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Jul/14

5

Pressing Some Buttons

Exorcism?The Raw Story:

The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, giving its blessing to a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who claim to save the possessed from Satan.

The association’s practice of exorcism is now recognised under canon law, the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper reported Thursday.

Pope Francis often insists on the need to fight “Satan” and “demons”, and was captured in dramatic images last year placing his hands on the head of a boy in a wheelchair who appeared to slump at his touch — an act of prayer exorcists claim was intended to free the victim from the devil.

The first association of exorcists was founded by Father Gabriele Amorth, the Holy See’s chief exorcist for almost 30 years, who has described intense sessions with possessed people who scream, blaspheme and spit shards of glass.

He set up an Italian exorcists association in 1991, after which he began organising meetings with devil fighters from other countries, leading to the establishment of the international group.

Francesco Bamonte, the head of the association, told L’Osservatore that the recognition was “a cause for joy for the whole Church,” saying that “exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer”.

The Middle Ages, wrote that old crank Carl Jung, “live on… merrily”.

And so they do.

They are good box office too. As this cannily populist pope understands very well.

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May/14

11

Populist Pope, Populist Religion

satan_the_devil_painting_by_Michael_PacherThe Washington Post reports:

VATICAN CITY — A darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness, Pope Francis is hardly known for fire and brimstone.

Well, if that is what he is “hardly known for”, people have not been paying attention. Listen to what he has, at least implicitly, to say about those who disagree with his pose on immigration (his speech on Lampedusa would be a good place to start) or economics, and there’s quite a bit of ‘fire and brimstone’, at least as that term is metaphorically understood.

But for this pope, there’s more to this than metaphor.

The Washington Post explains:

After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.

Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces­ of evil at his beck and call.

Last year, for instance, Francis laid hands on a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons, in what many saw as an impromptu act of cleansing. A few months later, he praised a group long viewed by some as the crazy uncles of the Roman Catholic Church — the International Association of Exorcists — for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”

….Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the Devil. But in recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.

Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the father of lies.” Now, his focus on the Devil is raising eyebrows even within the normally unquestioning walls of Vatican City.

“Pope Francis never stops talking about the Devil; it’s constant,” said one senior bishop in Vatican City who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “Had Pope Benedict done this, the media would have clobbered him.”

Yet, as with so many of his actions, Francis may simply be correctly reading the winds of the Catholic Church…

As a good, canny populist should.

Not so coincidentally, the Devil (or, more accurately, fear of the old monster) has always been a good recruiting sergeant for clergy looking to fill their pews.

And so the show goes on:

Although it is difficult to measure, Vatican officials talk about a resurgence of mystical rites in the church, including exorcism — or the alleged act of evicting demons from a living host. Cardinals in Milan; Turin, Italy; and Madrid, for instance, recently moved to expand the number of exorcists in their dioceses to cope with what they have categorized as surging demand.

But by focusing on old-school interpretations of the Devil, some progressive theologians complain, the pope is undermining his reputation as a leader who in so many other ways appears to be more in step with modern society than his predecessor.

“He is opening the door to superstition,” said Vito Mancuso, a Catholic theologian and writer.

Among the things lurking behind that door is the alleged gateway to hell guarded by the small cluster of officially anointed exorcists of the Roman Catholic Church.

By most accounts, the ranks of official exorcists number between 500 and 600 in a global church of more than 1 billion Catholics, with the vast majority operating in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This week, at the ninth and largest Vatican-sanctioned convention on exorcism, attendees gushed about the fresh recognition being afforded the field. Almost 200 delegates — most of them priests and nuns — from more than two dozen nations talked about how Satanic cults are spreading like wildfire in the age of the Internet.

…During the conference, the Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. “Two lesbians,” he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head….

Lesbians! Throwing chocolates!

Well, it beats projectile vomiting.

The Middle Ages, wrote that old crank Carl Jung, “live on… merrily”.

And so they do.

They are good box office too.

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Apr/14

19

As We Await the End Times

harun-yahyaCross-posted on Ricochet.

The art of writing a first paragraph is said to lie in the ability to draw the reader in.

I would say that Lily Lynch’s remarkable new piece in The Balkanist passes that test very well indeed:

Harun Yahya is said to be the messianic leader of an apocalyptic Islamic sex cult. He’s also the owner of a Turkish television station called A9, and the host of his own religious talk show, which just might make your eyeballs pop out of your skull. The entire set and everyone on it glow like irradiated ultraviolet rays. Five amazing looking women usually co-host the show, wearing things like false rainbow eyelashes, wigs, and diamond-studded Versace bondage gear. The backdrop is a blinding fake lavender cityscape. Conversations often focus on how materialism and Darwinism are dead, how to recognize the face of a real Muslim, and how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — with whom the host is rumored to enjoy friendly relations — is “one of the important figures for the End Times”.

This is a story with everything: murky political connections, the Huffington Post, creationism, “a pair of hunky twins named Onder and Ender”, a harem, Madonna, aliens (maybe), conspiracy theories, abandoned conspiracy theories, litigation and a zoo.

Wait, there’s more…

But you will have to read it for yourselves.

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Apr/14

18

Superstition, Updated

CluelessThere’s nothing new about the notion of wrapping food in myth or taboo, but our species can be inventive when it comes to finding new ways to do it:

The Copenhagen Post reports:

Diets low in fat, carbohydrates and sugar have become more and more popular for people who want to live healthily and lose weight, but the trend may be dangerous for children.

Experts from the national association against eating disorders, LMS, warn that a growing number of children, primarily girls aged 8-10, are malnourished due to strict bans in their homes against certain foods.

“The girls who consult me are literally afraid to eat butter, white bread or pasta. It’s poison to them,” eating disorder therapist Pernille Ungermann told Berlingske.

Meanwhile, here’s Alicia Silverstone, adding a little technophobia into the mix:

Alicia Silverstone has revealed that her two-year-old son Bear has never been vaccinated for the usual run of childhood diseases including chickenpox and measles or had a ‘drop of medicine’ because she prefers a natural approach.

The 39-year-old vegan actress writes in her new parenting guide The Kind Mama that she believes a ‘plant-based diet’ is an ‘essential part of well-being’ and works with a doctor who shares these views.In an interview with People magazine Ms Silverstone, who is married to musician Christopher Jarecki, says that she feeds her son a light miso soup for breakfast and he has ‘never been sick.’

…If Bear has a snuffly nose she uses eucalyptus oil to help him breathe more easily and feeds him cooled Japanese ‘ume kuzu tea’ if his temperature runs high. Another thing she recommends is to soak a child’s socks in vinegar or cold water and wrap them around the feet to ‘bring down the fever.’

A ‘cooled cabbage leaf on the back of a baby’s head’ is another suggestion…For earache Ms Silverstone says squeezing ‘a few drops of breast milk’ into an infant’s ear will ‘help alleviate discomfort and clear the tubes.’

Okey dokey.

And the vaccine thing is not cool, not cool at all.

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Apr/14

16

Two Faiths

Library of CongressWhile there are perfectly good scientific reasons for accepting the theory of AGW, the certainty, the fervor and the moralizing displayed by some in the climate change crusade look very much like a form of religious belief. Under the circumstances it’s no surprise to see this new faith incorporated into the teachings of more conventional churches.

The Guardian has an excellent recent example of this phenomenon:

Religious groups have urged Pope Francis to back a campaign to encourage millions of people, organisations and investors to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry. Multi-faith groups in Australia and North America have sent a letter to the pope saying it is “immoral” to profit from fossil fuels. The letter, shown exclusively to the Guardian, says 80% of global fossil fuel reserves must “stay in the ground” if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.

The letter sent to the pope’s offices in February is co-signed by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and US-based GreenFaith.

…GreenFaith executive director, the Rev Fletcher Harper, said: “Pope Francis’s support would provide a powerful validation of the moral rightness of divestment and reinvestment in response to the climate crisis, and would immediately signal the need for dramatic action. It would be of vital significance.”

The modish and tacky elision of ‘green’ and ‘faith’ is revealing enough, but a visit to GreenFaith’s website fills out the picture still further. It makes for grimly entertaining reading:

Worship leaders can integrate “raw” natural elements into worship services. For example, worship can include containers of water, earth, plants, leaves from local trees, or other natural elements placed in the worship space and visible to all. These natural elements can beautify a sanctuary and deepen worshipers’ relationship with God.

And so it goes on.

I was, however intrigued by this detail lurking in the Guardian piece:

The letter to the pope was sent a week before Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was appointed to an influential senior position within the Catholic church and the Vatican as the head of a new secretariat for the economy.

Cardinal Pell has expressed extreme scepticism of the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change. In 2011 he delivered the annual lecture of the UK’s sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Nigel Lawson, and claimed carbon dioxide was “not a pollutant” and animals would not notice a doubling of atmospheric CO2.
He said climate change campaigners were following a “mythology” which he said was attractive to the “religionless and spiritually rootless”.

I don’t agree with the cardinal on CO2 (the argument is considerably more complex than that), but I do agree with him (I agree with a cardinal!) when he talks about the appeal of a certain type of environmentalism to the “spiritually rootless”.

Like it or not, most people possess a religious instinct. To borrow that old X-Files line, they “want to believe” : greenery can fill that gap. It can, quite clearly, also garnish the faith of those who have already found a pew.

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Apr/14

6

Il Faut Cultiver

solovetskyEvery man, said Frederick the Great, must get to heaven in his own way. Fair enough, but this ‘workshop’ (once a word with positive associations, but now….) is probably not for me:

Sacred Gardens Workshop May 2014 : a practical & philosophical workshop

A three-day, non-residential workshop on the universal philosophy, geometry and symbolism of the sacred gardens of the world. The workshop will explore how this knowledge may be applied when designing gardens today. Taking place in the beautiful and historic City of Wells in Somerset it will include illustrated talks with an introduction to Nature’s profound spiritual symbolism, practical geometry and design classes and an opportunity to explore the Cathedral grounds and beautiful Bishops’ Garden.

Cost: £360 per person
(Includes a delicious freshly prepared organic & vegetarian light lunch)

Organic: of course!
Vegetarian: Naturally!

Canada is arguably the apotheosis of modern Western multiculturalism (nations like Belgium are not in any sort of honeymoon phase obviously with the idea of inter-cultural amity). This article in The New York Times highlights the fundamental problem at the heart of this sort of political and social project, Canada Grapples With Adapting to Minority Needs:

At York University in Toronto, a furor erupted in January over a request by a student taking an online sociology course to forgo an on-campus session, because he said his religious beliefs did not permit casual contact with women.

At York, the professor refused to grant the student’s request, believing that it would be a dangerous precedent, labeling women as second-class citizens….

“It all goes back to the fundamental values the university has put in place that shape the culture — equity, diversity and inclusion — and tying them back to excellence,” said Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, the University of Toronto’s anti-racism and cultural diversity officer. “We look at what we need to do as a university to give students access so they can perform with excellence.

It is passé to point out the difficulties in accommodating both gender egalitarianism and religious traditions for which strong differentiation in sex roles and interaction are mandatory (e.g., Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and some conservative variants of Protestantism). Rather, I want to highlight the general idea of inclusion and diversity. The problem is that many cultures around the world revolve around the theme of exclusion, or at most assimilation of the Other. In fact this is much more normative over the history of the world than the multiculturalism that has emerged in the West after the 1960s. To be entirely frank, post-1960s Western multiculturalism is sui generis. It seems to view a person’s suite of cultural characteristics being assembled together a la carte, as individuals select of their own free will from a set of practices and beliefs so as to maximize their own self-actualization. The reality though is that for most humans cultures are imbibed as if one is selecting prix fixe menus, subscribing to a whole host of beliefs simultaneously, many of which are at contradiction with the individualist liberal ethos.

Obviously these are two stylized caricatures,* but they capture the basic essence of the dynamic. Western multiculturalists, steeped in the language of equity, diversity, inclusion, and egalitarianism, seem to tacitly assume that societies which they are attempting to integrate will discard all illiberal aspects, while maintaining the languages, dress, and food, which make them distinctive. But the truth here is that ultimately multiculturalism of this form turns non-Western cultures into carnival sideshows, colorful harmless variants of the Western liberal individualist template.

* There are nuances here. American Roman Catholics share more cultural orientations with their Protestant neighbors than with non-American Catholics. You need to peel back the sticker sometimes and ignore labels to get at the heart of cultural variation.

Feb/14

13

Spaghetti Monster Monstered

Sphaghetti MonsterHuffington Post UK:

A poster which replaced the image of God from the Sistine Chapel with a picture of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been removed after with a row with a London University.

The South Bank University Atheism society created the graphics for their freshers’ fair stall last week, but returning to the pre-prepared stall on the University campus for the first day of the fair, they allege the posters were removed by union representatives.

Cloe Ansari, president of the Atheist society, alleges she was told initially that the Michelangelo Sistine chapel ceiling was offensive in itself, because it included a “naked man”. But she claims she was later told, having offered to blur the image, that the issue was that ‘The Creation of Adam’ is a religious painting.

Pause to consider the absurdity of the fact that Michelangelo’s depiction of Adam could be considered “offensive”.

And then there’s the whole business about religion.

Ansari claims the stall was removed entirely the following day and says she has lodged an official complaint, though a union representative told HuffPost UK that any such complaint had yet to be seen by officers.

“This incident is just one of a catalogue of attempts to censor our society,” Ansari said in a statement. “I never expected to face such blatant censorship and fragile sensibilities at university, I thought this would be an institution where I could challenge beliefs and in turn be challenged.

Good grief, Cloe, where have you been living all these yours? I thought atheists were meant to see the world as it is….

In any event, the university has now apologized.

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Feb/14

13

It’s Darwin’s Birthday Today, But….

jesus-dinosaurIt’s Darwin’s birthday today, which is a good excuse to note that his message may not have entirely got through.

Here’s Gallup from June 2012:

Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans’ views of the origin of the human species since 1982. The 46% of Americans who today believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years is little changed from the 44% who believed this 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question.

Depressingly, 58 percent of Republicans reportedly believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, although when I read that I wonder how many of them really meant what they said. To what extent was proclaiming such a belief a form of cultural and political positioning rather than an accurate reflection of what these Republicans really thought was going on 10,000 years ago?

And if that’s not enough of a straw to be clutching, there’s always this: 41 percent of Democrats were also said to believe that God created us as we today are just ten millennia ago.

Happy Darwin’s birthday!

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Feb/14

11

Critique for thee, not for me

Over at The Nation Michelle Goldberg has a long piece on the internecine conflicts within online feminism. First, an admission. I’ve long been a follower of these blow-ups on the feminist Left blogosphere because it is compelling to me in the way a car-crash might be. I’ve never commented on it because it’s as intellectually a serious interest as watching Dancing with the Stars. Though I think Goldberg has a lot of justice on her side, there are two issues which always nag at me. Many of the feminists who are outraged at being raked over coals wouldn’t have any hesitation of doing the same if the target was someone else. In other words, the hyper-critical lens that they place on others is obviously not relevant for them, because they’re good people. So the second issue is that the extremely harsh, often unfair, attacks on these self-righteous types wallowing in their “privilege” actually draws upon a real phenomenon.

Obama campaign headquarters

Obama campaign headquarters

It reminds me of the famous photo of Obama campaign headquarters in 2012, which was filled with white faces. If you transposed this to Romney campaign headquarters you could imagine Melissa Harris-Perry at MSNBC making some snarky remarks. But it’s different, because they support Obama, and they’re good liberals…. By their nature they can’t be racist, so the same evidence can’t be brought to bear. The lived lives of upper middle class white liberals may be quite segregationist, but their hearts are not, and that’s what matters.

Which brings me to the weird general observation: American liberals are quite essentialist when it comes to the target of their critique. Conservatives and Republicans are racist by their nature, by their intent, so their social segregation from non-whites counts toward their racism. It’s a fundamental attribute. In contrast American liberals and Democrats are anti-racist, so their social segregation from non-whites is situational, and does not reflect antipathy to non-whites.

This can be generalized. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton both seem to exhibit sociopathic tendencies in relation to their attitudes toward women. But for social conservatives Clinton’s transgressions reflect his lack of core morality, because he’s a liberal. In contrast, Gingrich says the right things, and acknowledges his moral failings. No matter what he does his fundamental essence is that of someone who understands the importance of morality. At least from the perspective of his supporters.

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