Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/16

4

Mother Teresa and the Cult of Suffering

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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

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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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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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Aug/16

4

ISIS, God and The Devil

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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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Aug/16

1

The Avoidance of Uncomfortable Reality

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ISIS ChurchCross-posted on the Corner.

Crux:

Pope Francis on Sunday defended his avoidance of the term “Islamic violence” by suggesting the potential for violence lies in every religion, including Catholicism.

“I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence, because every day, when I read the newspaper, I see violence,” Francis said, when asked about why he never speaks of Islamic terrorism or fundamentalism when condemning attacks such as the murder of a French priest last week, who had his throat slit by an Islamic terrorist as he was celebrating Mass.

The pope said that when he reads the newspaper, he reads about an Italian who kills his fiancé or his mother in law.

“They are baptized Catholics. They are violent Catholics,” Francis said, adding that if he speaks of “Islamic violence,” then he has to speak of “Catholic violence” too.

Well, no, there’s a difference between a murder committed by people who happen to be of a certain religion, and murder committed in the name of a religion.

Francis is no fool.

He must know this, but still he says what he says.

And then:

 Although clarifying that he didn’t know if he should say it because “it’s dangerous,” the pope then admitted that terrorism grows when “there’s no other option.”

“As long as the god of money is at the center of the global economy and not the human person, man and woman, this is the first terrorism,” he said, defining it as a “terrorism at the bases,” against the whole of humanity.

No, money is not the “first terrorism”. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that a good number of the more notorious Islamic terrorists have come from relatively comfortable backgrounds. They had alternatives—many alternatives—but they were drawn to violence by their understanding of God, as many have been before them, and many will be in the future.

Again, the Pope must know this, but he prefers, once again, to change the subject, talking, once again, about the wickedness of “money”, cheap, stale demagoguery with the stench of conspiracism about it.

It’s not really for me to say so, but I would think that Francis’ church has the right to expect rather more from him.

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Jul/16

31

“On A Relentless March”

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League of the GodlessThe news that some in the Democratic Party might have tried to ‘out’ Bernie Sanders as an atheist was neither particularly surprising nor particularly shocking. Atheism doesn’t play well with the electorate. What’s more, to the extent that a candidate’s religious faith (or lack of religious faith) might influence his or her policies, it’s something that voters have a legitimate interest in knowing.

Nevertheless, as was probably inevitable in an age of taking offense, people have been offended.

Writing for Bustle, Raina Lipsitz grumbles that “one important group is missing from the DNC’s platform: atheists.”  Naturally the word “problematic” makes an appearance later.

Naturally, “atheist groups” have called for the firing of the Democratic operative who wanted to raise Sanders’ supposed atheism. Naturally he has apologized to “those [he] offended.”

One voice of sanity is “outspoken atheist and Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times science columnist Natalie Angier”. Asked whether this exclusion bothers her, she replies:

“Yes, I’m an atheist … But do I care whether the Democratic platform includes an explicit nod to us atheists? Hell no….”

#StandWithNatalie

On the other hand:

Toni Van Pelt, president and public policy director of the Institute for Science and Human Values, disagrees. “This is the time to call on the Party to officially recognize the nonreligious as true Americans…Atheists are on a relentless march to be recognized and valued by the larger community. We will no longer accept a back seat to those who profess a faith … it would behoove the Democratic Party to reach out in a public statement to those of no religion … and [acknowledge] that the philosophy of living life to the fullest here and now is of great importance.”

Officially recognize!

Relentless march!

Living life to the fullest!

Great importance!

Oh please.

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Jul/16

30

Father Hamel: An ‘Absurd’ Killing?

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church-apCross-posted on the Corner.

I posted something yesterday on Pope Francis’ disconcerting (there are other adjectives) response to the murder of Father Hamel in Normandy earlier this week, specifically with reference to this comment:

“I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”

This, I argued, was wrong-headed for any number of reasons, not least the way that it effectively tried to downplay the wider religious significance of Father Hamel’s killing. That’s a topic that Damian Thompson has now addressed in The Spectator. Mr. Thompson, I should add, is not only an associate editor of The Spectator, but also the editorial director of the Catholic Herald:

Father Hamel was killed while re-enacting the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the essence of the Catholic Mass, which — unlike Protestant commemorations of the Last Supper — is presented to the faithful as the same sacrifice offered by Jesus. To kill a priest who is saying Mass is therefore an act of unique desecration. You do not need to be a believer to grasp this point. Enemies of the church have understood it since the beginning: an early pope, St Sixtus, was beheaded during Mass in 258 ad by agents of the Emperor Valerian. Islamists, who reach back to the Dark Ages for so many of their actions, have rediscovered this crime. Their intense (and very successful) campaign to cleanse the Middle East of Christians reached its symbolic peak on 31 October 2010, when Father Thaer Abdal was shot dead at the altar of the Syrian Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad. Fifty-seven other innocent people, many of them worshippers, died with him.

The gunmen who broke into the church during Sunday Mass were heard to scream: ‘All of you are infidels… we will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell.’ They were members of an Iraqi faction of al-Qaeda that had declared war on churches, ‘dirty dens of idolatry’, and in particular ‘the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican’. The motives of Islamic terrorists are sometimes hard to disentangle from their personal biographies and factional infighting. But sometimes they are obvious, and the only thing obscuring them is the politically correct preciousness of the liberal western media and commentariat. Many Islamic fundamentalists, including those who don’t participate directly in violence, loathe Christianity with a poisonous passion reminiscent of medieval Christian anti-Semitism. Its practice must be suppressed — either without violence, as in Saudi Arabia, or amid carefully staged scenes of bloodshed, as in Baghdad or Rouen.

In the 21st-century Middle East, Christianity has been suppressed on an astonishing scale….

Thompson goes on to ask whether the murder of Father Hamel will “awake Christendom from its torpor.” As evidence that it will not, he cites comments by Austen Ivereigh, a  biographer of Pope Francis and a  former spokesman for the English Catholic Church. Mr. Ivereigh is quoted as  referring to the ‘pointless banality of the Rouen murder’ and as urging us not to glorify it by ‘ascribing religious motives’.

Well, to me at any rate, the “religious motives” were  all too clear.

In a long, closely-argued piece for ABC, Mr. Ivereigh has now discussed the Pope’s response to Father’s Hamel’s killing, and specifically the description of the attack as “absurd” act of violence.

Absurd?

Ivereigh:

Absurd violence? The words seemed almost trite. There was no mention of martyrdom, or even of Father Hamel. The Pope’s attention was neither on the victim nor the perpetrator, but on the nature of the act; and rather than ascribing to it any religious or ideological motive, the Pope reduced it merely to an outpouring of hate. For Francis, it was not an attack, assault or a slaying – or any of the other terms we journalists love to use to dramatise – but a meaningless, pointless act; mere hatred; an absurdity…

Ivereigh duly tweeted the Pope’s words and duly received a disapproving response:

I was drawing attention, I said [to one critic], to the Pope’s focus on the act rather than the motives of the killers, which are at this stage – I was writing just hours after the event – frankly obscure. But based on previous ISIS-inspired acts, not least in Nice, the attackers were likely to be vulnerable, depressive losers lured into violence by radicals on the internet; to call them religious, I warned, was to buy into the Da’esh narrative, that this was a war of Islam on the West and Christianity.

This will not do. The murderers’ motives were never, frankly, that obscure, although elements in their mix might have been. Perhaps it’s easier for me, someone without any religious faith, to accept than it would be for Mr. Ivereigh, but people can be drawn to religion for any number of reasons, some noble, some far less so. Some of these people may be talented, secure and successful. Others may be “vulnerable, depressive, losers”, but they have all arrived at a religious destination, even if they may well have very different understandings of what that destination is.

Yes, there are good reasons to resist giving the current conflict with elements in Islam an incendiary label, and those reasons are strong enough to justify a noble lie or two, but lying to ourselves is not only unwise, but also dangerous.

Ivereigh cites the Archbishop of Marseilles:

“We are no longer in the realm of ideas,” he said – no small thing for a Frenchman to declare – but confronted with a very new kind of war, unknown until now.

Yes and no: Part of the effort to defeat ISIS must involve trying to understand its ideas.  Ivereigh argues” that violence has no part in God’s plan; it is no-thing; it is absurd.” Well, that may be true of his God, but, God is in the eye of the beholder, and He can take forms that are not always so benign as Ivereigh believes.

Ivereigh adds:

[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.

I can’t agree. In a post last year on the topic of whether ISIS is nihilist (it’s not) I noted:

ISIS, like most millenarian movements, believes in a cleansing fire (and, in its case, in setting it), and ideologically it explicitly looks back (to the teachings attributed to Mohammed)… but to think that this also involves an embrace of the technologically pre-modern is evidently a mistake.

And in another post on the same subject, I cited the British philosopher John Gray:

[F]ar from believing in nothing, Isis militants are possessed by faith. Though some reports suggest that the militants may have been fuelled by euphoria-inducing drugs, their attacks are not random acts of terror. They are moves in a methodical strategy of savagery that serves an apocalyptic myth. Isis is an explicitly eschatological movement, infused with fantasies of cataclysmic end-time battles and a universal caliphate.

Indeed it is. It’s not the first of its kind. It won’t be the last. And it will not be wished away.

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Jul/16

29

Pope Francis: ‘Religions Don’t Want War’

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Jacques HamelCross-posted on the Corner.

The day after an elderly Catholic priest is butchered in his church by Islamic extremists, Pope Francis offers up his explanation (my emphasis added):.

ABC:

Pope Francis says the world is at war, but is stressing that it’s not a war of religions.  Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland, where he began a five-day visit Wednesday. Asked about the slaying of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday, Francis replied: “the real word is war…yes, it’s war. This holy priest died at the very moment he was offering a prayer for all the church.”

He went on: “I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”

Let’s look at the Independent’s account of the murder of Father Hamel:

One of the terrorists had a handgun and began to shout “Allah Akbar” and the other had a fake bomb with a timer… They then gave a “sermon in Arabic” at the altar.

That looks like an act of religious war to me.

And as for the Pope’s claim that “religions don’t want war”, I can only suggest that he spend more time with the history books and, for that matter, some of the less benign passages in various sacred texts.

The final insult both to the truth and thereby to the victim is Francis’ resort (yet again) to conspiracy theory, with his references to some shadowy conflict over “interests, for money, for resources”.

Demagogues typically resort to conspiracism out of delusion or malice, as a device to mislead and, often, to draw the audience’s attention away from what is really going on.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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Jul/16

23

Bernie Sanders, Sinister Atheist!

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sandersWell, well, well..

The Independent:

The Democratic National Committee – a supposedly neutral organisation – apparently hatched a plan to try and undermine Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton by getting someone to claim he was an atheist.

The Sanders campaign for months complained that people in the DNC were biased in favour of the establishment candidate, Ms Clinton. The campaign even sued the DNC to allow it access to its voter database.

Now, the release of a more than 20,000 internal DNC emails by Wikileaks, suggests that senior DNC officials plotted against Mr Sanders.

An email from May 2016 and sent from DNC CFO Brad Marshall suggested that they should “get someone to ask” Mr Sanders his views on religion,

“It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist,” wrote Mr Marshall.

“This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

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Jul/16

23

Not Erdoğan (2)

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Mustafa_Kemal_Atatürk_With Islamist Turkish president Erdoğan continuing to take advantage of the failed coup that  he has described as a “gift from God”, here’s another quote from an infinitely greater Turk, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk:

Religion is an important institution. A nation without religion cannot survive. Yet it is also very important to note that religion is a link between Allah and the individual believer. The brokerage of the pious cannot be permitted. Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people; it is against just such people that we have fought and will continue to fight…

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