CAT | Religion
Rod Dreher has an interesting post up at The American Conservative, The Lie Of Atheism (It’s Not What You Think). He relays a scourging of the New Atheists by Damon Linker. Rod has an interesting passage which I think highlights the difference between his psychology and that of my own:
…I have never understood why people would think of atheism as a liberation (aside from those who were raised in a traumatic religious situation, I mean). When I was at my point of greatest doubt about the existence of God, the loss of Him struck me as a thing to accept with fear and trembling. If it was true, I told myself, then I would have to accept it. But, as Linker avers, what a terrible truth!
This is probably the norm. I have talked to atheists and non-atheists who have recounted to me their moment of doubt. No matter whether the moment passed, or, it propelled them toward disbelief, it was emotionally fraught. The power of this moment, and the possible falseness of deep intuitions about a transcendent God, are genuinely affecting and I do not doubt the authenticity of these experiences. But one must be careful to generalize here, as there are some for whom God is not intuitive, and never has been. I speak from personal experience, as I have never had a deep intuitive belief in God, even when indoctrinated as a child. My wife is similar. This is why I think people need to be careful when asserting that a Nietzschean understanding of atheism is the only honest understanding of atheism. No matter your philosophical stance, the authenticity of the Nietzschean frame is contingent upon one’s own psychology. If the universe was banal and Godless, there is never not “reveal” of his death and the consequences of that event.
And obviously all the concerns about personal nihilism as a universal human conundrum faced by those who abandon God are moot in the case of individuals who never knew God in their bones to begin with and exhibit normal social and ethical mores. There may still be broader philosophical issues, but those do not have the same emotional valence. And, of course, one can still assert that for most people the Nietzschean model is relevant (I would dispute this, but this is a matter more subject to empirical investigation).
Brendan O’Neill (atheist, former altar boy) looks at the pope’s resignation and is none too impressed:
Benedict is aware of the crisis of vocation in the modern world, the way in which he what he called the ‘relativist cultural context… adversely affects the formation of consistent and stable vocational figures’ – that is, how modern society’s cult of the narrow self eats away at old notions of sacrificing oneself to a greater cause. Indeed, a couple of years ago he got his cardinals to warn against the ‘transformation of the priesthood into a profession’ and to remind people that actually it is a ‘lifelong vocation’. Yet now he has sent out the message that even being pope is kind of a profession, something one can retire from when exhausted or ill or in need of some ‘me time’.
For my part, I wish Benedict a peaceful retirement, but there’s much that I won’t miss about this pope, including his “Nazi” smears, his corporatist blather about the wickedness of “unregulated financial capitalism” and his sanctimonious greenery.
A hideous story from NBC:
Assailants stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town, police said Friday after one of the highest profile sorcery-related murders in this South Pacific island nation.
Some of the hundreds of bystanders took photographs of Wednesday’s brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country’s biggest circulating newspapers, The National and Post-Courier. The prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.
Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old who had a child, had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in the hospital the day before, police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.
Note the coexistence of modernity (the taking of photographs) with ancient superstition. Belief in the supernatural is not going away any time soon; the only question is the form that it will take.
Well, this made me laugh:
In authoring scripture, Origen [an early theologian] argues, God has deliberately planted all sorts of interpretive obstacles: problems, difficulties, mistakes, morally objectionable stories, and so forth. These manifold obstacles lead us to press beneath the surface of the text and to search more deeply for its spiritual meaning. Such spiritual exegesis isn’t just a scholarly technique. It requires ascetic purification, the spiritual transformation of the reader. So the problems in scripture – the same problems which Marcion takes as proof of divine wickedness – are planted there by God to lead us into the depths of spiritual life, just as a wise teacher might plant mistakes in a class discussion in order to lead the class, gently and unobtrusively, towards the truth.
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.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
A number of people here have noted that yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Well, in Mali they were burning books.
The Christian Science Monitor reports:
Fleeing Islamist extremists torched a library containing historic manuscripts in Timbuktu, the mayor said Monday, as French and Malian forces closed in on Mali’s fabled desert city. Ousmane Halle said he heard about the burnings early Monday.
“It’s truly alarming that this has happened,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Monday. “They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people.”
Heinrich Heine (1821):
…[D]ort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen (“Where they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn people”).
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.
Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church’s international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.
Since then the international value of Mussolini’s nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James’s Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.
The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James’s Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company’s true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican….
While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy’s wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganised in 1999.
The Guardian asked the Vatican’s representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church’s spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.
Not necessarily the most shocking story in the world, but it comes with enough ironies to make it worth repeating, not least this (also from the Guardian, back in 2008):
It is a message sent from on high to the world’s financial and political elite. The Roman Catholic Church is calling for the effective closure of secretive tax havens as a ‘necessary first step’ to restore the global economy to health.
In a policy paper from the Holy See, Pope Benedict pins the blame for the international financial crisis largely on ‘offshore centres’, many of which, such as the Channel Islands, are British dependencies.
‘They have given support to imprudent economic and financial practices and have also played a significant role in the imbalances of development, allowing a gigantic flight of capital linked to tax evasion,’ says the report. ‘Offshore markets could also be linked to the recycling of profits from illegal activities.’
And they have proved pretty handy for the Vatican too.
Not, of course, that Benedict knew that. He had no idea. None at all.
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”.