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Mar/14

2

“Black Cassock, Gold Epaulettes”

pussy riotThe latest issue of the British magazine, Standpoint, has a fine profile of Pussy Rioter Nadezhda Tolonnikova by Rachel Polonsky.

The whole piece is well worth reading, but this, in particular, caught my attention:

The dissident priest Gleb Yakunin regards the performance in the cathedral as a miracle in the full Christian sense of the word. Pussy Riot’s words “black cassock, gold epaulettes” drove “to the very heart of Patriarch Kirill”, he said. During their imprisonment, Yakunin composed a verse cycle in Pussy Riot’s honour, The Pussiniad. He too did time in prisons and labour camps in the Soviet period. In 1993, five years after his amnesty, the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him for exposing its infiltration by the KGB. Yakunin had unmasked Kirill as a high-ranking agent codenamed Mikhailov.

Let’s scroll back to the controversy last year involving remarks by two Republican congressmen, Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher, over Pussy Riot, a controversy that led Rohrabacher to write a comment over on NRO’s corner that included this:

The group snuck its way onto the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior without permission and performed a punk rock song with vulgar lyrics. Their stunt was disrespectful and completely irreverent…There is a distinction between a group engaged in outrageous acts for the sake of notoriety and those engaged in political speech. This group’s activities certainly appear to fall in the former category.

Yakunin or Rohrabacher? It’s not a difficult choice.

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Feb/14

27

Atheists, CPAC and Conservatism

hugh trevor roperCross-posted on Ricochet:

Writing in response to the uninviting of American Atheists to CPAC, Charlie Cooke has a very fine article over on NRO on the topic of whether atheism and conservatism are compatible. As an atheist and a conservative he thinks, not unsurprisingly, that they are, and, as someone who is agnostic and on the right, I can only say, well, amen.

Charlie’s piece is eloquent and carefully reasoned and well worth reading in full, but FWIW I wrote a far shorter article on (more or less) this topic for Politix late last year. Perhaps it is worth excerpting this:

[T]he idea that it is essential philosophically for conservatives to be religious believers is nonsense. Dig around a bit, and you will discover quite a few here in America who have declared that they are not (although none of them – how odd – hold significant elective office). Look across the Atlantic (I am British-born) and you will find many, many more.

It is no coincidence that Charlie also hails from Blighty. The notion that it is impossible for a conservative—and I mean a ‘proper’ Conservative in the Thatcher or Reagan sense rather than a Cameron-style whatever he is—to be an atheist would be thought over there to be very strange indeed.

I went on to write this:

Godless conservatives however are rarely anti-religious [Charlie makes a similar point]. They often appreciate religion as a force for social cohesion and as a link to a nation’s past. They may push back hard against religious extremism, but, unlike today’s “new atheists” they are most unlikely to be found railing against “sky fairies.” Mankind has evolved in a way that makes it strongly disposed towards religious belief, and conservatism is based on recognizing human nature for what it is.

That means facing the fact that gods will, one way or another, always be with us.

And facing that fact includes contemplating the reality that some gods are considerably less benign than others, a point that those pushing for a very expansive view of ‘religious freedom’ would do very well to ponder.

Being a philosophical sort, Charlie mulls the philosophical implications of his atheism, where do rights come from and all that. Well, I’m not a philosophical sort…

A few years back, Jonathan Rée wrote a review of a collection of writings by the British (yes, them again) historian, the undeniably conservative, undeniably non-believing Hugh Trevor-Roper:

I wrote a bit about it here at the time. In the context of the current discussion, this section from Rée’s article is worth repeating:

He was not interested in the rather threadbare notion (doted on by some humanists) that the lights of truth were suddenly switched on in Europe at the beginning of the 18th century, revealing that the demons which people had spooked themselves with in the past were mere figments of their superstitious imaginations. The Enlightenment that Trevor-Roper celebrates is historical rather than philosophical: it is marked by Gibbon’s creation of a new kind of history, dedicated not to pointless facts or edifying examples but to “sociological content” – in other words, to the revolutionary notion that “human societies have an internal dynamism, dependent on their social structure and articulation.” By bringing history “down to earth”, Gibbon and the other Enlightenment historians had contributed more to the discombobulation of know-nothing theologians than any number of philosophers would ever be able to do.

Gibbon mocked religion, but he never underestimated it. He recognised that religious experience involved, as Trevor-Roper put it, “a set of values related to social structure and political form”, and he could therefore understand why people cared about it so much they were prepared to kill one another or die for its sake. And he railed against his old ally Voltaire for allowing his rage at clerical infamy to turn him into a mirror image of his enemy – a “bigot, an intolerable bigot”, as Gibbon put it. Gibbon made his case beautifully, as Trevor-Roper did too: and if sceptical secularism is to get a new lease of life, perhaps it needs a little more history and a little less philosophy, more explanation and less indignation.

Well yes.

Anyway, please read Charlie’s piece. It’s terrific.

The American Atheists, not so much.

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Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir PutinCross-posted on Ricochet.

Having long lost out in his efforts to woo Russia’s liberals, and increasingly struggling with opposition in Russia’s metropolitan centers, Vladimir Putin has instead being appealing to Russia’s ‘silent majority’.

I wrote about this for National Review a week or two ago, noting how this latest pivot by Putin has been winning him some (mistaken) approval on the right over here too.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times has more on Vladimir Putin, conservative:

“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent keynote speech. “Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”

In his state of the nation address in mid-December, Mr. Putin also portrayed Russia as a staunch defender of “traditional values” against what he depicted as the morally bankrupt West. Social and religious conservatism, the former KGB officer insisted, is the only way to prevent the world from slipping into “chaotic darkness.”

…Mr. Putin’s views of the West were echoed this month by Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church, who accused Western countries of engaging in the “spiritual disarmament” of their people. In particular, Patriarch Kirill criticized laws in several European countries that prevent believers from displaying religious symbols, including crosses on necklaces, at work.

Well, Kirill may be a thoroughly disreputable figure but he is (broadly speaking) right about the stupidity of not allowing people to display religious symbols at work. That said, this claim, to put it mildly, is a stretch:

… Other figures within the Orthodox Church have gone further in criticizing the West. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, suggested that the modern-day West is no better for a Christian believer than the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities executed some 200,000 clergy and believers from 1917 to 1937, according to a 1995 presidential committee report. Thousands of churches were destroyed, and those that survived were turned into warehouses, garages or museums of atheism.

To argue that Christians in the West today are treated in a manner in any way comparable to that is to insult the memories of those murdered (not to speak of the countless others subjected to ‘lesser’ persecution) for their faith in the Soviet Union, and to trivialize their fate.

Back to the Washington Times:

…The Kremlin’s encouragement of traditional values has sparked a rise in Orthodox vigilantism. Fringe groups such as the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, an ultraconservative movement whose slogan is “Orthodoxy or Death,” are gaining prominence.

Patriarch Kirill has honored the group’s leader, openly anti-Semitic monarchist Leonid Simonovich, for his services to the Orthodox Church. The Banner Bearers, who dress in black paramilitary uniforms festooned with skulls, regularly confront gay and liberal activists on the streets of Moscow.

Although Mr. Putin has never made a secret of what he says is his deep Christian faith, his first decade in power was largely free of overtly religious rhetoric. Little or no attempt was made to impose a set of values on Russians or lecture to the West on morals.

However, since his inauguration for a third presidential term in May 2012, the increasingly authoritarian leader has sought to reach out to Russia’s conservative, xenophobic heartland for support.

It has proved a rich hunting ground.

Indeed it has.

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Feb/14

1

Hell has its Uses

Tito, Marx, Engels, HellCount me skeptical that there is a hell (fingers crossed!), but there are clearly one or two priests in Montenegro who have some good ideas about who belongs there.

The BBC reports:

A church in Montenegro has sparked controversy by displaying a fresco depicting Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito in the fires of hell with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The newly built Church of Resurrection in the capital Podgorica has already drawn criticism for its lavish design. Critics now say the church should not be interfering in politics. Works by philosophers Marx and Engels were required reading when Montenegro was part of communist Yugoslavia.

One church leader, named only as Dragan, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that Marx, Engels and Tito “personify communist evil in the Balkans” and the artist should be “allowed the freedom to see things as he wishes”.

…The church is not the only religious building in Montenegro to depict figures from 20th Century history on its walls. A monastery in Ostrog shows Hitler, Lenin and Tito together with Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

Seems reasonable enough.

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Jan/14

25

Huckabee, ‘Libido’ & Ambition

elmer gantryOver at Breitbart, John Nolte calls out Huckabee’s ‘libido’ comments for the gift to the Democrats that they were:

While speaking before the Republican National Committee’s national convention Thursday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee blundered his way into the mainstream media’s War on Women trap with comments that have already lit up Twitter, MSNBC, CNN, and elicited condemnation from the White House.

While Huckabee was obviously trying to make a point about how Democrats view women, his phrasing is already catnip for a hostile media that looks for any reason to permanently define the GOP with one of the Democrat Party’s phony narratives:

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.”

To anyone who understands how today’s media operates, Huckabee’s use of this kind of phrasing and language boggles the mind and seems almost intentionally designed to damage the Republican Party. Already engines of feminist outrage are firing up to scream about Huckabee’s “crass” view of Democrat women and the government programs that help them.

Huckabee’s remarks appeared to have been prepared. So you have to ask yourself why risk launching a thousand cable news segments that ask, “Does Mike Huckabee believe women who use birth control can’t control their libidos, and is that a problem for the GOP?”

Nolte’s question is reasonable enough. Why would Huckabee, who is no fool, say something like this? My first guess was to blame it on the intellectual bubble in which he clearly lives.

But perhaps there is something else. Maybe, looking at it from his perspective, these remarks were not a mistake. Huckabee knows that he has no chance of winning the White House, and next to none of winning the Republican nomination. On the other hand, language like this (and the controversy it stirs up) may appeal to that segment of the Republican base that will be essential to his being a potential contender in the GOP primaries for 2016, a position that is, of course, key to his continuing career in the media.

In the meantime he has done his bit to contaminate the broader Republican brand, and in an election year at that.

Not really a team player, Mike Huckabee, is he?

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Jan/14

22

Wendy Davis more conventionally impressive

On Wendy Davis, it turns out that she elided aspects of her biography to burnish a particular image. I don’t think this will be a long term problem, anymore than Newt Gingrich’s history of philandering was an issue for social conservatives. Those who were with her will stay with her, and those who were against her will have more reasons to be against her. But as someone with only a passing familiarity with her biography the key detail that comes out of the piece is that Wendy Davis misrepresented a major aspect of her class background, and therefore how much hardship she overcame to get to Harvard law school. Though she was obviously not born with a silver spoon, by her mid-20s Davis had married a man with an upper middle class income (he was a attorney with a real estate related business). This makes the fact that she finished college, and matriculated at Harvard law, somewhat less impressive than the image of her has a single mother, which was definitely what even a high-information voter would have assumed was the case from the reports in the media.

Granted, juggling two children and finishing college, let alone getting into Harvard, is still highly noteworthy and laudable, and not a trivial accomplishment. But the narrative arc here is one of bourgeois striving, and pooling of the resources of a married couple where one earned substantially more than a middle class income. It seems that most of the time when politicians try to sell you a tale of overcoming lack of privilege, many of the details fall apart upon closer inspection.  That probably tells us a lot about how much deprivation actually is overcome in American society, and how often those nearer the bottom reach the top.

Addendum: The allegations of focusing on one’s career as opposed to family, adultery, and selfish exploitation of ex-husband for her own ends (e.g., staying with him long enough for him to apply his resources to paying off her loans), are not shocking. They’re probably not atypical for most elite politicians in terms of behavior because of their average personality type (i.e., narcissistic). I wouldn’t be surprised if they pan out (in any case, it doesn’t seem like most people behave like saints in the midst of a divorce). The qualification that she should have been more “precise” with her language is laughable coming from someone with a Harvard legal education, but exactly the kind of slippery argument that a politician would make. But that’s democracy. It tends to reward that personality type from what I can tell. I don’t know that it matters for governance one way or another.

Jan/14

12

Economical with the Truth

Reinhard MarxCross-posted on Ricochet:

Religion News‘s David Gibson believes that the current pope’s crude and demagogic attacks (to be clear: that’s not exactly the way that Mr. Gibson appears to see them) on the free market have a useful supporter in Marx. That’s Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. Did you think I meant anyone else?

After taking a few, largely ludicrous, swipes at the pope’s critics on the right, Mr. Gibson gets to the point:

Cardinal Reinhard Marx …says the idea that capitalism has never been properly tried is silly — and he says it in the latest edition of the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano:

“To think that somewhere there are pure markets which give rise to the good through free competition is mere ideology,” wrote Marx, who is one of the pope’s “Gang of Eight” special advisers. “Capitalism should not become the model of society” because “it does not take into account individual destinies, the weak and the poor.”

He noted that “The call to think beyond capitalism is not a struggle against the market economy,” but, according to Catholic World News, he wrote that an economic vision that “reduces economic action to capitalism has chosen the morally wrong starting point.”

And such an economic vision is practiced where, exactly, Cardinal?

Marx then goes on to deny most of postwar European history:

Catholic social teaching offers the “spiritual foundations of a social market economy” but “these ideas have never played a real role.”

Oh come off it.

Marx is an educated man. We thus must assume that he is a knave rather than a fool. As he knows perfectly well, Western Europe’s economies have been run on a ‘social market’ basis since the fall of Hitler, and, indeed, in some places sometimes before, a social market that, at least in Roman Catholic Europe, owed a clear debt to Catholic social teaching, and more specifically to that set out in Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum.

It’s worth adding, perhaps unkindly, that the economic ideology running through some of the variants of prewar European fascism can also be seen as a mutation of those very same ideas, a mutation that was profoundly influential in shaping the Peronism that flourished in the Argentina of the future Pope Francis’s youth.

And Cardinal Marx—selected, as Mr. Gibson mentions above, by Francis as one of his eight wise men to assist in the overhaul of the curia— is someone of whom this pope clearly approves.

Make of that what you will.

Oh yes, there’s one other thing. As the Huffington Post noted last October:

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich’s archdiocese spent around $11 million renovating the archbishop’s residence and another $13 million for a guesthouse in Rome.

And make of that what you will.

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Jan/14

10

Church and States

Novodevichy, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Russia’s first modern ‘official’ ideology was developed in the early 19th Century, primarily as a response to the potential liberal challenge from both home and abroad, and was summed up in the words Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality. And by nationality, it meant Russian nationality, a key concern for a czar presiding over a multinational empire.

Some traditions die hard. Here’s the Kyiv Post reporting on the disagreement between Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a firm supporter of the Putin regime, and the Ukrainian patriarch, Filaret:

Commenting on the statement of Russian Christian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill that the EuroMaidan demonstrations are a threat to the spiritual unity of Ukrainians and Russians, the Patriarch of Kyiv and all Rus-Ukraine Filaret stated: “This is not true.”

“If we take the idea that Kirill defends – Rusky Mir (Russian World) – it is not unity, it is empire, wrapped in a nice package. In fact, it is about creating a new empire. The Customs Union is the beginning,” said Filaret, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revival of an economic and political union of former Soviet republics including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Putin also hopes to include Ukraine, the second largest former Soviet republic, in the grouping.

According to Filaret, “the truth is to practice the Orthodox faith, and each nation will have its own independent church, as required by the canons of the church.”

I’ve no idea about the canon law, but Filaret is clearly onto something about the politics of all this.

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Dec/13

14

Annals of the Arab Spring (Ctd.)

snow-in-cairoCross-posted on the Corner:

Writing in the Spectator last month (behind the paywall) Aidan Hartley took a look at what is happening to Egypt’s archeological heritage:

[W]ithin a kilometre of the Sphinx, I found the desert honeycombed with deep, freshly dug shafts. The criminals are not archaeologists, so they may be digging in vain, but if Egypt’s authorities can’t prevent treasure–hunters from doing this in the shadow of the last of the Seven Wonders of the World, then it’s a safe bet they’re not doing much to stop it elsewhere.

Some of the desecration is spurred on by religious zeal. Before he was deposed, President Morsi appointed as governor of Luxor a former member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the terrorist group that murdered 64 people in the Temple of Hatsheput in 1997. Under his watch, monuments were neglected, while extreme Islamists began demanding the destruction of pre-Islamic monuments such as the Sphinx and pyramids.

One cleric, Sheikh Murgan Salem al-Gohary, said in a television broadcast aired in Egypt: ‘All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues…’. Before they had a chance to blow up the Sphinx, the military seized power from the Muslim Brotherhood in June — but the looting escalated even further in the bloodshed that followed.

In August, mobs attacked a museum at Mallawi, in Middle Egypt, and looted 1,000 artefacts. They murdered a curator and vandalised what items they could not steal. Monica Hanna, a young Egyptologist who is struggling to rescue her country’s heritage, rushed to the museum and led efforts to save the few exhibits remaining. She was shot at and menaced and when she asked the vandals what they were doing, the youths replied: ‘This is the property of the state. The state is killing Muslims — so we are destroying what the state owns.’

In September, I accompanied Monica to Ansana, an early Christian complex of rock-hewn churches and ruined monasteries along the Nile. Ansana has never been properly studied, and now Islamists are destroying the sites altogether. In one church, we found 4th-century frescos of biblical scenes freshly scratched to pieces. Looters had tried to blow up one church with dynamite, acting on rumours that hoards of gold were hidden beneath the rock. A cemetery Monica said was for Christians martyred under Roman Emperor Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century had been recently desecrated, and we found piles of skulls and skeletons ripped out of tombs and kicked about the desert.

On one mountainside, Monica found a carved monument marking the boundary of the city of Amana, built by the iconoclastic Pharoah Akhenaten over 3,300 years ago. The vandals who defaced this exquisite work had helpfully recorded the date they did it — in February of this year…

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Dec/13

13

The Return of the Clown Posse?

elmer gantryGod must be a Democrat. First Rick Santorum says that he might be open to a 2016 run, now Mike Huckabee appears to be mulling a shot.

The New York Times has the details:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has not been among the Republicans frequently named as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, but he would like that to change.

“I’m keeping the door open,” Mr. Huckabee said in an interview here Thursday night about the possibility of seeking his party’s nomination again. “I think right now the focus needs to be on 2014, but I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a real opportunity for me.”

…Mr. Huckabee dismissed the notion that pride was a factor in his decision to float a possible campaign.

If Huckabee does decide to run again, I will as usual be waiting to see if he is willing to release the text of his sermons from back in the day. He has always been rather reluctant to do so. Can’t think why.

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