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Archive for May 2012

National Review has a piece up, The Party of Civil Rights. In it Kevin D. Williamson makes the case that everything you thought you knew about the relationship of the Democrats and Republicans to Civil Rights is wrong. There is a place I think for this general flavor of argument from the Right, broadly construed. For example, many Left-liberals are blithely not aware that the nadir of American race relations and the imposition of Jim Crow were in many ways a social revolution imposed from on high by the state and other assorted collective bodies with coercive power. Further back in history the rise of the “White republic,” and the imposition of universal white male suffrage and the revocation of the right to vote from non-whites in the early 19th century was in large part the work of populist Democrats who were forces for progress in their day.

But overall I think that Williamson’s piece is not true to the facts on the ground in relation to how the conservative movement viewed Civil Rights in the 1960s. Taking this as a given, does that make conservatism and skepticism of social change illegitimate on the face of it? No, not at all. In hindsight the American consensus is that Civil Rights was right and proper. It is natural that conservatives now want to claim that legacy, but the reality is that American Communists have a greater substantive claim than American conservatives to this issue. This should be no surprise if conservatism is oriented toward maintenance of traditional structures. Some of those structures will be unjust. And some of them will be useful, even necessary, for human flourishing. As humans do not have omniscient powers we do not always know which customs are worth keeping, and which are best discarded.

Progressives and Left-liberals have their own problem in this area, as they have long avoided addressing their movement’s connections to eugenics and racial hygiene, when that was the progressive stance. Previous Left-liberal admiration for the command economy, or enthusiasm for the massive growth of government via the Great Society, also went down the wrong path. But let’s go to something more shocking: the North American Man Boy Love Association has its roots in a particular sexual counter-cultural radicalism which was on the margins of the mainstream gay rights movement of the 1970s. For obvious reasons over the past few decades gay rights organizations have been purging any association or connection with groups like NAMBLA, conceding that the extreme radicalism of the 1970s fringe when it came to age of consent laws was neither useful nor justifiable on moral grounds.

My point is that sometimes we need to let history speak, and not try reach back into the past and impose the present upon it. The past made errors, and from the perspective of the future the present is also making errors. But there are also areas where the future will be thankful for the present that it preserves the past. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative is partly contingent on whether you are comfortable with error of adherence to wrong old ways, or with error of espouse of wrong new ways. But in either case the past is littered with mistakes.



Embrace doubt, reject certitude, and move past moral smugness

Noah Millman has a post up at The American Conservative, What Has Christianity To Do With Human Rights? He is responding to a conversation at the heart of which is Ross Douthat, who is making singular claims for the grounding of the presuppositions which Western liberals hold dear in Christian theology. I pretty much agree with Noah on the major salient points. As someone who is not a religious believer, and have never been a religious believer, one issue that I have whenever I’ve had to engage with religious believers is that there are a particular set of arguments where the believers have a very difficult time stepping out of the circularity of their own position. But similarly, as a non-liberal I have had a difficult time trying to get liberals to acknowledge that the stance that “certain things are obvious and self-evident in their truth to all progressive people” is a strongly historically contingent statement as well.

As an empirical matter I think Ross, and Christians more generally, over-read the causal role of their faith in Western history. Though the Christian religion certainly effected some change, it is important to note that its emergence and rise to prominence was coincident with a whole host of other changes in the world of antiquity. And more importantly, Christianity itself has turned out to be incredibly adept as justifying nearly every political and social perspective under heaven. The metaphystical coherency of Christianity, or any other “system of thought,” founders on the reality that human action is fundamentally disjointed, incoherent, and a slap-dash constellation of innate reflexes and historically contingent norms.

The idea that human beings, animals just risen to sentience, can hold in their minds’ eye a ethical and political system of coherency to rival anything like mathematics is a childish conceit, best set aside in serious conversation. And yet the conceit will persist and rear its head in all discussion, because it is a natural outgrowth of the false perception that we are dominated by our reason and not our passions.



Worth Buttressing

It was Winston Churchill (an agnostic, essentially) who famously said that he was not a pillar of the Church of England, but a buttress, ”supporting it from the outside”. I feel much the same way (I would still check C of E in a box if asked my religious affiliation), but that church is not what it was, except, of course, when it still is.

Andrew Sullivan brightens up this Sunday by linking to this marvelous Daily Telegraph obituary of the Rev. John Lambourne, country parson, rugby fan, Territorial Army chaplain and, quite clearly, a thoroughly good sort.

Here are some highlights:

As vicar of St Mary’s Salehurst, Sussex, Lambourne described himself as a “traditionalist” with no time for “all this modern stuff”, and his impatience with Church bureaucracy often exasperated his superiors in the hierarchy.

His sermons, meanwhile, were brisk (he claimed that no one could be expected to concentrate for more than four minutes) and notable for his use of sporting metaphors to explain complex matters of doctrine. The Trinity, he liked to say, was like a set of cricket stumps: from the bowler’s end they would appear as three; from square leg they would be seen as one…

Lambourne provided comfort to the sick and bereaved, and there were few people in the parish of Salehurst and Robertsbridge whose lives he did not touch . A major part of his ministry, however, was conducted over a pint at the local pub, where he encouraged all sorts of unlikely people to become regular churchgoers — even to attending “bring-a-bottle” confirmation classes.

One parishioner recalls how at one Midnight Mass, held after a convivial evening in the pub, Lambourne embarked on his sermon but soon found himself struggling with the word “vicissitude”. After three valiant attempts he gave up with a “we’ll leave it there, I think”. At the same service the following year he began his sermon with “vicissitude” and continued where he had left off.

Although Lambourne more than doubled the size of his congregation, filling his large medieval church every Sunday, people who turned up in church only at Christmas or Easter were never made to feel that they were falling short of the Christian ideal. He once observed in a sermon that a lot of people go to church without really knowing why and feel better for having done so; all were welcome whatever their state of belief or disbelief, and once people came to his church they tended to stay.

One exception was the journalist and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge, a great friend, whom he was able to coax away from atheism, but unable to prevent making his much-publicised conversion to Roman Catholicism. He was saddened by Muggeridge’s defection, he told an interviewer, but had replaced him with a nice St Bernard dog…

Andrew concludes the extracts he selected from the obituary with this comment:

Ah, yes, the Church of England, the greatest bulwark against religion humankind has yet constructed.

Not at all. At its best, the C of E—as personified by the likes of Lambourne (if we can put holy fools like Rowan Williams to one side)—is in some ways as close to perfection as religion—a man-made thing—can come to perfection, benign, kindly, gently patriotic, theologically broad-minded, a quiet conservator of tradition and order with room (for those who want it) for a spot of the supernatural, but little time for superstition, the navel-gazing nonsense of mysticism or an over-insistence on dogma.

Not bad, not bad at all.

An interview of Sasha Baron Cohen on NPR:

GROSS: One of the things you stay away from in “The Dictator” is religion. We don’t know if this dictator is Muslim. There’s no mention of Islam, there’s no mention of the prophet Muhammad, and that’s a good thing, I think, because I don’t think it’s – I mean, Muslims are very offended by anything that parodies the religion but also especially it’s considered sacrilege to, you know, parody in any way the prophet. Did you intentionally try to avoid that so as not to be misunderstood, so as not to insult people who you had no interest in insulting?

BARON COHEN: Exactly. I mean, firstly again, he’s not an Arab dictator, and he actually says that he isn’t in the movie. And so we wanted to really ensure that he was not Arabic in any way. So we created a new language – well, I say that, but he actually speaks at times in Hebrew, which would be strange for…

Baron Cohen’s whole shtick is broadly offensive to huge swaths of the human race. Ask a Kazakh about how they feel after they were portrayed in Borat as anti-Semitic sister-copulating quasi-pederasts. If you listen to the interviewer’s tone of voice it’s pretty clear she’s been highly sensitized to Islamic norms. Contrast this to her blithe acceptance of Sasha Baron Cohen’s grossly inappropriate behavior in much of the American heartland. Not all offense is created equal.

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Christians & Muslims Unite…

…against Lady Gaga.

The Guardian reports:

Christian groups in the Philippines have called for a ban on Lady Gaga’s Manila concerts, alleging that her song Judas is an offensive mockery of Jesus Christ.

Youths gathered at a rally outside the mayor’s office, chanting “Stop the Lady Gaga concerts”, while members of the Biblemode Youth Philippines group called her videos religiously offensive.

In the song, she calls herself a “holy fool” who is “still in love with Judas”, singing: “Jesus is my virtue/And Judas is the demon I cling to.” In the video, Gaga plays a biker chick riding behind a man wearing a crown of thorns, while longing for another biker with “Judas” emblazoned across his leather jacket.

The singer is due to play the 20,000-seat Mall of Asia tomorrow and on Tuesday, and James Imbong, a lawyer filing a petition to ban the concerts, said Christian groups would not accept a compromise as organisers in South Korea did when Seoul authorities agreed to forbid under-12s from attending instead of cancelling the concert.

“She has a song that suggests that she wants to have sex with Judas and performs it with a dance,” Imbong told the news website PhilStar. “Of course, it would be accompanied by a costume that has pornographic elements.”

Manila’s mayor has issued a statement ordering Gaga not to “exhibit any nudity or lewd conduct which may be offensive to morals and good custom”, with the stark reminder that the penal code in the primarily Roman Catholic country of 93 million can convict anyone up to six years for offending race or religion…

Indonesian activists called the cancellation of a gig in Jakarta a sign of the country’s “Talibanisation” after authorities withdrew permission for her concert on 3 June, making her the first foreign artist to be banned despite selling out a 52,000-seat venue.

Indonesian human rights activist Andreas Harsono has said the concert ban represents “the Talibanisation [of] Indonesia”, while sociologist Ida Ruwaida said it was up to the government to “facilitate different interests without allowing the cultural hegemony of one group over another”.

Police denied the singer a concert permit amid claims from hardline Islamic groups that the suggestive nature of her show and lyrics would sabotage the country’s moral codes of conduct. “During her concerts, Lady Gaga looks like a devil worshipper,” said Suryadharma Ali, the religion affairs minister of the nation of 240 million people, mainly Muslims.

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The Islamification of Buffalo

One of the best special-interest bloggers is Ann Corcoran of Refugee Resettlement Watch.  She knows her territory well and comes up with some amazing stories.  The importation of refugees — a high proportion of them fraudulent (90 percent according to Don Barnett) is an appalling racket that cries out for reform; but of course, any politician who said so aloud would be accused of wanting to slam the nation’s door in the faces of the homeless, tempest-tost, etc.

Ann’s post today is about the sensational growth of Islam in western New York state.  Huge loser from that growth?  The Catholic Church.  Major enabler of that growth?  The Catholic Church.  You can’t make this stuff up.

[I note that the region Ann’s writing about belongs to the “burned-over district” of the early 19th century.

The name was inspired by the notion that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert).

Something in the water up there, perhaps.]

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Francois Hollande’s marketting coup

The presidential victory of socialist Francois Hollande in France is being presented everywhere as a vote for “growth” over stagnation:

[Irish Foreign Minister] Eamon Gilmore last night said the election of Francois Hollande will “accelerate” a growth agenda in Europe.


Mr. Hollande has said that he intends to give “a new direction to Europe,” demanding that a European Union treaty limiting debt be expanded to include measures to produce economic growth.


What a brilliant act of branding.  Implication: Those who believe in reining in government debt and spending are “anti-growth.”   Those who believe that the private economy and the free market are the only true sources of economic growth are “anti-growth.” 

The pro-big government stimulus spenders have managed to turn a disagreement over means into a division over ends.  Obviously, there is a lot more work to be done in explaining how an economy works.    The fact that Germany’s is practically the only non-moribund economy in Europe should in theory help make the case for government discipline, but the false promise of the big government Ponzi scheme is apparently too seductive.

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Miscellany, May 4

  • News that former Trent Lott aide Edwina Rogers named as top atheist lobbyist ruffles commenters at Daily Caller [TheDC]
  • Indian skeptic charged with blasphemy for revealing secret behind “miracle” of weeping cross [Doctorow] Denmark Supreme Court, 7-0, strikes down conviction of Lars Hedegaard for criticizing Islam in own home [Mark Steyn]
  • N. C. preacher says he was just joking when he advised dads to smack around offspring. Oh? [Ann Althouse]
  • Failure to accommodate religious beliefs forbidding hair-cutting result in $27K payout by NC Taco Bell operator [EEOC]
  • Law to legalize necrophilia? Egyptian Bonk of the Dead story turns out to be too good to check [Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor]
  • Ryan Radia on Twitter, attending American Enterprise Institute banquet: “At #aeigala Leon Kass asks whether freedom and prosperity are meaningful without love for God and country. Answer: yes, absolutely.”
  • And speaking of Twitter, you can follow Secular Right on it here.

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Comments, themes, etc.

A reader brought it to my attention that on Chrome/Firefox the new theme was forcing registration. That was not the setting in WordPress, but the caprice of the theme. An issue I did not notice because I am always registered. I’ve reverted to the old theme, which does not seem to have the problem with slow page load at this time. If it does in the future, I will switch to a new theme, though make sure that the commenting system remains de facto functional.

Sorry about that.

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