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Jul/14

4

Happy Independence Day!

Empire State Building, May 2013 (AS)

“Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.”

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

Jul/14

1

Longer Spoon Needed

FrancisReuters:

Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have prompted some to label him a Marxist, said in an interview published on Sunday that communists had stolen the flag of Christianity. The 77-year-old pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome’s local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday. He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticised capitalism and called for radical economic reform.

“I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel,” he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

“Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian’,” he said, laughing.

The Raw Story (reporting on the same interview):

Pope Francis has accused communism of stealing its ideas from Christianity, and said its founding thinker Karl Marx “did not invent anything.”

Commenting on suggestions in the media that his world view is not dissimilar to communist ideology, the pope responded that it was the church that got there first.

Let’s just say that’s a rather benign interpretation of what communism actually is. Nevertheless, as The Raw Story goes on to note, the pope has in the past rejected the idea that he is a Marxist. That’s fair enough. To start with, although communism has many of the characteristics of a millennialist religion, there is that whole ‘no God’ thing.

The pope’s critique of capitalism, if not the demagogic language in which he makes it, is better seen as a radical application of Rerum Novarum than as an attempt to give Das Kapital a clerical twist. At the same time, as I read Francis’s comments I couldn’t help thinking of Ayn Rand’s remark about Christianity (and, more specifically, its collectivist tradition) being “the best kindergarten of communism possible.” As so often with Rand, an oversimplification, but…

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From the House on the Embankment, Moscow Aug 96) (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Here’s Radio Free Europe with a reminder of how “traditional” values are playing out in today’s Russia:

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has awarded Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov with an order for “glory and honor.” Patriarch Kirill gave the order to Zyuganov in Moscow on June 27, one day after the longtime communist leader celebrated his 70th birthday.

Kirill said Zyuganov — who in 2010 called for the re-Stalinization of Russia and has called the Soviet Union “the most humane state in human history” — deserves the award as “one of the most famous Russian politicians who has expressed interest in the welfare of the nation and the protection of traditional moral values”.

And to think there are those who still believe that Pussy Riot was the problem.

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Jun/14

27

Papal Economics, Again

173266444TP054_Pope_FrancisA week or so ago (yes, I’ve been away) Pope Francis’s views on economics took an even deeper turn into the swamplands of conspiracy theory.

Business Insider reports:

The 77-year-old leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said some countries had a youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, with many millions in Europe seeking work in vain.

“It’s madness,” the pope said in an interview with the Barcelona-based Vanguardia daily’s Vatican correspondent Henrique Cymerman.

Well, that’s not entirely unfair; it is madness that so many are unemployed in countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. But the madness is that these high levels of unemployment are in no small part the consequences of the euro, a currency that is in many ways the antithesis of the free market economics that the pope so disdains.

But I don’t think the struggling single currency union is what the pope is really referring to when he talks about “an economic system that no longer endures”.

No, what the pope is talking about is free market capitalism;

“We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures, a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done,” Francis said.

“But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies — the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money — are obviously cleaned up.”

Nonsense, of course, poisonous nonsense, but skilfully deployed.

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Jun/14

1

Wenski Demands Action: Please Fill My Pews

WenskiHere’s Miami’s Roman Catholic archbishop Wenski writing from, so to speak, his tax-exempt pulpit, with an attack on the position that the Republican-controlled House has taken on immigration ‘reform’:

As the Archbishop of Miami, a region with more than one million immigrants who came to America seeking a better life, I was pleased and hopeful when the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But that was almost a full year ago. Ever since then, the leadership of the House of Representatives has offered a litany of delays and excuses for inaction and obstruction. These political whimpers stand in contrast to the cries of torn-apart immigrant families that echo in parishes across the country. Parents of American children are deported. Eleven million of our neighbors live in constant fear of losing their loved ones, their jobs, their place in a country that has become home.

A nation of immigrants and a beacon of democracy can surely do better. Now is the time for the House to pass common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform that the American people support and the American economy needs…

Wenski appears to know about as much about economics as his (quasi) Peronist boss in the Vatican. The American economy does not “need” immigration reform. And America’s unemployed (the sort of people for whom, incidentally, priests are supposed to care) do not need yet more competitors for the jobs that they would like to have and, in an age of increasing structural unemployment, are likely to find it ever more difficult to secure.

Wenski thunders on:

I believe Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) knows that passing comprehensive immigration reform is the right thing to do, and that there are enough people of good will in the House to get it done. What remains to be seen is whether these legislators understand the fierce urgency of the situation. Criticism from the partisan base might loom larger than the plight of an altar boy whose father awaits deportation, but which is more important?

This priest, it seems, is not too happy with democracy (or, as he would term it, “criticism from the partisan base”).

Naturally Pope Francis’s notorious Lampedusa talk gets an implicit plug:

Pope Francis…condemns a “globalization of indifference” that takes immigrants’ lives.

Here, again, is some of what Theodore Dalrymple had to say about that particular piece of demagoguery:

In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’

The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’

With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?

By elevating feeling over thought, by making compassion the measure of all things, the Pope was able to evade the complexities of the situation, in effect indulging in one of the characteristic vices of our time, moral exhibitionism, which is the espousal of generous sentiment without the pain of having to think of the costs to other people of the implied (but unstated) morally-appropriate policy…..

And that’s just fine with Wenski.

Of course, we need to remember that what Wenski is preaching has very little to do with compassion, and a great deal to do with power, and more specifically, the power of numbers. Latino immigration fills pews, and (often) adds support for the Roman Catholic Church’s ideological agenda.

As The Economist explained a month or so back:

Together with a general migration from the north-east and Midwest towards the sunbelt, the number of people leaving the faith has led to a shrinking of Catholicism in its former heartlands…

This shrinking has been offset by growth in the South and southwest of the country. The number of Catholics in the archdiocese of Atlanta has increased by 180% in 2001-11. In these growth areas two-thirds of all Catholics are Hispanic. Hispanics tend to have larger families and their children are more likely to stick with the religion than the offspring of white Catholics. This is causing a big change in the ethnic makeup of the faithful. About a third of American Catholics are Hispanic, but for those under 40 the share rises to almost half.

And that’s what Wenski’s advocacy is really about.

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May/14

11

Now St. Vladimir?

May/14

10

St. Josef?

Modern Russia:
Russia2014

Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik Ilves tweets:

Syncretism: the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.

Pause to consider the outrage if a similar icon, but bearing the picture of Hitler, had been included in a march in Germany.

And here’s Serge Schmemann writing in the National Geographic back in 2009:

…Some astoundingly dark and retrograde notions openly circulate in reactionary churches and on nationalist websites. One is a drive to canonize Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible, two of the more noxious characters of Russian history who have been reinvented by extremists as “defenders of Holy Russia.”

Outside St. Petersburg, the decaying summer palaces of old Russia’s tsars and grand dukes overlook the Gulf of Finland. Behind the ruins of one such palace stands a tiny, half-restored chapel. Inside I come face-to-face with a spectacle that makes me gasp—a large icon of Joseph Stalin. He’s not wearing the halo of a saint, but a saint is blessing him.

The icon depicts a legend in which Stalin, at the outbreak of World War II, secretly visits St. Matryona of Moscow, a blind and paralyzed woman to whom many people came for spiritual guidance until her death in 1952. According to the legend she counseled the Soviet dictator not to flee Moscow before the invading German Army, but to stand firm against the onslaught.

The chapel’s pastor, Evstafy Zhakov, is a fiery nationalist highly regarded by his flock for his charismatic sermons. In an interview with the right-wing newspaper Zavtra, he defended the icon by explaining that Russia has a long tradition of saints blessing warriors before battle.

“But Stalin was an atheist,” the interviewer interjected.

“How do you know?” Father Evstafy retorted. Two wartime patriarchs proclaimed Stalin a believer, “and I will believe them before I believe all these liberals and democrats.”

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May/14

3

“Western Education Forbidden”

ChibokCross-posted on the Corner:

An atrocity now turns out to be even worse than previously thought.

The Sydney Morning Herald:

Kano: Nigerian police say Boko Haram militants are holding 223 girls of the 276 seized from their school in the country’s north east, revising upwards the number of youngsters abducted. School and government officials in the northeastern state of Borno had previously given lower figures on the numbers being held since the mass abduction nearly three weeks ago in the town of Chibok.

Gunmen believed to be Islamist fighters stormed the girls’ boarding school, forcing them from their dormitories onto trucks and driving them into the bush after a gun battle with soldiers. Borno state police commissioner Lawan Tanko said on Friday his officers and other security agencies revised the figure after “intensive and extensive investigation, consultations and collation of figures from parents and the school”.

“So far, we have a comprehensive list of 276 girls abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on April 14 and out of this figure, 53 were able to escape and return,” he told AFP.

“The number of girls being held by their abductors stands at 223 but this figure is not exhaustive and may change because we have made an announcement calling on parents whose daughters are missing from the school to come forward and register their names.

Eliza Griswold, writing in The Chicago Tribune:

The girls, aged mostly between 16 and 18 years old, haven’t been heard from since April 14, the night before their final exam at the Government Girls Secondary School in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok when they woke to the sound of gunmen bashing in windows and setting fire to their classrooms. Within hours, 234 of them were herded into trucks headed for the jungle. As many as 43 managed to escape. Some swung down from trucks in the slow-moving convoy; others ran off when they reached the forest. [As the Sydney Morning Herald Story explains, the numbers have since been updated]

The fate of the rest remains a mystery. Each passing day makes it more likely that the girls have been raped, and possibly killed, in captivity. Given Boko Haram’s name, which means “Western education forbidden,” and their agenda to wipe out secular society in mostly Muslim Northern Nigeria, it’s hardly a surprise that the group locks students inside schools and sets them on fire. This, to date, is their largest mass abduction. The girls were taken into the jungle to serve as sex slaves. Yet the abduction of these girls is about much more than finding “cooks and wives.” For Boko Haram, it is about dismantling the fragile existing society by attacking its essential institutions: schools.

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Apr/14

27

Putin’s Church

Valamo, Finland 1930sThe Aviationist reports:

A Tupolev Tu-214SR, used as a communication relay aircraft often dispatched by the Russian Air Force to accompany Putin’s presidential aircraft or other Moscow’s VIPs on their trips, has departed from St. Petersburg and it is currently circling near the border with Finland.

The orbit RSD49 (the radio callsign of the aircraft) is flying, centered on the island of Valaam, the largest in Lake Ladoga, where Putin is visiting his “spiritual mentor”, brings the Tu-214 as close as 20 km from the Finnish border.

There’s something nastily appropriate about that. The Valaam monastery is in a part of Karelia that was Finnish territory until stolen by Stalin in 1940.

In other Russian Orthodox news, note this detail from the recent account of a visit to “separatist”-occupied Slavyansk (eastern Ukraine) by the Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Halko:

[T]hey are in complete control of the city; Slavyansk is occupied.

Q: And what do they call themselves, these armed men?

A: They do not introduce themselves. They have signs everywhere saying “Donbas People’s Militia.” But no one introduced himself to us. No one said anything about himself.

The only person who spoke to us was a civilian who was standing at these roadblocks with a ribbon of St. George [symbol of loyalty to Russia] and without a mask. Some kind of hardcore Orthodox fundamentalist. Only with him was it clear who he was, that he was a local; he even showed his passport – he has retained a Soviet passport in which there was a column for nationality; in it was written: “Russian.” He is proud of this. And he says that we are all Orthodox Russians here. That means, we do not want this “European plague.”

Only he spoke with us in a normal way, and told us about his motives at least. Incidentally, among these people there are many with beards, but not because they have not shaved for many days, but really long beards, as if they were some kind of Orthodox brotherhood. Many say they are from Slavyansk, I do not know.

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Apr/14

19

The (Re)birth of Ivan Ilyin

Kremlin, Moscow, (Feb 91) (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner.

Here’s a thought-provoking take on, if you like, “Vladimir Putin, conservative”, from John Schindler. The piece covers too much ground to be summarized in a few excerpts, so I’ll focus on just one aspect of it, the way that Putin is looking to base the legitimacy of his regime on older, far older, notions of what the Russian state should be:

[T]he reconquest of Crimea has caused a clear change of tone in Moscow, with celebration of old fashioned Russian nationalism coming into fashion. In his speech to the Duma announcing the triumphant annexation of Crimea, when speaking of Russians, Putin specifically used the ethnic term – russkiy – not the more inclusive rossiyskiy, which applies to all citizens of the Russian Federation. This came among incantations to the full Great Russian program, with a Moscow-centric view of Eastern Europe seemingly endorsed by mentions of great Orthodox saints. Unstated yet clearly, this was all of a piece with “Third Rome” ideology, a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.

Westerners seemed shocked by this “Holy Russia” stuff, but Putin has been dropping unsubtle hints for years that his state ideology includes a good amount of this back-to-the-future thinking, cloaked in piety and nationalism. Western “experts” continue to state that a major influence here is Aleksandr Dugin, an eccentric philosopher who espouses “Eurasianism,” an odd blend of geopolitical theory and neo-fascism. While Dugin is not irrelevant, his star at the Kremlin actually faded a decade ago, though he gets some Kremlin attention because his father was a GRU general. Far more important to divining Putin’s worldview, however, is Ivan Ilyin, a Russian political and religious thinker who fled the Bolsheviks and died an emigre in Switzerland in 1953. In exile, Ilyin espoused ethnic-religious neo-traditionalism, amidst much talk about a unique “Russian soul.” Germanely, he believed that Russia would recover from the Bolshevik nightmare and rediscover itself, first spiritually then politically, thereby saving the world. Putin’s admiration for Ilyin is unconcealed: he has mentioned him in several major speeches and he had his body repatriated and buried at the famous Donskoy monastery with fanfare in 2005; Putin personally paid for a new headstone. Yet despite the fact that even Kremlin outlets note the importance of Ilyin to Putin’s worldview, not many Westerners have noticed.

They should, however, because Putinism includes a good amount of Ilyin-inspired Orthodoxy and Russian nationalism working hand-in-glove, what its advocates term symphonia, meaning the Byzantine-style unity of state and church, in stark contrast to American notions of separation of church and state. Although the Russian Orthodox Church… is not the state church, de jure, in practice it functions as something close to one, enjoying a privileged position at home and abroad…

Ilyin is a complicated figure, and perhaps more of ‘liberal’ (these things are relative) than the synopsis above might suggest, but he does play an important symbolic role in what has become the key intellectual project of the Putin regime, the reconciliation of imperial and Soviet Russia, an idea that is (I’d argue) at its core, absurd, but comes with the advantage that it spares the Russian people the necessity of a full reckoning with what was done to, and by, them in the Soviet era.

As to what Putin actually believes, well, that’s anyone guess, but there should be no doubting his willingness to make use of the ideological position he has developed to support his agenda at home, in the territories of the former USSR (‘the near abroad’) and even further afar than that. Schindler has plenty to say about what the implications of that could be, none of them reassuring.

As the saying goes: read the whole thing.

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