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Apr/17

16

The Fires of Easter

From the not always reliable The Golden Bough:

 In Münsterland these Easter fires are always kindled upon certain definite hills, which are hence known as Easter or Paschal Mountains. The whole community assembles about the fire. The young men and maidens, singing Easter hymns, march round and round the fire, till the blaze dies down. Then the girls jump over the fire in a line, one after the other, each supported by two young men who hold her hands and run beside her. In the twilight boys with blazing bundles of straw run over the fields to make them fruitful. At Delmenhorst, in Oldenburg, it used to be the custom to cut down two trees, plant them in the ground side by side, and pile twelve tar-barrels against each. Brush-wood was then heaped about the trees, and on the evening of Easter Saturday the boys, after rushing about with blazing bean-poles in their hands, set fire to the whole. At the end of the ceremony the urchins tried to blacken each other and the clothes of grown-up people. In the Altmark it is believed that as far as the blaze of the Easter bonfire is visible, the corn will grow well throughout the year, and no conflagration will break out. At Braunröde, in the Harz Mountains, it was the custom to burn squirrels in the Easter bonfire.  In the Altmark, bones were burned in it.

Happy Easter!

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Apr/17

8

Welcome, Republican Atheists!

Writing over at Patheos, the Friendly Atheist reports on the formation of the group Republican Atheists.

That’s good news, I reckon, but the Friendly Atheist seems a little, well, skeptical:

The group hopes to “build awareness of Atheist presence in the Republican Party,” though it may have more success building awareness of Republicans among the broader atheist community. The 116 likes on Facebook and 37 followers on Twitter suggest there’s a lot of room to grow. A survey conducted in 2015 among members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation revealed only one percent identified as Republicans — the low end — while a 2014 Pew Research Center survey said Republicans represented 15% of atheists.

According to Lauren Ell, the president of Republican Atheists, the group’s main intention isn’t to influence the legislative or electoral process. Not yet, anyway. Instead, she said in an email, they want to “challenge the concept that atheist equals Democrat and Republican equals religion.”

This is an important time to note that disbelieving in deities doesn’t mean a person necessarily aligns with any particular ideology, political or otherwise. If the existence of this group has you scratching your head — why would any atheist align with this Republican Party? — keep in mind that many of them may support a GOP that even many Republican politicians no longer recognize. They support the ideas of smaller government, fewer taxes, and more personal freedom, but not necessarily a party that seems to have merged with the Religious Right.

Oh come on.

That wasn’t true before Trump, and it’s even harder to claim that now.

Political parties, like (for the most part) religious groups, are coalitions. The faithful agree with this, they disagree with that, but on balance they stick with the creed with which they are, as a whole, most comfortable.  What’s more, a choice of political party is often a vote against rather than a vote for. For all its faults, the Republican party is still the best bulwark there is against the Democrats.

To the Friendly Atheist, the Republican Atheists may be displaying “cognitive dissonance”, but that observation might say more about his beliefs than theirs.  Some of the GOP policies most associated with the religious right (opposition to abortion, say) can be supported for reasons unrelated to the supposed commands of a mysteriously elusive God.

Equally, there is no reason that atheists, if they believe that religion is hard-wired into most of us (as I do), to be disturbed by a little God talk by a politician on the make (or, even, sincerely). Nor is there any need for atheists to waste time and goodwill pushing the church-and-state separation contained in the First Amendment to the bizarre extreme that they sometimes do. Religion can be a useful social glue (that’s probably part of the reason it evolved), and, as such, it is something that a conservative atheist might be expected to appreciate even if he or she believes that the underlying premise is nonsense.

To be fair, the Friendly Atheist notes:

 “[A]theist” only means one thing: you don’t believe in a god. While there’s obviously a large overlap between atheists and liberals, it’s not an ironclad rule.

No it is not, either in the US or, even more so, Europe.

If I had to guess, the ‘large overlap’ here in the US owes more to the specifics of American history and culture rather than any ideological imperative.

All that said, there’s a reason that this blog is named Secular Right rather than Secular Republican or, even, Secular Conservative.

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Feb/17

18

Pope Francis and Venezuela: Throwing Another Tyranny a Lifeline

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Critics of Pope Francis who describe him as a ‘socialist’ are fairly wide off the mark.  Perhaps that was inevitable: Describing the ideology of a pope in conventionally political terms is, by definition, going to be a struggle. That said, in trying to understand Francis’ politics, it’s better to look to his Argentine past and, more specifically, Peronism and the way that Peronism (something, it should be said, of a shape-shifting concept) came to be understood.

For a deep dive into this issue, “Pope Francis, Perón, and God’s People: The Political Religion of Jorge Mario Bergoglio” by Claudio I. Remeseira is very well worth reading. Less subtly, Francis betrays clear signs of Peronist style, whether it’s authoritarianism, demagoguery and a certain weakness for conspiracy theory. So far as actual  politics are concerned, his rejection of globalism fits fairly comfortably into Peronist notions of economic autarchy, and his ‘leftism’ as an extension of left-Peronism, the Peronism of the descamisados, a leftism that, combined with a certain anti-Americanism  (Perón again) and that liking for strongman rule, made him so willing to help out the Castro brothers.

And not just that duo: Here’s Andres Oppenheimer, writing in the Miami Herald:

The Vatican’s mediation effort in Venezuela has been — to use a word much in vogue in Washington these days — a disaster. It has legitimized that country’s authoritarian ruler Nicolás Maduro, throwing him a lifeline when millions of protesters were demanding his resignation on the streets in October 2016. And it has helped him get back on his feet by further cracking down on the opposition.

Several interviews with Venezuelan opposition leaders and Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro this week convinced me that the Vatican’s mediation, and the opposition coalition’s failure to officially suspend it, have become the biggest obstacles for a solution to Venezuela’s political and economic crisis.

The Vatican’s mediation alongside that of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) — a group that has done virtually nothing but defend populist demagogues in the hemisphere — failed to result in any action. Maduro didn’t release Leopoldo Lopez and other prominent political prisoners, and as he has increased the overall number of political prisoners from 83 last year to 108 today, according to the Foro Penal research group’s figures…

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, to restore democracy in Venezuela, the United States and Latin American countries should implement the OAS Democratic Charter, which calls for gradual collective diplomatic sanctions against countries that break the rule of law.

But in an interview this week, Almagro told me that his hands are tied for as long as the Vatican-UNASUR mediation remains officially alive.

“While the Vatican remains there, we will definitely not take any action to move forward with the Democratic Charter,” Almagro told me. “If they tell us that that dialogue is over, and there is a formal communication by both the opposition and the Vatican to that effect, we will restart whatever work is needed.”

He added that, as of today, the paralysis in Venezuela is a result “of the Vatican’s presence and of a wait-and-see attitude by the Venezuelan opposition.” The Pope, argues Oppenheimer, should end the Vatican’s mediation efforts “and stop being an obstacle in the restoration of democratic rule in Venezuela”….

Maybe Francis will, but given the support that he has given to the Castro regime, I’m not optimistic.

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Jan/17

14

The Slippery Slope?

Opponents of assisted suicide often warn how legalizing it would represent a slippery slope. That’s not an argument convincing to those who have slid very far down a slope themselves.

And nor should it be.

STV News:

The family of a great grandmother who died from multiple sclerosis has published harrowing photographs of her final hours. Flora Lorimer’s husband and daughter say she wanted to die for two years before she finally passed away last month aged 68.

Tom, 69, and Tracey Taylor’s wish is that the shocking images will highlight Flora’s battle and persuade politicians to make assisted suicide legal in Scotland. Flora was diagnosed with the disease at 21 years old after noticing she had started dragging her leg. Her condition worsened and it got to the stage when it was taking an hour to walk half a mile to the shops from home. Before long the much-loved great grandmother needed a wheelchair.

Ms Taylor, from Glenrothes, Fife, told STV News: : “She cried all the time, in pain, all the time. I would come and visit every day and she would say to me, ‘I don’t want to be here tomorrow. Please take my life, I don’t want to be here tomorrow.’

“She’d had enough and we couldn’t do anything to help her – nothing.”

Asked why they had taken the decision to release the images, Ms Taylor said: “Everybody needs to see why we are fighting for this. People don’t see these pictures. These are the ones that are hidden away and they need to be shown.

“I got agreement from my mum. She wanted everyone to see why we are fighting for this and why she did want to die.

“It’s happening everywhere all over the world and it shouldn’t be. We should have the right to make our own decision….”

Flora’s condition began to dramatically worsen around two years ago when she lost the function in her hands and became too weak to even text friends. She lost the function to do anything for herself and became completely bed bound around a year ago.

It was from then, her grieving daughter and husband say, that Flora began to express her wish to end her battle with the disease.

Ms Taylor went on: “She had no leg use, no arm use, couldn’t wipe her nose, had to ask to have her head scratched and then eventually she couldn’t even talk. She could hardly communicate with us.

“She found it very hard. We could hear her, just, but she found it very hard to talk to us.

“I couldn’t kill my mum. I wanted to but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that. I wanted the doctors to do that. I wanted the doctors to help her do it herself.  She needed to do it herself, not us doing it. Whenever she was ready we would have all got together, let her take her pill, her wee drink of juice, let her go to sleep with all of us round her and drift away. But it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that at all. We were all around her but it wasn’t peaceful. She lay in her bed for over a year not moving, not doing anything, just lying there getting bed sores everywhere. She suffered – torture. She was tortured for two years because we couldn’t do anything.”

I respect—even if I disagree with— the arguments of those who object on rational grounds—the slippery slope and all that— to legalizing assisted suicide, but as for those, such as Boston’s egregious “Cardinal Sean” (who fought so hard against the Massachusetts’ ‘Death with Dignity’ initiative) whose objections are rooted in religious faith it’s a somewhat different matter. They are entitled to their beliefs in this matter, and to live (and die) by them, but to insist-as a matter of law-that others should be forced to do the same is arrogant, insolent and, all too often, horribly cruel.

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Dec/16

24

Christmas in Jablonovka

Furlough in Jablonovka by the Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth (1894-1939) includes a description of Christmas just behind the front lines of the Eastern front during Roth’s time with the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War (the translation is by Michael Hoffman, and comes from The Hotel Years, a fine collection of  some of Roth’s writing):

The sky glitters overhead, the snow glitters under our feet. It’s as though the sky is a reflection of the snow. There’s no point following the village street, which is all trampled. The snow was so seductive that it would have been a sin not to walk there, where it lay crisp and deep, noble, virginal, crystal and singing. So as not to encounter our comrades and to enjoy the night and the stars and the snow, we walked up the lane behind the houses. It was peaceful, no war anywhere. Ten or twelve times a searchlight crossed the sky, but even that seemed to be a kind of strolling, a peaceable pedestrian, paler than its brothers whom I knew better in the luminous sky.

The boys came in with their pumpkin lanterns. They sang. Stable and manger and donkey were nearby, if you could follow the singing. If you could believe them, the Saviour was born in Jablonovka, not far from Josefova Gargas’s hut, and not two thousand years ago, but sixty at the most, and the oldsters still remembered the event. You could practically see the footprints of the Three Kings in the snow. The star was graspable. The Podolian plain was swaddled in faith, God was in Podolia, and Bethlehem was a hop and a skip away, much closer than the front.

Lights went out one after another, and the huts went dark. Only the sky and the snow were still gleaming as the village traipsed up the hill to the church. Its double doors were thrown open, and it was as though the altar was coming out to meet you, to welcome the visitors in its splendour. There were no pews. People stood and knelt. Although the doors were left open, it soon grew warm, it was as though the furs were warming me, and the candles, and the fervour and the Gloria after the Introitus: Dominus dixit ad me: filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te. Quare fremuerunt gentes; et populi meditate sunt inania? What are the heathens purposing? What folly are the peoples pursuing? — Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes — And there were wakeful shepherds in that place — they were here next to us, next to Rainacher and me. We took the widow Josefova Gargas home between us. The door wasn’t locked, no door in the village was ever locked, even though strange troops, Hungarians and Bosnians were furloughed here. There were wakeful shepherds here.

We sat down at the table, and ate our borsch with wooden spoons. Then we cut up the meat with our bayonets. We drank slivovitz from tea-glasses and canteens. My atheistical friend Rainacher stretched comfortably on the chair, flung wide his arms and sang: Gloria in excelsis deo. He wasn’t blaspheming. At three in the morning, we kissed the widow and the twins, gave them our four parcels, and went off to sleep. You take the bed tonight, Rainacher told me, I’ll go on the floor. It’s my present to you. And that’s how it was. We were roused at six with marching orders.

Furlough in Jablonovka was written by Roth in exile in Paris in 1939. It first appeared in an émigré newspaper in that city, just a few months after his death the same year, a death accelerated by alcohol and despair over the deteriorating situation in Europe.

Dec/16

3

The Other “Identity Liberalism”

marine-lepen-gay-c-tim-douet_0082_image-gauche

Mark Lilla’s piece for The NYT, “The End of Identity Liberalism,” has been making the rounds lately, and for good reason. See passages like this:

For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply. However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.

But speaking of identity liberalism – and Europe – I’m reminded me of the work of Adam Tebble of King’s College in London, and his notion of an emergent “identity liberalism” on the continent with the jagged coastline. I became aware of Tebble’s writings after attending an Institute for Humane Studies event in my days as a student. And while his conception of IL – national identity centered around a shared liberalism, as opposed to a liberalism couched in terms of sub-national racial and gender identity – is different from what Lilla has in mind, it’s worth highlighting as the profile of European-style atheist (or agnostic) nationalism rises stateside.

For Tebble, identity liberalism “employs a progressive identity-based normative discourse typically considered to be the preserve of the multicultural left to defend a right-wing politics of assimilation.” He has in mind former Marxist Pim Fortuyn and his pro-gay but anti-Islam “far right” cohorts. Fortuyn was if you’ll recall gunned down in 2002, by an animal rights extremist who defended his act of shooting up by claiming Fortuyn punched down. One could also include the gay contingent of Marine Le Pen’s fan base.

You see cursory evidence of this kind of identity liberalism gaining respectability among liberal and left-leaning intellectuals. Think the upstart publication Quillette, or Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report, and likely many a fan of Sam Harris. Though far from outright nationalists, they’re at least willing to entertain the hard questions avoided by their SJW counterparts. And you certainly get the impression that efforts at assimilation are not frowned upon in this crowd. As libertarians have a rough year and the alt-right is basking in glory, the stock of this of old-fashioned-turned-new liberalism is performing somewhere in between.

Of course if the gullible editors at the Guardian are any indication, there’s little difference between the alternative right and these other identity liberals in the minds of the establishment left. Or at least its journalistic division.

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truthiness_large

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative – which could easily be referred to as the “Rod Dreher Show” given his incredibly productive posting habits (he’s reportedly responsible for about half the site’s traffic) – writes that SJWs (Social Justice Warriors), like churches, need to commit to Truth over Social Justice. There is no splitting the difference:

[Social psychologist Jonathan] Haidt’s insight is also true for churches today. If we diligently seek Truth, and seek to conform our lives as much as possible around what we believe to be True, then we will inevitably achieve a form of Social Justice. But there can be no Justice, social or otherwise, without Truth. And Truth can never be what serves a pre-determined goal — the Revolution, the party, equality, the nation, the family, the temporal interests of the Church, nothing.

But in a 2014 piece entitled “Evolution & The Culture War,” Dreher was singing a different tune. On the implications of the truth of evolution, he wrote:

I flat-out don’t trust our species to handle the knowledge of human biodiversity without turning it into an ideology of dehumanization, racism, and at worst, genocide. Put another way, I am hostile to this kind of thing not because I believe it’s probably false, but because I believe a lot of it is probably true — and we have shown that we, by our natures, can’t handle this kind of truth.

Dreher went on to claim that “forbidden knowledge” is rightly forbidden.

Am I saying that we should ignore reality? I suppose I am.

Well there you have it. Perhaps Dreher has more in common with SJWs than he realizes. Religiosity will do that to you. At least many a SJW will tell you outright that they don’t hold to some vague Enlightenment adherence to truth come what may. They have blatantly tribal, and hence blinkered, commitments. Christian Dreher OTOH wants a bite of that sometimes bitter, realist truth pie without swallowing.

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Sep/16

19

Climate Change: Sarkozy Goes There

nicolas_sarkozyCross-posted on the Corner. 

Count me skeptical about former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, but I had to warm, so to speak, to this comment (via Politico):

Sarkozy, who hopes to secure the center-right Les Républicains party’s presidential nomination, told business leaders earlier this week that “climate has been changing for four billion years” and “you need to be as arrogant as men are to believe we changed the climate.”

Sarkozy is nothing if not an opportunist, so it’s interesting to read that he sees the opportunity in a spot of blasphemy.

Cue: outrage.

Cue: Brendan O’Neill, with some commonsense:

The swiftness and ugliness of the response to Sarkozy’s comments confirm that questioning climate change is to the 21st century what querying the divinity of Christ was to the 14th.

There are decent arguments to be made to support the claim that man is changing the climate, but those arguments have been replaced by appeals to faith.

O’Neill:

 In the speech [Sarkozy] said, ‘People [talk] a lot about climate change… but the climate has been changing for the past 4.5 billion years. Man is not the sole cause of this change.’ He then said something that struck me as reasonable but which is apparently mental and unutterable: ‘Sahara has become a desert — [that] isn’t because of industry.’

…The most revealing comment came from Valerie Masson-Delmotte, who is on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, a kind of eco-version of the Holy See, only less open to criticism and debate. She said our ‘developed societies’ have been ‘built on a pact between scientists and politicians’ and Sarkozy risks breaking this pact. In short, politicians must now heed, and certainly not openly knock, the claims of climatologists. These people have a cavalier disregard not only for freedom of speech, but also for democracy. A politician’s responsibility is to push his ideas, and try to win public support for them, not to read obediently from turgid scientific documents and instruct the throng on how to think about the climate and improve their eco-behaviour.

The fury over Sarkozy’s sensible comments — even if you think, as I do, that mankind has had some impact on the climate, you surely recognise that climate has always been changing? — shows how intolerant the eco-outlook has become. Whether they’re branding people ‘deniers’ or suggesting climate-change denial should be made into a crime, greens have a strange and terrifying urge to silence dissent; to circumscribe debate; to elevate The Science (they always use the definite article before the word science, speaking to their transformation of it into religion) above public debate.

Why so touchy? If they’re so sure they possess the truth, why do they seek to crush anyone who questions them? Because behind all the scientific posturing, what we have here is a deeply ideological outlook, one which views mankind as destructive, progress as a stain on the planet, and putting the brakes on industry as the only solution to pollution. And this ideology cannot be undermined. Sarkozy’s crime was to suggest that mankind isn’t the destroyer of worlds. The misanthropes will not stand for it.

“Why so touchy?”

That is the question that counts…

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reports:

Plastic crockery and cutlery is to be banned in France unless it is made from biologically sourced materials. The law comes into force in 2020. It is part of a French environmental initiative called the Energy Transition for Green Growth, part of a package aimed at tackling climate change.

Ah yes, few religions are complete without a list of what is forbidden….

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Sep/16

11

Fifteen Years

Say what you want to say about Donald J Trump, but even if he doesn’t win the election in November, there is no doubt in my mind that he has helped transform the Republican Party, and by extension, the conservative movement.

And, no, I am not talking here about immigration, trade and foreign policies. In fact, I have a feeling that notwithstanding his bombastic election campaign rhetoric about building walls, imposing huge tariffs on Chinese imports, deporting illegals and ending NATO, the Republican presidential nominee isn’t as “nativist,” “protectionist” and “isolationist,” as he is portrayed to be.

My guess is that a President Trump would prove to be a policy clone of President Richard Nixon when it comes to these issues, less of a libertarian on trade and immigration and less of a neocon on foreign policy than most members of the current GOP establishment. And from an historical perspective, that’s not really a Big Deal: More a return to normalcy than a transformative Republican president.

But there is one thing I am quite sure about: If elected or not elected, the Donald would probably be recalled as the one of the most libertine presidential nominees ever. And that includes Warren Harding and Bill Clinton.

Let’s face it. Trump was elected the presidential nominee by a political party that is allegedly being controlled by the Christian Right and accused by liberal critics of being intolerant, anti-women, and anti-gay, you know, the caricature of the American Taliban that would outlaw abortion, revoke the right of same-sex marriages, and basically return the country to the pre-Enlightenment era.

A lot of cognitive dissonance to get around here, if you consider that the Donald is a thrice married man, with his latest wife being a former fashion model who had appeared on nude photos, who has spent his entire personal and professional life in the most liberal American city when it comes to social-cultural issues, with only San Francisco being even more secular and sinful. Recall those “New York Values?” Trump probably respects them more than he does some of the Ten Commandments.

Trump had probably spent more time partying in Studio 54 than attending services at the Marble Collegiate Church (Trump was never an “active member,” according to a church statement). And the business types and entertainers from Manhattan, Hollywood and Las Vegas, that are on his list of friends, include a larger number of non-believers and immoral characters, like the late Roy Cohn, that would probably end up in Hell than many the of the true believers that are supposed to be part of the GOP electoral base who would be heading to Heaven.

Just compare Trump to the last Republican president and those who were running for the party’s presidential nomination, or for that matter to the current Democratic presidential nominee, a devout Methodist, and Trump who has been backed by gay Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel and the trans woman celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, clearly stands out as an irreligionist public figure, even more than President Barack Obama (who probably is a closet atheist).

And while other daughters of famous politicians, Carolyn Kennedy and Chelsea Clinton who had married Jewish men but refused to convert to Judaism (Kennedy’s kids are being raised as Catholics), Trump has welcomed the conversion of his daughter Ivanka to Judaism before she married a modern orthodox Jewish man. So at least we have one Trump who is practicing a religion (even if perhaps it’s not the right religion).

So from the perspective of those who regarded the GOP as the political party that embodies traditional Christian values as opposed to the liberal secular Democrats, Trump running as the Republican presidential nominee could prove to be transformative. It not only opens the party’s doors to the likes of Thiel and Jenner but could also create the conditions for its social-cultural evolution from a pseudo-theocratic political movement to an openly secular one in which membership requirements doesn’t include adherence to religious dogmas. Or at least that’s what I hope: From my laptop to God!

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