the church, a key pillar of President Vladimir Putin’s drive to promote conservative values, has waded into the world of art and culture. Religious officials and Orthodox activists have rebuked and even disrupted a range of exhibitions and performances they believe betray church values and destroy Russia’s moral fiber….
Chaplin is always on the look out for perils that could menace his flock.
Here he is back in April:
MOSCOW, April 9 (RIA Novosti) – Angels and demons do really exist, but are often mistaken for “so-called aliens” by those who encounter them, a senior Russian Orthodox Church clergyman said.
“They are real creatures, humans come into contact with them as they sometimes reveal themselves,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who oversees the Church’s public relations, told RIA Novosti in an interview when asked about Christianity’s attitude to ufology.
And then there was the mini-skirt menace, identified by Chaplin as a potential source of “madness” as long ago as 2011.
The Christian Science Monitor explained:
A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a “national dress code” that would force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out “indecently” clad customers. Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can’t be trusted to clothe themselves properly.
“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work,” he said Tuesday. “If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”
“Moreover,” Archpriest Chaplin added, “if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness.”
…Chaplin’s proposed dress code has received applause from some conservative quarters. Russia’s Association of Islamic Heritage this week expressed its support for Chaplin’s call for “creation of a national dress code,” which might involve compelling women to wear headscarves, a rule already in force in Orthodox churches and church-run orphanages. Muslims make up about 20 percent of Russia’s population.
Orthodoxy! Nationality! Autocracy!
One of the attendees was the pope.
The Daily Mail reports:
The 77-year old said the world had ‘paid too little heed to those who are hungry.’
While the number of undernourished people dropped by over half in the past two decades, 805 million people were still affected in 2014.
‘It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular,’ Francis said.
Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall explains (again):
[J]just to lay it out in very simple terms in one place. Regarding that first point, about profit. Profit is the incentive for people to do things. If people don’t profit from their actions then they won’t do them. Of course, we can take a wide view of what “profit” is: we could, for example, say that the warm feeling a farmer gets from watching a starving child eating the food he has grown is a profit. And it would be as well. But as we’ve found out over the past century or so (looking at those various attempts at the collectivisation of agriculture is really most instructive) that that good feeling of having produced what others need is not actually enough. Any and every society that has relied upon such public feelings has had extensive malnutrition if not out and out famine.
So, we want the producers of food to profit from their having produced it. Otherwise we just don’t get enough food.
Then on to speculation and financial speculation. These move the prices of things through time. This is also highly desirable (as Adam Smith pointed out 238 years ago) as by moving prices through time we also move supplies of food through time (see the linked pieces for this in more detail). We move food from, as Smith said, a time of plenty to a time of dearth: thus reducing malnutrition and starvation. And yes, again, the incentive for people to do this highly desirable thing is to make a profit.
So we actually want both profit and speculation in food. For the end results are desirable. We get both the production of food in the first place and the movement of it, in both geographic and temporal, terms, to where it is needed….
That’s not (of course) to deny that there are people who are malnourished, but, as Worstall explains:
[E]conomist, Amartya Sen… has pointed out that, for the past century at least, starvation and famine have not been caused by an absence of food. They’re no longer supply side phenomena and they’ll not be solved by looking at that supply side.
No, instead, famine now is an absence of purchasing power among those who simply cannot buy the food that is available. This is such a well-known matter that even George Bush, when President, tried to get the rules about US famine relief changed (Obama is trying again now, too, according to reports). Instead of shipping US grain to starving people ship US money to starving people so they can buy the food that is already there. Or if not exactly there, then nearby. And we can rely upon the existence of that effective demand to incentivise people through that profit motive, through speculation, to ship the food from where it is to where the hungry people are.
That is, modern hunger is a demand side phenomenon and will be solved by demand side measures. Like, as above, giving poor people money to buy food with.
This is what actually works, this is how most NGOs now see hunger, many governments too. The problem is not that there’s no food for the poor to buy. It’s that the poor have no money to buy food. The answer is thus not to fiddle around with the supply side, that’s working just fine. For there are supplies of food available. What’s going wrong is the demand side so that’s where the solution must lie. We must turn actual demand (empty bellies) into effective demand (people with empty bellies with money to buy the food that exists)…
What the pope is suggesting is (essentially) to mess with the supply side, something that could very easily make matters worse.
And yet that’s what he suggests.
And he still seems unwilling to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that the free market has made to reducing malnourishment on a planet where the population has now swollen to seven billion.
It’s almost as if the pope is putting ideology (in this case his distaste for the free market) before the facts, facts he must know. It’s almost as if his ideology matters more to him than truly helping the hungry.
Those would, shall we say, be very revealing priorities.
Pope Francis gave a speech at the EU parliament last week. There were the usual leftist themes that we have come to expect from this pope (“we encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable”, “uncontrolled consumerism” and so on) complete with the hints of dark conspiracies that remind us that Francis’ thinking remains heavily influenced by the Peronist Argentina of his youth:
The true strength of our democracies – understood as expressions of the political will of the people – must not be allowed to collapse under the pressure of multinational interests which are not universal, which weaken them and turn them into uniform systems of economic power at the service of unseen empires.
And there was the jibe directed at Europe’s failure to live up to the Vatican’s natalist expectations:
In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a “grandmother”, no longer fertile and vibrant.
Over at the XX Committee, John Schindler picks up on that, correctly noting that low fertility is not only a European “problem” (his word, not mine), but then goes on to argue this:
Francis’s analysis of Europe’s population problem, which is really a deep crisis of civilizational pride, identity and meaning, manifesting in a lack of will to even reproduce, is difficult to refute…
On the contrary, it couldn’t be easier. Declining birth rates can be a response to economic pressure, certainly (as was evident, say, during the Great Depression or in Eastern Europe during and after the Soviet collapse), but it’s a stretch to see it as evidence of Europe’s civilizational decline. British birth rates, for example, began to drop in the later Victorian era, a time when its national self-confidence stood at a zenith that was, broadly, to endure until 1914:
The decline in birth rates, identified as stage three of the demographic transition, took place in England from around 1870 to 1920. In 1871 the average woman was having 5.5 children but by 1921 this had fallen to 2.4 children.
(Office of National Statistics)
Smaller families is what people want when science and the likely survival of their existing children give them the chance to make that choice. And as we enter an age where, thanks to automation, the demand for labor—as we are already seeing—is ebbing, that’s not such a bad thing.
That’s not to say that the transition to a lower birth rate is without its problems. It isn’t (who pays for the old?), but they will not be solved by more people: the unemployed will not be able to pay for the retired. Mass immigration is not the answer.
On that topic, Francis had quite a bit to say, using the hideous tragedy of the drownings at sea of would-be immigrants (“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.”) as (in essence) an argument for Europe to adopt an even more open immigration policy than it already has, something he has done before, perhaps most notoriously in his speech on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a performance that ‘Theodore Dalrymple’ (Anthony Daniels) quite right rightly described as a display of “moral exhibitionism”.
Meanwhile, Schindler notes:
“Why aren’t hundreds of asylum seekers drowning trying to get to Japan?” asked one analyst, pointedly, a year ago. After all, Japan is a very nice country with a most advanced economy and a desperate shortage of people. But refugees don’t try to reach the coast of Japan. For the simple reason they know they will be turned away. Preferring to preserve its native population, Japan turns away virtually all refugee claimants, while Australia lets many of them in, with generous benefits to boot. South Korea, like Japan, is not open to more than few refugees despite a serious birth dearth, so few come. In 2014, any developed country that pursues a permissive policy towards refugees is going to get more of them, perhaps many more.
And finally, when it came to the pope’s comments on the current unhappy state of the EU, many euroskeptics seemed to enjoy the thought that the pope was one of them. They were wrong.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph (link via EUReferendum), Christopher Booker explains:
The Pope’s address to the European Parliament seemed devastatingly critical. He spoke of how “the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions”.
He described it as looking “elderly and haggard” in “a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion”. He observed how it had lost the trust of its citizens, who see it too often as “downright harmful”.
Reading the Pope’s speech in full, however, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the EU’s real nature at all: in particular, why the core principles on which it was set up were inevitably destined to bring it to its present dismal pass.
Somehow the pope seems to have missed the fact that the EU was a profoundly post-democratic project. How it was sold (peace, reconciliation and so on) bore little relation to what it really was.
WASHINGTON—Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, welcomed the news today that the Obama administration will defer deportations for many undocumented immigrants and their families.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, but it seems to me that the bishops now seem rather less focused on the constitution than they were at the time they were objecting to various aspects of Obamacare coverage.
Meanwhile the National Catholic Reporter reports:
Catholic groups across the country have been quick to applaud President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration, but they are equally quick to remind that more work remains to be done before finding a “humane” fix to our country’s immigration system.
The executive order, which the president delivered Thursday in a primetime speech, expands the government’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and provides temporary relief from deportation for more than 4 million undocumented immigrant parents who have lived in the country for more than five years.
“Generally, we are celebrating this announcement,” said Michelle Sardone, legalization program director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC. “It’s going to help close to 5 million people. But we’re definitely still working toward finding a permanent solution.”
“This a temporary fix,” she said. “There’s still more fighting to be done, to make sure that everyone is included.”
Press releases from various Catholic organizations echoed the sentiment….
Ah yes, there’s always “more fighting to be done”.
The ratchet turns.
With the US waiting to hear what type of ‘executive action’ Obama will announce with respect to illegal immigrants tomorrow, this item from the National Catholic Reporter is worth noting:
In a little noted letter, two bishops chairing committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have put the Catholic bishops on record supporting executive action on immigration. The letter places the bishops on President Barack Obama’s side in his dispute with congressional Republicans, who are opposed to any executive action on immigration.
The letter, sent on Sept. 9 with little fanfare, was addressed to Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, with copies of the letter going to Dennis McDonough, chief of staff to the president, and Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The letter was signed by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chair of the Committee on Migration, and Bishop Kevin Vann, chair of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. The conference issued no press release to publicize the letter and I cannot find it on the USCCB website.
The letter asked for executive action “to protect undocumented individuals and families as soon as possible, within the limits of your executive authority.” “With immigration reform legislation stalled in Congress,” the letter said, “our nation can no longer wait to end the suffering of family separation caused by our broken immigration system.”
The Republican leadership in Congress has said any executive action by the president on immigration would poison future cooperation on any topic.
The bishops urge that some major problems on immigration be dealt with through by executive action. These would not be considered minor items by either the administration or Congress…
Meanwhile the Washington Post reports:
BALTIMORE — The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.
In an unscheduled address Tuesday (Nov. 11) at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”
This, of course, is the same church that has been so keen to press for what it sees as its constitutional rights under the guise of what it describes as ‘religious freedom’.