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Aug/16

4

ISIS, God and The Devil

ISISAusten Ivereigh’s defense of Pope Francis’ response to ISIS appears to be, well, evolving.

Just the other day, he was arguing this:

[ISIS] is a wholly modernistic creation, a vehicle of power, the “technocratic paradigm” of domination and exploitation, applied to an ancient faith. ISIS militants are engineers, IT experts, lawyers and literalists; they are utterly Western, utterly modern, utterly unreligious.

Now:

First, the Islamic State might recruit mentally-ill teenagers from the banlieus, but it is far from being a bunch of psychopaths. Islamism is a violent ideology drawn from a purist Islamic fundamentalism. It is a version of Islam which radically differs from, and is rejected by, most of the Muslim world.

Second, a war with Christianity is key to its worldview. The Islamic State awaits the army of “Rome,” whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse

Of course ISIS recruits far more than “mentally-ill” teenagers, but Ivereigh’s recognition that it is a religious movement (however repellent) is a welcome acceptance  of reality.

Ivereigh goes on to explain that Francis has a “six-fold strategy in response to the Islamic State provocation”. Apparently it’s “well thought out, and it is effective”. I’ll leave you to read the full piece and judge for yourselves, but this, well:

For the radicals, violence is sacred, sacrificial, divinely-sanctioned – it is precipitating Armaggedon and the celestial triumph of Islam.

So when Francis declares that its violence is, as well as being evil and abhorrent, “senseless,” as he described the Nice massacre, or “absurd” as he said of the violence that slayed Hamel, he is dealing Islamic State a significant blow: the world’s leading religious authority has denied them the legitimacy of a religious justification.

This is a strategy, but it is, also, genuinely, demonstrating what true religion is.

Well no. The idea that ISIS or, for that matter, many of the people inclined, however remotely, to sympathize with them will pay the slightest attention to the opinion of a “religious authority” for whom they have no respect is, to put it at its kindest, naïve.

As to what a  “true religion” is, well, let’s just to say that religion takes  many forms, not all of them benign.

And then:

As a longtime discerner of spirits, Francis has a keen awareness of the workings of the diabolos, the great divider, and the subtle ways evil can persuade ‘good’ people to set themselves over and against ‘bad’ people.

Did Ivereigh felt the need for a little Greek, with its suggestion of erudition, to conceal the primitive beliefs that it describes: The Devil. No less.

Superstition, wishful thinking and denial do not a good “strategy” make.

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Aug/16

1

The Avoidance of Uncomfortable Reality

ISIS ChurchCross-posted on the Corner.

Crux:

Pope Francis on Sunday defended his avoidance of the term “Islamic violence” by suggesting the potential for violence lies in every religion, including Catholicism.

“I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence, because every day, when I read the newspaper, I see violence,” Francis said, when asked about why he never speaks of Islamic terrorism or fundamentalism when condemning attacks such as the murder of a French priest last week, who had his throat slit by an Islamic terrorist as he was celebrating Mass.

The pope said that when he reads the newspaper, he reads about an Italian who kills his fiancé or his mother in law.

“They are baptized Catholics. They are violent Catholics,” Francis said, adding that if he speaks of “Islamic violence,” then he has to speak of “Catholic violence” too.

Well, no, there’s a difference between a murder committed by people who happen to be of a certain religion, and murder committed in the name of a religion.

Francis is no fool.

He must know this, but still he says what he says.

And then:

 Although clarifying that he didn’t know if he should say it because “it’s dangerous,” the pope then admitted that terrorism grows when “there’s no other option.”

“As long as the god of money is at the center of the global economy and not the human person, man and woman, this is the first terrorism,” he said, defining it as a “terrorism at the bases,” against the whole of humanity.

No, money is not the “first terrorism”. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that a good number of the more notorious Islamic terrorists have come from relatively comfortable backgrounds. They had alternatives—many alternatives—but they were drawn to violence by their understanding of God, as many have been before them, and many will be in the future.

Again, the Pope must know this, but he prefers, once again, to change the subject, talking, once again, about the wickedness of “money”, cheap, stale demagoguery with the stench of conspiracism about it.

It’s not really for me to say so, but I would think that Francis’ church has the right to expect rather more from him.

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Jul/16

31

“On A Relentless March”

League of the GodlessThe news that some in the Democratic Party might have tried to ‘out’ Bernie Sanders as an atheist was neither particularly surprising nor particularly shocking. Atheism doesn’t play well with the electorate. What’s more, to the extent that a candidate’s religious faith (or lack of religious faith) might influence his or her policies, it’s something that voters have a legitimate interest in knowing.

Nevertheless, as was probably inevitable in an age of taking offense, people have been offended.

Writing for Bustle, Raina Lipsitz grumbles that “one important group is missing from the DNC’s platform: atheists.”  Naturally the word “problematic” makes an appearance later.

Naturally, “atheist groups” have called for the firing of the Democratic operative who wanted to raise Sanders’ supposed atheism. Naturally he has apologized to “those [he] offended.”

One voice of sanity is “outspoken atheist and Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times science columnist Natalie Angier”. Asked whether this exclusion bothers her, she replies:

“Yes, I’m an atheist … But do I care whether the Democratic platform includes an explicit nod to us atheists? Hell no….”

#StandWithNatalie

On the other hand:

Toni Van Pelt, president and public policy director of the Institute for Science and Human Values, disagrees. “This is the time to call on the Party to officially recognize the nonreligious as true Americans…Atheists are on a relentless march to be recognized and valued by the larger community. We will no longer accept a back seat to those who profess a faith … it would behoove the Democratic Party to reach out in a public statement to those of no religion … and [acknowledge] that the philosophy of living life to the fullest here and now is of great importance.”

Officially recognize!

Relentless march!

Living life to the fullest!

Great importance!

Oh please.

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Jul/16

30

Father Hamel: An ‘Absurd’ Killing?

church-apCross-posted on the Corner.

I posted something yesterday on Pope Francis’ disconcerting (there are other adjectives) response to the murder of Father Hamel in Normandy earlier this week, specifically with reference to this comment:

“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.”

This, I argued, was wrong-headed for any number of reasons, not least the way that it effectively tried to downplay the wider religious significance of Father Hamel’s killing. That’s a topic that Damian Thompson has now addressed in The Spectator. Mr. Thompson, I should add, is not only an associate editor of The Spectator, but also the editorial director of the Catholic Herald:

Father Hamel was killed while re-enacting the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the essence of the Catholic Mass, which — unlike Protestant commemorations of the Last Supper — is presented to the faithful as the same sacrifice offered by Jesus. To kill a priest who is saying Mass is therefore an act of unique desecration. You do not need to be a believer to grasp this point. Enemies of the church have understood it since the beginning: an early pope, St Sixtus, was beheaded during Mass in 258 ad by agents of the Emperor Valerian. Islamists, who reach back to the Dark Ages for so many of their actions, have rediscovered this crime. Their intense (and very successful) campaign to cleanse the Middle East of Christians reached its symbolic peak on 31 October 2010, when Father Thaer Abdal was shot dead at the altar of the Syrian Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad. Fifty-seven other innocent people, many of them worshippers, died with him.

The gunmen who broke into the church during Sunday Mass were heard to scream: ‘All of you are infidels… we will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell.’ They were members of an Iraqi faction of al-Qaeda that had declared war on churches, ‘dirty dens of idolatry’, and in particular ‘the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican’. The motives of Islamic terrorists are sometimes hard to disentangle from their personal biographies and factional infighting. But sometimes they are obvious, and the only thing obscuring them is the politically correct preciousness of the liberal western media and commentariat. Many Islamic fundamentalists, including those who don’t participate directly in violence, loathe Christianity with a poisonous passion reminiscent of medieval Christian anti-Semitism. Its practice must be suppressed — either without violence, as in Saudi Arabia, or amid carefully staged scenes of bloodshed, as in Baghdad or Rouen.

In the 21st-century Middle East, Christianity has been suppressed on an astonishing scale….

Thompson goes on to ask whether the murder of Father Hamel will “awake Christendom from its torpor.” As evidence that it will not, he cites comments by Austen Ivereigh, a  biographer of Pope Francis and a  former spokesman for the English Catholic Church. Mr. Ivereigh is quoted as  referring to the ‘pointless banality of the Rouen murder’ and as urging us not to glorify it by ‘ascribing religious motives’.

Well, to me at any rate, the “religious motives” were  all too clear.

In a long, closely-argued piece for ABC, Mr. Ivereigh has now discussed the Pope’s response to Father’s Hamel’s killing, and specifically the description of the attack as “absurd” act of violence.

Absurd?

Ivereigh:

Absurd violence? The words seemed almost trite. There was no mention of martyrdom, or even of Father Hamel. The Pope’s attention was neither on the victim nor the perpetrator, but on the nature of the act; and rather than ascribing to it any religious or ideological motive, the Pope reduced it merely to an outpouring of hate. For Francis, it was not an attack, assault or a slaying – or any of the other terms we journalists love to use to dramatise – but a meaningless, pointless act; mere hatred; an absurdity…

Ivereigh duly tweeted the Pope’s words and duly received a disapproving response:

I was drawing attention, I said [to one critic], to the Pope’s focus on the act rather than the motives of the killers, which are at this stage – I was writing just hours after the event – frankly obscure. But based on previous ISIS-inspired acts, not least in Nice, the attackers were likely to be vulnerable, depressive losers lured into violence by radicals on the internet; to call them religious, I warned, was to buy into the Da’esh narrative, that this was a war of Islam on the West and Christianity.

This will not do. The murderers’ motives were never, frankly, that obscure, although elements in their mix might have been. Perhaps it’s easier for me, someone without any religious faith, to accept than it would be for Mr. Ivereigh, but people can be drawn to religion for any number of reasons, some noble, some far less so. Some of these people may be talented, secure and successful. Others may be “vulnerable, depressive, losers”, but they have all arrived at a religious destination, even if they may well have very different understandings of what that destination is.

Yes, there are good reasons to resist giving the current conflict with elements in Islam an incendiary label, and those reasons are strong enough to justify a noble lie or two, but lying to ourselves is not only unwise, but also dangerous.

Ivereigh cites the Archbishop of Marseilles:

“We are no longer in the realm of ideas,” he said – no small thing for a Frenchman to declare – but confronted with a very new kind of war, unknown until now.

Yes and no: Part of the effort to defeat ISIS must involve trying to understand its ideas.  Ivereigh argues” that violence has no part in God’s plan; it is no-thing; it is absurd.” Well, that may be true of his God, but, God is in the eye of the beholder, and He can take forms that are not always so benign as Ivereigh believes.

Ivereigh adds:

[ISIS] is a wholly modernistic creation, a vehicle of power, the “technocratic paradigm” of domination and exploitation, applied to an ancient faith. ISIS militants are engineers, IT experts, lawyers and literalists; they are utterly Western, utterly modern, utterly unreligious.

I can’t agree. In a post last year on the topic of whether ISIS is nihilist (it’s not) I noted:

ISIS, like most millenarian movements, believes in a cleansing fire (and, in its case, in setting it), and ideologically it explicitly looks back (to the teachings attributed to Mohammed)… but to think that this also involves an embrace of the technologically pre-modern is evidently a mistake.

And in another post on the same subject, I cited the British philosopher John Gray:

[F]ar from believing in nothing, Isis militants are possessed by faith. Though some reports suggest that the militants may have been fuelled by euphoria-inducing drugs, their attacks are not random acts of terror. They are moves in a methodical strategy of savagery that serves an apocalyptic myth. Isis is an explicitly eschatological movement, infused with fantasies of cataclysmic end-time battles and a universal caliphate.

Indeed it is. It’s not the first of its kind. It won’t be the last. And it will not be wished away.

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Jul/16

29

Pope Francis: ‘Religions Don’t Want War’

Jacques HamelCross-posted on the Corner.

The day after an elderly Catholic priest is butchered in his church by Islamic extremists, Pope Francis offers up his explanation (my emphasis added):.

ABC:

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.”

Let’s look at the Independent’s account of the murder of Father Hamel:

One of the terrorists had a handgun and began to shout “Allah Akbar” and the other had a fake bomb with a timer… They then gave a “sermon in Arabic” at the altar.

That looks like an act of religious war to me.

And as 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.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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Jul/16

23

Bernie Sanders, Sinister Atheist!

sandersWell, well, well..

The Independent:

The Democratic National Committee – a supposedly neutral organisation – apparently hatched a plan to try and undermine Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton by getting someone to claim he was an atheist.

The Sanders campaign for months complained that people in the DNC were biased in favour of the establishment candidate, Ms Clinton. The campaign even sued the DNC to allow it access to its voter database.

Now, the release of a more than 20,000 internal DNC emails by Wikileaks, suggests that senior DNC officials plotted against Mr Sanders.

An email from May 2016 and sent from DNC CFO Brad Marshall suggested that they should “get someone to ask” Mr Sanders his views on religion,

“It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist,” wrote Mr Marshall.

“This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

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Jul/16

23

Not Erdoğan (2)

Mustafa_Kemal_Atatürk_With Islamist Turkish president Erdoğan continuing to take advantage of the failed coup that  he has described as a “gift from God”, here’s another quote from an infinitely greater Turk, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk:

Religion is an important institution. A nation without religion cannot survive. Yet it is also very important to note that religion is a link between Allah and the individual believer. The brokerage of the pious cannot be permitted. Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people; it is against just such people that we have fought and will continue to fight…

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Jul/16

19

Not Erdoğan

kemal_ataturkGiven the news  from Turkey, a quote or two from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk seemed appropriate:

I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go….

We do not consider our principles as dogmas contained in books that are said to come from heaven. We derive our inspiration, not from heaven, or from an unseen world, but directly from life.

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Jul/16

2

“Paris Vaut Bien Une Messe”

TrumpJesusPolitico:

Trump met with hundreds of evangelical leaders in New York earlier this week, and while some well-known figures — such as Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr. — have endorsed the candidate, others are more hesitant to do so.

However, Dobson, a Christian psychologist and founder of the Focus on the Family group, said he knows “the person who led [Trump] to Christ. And that’s fairly recent.”

“I don’t know when it was, but it has not been long,” Dobson said in an interview with Pennsylvania megachurch pastor Michael Anthony following that meeting in New York. “I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian.”

….“I’ve been a Christian, and I love Christianity and the evangelicals have been so incredibly supportive,” Trump said in the private session with evangelicals this week, according to audio obtained by POLITICO. “Don’t forget, when I ran, and all of a sudden I went to states that were highly evangelical, like as an example, South Carolina, and they said, ‘Well, Trump won’t win this state because it’s evangelical’ … not only did I win, I won in a landslide.”

All this is another reminder, as if one were needed, that Jesus is in the eye of the beholder.  And, of course, it’s also a reminder of that religion is about much more than its teachings, not least the extent to which its bolsters a sense of group identity: ‘our team’, come what may, Donald Trump ‘baby Christian’.

As for Trump, whatever one might think about him (generally not much…), his cynicism in this respect is worth a smile, and perhaps even a round of light applause.

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Jun/16

4

The GOP: Losing Its Religion?

Trump BibleWriting in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne ‘worries’ that GOP may be losing its religion

Some extracts:

But especially among Republicans, religious issues have taken a back seat in the party’s discourse and religious leaders are playing a diminished role in the 2016 campaign.

This was not how things started. Many had the remarkable experience during the primaries of hearing Ted Cruz declare to his followers: “Awaken the body of Christ that we might pull back from the abyss.” You can’t get much more religious than that.

But Cruz failed to awaken and unite religious conservatives, a reason that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. The split this year among conservative evangelical Christians was profound.

On the one side were those, mainly Cruz supporters, still voting on abortion, same-sex marriage and other moral issues. On the other were those among the faithful so angry about the direction of the country and what they saw as the marginalization of conservative Christianity in public life that they opted for the strongman who could push back hard against their enemies.

Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, spoke for the second group. “Most Americans know we are in a mess,” Jeffress declared, “and as they look at Donald Trump, they believe he is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly.”

… in imagining that Trump will somehow reverse the trend, Christian conservatives are taking a big risk. As he has on so much else, Trump has been entirely opportunistic in his approach to religion. By some measures, he’s running the most secular Republican campaign since the 1970s.

… Trump’s comments on immigrants, political correctness and Muslims suggest he is far more anti-multicultural than he is pro-religion. He talks more about symbols and public icons than about faith or morals. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store,” he said last October. “The ‘Happy Holiday’ you can leave over there at the corner.”

It’s an empty promise, since no president could force “every store” in America to give a Christian greeting. But the fact that he chose to make the media-driven Christmas wars a centerpiece of his argument to Christians shows that his real engagement is with identity politics, not religion.

In a way, yes.  But there’s not necessarily a contradiction between the two. I cannot speak for Evangelicals, of course,  but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to think that that label covers a wide range, from the deeply devout to those who use it as some sort of broader ‘tribal’ or social-cultural identifier.

Turn to another Washington Post article (by the appropriately named Geoffrey Layman) back in March and we find this:

The key to understanding Trump’s support among evangelicals is to realize that some evangelicals’ commitment to the faith is shaky, too. Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church. In short, the evangelicals supporting Trump are not the same evangelicals who have traditionally comprised the Christian Right and supported cultural warriors such as Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz.

But evangelical support for Cruz and Carson, who are grouped because of their close association with evangelicalism and moral conservatism, was higher among those who attend church more frequently. In contrast, Trump did best among evangelicals who are never, almost never or only occasionally in the pews.

These aren’t the only evangelical Trump supporters. He still attracted a plurality of those who attend at least every Sunday. Nevertheless, Trump performed worse among devout evangelicals than among non-devout evangelicals.

Why is this? A considerable literature on religion and politics suggests that evangelicals who attend worship services irregularly tend to have less formal education and lower incomes than more devout evangelicals. They tend to care less about moral and cultural issues and vote more on the basis of economic concerns. In some cases, they are less tolerant of religious and racial minority groups….

Infrequent church attenders cared less about the traditional Christian Right policy agenda and more about Trump’s agenda of creating jobs, improving Americans’ economic welfare and stemming the tide on immigration. The graph below shows that infrequent church attenders were less likely to prioritize two “moral and cultural” issues (abortion and “morality and religion in society”) as one of their four most important issues. But they cared much more about jobs and economic welfare.

Similarly, evangelicals who attend church less frequently are also less socially conservative. They are less likely to favor religious exemptions to the federal requirement that employers cover prescription birth control in their health-insurance plans. They also are less enthusiastic about allowing business owners to refuse on religious grounds to provide services for same-sex weddings. Trump’s lack of commitment to social conservatism may not bother these less-observant evangelicals very much…

Even allowing for this distinction (which sounds convincing), it would be wrong to assume that the more devout Evangelicals will not opt for Trump this fall. How they decide to vote when there is a Santorum or a Cruz on the ballot is one thing, but when the alternative is Hillary Clinton the calculation could be very different.

As to the longer-term influence of the Trump candidacy on the internal politics of the Republican Party, we’ll have to see, not least to see whether he wins (unlikely, in my view, but I’m not known for the accuracy of my predictions concerning Trump). If I had to guess, the religious right (loosely defined) will continue to remain a powerful force in the GOP, although one that is deferred to a little less and understood somewhat better.

That’s no bad thing.

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