Secular Right | Reality & Reason

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The New York Times recently published a piece on Wiccans in New York City, “Witchcraft in the #MeToo Era.” Despite the name, the article has nothing to do with #MeToo – there are no tales or even allusions to Wiccan women under the spell of nefarious Wiccan men – but instead highlights the practice of paganism and Wicca in Goth-am from a vaguely female perspective:

In Manhattan, family-oriented witches attend the Wiccan Family Temple with their children. The Temple of the Spiral Path, also based in Manhattan, offers workshops and an introductory witch’s academy that meets weekly. New York’s pagan couples can be married by legally ordained Wiccan ministers offering their services on The Witches’ Voice; there’s even a Wicca e-group based in the Bronx. Catland Books, an occult bookshop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, offers weekly workshops, drawing a younger, trendier crowd.

According to a City-Data forum, the best metros in the U.S. to be Wiccan and/or pagan is New Orleans, New York City, Salem (shocker!), the Bay Area and Minneapolis/St.Paul. I’m surprised the Pacific Northwest doesn’t appear in the list, given its post-religious susceptibility to non-traditional (or in this case hyper traditional, it can be argued) and new-agey spirituality. Conversely, the inclusion of New Orleans may seem odd given the south’s Pentecostal and Evangelical-driven hostility toward the occult; but then “Nola” has a fairly unique history, and is far more Catholic today than a city like Atlanta.

This passage doesn’t make Wiccans look especially serious:

On a recent Friday night, the witches of the Temple of the Spiral Path gathered to watch the spunky teenage witches in “The Craft.” The Temple occasionally hosts pagan movie nights. This one drew eight people — a few coven members and friends, to a Midtown dance studio where the group often meets. JoAnna Farrer, 34, and her husband, had never seen the 1996 cult classic, a supernatural horror film following a teenager who falls in with a clique of witches. Everyone else in the room, including Ms. Farrer’s close friend Ms. Cruci, expressed dismay. “How can you be a witch and have never seen ‘The Craft’?” one witch demanded, munching Doritos.

Was it really necessary to mention the Doritos?

The article fails to examine what impact, if any, Wiccans have had on the development of the musical genre known as “witch house.”*

*(Yes I’m being cheeky.)

 

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One of the great celebrity “village atheists” of our day, Richard Dawkins, has “stepped in it” again by eliciting a fury over his attitudes toward Islamic culture, and his love for certain aspects of English Christian culture. Neither of these positions is novel or surprising from Richard Dawkins. For many years Richard Dawkins has expressed his love of Christmas as a cultural tradition freighted with memories which he recalls fondly. In contrast, Dawkins has long expressed a negative view of Islamic culture.

Of course, a single tweet like the above is loaded with cultural signifiers, meanings, and implications. Many are accusing Richard Dawkins of being a bigot. Here is one dictionary definition of a bigot:

…a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

This seems to fit Richard Dawkins very well in a broad sense. Dawkins is quite intolerant of many religious groups. In 2006, during the peak of Richard Dawkins’ fame as a celebrity village atheist in the 2000s, when he was promoting books such as The God Delusion and filming documentaries such as The Root of all Evil, he made little effort to hide his contempt and disdain for religion and the religious. Consider this exchange with Colorado pastor Ted Haggard:

As an atheist from an English background, Dawkins is disdainful and contemptuous of American evangelical Protestant Christianity. Haggard becomes offended during the course of the above interview with Dawkins, today we would say “triggered”, because of Dawkins’ acidic brandishing of his infidel views with no apology or grace. He even analogizes Haggards’ megachurch worship service to the Nazi Nuremberg Rally!

At the time Dawkins’ role as a controversialist was clearly something he relished. His views were close to his heart. I doubt he was engaging in this behavior and espousing these beliefs for the sake of fame or wealth. He was already famous and wealthy because of his scientific writings. Books such as The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene are modern masterpieces of scientific exposition. When it comes to promoting to the interested public a general understanding of the logic of evolutionary biology, Dawkins is unquestionably one of the modern masters, with both talent and inclination.

His turn as an anti-religious polemicist was clearly driven by a personal passion about religion and an animus toward it. This was long evident in public pronouncements, but they reflected vigorous private views. The only time I have been in a small room with Dawkins he spoke mostly about science. But he also got a few gratuitous jabs in at the Roman Catholic Church. Many have suggested that Dawkins’ views on religion are colored by his background as a middle-class Englishman, and it is hard to imagine that he did not absorb a bit of “anti-Popish” sentiment from his Anglo-Protestant milieu.

I have very mixed feelings about what used to be called the New Atheism. But one of its most unfortunate ticks for me is that in rhetoric it often presumes that religion is a matter of ratiocination when the truth is we all know that religion is a socially embedded phenomenon which has deep emotional resonances. The New Atheists themselves reflect the reality of the latter in their passion. Dawkins is an example of this as well in his affection for certain cultural expressions of Christianity which to him recollect memories of his upbringing and broader social milieu. His clear distaste for evangelical Protestant Christianity of the American variety is almost certainly wrapped up in a particular set of reflexive aversions shared by many middle-class secular intellectuals of the Anglosphere towards that subculture, which is perceived to be down-market, crass, and quite a bit ridiculous.

But where he gets in trouble is that Dawkins’ tweets often reflect a visceral distaste for Islamic culture. His reactions indicate an emotional aversion which transcends rationality, though that aversion is rooted in some realities and not just his imagination.

The importance of emotion as opposed to objective rationality can be illustrated again by Christmas. As a child from a Muslim background who had little affinity with religion, I generally had warm experiences with secularized American Christmases. As an adult atheist raising my children as atheists (if that makes sense), Christmas is culturally important for a variety of reasons. But your mileage may vary. There are atheists from Jewish backgrounds who eschew Christmas because of its cultural and historical valences, and their dissenting from mainstream norms is one of the ways that they express their identity as Jews.

One can give more explicit examples. I was acquainted with a woman from a Bosnian Muslim background many years ago. Though not exceedingly religious, she had a strong aversion to the cultural expression of Christmas. Her reasons were personal and understandable: she had fled the Balkan conflict as a child and had been traumatized by religious persecution. For her even secularized manifestations of the Christmas tradition had associated memories which were highly negative. Her experiences were her experiences, and my experiences are my experiences. There isn’t one “objective” response to Christmas, there are different “subjective” reactions framed by one’s personal history and cultural affinities.

But there are wheels-within-wheels, subjectivities-within-subjectivities, and truths-within-truths.

Many in the ex-Muslim community are fiercely protective of Richard Dawkins. Why? Because Richard Dawkins stands unflinchingly with them, “in solidarity” as they say in 2018. To get the “ex-Muslim” perspective, it is probably best to read Ali Rizvi’s The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason. Unlike myself, Rizvi and his fellow travelers were at some point confessing and believing Muslims. Something I can never say personally. My cultural background means that I can recite surah fatiha to this day, and I have performed the call to prayer, but I was not really raised culturally within Islam. This means I have neither extremely strong or negative feelings associated with Islamic culture, though I take a dim view of Islam the religion and Muslim societies. But, like many Americans, they are still somewhat exotic and alien to me. Matters of reflection rather than reaction.

The reason ex-Muslims defend Richard Dawkins and revere the New Atheists (e.g, Sam Harris) is that the cultural winds in the West over the past generation have shifted, and the Left has been engaging in “allyship” with Islam, or more specifically Muslim minorities in the West. The vast majority of atheists are on the Left, and the Left is the camp notionally more amenable to secularism. But when it comes to Islam it is now the fashion on the cultural Left to express affinity and sympathy for Islam, and more concretely Muslims.

Richard Dawkins and the other New Atheists are distinctive in being conservative in the literal sense on the issue of Islam, and not temporizing and moderating. Their stance has not changed over the decade as Islam has become almost trendy on the Left where most of them are at home. And for this, they are cherished by activists and dissenters from within the Muslim community who are pushing for a full-throated atheism. Consider the case of a Canadian woman of Egyptian ethnicity, Yasmine Mohammed, who has written a memoir, “From Al Qaeda to Atheism.” The title should give you a flavor of her personal experiences, and why she has a visceral aversion to the Islamophilia which is de rigueur on the cultural Left.

The ex-Muslim community is a minority-within-a-minority. Many ex-Muslims are in an uncomfortable position because their critique of Islam as a regressive and authoritarian religion is consonant with talking points on the Right, but most of them identify on the Left (and, they perceive the Right as the camp of regression and authority!). In The Atheist Muslim Rizvi recounts the experiences of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When she arrived in the United States about ten years ago she took a fellowship at the American Enterprise Institution (AEI). Broadly on the Right, this affiliation drew some raised eyebrows and critiques from commentators on the Left. Her extreme anti-Islamic views had already caused difficulties, but for many liberals, an affiliation with AEI was the last straw. At the time I suspected that she was going to war with the army she had, not the army that she necessarily would have preferred. Rizvi, who brought more detailed information to the table, confirms this in The Atheist Muslim: Hirsi Ali took the fellowship from the American Enterprise Institute after being rejected by other think tanks. They were, rightly, worried about the controversy around her due to her rather strident secularism in relation to Islam (a stance she has moderated over the years).

Ali’s conundrum ten years ago is more broadly symptomatic of an issue that characterizes the cultural Left in 2018 due to coalitional politics: a strident secularism that takes an anti-Islamic tone is so out of fashion among many liberals that the ex-Muslim activists are out of fashion among many liberals. They are an inconvenient minority-within-a-minority.

The rights of women in Western Muslim communities are still a concern with Leftists. But, these issues need to be approached sensitively and carefully, because the politics of coalition and the instinct toward allyship means that it is important to not demonize Western Muslims or even Islam! (this explains why many secular white liberals feel comfortable explaining to me the “real Islam” if I am overly critical of the religion for their taste) The last part is where ex-Muslims dissent fiercely because most argue that Islam, as it is constructed today, is fundamentally and structurally oppressive and reactionary. The paradox for ex-Muslims is that the Left normally has instincts to stand with those who oppose oppression and reaction, but in this case, they are muted.

The exception being people like Richard Dawkins. Like the child shouting out, “the emperor has no clothes!”, the likes of Dawkins and Harris give voice to a primal aversion to the demon-haunted reactionary ideological edifice that is Islam. Though in public very few Left-liberals who are aware of the norms of their community will say negative things about Islam qua Islam, and even less about Muslims, in private many are quite clear-eyed about Islam as a religion and uncomfortable with the practices of Muslims. Solidary is for the public. Reality is for private. Or as a friend once explained “Of course it’s a fucked up religion. But I don’t want to get my head chopped off or be accused of being racist.”

There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. 24% if the world’s population. Their numbers are growing rapidly because of Islam’s concentration in the high fertility areas of the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Though Muslims are likely to be a minority religion in the West for decades to come, they are a majority in some regions of Europe already (mostly urban ghettos). As such they naturally impose their cultural values as the dominant ones in public spaces where they are numerically preponderant. Many of those values are quite conservative and restrictive of individual liberty. That conservatism reflects the cultural values that Muslim immigrants bring to the West, but also the historical importance of Islamic law, shariah, which dates back over 1,000 years, and as such preserves in chrysalis views of a highly archaic nature in some ways.

From the perspective of ex-Muslims, who grew up within Muslim communities in the West, and for whom the demographic and cultural heft of the nearly 2 billion strong Ummah is a lived reality, the mainstream Left view of Muslims and Islam as marginal and oppressed is highly myopic, not factually true, and extremely conditioned by the relatively insulated worlds which most middle-class secular liberals live. To be entirely frank, for a particular set of cosmopolitan Westerner, the Islamic world, the Islamic culture, is one which they view through the lens of consumption, as a life-stage. They experience the diversity of a Muslim neighborhood as a tourist dining out and taking in the smells, or by living as a young adult in a heavily Muslim area of a European city. But they will retire in the fullness of time to a life of bourgeois contentment in a secular white community with Christmas trees. Islam is an abstraction. For those for whom Islam is more concrete, there’s a bit more skin the game.

Note: Below is a speech given by my friend Sarah Haider in 2015. I think the situation has gotten “worse” in relation to the issues she cares about.

Addendum: Since there have been some confused comments on this weblog before how as a white man I can’t have known Muslims growing up, David Hume is a pseudonym. My name is Razib Khan, and the Muslims I knew growing up were my parents.

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Writing in the  American Conservative, here’s Gilbert Sewall on the Oxford classicist, E.R. Dodds. Read the whole thing, really, but here is Sewall discussing Dodds’ Pagans and Christians in an Age of Anxiety (1965):

In 380, Theodosius I declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire, proscribing all other religions. Temples were closed, property confiscated, pagan holidays prohibited, and Olympic games ended. Freedom of religion vanished.

Olympic Games ended – not all bad then.

Sewall:

This obnoxious self-confidence made Christians many enemies among ordinary Romans. “Like all creeds which claim the total allegiance of the individual—like communism, for example, in our own day—early Christianity was a powerful divisive force,” Dodds said, using italics to make his point

To educated pagans, blind faith rendered Christianity contemptible. But what had been no more than an administrative nuisance or psychological curiosity in the early Empire became an actual menace to its stability and security: a state within the state, a secret society that disrupted social cohesion…

Why did the Christians win the Roman culture wars? First, the anything-goes ecumenism of late antiquity led to “too many cults, too many mysteries, too many philosophies of life to choose from: you could pile one religious insurance on another yet not feel safe,” Dodds explained. “Christianity made a clean sweep.” The Church cared for widows and orphans, the old, unemployed, and disabled. Most important, the Church created a community that gave self-respect and meaning to lives, provided human warmth, and offered hope.

Since Dodds wrote, the Western world’s educated and powerful have for the most part abandoned Christianity. Multimedia blur fiction and fact, making fantasies appear real and true. In such a world, what rubrics will provide a moral anchor and semblance of community? What voices will give lives meaning and direction?

As I’ve mentioned before, the need for “meaning” remains elusive to me, but it is  undeniable that that is something most people appear to want—something, like religion itself, that appears to be hardwired within our species, presumably because it fulfilled and, indeed, fulfills, an evolutionary purpose.

The ‘New Atheists’ who want to get rid of religion are on a hiding to nothing. There will always be religion. The only question is the form or forms it will take.

Sewall:

Washington-based journalist Andrew Sullivan has likened today’s campus activists to a religious sect, one that finds redemption through confession of white guilt and privilege, conversion, adoption of esoteric language, and adherence to a strict moral system. “Liberalism and empiricism have parted company,” warns political philosopher John Gray, an academic leftist and no friend of religion, in the Times Literary Supplement.

I have posted something on some of what Sullivan has been saying here and on Gray too (most recently) here.

In this context, it is worth noting this comment by Gray (‘academic leftist’ is not, incidentally, quite the right label: Where he stands is more complex than that) :

[Mill’s] assertion that human beings would prefer intellectual freedom over contented conformity was at odds with his empiricist philosophy. Essentially unfalsifiable, it was a matter of faith.

But conformity is not comfortable for all, and part of the comfort it does give lies in bestowing a power to enforce that conformity on others, power that is  pleasurable in itself, but also as a demonstration of a superior morality.

Sewall:

A rising quasi-religion propagates articles of holy faith through academic and corporate workshops, training sessions, and safe-zone certifications. In deconstructing canonical works, defaming ancient heroes, denouncing thought crimes, destroying icons and symbols, and closing down opposing viewpoints as hateful, it displays humorless fanaticism….

[T]he emerging intersectional priesthood has no intention of ceding secular power or accommodating adversaries. As an elect mindful of the responsibility to crush lies, convinced of its superior moral vision, it demands greater temporal power to redeem and punish recalcitrants.

As Dodds showed, belief systems that seem absurd to non-believers can and do create state-enforced thought monopolies. Once institutionalized, they can remain in power for long periods of time. Those who refuse to embrace sacred mandates and hierarchies are deplorable. They are mad, stupid, or evil, not merely stubborn or freethinking. Heresy contaminates. Nonconformists deserve legal reprisals, stigma, and ruin. To expunge the demonic threat, autos da fé, psychiatric hospitals, labor camps, and confiscations—many possible tools—are available to enforce divinely inspired righteousness.

Good times.

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May/18

15

Tom Wolfe, R.I.P.

“A cult is a religion with no political power.”

Apr/18

21

Mobile Phone, Immobile Superstition

Yet another reminder that, to quote (yet again) Carl Jung, the Middle Ages…live on merrily.

The Catholic Herald:

Priests have been carrying out exorcisms over the phone as demand continues to rise, a Cardinal has said.

Speaking at the Vatican’s annual exorcist training conference in Rome, Cardinal Ernest Simoni said priests are delivering prayers of liberation, part of the exorcism ritual, remotely.

“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” he said.

However, some warned that the practice was not wise, as people who are possessed often writhe around violently and have to be restrained during exorcisms….

Annual exorcist training conference?

Yup.

Around 250 priests from 50 countries are attending this year’s conference at the Regina Apostolorum university as prelates from around the world report an increase in demand for exorcisms.

The course started in 2004, and since then the number of priests attending each year has more than doubled.

And this pope, of course, that man of science who has taken it upon himself to lecture us all about climate change, will approve:

In his most recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis warns that the devil is not a myth but a “personal being who assails us”

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” the Pope wrote. “This mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”

And among his naughty tricks is, lest we forget, same sex marriage.

Or so this pope believes:

Here’s a 2010 story from the National Catholic Register about the then Cardinal Bergoglio (my emphasis added):

A Jesuit cardinal has become the latest Church leader to speak out forcefully against a government’s push towards same-sex marriage, and has called on his nation’s contemplatives to pray fervently to prevent such laws.

According to an article in tomorrow’s L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, has said that if a proposed bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children should be approved, it will “seriously damage the family.”

He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.

He wrote: “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

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Apr/18

21

Liberalism as Faith

Cross-posted on the Corner (and a post, I would hope, that ‘Secular Humanists’ would read):

The British philosopher John Gray is not someone to shy away from ‘difficult’ topics. If you are looking for a provocative long read this weekend, his new article in the Times Literary Supplement ought to be a contender. I didn’t agree with all of it (for example, I would argue that the supposedly secular totalitarianisms of the twentieth century—essentially millenarian sects, as Gray rightly observes—were even more ‘religious’ than even he would claim), not that that matters.

Above all, Gray’s take on where the arguments of John Stuart Mill, one of the saints of traditional liberalism, have led is, to say the least, intriguing.

An extract:

 [Mill’s] assertion that human beings would prefer intellectual freedom over contented conformity was at odds with his empiricist philosophy. Essentially unfalsifiable, it was a matter of faith.

While he never faced up to the contradictions in his thinking, Mill was fully aware that he was fashioning a new religion. Much influenced by Auguste Comte, he was an exponent of what he and the French Positivist philosopher described as “the Religion of Humanity”. Instead of worshipping a transcendent divinity, Comte instructed followers of the new religion to venerate the human species as “the new Supreme Being”. Replacing the rituals of Christianity, they would perform daily ceremonies based in science, touching their skulls at the point that phrenology had identified as the location of altruism (a word Comte invented). In an essay written not long before the appearance of On Liberty but published posthumously (he died in 1873), Mill described this creed as “a better religion than any of those that are ordinarily called by that title”.

That may or may not be true, but at least Mill recognized its essentially religious nature, not that that took much doing.

Gray:

Like Comte, [Mill] believed that humanity is a progressive species, though he diverged profoundly in how he understood progress. And what is “humanity”? The conception of humankind as a collective agent gradually achieving its goals is not reached by observation.

Like the brotherhood of man, just another delusion, unless it’s old Cain who we have in mind. Whether it is—as some delusions can be—a useful or even necessary delusion is a different question.

But back to Gray:

The politics of identity is a postmodern twist on the liberal religion of humanity. The Supreme Being has become an unknown God – a species of human being nowhere encountered in history, which does not need to define itself through family or community, nationality or any religion….

Liberals who are dismayed at the rise of the new intolerance have not noticed how much they have in common with those who are imposing it. Hyper-liberal “snowflakes”, who demand safe spaces where they cannot be troubled by disturbing facts and ideas, are what their elders have made them. Possessed by faith in an imaginary humanity, both seek to weaken or destroy the national and religious traditions that have supported freedom and toleration in the past…

Food for thought, to say the least.

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Apr/18

12

Like An Oscar, But Not

Blocked! I don’t know what brought on my inclusion on this sort of reverse Index librorum prohibitorum (I don’t think I’ve ever engaged with this particular site) but recognition is recognition…

 

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Apr/18

4

A Bahai Walks Into YouTube HQ…

Yesterday’s YouTube shooter, Nasim Aghdam, was an adherent of the Bahai faith, which appears to be a kind of Middle Eastern spin on Unitarian Universalism. Despite the Rastafarian look of the above pic, she ain’t about that. Heavy.com has more:

According to the Mercury News, the father says he warned police that his daughter had gone missing and was angry at YouTube but they called and said they found her sleeping in her car. She had recorded a video ranting that YouTube was discriminating against her. However, she did write about religion in the context of the Baha’i.

The blog post starts, “At the turn of 2014, one of our campaigns led us to the Baha’i. Thanks to Supreme Master Ching Hai et al, we were already aware of some Baha’i texts containing guidance on diet and abstinence from animal flesh. Therefore, was very keen to meet people from the Baha’i community and learn more. Not long after, we were invited to attend a local Baha’i meeting on the 8th of January 2015 at Leeds Quaker house. It is now down to the universal house of justice to take affirmative action, to ensure that the growth of Bahai principles increases it must pay special tribute to Abdul’s prophecy, about the ‘pity’ and ‘compassion’ that he observes in his verses animals/vegetarianism.”

Nobody could have predicted the likes of Aghdam to be the first to go on the (very) offensive with regard to Big Social Media and their widely acknowledged, frustratingly opaque, and seemingly arbitrary practice of filtering certain content, a.k.a. “shadowbanning.” Like others, I’d have guessed a disgruntled white male intellectual of perhaps a libertarian bent. (Complaints of a censorious nature directed at Silicon Valley do appear to be coming from the right in recent days.) Initial reports had it that the shooter stepped on to YouTube’s meatspace property for something related to a domestic dispute. Boy were they wrong about that! While her beef may have been personal, it wasn’t exactly interpersonal. And while unheard of in the US until yesterday, Aghdam, or “Green Nasim,” was something of an internet celebrity in Iran.

This attack was notable for at least two reasons: its type and the type of perpetrator. Both are fairly novel. One blogger suggests that Aghdam may very well be the world’s first Shadowban Shooter.

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Mar/18

4

The Devil as Recruiting Sergeant

The Middle Ages, as that dodgy sage Carl Jung once wrote, “live on… merrily”. That’s no surprise, really. Superstition will always be with us, in new forms—and in old.

Crux:

ROME – With reported demonic possessions on the rise in Italy, the Vatican is hosting a week-long training to better prepare exorcists for ministry. Catholic leaders have said that the country needs more exorcists, and better training.

“Today we are at a stage crucial in history: Many Christians no longer believe in [the devil’s] existence, few exorcists are appointed and there are no more young priests willing to learn,” said one of the event’s speakers, exorcist Father Cesare Truqui, according to Vatican News.

Now, of course, it’s true that the devil has a major role to play both in the traditional Christian story and in some expressions of Christian belief today (some: I don’t remember him playing much of a role in the teachings of the splendidly mild Church of England in which I was raised). Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see the obvious concern with which Father Truqui contemplates the fact that many Christians apparently no longer believe in Old Nick. Part of the reason for the anxiety that causes him will, undoubtedly, be spiritual, but on reading that paragraph, with its giveaway claim that we have arrived at a “crucial” stage (there always has to be a crisis; see Rahm Emmanuel for details), it’s hard not to detect the professional anxiety of someone who is worried that the demand for his guild’s services may no longer be required.

But more than that, it’s revealing that this conference is being hosted at the Vatican. The current Pope, like all demagogues someone with a shrewd grasp of what pulls in the crowds, is noticeable for the emphasis he places on the devil. He knows that fear is a good recruiter.

What that does to the mental health of the psychologically vulnerable is not something that appears to count for too much.

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Our Lady of Peace Shrine in Santa Clara, CA

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (HT Tyler Cowen) ruminates on the past and present of Catholicism and how it stacks up to the influence of Silicon Valley. In short he claims that it’s, well, falling short in the modern age:

A simple glance at the history of the church should show that the current situation is anomalous. As Rodney Stark, the invaluable social historian of Christianity, notes, Christians in the Roman world had longer life expectancies than their non-Christian peers, a fact that can be largely attributed to the church’s welfare system, which was the first organized and professionally run welfare system in recorded history—in other words, a radical, world-changing innovation. It is attested by both Christian and pagan sources that Christians in antiquity provided health care lavishly to their own and to others; it is less often noted that in the process they literally invented the hospital, another rather important innovation.

He laments that Bill and Melinda Gates have done more to help eradicate malaria in Africa than Catholics have. Gobry is smart to point to Catholicism’s internal contradictions that e.g. pit environmental conservation against birth control:

Catholic doctrine includes care for creation, but also includes the condemnation of artificial family planning. How does one reconcile environmental conservationism with a moral vision that, if applied consistently, would lead to explosive population growth?

Seeing as how the center of gravity in the Catholic world has moved to the Global South – with Argentinian Pope Francis its official spokesperson –  it’s difficult to see how Catholicism will ever be on equal footing with Silicon Valley in both the near and long-term future. Argentina ain’t Japan. It should come as no surprise that a religious figurehead who is down on euthanasia might be at loggerheads with the “spiritual” home of transhumanism, a sizable minority of godless libertarians, and abortion as taken-for-granted.

One area of surprising agreement between the Catholic Church and Silicon Valley is global warming. But that’s about it.

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