Secular Right | Reality & Reason



A Premodern/Postmodern Pope?

Pope against frackingCross-posted on the Corner.

From First Things, an interesting take on the pope’s eco-encyclical by R.R. Reno.

Here’s an extract: “Everything is connected” is [the Pope’s] mantra in Laudato Si. True to this principle, Francis links his suspicion of science with suspicions about other dimensions of the modern world. Progress has often been characterized as ever-greater prosperity. But economic globalization, a signature feature of the late modern world, and precondition for today’s rapid growth in China and elsewhere, is excoriated again and again. Francis never tires of denouncing “finance,” by which he seems to mean modern banking in all its forms. And of course we’re destroying mother earth. “The post-industrial period may well be remembered as the most irresponsible in history.”

Another feature of modernity and its faith in progress has been a political commitment to liberty, equality, and fraternity. To be modern is to believe that, for all our flaws, Western societies are more democratic, more egalitarian, and more inclusive than any in history. This is not the Pope’s view. The West is rapacious. He quotes one source approvingly: “Twenty per cent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive.”

In effect, the present world system created by European and North American modernity—the world made possible by Newton, Locke, Rousseau, Ricardo, Kant, Pasteur, Einstein, Keynes, and countless other architects of modern science, economics, and political culture—is an abomination. Francis never quite says that. But this strong judgment is implied in his many fierce denunciations of the current global order. It destroys the environment, oppresses the multitudes, and makes us blind to the beauty of creation.

Indeed. And it’s worth noting that these are not the first “fierce denunciations” (I’ll stick with that relatively gentle phrase) that we have seen from a pope with something of a weakness for a demagogic, occasionally even paranoid style that would have played well in the Peronist Argentina of his youth, a time when he clearly learnt much and understood little.

But back to First Things:

Today’s progressives are often critical of the West, and in that sense critical of “progress.” Europeans can be hysterical about genetically modified food. They have renounced nuclear energy, the only feasible large-scale alternative to a hydrocarbon-based energy system. Democracy was the signal political aspiration of modernity, but the EU is a post-national political project, a technocratic, post-democratic project. Here in the United States, many are now educated to believe that the history of the West is one long story of oppression and injustice. Optimism has waned, which means that the pope’s pessimism may be received warmly.

Perhaps, therefore, the most accurate thing to say is that Francis offers a postmodern reading of Gaudium et Spes and Vatican II’s desire to be open to the modern world. He seems to propose to link the Catholic Church with a pessimistic post-humanist Western sentiment rather than the older, confident humanism.

There may be a strange genius in this. For more than two hundred years Catholicism has resisted a self-sufficient humanism confident in the triumph of reason and science. Now there are powerful forces in the West that regard the modern project of the West as a failure, and the worst-case accounts of global warming encourage us to draw this conclusion. Thus the encyclical’s apparent focus, which is quickly superseded by a wholesale critique of every aspect of the current global system. Francis encourages the humiliation of modernity and the West, seeing in its failure the seeds of repentance and return to God.

Count me a skeptic. I prefer that approach of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. If global warming poses a dire threat to humanity—and it may—we will need all the moral strength, scientific integrity, economic vitality, and political legitimacy that Western modernity can muster. The same goes for the pressing problems of poverty and development. Instead of the voice of denunciation, we need the Church’s counsel and guidance. We all need to repent. But when it comes to pressing ethical problems, revolution is a dangerous game to play.

Obviously, I’m not with Reno on the need for the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church (readers may disagree!), but his broader point is subtle and very well made. The fact is that Francis is a pope who is profoundly at odds with not just (what we understand as) the West, but with the best of the West.

And, I would add, this encyclical is far from being the only evidence of that.


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Britain’s Government: #PasCharlie

Raif BadawiThe presence of British Prime Minister David Cameron, no friend of free speech, at the march in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo killings was, in the scheme of things, a comparatively minor moment of hypocrisy.

Nevertheless, it’s always helpful to have reminders of where his government really stands.

Writing in The Independent, Francis Wheen:

Three years ago today, Saudi Arabian police arrested Raif Badawi for the crime of running a website “that propagates liberal thought”. His blog had put the case for secularism in observations such as this: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”

As if to prove his point, a Sharia court hauled Badawi back into the fearful circle, sentencing him to 600 lashes and seven years in jail for “going beyond the realm of obedience”. Last year, deciding that he had been let off too lightly, a judge upped the punishment to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ imprisonment plus a fine of one million riyal (about £170,000).
What does our government think of this?

Asked about the flogging and jailing of Badawi, the Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay said in the Lords last week: “We maintain our view that freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression are core rights that lead to long-term stability and good governance.”

But? Yes, of course there was a but, and one to take the breath away: “My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population.”

Do they? Last Friday I asked the Foreign Office how the minister could be so sure. No answer has yet been forthcoming. Perhaps the “vast majority” of Saudis are indeed fanatical sadists who rejoice to see liberal bloggers whipped. Or, then again, perhaps they aren’t. No one knows: this is an absolute monarchy, not a marginal in the West Midlands being polled by Lord Ashcroft.

If I had to guess, the grotesque treatment of Badawi probably worries few in Saudi Arabia, but why Anelay had to say what she did, well…

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Laudato Si?

Pope against frackingCross-posted on the Corner:

There’s been some smart commentary in The Spectator from Damian Thompson, a former editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, on Laudato si the Pope’s eco-encyclical, due to be released tomorrow, but already extensively leaked. It’s (obviously) fair to wait to see what the final document actually says before making too detailed a critique, but the Vatican’s complaint that the leak was a “heinous act” would suggest that what has been leaked is not too far off the mark, and so some discussion seems more than reasonable.

Thompson’s comments are even-handed and I’d recommend reading them in full.

He also cites an article by Bjorn Lomborg in USA Today.

Here’s an extract:

A cruel truth is that almost every significant challenge on Earth hits the poor more than the wealthy: hunger, a lack of clean drinking water, malaria, indoor air pollution. The question then is how we make the most difference for the most vulnerable. A reasonable starting point is to listen to the world’s citizens. A United Nations survey of 7.5 million people found that many other issues are deemed more urgent. The top priorities were education, health, jobs, corruption and nutrition. Of 16 problems, the climate was rated the lowest priority.

One reason may be that today’s climate policies themselves have a cost, which predominantly hits the poor. Cuts in electricity consumption require price hikes that hurt the worst-off and elderly. Relying on expensive green energy sources like wind and solar power makes electricity pricier and less available for those who desperately need it. The biggest problem with today’s climate change policies is that they will cost a fortune for very little good. The toughest global warming policy today is the European Union’s commitment to cutting 20% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This will cost $235 billion. And cut temperatures at the end of the century by a measly 0.1ºF.

If Pope Francis is, like he likes to claim, interested in truly helping the world’s poorest Lomborg suggests that he look elsewhere, to improved access to contraception, say, and lowering restrictions on trade. Well, we already know what Francis thinks about the former (Fair enough, but that does not remove the topic as a legitimate area of focus when assessing his contribution to the debate) and, as for the latter, well, let’s just say Francis, sticking to his Peronist roots, is no fan of the mechanisms that have improved the lives of so many in the past few decades.


Lomborg is too diplomatic to say so, but the new encyclical creates the impression that – yet again – a Pope is genuflecting before the United Nations. Every recent pontiff has developed this bad habit. Their intentions are honourable, but I can’t help wondering whether the long Catholic-UN romance owes something to a natural fit between the corrupt Roman Curia and its sleazy counterparts in the UN.

In this document, however, Francis goes further than his predecessors: he endorses the UN’s diagnosis of and solutions to the complex problem of climate change. That’s his prerogative, but don’t let anyone tell you that he’s speaking ex cathedra. Jeb Bush, a Catholic, has every right to say – as he did this week – that, with all due respect, he doesn’t take his economic policies from the Supreme Pontiff.

Laudato si isn’t just about the environment: it’s a political statement by the Pope. He knows very well that climate change has been dragged into the Left vs Right culture wars, not only in the secular arena but also in the Catholic Church.

Indeed he does, and he’s making very clear where he stands.

Meanwhile, remind me again why Speaker Boehner has invited Pope Francis to address Congress.

Note: I still cannot link to URLs so:

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PalmyraJanice Turner:

In eliminating ancient architecture, ISIS is also destroying the architecture of minds. Until there is nothing between you and your judging, revengeful God. Not a single joyous distraction – of art or music or history or dance – to fill your heart. The work of 2,000 years gone in minutes. Nothing left but blood and sand.


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He Was a Joker, That Tom

Tom PaineThomas Paine:

The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum.



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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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