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Free Speech is not a ‘European Value’

VaginaprotestThe Local (Spain):

[Three Spanish feminists] are facing charges for crimes against religion for mimicking Spain’s Easter processions – replacing the Virgin Mary with a giant plastic vagina. Three women who carried a giant plastic vagina during a march to celebrate Worker’s Day, held every year on May 1st, are facing charges of “crimes against religious sentiment”.

The three women, who have not been named, allegedly mimicked Spain’s famous Holy Week processions that take place in the run up to Easter. The women “carried a plastic vagina a couple of metres high in the style of the Virgin Mary,” said the Seville-based judge.

Many Spanish religious festivals feature processions during which locals carry a statue of the Virgin Mary above their shoulders. The prosecution argue that the women made a mockery of this religious practice by lifting the plastic vagina onto their shoulders and parading it during a march organized by the Spanish union the General Workers’ Confederation (CGT) on May 1st 2014.

Some of the women also wore mantillas, the black lace veils commonly worn by devout Catholic women during religious celebrations in Spain while others sported the conical hoods commonly worn by the members of religious brotherhoods over Easter. The three women have been ordered to appear in court in February 2016 for a crime against religious sentiments….

Childish?  Sure, but it should not be criminal.

And as for the precedent that is being set, well…

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Jerry Brown Gets It Right

Jerry BrownCredit where’s credit is due: I am not exactly a member of the Jerry Brown fan club, but the California Governor’s decision to sign his state’s cautiously drafted assisted suicide law (perhaps too cautiously: to take one example, those with Locked-In Syndrome might still be left trapped in their hell) deserves some praise, not just for his signature, but also the reasons he gave for it.

The New York Times:

Gov. Jerry Brown of California gave a deeply personal explanation on Monday for his decision to sign legislation allowing terminally ill patients to obtain a lethal dose of painkillers from a doctor to hasten their death. When the law goes into effect next year, California will become the fifth state, after Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont, to enact and retain aid in dying or physician-assisted suicide laws. Many other states are considering similar laws; they ought to follow the example of these pioneers.

The California law has robust protections to protect patients from recklessly taking their own lives. Two different doctors must certify that the patient has six months or less to live before prescribing the drugs, patients must be able to swallow the medication themselves, and they must be of sound mind and not under coercion from their families. Hospitals and doctors can decline to participate.

Governor Brown, a Democrat, said that he had carefully read the opposition materials presented by a number of doctors, religious leaders and champions of disability rights and had considered religious arguments that shortening one’s life is sinful. He also consulted with a Catholic bishop, two of his own doctors, and former classmates and friends, who took a variety of positions.

In the end, he reflected on what he would want in the face of his own death. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” he wrote. “I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

Well done, Governor Brown. That said, it remains troubling to read that, even after the vote in the California legislature, Brown thought it worth considering ‘religious arguments that shortening one’s life is sinful’. Much as I might disagree with them, there are good practical arguments to be made against assisted suicide, but why, beyond a certain point in the democratic process in a nation with a constitution providing for the separation of church and state, religious arguments should be given special consideration escapes me.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how ‘religious liberty’ is under attack in the US, but that’s a stance that can easily turn into an insistence on religious privilege, an altogether less praiseworthy objective. Under the circumstances, the determination of various churchmen to ensure that all Californians should be forced to submit to the prescriptions of a faith that they might not share was more than a touch ironic.

And for all the other arguments that those churchmen make, that infamous slippery slope and so on, in the end their objections are religious, based, at their core, on the argument that the rights of their God trump those of the profoundly sick, an argument made none the more palatable by attempts to elevate ‘suffering’ into some sort of sacrament.

I posted a bit about this phenomenon the other day, but clear signs of a morbid cult of suffering can be found in an article in America magazine by Jessica Keating, the program director of the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame. It was written in response to the assisted suicide of Brittany Maynard in Oregon earlier this year.


For those who cannot see beyond the material horizon of death, suffering that does not appear to have proximate material benefit is emptied of the possibility of meaning.

Well yes.

Indeed, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are as much about unseemliness and fear of suffering as they are about death.

Pretty much.

With the advance of utilitarian idealism and medical technology, it seems that nothing but a peaceful death will be acceptable, wherein peace is reduced to the absence of pain, emotional and physical suffering or the loss of cognitive and physical abilities.

To describe the wish for a peaceful death as ‘utilitarian idealism’ is telling. Fundamentalism is what it is.

There is another narrative that is routinely neglected or, worse, rejected out of hand, a narrative grounded in the logic of the Cross. This is a narrative in which suffering unto death can be penetrated and transfigured by the mystery of love—particularly in cases like Ms. Maynard’s, when one is surrounded by loving family and friends. This transfiguration occurs in hidden intimacies. Choosing to die early forecloses such possibilities. Had she not taken her own life with the assistance of a physician, she, like many who suffer terminal illness, almost assuredly would have been stripped bare of her abilities, perhaps even her mind. Indeed, there was nothing material for her to gain in suffering, only loss. Almost assuredly there would have been no inspiring recovery story to tell at the end. Rather, Ms. Maynard might have become unproductive, unattractive, uncomfortable. She would just have been. But she would have been present in a web of relationships. Even had she fallen unconscious, she likely would have been read to, washed, dressed and kissed. She would have been gently caressed, held and wept over. She would simply have been loved to the end.

That was a destiny that was hers to choose or to reject. ‘The logic of the Cross’, backed by coercion, would have denied her that freedom, that autonomy, that dignity, that relief.

As I said, ‘religious privilege’.


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Kim DavisWhile there is something more than a little unattractive about the relish with which the jailing of Kim Davis, the errant county clerk (a Democrat, as it happens) unwilling to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, has been celebrated by some, she has both abused her position and provided a useful reminder of the fact that many of those now calling for ‘religious freedom’ (a good thing) really want religious privilege (not so much). So far as Ms. Davis is concerned God’s law (as she understands it) not only trumps the law of the land, but is something that she is prepared to impose on others. But Thomas More is, mercifully, long dead. That sort of thinking is more commonly associated these days with the realm of Shariah than the West.

And those in the US pushing for an expansive definition of what they call religious freedom should pay more attention to stories that illustrate the direction in which things are going, stories like this:

CNN: A Muslim flight attendant says she was suspended by ExpressJet for refusing to serve alcohol in accordance with her Islamic faith. In a bid to get her job back, Charee Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday for the revocation of a reasonable religious accommodation.

She wants to do her job without serving alcohol in accordance with her Islamic faith — just as she was doing before her suspension, her lawyer said.

“What this case comes down to is no one should have to choose between their career and religion and it’s incumbent upon employers to provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely,” said Lena Masri, an attorney with Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Stanley, 40, started working for ExpressJet nearly three years ago. About two years ago she converted to Islam. This year she learned her faith prohibits her from not only consuming alcohol but serving it, too, Masri said.

“Noone should have to choose between their career and religion?”



Masri and Davis are pointing the way to a sectarian, Balkanized America, a path that will not end well.

Davis should resign. And so should Stanley.


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prometheusWriting in Reason, Brendan O’Neill takes a more secular look at the Pope’s eco-encyclical:

Here’s an extract:

[W]hat will be the end result of our wicked urge to own things? Mayhem, of course. All the pollution produced in the making of our things will increase “the threat of extreme weather events,” [Pope Francis] says, echoing in green-friendly language the Old Testament God’s promise of floods as punishment for mankind’s sinful antics. We should also gird ourselves for the “catastrophic consequences of social unrest,” since “our obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.”

…The Vatican is now a fully-fledged green institution. Which isn’t surprising. The demonisation of human hubris and promotion of eco-meekness that is at the heart of the green ideology chimes perfectly with the asceticism of Catholicism.

The similarities between the pieties of environmentalism and the diktats of Catholicism are striking. Environmentalism rehabilitates in secular drag the stinging rebukes of humanity once delivered by pointy-hatted men of God.

Christianity’s end-of-worldism is getting a new airing in the apocalypse obsession of greens, who warn of an eco-unfriendly End of Days. Its promise of Godly judgement for our wicked ways has been replaced by greens’ promise that we’ll one day be judged for our planetary destructiveness. A leading British green has fantasised about “international criminal tribunals” for climate-change deniers, who will be “partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths.”

The Word of God has become the authority of The Science (greens always say “The” before “Science,” to signal its definitiveness.) “Science has spoken,” said Ban Ki-Moon last year, in a speech on why we should all obsess over climate change, just as Catholics insist the “Lord has spoken” so STFU. Greens breathe life back into Catholic guilt, too, urging us to feel bad about everything from flying abroad to eating strawberries out of season. Carbon-calculating, where people measure their every single production of carbon, is like Catholic guilt on steroids.

Of course, you can offset your carbon by planting a tree or something—what Catholics call penance. In the past, rich believers paid priests loads of money for an Indulgence, which absolved them of their non-mortal sins—today the eco-concerned wealthy spend their cash on offsetting their carbon farts, the modern equivalent of an Indulgence.

This is why Francis is so drawn to environmentalism: he sees it as a more acceptable, 21st-century way of pushing the guilt and meekness and anti-Promethean outlook that the Vatican has long been hawking.

O’Neill is right, and that’s every reason to be worried. Apocalyptic fantasy, the pursuit of ascetism and “anti-Prometheanism” (From Eve’s “sin” to the persecution of Galileo to Frankenstein to today’s GMO scares) have sold well for thousands of years. There’s no reason to think that they will not continue to do so.

Pope Francis’s document is poorly argued, destructive in intent and adrift from commonsense; it will doubtless be adopted with enthusiam.


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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.




Jamila Bey at CPAC

Atheist Group Makes CPAC Debut:

Jamila Bey is a mom, a business owner, a Pittsburgh native—and a board member of the group American Atheists. She also, apparently, identifies as conservative. After introducing herself to the crowd, Bey used her three-minute spot to invite audience members to drop by the American Atheist table in the exhibition hall and learn more.

Jamila Bey’s Twitter.

ChaplinTake some superstition, throw in a hint of xenophobia and add a savvy PR touch…

USA Today:

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!

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Not Quite So Focused on the Constitution Now

pope-obamaCross-posted on the Corner (under a different title).

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

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.

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Bishops for ‘Executive Action’

pope-obamaWith 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’.

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The Washington Post’s reporter, Arelis Hernández, doesn’t seem quite to realize just how outrageous this story is about churches angling for exemptions from a state-mandated stormwater fee in Prince George’s County, Maryland:

Thomas and other pastors also have agreed to start “green” ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations.

In exchange for the commitments both as to physical upgrades to church property and the right sorts of exhortation addressed to their congregations, the churches are getting very tangible benefits, some coming directly out of the pockets of Prince George’s County taxpayers (emphasis added):

So far, about 30 churches have applied. Forestville Redeemer was the first. They are planning to install rain barrels, build rain gardens, plant trees and, perhaps, replace their blacktop with permeable pavement. The government will cover most of the cost. In return, a fee that was estimated at $744 a year will be reduced to “virtually nothing,” Ortiz said.

Organized churches play a central role in P.G. County politics, so it is not especially surprising to see a special deal cut for them. What we might not have expected was how openly pastors were willing to trade the content of sermons for government cash on the (rain) barrel. More coverage: WBAL, Derek Hunter/Daily Caller, and Ira Stoll, who writes:

But the bigger point is a problem with big government and taxes in general. The more burdensome the taxes are, the greater is the temptation of those crushed by them to trade their freedom and independence for a discount on them, and the more power the government has to dictate behavior. The tax becomes not a way to raise revenue for the government, but a method for exerting control.

Let’s hope religion-in-public-life pundits don’t pull their punches on exactly how bad this sort of deal is. They should be at least as upset as those of us on the secular side.

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