CAT | history
On the whole, patriotic priests are preferable to those preaching the old baloney about the universal brotherhood of man, an impossible, unnatural aspiration that, by definition, can only (if it is to mean anything) be coercive.
It is however better if that patriotism is clear-eyed. healthy, and not too heavily worn.
I’m not convinced that that has been the case with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine prelate who has now become Pope Francis. Even if we disregard the rights (hard to discern) and wrongs (monumental) of the Argentine case for its unprovoked attack on the Falkland Islands in 1982, Bergoglio’s language is, well, judge for yourself.
Pope Francis’s election may cause controversy in Britain over comments he made at a Mass last year for Argentine veterans of the Falklands War to mark 30th anniversary of the 1982 conflict. He reportedly said at the time: “We come to pray for those who have fallen, sons of the country who went out to defend their mother country, to reclaim that which is theirs and was usurped from them.”
Addressing relatives of fallen veterans before a visit to the Argentine military cemetery in Darwin in the Falklands in 2009, he said: “Go and kiss this land which is ours, and seems to us far away.”
He said they would not go alone, adding: “There are angels who will accompany you, who are sons, husbands and fathers of yours, who fell there, in an almost religious movement, of kissing with their blood the native soil.”
Or this, via Harry’s Place:
“Let’s pray to God that these years – despite the efforts of many to de-Malvinise history and reality – have served to silently mature the conscience of many Argentinians far and wide in this country, in a more authentic love for the Homeland, in a spirit of justice, through anonymous sacrifice, that they should be the hidden but fruitful sap which will make us live in freedom, in all the possible ways within this anxious life.”
Back in 2002 the (British Roman Catholic) Tablet provided its take on the religious dimension of the Argentine assault on the Falklands:
….Around this twentieth anniversary much has and will no doubt continue to be written. For those of us who lived the conflict at close quarters, perhaps one of the most interesting and under-reported aspects of it was the extent to which God and the Virgin Mary were used to justify the war, and to bring it to an end.
The military regime which decided to invade the islands did so in the knowledge that it counted on a powerful body of opinion within the Argentine Church to give it its blessing. The attitude of the Argentine Episcopal Conference to the regime that came to power in the 1976 coup had been equivocal. Pastoral letters had held back from public condemnation of human rights violations, and suggested that the ?common good? could be served by dealing with the moral and social disintegration that had characterised the previous civilian government of Isabelita Peron.
Only a minority of bishops, priests and nuns condemned the thousands of disappeared, and the complicity of those who pandered to national Catholicism. Those who survived the repression, like Bishop Jaime de Nevares of Neuquin, Bishop Miguel Hesayne of Viedma, and Bishop Jorge Novak of Quilmes, distanced themselves from the nationalistic fervour which surrounded the “reconquest of Las Malvinas?”.
They remained, however, in a minority. From the outset of the Falklands War, the partnership between Church and State gave the Argentine soldiers and their generals a sense of a moral crusade, and the junta the certainty of political cohesion. History was revisited and revised to provide justification for the equation between Argentine sovereignty and holy conversion.
Memories were revived of the first Spanish missionaries to the Falkland Islands, the priests portrayed as picture-book saints laying the sacramental rock on the heathen land. The subsequent British colonialism was reduced to a caricature of spiritual emptiness when, in fact, both the Anglican and Catholic faiths had retained an enduring presence on the islands. The mixing of nationalistic and religious mythology was prevalent in the first crucial hours of the Falklands conflict. On the eve of the invasion, Argentine commanders agreed that the military operation to take Las Malvinas, initially planned under the codename Azul, should be renamed Rosario, in honour of the Virgin of Rosario. According to Argentine cultural tradition, the Virgin had brought her graces to the population of Buenos Aires in the early nineteenth century before an invasion by British troops was successfully repulsed. She has been venerated passionately ever since.
On 7 April, the new Argentine military governor of Las Malvinas, General Mario Men?ndez, was sworn in during a ceremony at which Archbishop Desiderio Elso Collino, the chaplain general of the armed forces, officiated. “The gaucho Virgin is Mother of all men, but is in a very special way the Mother of all Argentines, and has come to take possession of this land, which is also her land”, stated Collino.For the rest of the war a succession of military chaplains ensured that the crusading spirit of the Argentine troops was kept alive in language reminiscent of the speeches delivered to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War. In the fight against the English “heathen” no Argentine churchman was more fanatical than Fr Jorge Piccinalli….
How this all ties into Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ is, of course, something that will be worth discussing on another occasion.
Writing in the Weekly Standard, here’s Katherine Mangu-Ward with an entertaining review of a new biography of Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic:
While today’s GOP is associated with public displays of faith, the Republican party of Ingersoll’s day was more likely to be the home of freethinkers, such as the churchless Abraham Lincoln. The American public wasn’t ready for overt atheism in elected or appointed office, but Ingersoll’s talent on the stump made his endorsement valuable. Jacoby persuasively argues that Ingersoll fits into the classical liberal tradition, a thread that remains visible, if controversial, in the fabric of the modern Republican party…
His speeches were studded with jokes that played to American sensibilities: While explaining Charles Darwin’s still-controversial theory of evolution, he speculated how tough it would be for blood-proud European aristocrats to learn they were descended from “the duke Orang Outang, or the princess Chimpanzee.” Far from finding the prospect of a godless universe depressing, Ingersoll considered the theory of evolution a desirable replacement for the story of the Fall.
“I would rather belong to that race that commenced a skull-less vertebrate and produced Shakespeare, a race that has before it an infinite future, with an angel of progress leaning from the far horizon, beckoning men forward, upward, and onward forever—I had rather belong to such a race . . . than to have sprung from a perfect pair upon which the Lord has lost money every moment from that day to this.”
Read the whole thing.
As much as I may grumble about the Economist’s snooty and irritating Davos/Brussels liberalism, it still remains an invaluable resource, not least its Christmas issue. This year’s included a haunting, terrifically written piece on the 19th Century war that nearly destroyed Paraguay (trust me on this: as a tale of folly and horror, it’s difficult to match), and then this tale:
A century ago next year, one of the most extraordinary events in the modern history of Christianity took place there. In the summer of 1913 the Aegean was penetrated not by pleasure-craft, but by the navy of the Russian tsar. A gunboat and later two transporters, complete with a party of marines, sailed up to a giant monastic house. A Russian archbishop tried negotiating with a bitterly divided community. When that failed, the troops opened up with a water-cannon, directed at the cells of monks on the losing side in a theological argument. Eventually, hundreds of bedraggled monks, defeated but defiant, were bundled onto ships. Opinion differs on whether anybody was killed, but the monks were certainly treated brutally: over the next two weeks, more than 800 of them were dragged away and transported to Odessa, where about 40 were jailed and most of them were stripped of their robes and sent on their way.
The story is fascinating in its own right, but then there are passages like this:
In the 14th century, as Byzantium dissolved into civil and theological war and the Ottoman conquest loomed, yet another dispute over the boundaries between Earth and Heaven raged, both on Athos and in the imperial court. The terms of the argument sound obscure to most modern ears. When Jesus Christ appeared on a mountain bathed in light, were the rays that emanated from his body created or divine? But behind the question was that recurring dilemma in monotheism. How, if at all, can the all-powerful, transcendent Creator and the created world come into contact with one another, and what does that imply for human destiny? The view that prevailed was a subtle one. God was both an inaccessible “essence” and an infinite variety of “energies” that could be experienced on earth. Humans could both perceive the light emanating from their Lord and become re-transmitters of that light themselves—and all this could happen during their earthly lives. Ilarion’s treatise sparked yet another version of this debate.
It’s on reading about controversies like that I realize yet again that I am just never going to get theology.
No great loss, I suspect.
Via Der Spiegel International:
Until into the 1990s, doctors and nuns in Spain allegedly stole newborn babies and sold them to couples hoping to adopt. The vast scope of this lucrative baby-snatching network is only now coming to light as courts heed victims’ calls for investigations and possible trials….
After the victory of the rebels under General Francisco Franco over the Republicans, the organized theft of babies became a political tool, a way of depriving leftists of their offspring. In 1941, Franco enacted a law that made it permissible to erase evidence of the ancestry of such children by changing their last names.
Most of these stolen children were entrusted to the care of Catholics loyal to the regime. The aim behind this was to rid an entire people of the “Marxist gene,” at least according to the theories of Antonio Vallejo-Nájera, the national psychiatrist of Francoist Spain, that were widespread at the time.
This specter of a Spanish national Catholicism even survived Franco’s death in 1975. Nuns, especially members of the Hijas de la Caridad, or Daughters of Charity, whose training was more religious than intellectual, worked in the maternity wards of hospitals and in baby nurseries. They blindly obeyed their mothers superior and priests who, in turn, decided who deserved a child and who didn’t. As a result, what were generally young or unmarried women became victims of baby theft. After all, the reasoning went, according to the Church’s teachings, these mothers were living “in sin.”
But even rising prosperity and Spain’s transformation into a democratic constitutional state apparently did not protect young mothers from this religious mafia of baby thieves. What may have begun as an act of misguided altruism appears to have grown into a business, in which adoptive parents allegedly paid up to a million pesetas, or the equivalent of about €20,000 ($25,000), for a child. Indeed, in a society that essentially considered it the legal right of married couples to have children, there was great demand for babies…
A deeply disturbing story, to say the very least.
Much as I am not a fan of the public nuisance better known as Karen Armstrong, the opening two paragraphs of a review she has written for the FT today caught my eye:
Over the course of his long, distinguished career, Geza Vermes, the first professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford university, has made a major contribution to our understanding of the historical Jesus. In Christian Beginnings, as in his groundbreaking work Jesus the Jew (1973), he shows that Jesus would have been a recognisable and familiar figure to his contemporaries. A healer, exorcist and compelling preacher, he was the latest in a line of charismatic prophets who existed for centuries alongside the established priestly tradition and offered an alternative form of Judaism, based on vision, ecstasy and miraculous healing, and frequently in conflict with the Israelite ruling class.
In this book, however, Vermes takes the story further, showing how the human figure of Jesus became increasingly other-worldly until, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, he was declared fully divine. Vermes points out quite correctly that in much of the New Testament, Jesus is perceived as “a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs” (Acts 2.22), a typical definition of a charismatic prophet. In Judaism, the title “Son of God” was simply a human being who enjoyed special intimacy with God and had been given a divine task: kings, prophets and priests – and the entire people of Israel – were all called “sons of God” in this sense…
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan on Friday helped kick off a national campaign opposing President Obama’s health care mandates and other government policies that Roman Catholic leaders say threaten their religious freedom…
The bishops timed the two-week campaign of prayer, fasting and letter-writing to begin on a feast day commemorating two 16th-century Catholic saints executed for their religious beliefs — SS. John Fisher and Thomas More. The campaign will conclude on the Fourth of July.
Well, so long as Dolan is clear that what he is doing is fighting for the religious freedom of Roman Catholic leaders (to use the NYT‘s probably unintentionally accurate phraseology), fair enough. For neither More nor Fisher were in favor of religious freedom for those with whom they disagreed. Fisher (then the Archbishop of Canterbury) saw to the burning of Thomas Hitton, the man widely seen as England’s first protestant martyr. As for the proto-totalitarian More, he was when England’s Lord Chancellor, as I noted here, a savage ideological enforcer, quite pleased, for example, to support the burning alive (“the short fyre…[prior to] ye fyre eurlasting”, as he so charmingly put it) of heretics.
The following (I’ve linked to it before) is an extract from the largely sympathetic biography of More by the British writer (and Roman Catholic) Peter Ackroyd:
[More] epitomized, in modern terms, the apparatus of the state using its power to crush those attempting to subvert it. His opponents were genuinely following their consciences, while More considered them the harbinger of the devil’s reign on earth. How could there be moderation in any confrontation between them? He was, in large part, successful; he managed to check the more open expression of heretical opinion and thereby prevented it from being accepted piece by piece or gradually condoned. He also disrupted the community of ‘newe men’ in Antwerp and helped to diminish the flow of banned books into England.
By linking his current campaign to men like More and Fisher, Dolan reveals more than he perhaps might like about what he understands by the word ‘freedom’.
Iain Martin, writing in the Daily Telegraph:
The Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council, headed by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has made a submission on Europe to the Foreign Affairs select committee.
It urges the Government to be more constructive and positive in its attitude to the EU, and warns that David Cameron’s “veto” last December cost the UK credibility. Leaving the EU would be a “travesty”, they claim. Quite a lot of Britons now disagree and think that leaving would be rather a good idea. But the Archbishops explain that they are speaking out because the C of E is “by virtue of its history a European Church”.
Good grief. If the Church of England doesn’t even understand the circumstances of its birth, then how can it expect anyone else to care about what it says?
The British politician, Enoch Powell, a British politician who took the role of the Church of England (if not necessarily either its beliefs or its clergy) very seriously, would have been unsurprised by the invincible ignorance of these archbishops.
Here’s what he had to say back in 1972:
The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event.
That’s true, if one considers that Powell was writing in an English context: Henry went to his deathbed considering himself a good Catholic. His dispute with Rome was not over theology, but power. Henry wanted more of the latter (and Anne Boleyn too) but the underlying (and ultimately more important) question was whether England should be governed by English laws or those of some alien authority. Henry VIII, quite correctly, if for self-interested reasons, said that the law begins at home.
Back to Powell…
The whole subsequent history of Britain and the political character of the British people have taken their colour and trace their unique quality from that moment and that assertion. It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].
That was not something that Thomas Becket (not so surprisingly a traitor in the view of both Henry VIII and Charles I—the last Anglican saint) would have understood or appreciated, so good riddance to him. But Becket was at least Archbishop of Canterbury nearly four centuries before Henry VIII declared England’s independence.He has an excuse, of sorts. The current Archbishop, Rowan Williams, does not. The explanation for what he has said about Europe rests, as it has done so often throughout his disreputable and unpleasant career, in his willingness to put ill-thought, but fiercely-believed, dogma (usually of a leftish variety) before honesty. His upcoming resignation cannot come soon enough.
Comments off · Posted by David Hume in history
Noah Millman has a post up at The American Conservative, What Has Christianity To Do With Human Rights? He is responding to a conversation at the heart of which is Ross Douthat, who is making singular claims for the grounding of the presuppositions which Western liberals hold dear in Christian theology. I pretty much agree with Noah on the major salient points. As someone who is not a religious believer, and have never been a religious believer, one issue that I have whenever I’ve had to engage with religious believers is that there are a particular set of arguments where the believers have a very difficult time stepping out of the circularity of their own position. But similarly, as a non-liberal I have had a difficult time trying to get liberals to acknowledge that the stance that “certain things are obvious and self-evident in their truth to all progressive people” is a strongly historically contingent statement as well.
As an empirical matter I think Ross, and Christians more generally, over-read the causal role of their faith in Western history. Though the Christian religion certainly effected some change, it is important to note that its emergence and rise to prominence was coincident with a whole host of other changes in the world of antiquity. And more importantly, Christianity itself has turned out to be incredibly adept as justifying nearly every political and social perspective under heaven. The metaphystical coherency of Christianity, or any other “system of thought,” founders on the reality that human action is fundamentally disjointed, incoherent, and a slap-dash constellation of innate reflexes and historically contingent norms.
The idea that human beings, animals just risen to sentience, can hold in their minds’ eye a ethical and political system of coherency to rival anything like mathematics is a childish conceit, best set aside in serious conversation. And yet the conceit will persist and rear its head in all discussion, because it is a natural outgrowth of the false perception that we are dominated by our reason and not our passions.
Recently I watched this Christian duet’s paean’s ode to Rick Santorum and was struck by the references to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I am aware that Christian conservatives have a “Constitutionalist” focus, and often suggest that the Founding Fathers were “Bible believing Christians.” In regards to the latter the historical record speaks rather easily on this issue because many of the founders were men of letters, and have left their opinions. Aside from a few exceptions such as Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen most would have accepted the appellation Christian, but then again most Mormons also assert that they are Christians. Unitarian Christians such as John Adams explicitly rejected Trinitarian Christianity.
In other words, by and large a substantial proportion were heretics from a modern conservative Christian perspective. Others, such as Thomas Jefferson exhibited skepticism of revealed religion more generally over most of his adult life; even producing a bowdlerized Bible. Again, as noted above aside from Paine and Allen most of the founding generation of American statesmen would not be confused with militant secularists. Their cultural presuppositions and contexts were radically different. But they were a generation which matured during an era where educated elites tended to view belief in institutional supernatural religion with more indulgence than sincere ardor.
But it is issue of cultural presuppositions that I want to get back to, as this is actually the largest rupture with the conservative Christian patriotic paradigm which strikes me. The American republic organized as a federal entity was a radical break with thousands of years of human history, explicitly separating the sacral and the profane. The radicalism of the American republic existed int the political dimension, certainly. Many thinkers were skeptical that republican forms of governance scaled upward in size. The failure of ancient Rome being the classical example known to all educated men of the era. But another issue from a mainstream perspective was the tearing away of the divine sanction which a political order must receive. The decoupling of faith and state was a great innovation (only a few American states had done so at the time!). We know now that the rise of the state and civilized political order was accompanied by the liberal mixing of religion and politics. Many of the early states which were vehicles for antique civilizations were famously more religious than political in character. But the American republic took the process of secularization farther than had been conceivable. I can grant the proposition that even the Deist founders might be curious and confused as to the details and passions of church-state separation policy in today’s America. But I do not think that that negates the radicalism of their secularism in their age.
All this goes to show that modern political movements draw inspiration from the past, but they refashion the past to suite current propositions. I have had friends of Left-liberal persuasion who have suggested that the founders were pioneers in multiculturalism! Again, I doubt that the founders would even recognize terms of the debate. As a factual matter both the Right and the Left draft the past to suit present ends. This is not wholly without merit or utility. We see the past darkly, collectively and personally. So long as we can separate the past as a positive and empirical matter, and a romantic, almost mytho-poetic one, cold truth and nurturing falsity can coexist usefully. For much of the population the lived reality is that positive matters of truth are of little concern. They are consumers of fiction and the novel, not connoisseurs of monographs. The key is to keep a balance between the reality that was, and the myths we cherish going forward.
Via the Economist:
Believers in the idea that America was established as a Christian state scored a hit last year when the Texas school board, a politicised body in which evangelicals control crucial votes, ordered up textbooks laying out this view. Given the size of the Texan market, school-book publishers across the country often follow its lead.
The best-known advocate of the “Christian nation” theory is a Texan, an author and evangelist called David Barton, who has been writing on the subject since the 1980s. Among his recent claims are that the founding fathers rejected Darwinism (although they pre-dated Charles Darwin), and that they broke away from Britain in order to abolish slavery. In fact the southern states only joined the Revolution on the understanding that slavery would not be questioned.
Strange as his views may sound to most scholars, Mr Barton’s philosophy is taken seriously in Republican circles. When Rick Perry, the Texas governor and presidential candidate, held a day of prayer for the nation in August, Mr Barton was an acknowledged endorser. One of Mr Barton’s admirers is Newt Gingrich…
Count me unsurprised by that…