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Fili, Moscow, Mar 92 (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Russia’s fusion of nationalism, Russian Orthodox Christianity and reverence for (heavily sanitized) aspects of the Soviet past continues to evolve in less than reassuring ways

BBC:

As voters in most of Ukraine prepare to go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new parliament, the rebels in the east are planning their own vote a week later. For many of the pro-Russian rebels, both local and Russian volunteers, their political vision for the region is the creation of “Novorossia”, a kind of new, improved Russia.

“We are fighting for the liberation of all Russian lands and we are ready to march all the way to the Danube,” says Alexander Matyushin, a rebel field commander.

“We must restore the historic injustice which befell the Russian people in the 20th Century. We need to take land which is ours by right and bring it back into the fold of Holy Russia.”

Matyushin’s fighters – just over 100 of them – are stationed in his native Makiivka, a suburb of Donetsk, which is the largest city under rebel control in eastern Ukraine. The great irony of this conflict is that 10 years ago Mr Matyushin was on the other side of the political divide which now splits this country in two.

He used to work with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist, Dmytro Korchynsky. “We had the idea of a Christian Orthodox revolution back then,” explains Mr Matyushin. “Our ambition was to create an Orthodox al-Qaeda.”

A legacy of communism, in Ukraine as well as Russia, was civil society in ruins, a gap that was—and is—an invitation to the extremes.

Back to the BBC:

The rebels say they have 18,000 volunteer fighters, mostly from Russia, and that more are keen on joining. Several far-right organisations are involved in the online recruitment process. One of them is the Eurasian Movement, a far-right political group with an international reach, founded by ultra-nationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin. Close to the Ukrainian border, in the Russian city of Rostov, one of Dugin’s Eurasian activists, Mikhail Uchitel, is working with Russian volunteer fighters who have been signed up online in preparation for their journey into Ukraine. Although the recruitment process is taking place in Russia, Mr Uchitel is adamant that the rebels do not answer to Moscow.

Yes and no, I’d say. And sometimes, I suspect, puppets just don’t see the strings.

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Oct/14

17

“A Kind of Hydraulic Effect”

Hobby LobbyWriting in the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin wonders where the Hobby Lobby decision might lead:

The great Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that important Supreme Court decisions “exercise a kind of hydraulic effect.” Even if the authors of such decisions assert that their rulings will have limited impact, these cases invariably have a profound influence. So it has been with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which is less than six months old….

Justice Samuel Alito insisted, in his opinion for the Court, that [the] in decision [in Hobby Lobby] would be very limited in its effect. Responding to the dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called it “a decision of startling breadth,” Alito wrote, “Our holding is very specific. We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can ‘opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.’ ” Ginsburg, though, wondered where the guidance was for the lower courts when faced with similar claims from employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others).

The problem is not (necessarily) what was decided in the Supreme Court but how that decision will be interpreted in lower courts where, for the most part, it will stay:

A sampling of court actions since Hobby Lobby suggests that Ginsburg has the better of the argument. She was right: the decision is opening the door for the religiously observant to claim privileges that are not available to anyone else.

One such matter is Perez v. Paragon Contractors, a case that arose out of a Department of Labor investigation into the use of child labor by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The F.L.D.S. church is an exiled offshoot of the Mormon Church.) In the case, Vernon Steed, a leader of the F.L.D.S. church, refused to answer questions by federal investigators, asserting that he made a religious vow not to discuss church matters. Applying Hobby Lobby, David Sam, a district-court judge in Utah, agreed with Steed, holding that his testimony would amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs—a standard used in Hobby Lobby—and excused him from testifying. The judge, also echoing Hobby Lobby, said that he needed only to determine that Steed’s views were “sincere” in order to uphold his claim. Judge Sam further noted that the government had failed to prove that demanding Steed’s testimony was not, in the words of the R.F.R.A., “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” That burden seems increasingly difficult for the government to meet…

To repeat a point I made in an earlier post:

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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NYC, Sept 2014 (AS)Independent Catholic News:

The Holy See has called for “an authentic cultural change” to combat climate change which is man-made and therefore man’s responsibility. That was the focus of an address delivered last night to the UN Climate Change Summit in New York by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

And, of course, there’s this:

For its part, Vatican City State, though small, is undertaking significant efforts to reduce its consummation of fossil fuels, through diversification and energy efficiency projects. However, as the Holy See’s delegation at the COP-19 in Warsaw indicated, “talking about emission reductions is useless if we are not ready to change our lifestyle and the current dominant models of consumption and production”

.The appeal of hair shirt and collectivist dream has not, it seems, gone away.

Of course, to the extent that there is AGW, it is not entirely unconnected with the fact that there are now some seven billion of us on the planet. I would not, of course, expect the Vatican to alter its opposition to contraception, but those who read its sermons on climate change should remember that this is one “change” that it is not prepared to countenance. That’s up to the church, of course, but it would be nice if it acknowledged that this stance comes with an environmental cost.

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Sep/14

27

Scottish Independence and the Catholic Church

Dunkeld, July 97 (AS)Scottish Catholic historian Tom Gallagher had something to say over at the Spectator about the way that Catholic voters voted in the recent independence referendum:

An influx of Irish immigrants restored a Catholic presence in Scotland after 1800. The overnight results show that the descendants of this community must have voted disproportionately for independence. Its remaining strongholds, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee and, above all, Glasgow are among the few areas of Scotland that voted Yes.

Gallagher’s analysis received some sharp pushback in the comments. This, I suspect, has something to it:

What is going on is the exact opposite to what Gallagher claims. Catholics are simply ceasing to vote as Catholics and are now voting according to age, social class and perceived national identity interests…Catholics have a higher percentage of their religious group in the lower socio-economic groups and they have suffered economically. Poorer people tended to vote, more heavily for independence as they could see Britishness not offering them much.

Nevertheless, the attitude of the church itself is worth noting.

Back to Gallagher:

Some might have been expected that the Church would have steered clear of politics and even urged its flock to carefully examine each of the choices before casting a vote, especially after the stewardship of Cardinal Keith O’Brien. The former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh acted more as a cheerleader for the SNP than as a dedicated pastor keen to strengthen his church in an increasingly irreligious age [I blogged a bit about O’Brien, a less than likeable figure, here and here].

New archbishops appointed in the last few years issued anodyne statements about exercising civic responsibility while apparently turning a blind eye to a number of priests who used their pulpits to issue overt political messages.

St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh even heard an overtly political talk delivered by a senior Catholic academic who had been invited to dwell on the 200-year history of the Church since its construction in 1814. The Scottish Catholic media has become a stomping ground for high-profile media and academic converts to nationalism. It is on such figures that a church hierarchy, increasingly disorientated by the loss of influence over a shrinking number of Scots-born Catholics, relies in its deliberations with the SNP administration. Silence in the face of ugly campaigning methods, or else acquiescence in order to preserve one of the church’s few outposts of influence, its extensive system of state funded schools, seems to have been the order of the day.

The following day the Spectator’s Damian Thompson reproduced the farewell message from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, to the departing Scottish Nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, a a message that included this:

With good reason, you have been described as one of the most able and influential political leaders that Scotland and the United Kingdom has ever produced.

Really?

But then comes something else. Thompson adds a screen shot of a somewhat menacing press release put out by Jim Sillars, a former deputy leader of the SNP and a man of the hard left, threatening a ‘day of reckoning’ against a number of large companies opposed to Scottish independence.

Thompson continues:

And then, underneath: ‘Notes to Editors. 1. For further information contact: Peter Kearney [phone number blacked out] or Jim Sillars.’

Peter Kearney is the name of the press officer for the Scottish bishops, including the Most Rev Philip Tartaglia….. Is it the same man? Mr Kearney of the Scottish Catholic Media Office has not responded to my answering machine message, but senior Scottish journalists, including Catholic ones, insist that it is he. Peter Kearney’s SNP sympathies and friendship with Jim Sillars are no secret. There’s nothing wrong with that – but what on earth is he doing apparently acting as press officer for Sillars’s menacing rant while simultaneously working in a similar capacity for the Catholic bishops of Scotland?

Good question.

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Sep/14

27

Lenin and “the Vibrations of Christ”

Lenin by Ilmar Malin, Kumu, Tallinn (AS, Sept 2012)Radio Free Europe:

“Leninland,” which was two years in the making, focuses on the massive, tomb-like Lenin Museum at the estate outside of Moscow where the Soviet founder spent his final days and died. The museum complex was built there in 1987, after the period of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika had already begun….

In the “Leninland” trailer, a museum researcher named Yevgenia describes her work in an office decorated with a shrine of Lenin memorabilia mixed in with Orthodox and Buddhist images. “It isn’t about Lenin or defending a concrete person — no matter how wonderful a genius he was — and he really was unique, remarkable, Mahatma Lenin,” she says. “It is about a future for people that they must acknowledge.”

….A deputy director of the museum tells Kurov in the film that “the vibrations of Christ” are still felt on the territory of Lenin’s estate — ignoring the fact that this was the very place where Lenin, an atheist, dictated his instructions to the Politburo on the confiscation of church property and the mass persecution of priests.

Just another reminder that Soviet communism was indeed an expression of an all too religious impulse.

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Sep/14

8

ISIS: Making the Trains Run on Time (Apparently)

ISISThe Independent

In the cities and towns across the desert plains of north-east Syria, the ultra-hardline al-Qa’ida offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.

The ‘Islamic State’ group, infamous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions, provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques. While its merciless battlefield tactics and the imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law made headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern…

The Independent’s jokey headline: Life under Isis: For residents of Raqqa is this really a caliphate worse than death?

The idea that fanatacism and a certain degree of efficiency are incompatible is nonsene, and this report is not a bad reminder of that, but there’s something about the language in which it is written…

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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

24

Saudi Arabia, a Reminder

Execution by beheading in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1985Writing in the New York Times, Ed Husain:

Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe….

Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates…

Salafi intolerance has led to the destruction of Islamic heritage in Mecca and Medina. If ISIS is detonating shrines, it learned to do so from the precedent set in 1925 by the House of Saud with the Wahhabi-inspired demolition of 1,400-year-old tombs in the Jannat Al Baqi cemetery in Medina. In the last two years, violent Salafis have carried out similar sectarian vandalism, blowing up shrines from Libya to Pakistan, from Mali to Iraq. Fighters from Hezbollah have even entered Syria to protect holy sites.

Textbooks in Saudi Arabia’s schools and universities teach this brand of Islam. The University of Medina recruits students from around the world, trains them in the bigotry of Salafism and sends them to Muslim communities in places like the Balkans, Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Egypt, where these Saudi-trained hard-liners work to eradicate the local, harmonious forms of Islam.

What is religious extremism but this aim to apply Shariah as state law? This is exactly what ISIS (Islamic State) is attempting do with its caliphate…

Saudi Arabia an ally? No.

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Aug/14

17

The Pope and the Sandinista

castron-n-desctoFox News from 2009:

UNITED NATIONS – The outspoken U.N. General Assembly president on Tuesday accused the United States of demonizing Iran’s president and criticized the International Criminal Court for issuing an arrest warrant for Sudan’s leader on war crimes charges in Darfur.

Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann… also reiterated that the more he thinks about the conditions that Israel imposes on the Palestinians, the more he tends “to think about apartheid.”

During a wide-ranging press conference, d’Escoto insisted he wasn’t being divisive or promoting his own agenda — but was just fulfilling his duty as president of the 192-member General Assembly to uphold the U.N. Charter and promote peace and nonviolence. Briefing reporters on his recent three-week trip that included a stop in Tehran, d’Escoto said he was struck by the great support and respect for Iran from its neighbors at a summit meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization — a regional body founded in 1985 by Iran, Turkey and Pakistan — especially for helping “to alleviate the plight” of Afghan refugees in Iran.

“That was a very wonderful experience to see that, in contrast to the attitude that we find, sadly, here where we are,” d’Escoto said.

“I don’t think anyone can doubt that in our part of the world … (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad has been demonized…”

The Huffington Post:

D’Escoto served as the Republic of Nicaragua’s Minister for Foreign Affairs for more than a decade and currently acts as Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs to President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He is still a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)…

America magazine(with an extract from a 1985 interview with D’Escoto):

Nicaragua will always have freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. Nicaragua is truly committed, not hypocritically committed, like Mr. Reagan, to democracy. We fought to overthrow a regime that was sponsored by the United States, because we could never have democracy under that regime. We are building our democracy. But even the most important of all human rights, which is the right to life, can have exceptions. Catholic morality accepts the principle that one can kill in self-defense, and talks about “just war.” The U.S. Government throws its arms up to the skies in horror because of the limitation of rights in Nicaragua. But this is done precisely to defend our most basic right, which is to sovereignty and the life of our people. We will not allow the use of liberties that never existed in Nicaragua before, but that now exist because of the revolution, to reverse the revolutionary process-in the way, for example, that freedom of the press in Chile was used in EI Mercurio to do in President Allende…

From the press kit issued at the time of D’Escoto’s presidency of the UN’s General Assembly:

Father d’Escoto is the recipient of numerous awards, such as: the Order of Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo (2007), the highest honour awarded by the Catholic University Redemptoris Mater (UNICA), for his work for peace; the Thomas Merton Award (1987), for his commitment to world peace; the Order of Carlos Fonseca Amador (1986), the FSLN’s highest honour, for his contributions to international law; the International Lenin Peace Prize (1985/86) awarded by the Soviet Union…..

Father D’Escoto?

Ah yes.

BBC:

The Vatican says Pope Francis has reinstated a Nicaraguan priest who was suspended thirty years ago for taking up office in Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government. Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann had been banned from celebrating mass by Pope John Paul II for defying a church ban on priests holding government jobs.

Fr D’Escoto served as Nicaragua’s foreign minister from 1979-1990. He welcomed the news and said his punishment had been unfair. Fr D’Escoto, 81, had written to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to celebrate mass before he dies.

On Monday, the Vatican announced that the Pope had agreed to the request and asked Fr D’Escoto’s superior in the missionary Maryknoll order to help reintroduce him into the priestly ministry….

Draw your own conclusions

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Green churchFrom Climate Progress:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speaking to three administrators for the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, David Kepley, an elder and deacon at the Providence Presbyterian Church, quoted Leviticus.

“God said ‘the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants,’” he said. “‘Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.’”

To be wasteful of the land’s bounty … is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God.

The verses, Kepley said, allude to several themes. For one, God has encouraged us not just to draw sustenance from the land, but to replenish it — to act as stewards of Creation. For another, the verses compare humans to “renters” in God’s house, meaning we can’t just trash God’s house with unmitigated pollution.

“To me this means that to be wasteful of the land’s bounty or to despoil it with substances that are harmful to people or other life forms is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God,” Kepley said. “In my view, the EPA has identified one of those areas where we humans have ignored our role as good stewards of the Creation.”

Kepley was just one of at least 28 religious leaders who urged the EPA at two D.C. hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday not to weaken — and at times to strengthen — its proposed regulations on carbon emissions from coal plants. The proposed rule represents the Obama Administration’s most ambitious move yet to combat one of the main drivers behind climate change.

…On Tuesday and Wednesday, leaders from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, and Baptist congregations spoke out in strong support of the rule, with most speakers calling it a moral obligation to God. Leaders from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Baha’i groups also testified in support of the rule.

Arguing for such rules on a scientific basis is fine, but this, well….

Taxpayers will, of course, have funded this set of sermons ‘hearing’: Quite why escapes me.

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