Writing in The Week, Damon Linker wades into the controversy over the comment by Sam Harris that Islam is a “motherlode of bad ideas”. In many respects the controversy is more interesting than the insult, but that’s a discussion for another time. What caught my attention the most in Linker’s article was this:
Now, I’m no fan of the New Atheists. I think their understanding of religion is shallow and their dismissal of it facile. And then there’s their insouciant attitude toward the prospect of godlessness. As I’ve argued before, the New Atheists prefer sentimental, superficial happy talk to sober reflection on the challenge of living a life without God.
“Sober reflection on the challenge of living a life without God’?
Dear oh dear.
That’s a generalization too far.
For some people, living without God may be indeed be a challenge (as Linker rightly points out, it certainly worried old Nietschze), but for others it’s no big deal. They can accept that the sources of morality lie–as they do–in a mixture of genetics and customs, a rough-sewn patchwork that presents some conceptual difficulties, certainly, but only for those inclined to worry about such matters. Most have other things to do with their time.
And yes, some non-believers may indeed be perturbed by the idea of a meaningless universe. But others may prefer it, and others may just not be too bothered.
The answer, I suspect, is that we end up believing in whatever works best for us. And, as Linker suggests, humanity probably does have a bias in favor of the belief in the idea that the universe has some purpose. Why? Well, if I had to guess, there’s an evolutionary reason for that.
That’s an argument that Linker dismisses as “viciously circular” (and no I didn’t see the viciousness either) a rebuttal that moves from the merely lazy to the entertainingly inconclusive:
The prevalence of providential thoughts and feelings might be a response to something real, permanent, and important, if not in the universe itself, then within us.
And the latter probably leads us back to Charlie Darwin, yet again.
Settling the matter requires that we listen to what the great religions of the world — including their most intellectually formidable theological representatives — have to say about the character of providence.
It does? Why?
Writing in the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin wonders where the Hobby Lobby decision might lead:
The great Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that important Supreme Court decisions “exercise a kind of hydraulic effect.” Even if the authors of such decisions assert that their rulings will have limited impact, these cases invariably have a profound influence. So it has been with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which is less than six months old….
Justice Samuel Alito insisted, in his opinion for the Court, that [the] in decision [in Hobby Lobby] would be very limited in its effect. Responding to the dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called it “a decision of startling breadth,” Alito wrote, “Our holding is very specific. We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can ‘opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.’ ” Ginsburg, though, wondered where the guidance was for the lower courts when faced with similar claims from employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others).
The problem is not (necessarily) what was decided in the Supreme Court but how that decision will be interpreted in lower courts where, for the most part, it will stay:
A sampling of court actions since Hobby Lobby suggests that Ginsburg has the better of the argument. She was right: the decision is opening the door for the religiously observant to claim privileges that are not available to anyone else.
One such matter is Perez v. Paragon Contractors, a case that arose out of a Department of Labor investigation into the use of child labor by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The F.L.D.S. church is an exiled offshoot of the Mormon Church.) In the case, Vernon Steed, a leader of the F.L.D.S. church, refused to answer questions by federal investigators, asserting that he made a religious vow not to discuss church matters. Applying Hobby Lobby, David Sam, a district-court judge in Utah, agreed with Steed, holding that his testimony would amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs—a standard used in Hobby Lobby—and excused him from testifying. The judge, also echoing Hobby Lobby, said that he needed only to determine that Steed’s views were “sincere” in order to uphold his claim. Judge Sam further noted that the government had failed to prove that demanding Steed’s testimony was not, in the words of the R.F.R.A., “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” That burden seems increasingly difficult for the government to meet…
To repeat a point I made in an earlier post:
It ought to go without saying that religious freedom is part of the bedrock of American liberty, but so too is the notion of equality before the law. There has to be unum, so to speak, as well as pluribus.
RCR: Do you believe in God?
GW: No. I’m an atheist. An agnostic is someone who is not sure; I’m pretty sure. I see no evidence of God. The basic question in life is not, “Is there a God,” but “Why does anything exist?” St. Thomas Aquinas said that there must be a first cause for everything, and we call the first cause God. Fine, but it just has no hold on me.
RCR: Were you raised with any religion?
GW: My father was the son of a Lutheran minster, and therefore he was an atheist. What I mean by that is — he went to so many church services, his father preached in many churches up near Antetum, eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania — my father had had his full of religion. He used to sit outside his father’s study and listen to him wrestle with members of the church over reconciling grace and free will. I think that’s where my father got his interest in philosophy.
I majored in religion in college. I was very interested, but I just came to a different conclusion. I’m married to a fierce Presbyterian and she raised our kids fierce Presbyterians.
I’m an amiable, low-voltage atheist.
RCR: Does that present a problem for you as a conservative?
GW: No. The Republican Party’s base is largely religious. It would be impossible for me to run for high office as a Republican. Since I have no desire to run for office, it’s a minor inconvenience! I think William F. Buckley put it well when he said that a conservative need not be religious, but he cannot despise religion. Russell Kirk never quite fathomed this, which is one of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of The Conservative Mind. For him, conservatism without religion is meaningless.
RCR: Your friend Charles Krauthammer likes to say he’s an agnostic.
GW: I think he’s an atheist. He flinches from saying it. I saw what he said: “I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly.” Oh, please!
The Holy See has called for “an authentic cultural change” to combat climate change which is man-made and therefore man’s responsibility. That was the focus of an address delivered last night to the UN Climate Change Summit in New York by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
And, of course, there’s this:
For its part, Vatican City State, though small, is undertaking significant efforts to reduce its consummation of fossil fuels, through diversification and energy efficiency projects. However, as the Holy See’s delegation at the COP-19 in Warsaw indicated, “talking about emission reductions is useless if we are not ready to change our lifestyle and the current dominant models of consumption and production”
.The appeal of hair shirt and collectivist dream has not, it seems, gone away.
Of course, to the extent that there is AGW, it is not entirely unconnected with the fact that there are now some seven billion of us on the planet. I would not, of course, expect the Vatican to alter its opposition to contraception, but those who read its sermons on climate change should remember that this is one “change” that it is not prepared to countenance. That’s up to the church, of course, but it would be nice if it acknowledged that this stance comes with an environmental cost.
Scottish Catholic historian Tom Gallagher had something to say over at the Spectator about the way that Catholic voters voted in the recent independence referendum:
An influx of Irish immigrants restored a Catholic presence in Scotland after 1800. The overnight results show that the descendants of this community must have voted disproportionately for independence. Its remaining strongholds, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee and, above all, Glasgow are among the few areas of Scotland that voted Yes.
Gallagher’s analysis received some sharp pushback in the comments. This, I suspect, has something to it:
What is going on is the exact opposite to what Gallagher claims. Catholics are simply ceasing to vote as Catholics and are now voting according to age, social class and perceived national identity interests…Catholics have a higher percentage of their religious group in the lower socio-economic groups and they have suffered economically. Poorer people tended to vote, more heavily for independence as they could see Britishness not offering them much.
Nevertheless, the attitude of the church itself is worth noting.
Back to Gallagher:
Some might have been expected that the Church would have steered clear of politics and even urged its flock to carefully examine each of the choices before casting a vote, especially after the stewardship of Cardinal Keith O’Brien. The former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh acted more as a cheerleader for the SNP than as a dedicated pastor keen to strengthen his church in an increasingly irreligious age [I blogged a bit about O’Brien, a less than likeable figure, here and here].
New archbishops appointed in the last few years issued anodyne statements about exercising civic responsibility while apparently turning a blind eye to a number of priests who used their pulpits to issue overt political messages.
St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh even heard an overtly political talk delivered by a senior Catholic academic who had been invited to dwell on the 200-year history of the Church since its construction in 1814. The Scottish Catholic media has become a stomping ground for high-profile media and academic converts to nationalism. It is on such figures that a church hierarchy, increasingly disorientated by the loss of influence over a shrinking number of Scots-born Catholics, relies in its deliberations with the SNP administration. Silence in the face of ugly campaigning methods, or else acquiescence in order to preserve one of the church’s few outposts of influence, its extensive system of state funded schools, seems to have been the order of the day.
The following day the Spectator’s Damian Thompson reproduced the farewell message from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, to the departing Scottish Nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, a a message that included this:
With good reason, you have been described as one of the most able and influential political leaders that Scotland and the United Kingdom has ever produced.
But then comes something else. Thompson adds a screen shot of a somewhat menacing press release put out by Jim Sillars, a former deputy leader of the SNP and a man of the hard left, threatening a ‘day of reckoning’ against a number of large companies opposed to Scottish independence.
And then, underneath: ‘Notes to Editors. 1. For further information contact: Peter Kearney [phone number blacked out] or Jim Sillars.’
Peter Kearney is the name of the press officer for the Scottish bishops, including the Most Rev Philip Tartaglia….. Is it the same man? Mr Kearney of the Scottish Catholic Media Office has not responded to my answering machine message, but senior Scottish journalists, including Catholic ones, insist that it is he. Peter Kearney’s SNP sympathies and friendship with Jim Sillars are no secret. There’s nothing wrong with that – but what on earth is he doing apparently acting as press officer for Sillars’s menacing rant while simultaneously working in a similar capacity for the Catholic bishops of Scotland?
“Leninland,” which was two years in the making, focuses on the massive, tomb-like Lenin Museum at the estate outside of Moscow where the Soviet founder spent his final days and died. The museum complex was built there in 1987, after the period of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika had already begun….
In the “Leninland” trailer, a museum researcher named Yevgenia describes her work in an office decorated with a shrine of Lenin memorabilia mixed in with Orthodox and Buddhist images. “It isn’t about Lenin or defending a concrete person — no matter how wonderful a genius he was — and he really was unique, remarkable, Mahatma Lenin,” she says. “It is about a future for people that they must acknowledge.”
….A deputy director of the museum tells Kurov in the film that “the vibrations of Christ” are still felt on the territory of Lenin’s estate — ignoring the fact that this was the very place where Lenin, an atheist, dictated his instructions to the Politburo on the confiscation of church property and the mass persecution of priests.
Just another reminder that Soviet communism was indeed an expression of an all too religious impulse.
Prague, Sept. 15 (ČTK) — Rostislav Kotrč, a priest of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, will run for the Communists (KSČM) in the local elections in the autumn, daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.
Kotrč, 40, at first wanted to join the KSČM, but now he only runs as an independent for the party as No. 2 on its list of candidates, MfD writes. Kotrč has been working in the Hussite church since 1999 and is the general vicar of the Christian Police Association.
“He wanted to join our party, but we agreed that it would be more sensible, also due to his relationship to the church, to only stay as a sympathizer,” a local Communist from the Hradec Králové eegion, east Bohemia, where he runs, told the paper.
Kotrč said he could not see any problem with him being both a priest and a candidate representing the Communists, MfD writes. “I know this is incomprehensible to many people,” he is quoted as saying.
“I think this is due to the constant media propaganda and bad understanding of the historical and theological context,” Kotrč said.
“My orientation is leftist and social. When looking into the Bible, and Acts of the Apostles in particular, which describe the origins of Christianity, one can read that people shared their property according to their needs,” he added.
“This is the basic principle of communism. Unfortunately, God was lost from the philosophy, which caused its deformation,” Kotrč said….
Sure, that was it.
For some reason Thomas Müntzer comes to mind.
Thomas Müntzer (ca. 1489 – 27 May 1525) was an early Reformation-era German theologian, who became a rebel leader during the Peasants’ War. He thought that the questioning of authority promoted by the Lutheran Reformation should be applied to the economic sphere….
Müntzer spent late 1524 in Nuremberg, but in mid-February 1525 was able to return to Mühlhausen. The following month, the citizenry voted out the old council and a new “Eternal League of God” was formed, composed of a cross-section of the male population and some former councillors. Müntzer and Pfeiffer succeeded in taking over the Mühlhausen town council and set up a communistic experiment in its place. Müntzer wrote to the citizens of Allstedt calling them to “join the uprising”: “Be there only three of you, but if you put your hope in the name of God—fear not a hundred thousand…. Forward, forward, forward! It is high time. Let not kind words of these Esaus arouse you to mercy. Look not upon the sufferings of the godless! They will entreat you touchingly, begging you like children. Let not mercy seize your soul, as God commanded to Moses; He has revealed to us the same…. Forward, forward, while the iron is hot. Let your swords be ever warm with blood!”
God certainly seems “present” in his philosophy. Communism is communism, with God or without.
A Saskatoon man who is blind and uses a service animal has launched a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, alleging a local taxi company is not providing service because of his guide dog. Mike Simmonds claims he’s been denied taxi service more than once because of his dog.
“I think it is common,” Simmonds told CBC News Friday. “If you don’t have the dog you’re not going to hear much about it. Someone like me, I feel strongly about my rights. I feel strongly about my dog helping me out. I want to speak out.”
Simmonds said he has been told that some cab drivers have refused to pick him up with his dog because of their religious beliefs.
Michael Coren, noting that the always PC CBC had oddly omitted to mention what those ‘religious beliefs” might be, tweets, “those Christians!”
Now there needs to be some caution about this story (“Simmonds said he has been told that”), but I suspect that this ABC report from 2007 is not entirely irrelevant:
Commissioners at one of the country’s biggest airports are considering punishing Muslim cab drivers who refuse service to passengers possessing alcohol or guide dogs. The cabbies claim transporting those items violates Islamic law.
“It is against our faith and the airport is discriminating against Muslim drivers,” says a cab driver who would only give his first name, Hashim.
Three-quarters of the 900 cabbies licensed to operate at [Minneapolis-St. Paul’s] airport are Muslim, most from Somalia. It is unclear how many are adhering to this letter of Islamic law which considers the purchase, drinking and transport of alcoholic beverages a sin. Islam also regards the saliva from dogs to be unclean. Nearly 40 million people travel through Minneapolis-St Paul airport annually. Over the past 5 years, airport officials say 5,400 passengers have been turned away. Some had guide dogs or pets, others were carrying cases of wine from California, or liquor from duty-free shops.
“There are times where cab after cab will refuse service, and passengers can be waiting for 20 minutes,” says Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “We’ve had complaints of people being asked if they had any alcoholic beverages in their luggage.”
To be sure, the airport commissioners were reported as going to take action as, apparently are city officials in Saskatoon. Nevertheless these two stories— one from Canada, one from the US—are a useful reminder to those in the United States currently pushing for a very wide definition of the religious rights protected by the First Amendment that, in an increasingly multicultural nation, they may find some of the consequences far less congenial than they imagine.
It ought to go without saying that religious freedom is part of the bedrock of American liberty, but so too is the notion of equality before the law.
There has to be unum, so to speak, as well as pluribus.
The Yale Daily News has some of the details:
Representatives from 35 campus groups and student organizations have signed a letter drafted by the Muslim Students Association (MSA) that expresses concern over an event that is bringing a controversial speaker to campus.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali — a Somali-born American activist known for her women’s rights advocacy and critical remarks about Islam — is slated to give a lecture titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West” on Sep. 15 as part of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program speaker series. The daughter of a Somali politician and opposition leader, Hirsi Ali has publicly voiced criticism of practices such as female genital mutilation and has also voiced support for atheism and women’s rights. The MSA’s letter does not ask for a withdrawal of Hirsi Ali’s invitation, according to MSA board member Abrar Omeish ’17, but rather draws attention to her allegedly hurtful anti-Muslim statements and her lack of qualifications to speak broadly about Islam.
Because, of course, strong opinions (or, more accurately, strong opinions of the wrong sort) are not something that should be allowed to be expressed in today’s universities without a self-important little melodrama.
And then there’s the credentialism, that “lack of qualifications to speak broadly about Islam”. Credentialism has long been the hallmark of the intellectually desperate. That it now appears to flourish at Yale is disappointing, but, I suppose, in the degraded campuses of today, no longer surprising.
The Yale Daily News:
Omeish referenced a 2007 interview with the London Evening Standard, in which Hirsi Ali described Islam as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”
Omeish said that the group and their Islamic values uphold freedom of speech.
“The difference here is that it’s hate speech, [which] under the law would be classified as libel or slander and is not protected by the First Amendment. That’s what we’re trying to condemn here.”
Hate speech? Libel? Slander? Not protected by the First Amendment? Really? If we’re playing the credentials game, perhaps Omeish would like to set out the qualifications she has that enable her to find that those words by Ali crossed some very specific legal lines. I can fully understand why she might disagree—and disagree profoundly—with what Ali said (indeed, I don’t agree with it myself), but, in asserting what she has done, Omeish has gone rather farther than that.
Back to the Yale Daily News:
After becoming aware of the Buckley Program’s plan to bring Hirsi Ali to campus, Omeish met with [Buckley Program president] Lizardo last week to discuss Hirsi Ali’s speaking engagement and the MSA’s requests. According to Omeish, the MSA never intended to disinvite Hirsi Ali, but instead requested the invitation of a second speaker with academic credentials on the subject. The MSA also asked that Hirsi Ali’s speech be limited to her personal experience and professional expertise.
But Lizardo responded that the Buckley Program would not adopt the MSA’s requests and would not change the format or content of the lecture.
“If the principle is freedom of expression and freedom of speech, then having someone there to correct her views, which is essentially what MSA would like to happen … would only hinder the principle or idea further of free speech,” Lizardo said.
And then there’s this squalid intervention:
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and Coordinator of Muslim Life Omer Bajwa issued a joint statement to the News in which they confirmed the University’s commitment to free expression but raised concerns over Hirsi Ali’s prior comments about Islam.
“We are deeply concerned … by Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s long record of disparaging, and arguably hateful, comments about Muslims and Islam,” the statement read. “To better represent the whole Yale community and its educational goals, we recommend the organizers consider actions to expand the event, such as allowing concerned students to present their perspectives or adding a scholarly voice to create a more nuanced conversation.”
Yale students would do well to understand that if they wish to learn about debate, tolerance, open-mindedness and a genuine respect for free speech, they should turn to some other place than the Chaplain’s Office.
In the cities and towns across the desert plains of north-east Syria, the ultra-hardline al-Qa’ida offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.
The ‘Islamic State’ group, infamous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions, provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques. While its merciless battlefield tactics and the imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law made headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern…
The Independent’s jokey headline: Life under Isis: For residents of Raqqa is this really a caliphate worse than death?
The idea that fanatacism and a certain degree of efficiency are incompatible is nonsene, and this report is not a bad reminder of that, but there’s something about the language in which it is written…