Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for March 2013

This weblog has been around for 4+ years now. It started as a way to give voice to people who lean Right who are not necessarily libertarian. America’s conservative party, the Republicans, have lost their second presidential election in a row to a definitively liberal candidate. Whether America is a “center-right” country, center-right politics are having difficulties at the national level. A primary problem seems to be that the Republican party has to account for the reality that religious social conservatives are a necessary part of their coalition, but they need to expand the tent out toward more secular and socially moderate voters. The gay marriage debate is to some extent a signpost for the general conundrum; how to hold onto to the base, while attracting converts.

There are no easy answers here. The substantive issue is fundamentally tricky, because many social conservatives have strong principles in particular domains which brook little margin for compromise. On the other hand there are many younger and secular individuals whose aversion to the Republican party and conservative politics seems to be one of identity, not issue. The simple and clear message of liberty, order, and security, should have broad appeal. Unfortunately though the Republican brand in the minds of many has become exclusively identified with religious social conservatives, even though in terms of policy I would argue this component of the coalition receives by and large lip service.



The Anti-Pussy Riot?

Via Russia & India Report:

A group of Creationists staged a publicity stunt in Moscow’s Darwin Museum, unfurling a Christian banner, distributing leaflets, and singing hymns. This is the latest in a string of attention-seeking performances by self-proclaimed ‘Orthodox activists’.

At 3 pm on Saturday, a group of young people hoisted a banner over the building of the museum that read “God created the world”. A few minutes later, protesters released several hundred leaflets from the balcony in the main hall onto an unsuspecting audience of mostly children, as several sang traditional Orthodox hymns.

“Let’s protect our children from lies! The Universe was created by God 7522 years ago. The ‘Theory of Evolution’ is a pseudo-scientific myth, an inadequate and unproven theory that has been used to justify the murder of millions,” read one of the flyers.

Within minutes, the participants of what was advertised online beforehand as a “missionary flashmob” began to gather the dropped leaflets, and escaped to the nearest underground station where they burnt them.

Within hours, the organizers, who call themselves God’s Will, posted a video of the stunt, titled “Checkmate, atheists!”

The response of the Russian Orthodox Church was telling…

Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin refused to condemn the stunt, saying simply that “it was a little more aggressive than it needed to be” in a TV interview on local Dozhd channel.

In contrast, renowned biologist Aleksandr Markov, who witnessed the event first-hand, was scathing.

“They are pathetic. I think they were aiming to produce a symmetrical response to Pussy Riot, but with one difference – they are not likely to face any serious punishment from the state,” Markov wrote in his blog.

….The ideologue of the museum stunt, Dmitriy Enteo, became famous on the back of several stunts directed at Pussy Riot and their supporters, and has admitted that he consciously uses the same art performance aesthetic, but for opposite aims.

Over the past year, Enteo’s Orthodox Patrol or Inquisition, as he variously calls his band of active supporters, numbering several dozen, has accosted people on the streets wearing what they deemed to be inappropriate t-shirts, broke into an abortion clinic, interrupted a theater play sympathetic to Pussy Riot, and blockaded an art exhibition.

Like so many of such people, Enteo seems to have been on some sort of spiritual journey:

24 year-old Dmitriy Enteo’s (real name Tsorionov) path to salvation has not been straightforward. The son of a university professor, he was previously a Hindu, a Buddhist, and a devotee of trance music. The pseudonym Enteo was derived from entheogen, a member of a group of psychodelic plants, such as peyote, used by shamans.

But holy fools have their uses:

Apart from atheists, Enteo’s anger appears to be reserved for Russia’s opposition parties. On his Twitter account, he says the political program of the long-established social-democratic Yabloko Party is similar to that of Hitler. In another filmed stunt last week, God’s Will burst into the offices of the Yabloko Party shouting that it was the party of “sodomites and Satanists”, grabbed their promotional literature, and burnt it.

In interviews, Enteo often speaks about his support for the government and about the need for “a union between Church and State” to protect Russia from “Western-sponsored threats”.

In just the last year, Moscow has introduced Cossack patrols, who claim to be guardians of Orthodox values. Meanwhile, “propaganda of homosexuality” has been banned in several regions, often after campaigns by deeply religious deputies.

In the wake of Pussy Riot’s performance, the Russian parliament has also devised a law that would make it a criminal misdemeanour to “offend the feelings of religious believers,” and a final draft is expected to be passed this spring.

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St FrancisPope Francis, unsurprisingly given the name he has chosen, devoted quite a bit of time to the environment in his inaugural homily.

We shall have to see whether the conclusions drawn by this reporter (for Religion News) reflect his own biases or is indeed what the pontiff does have in mind.

The pope’s homily was striking for its repeated references to environmental protection, highlighting what is likely to be a central theme of his papacy and setting up the 76-year-old pope as a leading activist against climate change.




Ready to Lose in 2016?

I can understand the argument that religion can be a handy bulwark against an over-mighty and over-intrusive state (it can, incidentally, also be an ally of just such a state), but there is a limit as to how far that argument can be pushed, and in this speech to CPAC Rick Santorum has just crashed through it (not for the first time in his case) into a twilight zone of demagoguery, hysteria and madly Manchicean either/or.

I’m no fan of Obama, to put it mildly, but to claim that he wants to create a “Godless” America is not only silly (in fact, if anything Obama would probably want to recruit God as some sort of assistant, a super-Biden upstairs, in his attempt to transform the country) but is language almost certainly guaranteed to alienate yet more of the voters that the GOP needs to be winning over.

Bad thinking. Bad Argument. Bad Tactics.


Thank you, Rick Santorum




The Cheerleader

Former Argentine military dictator JorgeOn the whole, patriotic priests are preferable to those preaching the old baloney about the universal brotherhood of man, an impossible, unnatural aspiration that, by definition, can only (if it is to mean anything) be coercive.
It is however better if that patriotism is clear-eyed. healthy, and not too heavily worn.

I’m not convinced that that has been the case with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine prelate who has now become Pope Francis. Even if we disregard the rights (hard to discern) and wrongs (monumental) of the Argentine case for its unprovoked attack on the Falkland Islands in 1982, Bergoglio’s language is, well, judge for yourself.

The Daily Telegraph:

Pope Francis’s election may cause controversy in Britain over comments he made at a Mass last year for Argentine veterans of the Falklands War to mark 30th anniversary of the 1982 conflict. He reportedly said at the time: “We come to pray for those who have fallen, sons of the country who went out to defend their mother country, to reclaim that which is theirs and was usurped from them.”

Addressing relatives of fallen veterans before a visit to the Argentine military cemetery in Darwin in the Falklands in 2009, he said: “Go and kiss this land which is ours, and seems to us far away.”

He said they would not go alone, adding: “There are angels who will accompany you, who are sons, husbands and fathers of yours, who fell there, in an almost religious movement, of kissing with their blood the native soil.”

Or this, via Harry’s Place:

“Let’s pray to God that these years – despite the efforts of many to de-Malvinise history and reality – have served to silently mature the conscience of many Argentinians far and wide in this country, in a more authentic love for the Homeland, in a spirit of justice, through anonymous sacrifice, that they should be the hidden but fruitful sap which will make us live in freedom, in all the possible ways within this anxious life.”

Back in 2002 the (British Roman Catholic) Tablet provided its take on the religious dimension of the Argentine assault on the Falklands:

….Around this twentieth anniversary much has and will no doubt continue to be written. For those of us who lived the conflict at close quarters, perhaps one of the most interesting and under-reported aspects of it was the extent to which God and the Virgin Mary were used to justify the war, and to bring it to an end.

The military regime which decided to invade the islands did so in the knowledge that it counted on a powerful body of opinion within the Argentine Church to give it its blessing. The attitude of the Argentine Episcopal Conference to the regime that came to power in the 1976 coup had been equivocal. Pastoral letters had held back from public condemnation of human rights violations, and suggested that the ?common good? could be served by dealing with the moral and social disintegration that had characterised the previous civilian government of Isabelita Peron.

Only a minority of bishops, priests and nuns condemned the thousands of disappeared, and the complicity of those who pandered to national Catholicism. Those who survived the repression, like Bishop Jaime de Nevares of Neuquin, Bishop Miguel Hesayne of Viedma, and Bishop Jorge Novak of Quilmes, distanced themselves from the nationalistic fervour which surrounded the “reconquest of Las Malvinas?”.

They remained, however, in a minority. From the outset of the Falklands War, the partnership between Church and State gave the Argentine soldiers and their generals a sense of a moral crusade, and the junta the certainty of political cohesion. History was revisited and revised to provide justification for the equation between Argentine sovereignty and holy conversion.

Memories were revived of the first Spanish missionaries to the Falkland Islands, the priests portrayed as picture-book saints laying the sacramental rock on the heathen land. The subsequent British colonialism was reduced to a caricature of spiritual emptiness when, in fact, both the Anglican and Catholic faiths had retained an enduring presence on the islands. The mixing of nationalistic and religious mythology was prevalent in the first crucial hours of the Falklands conflict. On the eve of the invasion, Argentine commanders agreed that the military operation to take Las Malvinas, initially planned under the codename Azul, should be renamed Rosario, in honour of the Virgin of Rosario. According to Argentine cultural tradition, the Virgin had brought her graces to the population of Buenos Aires in the early nineteenth century before an invasion by British troops was successfully repulsed. She has been venerated passionately ever since.

On 7 April, the new Argentine military governor of Las Malvinas, General Mario Men?ndez, was sworn in during a ceremony at which Archbishop Desiderio Elso Collino, the chaplain general of the armed forces, officiated. “The gaucho Virgin is Mother of all men, but is in a very special way the Mother of all Argentines, and has come to take possession of this land, which is also her land”, stated Collino.For the rest of the war a succession of military chaplains ensured that the crusading spirit of the Argentine troops was kept alive in language reminiscent of the speeches delivered to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War. In the fight against the English “heathen” no Argentine churchman was more fanatical than Fr Jorge Piccinalli….

How this all ties into Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ is, of course, something that will be worth discussing on another occasion.

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Those who can not see God

Rod Dreher has an interesting post up at The American Conservative, The Lie Of Atheism (It’s Not What You Think). He relays a scourging of the New Atheists by Damon Linker. Rod has an interesting passage which I think highlights the difference between his psychology and that of my own:

…I have never understood why people would think of atheism as a liberation (aside from those who were raised in a traumatic religious situation, I mean). When I was at my point of greatest doubt about the existence of God, the loss of Him struck me as a thing to accept with fear and trembling. If it was true, I told myself, then I would have to accept it. But, as Linker avers, what a terrible truth!

This is probably the norm. I have talked to atheists and non-atheists who have recounted to me their moment of doubt. No matter whether the moment passed, or, it propelled them toward disbelief, it was emotionally fraught. The power of this moment, and the possible falseness of deep intuitions about a transcendent God, are genuinely affecting and I do not doubt the authenticity of these experiences. But one must be careful to generalize here, as there are some for whom God is not intuitive, and never has been. I speak from personal experience, as I have never had a deep intuitive belief in God, even when indoctrinated as a child. My wife is similar. This is why I think people need to be careful when asserting that a Nietzschean understanding of atheism is the only honest understanding of atheism. No matter your philosophical stance, the authenticity of the Nietzschean frame is contingent upon one’s own psychology. If the universe was banal and Godless, there is never not “reveal” of his death and the consequences of that event.

And obviously all the concerns about personal nihilism as a universal human conundrum faced by those who abandon God are moot in the case of individuals who never knew God in their bones to begin with and exhibit normal social and ethical mores. There may still be broader philosophical issues, but those do not have the same emotional valence. And, of course, one can still assert that for most people the Nietzschean model is relevant (I would dispute this, but this is a matter more subject to empirical investigation).



Old Tom Hobbes

HobbesA man of the secular right, I feel.

Writing in the TLS David Runciman explains:

But between the political parts [of Leviathan] – the first two sections and the final one – come parts three and four, which are concerned with religion. This bit of the book, which makes up nearly half the total, is entirely uncompromising. Hobbes uses it to demolish all those claims to religious authority that he despised, whether coming from Presbyterians or Catholics, bishops or Bible-bashers. He deploys a combination of selective biblical citation and his own materialist philosophy to lay into every absurd religious idea he can find: demons, fairies, the holy spirit, the life everlasting, the immortal soul. Life, for Hobbes, means motion, and when motion ceases, there is only death.

This all-out assault on religious superstition and stupidity is what makes Leviathan a very different book from De Cive, which contains no equivalent. Hobbes’s urgency in 1649–50 derived in large part from his fear that a new political order might provide a fresh opportunity for the peddlers of religious charlatanry to get their hooks into the state.

H/T: Andrew Sullivan



Trickster Padre

Padre PioI happened to come across this 2011 piece by CSI’s Joe Nickell the other day:

…In fact, notwithstanding the claims in uncritical biographies, Pio’s stigmata devolved—from bleeding wounds that could easily have been self-inflicted (like those of many fake stigmatists before and after, as I described in my 2001 book Real-Life X-Files) to merely discolored skin that appeared to have been irritated by the application of a caustic substance. Indeed, a bottle of carbolic acid was once discovered in the friar’s cell, and Luzzatto cites letters from Padre Pio in which Pio requests that carbolic acid, and at another time a caustic alkaloid, be secretly delivered to him. Eventually Pio began wearing fingerless gloves, supposedly to cover his stigmata out of pious humility; however, to me, the practice seems instead a shrewd move to eliminate the need to continually self-inflict wounds.

Nor were the fake stigmata the friar’s only deception. Years before, Pio had written numerous letters to his spiritual directors describing his mystical experiences; however, it is now known that he copied these words verbatim from the writings of stigmatic Gemma Galgani (1878–1903) without acknowledging they were hers. And that is not all: Pio attempted to divert suspicion from his plagiarism by asking for help in procuring copies of Galgani’s books—saying he would very much like to read them!

…By the time of his death in 1968, Pio’s stigmata had disappeared, but that was effectively remedied in death. Although there was no need to cover his hands and feet—and indeed Capuchin rule forbids the wearing of socks—Pio’s “father guardian,” Father Carmelo of San Giovanni in Galdo, worried that the absence of stigmata might cause a faulty rush to judgment. Carmelo therefore had Padre Pio’s hands and feet covered, as if the covering still concealed his allegedly holy gift. And so the deception continued.

In 2002, the late friar was canonized Saint Pio of Pietrelcina—not for the stigmata he was so famous for but for his healings that were, with due illogic, assumed miraculous because they were said to be inexplicable. And when his remains were exhumed for display forty years after his death, those hoping his body would be found incorrupt… or that it would still exhibit the stigmata, were disappointed. The embalmed corpse had deteriorated sufficiently that it required a silicon mask—complete with bushy eyebrows and beard—fashioned by a London wax museum. Of the supposedly supernatural wounds there was not a trace.

Oh well.

That the friar was a fake is no great surprise, That the Capuchins forbid socks, on the other hand…

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