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Apr/14

16

Two Faiths

Library of CongressWhile there are perfectly good scientific reasons for accepting the theory of AGW, the certainty, the fervor and the moralizing displayed by some in the climate change crusade look very much like a form of religious belief. Under the circumstances it’s no surprise to see this new faith incorporated into the teachings of more conventional churches.

The Guardian has an excellent recent example of this phenomenon:

Religious groups have urged Pope Francis to back a campaign to encourage millions of people, organisations and investors to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry. Multi-faith groups in Australia and North America have sent a letter to the pope saying it is “immoral” to profit from fossil fuels. The letter, shown exclusively to the Guardian, says 80% of global fossil fuel reserves must “stay in the ground” if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.

The letter sent to the pope’s offices in February is co-signed by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and US-based GreenFaith.

…GreenFaith executive director, the Rev Fletcher Harper, said: “Pope Francis’s support would provide a powerful validation of the moral rightness of divestment and reinvestment in response to the climate crisis, and would immediately signal the need for dramatic action. It would be of vital significance.”

The modish and tacky elision of ‘green’ and ‘faith’ is revealing enough, but a visit to GreenFaith’s website fills out the picture still further. It makes for grimly entertaining reading:

Worship leaders can integrate “raw” natural elements into worship services. For example, worship can include containers of water, earth, plants, leaves from local trees, or other natural elements placed in the worship space and visible to all. These natural elements can beautify a sanctuary and deepen worshipers’ relationship with God.

And so it goes on.

I was, however intrigued by this detail lurking in the Guardian piece:

The letter to the pope was sent a week before Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was appointed to an influential senior position within the Catholic church and the Vatican as the head of a new secretariat for the economy.

Cardinal Pell has expressed extreme scepticism of the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change. In 2011 he delivered the annual lecture of the UK’s sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Nigel Lawson, and claimed carbon dioxide was “not a pollutant” and animals would not notice a doubling of atmospheric CO2.
He said climate change campaigners were following a “mythology” which he said was attractive to the “religionless and spiritually rootless”.

I don’t agree with the cardinal on CO2 (the argument is considerably more complex than that), but I do agree with him (I agree with a cardinal!) when he talks about the appeal of a certain type of environmentalism to the “spiritually rootless”.

Like it or not, most people possess a religious instinct. To borrow that old X-Files line, they “want to believe” : greenery can fill that gap. It can, quite clearly, also garnish the faith of those who have already found a pew.

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Apr/14

6

Cult Watch

Apr/14

5

O’Malley’s Photo Opportunity

O'Malley's photo opBoston’s “Cardinal Sean” pulls a cheap stunt:

NOGALES, Ariz. — At a Mass held under the shadow of the border fence this morning, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston called on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform this year.

“The system is broken, causes terrible suffering and is a waste of human resources,” O’Malley said.

This is the same priest who campaigned so hard (and so successfully) against Massachusetts’s Death With Dignity Act, a measure that would have done quite a bit to alleviate terrible suffering on his own doorstep.

O’Malley’s stance is, of course, very little to do with compassion, and a great deal to do with power, and more specifically, the power of numbers. Latino immigration fills pews, and (often) adds support for the Roman Catholic Church’s ideological agenda, an agenda that O’Malley is not, as we have seen, reluctant to impose on others.

But back to the cardinal:

“We’ve lost the sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. … America at its best is not the bigotry and xenophobia of the know-nothings but the welcome of The New Colussus.”

O’Malley was accompanied by eight other members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 17 other priests. The clergy gave communion to people on the Mexican side of the fence as part of the Mass.

“We see this as a moral issue, as an ethical issue,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Tucson Diocese…

The presumption, therefore, is that those who dare to disagree are a thoroughly immoral lot.

The committee of bishops, which favors a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants, on Friday called on Catholics to pray, fast and take action for immigration reform, such as sending members of Congress electronic postcards advocating change….

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Mar/14

30

Connect the Dots

APTOPIX Vatican Pope ObamaFrom The Economist:

Together with a general migration from the north-east and Midwest towards the sunbelt, the number of people leaving the faith has led to a shrinking of Catholicism in its former heartlands….

This shrinking has been offset by growth in the South and southwest of the country. The number of Catholics in the archdiocese of Atlanta has increased by 180% in 2001-11. In these growth areas two-thirds of all Catholics are Hispanic. Hispanics tend to have larger families and their children are more likely to stick with the religion than the offspring of white Catholics. This is causing a big change in the ethnic makeup of the faithful. About a third of American Catholics are Hispanic, but for those under 40 the share rises to almost half. The church’s building programme cannot keep up. In some parishes in Arizona the local church will hold up to seven services on a Sunday, says Gerald Kicanus, the bishop of Tucson. Finding enough pastors is hard: the diocese has brought in priests from Nigeria, India and the Philippines to make up for a shortage of home-grown ones.

Once they have found a pew, Hispanic Catholics expect a different kind of worship. Cross-carrying processions during Holy Week have become commonplace. The way the sign of the cross is made can differ, as can the use of holy water and the saints and shrines chosen for veneration—the growing cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the best example. Services have more music, and the kind of charismatic preaching performed by Father Hoyos in Arlington has gained ground.

This distinctive way of doing things extends to politics. Overall, America’s Catholics vote like the country as a whole. In 2012, 50% of Catholic voters backed Barack Obama and 48% went for Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent. But there was a clear divide between white Catholics, who favoured Mr Romney, and Hispanic Catholics, who favoured Mr Obama.

Though Hispanic Catholics are conservative on some social issues, such as abortion, this seldom determines their party allegiance. (The same is true of black evangelicals.) Their notion of the proper role of government is more Democratic than Republican. Some 61% of white Catholics say it should reduce the income gap between rich and poor. For Hispanic Catholics the figure is 86%. For Mr Obama, who was to meet the pope on March 27th, these numbers must seem miraculous.

So Latino immigration helps fill Roman Catholic churches and brings votes the Democrats’ way.

And both that church and that party favor more of it.

Possibly a phenonemenon that it does not need a Sherlock Holmes to explain.

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Mar/14

24

Idol Words

descamisadosThere are those who think that Europe’s appalling unemployment problem can be explained by overly rigid labor markets, the spiraling energy costs that greenery has brought in its wake and, of course, the ill-judged introduction of the euro.

Pope Francis has a different explanation:

“What can we say, when faced with the very serious problem of unemployment that affects various European countries?”, he asked. “It is the consequence of an economic system that is no longer able to create work, because it has placed at its centre the idol of money…”

It’s hard to work out what’s worst about that comment, its frivolity, its ignorance or its demagoguery.

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Mar/14

16

The Pope and Peron

descamisadosIn the course of a lengthy piece on Pope Francis, The Economist looks at the pontiff’s political and economic opinions and (correctly, in my view) finds them rooted in the history of the country of his birth:

The political landscape of Francis’s homeland, however, offers a more accurate, and nuanced, understanding of his views. For most of his life Argentina has plotted a kind of third way between Marxism and liberalism—albeit one with disastrous political and economic results. “[Francis] only knows one style of politics,” says a diplomat accredited to the Holy See. “And that is Peronism.”

The creed bequeathed by Argentina’s former dictator, General Juan Perón, with its “three flags” of social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, has been endlessly reinterpreted since. Conservatives and revolutionaries alike have been proud to call themselves Peronist. But at its heart it is corporatist, assigning to the state the job of resolving conflicts between interest groups, including workers and employers. In that respect it resembles fascism and Nazism—and also Catholic social doctrine.

The pope’s Peronist side shows in his use of a classic populist technique: going over the heads of the elite to the people with headline-grabbing gestures and comments. And it is visible in his view of political economy, which also has much in common with post-Marxist protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Spanish indignados and Italy’s Five Star Movement. “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few,” he has written. “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”

The Economist is perhaps too polite to mention the fact that crude reductionism, scapegoating and argument by straw man are also often “classic populist techniques”, and ones, regrettably, that this pope sometimes appears willing to deploy. Nevertheless, the magazine does find space to include this:

One passage in Evangelii Gaudium [This pope’s first ‘Apostolic Exhortation’] appalled many: “Just as the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not,’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.” Even more radically, he quoted St John Chrysostom, an early church father: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them.”

This, of course, was (as The Economist noted) the same document that included, without qualification, this:

“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”

Everything?

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Jan/14

26

On Papal Economics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACross-posted on Ricochet.

Over at City Journal, Guy Sorman has something to say about the pope’s demagogic attack (although he’s too polite to describe it as such) on the free market:

In his December apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis had harsh words for “the new invisible tyranny of the market.” This familiar denunciation of capitalism brings to mind a famous text by the French economist Frédéric Bastiat, published in 1848. Addressing the socialists of his day, who were already attacking the market economy, Bastiat replied that it is easier to identify and criticize what one can see (poverty or inequality) than it is to discern what one cannot see: the relentless economic growth that the market engenders.

With all due respect to the pope, he has fallen into a rhetorical trap. In the name of the poor, to whom his life as a priest has been devoted, he denounces the visible and ignores the invisible…

That’s too kind. The pope did not fall into “rhetorical trap”. Francis is a smart man and he knew exactly what he was doing. And no, that says nothing good about him.

Then Sorman throws in some history:

One of Francis’s predecessors, John Paul II, also pronounced on political economy. When Poland was freed from the Soviet empire in 1990, John Paul tried to prevent his country from slipping into capitalism, which he then abhorred as much as does Pope Francis. John Paul II believed sincerely in a Third Way, neither socialist nor capitalist, which would lead Poles from poverty to prosperity and social justice. Lech Wałesa, who had moved from union leadership to the presidency of the Polish republic, was singing the same tune. Post-Communist Poland soon sank deeper into poverty. John Paul II, honestly concerned, then took some lessons in economics. He chose as one of his mentors Michel Camdessus, then managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a fervent Catholic. Camdessus helped convince him that the market economy was only a mechanism, which, however imperfect, was the most effective means ever discovered for reducing mass poverty. Poland, still Catholic and converted to capitalism, is now the only European country to have escaped the crisis of 2008. Average income there has doubled over 20 years.

Camdessus was right: we should judge the market economy by its results, not by its values. Thus, Pope Francis is mistaken when he claims, in Evangelii Gaudium, that “the market is held up as divine.” I know no one who considers the market “divine”—certainly neither economists nor entrepreneurs. Similarly, when Pope Francis recommends “returning the economy to the service of human beings,” we can only agree, while observing that the market never functions except in the service of human beings. What human beings do with the products of growth, as well as how they distribute them, is an entirely different matter, and the Church has a legitimate interest in employing moral suasion in this area.

Meanwhile, as the economic crisis deepens in his native Argentina, the pope has an excellent opportunity to see where the sort of economic policies and attitudes that he advocates tend to lead. It will be interesting to hear what, if anything, he has to say about it.

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Jan/14

25

Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Argentina’s Latest Crisis

CK (BA) (Aug 2011) (AS)Cross-posted on the Corner:

Under first Nestor, and then Cristina, Kirchner, Argentina has been pursuing an economic policy that, in its suspicion of free markets, distrust of globalization and strong redistributionist vein, reflects a long Argentine tradition that extends far beyond the Kirchner camp, and, indeed, finds some reflection in some of the pronouncements of, ahem, one rather prominent Argentine now resident in the Vatican.

So how’s it working out?

The Guardian reports:

Following the sudden collapse in the peso this week, some Argentinians fear their country may be lurching into a new episode of the crises that seem to hit the country’s economy almost every decade. Scrambling to protect the country’s perilously low central bank reserves, which dropped 30% last year and fell below $30bn (£18bn) this month, the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seemed at a loss how to proceed. It started the week introducing tight controls on the purchase of online goods from abroad, to prevent Argentinians from spending dollars in ever larger quantities – especially on Chinese products which, as a result of 30% inflation, can be cheaper delivered to their door from abroad than bought at local stores.

But on Friday the government seemed to do a U-turn, saying it would relax its grip on the dollar. From next week it will remove some of the controls it introduced two years ago which banned Argentinians from trading their pesos for dollars, a customary practice in a country with a long history of inflation.The dollar freeze paralysed the property market, which operates in dollars, but failed to stem the rush away from the peso. Instead it created a black market where the dollar has risen from eight to 13 pesos in the last year while the central bank continued using – and losing – reserves trying to keep the dollar in check. Its battle was ultimately lost this week in view of the peso’s sudden collapse.

Seemingly oblivious to the country’s economic plight, Fernández has referred to the last 10 years – since her husband assumed Argentina’s presidency in 2003, and she took over in 2007 – as the “victorious decade”. But this week’s forced devaluation of the official exchange rate may make it difficult to continue repeating a slogan habitually used in speeches by government officials, printed on billboards and even emblazoned on a recent series of commemorative stamps.

To 68-year-old Aida Ender, after 40 days without power in her eighth-floor apartment in the middle-class neighbourhood of Almagro in Buenos Aires, the slogan grates like a bad joke. “There’s no plan, the president is out of touch with reality, she’s lost like Alice in Wonderland,” says Ender, who has had to move out of her apartment, where she has had no water, no working lift and no refrigeration since 16 December. Her plight is shared by thousands of neighbours and even hospitals, in the middle of unusual summer highs of close to 40C. Economic observers blame the government’s populist policies – including keeping utility prices artificially low to disguise inflation – for the power crisis. They say this has made it impossible for firms to invest in maintaining power lines.

The government denies the charges and says that inflation is fuelled by anti-government businessmen.

…At least 11 people were killed and hundreds injured last month when a wave of supermarket looting spread across Argentina, fuelled by a combination of rising food prices and a police strike for higher wages.

The Economist adds:

As of Monday January 27th, the government will supposedly lift this invisible “clamp”. Today’s announcement by Jorge Capitanich, the cabinet chief, lasted only a minute and left his audience with more questions than answers. He revealed only that the exchange restrictions will be lifted for individuals, not for businesses; and that Argentines will still need to present tax affidavits along with their requests for dollars. Those making dollar purchases for travel will be charged a 20% tax advance on such purchases, down from 35% now.

One explanation for the events of the past week is that the authorities can no longer afford to prop up the peso by using Central Bank reserves. Although the 2011 dollar restrictions succeeded in stanching capital flight, they failed to stop the fall of Argentina’s international reserves. In 2011, when the clamp was implemented, the reserves were around $47 billion. They have since dropped below $30 billion. With an energy bill of $15 billion and debt obligations of $10 billion to pay this year, the Central Bank cannot endure much more pressure.

On the other hand, letting the peso plummet as Argentines rush to swap their money into dollars could quickly lead to panic. Even if the Central Bank stops intervening, AFIP, Argentina’s tax agency, will continue to control dollar sales, meaning Argentines could still face rejection of their exchange requests without explanation. Despite this morning’s announcement several black-market exchange houses in Buenos Aires, unsure of what the next week might bring, are still hungrily buying and selling at a rate of roughly 12 pesos to the dollar, well above the official rate of 8.1.

But at least Argentines are being spared the horrors of the free market!

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Jan/14

12

Economical with the Truth

Reinhard MarxCross-posted on Ricochet:

Religion News‘s David Gibson believes that the current pope’s crude and demagogic attacks (to be clear: that’s not exactly the way that Mr. Gibson appears to see them) on the free market have a useful supporter in Marx. That’s Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. Did you think I meant anyone else?

After taking a few, largely ludicrous, swipes at the pope’s critics on the right, Mr. Gibson gets to the point:

Cardinal Reinhard Marx …says the idea that capitalism has never been properly tried is silly — and he says it in the latest edition of the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano:

“To think that somewhere there are pure markets which give rise to the good through free competition is mere ideology,” wrote Marx, who is one of the pope’s “Gang of Eight” special advisers. “Capitalism should not become the model of society” because “it does not take into account individual destinies, the weak and the poor.”

He noted that “The call to think beyond capitalism is not a struggle against the market economy,” but, according to Catholic World News, he wrote that an economic vision that “reduces economic action to capitalism has chosen the morally wrong starting point.”

And such an economic vision is practiced where, exactly, Cardinal?

Marx then goes on to deny most of postwar European history:

Catholic social teaching offers the “spiritual foundations of a social market economy” but “these ideas have never played a real role.”

Oh come off it.

Marx is an educated man. We thus must assume that he is a knave rather than a fool. As he knows perfectly well, Western Europe’s economies have been run on a ‘social market’ basis since the fall of Hitler, and, indeed, in some places sometimes before, a social market that, at least in Roman Catholic Europe, owed a clear debt to Catholic social teaching, and more specifically to that set out in Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum.

It’s worth adding, perhaps unkindly, that the economic ideology running through some of the variants of prewar European fascism can also be seen as a mutation of those very same ideas, a mutation that was profoundly influential in shaping the Peronism that flourished in the Argentina of the future Pope Francis’s youth.

And Cardinal Marx—selected, as Mr. Gibson mentions above, by Francis as one of his eight wise men to assist in the overhaul of the curia— is someone of whom this pope clearly approves.

Make of that what you will.

Oh yes, there’s one other thing. As the Huffington Post noted last October:

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich’s archdiocese spent around $11 million renovating the archbishop’s residence and another $13 million for a guesthouse in Rome.

And make of that what you will.

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Dec/13

5

Hmmm

U.S. President Obama and Cardinal Dolan pictured during 2012 Alfred E. Smith Dinner in New YorkFox News reports:

[Cardinal] Dolan…said he was “disappointed” that Congress has failed to pass immigration reform and put the blame on the Republican-led House that has yet to vote on the issue.

“You guys have got to get your act together,” he said. “We’re not going to let you guys off the hook. … We’re disappointed.”

And who is this “we”, Cardinal?

Probably not the unemployed.

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