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ChaplinTake some superstition, throw in a hint of xenophobia and add a savvy PR touch…

USA Today:

MOSCOW — Russian fans of the writer J.R.R. Tolkien were disappointed Wednesday after a local art group abandoned plans to install a flaming eye from his book series The Lord of the Rings atop a Moscow skyscraper. The group, Svechenie, said it would not recreate the evil Eye of Sauron after the Russian Orthodox Church complained the installation would invite mysterious dangers on the capital….

The planned project — for a 3-foot-tall orb perched atop a 21-story building in Moscow’s business district — “does not have any religious or political subtext,” the statement added.

It was slated to be unveiled Thursday to mark the Russian premiere of the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, based on another Tolkien novel in which the eye appears.

But Vsevolod Chaplin, the controversial spokesman for the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, felt otherwise. He told a Moscow radio station Tuesday that the installation would be a “symbol of the triumph of evil … rising up over the city.”
“Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad,” he said. “You shouldn’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”

It’s not the first time the church, a key pillar of President Vladimir Putin’s drive to promote conservative values, has waded into the world of art and culture. Religious officials and Orthodox activists have rebuked and even disrupted a range of exhibitions and performances they believe betray church values and destroy Russia’s moral fiber….

Chaplin is always on the look out for perils that could menace his flock.

Here he is back in April:

MOSCOW, April 9 (RIA Novosti) – Angels and demons do really exist, but are often mistaken for “so-called aliens” by those who encounter them, a senior Russian Orthodox Church clergyman said.

“They are real creatures, humans come into contact with them as they sometimes reveal themselves,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who oversees the Church’s public relations, told RIA Novosti in an interview when asked about Christianity’s attitude to ufology.

And then there was the mini-skirt menace, identified by Chaplin as a potential source of “madness” as long ago as 2011.

The Christian Science Monitor explained:

A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a “national dress code” that would force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out “indecently” clad customers. Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can’t be trusted to clothe themselves properly.

“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work,” he said Tuesday. “If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”

“Moreover,” Archpriest Chaplin added, “if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness.”

…Chaplin’s proposed dress code has received applause from some conservative quarters. Russia’s Association of Islamic Heritage this week expressed its support for Chaplin’s call for “creation of a national dress code,” which might involve compelling women to wear headscarves, a rule already in force in Orthodox churches and church-run orphanages. Muslims make up about 20 percent of Russia’s population.

Orthodoxy! Nationality! Autocracy!

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Dec/14

11

Feeding the Seven Billion

collectivizationLate last month there was a conference in Rome organized by the UN food agency (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).

One of the attendees was the pope.
The Daily Mail reports:

The 77-year old said the world had ‘paid too little heed to those who are hungry.’
While the number of undernourished people dropped by over half in the past two decades, 805 million people were still affected in 2014.

‘It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular,’ Francis said.

Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall explains (again):

[J]just to lay it out in very simple terms in one place. Regarding that first point, about profit. Profit is the incentive for people to do things. If people don’t profit from their actions then they won’t do them. Of course, we can take a wide view of what “profit” is: we could, for example, say that the warm feeling a farmer gets from watching a starving child eating the food he has grown is a profit. And it would be as well. But as we’ve found out over the past century or so (looking at those various attempts at the collectivisation of agriculture is really most instructive) that that good feeling of having produced what others need is not actually enough. Any and every society that has relied upon such public feelings has had extensive malnutrition if not out and out famine.

So, we want the producers of food to profit from their having produced it. Otherwise we just don’t get enough food.

Then on to speculation and financial speculation. These move the prices of things through time. This is also highly desirable (as Adam Smith pointed out 238 years ago) as by moving prices through time we also move supplies of food through time (see the linked pieces for this in more detail). We move food from, as Smith said, a time of plenty to a time of dearth: thus reducing malnutrition and starvation. And yes, again, the incentive for people to do this highly desirable thing is to make a profit.

So we actually want both profit and speculation in food. For the end results are desirable. We get both the production of food in the first place and the movement of it, in both geographic and temporal, terms, to where it is needed….

That’s not (of course) to deny that there are people who are malnourished, but, as Worstall explains:

[E]conomist, Amartya Sen… has pointed out that, for the past century at least, starvation and famine have not been caused by an absence of food. They’re no longer supply side phenomena and they’ll not be solved by looking at that supply side.

No, instead, famine now is an absence of purchasing power among those who simply cannot buy the food that is available. This is such a well-known matter that even George Bush, when President, tried to get the rules about US famine relief changed (Obama is trying again now, too, according to reports). Instead of shipping US grain to starving people ship US money to starving people so they can buy the food that is already there. Or if not exactly there, then nearby. And we can rely upon the existence of that effective demand to incentivise people through that profit motive, through speculation, to ship the food from where it is to where the hungry people are.

That is, modern hunger is a demand side phenomenon and will be solved by demand side measures. Like, as above, giving poor people money to buy food with.

This is what actually works, this is how most NGOs now see hunger, many governments too. The problem is not that there’s no food for the poor to buy. It’s that the poor have no money to buy food. The answer is thus not to fiddle around with the supply side, that’s working just fine. For there are supplies of food available. What’s going wrong is the demand side so that’s where the solution must lie. We must turn actual demand (empty bellies) into effective demand (people with empty bellies with money to buy the food that exists)…

What the pope is suggesting is (essentially) to mess with the supply side, something that could very easily make matters worse.

And yet that’s what he suggests.

And he still seems unwilling to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that the free market has made to reducing malnourishment on a planet where the population has now swollen to seven billion.

It’s almost as if the pope is putting ideology (in this case his distaste for the free market) before the facts, facts he must know. It’s almost as if his ideology matters more to him than truly helping the hungry.

Those would, shall we say, be very revealing priorities.

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Nov/14

1

The Culture of ‘Offense’ (Halloween Edition)

UES, NYC, Oct 2009 (AS)National Catholic Reporter:

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS Every October, many look forward to Halloween — the trick-or-treating, the parties and especially the costumes.

Every Halloween, however, many also mock religious figures with their costume choices. Costumes for badly behaved nuns, rabbis, Muslims, priests, Catholic schoolgirls, Sikhs and Buddhist monks make their way onto store shelves every year.

Some might view these costumes as harmless fun but Halloween costumes, like television programming and other media, form minds, said Fr. Gregory Labus, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Edinburg and director of the Office of Liturgy and Worship for the Brownsville diocese.

“When it comes to television and other media, people will say, ‘I don’t believe any of that stuff,’ but if you’re watching that stuff regularly, it’s forming you. It is, little by little, making an impression on you and forming your thoughts,” he told The Valley Catholic, diocesan newspaper of Brownsville.

“I would say it’s a similar kind of case with costumes, especially with very young minds. Pregnant nuns or whatever, it’s disrespectful and it’s forming an impression that is not good. … Personally, I would say that Christian families should avoid that sort of thing,” Labus added.

That is up to Christian families to decide for themselves. But as a Roman Catholic priest, Father Labus is certainly well-qualified to give advice in that respect, whatever one might think about his sense of humor.

But then there is this:

“It’s a sign of disregard, of disrespect for people of faith,” said Sr. Nancy Boushey of the Benedictine Monastery of the Good Shepherd in Rio Grande City, whose members wear a habit. “It takes an authentic call from God and makes a mockery of it, no matter what the faith is, whether it’s Jewish or Catholic or any other faith.”

“Authentic”. Hmmm.

Whatever the reasons for wearing such costumes, Boushey said it is “hurtful.”

“It saddens me because it is sacred clothing for me and for others who wear it — the priests and sisters,” she said. “The clothing is sacred to us and to use it for laughs, it’s very saddening to my heart. To me, it’s a sign of disrespect of God’s call to us.”

Boushey’s failure to accept “disrespectful” disagreement—and, yes, disagreement can be that— with her notions of the sacred without taking personal offense shows a certain narrowness of mind. More than that, in a society increasingly prepared to enforce a ‘right’ not to be offended, her comments represent another small step in the direction of a muted public square.

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

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

BBC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the BBC:

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

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

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Oct/14

24

No Point and No Point in Worrying Either

RealityWriting in The Week, Damon Linker wades into the controversy over the comment by Sam Harris that Islam is a “motherlode of bad ideas”. In many respects the controversy is more interesting than the insult, but that’s a discussion for another time. What caught my attention the most in Linker’s article was this:

Now, I’m no fan of the New Atheists. I think their understanding of religion is shallow and their dismissal of it facile. And then there’s their insouciant attitude toward the prospect of godlessness. As I’ve argued before, the New Atheists prefer sentimental, superficial happy talk to sober reflection on the challenge of living a life without God.

“Sober reflection on the challenge of living a life without God’?

Dear oh dear.

“Challenge?”

That’s a generalization too far.

For some people, living without God may be indeed be a challenge (as Linker rightly points out, it certainly worried old Nietschze), but for others it’s no big deal. They can accept that the sources of morality lie–as they do–in a mixture of genetics and customs, a rough-sewn patchwork that presents some conceptual difficulties, certainly, but only for those inclined to worry about such matters. Most have other things to do with their time.

And yes, some non-believers may indeed be perturbed by the idea of a meaningless universe. But others may prefer it, and others may just not be too bothered.

The answer, I suspect, is that we end up believing in whatever works best for us. And, as Linker suggests, humanity probably does have a bias in favor of the belief in the idea that the universe has some purpose. Why? Well, if I had to guess, there’s an evolutionary reason for that.

That’s an argument that Linker dismisses as “viciously circular” (and no I didn’t see the viciousness either) a rebuttal that moves from the merely lazy to the entertainingly inconclusive:

The prevalence of providential thoughts and feelings might be a response to something real, permanent, and important, if not in the universe itself, then within us.

And the latter probably leads us back to Charlie Darwin, yet again.

Linker, meanwhile:

Settling the matter requires that we listen to what the great religions of the world — including their most intellectually formidable theological representatives — have to say about the character of providence.

It does? Why?

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Oct/14

1

George F. Will, American atheist

Several years ago George Will declared that he was an agnostic on the Colbert Report. Last week he pulled no punches:

RCR: Do you believe in God?

GW: No. I’m an atheist. An agnostic is someone who is not sure; I’m pretty sure. I see no evidence of God. The basic question in life is not, “Is there a God,” but “Why does anything exist?” St. Thomas Aquinas said that there must be a first cause for everything, and we call the first cause God. Fine, but it just has no hold on me.

RCR: Were you raised with any religion?

GW: My father was the son of a Lutheran minster, and therefore he was an atheist. What I mean by that is — he went to so many church services, his father preached in many churches up near Antetum, eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania — my father had had his full of religion. He used to sit outside his father’s study and listen to him wrestle with members of the church over reconciling grace and free will. I think that’s where my father got his interest in philosophy.

I majored in religion in college. I was very interested, but I just came to a different conclusion. I’m married to a fierce Presbyterian and she raised our kids fierce Presbyterians.

I’m an amiable, low-voltage atheist.

RCR: Does that present a problem for you as a conservative?

GW: No. The Republican Party’s base is largely religious. It would be impossible for me to run for high office as a Republican. Since I have no desire to run for office, it’s a minor inconvenience! I think William F. Buckley put it well when he said that a conservative need not be religious, but he cannot despise religion. Russell Kirk never quite fathomed this, which is one of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of The Conservative Mind. For him, conservatism without religion is meaningless.

RCR: Your friend Charles Krauthammer likes to say he’s an agnostic.

GW: I think he’s an atheist. He flinches from saying it. I saw what he said: “I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly.” Oh, please!

NYC, Sept 2014 (AS)Independent Catholic News:

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

And, of course, there’s this:

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

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

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

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Sep/14

27

Scottish Independence and the Catholic Church

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Gallagher:

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

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

Thompson continues:

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

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

Good question.

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Sep/14

27

Lenin and “the Vibrations of Christ”

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep/14

21

Red Priests Then and Now

MunzenThe Prague Post:

Prague, Sept. 15 (ČTK) — Rostislav Kotrč, a priest of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, will run for the Communists (KSČM) in the local elections in the autumn, daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.
Kotrč, 40, at first wanted to join the KSČM, but now he only runs as an independent for the party as No. 2 on its list of candidates, MfD writes. Kotrč has been working in the Hussite church since 1999 and is the general vicar of the Christian Police Association.

“He wanted to join our party, but we agreed that it would be more sensible, also due to his relationship to the church, to only stay as a sympathizer,” a local Communist from the Hradec Králové eegion, east Bohemia, where he runs, told the paper.

Kotrč said he could not see any problem with him being both a priest and a candidate representing the Communists, MfD writes. “I know this is incomprehensible to many people,” he is quoted as saying.

“I think this is due to the constant media propaganda and bad understanding of the historical and theological context,” Kotrč said.

“My orientation is leftist and social. When looking into the Bible, and Acts of the Apostles in particular, which describe the origins of Christianity, one can read that people shared their property according to their needs,” he added.

“This is the basic principle of communism. Unfortunately, God was lost from the philosophy, which caused its deformation,” Kotrč said….

Sure, that was it.

For some reason Thomas Müntzer comes to mind.

Wikipedia will do:

Thomas Müntzer (ca. 1489 – 27 May 1525) was an early Reformation-era German theologian, who became a rebel leader during the Peasants’ War. He thought that the questioning of authority promoted by the Lutheran Reformation should be applied to the economic sphere….

Müntzer spent late 1524 in Nuremberg, but in mid-February 1525 was able to return to Mühlhausen. The following month, the citizenry voted out the old council and a new “Eternal League of God” was formed, composed of a cross-section of the male population and some former councillors. Müntzer and Pfeiffer succeeded in taking over the Mühlhausen town council and set up a communistic experiment in its place. Müntzer wrote to the citizens of Allstedt calling them to “join the uprising”: “Be there only three of you, but if you put your hope in the name of God—fear not a hundred thousand…. Forward, forward, forward! It is high time. Let not kind words of these Esaus arouse you to mercy. Look not upon the sufferings of the godless! They will entreat you touchingly, begging you like children. Let not mercy seize your soul, as God commanded to Moses; He has revealed to us the same…. Forward, forward, while the iron is hot. Let your swords be ever warm with blood!”

God certainly seems “present” in his philosophy. Communism is communism, with God or without.

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