CAT | politics
Ross Douthat mourns (prematurely, I fear) ‘the end of a Catholic moment’:
The mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice.
I have no particular objection to “faith-based initiatives” and the like (in fact, under the right circumstances they can be thoroughly good things), nor, for that matter, with the notion that the embrace of (ultimately disastrous) “compassionate conservatism” was what it took to win the 2000 election, but let’s be clear that Catholic ideas of “social justice” are part of a corporatist ideology that (as some of Benedict XVI’s pronouncements remind us) is very difficult indeed to square with traditional American notions of individualism and the free market. To his credit, I don’t think that’s what George W. Bush was trying to do.
Mr. Douthat continues:
Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.
It’s interesting to read of a “Catholic view of economics and culture” (in the sense that Douthat defines those terms) as representing “a center” either now, or then. I have my doubts.
As for Rand or Aquinas, I would have distinct reservations about channeling either, although—if really forced to choose— I would prefer the former to the latter (I suspect that I would have even more reservations about old Aquinas, if I could ever bring myself to devote any time at all to his endless—and dreary— theological and philosophical musings, but life’s too short, and there’s only the one).
More importantly, I suspect that the broader point that Douthat is making about the GOP will turn out to be wrong. As he notes later on, “a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies could have a great deal of mass appeal”. That’s true, I reckon (so long as the social conservatism is more—so to speak—Edmund Burke than Todd Akin), and that is why the Republicans will end up, I have long thought (and Tea Party notwithstanding, still do), as an Americanized version of Europe’s Christian Democrats, with all the baggage that that will entail.
De Tocqueville would weep.
The Moscow Times reports:
President Vladimir Putin said Friday that the Russian Orthodox Church should be given more say over family life, education and the armed forces in Russia, as he celebrated the leadership of its head Patriarch Kirill.
Faith runs deep in Russia after the fall of the officially atheist Soviet Union, and Putin has looked to the largest religion in the country for support since he began his third term as president after a wave of protests against his rule.
He has also tried to mix spirituality with his own brand of patriotism in order to unify the officially secular country where ethnic and political fault lines are beginning to show.
“At the heart of all Russia’s victories and achievements are patriotism, faith and strength of spirit,” Putin said in the Kremlin’s gold-encrusted Alexeyevsky hall, celebrating the fourth anniversary of Kirill’s accession as patriarch.
Putin’s relationship with the church has strengthened since band members of protest punk band Pussy Riot entered Russia’s Christ the Savior Church last year and sang a vulgarity-laced song, urging the Virgin Mary to “cast out Putin.”
Without giving specifics, Putin said a “vulgar” understanding of secularism must be swept away to give the church, and other religions, control over more aspects of Russian life.
“While preserving the secular nature of our state, and not allowing the over-involvement of the government in church life, we need to get away from the vulgar, primitive understanding of secularism,” he said.
“The Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional religions should get every opportunity to fully serve in such important fields as the support of family and motherhood, the upbringing and education of children, youth, social development, and to strengthen the patriotic spirit of the armed forces.”
Putin has praised the church’s spiritual values in their own right, but he has also turned to religious understanding to counteract ethnic tension in cities such as Moscow, which have large Muslim migrant populations from the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The church in turn has praised Putin’s leadership. Shortly before the Pussy Riot performance, Kirill likened Putin’s time in power to a “miracle of God.” Putin was then-prime minister and in the midst of a campaign for the March 4 presidential vote…
Russian Orthodoxy is a part of what makes Russia Russia, and that is something that can work for the good (in charitable, cultural and educational activities and the like), and as a social glue for a nation still fragmented by the disaster of the Soviet experiment. But the church’s seemingly instinctive support for authoritarianism and its willingness to work with an increasingly illiberal state in the marginalizing those who do not fit a certain notion of Russianness is, to say the least, disturbing.
As I’ve noted here before,”Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality” was an ideology developed under Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55). It reached some sort of zenith under the penultimate (and last tough-guy) Czar, Alexander III (reigned 1881-94).
It seems to be on the way back.
With so much talk of late of the supposed attack on religious freedom represented by Obamacare’s contraception mandate, this passage caught my eye:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently renewed their call for measures to address gun violence by echoing their 2000 statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. Bishops have called for “measures that control the sale and use of firearms” and “sensible regulations of handguns.” The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in a 1994 document, “The International Arms Trade,” urges political leaders “to impose a strict control on the sale of handguns and small arms” and states that “limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.”
Well, it’s good to know where people stand.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
To comprehend the Egyptian president and grasp how the Muslim Brotherhood shapes its members, it helps to speak with men who knew Morsi during his time with the Islamist organization — and who also have the courage to speak openly about the group. Abdel-Jalil el-Sharnoubi, 38, talks about how dangerous this can be. Last October, after he had spoken about quitting the Brotherhood to Egyptian newspapers and in TV appearances, masked men opened fire on Sharnoubi’s car with submachine guns…
Sharnoubi assumes that cordial moves like the letter to Peres have only one goal: “To secure and expand the dominance of the Brotherhood.” Only recently, the president issued a decree that gave him absolute powers, and Morsi currently controls all three branches of government. “He has secured more power than his predecessor Mubarak ever had.”
Sharnoubi’s vision of a future Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is horrifying. “They will infiltrate all areas of our society: government offices and ministries, schools and universities, as well as the police and the military. They will eliminate their enemies.”
Isn’t he exaggerating?
“Not in the least,” says Sharnoubi, noting that the Brotherhood is already infiltrating the security apparatus. “The Brotherhood will never give up its power without a fight.”
Not exactly surprising. Not exactly reassuring.
A cleric talking nonsense is hardly news, but when it’s the right sort of nonsense, the Washington Post can be relied upon to gush:
Ambitious and outspoken, the new head of Washington National Cathedral has attracted more attention over the past few weeks than previous cathedral deans have for decades.
The Rev. Gary Hall’s announcement that the cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Church, would host same-sex weddings and his immediate embrace of gun control in the hours after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., have made him a regular on national television. On Thursday, Hall will be the only representative of the clergy speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will introduce a bill that would ban dozens of assault weapons.
One recent morning, Hall zoomed around town to three television appearances in an hour, triggering stares in network studios as he sat in his priest’s collar getting his makeup done while the usual pundits and politicos came and went.
His sermon two days after the Newtown shootings — “The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby,” he said — got a rare standing ovation…
As leader of one of the country’s most prominent churches — and the site of Tuesday’s official inaugural prayer service, complete with the Obamas — Hall is being interviewed daily about measures he and a team of clergy leaders are promoting.
Ushers handed out 10,000 call-your-lawmaker cards to worshippers over the Christmas period. Hall and the Washington diocese’s bishop, Mariann Budde, traveled to Johns Hopkins University this week for a summit on gun control. They are soliciting criticism from gun-owning Episcopalians, hoping to broaden their pool of allies.
Hall is advocating for something striking to keep the subject on people’s minds. He likes the idea of wrapping the towering Gothic cathedral in black crepe in memory of gun violence victims. Or ringing its massive bells each morning to toll the number of deaths each day. Something that gets people’s attention.
“What I want to do is more like guerilla theater,” he said….
“He’s like the Joe Biden of the Episcopal Church. He has the personality and respect that can bring people together,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, a priest at All Saint’s Pasadena, a 4,000-member Los Angeles church where Hall worked for 11 years.
OK, I’ll admit it: that last bit made me laugh, but “the cross lobby”, good grief…
The spirit of Hewlett Johnson lives on, it seems.
But same-sex marriages in the cathedral are, I should add, just fine with me, not that I should have a vote on the matter: That’s something that ought to be up to each church to decide for itself.
Gleanings (“important developments in the church and the world”!) reports:
President Barack Obama is not the only one preparing for a heavy push on comprehensive immigration reform in the coming months. Today evangelical leaders launched fresh efforts to raise support as well, releasing a new video featuring Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Richard Land, Leith Anderson, Samuel Rodriguez, and Joel Hunter, among others.
Take a look at the video. It’s a classic in its way. Support immigration ‘reform’ or burn in hell.
Or something like that.
“Yesterday we finished up in this room with … 17 members of the faith community … [I]n all the years I have been doing this, the first time there has been an overwhelming consensus, from the evangelical groups nationwide, and particularly those in rural areas, to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Conference of Churches, the Muslim community, because this does have a significant moral dimension—how we make the American community safer and how we go about it.…”
That’s a nauseating little snippet on a number of counts, but let’s focus for a moment on the participation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. It will be very interesting indeed to hear what they have to say. After all, we have heard a lot from them recently about the (supposed) threat to their First Amendment rights from Obamacare’s contraception mandate.
Let’s hope that they are just as assiduous in their defense of the Second.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Sam Harris is a “New Atheist” and a Second Amendment skeptic too — wait, wait – and there’s a lot to disagree with in this new piece of his (“collective psychosis”, good lord). Nevertheless, agree or disagree, it’s carefully thought-out and very well worth a look by anyone with a serious interest in the gun debate. It also ought to make thoroughly disconcerting reading for the likes of Obama, Biden and the rest. Assuming, of course, that they were actually open-minded enough to consider Harris’s arguments seriously, something, I suspect, that is an assumption too far . . .
Harris sees the world as it is, as a place, shall we say, that is more Hobbes than Gandhi:
Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world. A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want. It is a world in which a man with a knife can rape and murder a woman in the presence of a dozen witnesses, and none will find the courage to intervene. There have been cases of prison guards (who generally do not carry guns) helplessly standing by as one of their own was stabbed to death by a lone prisoner armed with an improvised blade. The hesitation of bystanders in these situations makes perfect sense—and “diffusion of responsibility” has little to do with it. The fantasies of many martial artists aside, to go unarmed against a person with a knife is to put oneself in very real peril, regardless of one’s training. The same can be said of attacks involving multiple assailants. A world without guns is a world in which no man, not even a member of Seal Team Six, can reasonably expect to prevail over more than one determined attacker at a time. A world without guns, therefore, is one in which the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive. Who could be nostalgic for such a world? . . .
It is reasonable to wish that only virtuous people had guns, but there are now nearly 300 million guns in the United States, and 4 million new ones are sold each year. A well-made gun can remain functional for centuries. Any effective regime of “gun control,” therefore, would require that we remove hundreds of millions of firearms from our streets. As Jeffrey Goldberg points out in The Atlantic, it may no longer be rational to hope that we can solve the problem of gun violence by restricting access to guns—because guns are everywhere, and the only people who will be deterred by stricter laws are precisely those law-abiding citizens who should be able to possess guns for their own protection and who now constitute one of the primary deterrents to violent crime. This is, of course, a familiar “gun nut” talking point. But that doesn’t make it wrong.
Harris is a supporter of far more intrusive regulation than I would support even on a “once and for all” basis (and doesn’t choose to discuss the way in which even a theoretically reasonable licensing process can be abused by the authorities) but he has the honesty to admit this:
Another problem with liberal dreams of gun control is that the kinds of guns used in the vast majority of crimes would not fall under any plausible weapons ban. And advocates of stricter gun laws who claim to respect the rights of “sportsmen” or “hunters,” and to recognize a legitimate need for “home defense,” simply give the game away at the outset. The very guns that law-abiding citizens use for recreation or home defense are, in fact, the problem.
And that’s the point. That’s why serious supporters of the Second Amendment find it so difficult to support what (many see as) self-evidently sensible gun control measures. “Once and for all” simply doesn’t exist. Once the big-government ratchet starts turning, it does not stop, and those few sentences by Sam Harris help explain why. And then there’s the prominence of Bloomberg on the gun-control team . . .
Anyway, read the whole thing.
From a Guardian interview with Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s neo-Thatcherite, euroskeptic UKIP:
He won a lot of Tory support by opposing gay marriage, chiefly because it was an affront to religious values. “Tolerance is a two-way street, and the whole equality rights agenda has come to the point of head-on conflict with religious faith,” he declares, as if such a conflict must de facto discredit the equality agenda. It takes some nerve to oppose gay marriage on religious grounds – while adding, “I know the Anglican church isn’t much good, but mind you, with that idiot having run the show for the last 10 years that’s hardly surprising. Couldn’t even clip his beard for the royal wedding!” – when, on closer questioning, it transpires Farage isn’t even really a Christian. He claims never to have thought about whether he will go to heaven, or even if such a place exists. “Never.” He goes to church four or five times a year, and thinks it plays “an important role in our society”, but as for believing in God, “I think there is something there, but that’s as far as it goes.” It sounds to me as if he’s agnostic. “Well you’ll have to draw your own conclusion,” he says, looking slightly embarrassed.
While I don’t agree with Farage on same sex marriage (live and let live, say I), the rest of this section of the interview is worth noting for the (presumably leftish) interviewer’s failure to understand that it’s quite possible to oppose something as being an affront to religious faith without sharing that particular set of beliefs. Farage quite clearly sees the Church of England (however flawed) as part of the tradition that makes the country what it is, an essential element in the glue that holds it together. Whether the rather wild claims on which it was originally based—first made in some foreign country two thousand years ago—were true is, of course, an irrelevance.
It’s no great secret that the Vatican has never been particularly fond of the idea of free markets, but here is yet more nonsense from Benedict XVI to remind us of just that.
The BBC reports on the Pope’s New Year address:
The Roman Catholic Church leader spoke at a Mass in the Vatican, then greeted a crowd outside St Peter’s Basilica.
He deplored “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor”.
Those “hotbeds” also grew out of “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism”, as well as “various forms of terrorism and crime”, he said.
I don’t know what is worse. The ignorance (if there’s one thing that the financial markets were not, it was unregulated; whether they were sensibly regulated is a different question), or the clear signs of a visceral loathing for “financial” capitalism and, of course, the Pope’s attempt to smear it with guilt by association with “various forms of terrorism and crime”.