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Captain A. D. Chater, 2nd Batallion, Gordon Highlanders, Dec 25, 1914:
I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen. About 10 o’clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours.
We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas…
We exchanged cigarettes and autographs, and some more people took photos…I don’t know how long it will go on for – I believe it was supposed to stop yesterday, but we can hear no firing going on along the front today except a little distant shelling.
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the frosty air!
First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is a most extraordinary thing — two nations singing the same carol in the middle of a war.
And these were by no means isolated incidents.
When the high commands (on both sides) heard about these ‘Christmas truces’, they did everything they could to bring them to an end and avoid their repetition, but just for a moment…
I quite like BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time. But the most recent episode was on the Trinity. You can listen to online. Most of the time the host has scholars who are there to illuminate the educated public on some fascinating topic. But in this case it seems clear that no one has any idea what they are talking about. The problem here is not the scholars, it is that after nearly 2,000 years no one understands the Trinity well enough to speak about it coherently. This brings to mind Wittgenstein’s phrase, Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
Meanwhile, Right Wing Watch (I know, I know) reports that Concerned Women of America will no longer be attending a ‘World Congress of Families’ summit scheduled to be held in the Kremlin later this year. The group’s CEO Penny Nance has said, “I don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.” Well, it’s taken a while for the penny to drop, Penny, but good.
On the other hand:
CWA’s choice is especially surprising because its senior fellow, Janice Shaw Crouse, is amember of the board of the World Congress of Families and has been a vocal defender of Putin’s social policies. Last month, Crouse even appeared at a press conference promoting the Moscow summit.
Now the question becomes whether other American groups will follow Nance’s lead. An organizing meeting for the event in October included Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Benjamin Bull of Alliance Defending Freedom, Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.
A draft program for the event that was obtained by Buzzfeed includes speeches by ADF president Allan Sears, Focus president Jim Daly, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, Brown, Ruse and Murff, among others.
In addition, the World Congress of Families receives funding from “partner organizations” including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and Americans United for Life.
The World Congress of Families’ Larry Jacobs said at last month’s press conference that members of the U.S. Congress would also attend the event, though he would not specify which ones since he said their confirmations were not yet finalized. The draft program also accounts for speeches from unidentified members of Congress. to speak.
As we’ve noted, the planned summit is more than just a trip to Moscow. It’s being held at the Kremlin with funding from key Putin allies and will include a joint forum with Russia’s parliament. In addition, the World Congress of Families itself has been working to support Putin’s crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia…
Ruse articulated the apparent attitude of many American groups when he told Buzzfeed that although the Ukraine invasion “muddied the water,” he had not been concerned about working so closely with the Putin regime until now, “because the Russian government has been quite good on our issues.”
Useful idiots, redux.
There’s a lesson lying somewhere in this Haaretz story:
Two white doves that were released by children standing alongside Pope Francis as a peace gesture have been attacked by other birds.
As tens of thousands of people watched in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, a seagull and a large black crow swept down on the doves right after they were set free from an open window of the Apostolic Palace.
One dove lost some feathers as it broke free from the gull. But the crow pecked repeatedly at the other dove.
It was not clear what happened to the doves as they flew off.
I have, to put it mildly, my doubts about atheist “churches”, but not about the real need for many of those who struggle with the idea of a god for some sort of ritualized community. The “Sunday Assembly” was designed to fill this gap, but now appears to have evolved in a manner that can satisfy another persistent urge: the need to differentiate true believers (so to speak) from those who have got it wrong.
The world’s most voguish – though not its only – atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim. So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.
“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”
But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon. In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.
“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”
Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.
Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue. The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.
Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult….”
Well, however structured, such sort of assemblies are unlikely to appeal to the likes of me, but I must say, if I had to choose, Godless Revival seems—based on this account—like the way to go. Grumbles about a “humanistic cult” are all too believable, and opting for a dive bar “where women wore bikinis” clinches it.
Washington (CNN) – House Republicans have added a measure aimed at limiting contraceptive coverage to the spending bill coming up for a vote Saturday night, a spokesman for Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, told CNN.
A senior House leadership aide confirmed that development.
The so-called “conscience clause” would allow employers and insurers to opt out of preventative care for women which they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds. That prominently includes birth control, which most insurers are required to provide for free under current Obamacare rules.
With this move, House Republican leaders would give any employer or group health plan the ability to opt out of contraception coverage for the next year. That time frame syncs up with the larger measure in which this is included: a one-year delay of Obamacare provisions not yet in effect.
“This is a big deal for the congressman,” Huelskamp’s spokesman, Paul Nelson, told CNN. “He has been pushing for (the conscience clause) since he entered Congress.”
Democrats say the measure is unnecessary because the administration has granted exemptions to contraceptive coverage to religious nonprofit institutions. But advocates, such as Huelskamp, insist that all institutions should be able to opt out of any preventative coverage for women that they find objectionable.
The addition of the “conscience clause” ties a heated social issue to the already sharp shutdown debate.
Glancing through this stuff, I am struck as always by how precisely I can “place” a fellow Englishman. Dawkins is straight out of the upper-middle-middle-class suburban south of England. (Yes, yes, I know he was born in Nairobi and raised on a farm. Makes no difference.) His second-drawer boys’ boarding school education, his enthusiasm for the Oxford tutorial system and sentimental fondness for the Anglican Church (really), his insouciance towards the milder forms of pederasty, his ornery impatience with metaphysical flapdoodle, . . . I know this guy, in some way that I don’t know anyone that isn’t English (although I think I might get a good part of the way there with an Irishman, Welshman, or Scot), and in a way that nobody not English can know him.
I certainly can’t “place” Americans that well, although now well into my fourth decade of residence in this country. Yet this is a “cousin” nation, with a lot of cultural overlap.
The usual questions:
- Is this a peculiarly English thing? Or
- Is it an old-island-nation thing? Can Japanese and Icelanders “place” each other like this? Or
- Is it universal among old, long-coherent nations? Can Finns, Spaniards, and Thais do it?
- If mutual recognition at this level is a common thing in nation-states, what chance does anyone have of really understanding another country? Or
- Am I just exceptionally blind and deaf to unfamiliar cultural signals? Did my mental equipment for “placing” people just get stuck around age 20, while other people’s matured?
Over at the Washington Post, Michael Peppard writes:
Like 159,000 other people, I follow Pope Francis (@Pontifex) on Twitter—in Latin. I enjoy the chance to refine my declensions and conjugations while pausing in reflection on the beautiful words of Franciscus.
But Monday’s first tweet offered no succor. “Numquam plus bellum! Numquam plus bellum!” shouted my Twitter feed, like a shrill alarm on a groggy holiday morning.
…The “just war” tradition of the Catholic Church focuses on principles such as just cause, proportionality, last resort, and serious prospect of success, among others. In recent years, some have developed the principle of “responsibility to protect” as a corollary to the received tradition. Some usually progressive American Catholic voices, such as Michael Sean Winters, have argued that military intervention in Syria does qualify as just.
But from Pope Francis’s statements and previous writings, he leans away from the “just war” discourse and toward the just peacemaking school of thought—or outright pacifism. Conflict has been present from the time of Cain and Abel, he said in On Heaven and Earth, but “I believe that war must never be the path to resolution.”
Andrew Sullivan adds:
[J]ust war theory did nothing to prevent the disaster in Iraq. Christians may need, given the terrifying spread of religious terrorism and unimaginably advanced and increasingly accessible means for widespread destruction, to recalibrate toward a more pacifist position.
I’m not quite sure that I see the logic of that. The mess in Iraq was the product of many things, but a failure in the theory of just war was not one of them.
Sullivan is, of course, right to worry about the danger posed by the conjunction of spreading religious terrorism and increasing access to weapons of terrible power. And force is very far from being the only response to the challenge that this poses. Indeed, there are circumstances when it might be the worst response.
But to move from that idea to consider (Sullivan is careful to use the qualifier “may”) recalibrating “toward a more pacifist position” is to take a more than a few steps too far.
We are a species with an immense capacity for violence, and that will never change. And we are not always the most benign of creatures. And that will never change.
That means that it’s good for us to hear a loud voice calling for peace, but it also means that sometimes we will need to ignore it.
Obviously. In any case, if you want to read some sordid goings on in the ‘skeptic/rationalist movement’, check it out. You should be able to use Google from then on….
Cross-posted on the Corner:
So what have those scamps from Turkey’s “mildly Islamist” AK (the Economist) been talking about lately?
Here (reported in Hurriyet) is President Abdullah Gül, an individual generally seen as more emollient than thuggish Prime Minister Erdogan:
Islam and migrants have been a reality in Europe for centuries. As long as the continent of Europe doesn’t approach segments which are different from the majority with tolerance, particularly in regards to religion, an occurrence of new inquisitions and Holocausts, as well as incidents evoking Srebrenica, are probable.
Perfection it’s not, but Europe has, of course, handled its growing Muslim minority with a great deal of tolerance. Talk of new Holocausts is ludicrous. What Gül wants is deference, something else altogether.
And then there’s this (via Bloomberg):
The head of Turkey’s Capital Markets Board confirmed June 26 that his staff had begun an investigation into stock-market volatility during the protests. According to traders in Istanbul, the demands to hand over all e-mail traffic with foreigners, among other records, are unprecedented.
The board’s assurances that such investigations are routine might be easier to accept if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hadn’t promised to “choke” those he believes to have engineered the protests in order to cause a stock-market collapse. He has accused some companies of abetting “terrorism” and claimed that an ill-defined “interest-rate lobby,” committed to raising Turkish borrowing costs for profit, is part of the conspiracy.
Ah, “the interest-rate lobby”…
In recent days, Erdogan has threatened retribution against some of the country’s biggest banks and industrial conglomerates, leading to a steep fall in their share prices. He repeatedly said that Koc Holding AS, an industrial empire owned by a secularist family against which Erdogan bears deep grudges, “cooperated with terror” and “will have to account for it.” The alleged crime was opening the doors of one of the company’s hotels to protesters as they fled police.
Ugly though all this is, the fact remains that, despite a dip from previous highs, Erdogan is enjoying approval ratings of over 50 percent and his AK party is still the country’s most popular. That’s a matter for Turks to decide for themselves, of course, but, if, as Barack Obama, David Cameron and others would like, Turkey is admitted to the EU, the same electorate that so appreciates Erdogan will, thanks to its numbers, have a not insignificant influence on decisions that affect all EU citizens.
That does not strike me as a good idea.