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Sep/14

21

‘Religious Freedom’, Dogs and Taxis

taxiCBC:

A Saskatoon man who is blind and uses a service animal has launched a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, alleging a local taxi company is not providing service because of his guide dog. Mike Simmonds claims he’s been denied taxi service more than once because of his dog.

“I think it is common,” Simmonds told CBC News Friday. “If you don’t have the dog you’re not going to hear much about it. Someone like me, I feel strongly about my rights. I feel strongly about my dog helping me out. I want to speak out.”

Simmonds said he has been told that some cab drivers have refused to pick him up with his dog because of their religious beliefs.

Michael Coren, noting that the always PC CBC had oddly omitted to mention what those ‘religious beliefs” might be, tweets, “those Christians!”

Now there needs to be some caution about this story (“Simmonds said he has been told that”), but I suspect that this ABC report from 2007 is not entirely irrelevant:

Commissioners at one of the country’s biggest airports are considering punishing Muslim cab drivers who refuse service to passengers possessing alcohol or guide dogs. The cabbies claim transporting those items violates Islamic law.

“It is against our faith and the airport is discriminating against Muslim drivers,” says a cab driver who would only give his first name, Hashim.

Three-quarters of the 900 cabbies licensed to operate at [Minneapolis-St. Paul’s] airport are Muslim, most from Somalia. It is unclear how many are adhering to this letter of Islamic law which considers the purchase, drinking and transport of alcoholic beverages a sin. Islam also regards the saliva from dogs to be unclean. Nearly 40 million people travel through Minneapolis-St Paul airport annually. Over the past 5 years, airport officials say 5,400 passengers have been turned away. Some had guide dogs or pets, others were carrying cases of wine from California, or liquor from duty-free shops.

“There are times where cab after cab will refuse service, and passengers can be waiting for 20 minutes,” says Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “We’ve had complaints of people being asked if they had any alcoholic beverages in their luggage.”

To be sure, the airport commissioners were reported as going to take action as, apparently are city officials in Saskatoon. Nevertheless these two stories— one from Canada, one from the US—are a useful reminder to those in the United States currently pushing for a very wide definition of the religious rights protected by the First Amendment that, in an increasingly multicultural nation, they may find some of the consequences far less congenial than they imagine.

It ought to go without saying that religious freedom is part of the bedrock of American liberty, but so too is the notion of equality before the law.

There has to be unum, so to speak, as well as pluribus.

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Sep/14

11

God and Guest Speaker at Yale

ayaan-hirsi-aliThere’s much more about this over at NRO, but the response of some people at Yale to the invitation extended by the Buckley Program to Ayaan Hirsi Ali is worth noting here too.

The Yale Daily News has some of the details:

Representatives from 35 campus groups and student organizations have signed a letter drafted by the Muslim Students Association (MSA) that expresses concern over an event that is bringing a controversial speaker to campus.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali — a Somali-born American activist known for her women’s rights advocacy and critical remarks about Islam — is slated to give a lecture titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West” on Sep. 15 as part of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program speaker series. The daughter of a Somali politician and opposition leader, Hirsi Ali has publicly voiced criticism of practices such as female genital mutilation and has also voiced support for atheism and women’s rights. The MSA’s letter does not ask for a withdrawal of Hirsi Ali’s invitation, according to MSA board member Abrar Omeish ’17, but rather draws attention to her allegedly hurtful anti-Muslim statements and her lack of qualifications to speak broadly about Islam.

Because, of course, strong opinions (or, more accurately, strong opinions of the wrong sort) are not something that should be allowed to be expressed in today’s universities without a self-important little melodrama.

And then there’s the credentialism, that “lack of qualifications to speak broadly about Islam”. Credentialism has long been the hallmark of the intellectually desperate. That it now appears to flourish at Yale is disappointing, but, I suppose, in the degraded campuses of today, no longer surprising.

The Yale Daily News:

Omeish referenced a 2007 interview with the London Evening Standard, in which Hirsi Ali described Islam as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

Omeish said that the group and their Islamic values uphold freedom of speech.

“The difference here is that it’s hate speech, [which] under the law would be classified as libel or slander and is not protected by the First Amendment. That’s what we’re trying to condemn here.”

Hate speech? Libel? Slander? Not protected by the First Amendment? Really? If we’re playing the credentials game, perhaps Omeish would like to set out the qualifications she has that enable her to find that those words by Ali crossed some very specific legal lines. I can fully understand why she might disagree—and disagree profoundly—with what Ali said (indeed, I don’t agree with it myself), but, in asserting what she has done, Omeish has gone rather farther than that.

Back to the Yale Daily News:

After becoming aware of the Buckley Program’s plan to bring Hirsi Ali to campus, Omeish met with [Buckley Program president] Lizardo last week to discuss Hirsi Ali’s speaking engagement and the MSA’s requests. According to Omeish, the MSA never intended to disinvite Hirsi Ali, but instead requested the invitation of a second speaker with academic credentials on the subject. The MSA also asked that Hirsi Ali’s speech be limited to her personal experience and professional expertise.

But Lizardo responded that the Buckley Program would not adopt the MSA’s requests and would not change the format or content of the lecture.

“If the principle is freedom of expression and freedom of speech, then having someone there to correct her views, which is essentially what MSA would like to happen … would only hinder the principle or idea further of free speech,” Lizardo said.

Quite.

And then there’s this squalid intervention:

University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and Coordinator of Muslim Life Omer Bajwa issued a joint statement to the News in which they confirmed the University’s commitment to free expression but raised concerns over Hirsi Ali’s prior comments about Islam.

“We are deeply concerned … by Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s long record of disparaging, and arguably hateful, comments about Muslims and Islam,” the statement read. “To better represent the whole Yale community and its educational goals, we recommend the organizers consider actions to expand the event, such as allowing concerned students to present their perspectives or adding a scholarly voice to create a more nuanced conversation.”

Yale students would do well to understand that if they wish to learn about debate, tolerance, open-mindedness and a genuine respect for free speech, they should turn to some other place than the Chaplain’s Office.

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Aug/14

31

Marx and the Millennium

VDNKh, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)Over at Mises, they have posted a long (very long) examination by the late (and, in my view, often profoundly misguided) Murray Rothbard demonstrating how Marxism fits into a much older millennialist tradition. The piece is something of a struggle to work through, but it yielded a good number of gems (including the quote from Alexander Gray that I posted yesterday) as well as some highly perceptive insights into what remains an important and (at least in the popular understanding of what Marxism is) overlooked topic.

A part of what attracts people to the apocalyptic is the whole drama of it—the exciting thought that they are living in the End Times—and the egotism too: they are a key part of it.

Rothbard:

In this allegedly inevitable process of arriving at the proletarian communist utopia after the proletarian class becomes conscious of its true nature, what is supposed to be Karl Marx’s own role? In Hegelian theory, Hegel himself is the final and greatest world-historical figure, the Man-God of man-gods. Similarly, Marx in his own view stands at a focal point of history as the man who brought to the world the crucial knowledge of man’s true nature and of the laws of history, thereby serving as the “midwife” of the process that would put an end to history. Thus Molnar wrote,

“Like other utopian and gnostic writers, Marx is much less interested in the stages of history up to the present (the egotistic now of all utopian writers) than the final stages when the stuff of time becomes more concentrated, when the drama approaches its denouement. In fact, the utopian writer conceives of history as a process leading to himself since he, the ultimate comprehensor, stands in the center of history. It is natural that things accelerate during his own lifetime and come to a watershed: he looms large between the Before and the After.”

Towards the end, Rothbard introduces us (or me anyway) to the remarkable figure of Ernst Bloch:

A blend of Christian messianist and devoted Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist, the 20th-century German Marxist Ernst Bloch set forth his vision in his recently translated three-volume phantasmagoria The Principle of Hope (Daz Prinzip Hoffung).

Early in his career, Bloch wrote a laudatory study of the views and life of the coercive, Anabaptist communist, Thomas Müntzer, whom he hailed as magical, or “theurgic.” The inner “truth” of things, wrote Bloch, will only be discovered after “a complete transformation of the universe, a grand apocalypse, the descent of the Messiah, a new heaven and a new earth.”

There is more than a hint in Bloch that disease, nay death itself, will be abolished upon the advent of communism. God is developing; “God himself is part of the Utopia, a finality that is still unrealized.” For Bloch, mystical ecstasies and the worship of Lenin and Stalin went hand in hand. As J. P. Stern writes, Bloch’s Principle of Hope contains such remarkable declarations as “Ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem” [Where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem], and that “the Bolshevist fulfillment of Communism” is part of “the age-old fight for God.”

I note that this truest of believers eventually left East Germany to settle in the West. Socialism was evidently too much to take.

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Aug/14

30

Marx as Prophet

Sverdlov Sq, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)From Alexander Gray’s The Socialist Tradition (1946):

“Marx, it has been said, was a prophet … and perhaps this suggestion provides the best approach. One does not apply to Jeremiah or Ezekiel the tests to which less-inspired men are subjected. Perhaps the mistake the world and most of the critics have made is just that they have not sufficiently regarded Marx as a prophet — a man above logic, uttering cryptic and incomprehensible words, which every man may interpret as he chooses.”

H/t: Mises.org

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Aug/14

24

Bacon: “Offensive” Apparently

baconFrom WPTZ, Vermont:

WINOOSKI, Vt. —A sign on a lamp post at the bottom of the Winooski Circle displayed the words “Yield Sneakers Bacon” until Friday morning. The bistro owners took it down.

A city program put it in place to keep its flower beds beautiful. If businesses do some gardening they can post an advertisement where they do it, but the word “bacon” on the Sneakers Bistro sign started a discussion about diversity on the Winooski Front Porch Forum.

It started with a post from one woman who wrote that the sign was insensitive to those who do not consume pork. She said as a Muslim she is personally offended by it.

The owners of Sneakers spoke to WPTZ. They say they’ve reached out to the individual who made the post and proactively took the sign down. They also say they regret any harm caused by the sign, and that their goal was never to cause stress or bad feelings.

“It’s nice that they were respectful enough to take it down,” said Caleb Wiley an area resident, “but I also think they shouldn’t have, or had to at any right.”

Other Winooski residents joined the conversation, and online too. One post reads the word “bacon” is not offensive. It’s something that describes food.

Winooski’s city manager spoke on behalf of the city. She said:

“The cool part of living in a diverse community is that it’s not always comfortable. It’s a fascinating place with lots of opportunities for conversation. The City has to pay attention to a lot of factors while acting within what we can regulate,” said Katherine “Deac” Decarreau.

Others recognize it’s a complicated issue, too.

“I respect her religion and her right to believe what she wants but I’m pretty sure the first amendment extends to bacon and the selling of it.”

Sneakers’ owners say their goal is to provide a joyful place for the entire community.

The Winooski Islamic Community Center was not available for comment.

There is so much that’s sad about this squalid little story. There’s the importance that the Muslim woman puts on not being “personally” offended (a hypersensitivity that may be as American as it is genuinely Islamic). There is the cringing desperation to please on the part of Sneakers (“they regret any harm caused by the sign, and that their goal was never to cause stress or bad feelings”) and the refusal to treat this complaint with the contempt that it deserved.

And then there is the simpering PC babble from the city manager (“The cool part of living in a diverse community is that it’s not always comfortable. It’s a fascinating place with lots of opportunities for conversation”) complete with the absence of any recognition that this was not a “conversation” that anyone outside a madhouse should have been having, an absence of recognition shared with those at WPTZ who believe that this is a “complicated” issue.

“Complicated”? Uh, no.

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Aug/14

16

Gideons, Trumped

gideon-bibleWell, this is a piece of stupidity. The Daily Mail (of course!) has the details (my emphasis added):

One of Britain’s biggest hotel chains has removed Bibles from its rooms to avoid upsetting non-Christians. The decision by Travelodge has been condemned as ‘tragic and bizarre’ by the Church of England, which says Bibles in hotel rooms are important to provide hope, comfort and inspiration to travellers. But the chain, which runs 500 hotels, said the country was becoming increasingly multicultural and it had taken the action for ‘diversity reasons’.

It said the policy was implemented ‘in order not to discriminate against any religion’ – despite having had no complaints from guests. Bibles were taken away at the same time as a refurbishment of its rooms, removing drawers where they were kept. The Bibles, which were provided free by the Gideon Society, have been retained and are stored behind reception for guests to borrow on request, the company says.

A Church of England spokesman said: ‘It seems both tragic and bizarre that hotels would remove the word of God for the sake of ergonomic design, economic incentive or a spurious definition of the word “diversity”.’

It seems not all Travelodges even have Bibles available on request. At the branch in Battersea, south London, there was no Bible in the room or behind reception.

When requested, the receptionist could not find a copy and said no one had ever asked him for one in his four months of working there.Instead, he suggested using the hotel’s free wifi to ‘Google it and read it online’.

When pushed for a hard copy, he rang his manager who told him they used to have them in rooms, but hadn’t had any at the hotel since refurbishment last year….

Oh good grief.

Travelodge is a private company, it has the right to put whatever books it wants within its guests’ rooms, but the decision it has taken shows the barrenness at the heart of so much of modern multiculturalism. Lest anyone take ‘offense’, more must mean less. So out goes the Gideon Bible, another small scrap of what makes up Britain’s common culture torn away leaving, well, what behind.

The irony of this is that, by taking this step, Travelodge is sacralizing the Bible. To those of different faiths or none, the Bible is just another book, its presence neither offensive nor inconvenient or, usually, even noticed.

And yet Travelodge has chosen to make an idol of it. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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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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