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Aug/17

5

Media Suddenly Interested in Muslim Opinion of Gays

After years of ignoring survey data and news reports that weren’t conducive to boosting Islam’s image, so-called new media is leaping on a Pew survey showing American Muslims to be more LGBTQ-tolerant than white evangelicals. Yes, just that particular strain of Christianity, adjusted for race:

U.S. Muslims are as tolerant as Protestantism in general, and slightly less tolerant than the average for all the subsets of Protestantism listed (white evangelical, white mainline, black Protestant) as well as Catholicism, but acknowledging this undercuts the alliance-building aspect to disseminating this news. And as the game of telephone and the dynamics of meme-spreading dictate, this will distill into “Muslims are more queer-friendly than Christians” when it’s being triumphantly told at the bar tonight. The same survey shows that less than half of foreigners support homosexuality, but that’s information likewise not congenial to progressivism, so don’t expect any headlines.

U.S. Muslims have changed their opinion on LGBTQ matters more rapidly than other groups (likely due to their being relatively upper-income, urban, and college-bound, and thus prone to getting the cultural memo) so you get the sense that a Most Improved Award is being treated as a Gold Star. It also speaks to the idea that seemingly contradictory alliances that are more hypothetical than real have a way of becoming real over time.

Of course simple surveys like this don’t capture the intensity of anti-gay sentiment, a rather crucial point. Sure, Huffpo, make Kim Davis the face of evil all you want, but it wasn’t an evangelical who murdered 49 people at a gay Orlando nightclub last year.

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Aug/17

3

“The worst method of dying, except for all the others”

An extract (published in the latest New Yorker) from Dying: A Memoir, a book written by the late Cory Taylor, written as she contemplated her approaching death from cancer:

Yes, I have considered suicide, and it remains a constant temptation. If the law in Australia permitted assisted dying I would be putting plans into place right now to take my own life. Once the day came, I’d invite my family and closest friends to come over and we’d have a farewell drink. I’d thank them all for everything they’ve done for me. I’d tell them how much I love them. I imagine there would be copious tears. I’d hope there would be some laughter. There would be music playing in the background, something from the soundtrack of my youth. And then, when the time was right, I’d say goodbye and take my medicine, knowing that the party would go on without me, that everyone would stay a while, talk some more, be there for each other for as long as they wished. As someone who knows my end is coming, I can’t think of a better way to go out. Nor can I fathom why this kind of humane and dignified death is outlawed.

No, it would not be breaking the law to go out on my own. The newspapers are full of options: hanging, falling from a great height, leaping in front of a speeding train, drowning, blowing myself up, setting myself on fire, but none of them really appeals to me. Again I’m constrained by the thought of collateral damage, of the shock to my family, of the trauma to whoever was charged with putting out the flames, fishing out the body, scraping the brains off the pavement. When you analyze all the possible scenarios for suicide, none of them is pretty. Which is the reason I support the arguments in favor of assisted dying, because, to misquote Churchill, it is the worst method of dying, except for all the others.

But it’s an option that many church leaders, so busy these days screaming about ‘religious freedom’, are doing everything they can to deny to everyone, regardless of faith, for what are (despite the other excuses they give) primarily religious reasons.

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May/17

14

Anti-SJW Sentiment in China

I say anti-SJW, though it could just as easily apply to plain ol’ regular cosmopolitan globalists, I suppose. Here’s an interesting article at openDemocracy on the use of “white left” in China as a racial-cum-political epithet:

If you look at any thread about Trump, Islam or immigration on a Chinese social media platform these days, it’s impossible to avoid encountering the term baizuo, or literally, the ‘white left.’

Apart from some anti-hegemonic sentiments, the connotations of ‘white left’ in the Chinese context clearly resemble terms such as ‘regressive liberals’ [*] or ‘libtards’ in the United States. In a way the demonization of the ‘white left’ in Chinese social media may also reflect the resurgence of right-wing populism globally. The term first became influential amidst the European refugee crisis, and Angela Merkel was the first western politician to be labelled as a baizuo for her open-door refugee policy.

Read the whole thing. The author notes the lack of “experiential motivation” for this attitude, and how it even extends into a very American thrashing of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (but not Donald Trump).

*The link here is to an article at HuffPo claiming “regressive liberal” is an Islamophobic term. So am I to understand that a claim that one is insufficiently liberal is something conservatives do? Yes, actually I am. Once you understand that much of what passes for conservatism these days is simply yesterday’s liberalism (or today’s liberalism, albeit an embattled one), it begins to make sense. That makes someone like Dave Rubin operationally conservative even if they’d resist that label.

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Mar/17

29

The Social Justice Left and…the Social Justice Left

In a piece that reads as if it’s describing campus leftism but is apparently not, Reuters reports,

Since President Donald Trump’s election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat Gothic chapel of New York’s Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually draw.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, the “religious left” is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics. The new political climate is also spurring new alliances, with churches, synagogues and mosques speaking out against the recent spike in bias incidents, including threats against mosques and Jewish community centers.

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which encourages alliances between Jewish and Muslim women, has tripled its number of U.S. chapters to nearly 170 since November.

Seems there’s little difference in practice between defense of religion for its transcendental claims and defense based on identity. Atheist Jews coming to the rescue of Muslims to combat racism – of which “Islamophobia” is considered a subset – with zero reference to holy books, imams or rabbis, is quite standard, even if it’s more likely to involve a vagina costume.

If the original, god-fearing social justice left feels outgunned by the religious right, they need not worry. Their secular counterparts have them covered, and wield enough clout to render whatever remains of the Moral Majority small enough to drown in a (holy water-filled) bathtub.

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Dec/16

11

Pope Francis and “Fake News”

It was perhaps not that surprising that Pope Francis would look to involve himself in the controversy over ‘fake news’. The terms in which he did so were, however, unexpected….

The Guardian reports:

Pope Francis has lambasted media organisations that focus on scandals and smears and promote fake news as a means of discrediting people in public life. Spreading disinformation was “probably the greatest damage that the media can do”, the pontiff told the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio. It is a sin to defame people, he added.

Using striking terminology, Francis said journalists and the media must avoid falling into “coprophilia” – an abnormal interest in excrement. Those reading or watching such stories risked behaving like coprophagics, people who eat faeces, he added.

The pope excused himself for using terminology that some might find repellent. “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into – no offence intended – the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” he said. “And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done.”

He also spoke of the danger of using the media to slander political rivals. “The means of communication have their own temptations, they can be tempted by slander, and therefore used to slander people, to smear them, this above all in the world of politics,” he said.

Now let’s scroll back to a passage in a speech that the pontiff gave in Bolivia last year:

“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor…”

As I observed in the course of a post on the Corner:

 Not for the first time with Pope Francis, we see traces of conspiracism (a demagogic standard, I’m afraid to say) in his use of the phrase ‘anonymous influence’ and the suggestion of dark works by ‘corporations’ and ‘loan agencies’.

Not for the first time….

During the course of his notorious Lampedusa speech on immigration in 2013, Francis conjured up images of dark forces at play.

Writing in Law and Liberty not so long after, Anthony Daniels had this to say:

The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…

And then there were Francis’ comments (reported by ABC) in the wake of the murder of an elderly French priest by Islamic terrorists earlier this year:

Pope Francis says the world is at war, but is stressing that it’s not a war of religions.  Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland, where he began a five-day visit Wednesday. Asked about the slaying of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday, Francis replied: “the real word is war…yes, it’s war. This holy priest died at the very moment he was offering a prayer for all the church.”

He went on: “I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”

As I noted at the time on this site:

[A]s for the Pope’s claim that “religions don’t want war”, I can only suggest that he spend more time with the history books and, for that matter, some of the less benign passages in various sacred texts.

The final insult both to the truth and thereby to the victim is Francis’ resort (yet again) to conspiracy theory, with his references to some shadowy conflict over “interests, for money, for resources”.

Demagogues typically resort to conspiracism out of delusion or malice, as a device to mislead and, often, to draw the audience’s attention away from what is really going on.

Pope Francis is not in a position to lecture anyone on fake news.

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Dec/16

3

The Other “Identity Liberalism”

marine-lepen-gay-c-tim-douet_0082_image-gauche

Mark Lilla’s piece for The NYT, “The End of Identity Liberalism,” has been making the rounds lately, and for good reason. See passages like this:

For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply. However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.

But speaking of identity liberalism – and Europe – I’m reminded me of the work of Adam Tebble of King’s College in London, and his notion of an emergent “identity liberalism” on the continent with the jagged coastline. I became aware of Tebble’s writings after attending an Institute for Humane Studies event in my days as a student. And while his conception of IL – national identity centered around a shared liberalism, as opposed to a liberalism couched in terms of sub-national racial and gender identity – is different from what Lilla has in mind, it’s worth highlighting as the profile of European-style atheist (or agnostic) nationalism rises stateside.

For Tebble, identity liberalism “employs a progressive identity-based normative discourse typically considered to be the preserve of the multicultural left to defend a right-wing politics of assimilation.” He has in mind former Marxist Pim Fortuyn and his pro-gay but anti-Islam “far right” cohorts. Fortuyn was if you’ll recall gunned down in 2002, by an animal rights extremist who defended his act of shooting up by claiming Fortuyn punched down. One could also include the gay contingent of Marine Le Pen’s fan base.

You see cursory evidence of this kind of identity liberalism gaining respectability among liberal and left-leaning intellectuals. Think the upstart publication Quillette, or Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report, and likely many a fan of Sam Harris. Though far from outright nationalists, they’re at least willing to entertain the hard questions avoided by their SJW counterparts. And you certainly get the impression that efforts at assimilation are not frowned upon in this crowd. As libertarians have a rough year and the alt-right is basking in glory, the stock of this of old-fashioned-turned-new liberalism is performing somewhere in between.

Of course if the gullible editors at the Guardian are any indication, there’s little difference between the alternative right and these other identity liberals in the minds of the establishment left. Or at least its journalistic division.

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Oct/16

30

Morrigan’s Hotel

ritualWriting in The Guardian, Alex Mar explains how making a documentary film “about a handful of fringe religious communities around the country” led her deep into the pagan world.

The article is an interesting account of where the search for meaning (whatever that may be) can take the credulous and the restless, and, beyond that, of the eternal appeal of the divine – and the break from the banality of everyday existence that comes with celebrating it.

The ritual was a devotional to the Morrigan, the heavyweight Celtic goddess of war, prophecy and self-transformation. In the center of the circle, surrounded by her ritual crew, stood Morpheus, with all eyes on her.

At the time Morpheus’ day job was working for a federal environmental agency, not, perhaps the most thrilling of line of work. Being possessed by an ancient Celtic goddess on the other hand….

Dressed in black, in a leather corset and a long skirt slit up each side, she wore her hair in elaborate, heavy braids that hung to her waist. She stalked the circle’s edge, flapping the vulture wings she’d strapped to her arms and staring into the crowd. Her slender body doubled over, as if suddenly heavy, and began bobbing up and down as if something was bubbling up inside her.

The sight of a possession, for those who’d never witnessed one, was alien, impressive. After what felt like a long time, she raised her head up and in a growling voice not her own, announced that she was Morrigu! Badb Catha! The roomful of witches circled closer, tightening around her, and a fellow priestess lifted a heavy sword above our heads: she directed us to take a vow. “But only if it’s one you can keep. Don’t take it lightly.”

As Morpheus (or the goddess she was channeling) continued heaving, breathing hard, hundreds of people crowded in, taking turns to raise their hand up and touch the tip of the blade.

I was one of them.

Mar, who also went on to write a book (Witches of America) on this topic, argues that there are now as many as a million “self-identified witches (typically called pagan priests and priestesses)” in the U.S.

In the past, it may have been tempting to dismiss this community as Earth-loving crystal collectors or velvet-wearing goths. In fact, the dozens of esoteric but related traditions share a spiritual core: they are polytheistic, worship nature and hold that female and male forces have equal weight in the universe. Pagans believe that the divine can be found all around us and that we can communicate regularly with the dead and the gods without a go-between. They don’t believe in heaven or hell; many subscribe to some version of reincarnation, or a next world called the Summerland.

In other words, it’s nonsense, but to each his (or her) own…

And then we get to the key point:

Throughout my life, most of my friends have been fashionable atheists of the creative classes, but it was becoming clearer to me that this does not exempt anyone from the very human need for meaning. As someone with a strong “religious impulse” but without a practice to relate to, I’d long been envious of people whose lives are structured around a clear system of belief. It seems like a tremendous relief, to be able to wake up everyday with a shared sense of purpose versus the low-level existential pain of living without something to believe in, a religious tradition to guide and ground you.

Most people, it seems do indeed feel that way: It’s hard-wired within and some of the more evangelistic atheists (for whom, I suspect, atheism is, in all probability, a surrogate religion) would do well to remember it. Religion will always be with us.  What matters is the form that it will take.

But note my reference to ‘most people’. There is another group, a happy few (or perhaps not so few) who find the absence of any overarching ‘meaning’ to be something of a relief, and that, far from being a source of “low-level existential pain”, “living without something to believe in” (at least ‘believe’ in a capital B sense of the word) can be a pleasantly liberating experience.

Transcendence, no thanks.

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the-exorcistThe Daily Telegraph:

sharp rise in the number of people dabbling in Satanism and the occult is fueling a growing demand for more exorcists on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaking in tongues, levitating and vomiting nails may seem far-fetched to most people, but experts from the Catholic Church in Italy and the US claim there is an urgent need to recruit more priests as exorcists in order to combat sorcery and black magic.

Valter Cascioli, a psychologist and scientific consultant to the International Association of Exorcists, which is endorsed by the Vatican, described as an “emergency” the lack of priests capable of fighting the forces of evil.

“The lack of exorcists is a real emergency. There is a pastoral emergency as a result of a significant increase in the number of diabolical possessions that exorcist priests are confronting,” he told La Stampa newspaper.

Dr Cascioli teaches courses in exorcism at the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum, a Vatican-backed university in Rome. “The number of exorcists has increased in recent years, but there are still not enough to deal with a dramatic situation that affects, above all, young people who use the internet a lot.

The Internet, always guilty….

Back to the Telegraph:

“There is a broad spread of superstitious practices, and with that a growing number of requests for help from people who are directly or indirectly struck by evil.

“It is dangerous to underestimate a phenomenon that is caused by the direct actions of the devil, but also by a decline in faith and values.”

He called for the establishment of a permanent training college or university where Catholic priests would be taught how to counter the malign influence of the Devil. “There doesn’t exist a training institution at university level. We need an interdisciplinary approach in which science collaborates with religion, and psychiatrists work with demonologists and exorcists.”

He said it was important not to confuse cases of diabolical possession with psychiatric illnesses. Only one per cent of people who claim to have problems with demons have real need of an exorcist, he said.

Still, one percent represents, I suspect, quite a number.  Who knew?

Father Gary Thomas, whose training in Rome was chronicled in the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, and Father Vincent Lampert, whose work has featured on the television show Paranormal Witness, said demonic possessions were the result of an increase in drug and pornography addiction.

That the former can be associated with severe psychological problems is, of course, only a coincidence, while the reference to pornography as, in a real sense, an ‘addiction’ is a sign that we have entered territory where the science is not—rigorous.

The Telegraph:

They also pointed to a rise in the  popularity of “pagan activities”, such as using a Ouija board to summon the dead, the failure of the mental health care system, a spiritual void in the lives of Americans and the diminishing authority of the Church.

It’s worth paying attention to that reference  to the ‘diminishing authority of the church’. There’s some truth to that. The decline of established religion has meant that people are willing to go elsewhere to satisfy their spiritual needs, and on occasion, sadly, to some highly unsavory destinations. But Satanism is not proof of Satan.

What we do see in this  story is the church using the Devil as an argument against behavior, from drugs to porn, to overdoing it on the Internet, of which it disapproves.

And, none too subtly, it is, in a  way, also using the Devil as a recruiting sergeant to fill its own pews.

That’s not to argue that many senior churchmen do not believe in the Devil (some more literally–and, so to speak, frequently–than others) but sometimes all that talk of the threat Old Nick allegedly represents does seem very convenient.

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Sep/16

16

The Clowns of Salem?

twilight-zone-season-1-22-the-monsters-are-due-on-maple-streetOnce upon a time it was alien abductions, and not so long before that, the Satanic panic of the 1980s, a wave of hysteria that spilled over into some of the child abuse  prosecutions of that era with sometimes appalling consequences.

Now there is this.

The Independent reports:

Sightings of creepy clowns trying to lure children away are spreading across the US, with no-one sure whether the whole thing is a hoax or a terrifying new trend in abductions.

Four states have now reported the sinister sightings.

They began in South Carolina, before spreading to North Carolina and have since surfaced in Georgia and Alabama….

In Georgia, police said they had received numerous reports of clowns trying to talk to children as well as a threat by someone promising to dress up and kidnap school pupils….

Officers finally solved part of the mystery on Thursday, saying they had charged two people with making false police reports after they say the pair called 911 to report that people dressed as clowns were trying to lure children into a white van.

Police who responded to the calls found found two people in a white van who had run out of gas, and found no clown masks or costumes, and the 911 callers admitted the whole thing was a hoax.

The reports are not entirely new, however.

Bakersfield was among the towns in California that was gripped in2014 by dozens of reports of clown sightings including some saying they were armed.

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Sep/16

8

Ayahuasca and the D’Ohs of Perception

flammarionCross-posted on the Corner:

Madness, too much time in the desert or just the right hallucinogenic concoction all seem to be reasonably reliable routes to mysticism. Ayahuasca is (the New Yorker reports) “an intensely hallucinogenic potion made from boiling woody Banisteriopsis caapi vines with the glossy leaves of the chacruna bush” an—bonus—it comes with added ‘indigenous’ chic.

The story begins with some Americans wandering through the Amazon (of course it does) in the early 1970s (of course it did).

[T]he travellers found themselves in a psychedelic paradise. There were cattle pastures dotted with Psilocybe cubensis—magic mushrooms—sprouting on dung piles; there were hammocks to lounge in while you tripped; there were Banisteriopsis caapi vines growing in the jungle. Taken together, the drugs produced hallucinations that the brothers called “vegetable television.” When they watched it, they felt they were receiving important information directly from the plants of the Amazon.

The McKennas were sure they were on to something revelatory, something that would change the course of human history. “I and my companions have been selected to understand and trigger the gestalt wave of understanding that will be the hyperspacial zeitgeist,” Dennis wrote in his journal. Their work was not always easy. During one session, the brothers experienced a flash of mutual telepathy, but then Dennis hurled his glasses and all his clothes into the jungle and, for several days, lost touch with “consensus reality.” It was a small price to pay. The “plant teachers” seemed to have given them “access to a vast database,” Dennis wrote, “the mystical library of all human and cosmic knowledge.”

Hyperspatial zeitgeist. Consensus reality. Plant teachers. The mystical library of all human and cosmic knowledge.

The New Yorker:

Most people who take ayahuasca in the United States do so in small “ceremonies,” led by an individual who may call himself a shaman, an ayahuasquero, a curandero, a vegetalista, or just a healer. This person may have come from generations of Shipibo or Quechua shamans in Peru, or he may just be someone with access to ayahuasca.

Naturally, wicked Western materialism takes a  knock:

Ifcocaine expressed and amplified the speedy, greedy ethos of the nineteen-eighties, ayahuasca reflects our present moment—what we might call the Age of Kale. It is a time characterized by wellness cravings, when many Americans are eager for things like mindfulness, detoxification, and organic produce, and we are willing to suffer for our soulfulness.

We  are?

Well, you will:

The majority of users vomit—or, as they prefer to say, “purge.”

The New Yorker:

The process of making ayahuasca is beyond artisanal: it is nearly Druidical. “We pick the chacruna leaf at sunrise in this very specific way: you say a prayer and just pick the lower ones from each tree,” a lithe ayahuasquera in her early forties—British accent, long blond hair, a background in Reiki…She and her boyfriend serve the ayahuasca—“divine consciousness in liquid form”

A background in Reiki.

The New Yorker:

When a person drinks ayahuasca, a plant-messenger molecule targets the neurons that mediate consciousness, facilitating what devotees describe as a kind of interspecies communication.

If the plant really is talking to the person, many people hear the same thing: we are all one. Some believe that the plants delivering this message are serving their own interests, because if humans think we are one with everything we might be less prone to trash the natural world. In this interpretation, B. caapi and chacruna are the spokesplants for the entire vegetable kingdom.

Ecologically aware too. Is there anything that ayahuasca is not?

In any event, if you are interested in this sort of thing (I am) it’s well worth reading as a fascinating, accidentally revealing look at the appeal of ritual, superstition and the cult of the pre-modern.

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