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Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir PutinCross-posted on Ricochet.

Having long lost out in his efforts to woo Russia’s liberals, and increasingly struggling with opposition in Russia’s metropolitan centers, Vladimir Putin has instead being appealing to Russia’s ‘silent majority’.

I wrote about this for National Review a week or two ago, noting how this latest pivot by Putin has been winning him some (mistaken) approval on the right over here too.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times has more on Vladimir Putin, conservative:

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”

In his state of the nation address in mid-December, Mr. Putin also portrayed Russia as a staunch defender of “traditional values” against what he depicted as the morally bankrupt West. Social and religious conservatism, the former KGB officer insisted, is the only way to prevent the world from slipping into “chaotic darkness.”

…Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people. In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.

Well, Kirill may be a thoroughly disreputable figure but he is (broadly speaking) right about the stupidity of not allowing people to display religious symbols at work. That said, this claim, to put it mildly, is a stretch:

… Other figures within the Orthodox Church have gone further in criticizing the West. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, suggested that the modern-day West is no better for a Christian believer than the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities executed some 200,000 clergy and believers from 1917 to 1937, according to a 1995 presidential committee report. Thousands of churches were destroyed, and those that survived were turned into warehouses, garages or museums of atheism.

To argue that Christians in the West today are treated in a manner in any way comparable to that is to insult the memories of those murdered (not to speak of the countless others subjected to ‘lesser’ persecution) for their faith in the Soviet Union, and to trivialize their fate.

Back to the Washington Times:

…The Kremlin’s encouragement of traditional values has sparked a rise in Orthodox vigilantism. Fringe groups such as the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, an ultraconservative movement whose slogan is “Orthodoxy or Death,” are gaining prominence.

Patriarch Kirill has honored the group’s leader, openly anti-Semitic monarchist Leonid Simonovich, for his services to the Orthodox Church. The Banner Bearers, who dress in black paramilitary uniforms festooned with skulls, regularly confront gay and liberal activists on the streets of Moscow.

Although Mr. Putin has never made a secret of what he says is his deep Christian faith, his first decade in power was largely free of overtly religious rhetoric. Little or no attempt was made to impose a set of values on Russians or lecture to the West on morals.

However, since his inauguration for a third presidential term in May 2012, the increasingly authoritarian leader has sought to reach out to Russia’s conservative, xenophobic heartland for support.

It has proved a rich hunting ground.

Indeed it has.

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Jan/14

16

Satanic Versus

SatanicRitualJoseph Laycock of Religion Dispatches talks here to (and about) “Lucien Greaves”, who is, apparently, the man behind the piece of Satanic kitsch now planned for Oklahoma.

Disappointingly, Greaves turns out to be a rather wishy-washy devil worshiper:

In 2005, Greaves had lunch with Peter H. Gilmore, high priest of the Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey. Greaves felt that a cultural shift had occurred with the rise of the New Atheist movement, led by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and that Satanists should participate in this new conversation about religion in the public sphere. As a cognitive scientist, he was suspicious of Dawkins’ claims that humanity can live without religion since he felt that humans are “hard wired” to interpret the world through a rich language of symbol, narrative, and ritual. So Greaves imagined Satanism as a religion that could combine Dawkins’ aversion to supernaturalism with powerful and compelling symbols—what might be called a “sacralized” atheism.

Greaves is dead right about the hard wiring, but somehow I cannot see old Nick as an entirely plausible object of veneration to be used in the rites of—no God help us—“sacralized” atheism. There’s just too much baggage there, souls in torment, fire, brimstone, apocalypse, Rosemary’s Baby, you know how it goes.

Read on further, and it turns out that Greaves is using his supposedly Satanic agenda to make a decidedly political point.

Greaves was eventually approached by The Satanic Temple, a group that shared his political goals and saw Satanism as a “poison pill” that could be used to check the erosion of the establishment clause by reminding the public that privileges afforded to Christians could also be afforded to Satanists….

Future plans involve legally ordaining ministers and using the free exercise clause to claim privileges for Satanists. Satanic ministers could, for example, illegally marry a gay couple and then, when the state refuses to recognize the marriage, claim that their free exercise rights have been violated.

So satire then?

Laycock continues:

To gain any legal traction, Greaves will have to demonstrate that he is sincere about Satanism and that these projects are more than just pranks, which may prove difficult for a newly formed group that denies any belief in the supernatural. His opponents understand this too. Greaves described how, before his work with the Satanic Temple, advocates of SRA produced conspiracy theories about him, claiming that only someone secretly connected to criminal Satanism would challenge their claims. But now that he’s demanded Constitutional rights for Satanists, his detractors have reversed course. In an interview with Fox News he was repeatedly challenged as not being a real Satanist. Even the Church of Satan has joined the queue to call Greaves a phony Satanist.

In an article for Time, the Church’s High Priestess Magistra Peggy Nadramia, claimed that Greaves is not an authentic Satanist and merely “riding the coattails” of the Church of Satan, adding that “The Church of Satan is decidedly uninterested in politics.”

Greaves dismissed these attacks, asserting that preserving their status as the monolithic embodiment of Satanism appears to be the Church’s only goal. For his own part, Greaves claims he has no interest in being the public face of Satanism and that struggles over leadership are at odds with Satanism’s anti-authoritarian philosophy.

Satanism has an “anti-authoritarian” philosophy? That’s not how it looked in The Omen.

The conclusion to this piece though is well worth pondering

Greaves feels that a community centered around Satan—not as a literal entity but a potent metaphor for values that he holds sacred—is more than just a philosophy and should enjoy the same Constitutional protections afforded to religion. If the Satanic Temple’s campaign has any traction it will force a public discussion not simply on the Constitutional issues surrounding religion, but on the perennial problem of what religion is.

Once-in a saner era-there would have been no problem at all about defining what a ‘proper’ religion was. Well, not too much, anyway. But now…

To repeat the point that I made the other day, those pursuing a highly expansive definition of “religious freedom” in today’s very changed America may well not appreciate where such arguments may lead.

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Jan/14

11

The Devil Rides Out

Satan OklahomaCould some Satanic kitsch be about to descend upon Oklahoma City?

The Daily News reports:

A satanic group unveiled designs Monday for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan it wants to put at the Oklahoma state Capitol, where a Ten Commandments monument was placed in 2012.

The New York-based Satanic Temple formally submitted its application to a panel that oversees the Capitol grounds, including an artist’s rendering that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard that’s often used as a symbol of the occult. In the rendering, Satan is sitting in a pentagram-adorned throne with smiling children next to him.

“The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond,” temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said in a statement. “The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”

The Satanic Temple maintains that the Oklahoma Legislature’s decision to authorize a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol opened the door for its statue. The Ten Commandments monument was placed on the north steps of the building in 2012, and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued to have it removed…

And (as the Daily News had revealed earlier) Satan might not be the only new arrival:

Days after a Satanist group expressed a desire to construct a monument on the grounds of Oklahoma’s state capitol, a Hindu organization announced that they would also like a slice of that religious freedom pie.

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, announced plans to erect a statue of the revered Hindu god Hanuman, the monkey king, outside the capitol.

Hanuman is an important deity in the Hindu pantheon. He is revered for his life of service and his devotion to the powerful god Rama.

And there are other candidates to stand alongside the Ten Commandments too.

Somehow, I don’t think that the Oklahoma State Legislature had this quite in mind. In an age of multiculturalism, a strict view of the separation of church and state may be about to win some unexpected converts.

Man plans, God laughs.

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Jan/14

10

Church and States

Novodevichy, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Russia’s first modern ‘official’ ideology was developed in the early 19th Century, primarily as a response to the potential liberal challenge from both home and abroad, and was summed up in the words Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality. And by nationality, it meant Russian nationality, a key concern for a czar presiding over a multinational empire.

Some traditions die hard. Here’s the Kyiv Post reporting on the disagreement between Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a firm supporter of the Putin regime, and the Ukrainian patriarch, Filaret:

Commenting on the statement of Russian Christian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill that the EuroMaidan demonstrations are a threat to the spiritual unity of Ukrainians and Russians, the Patriarch of Kyiv and all Rus-Ukraine Filaret stated: “This is not true.”

“If we take the idea that Kirill defends – Rusky Mir (Russian World) – it is not unity, it is empire, wrapped in a nice package. In fact, it is about creating a new empire. The Customs Union is the beginning,” said Filaret, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revival of an economic and political union of former Soviet republics including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Putin also hopes to include Ukraine, the second largest former Soviet republic, in the grouping.

According to Filaret, “the truth is to practice the Orthodox faith, and each nation will have its own independent church, as required by the canons of the church.”

I’ve no idea about the canon law, but Filaret is clearly onto something about the politics of all this.

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Dec/13

10

Religious Freedom!

OmenI’ll admit it. This made me laugh.

The Guardian reports:

In their zeal to tout their faith in the public square, conservatives in Oklahoma may have unwittingly opened the door to a wide range of religious groups, including Satanists who are seeking to put their own statue next to a Ten Commandments monument outside the statehouse. The Republican-controlled legislature in the state known as the buckle of the Bible Belt authorised the privately funded Ten Commandments monument in 2009. It was placed on the Capitol grounds last year despite criticism from legal experts, who questioned its constitutionality. The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit seeking its removal.

But the New York-based Satanic Temple saw an opportunity. It notified the state’s Capitol Preservation Commission that it wants to donate a monument and plans to submit one of several possible designs this month, said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple.

“We believe that all monuments should be in good taste and consistent with community standards,” Greaves wrote in letter to state officials. “Our proposed monument, as an homage to the historic/literary Satan, will certainly abide by these guidelines.”

And the little ones are not left out:

Greaves said one potential design involves a pentagram, a satanic symbol, while another is meant to be an interactive display for children.

For the children!

Meanwhile…

The Republican state representative Mike Ritze, who spearheaded the push for the Ten Commandments monument and whose family helped pay the $10,000 for its construction, declined to comment on the Satanic Temple’s effort, but Greaves credited Ritze for opening the door to his group’s proposal.

“He’s helping a satanic agenda grow more than any of us possibly could,” Greaves said. “You don’t walk around and see too many satanic temples around, but when you open the door to public spaces for us, that’s when you’re going to see us.”

The Oklahoma legislature has taken other steps that many believe blur the line that divides church and state. The House speaker said he wants to build a chapel inside the Capitol to celebrate Oklahoma’s “Judeo-Christian heritage”. Several lawmakers have said they want to allow nativity scenes and other religious-themed symbols in public schools. The Republican representative Bobby Cleveland, who plans to introduce one such bill next year, said many Christians feel they are under attack as a result of political correctness. He dismissed the notion of Satanists erecting a monument at the Capitol.

“I think these Satanists are a different group,” Cleveland said. “You put them under the nut category.”

Well yes, but…

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Dec/13

5

For Thee, But Not For Me (Again)

U.S. President Obama and Cardinal Dolan pictured during 2012 Alfred E. Smith Dinner in New YorkFox News:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said Sunday the Catholic church remains opposed to ObamaCare in large part because it requires businesses to offer health-insurance plans that include no-cost contraception.

Dolan, the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the church’s position is a difficult one, considering it has supported universal, affordable and comprehensive health care since the early 1990s.
“We bishops have really been in kind of a tough place,” Dolan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That’s how far we go in this battle. We’re not Johnny-come-latelies.”

He also warned President Obama that the contraception mandate in his signature health care law might “push aside” some of his biggest supporters.

“We want to be with you. We want to be strong, and if you keep doing this, we’re not going to be able to be one of your cheerleaders,” said Dolan, several days after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the mandate by the Christian-owned retail chain Hobby Lobby.

So the Roman Catholic Church wants universal healthcare, paid for by taxpayers. That’s a debatable point of view, but far from outlandish. But then the church wants to opt out of those parts of this supposedly universal healthcare that it does not like. Everyone else, of course, has to lump it.

That’s religious privilege, not “religious freedom”.

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Nov/13

28

Religious Freedom!

Snake handlingIt’s not just the HHS contraception mandate. Another front opens up in the ‘religious freedom’ debate. The Daily Telegraph reports:

As beads of sweat slithered down his temples, Andrew Hamblin stared in wide-eyed wonder at the three-foot timber rattlesnake he had thrust towards his congregation.

“I am a soldier in the army of the Lord,” he boomed in a thick southern drawl, stomping a foot on the hardwood floor. “And the enemy has been fighting me this week harder than ever before”.

In this shed tucked into a dark valley of the Appalachian Mountains, before 60 adoring followers speaking in tongues, throwing up their hands and dabbing tears from their eyes, Mr Hamblin was breaking the law. The 22-year-old preacher is facing up to a year in prison after being charged with illegally possessing 53 venomous snakes seized from his church by Tennessee wildlife agency officers earlier this month. Yet the charismatic young pastor, part of a century-old Pentecostal tradition in the region that takes literally an instruction in the Gospel of Mark that “they shall take up serpents”, remains piously defiant.

Since appearing in court, he has continued wielding poisonous snakes during his raucous services at Tabernacle Church of God, after fresh creatures were snuck inside by his allies.

“I’m willing to fight this, because here in the United States we’re supposed to be guaranteed our religious freedom under the first amendment of the constitution…”We’re Christians who believe in being saved by the blood of Jesus Christ just like any other – it’s not like we’re part of some different religion. I do feel it is an attack upon our religious freedom.”

His followers claim they are victims of a state crackdown. Mr Hamblin’s mentor Jamie Coots, a a preacher based just over the border in Kentucky, had three rattlesnakes and two copperheads confiscated after being stopped while driving home through Tennessee earlier this year.

Mr Hamblin said he was called on by God to handle the creatures, and that their appearances were shows of divine power. He likened the practice to “Catholics using wine”.

Yet Matthew Cameron, a wildlife agency spokesman, dismissed all talk of persecution and said Mr Hamblin’s storage of the snakes in a back room was simply a serious “public safety hazard”.

“We treat him just as we would anyone else found to be storing venomous snakes in their home,” said Mr Cameron, who stressed that zoos and circuses must obtain permits to possess snakes in the state. Several pastors have died from bites in recent years. Mack Wolford of West Virginia, who led one of the best-attended snake-handling churches out of an estimated 125 in the region, made international headlines after being killed by a timber rattlesnake in May last year. During Mr Hamblin’s service on Friday night, several young children, including some of his own five, wandered around just yards from the snake’s box, while their parents prayed and sang.

Mr Hamblin stressed that only adults may handle the creatures. “I can understand not wanting to endanger another’s life,” he said. “That’s perfectly understandable. But in 100 years, there have been only 10 deaths in Tennessee from serpents.” He is himself unable to make a fist with his right hand, after being bitten on a knuckle in 2010 and ending up in hospital. “I was at death’s door,” he said. “Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.

Yet God told him to continue, he said, and showed that he would be safe by allowing another snake to bite him on the back of the neck soon after. While Mr Hamblin’s shirt was soaked in blood, he escaped serious injury. “I never swelled, I never itched, I never suffered nothing but bleeding,” he recalled. And his congregants are intensely devoted to his style of worship. “Just weeks ago I was far from God,” said Jeremy Henegar, 20, with a piercing stare.

“Whisky, beer or moonshine – I was a full-blown alcoholic. But when I took up serpents I was right there in the presence of God. I felt approval for the first time. What once was deadly, he made harmless.”

While dozens of his fellow pastors hold their services in secret and close their doors to outsiders, Mr Hamblin is determined to bring his sect into the mainstream. He hopes to found America’s first snake-handling mega-church. He is due back in court next month, and may face additional charges. Yet his followers have no intention of allowing the state to stop them. “If I were to be sent to be prison,” he said, “boy – I think that would set off such a blast”.

Skeptical as I am about so many of the claims made in the name of ‘religious freedom’ (too often a crude assertion of religious privilege), there’s a part of me that hopes that Tennessee can, through regulation (Proper storage facilities? No children present?), find a way to accommodate this little slice of the old, weird America.

Or perhaps I’m just over-influenced by Mr. Hamblin supplying me with a lovely, fantastic, nutty image so saturated in (probably unconscious) disrespect for contemporary pieties that it merits a hallelujah or two:

“I was at death’s door. Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.

Perfect.

America!

Happy Thanksgiving.

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San Marino stampContrary to some breathless reports in the conservative press, the Obama administration isn’t downgrading U.S. diplomatic relations with the Vatican. As the State Department’s explanation notes, 1) there’s no downgrade of representation or staff reduction; 2) the ambassador’s residence isn’t moving; 3) the move of office staff will protect them better from terrorism, and within the guarded U.S. compound they’ll be in a separate building with separate address and entrance; 4) all countries with Vatican embassies already locate those embassies outside VC territory and many co-locate with their general Rome embassy serving Italy.

However, although the Obama administration isn’t downgrading U.S. ambassadorial relations with the Vatican, it *should* downgrade them. From 1867 to 1984 the U.S. had no such relations (which of course was consistent with keeping up a free flow of communications between the two entities) and it was a lapse for President Reagan to depart from this sound approach. Religions are not countries and we rightly would not consider opening embassy-level relations with other religious entities. Vatican City has a population estimated at 840, a long way short of the historically genuine if small local populations of statelets like San Marino and Liechtenstein (about 30,000 each). And even if we agreed to give Vatican City the same treatment as these much larger statelets we’d want to change current practice. As a friend writes to explain:

Our ambassador to France is also our ambassador to Monaco (without a permanent physical plant onsite in Monaco) and ditto for Spain/Andorra and various other combinations. The Vatican (presumably for fear of opening the floodgates) doesn’t accept ambassadors who are also their sending country’s ambassador to Italy (although San Marino is not so picky) so some smaller countries have e.g. their ambassador to Switzerland also accredited to the Vatican.

By the way, I didn’t know this: “In 2011, Ireland closed their embassy to the Holy See entirely, and rely on visiting envoys to keep up diplomatic ties.” But it seems to be true.

No tags

Nov/13

3

Vladimir & Kirill

Fili, Mar 93 (AS)There were some here in the US, particularly a few on the Religious Right, who failed to appreciate the extent to which the Pussy Rioters’ decision to stage their brief event in a cathedral was not just some childish blasphemy, but a very deliberate protest against the way in which the Russian Orthodox church was using, and being used by, the Putin Regime, a process which some might consider to be rather more of a descration than a few seconds of mime near an altar.

Now here’s this from Window on Eurasia:

President Vladimir Putin at Valdai and Patriarch Kirill at the more recent World Russian Popular Assembly chose exactly the same themes: “isolationism and the opposition of Russia to the West, Russia’s moral supremacy over other countries and especially ‘rotten’ Western democracy, and Russia’s special path as a great power.”

Taken together, Roman Lunkin, a leading Russian specialist on religious affairs at the Institute of Europe of the Academy of Sciences, says, these constitute “a farewell to democracy,” something that Kirill has been promoting since long before he became patriarch but that until now Russian leaders would not have permitted themselves to say so explicitly…

In speech after speech…Kirill has spoken about the unique qualities of the Russian people and about “the need to build a corporate Orthodox state on the basis of the concept of ‘Russian civilization.’” Earlier, he spoke about democracy only as “the harmonization of the interests of the authorities and the people.” Now, he has dispensed with that.

Moreover, this year as he has in the recent past, the patriarch rejected the notion of universal human rights and said that “the observance of traditional moral values and way of live” must have “primacy,” even if that requires the use of force by the state itself, views that have attracted many Russian nationalists to his side, even if they are not especially religious.

And, Lunkin continues, “it is no accident that the patriarch cited the philosopher Ivan Ilin who spoke for the establishment of a corporate-social strata national-orthodox state” and who infamously but consistently “greeted at the outset national socialism in Germany” under Adolf Hitler.…

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Oct/13

5

‘Religious Freedom’ (Again)

The Daily Mail:

Two teenage Muslim pupils have been put into ‘isolation’ and banned from lessons after refusing to shave off their beards for religious reasons.

Mount Carmel Roman Catholic High School, in Accrington, Lancashire, has said the two 14-year-olds are in breach of the dress code, which bans beards as well as false nails, fake tan, make-up, dyed hair and inappropriate jewellery.

But the boys’ families have said they are suffering discrimination because beards are a symbol of faith and their religion forbids them to shave…

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