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The problematic concept of religion

Christmas time highlights — usually in relatively trivial ways — the tensions between traditionalists and advocates of progressive forms of secularism and multiculturalism. The underlying issues run deep, however, and go to the heart of some basic political principles and assumptions. These issues are real and intractable. They will not be resolved by linguistic or conceptual analysis. But at least they may be clarified.

Recently I tried to articulate some nagging concerns I have about the concept of religion. My basic point was that no equivalent of our modern notion existed in the ancient or medieval worlds. Nor do you find such a notion in most non-Western cultures. These facts don’t necessarily undermine the concept of religion, but they should make us question it.

Take the Latin word ‘religio’. It did not mark out a separate (“religious”) sphere of living. This compartmentalized view of life only arose in the modern era and, though it seemed to work and bring social benefits, it could be seen to be both anomalous (historically speaking) and intrinsically unstable.

A standard Christian view is that there is no separate religious sphere of life: that life is an integrated whole and not compartmentalized into religious and secular components. I would argue that such a view, not dependent on an inevitably abstract and arbitrary notion of religion, is natural and robust and can work not only for those who are committed to traditional creeds and practices but also for those (like me) who are not.

Problems arise, of course, when people committed to very different views and traditions live together, and the secularization of politics and public life could be seen as a sensible and pragmatic solution — perhaps the only viable and humane solution.

My focus here is not on policy prescriptions, however, but rather on certain fundamental ideas about religion. These ideas are important at least to the extent that they motivate and help to justify political judgments and prescriptions.

Typically, traditional liberal approaches have not been based solely on pragmatic concerns but have been motivated also by metaphysical views, often involving a generalized religious perspective deriving from Stoic and Neoplatonic sources. Human rights talk, for example, derives from the natural law tradition which in turn owes much to Stoicism. And the modern notion of religion (against which the secular is defined and upon which notions such as religious freedom depend) could be seen as deriving in large part from Renaissance Neoplatonism.

A number of key 20th-century liberal thinkers, though ostensibly agnostic, took religion very seriously indeed. The views on religion of Ludwig von Mises were not atypical.

Though lacking any specific religious affiliation, Mises was a relentless critic of behaviorism and a believer in human freedom, not just in a political but also in a metaphysical sense. In Theory and History (1958) he states that he sees an essential truth lying behind sacred scriptures and mythic narratives of the fate of the soul. These “rather crude representations” have been sublimated, he claims, by religious doctrines and by idealistic philosophy. Neither reason nor science is able “to refute cogently the refined tenets of religious creeds.”

History can explode many of the historical narrations of theological literature. But higher criticism does not affect the core of faith. Reason can neither prove nor disprove the essential religious doctrines.

Essential religious doctrines? Mises expresses a commonly-held view, but it is one which I personally cannot make sense of. What is this essential religion exactly?

One does not lightly dismiss a body of concepts and practices which has, one way or another, underpinned political thinking in the West for hundreds of years. But times change and current levels of social discord would seem to indicate that classical liberal principles have lost traction. Whether they can be reworked and applied effectively to the sorts of societies we now have is a moot point.

At the very least, however, these ideas and their motivating principles need to be subjected to critical scrutiny and reframed in terms which can be understood without recourse to the idealism and essentialism of another age.

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Criticizing Islam is turned into “hate speech” on Facebook

Obviously, this isn’t happening to everyone who criticizes Islam. But someone like Abdullah Sameer is getting popular, and he’s a pretty attractive face for apostasy from Islam. He was until recently a rather conservative Muslim himself. He’s the person you need to shut up if you want to retain Muslims.

As he notes manipulating Facebook isn’t that hard for motivated individuals. And the platform has billions of people on it. Hundreds of millions at least are Muslim. For Muslims traditionally apostasy has been a serious crime, analogous to treason. Which is why the customary punishment (albeit often not enforced) is death.

Sameer speaking in a way that makes it obvious he’s not crazy is really the problem from this perspective. So they shut him down by any means necessary. From a Muslim perspective, he’s dragging people down to hell. And Facebook isn’t the public square, they’re a massive corporation that needs to make governments and diverse cultures happy. Though obviously, Facebook doesn’t necessarily support blasphemy laws, it’s probably not a high priority to clamp down on this sort of coordinated behavior. After all, who is going to complain?

People who are passionate ex-Muslims are a small and marginal group. Muslims are a huge group. As for progressives, it’s much more important to throw a shit-fit over something Richard Dawkins says (without any knowledge of what the call to prayer is actually saying), than put the spotlight on this sort of illiberal behavior and the culture from which it emerges. Such are the wages of “allyship.”



Radicalism, religion and climate change

Although Christianity is now in rapid decline, secularized versions of Biblical ethics and eschatology still flourish and continue to exert a profound influence on moral and political thinking, especially in left-wing and radical circles. But a case can be made that adopting, in the absence of religious belief, the absolute judgments and sharp moral imperatives which are characteristic of the prophetic and apocalyptic literature and the New Testament doesn’t really make sense; that it is a recipe for cognitive dissonance and worse.

Self-protective moral contortions and distortions, compartmentalized thinking, cynicism and hypocrisy are not restricted to the atheistic left but such cognitive and moral aberrations are certainly in evidence in contemporary progressive circles. Making matters worse, in the absence of actual religion, social and political causes have a tendency to become cults, or at least vehicles for cultish behavior.

In this connection, the behavior of climate change activists and their followers has often been remarked upon. Committed environmentalists often seem curiously uninterested in understanding the actual impact of various kinds of activities and processes. If it’s “renewable”, or involves recycling, it’s good. The virtue signalling side of this is all too obvious.

Amongst activists the focus is very much on polemics and political action rather than open discussion and persuasion. The problem is that this sort of approach is not conducive to forming the sort of broad coalition which is usually necessary to achieve effective and lasting policy change.

Due to a family connection, I ventured out of my comfort zone recently to attend a climate change meeting. I was expecting a discussion or debate, but there was little discussion of the facts, no science, just consciousness-raising and a bit about strategies for influencing legislation.

Most of the participants (who were obviously very sincere and intelligent people) had a moral focus and talked about modifying their own lifestyles, but the main speaker was too partisan-political for my taste. She had recently become an advisor to a former trade union leader who had moved into politics.

It was noted at one point that only two or three percent of scientists questioned certain apocalyptic predictions. “Let’s hope they’re right,” I commented. Dead silence. Disapproval. This was not what one was supposed to say (though I assume the thought, the hope, was kosher). I had revealed myself not to be one of them.

“So, Mark, you are a climate change skeptic!” interjected my cousin (who was hosting the event). In a very weak sense, perhaps I am. As I explained to the group, it’s not something I know a lot about. I think the climate is changing, and it seems very likely that human activity is playing a significant role, but beyond that there’s nothing useful I can say.

What struck me above all was the initial response to my off-the-cuff comment, that awkward silence. There was something amiss here. It was as if even the possibility of a relatively optimistic climatic future was not to be countenanced or publicly acknowledged.

Certainly, the reaction was political and revealed a strong in-group/out-group dynamic. It was also consistent with something which many have suggested before me, namely that the main driving force behind (at least some of) the activism in this area may not be the well-being of the biosphere at all, but broader political goals which a climate crisis makes more attainable.

As I see it, the excessive politicization of environmental concerns is counterproductive to the activists’ own stated goals. It leads to suspicion and resistance on the part of conservatives, for example, who might under different circumstances be sympathetic to cooperative action on the environment. If climate change does require urgent action, openly talking about the science and the inevitable uncertainties involved will not block the way.

And the more serious the projected problems are seen to be, the more imperative it is to move questions of climate change and potential preventative or mitigatory action as far as humanly possible away from the realm of partisan politics; to unbundle the issue, in other words, from the set of irredeemably contentious social and political causes with which it is all too often perceived to be associated.

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The New York Times recently published a piece on Wiccans in New York City, “Witchcraft in the #MeToo Era.” Despite the name, the article has nothing to do with #MeToo – there are no tales or even allusions to Wiccan women under the spell of nefarious Wiccan men – but instead highlights the practice of paganism and Wicca in Goth-am from a vaguely female perspective:

In Manhattan, family-oriented witches attend the Wiccan Family Temple with their children. The Temple of the Spiral Path, also based in Manhattan, offers workshops and an introductory witch’s academy that meets weekly. New York’s pagan couples can be married by legally ordained Wiccan ministers offering their services on The Witches’ Voice; there’s even a Wicca e-group based in the Bronx. Catland Books, an occult bookshop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, offers weekly workshops, drawing a younger, trendier crowd.

According to a City-Data forum, the best metros in the U.S. to be Wiccan and/or pagan is New Orleans, New York City, Salem (shocker!), the Bay Area and Minneapolis/St.Paul. I’m surprised the Pacific Northwest doesn’t appear in the list, given its post-religious susceptibility to non-traditional (or in this case hyper traditional, it can be argued) and new-agey spirituality. Conversely, the inclusion of New Orleans may seem odd given the south’s Pentecostal and Evangelical-driven hostility toward the occult; but then “Nola” has a fairly unique history, and is far more Catholic today than a city like Atlanta.

This passage doesn’t make Wiccans look especially serious:

On a recent Friday night, the witches of the Temple of the Spiral Path gathered to watch the spunky teenage witches in “The Craft.” The Temple occasionally hosts pagan movie nights. This one drew eight people — a few coven members and friends, to a Midtown dance studio where the group often meets. JoAnna Farrer, 34, and her husband, had never seen the 1996 cult classic, a supernatural horror film following a teenager who falls in with a clique of witches. Everyone else in the room, including Ms. Farrer’s close friend Ms. Cruci, expressed dismay. “How can you be a witch and have never seen ‘The Craft’?” one witch demanded, munching Doritos.

Was it really necessary to mention the Doritos?

The article fails to examine what impact, if any, Wiccans have had on the development of the musical genre known as “witch house.”*

*(Yes I’m being cheeky.)



One of the great celebrity “village atheists” of our day, Richard Dawkins, has “stepped in it” again by eliciting a fury over his attitudes toward Islamic culture, and his love for certain aspects of English Christian culture. Neither of these positions is novel or surprising from Richard Dawkins. For many years Richard Dawkins has expressed his love of Christmas as a cultural tradition freighted with memories which he recalls fondly. In contrast, Dawkins has long expressed a negative view of Islamic culture.

Of course, a single tweet like the above is loaded with cultural signifiers, meanings, and implications. Many are accusing Richard Dawkins of being a bigot. Here is one dictionary definition of a bigot:

…a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

This seems to fit Richard Dawkins very well in a broad sense. Dawkins is quite intolerant of many religious groups. In 2006, during the peak of Richard Dawkins’ fame as a celebrity village atheist in the 2000s, when he was promoting books such as The God Delusion and filming documentaries such as The Root of all Evil, he made little effort to hide his contempt and disdain for religion and the religious. Consider this exchange with Colorado pastor Ted Haggard:

As an atheist from an English background, Dawkins is disdainful and contemptuous of American evangelical Protestant Christianity. Haggard becomes offended during the course of the above interview with Dawkins, today we would say “triggered”, because of Dawkins’ acidic brandishing of his infidel views with no apology or grace. He even analogizes Haggards’ megachurch worship service to the Nazi Nuremberg Rally!

At the time Dawkins’ role as a controversialist was clearly something he relished. His views were close to his heart. I doubt he was engaging in this behavior and espousing these beliefs for the sake of fame or wealth. He was already famous and wealthy because of his scientific writings. Books such as The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene are modern masterpieces of scientific exposition. When it comes to promoting to the interested public a general understanding of the logic of evolutionary biology, Dawkins is unquestionably one of the modern masters, with both talent and inclination.

His turn as an anti-religious polemicist was clearly driven by a personal passion about religion and an animus toward it. This was long evident in public pronouncements, but they reflected vigorous private views. The only time I have been in a small room with Dawkins he spoke mostly about science. But he also got a few gratuitous jabs in at the Roman Catholic Church. Many have suggested that Dawkins’ views on religion are colored by his background as a middle-class Englishman, and it is hard to imagine that he did not absorb a bit of “anti-Popish” sentiment from his Anglo-Protestant milieu.

I have very mixed feelings about what used to be called the New Atheism. But one of its most unfortunate ticks for me is that in rhetoric it often presumes that religion is a matter of ratiocination when the truth is we all know that religion is a socially embedded phenomenon which has deep emotional resonances. The New Atheists themselves reflect the reality of the latter in their passion. Dawkins is an example of this as well in his affection for certain cultural expressions of Christianity which to him recollect memories of his upbringing and broader social milieu. His clear distaste for evangelical Protestant Christianity of the American variety is almost certainly wrapped up in a particular set of reflexive aversions shared by many middle-class secular intellectuals of the Anglosphere towards that subculture, which is perceived to be down-market, crass, and quite a bit ridiculous.

But where he gets in trouble is that Dawkins’ tweets often reflect a visceral distaste for Islamic culture. His reactions indicate an emotional aversion which transcends rationality, though that aversion is rooted in some realities and not just his imagination.

The importance of emotion as opposed to objective rationality can be illustrated again by Christmas. As a child from a Muslim background who had little affinity with religion, I generally had warm experiences with secularized American Christmases. As an adult atheist raising my children as atheists (if that makes sense), Christmas is culturally important for a variety of reasons. But your mileage may vary. There are atheists from Jewish backgrounds who eschew Christmas because of its cultural and historical valences, and their dissenting from mainstream norms is one of the ways that they express their identity as Jews.

One can give more explicit examples. I was acquainted with a woman from a Bosnian Muslim background many years ago. Though not exceedingly religious, she had a strong aversion to the cultural expression of Christmas. Her reasons were personal and understandable: she had fled the Balkan conflict as a child and had been traumatized by religious persecution. For her even secularized manifestations of the Christmas tradition had associated memories which were highly negative. Her experiences were her experiences, and my experiences are my experiences. There isn’t one “objective” response to Christmas, there are different “subjective” reactions framed by one’s personal history and cultural affinities.

But there are wheels-within-wheels, subjectivities-within-subjectivities, and truths-within-truths.

Many in the ex-Muslim community are fiercely protective of Richard Dawkins. Why? Because Richard Dawkins stands unflinchingly with them, “in solidarity” as they say in 2018. To get the “ex-Muslim” perspective, it is probably best to read Ali Rizvi’s The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason. Unlike myself, Rizvi and his fellow travelers were at some point confessing and believing Muslims. Something I can never say personally. My cultural background means that I can recite surah fatiha to this day, and I have performed the call to prayer, but I was not really raised culturally within Islam. This means I have neither extremely strong or negative feelings associated with Islamic culture, though I take a dim view of Islam the religion and Muslim societies. But, like many Americans, they are still somewhat exotic and alien to me. Matters of reflection rather than reaction.

The reason ex-Muslims defend Richard Dawkins and revere the New Atheists (e.g, Sam Harris) is that the cultural winds in the West over the past generation have shifted, and the Left has been engaging in “allyship” with Islam, or more specifically Muslim minorities in the West. The vast majority of atheists are on the Left, and the Left is the camp notionally more amenable to secularism. But when it comes to Islam it is now the fashion on the cultural Left to express affinity and sympathy for Islam, and more concretely Muslims.

Richard Dawkins and the other New Atheists are distinctive in being conservative in the literal sense on the issue of Islam, and not temporizing and moderating. Their stance has not changed over the decade as Islam has become almost trendy on the Left where most of them are at home. And for this, they are cherished by activists and dissenters from within the Muslim community who are pushing for a full-throated atheism. Consider the case of a Canadian woman of Egyptian ethnicity, Yasmine Mohammed, who has written a memoir, “From Al Qaeda to Atheism.” The title should give you a flavor of her personal experiences, and why she has a visceral aversion to the Islamophilia which is de rigueur on the cultural Left.

The ex-Muslim community is a minority-within-a-minority. Many ex-Muslims are in an uncomfortable position because their critique of Islam as a regressive and authoritarian religion is consonant with talking points on the Right, but most of them identify on the Left (and, they perceive the Right as the camp of regression and authority!). In The Atheist Muslim Rizvi recounts the experiences of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When she arrived in the United States about ten years ago she took a fellowship at the American Enterprise Institution (AEI). Broadly on the Right, this affiliation drew some raised eyebrows and critiques from commentators on the Left. Her extreme anti-Islamic views had already caused difficulties, but for many liberals, an affiliation with AEI was the last straw. At the time I suspected that she was going to war with the army she had, not the army that she necessarily would have preferred. Rizvi, who brought more detailed information to the table, confirms this in The Atheist Muslim: Hirsi Ali took the fellowship from the American Enterprise Institute after being rejected by other think tanks. They were, rightly, worried about the controversy around her due to her rather strident secularism in relation to Islam (a stance she has moderated over the years).

Ali’s conundrum ten years ago is more broadly symptomatic of an issue that characterizes the cultural Left in 2018 due to coalitional politics: a strident secularism that takes an anti-Islamic tone is so out of fashion among many liberals that the ex-Muslim activists are out of fashion among many liberals. They are an inconvenient minority-within-a-minority.

The rights of women in Western Muslim communities are still a concern with Leftists. But, these issues need to be approached sensitively and carefully, because the politics of coalition and the instinct toward allyship means that it is important to not demonize Western Muslims or even Islam! (this explains why many secular white liberals feel comfortable explaining to me the “real Islam” if I am overly critical of the religion for their taste) The last part is where ex-Muslims dissent fiercely because most argue that Islam, as it is constructed today, is fundamentally and structurally oppressive and reactionary. The paradox for ex-Muslims is that the Left normally has instincts to stand with those who oppose oppression and reaction, but in this case, they are muted.

The exception being people like Richard Dawkins. Like the child shouting out, “the emperor has no clothes!”, the likes of Dawkins and Harris give voice to a primal aversion to the demon-haunted reactionary ideological edifice that is Islam. Though in public very few Left-liberals who are aware of the norms of their community will say negative things about Islam qua Islam, and even less about Muslims, in private many are quite clear-eyed about Islam as a religion and uncomfortable with the practices of Muslims. Solidary is for the public. Reality is for private. Or as a friend once explained “Of course it’s a fucked up religion. But I don’t want to get my head chopped off or be accused of being racist.”

There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. 24% if the world’s population. Their numbers are growing rapidly because of Islam’s concentration in the high fertility areas of the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Though Muslims are likely to be a minority religion in the West for decades to come, they are a majority in some regions of Europe already (mostly urban ghettos). As such they naturally impose their cultural values as the dominant ones in public spaces where they are numerically preponderant. Many of those values are quite conservative and restrictive of individual liberty. That conservatism reflects the cultural values that Muslim immigrants bring to the West, but also the historical importance of Islamic law, shariah, which dates back over 1,000 years, and as such preserves in chrysalis views of a highly archaic nature in some ways.

From the perspective of ex-Muslims, who grew up within Muslim communities in the West, and for whom the demographic and cultural heft of the nearly 2 billion strong Ummah is a lived reality, the mainstream Left view of Muslims and Islam as marginal and oppressed is highly myopic, not factually true, and extremely conditioned by the relatively insulated worlds which most middle-class secular liberals live. To be entirely frank, for a particular set of cosmopolitan Westerner, the Islamic world, the Islamic culture, is one which they view through the lens of consumption, as a life-stage. They experience the diversity of a Muslim neighborhood as a tourist dining out and taking in the smells, or by living as a young adult in a heavily Muslim area of a European city. But they will retire in the fullness of time to a life of bourgeois contentment in a secular white community with Christmas trees. Islam is an abstraction. For those for whom Islam is more concrete, there’s a bit more skin the game.

Note: Below is a speech given by my friend Sarah Haider in 2015. I think the situation has gotten “worse” in relation to the issues she cares about.

Addendum: Since there have been some confused comments on this weblog before how as a white man I can’t have known Muslims growing up, David Hume is a pseudonym. My name is Razib Khan, and the Muslims I knew growing up were my parents.

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Writing in the  American Conservative, here’s Gilbert Sewall on the Oxford classicist, E.R. Dodds. Read the whole thing, really, but here is Sewall discussing Dodds’ Pagans and Christians in an Age of Anxiety (1965):

In 380, Theodosius I declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire, proscribing all other religions. Temples were closed, property confiscated, pagan holidays prohibited, and Olympic games ended. Freedom of religion vanished.

Olympic Games ended – not all bad then.


This obnoxious self-confidence made Christians many enemies among ordinary Romans. “Like all creeds which claim the total allegiance of the individual—like communism, for example, in our own day—early Christianity was a powerful divisive force,” Dodds said, using italics to make his point

To educated pagans, blind faith rendered Christianity contemptible. But what had been no more than an administrative nuisance or psychological curiosity in the early Empire became an actual menace to its stability and security: a state within the state, a secret society that disrupted social cohesion…

Why did the Christians win the Roman culture wars? First, the anything-goes ecumenism of late antiquity led to “too many cults, too many mysteries, too many philosophies of life to choose from: you could pile one religious insurance on another yet not feel safe,” Dodds explained. “Christianity made a clean sweep.” The Church cared for widows and orphans, the old, unemployed, and disabled. Most important, the Church created a community that gave self-respect and meaning to lives, provided human warmth, and offered hope.

Since Dodds wrote, the Western world’s educated and powerful have for the most part abandoned Christianity. Multimedia blur fiction and fact, making fantasies appear real and true. In such a world, what rubrics will provide a moral anchor and semblance of community? What voices will give lives meaning and direction?

As I’ve mentioned before, the need for “meaning” remains elusive to me, but it is  undeniable that that is something most people appear to want—something, like religion itself, that appears to be hardwired within our species, presumably because it fulfilled and, indeed, fulfills, an evolutionary purpose.

The ‘New Atheists’ who want to get rid of religion are on a hiding to nothing. There will always be religion. The only question is the form or forms it will take.


Washington-based journalist Andrew Sullivan has likened today’s campus activists to a religious sect, one that finds redemption through confession of white guilt and privilege, conversion, adoption of esoteric language, and adherence to a strict moral system. “Liberalism and empiricism have parted company,” warns political philosopher John Gray, an academic leftist and no friend of religion, in the Times Literary Supplement.

I have posted something on some of what Sullivan has been saying here and on Gray too (most recently) here.

In this context, it is worth noting this comment by Gray (‘academic leftist’ is not, incidentally, quite the right label: Where he stands is more complex than that) :

[Mill’s] assertion that human beings would prefer intellectual freedom over contented conformity was at odds with his empiricist philosophy. Essentially unfalsifiable, it was a matter of faith.

But conformity is not comfortable for all, and part of the comfort it does give lies in bestowing a power to enforce that conformity on others, power that is  pleasurable in itself, but also as a demonstration of a superior morality.


A rising quasi-religion propagates articles of holy faith through academic and corporate workshops, training sessions, and safe-zone certifications. In deconstructing canonical works, defaming ancient heroes, denouncing thought crimes, destroying icons and symbols, and closing down opposing viewpoints as hateful, it displays humorless fanaticism….

[T]he emerging intersectional priesthood has no intention of ceding secular power or accommodating adversaries. As an elect mindful of the responsibility to crush lies, convinced of its superior moral vision, it demands greater temporal power to redeem and punish recalcitrants.

As Dodds showed, belief systems that seem absurd to non-believers can and do create state-enforced thought monopolies. Once institutionalized, they can remain in power for long periods of time. Those who refuse to embrace sacred mandates and hierarchies are deplorable. They are mad, stupid, or evil, not merely stubborn or freethinking. Heresy contaminates. Nonconformists deserve legal reprisals, stigma, and ruin. To expunge the demonic threat, autos da fé, psychiatric hospitals, labor camps, and confiscations—many possible tools—are available to enforce divinely inspired righteousness.

Good times.

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Tom Wolfe, R.I.P.

“A cult is a religion with no political power.”



Mobile Phone, Immobile Superstition

Yet another reminder that, to quote (yet again) Carl Jung, the Middle Ages…live on merrily.

The Catholic Herald:

Priests have been carrying out exorcisms over the phone as demand continues to rise, a Cardinal has said.

Speaking at the Vatican’s annual exorcist training conference in Rome, Cardinal Ernest Simoni said priests are delivering prayers of liberation, part of the exorcism ritual, remotely.

“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” he said.

However, some warned that the practice was not wise, as people who are possessed often writhe around violently and have to be restrained during exorcisms….

Annual exorcist training conference?


Around 250 priests from 50 countries are attending this year’s conference at the Regina Apostolorum university as prelates from around the world report an increase in demand for exorcisms.

The course started in 2004, and since then the number of priests attending each year has more than doubled.

And this pope, of course, that man of science who has taken it upon himself to lecture us all about climate change, will approve:

In his most recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis warns that the devil is not a myth but a “personal being who assails us”

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” the Pope wrote. “This mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”

And among his naughty tricks is, lest we forget, same sex marriage.

Or so this pope believes:

Here’s a 2010 story from the National Catholic Register about the then Cardinal Bergoglio (my emphasis added):

A Jesuit cardinal has become the latest Church leader to speak out forcefully against a government’s push towards same-sex marriage, and has called on his nation’s contemplatives to pray fervently to prevent such laws.

According to an article in tomorrow’s L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, has said that if a proposed bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children should be approved, it will “seriously damage the family.”

He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.

He wrote: “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

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Liberalism as Faith

Cross-posted on the Corner (and a post, I would hope, that ‘Secular Humanists’ would read):

The British philosopher John Gray is not someone to shy away from ‘difficult’ topics. If you are looking for a provocative long read this weekend, his new article in the Times Literary Supplement ought to be a contender. I didn’t agree with all of it (for example, I would argue that the supposedly secular totalitarianisms of the twentieth century—essentially millenarian sects, as Gray rightly observes—were even more ‘religious’ than even he would claim), not that that matters.

Above all, Gray’s take on where the arguments of John Stuart Mill, one of the saints of traditional liberalism, have led is, to say the least, intriguing.

An extract:

 [Mill’s] assertion that human beings would prefer intellectual freedom over contented conformity was at odds with his empiricist philosophy. Essentially unfalsifiable, it was a matter of faith.

While he never faced up to the contradictions in his thinking, Mill was fully aware that he was fashioning a new religion. Much influenced by Auguste Comte, he was an exponent of what he and the French Positivist philosopher described as “the Religion of Humanity”. Instead of worshipping a transcendent divinity, Comte instructed followers of the new religion to venerate the human species as “the new Supreme Being”. Replacing the rituals of Christianity, they would perform daily ceremonies based in science, touching their skulls at the point that phrenology had identified as the location of altruism (a word Comte invented). In an essay written not long before the appearance of On Liberty but published posthumously (he died in 1873), Mill described this creed as “a better religion than any of those that are ordinarily called by that title”.

That may or may not be true, but at least Mill recognized its essentially religious nature, not that that took much doing.


Like Comte, [Mill] believed that humanity is a progressive species, though he diverged profoundly in how he understood progress. And what is “humanity”? The conception of humankind as a collective agent gradually achieving its goals is not reached by observation.

Like the brotherhood of man, just another delusion, unless it’s old Cain who we have in mind. Whether it is—as some delusions can be—a useful or even necessary delusion is a different question.

But back to Gray:

The politics of identity is a postmodern twist on the liberal religion of humanity. The Supreme Being has become an unknown God – a species of human being nowhere encountered in history, which does not need to define itself through family or community, nationality or any religion….

Liberals who are dismayed at the rise of the new intolerance have not noticed how much they have in common with those who are imposing it. Hyper-liberal “snowflakes”, who demand safe spaces where they cannot be troubled by disturbing facts and ideas, are what their elders have made them. Possessed by faith in an imaginary humanity, both seek to weaken or destroy the national and religious traditions that have supported freedom and toleration in the past…

Food for thought, to say the least.

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Like An Oscar, But Not

Blocked! I don’t know what brought on my inclusion on this sort of reverse Index librorum prohibitorum (I don’t think I’ve ever engaged with this particular site) but recognition is recognition…



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