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Sep/16

9

A Raid in Argentina

ciliceWe’ll have to see what emerges from the eventual prosecution, but this story (reported in the Daily Telegraph, with my emphasis added) from Argentina may be interesting for the light it casts on the Christian fascination with suffering (discussed here the other day) and also by the claim that the church should be above the law, a claim that also runs through the arguments sometimes made for the absolutist version of ‘religious liberty’ now  being peddled in the US.

A Carmelite mother superior in Argentina faces prosecution for alleged torture after one of her former charges told a TV show that she had gone through “hell” before managing to escape from a convent. The 34-year-old nun, whose face was blacked out during the interview on the channel El Trece, claimed she had endured “physical and psychological” torture during her 10-year period of reclusion in the convent, including enforced self-flagellation, the wearing of a wire garter, being gagged for up to a week and locked up in isolation. “With Mother Superior Isabel I was subjected to the gag. Then there was a whip called discipline which was dipped in molten wax to make it harsher. We performed self-flagellation, beating ourselves on the buttocks, every week as a rule,” the former nun from the Barefoot (or Discalced) Carmelite convent in Nogoyá, northern Argentina said.

The woman, who said she had entered the order at the age of 18, also said they were forced to wear a cilice, a “crown of wires strapped around the leg that draws blood”, three times a week during Lent. But she said the worst torture she endured was psychological, being locked up alone in a cell and hearing voices telling her that others nuns’ illnesses, such as one sister’s tumour, were curses wrought upon the monastery due to her sinful nature.

Two nuns have reported the mother superior, identified by the authorities only as María Isabel, claiming she kept them against their will in the gated convent grounds. In late August police raided the convent, forcing the door open after the mother superior allegedly refused to allow them to enter.

The officers seized instruments of the alleged torture, including whips, cilices and gags. Prosecutors have recommended charges with a penalty of 15 years in prison for the mother superior, who was to face an investigating judge on Wednesday. Church leaders have justified the use of such instruments as penitential aids. “It’s not punishment, but rather discipline,” said Ignacio Patat, spokesman for the Archbishopric of Paraná, which oversees the convent.

“Let’s not forget that monasteries have different rules. This is the law of Saint Teresa, shall we say the old way of life that the Carmelite sisters follow”, Mr Patat told a radio station.

The austere order of the Barefoot Carmelites was founded in 1593 following the teachings of two Spanish saints, Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. Mortification and penance are considered useful as aids to deep prayer.

“The Church has the right to rule itself,” read a statement by Argentina’s Society of Canon Law. “The state should enforce respect for religious freedom and not compromise it because some things seem incomprehensible.”

Crux magazine appears to disapprove of the raid, taking time to defend the use of the cilice:

Although the practice to use the cilice is not as widespread as it once was, some of history’s greatest saints wore them, either in the most common modern form of a spiked chain which irritates the skin or as an undergarment made of hair as it was customary in the past. For instance, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Therese of Lisieux are known to have used them, as well as soon to be declared saint Mother Teresa, St. Padre Pio, and Pope Paul VI….

The sisters have remained silent, yet the local Catholic hierarchy has expressed its concern over the way the situation was handled. Archbishop Juan Alberto Piuggari of Entre Rios, the diocese where the convent is located, said the papal representative in the country and the bishops conference considered the raid to be disproportionate…Piuggari also denied that the Mother Superior had refused to let them in: “She told them to give her a minute to call the bishop and they broke down the door. Is that refusing [to let them in]?”

The prelate also said that the procedure should have been “different,” and that Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, the papal representative in the country, should have been informed beforehand since the monastery reports directly to the Vatican.

Hmmm

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Sep/16

4

Mother Teresa and the Cult of Suffering

TeresaMother Teresa has been canonized today.

The new saint’s record is more complicated than either her critics or her fans like to acknowledge, but this balanced piece by Mari Marcel Thekaekara in the Guardian is worth a look.

Towards the end, Thekaekara, a formerly fierce critic of Mother Teresa, concedes this – and understandably so:

I cannot in conscience criticise a woman who picked people off filthy pavements to allow them to die in dignity.

But it does appear that Mother Teresa was one of those Christians who subscribe to the morbid idea that suffering is some sort of blessing (I’ve posted about this phenomenon here, here, here and here).

Thekaekara:

Mother Teresa didn’t deserve Christopher Hitchen’s unadulterated, poisonous vitriol. But her vintage, “There’s something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion,” left me fuming too. How dare she trivialise poverty? But she could. She did. And the world lapped it up. She once comforted a sufferer, with the line: “You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you.” The infuriated man screamed, “Then tell your Jesus to stop kissing me.”

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Sep/16

4

Trump on God


bible-onlineCNN (from last year):

“Well I say God is the ultimate. You know you look at this?” Trump said, motioning toward an oceanfront golf course that bears his name. “Here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it 15 years ago. I made one of the great deals they say ever. I have no more mortgage on it as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back, but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this, and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no there’s nothing like God.”

God is, as always, in the eye of the beholder.

 

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Aug/16

4

ISIS, God and The Devil

ISISAusten Ivereigh’s defense of Pope Francis’ response to ISIS appears to be, well, evolving.

Just the other day, he was arguing this:

[ISIS] is a wholly modernistic creation, a vehicle of power, the “technocratic paradigm” of domination and exploitation, applied to an ancient faith. ISIS militants are engineers, IT experts, lawyers and literalists; they are utterly Western, utterly modern, utterly unreligious.

Now:

First, the Islamic State might recruit mentally-ill teenagers from the banlieus, but it is far from being a bunch of psychopaths. Islamism is a violent ideology drawn from a purist Islamic fundamentalism. It is a version of Islam which radically differs from, and is rejected by, most of the Muslim world.

Second, a war with Christianity is key to its worldview. The Islamic State awaits the army of “Rome,” whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse

Of course ISIS recruits far more than “mentally-ill” teenagers, but Ivereigh’s recognition that it is a religious movement (however repellent) is a welcome acceptance  of reality.

Ivereigh goes on to explain that Francis has a “six-fold strategy in response to the Islamic State provocation”. Apparently it’s “well thought out, and it is effective”. I’ll leave you to read the full piece and judge for yourselves, but this, well:

For the radicals, violence is sacred, sacrificial, divinely-sanctioned – it is precipitating Armaggedon and the celestial triumph of Islam.

So when Francis declares that its violence is, as well as being evil and abhorrent, “senseless,” as he described the Nice massacre, or “absurd” as he said of the violence that slayed Hamel, he is dealing Islamic State a significant blow: the world’s leading religious authority has denied them the legitimacy of a religious justification.

This is a strategy, but it is, also, genuinely, demonstrating what true religion is.

Well no. The idea that ISIS or, for that matter, many of the people inclined, however remotely, to sympathize with them will pay the slightest attention to the opinion of a “religious authority” for whom they have no respect is, to put it at its kindest, naïve.

As to what a  “true religion” is, well, let’s just to say that religion takes  many forms, not all of them benign.

And then:

As a longtime discerner of spirits, Francis has a keen awareness of the workings of the diabolos, the great divider, and the subtle ways evil can persuade ‘good’ people to set themselves over and against ‘bad’ people.

Did Ivereigh felt the need for a little Greek, with its suggestion of erudition, to conceal the primitive beliefs that it describes: The Devil. No less.

Superstition, wishful thinking and denial do not a good “strategy” make.

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Jul/16

2

“Paris Vaut Bien Une Messe”

TrumpJesusPolitico:

Trump met with hundreds of evangelical leaders in New York earlier this week, and while some well-known figures — such as Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr. — have endorsed the candidate, others are more hesitant to do so.

However, Dobson, a Christian psychologist and founder of the Focus on the Family group, said he knows “the person who led [Trump] to Christ. And that’s fairly recent.”

“I don’t know when it was, but it has not been long,” Dobson said in an interview with Pennsylvania megachurch pastor Michael Anthony following that meeting in New York. “I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian.”

….“I’ve been a Christian, and I love Christianity and the evangelicals have been so incredibly supportive,” Trump said in the private session with evangelicals this week, according to audio obtained by POLITICO. “Don’t forget, when I ran, and all of a sudden I went to states that were highly evangelical, like as an example, South Carolina, and they said, ‘Well, Trump won’t win this state because it’s evangelical’ … not only did I win, I won in a landslide.”

All this is another reminder, as if one were needed, that Jesus is in the eye of the beholder.  And, of course, it’s also a reminder of that religion is about much more than its teachings, not least the extent to which its bolsters a sense of group identity: ‘our team’, come what may, Donald Trump ‘baby Christian’.

As for Trump, whatever one might think about him (generally not much…), his cynicism in this respect is worth a smile, and perhaps even a round of light applause.

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France_Islamophobia_Protests-630x354

An interesting criticism of the notion of “Islamophobia,” translated from French, has made an appearance at Charnel House, a Marxist blog that’s nearly equally fascinated by architecture. (They say the last remaining Marxists are to be found in English departments, but that’s not the only place, perhaps.) Dubbed “On the Ideology of Anti-Islamophobia,” the piece by Alexandra Pinot-Noir (heh) and Flora Grim is  an interesting window into the thinking on a part of the left that is far from in vogue in 2016.

Some excerpts:

Even though the term “Islamophobia” probably dates back to the early twentieth century, it only recently came to designate racism against “Arabs” in its widespread use. Through this artifice, religion is assimilated to “race” as a cultural matrix in what amounts to a “cultural mystification… by which an entire cross-section of individuals is assigned, on the basis of their origin or physical appearance, to the category of ‘Muslims.’ Any criticism of Islam is perceived not as a critique of religion, but as a direct manifestation of racism, and thus silenced.” […] We mainly recognize the specter haunting the left as third-worldism [emphasis added], which entails uncritical support for the “oppressed” against their “oppressor.”

The authors likewise point to the phenomenon of the New Right and its “identitarian” orientation as being in perfect solidarity, so to speak, with the general framework used by the “culturalist” left, e.g. in their essentialism that links anyone who’s Arab with Islam; hence Islamophobia, hence racism.

The position of far-left anti-Islamophobes regarding political Islam is, to say the least, ambivalent. They want to bar any criticism of the Muslim religion, a practice they say is racist. This moralizing outlook reveals a lack of analysis of how political Islam has evolved in the world since the 1979 Iranian revolution and, for some, a denial of its very existence. Nor does jihadism disconcert these anti-Islamophobes. After each attack perpetrated by jihadists in Europe — adding to their long list of atrocities, especially on the African continent and in the Middle East — they worry mainly that it might lead to fresh outbreaks of “Islamophobia” and repressive measures, with good reason. So they ascribe sole responsibility to Western imperialism.

Or in the case of some of among the trendy hoi polloi, a denial that the attacks are even Islamic.

For these worthy anti-Islamophobes, the issue is quite simple: the Muslim religion must be viewed with exceptional benevolence as the “religion of the oppressed.” They apparently forget that social control is the function of all religions and that political Islam in particular proclaims everywhere its determination to keep tight control over the society it intends to govern.

Read the rest, but don’t be surprised to find yourself rolling your eyes at points, when the class talk rears its head. These are Marxists after all…

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May/16

21

Doubt as Sin.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fogIn the course of reading around a story about how the Portland Public Schools board has unanimously approved a resolution aimed at “eliminating doubt” about climate change and its causes in schools, I came across this quote  from Nietzsche (It’s from Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality):

Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.

That’s rather fine.

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May/16

14

Rome, Brussels and Ventotene

Mary and 'European' StarsCross-posted on the Corner:

Writing in Britain’s Catholic Herald, Ed West reports on the attitude taken by the Vatican to Brexit. I touched on this last week in a discussion on the award to the Pope of the Charlemagne prize, the first political prize to be established in West Germany after the war. The prize was the brainchild of Kurt Pfeifer, an Aachen textile merchant, and a former, if (it is said) reluctant member of the Nazi party. It is awarded every Ascension Day in, appropriately enough, Aachen, Charlemagne’s former capital, ‘for the most valuable contribution to West European understanding.’ This year, however the ceremony took place in Rome.

Ed West (my emphasis added):

The awards ceremony, held in the Vatican, was addressed by Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.

They must have been pleased to hear Francis identify Brussels with “the soul of Europe”. On immigration, the Pope brushed aside the fears of Eurosceptics and even the anxieties of pro-EU national politicians. Tighter border controls were a manifestation of “meanness”, serving “our own selfish interests”. It’s not hard to work out where the Holy Father’s sympathies lie in the British referendum. The Vatican’s “foreign minister”, the Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, has said bluntly: “Better in than out.”

Officially, Britain’s Roman Catholic Church is taking a neutral position on Brexit, but…

West delves into the early history of the EU, going back to the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the body that launched the process of European integration on its current path:

[The] European Coal and Steel Community [was]formed after the Second World War by Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi. Of these, only Monnet – the French political economist who became the community’s first president – was not a conspicuously devout Catholic. (His private life was complicated: he was married to a woman who left her husband for him and had to travel to Moscow to obtain a divorce; the Monnets could not have a Catholic wedding until the first husband was dead, by which time Jean was 85. The ceremony took place in the basilica at Lourdes.)

Schuman, twice prime minister of France, and De Gasperi, eight times prime minister of Italy and founder of the Christian Democrats, were men of such personal holiness that there have been calls to canonise them. Adenauer, the scheming first Chancellor of West Germany, is not a candidate for sainthood – but he was a trenchantly Catholic statesman during a political career lasting 60 years.

For Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi, the European Economic Community was fundamentally a Catholic project with roots that – in their imaginations, at least – could be traced back to Charlemagne….

In 2008 the Catholic historian Alan Fimister published a book arguing that Schuman’s plans for Europe were “to a remarkable degree, the conscious implementation of the Neo-Thomistic project of Pope Leo XIII”.

Schuman, De Gasperi and Adenauer all believed that the answer to totalitarian ideologies lay in Leo’s vision of the restoration of “the principles of the Christian life in civil and domestic society”.

But Schuman went further: he subscribed to the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain’s notion of supranational democracy as the foundation for a new Christendom. “He held fast to the magisterium’s demand that the final destination of Catholic political action must be the recognition by the civil order of the truth of the Faith,” writes Fimister.

Now, I have nothing to say about, good heavens, Neo-Thomistic projects (and I can think of kinder ways to describe Adenauer, a very great German chancellor, than ‘scheming’), but what’s interesting about all this is the way that these statesmen took Roman Catholic notions of Christendom, a Christian ‘ummah’, if you like, and transformed them into the idea of ‘supranational democracy’. Democracy? The idea of a supranational ‘democracy’ was, of course, a nod to the conventional political pieties of the postwar era. But a nod is all that it was, as those founders knew. Without a European ‘demos’, there could be no European democracy. There was no European demos then, and there is no European demos now. What’s left is supranational technocracy, something that’s very different.

West, focused on the Catholic debate (his whole piece is well worth reading) does not mention another of the founding key fathers of the European Union, Altiero Spinelli. Spinelli was no Catholic, but a communist, and then (eventually) a former communist, and thus, critically, someone else susceptible to a universalist creed impatient with borders. Democracy was not so much of a priority for him either.

Here is an extract (via Richard North and Christopher Booker’s The Great Deception) of what Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, a fellow political prisoner under Mussolini, wrote in their Ventotene manifesto (1944) (my emphasis added):

During the revolutionary crisis, this [European] movement will have the task of organising and guiding progressive forces, using all the popular bodies which form spontaneously, incandescent melting pots in which the revolutionary masses are mixed, not for the creation of plebiscites, but rather waiting to be guided.

It derives its vision and certainty of what must be done from the knowledge that it represents the deepest needs of modern society and not from any previous recognition by popular will, as yet non-existent. In this way it issues the basic guidelines of the new order, the first social discipline directed to the unformed masses. By this dictatorship of the revolutionary party a new State will be formed, and around this State new, genuine democracy will grow.

Spinelli died in 1986, after a distinguished career in the politics of the emerging European Union. He remains an honored figure in the EU’s pantheon. The main building in the EU’s (Brussels) parliament is named after him. The Spinelli Group is an initiative launched in 2010 led by the likes of Guy Verfhofstadt, the eurofundamentalist (and former Belgian prime minister) who heads up ALDE, the EU Parliament’s ‘liberal’ family’ and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ‘Dany le Rouge’ of Paris ’68 infamy.

Ancient history, yes, to a degree, but only to a degree: To understand the EU it is necessary to understand its intellectual and political roots. And to understand the EU and to oppose Brexit is, I would argue, an….interesting choice.

 

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May/16

8

The Pope, the EU and the Charlemagne Prize

Pope Merkel CharlemagneCross-posted on the Corner

One thing about this pope: When it comes to political matters, he has an unerring ability to be on the wrong side of the issue.

Vatican Radio:

Pope Francis on Friday received the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen, Germany, from Marcel Philipp, the Lord Mayor of the German city. The International Charlemagne Prize is awarded for work done in the service of European unification.

The Vatican Radio report includes the full transcript of Francis’ speech.

A couple of extracts caught my eye:

[W]e would do well to turn to the founding fathers of Europe.  They were prepared to pursue alternative and innovative paths in a world scarred by war.  Not only did they boldly conceive the idea of Europe, but they dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction. They dared to seek multilateral solutions to increasingly shared problems.

It is certainly true that these founding fathers did conceive an “idea of Europe”, but it was one with little connection to history, and even less to democracy.

As a reminder of that, the Daily Telegraph reports recent comments from Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU’s top bureaucrat, one of the apparatchiks present to watch the Pope receive his prize (my emphasis added):

Prime Ministers must stop listening so much to their voters and instead act as “full time Europeans”, according to Jean-Claude Juncker.  Elected leaders are making life “difficult” because they spend too much time thinking about what they can get out of EU and kowtowing to public opinion, rather than working on “historic” projects such as the Euro, he said.

Note that use of “historic”, with its suggestion that there is a “right” side of history, a notion that comes, wrote Robert Conquest, that great historian of Soviet communism, with a “Marxist twang”.

And then there was this from the Pope:

The roots of our peoples, the roots of Europe, were consolidated down the centuries by the constant need to integrate in new syntheses the most varied and discrete cultures.  The identity of Europe is, and always has been, a dynamic and multicultural identity.

Clearly, that is an indirect reference to the current immigration wave, a wave that Francis has, in his own way, done his bit to encourage, but it is a view difficult to reconcile with historical reality.

Yes, European peoples have enriched their cultures by learning from others, but they have also defended their distinctiveness of their cultures, and, as the years passed and Habsburgs faded, they increasingly did so behind national borders that created a space for a diverse Europe to develop and to flourish, something very different from the multicultural Europe that the Pope appears to be describing.  There was pluribus, but not so much unum.

This process gathered pace as those national borders solidified, hugely accelerated by the manner in which  ‘Christendom’,  the Roman Catholic ummah, already divided by the breach with the East, was further fragmented by the Reformation, a movement that was political as well as religious.

Writing on this topic the (admittedly not uncontroversial) British politician, Enoch Powell, looked at Henry VIII’s break with Rome, arguing in 1972 that:

It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].

And this is not just an English thing. Writing in the Guardian, Giles Fraser notes that:

Research by social scientist Margarete Scherer from the Goethe University in Frankfurt has demonstrated a considerably higher prevalence of Euroscepticism in traditionally Protestant countries than in traditionally Roman Catholic ones. And this should be entirely unsurprising, given that the Reformation was largely a protest about heteronomous power.

Heteronomous!

Fraser:

As Cardinal Vincent Nichols said last month: “There is a long tradition in … Catholicism of believing in holding things together. So the Catholic stance towards an effort such as the EU is largely supportive.” Of course, the important question is: who does the “holding things together”? And for the cardinal – theologically, at least – it’s Rome.

Conversely, in Protestant countries, the EU still feels a little like some semi-secular echo of the Holy Roman Empire, a bureaucratic monster that, through the imposition of canon law, swallows up difference and seeks after doctrinal uniformity. This was precisely the sort of centralisation that Luther challenged, and resistance to it is deep in the Protestant consciousness…

Writing in Britain’s Catholic Herald, Ed West questions the Pope’s decision to accept the Charlemagne prize:

Francis is a great advocate of peace and brotherly love, but it is surprising that he has accepted an award that is so nakedly political, especially as the EU faces next month the first vote by a member state on leaving. It is one thing to promote “European unity” in the abstract, but this award explicitly promotes the cause of the EU, as can be shown by its recent winners, among them Donald Tusk, Herman Van Rompuy, Angela Merkel and, in 2002, “the euro”. Sure, from deep within Charlemagne’s empire the euro might have appeared to have promoted unity, but for Greece’s huge numbers of unemployed youths it probably does not seem that way.

Many, many British Catholics oppose our membership of what strikes us as a hugely risky attempt to create a superstate, despite such ventures normally ending in disaster; we know that the bishops both on the continent and in this country overwhelmingly support this venture, but it seems odd that the Holy Father should so openly take one side in a controversial political matter.

Not so much, I reckon.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds his bible while speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank - RTS1XL2

This from Religion News Service:

The Battleground Poll has the Clinton-Trump God gap at under 15 points, with those who say they go to church at least once a week preferring Trump to Clinton by nine points and those attending less frequently preferring Clinton to Trump by less than six. That compares to a God gap in 2012 of nearly 40 points.

Since the God gap became salient in the 1990s, it’s always exceeded the gender gap. Not, evidently, this year. Between women’s support for one of their own and the misogyny of the other candidate, gender identity is trumping religion.

This parallels the seeming decline in interest in religion and the ramping up of a secularized culture war. The New World has been taking its cues from the Old World for a while now – as evidenced by the youth – and like Europe, America is implicitly agreeing that God is pretty much dead and moving on with matters more material. Oh, and this:

Roman Catholics voted for Obama over Romney by a couple of points but are now supporting Trump over Clinton 45 percent to 39 percent. Does this reflect a deep-seated Catholic proclivity for having a man at the top?

Except their man at the top has sparred with Donald Trump pretty visibly. Hm. As for Trump’s alleged misogyny, “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams makes the point that Trump is insulting to everyone, but it’s only his attacks on women that provoke people into clutching at pearls:

Donald Trump called John Kasich “disgusting” for how he eats. Trump insulted Rand Paul’s looks. He said Rubio was sweaty and little. He mocked a disabled guy (an enemy reporter) who has a bad arm. Ted Cruz turned into “lyin’ Ted” and Jeb Bush got tagged with the “low energy” kill shot.

What do you call it when a man insults his enemies who are both male and female? Democrats call it a “woman problem.”

Indeed.

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