Hell on earth

Former President Jimmy Carter once famously asked, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

While not authoring this neat little quiz, Carter’s use of it broadened its popularity. It was uttered by him in the midst of a minor questioning of his openly admitting to praying in the Oval Office before making tough decisions. (Some wags at the time suggested that the subsequent failures of Carter policies were all the evidence one needed to see that God never listened to him!)

The evidence of Christian faith has, for centuries been caught in this saying  from the Sermon on the Mount:

“By their fruits, you shall know them”

Hence, the commandment to love, to serve, to raise up, to bind up, to cure, and heal, and the like. Grapes are produced by vines and thus if your life produces such and such a kind of fruit that reveals your nature. “It is not what goes in, but what comes out” is based on the same principle.

Nothing terribly remarkable about all this. Until now.

For some time churches have been speaking of the war on Christianity. Such comments are usually scoffed at and dismissed by enlightened, liberal westerners. The so-called war, it is claimed, is not against Christianity, but for basic human values and rights.

Unspoken is the assumption that the advocacy of basic humanity is somehow not of the essence of Christianity, and other religions I hasten to add. This assumption amounts to a declaration that anything that gets in the way of certain agendas framed as advocating basic humanity ought to be swept away. If the acknowledgement of anything transcendent (super-natural, if you will) accompanied by the ascription of authority to such a reality is regarded as constrictive on basic humanity, then the war which follows makes sense and is legitimate. Religion is not free from being both a nuisance or odd. Christians may seek to blend in to the masses, but they must be rooted out, made fun of, harassed, and ..

killed.

Have you seen the yet another ISIS march on the beach images?

But wait, what is happening “over there” is not being done to Christians by sponsors of western sophistication and humanistic values. 

Correct. And so we might be tempted to see this (a la Ayaan Hirsi Ali) as evidence that Islam is not a religion of peace. That may or may not be so. I want to make a different point.

As well as what is may tell and show us of ISIS and possibly Islam in general (buy their fruits etc.) it also tells and shows something else: it tells and shows

that persecution can be based on simple knowledge or rumor about a person; (this is the “seriousness of the charge” legitimizing of punishment argument)

that the persecution of ordinary people can happen in the twinkling of an eye

that the lure of intolerance is a mighty power and can lead to fundamental horror

that the killing those who stand for ultimate values in conflict with those in power can be easily justified and/or ignored

that the weak and defenseless will ever be hounded by the strong

It shows that religious persecution is hell, that is, the place of no hope for humanity.

Everyone who proclaims a commitment to basic humanity ought never for one instant to support religious persecution, let alone a war against any faith.

Sigh

On March 30th British Prime Minister David Cameron drove to Buckingham Palace. There he met HM the Queen and asked her to dissolve Parliament.

Quaint, odd, silly, unnecessary. The Brits. So out of touch.

The election will be held on May 7th.

Reread my opening phrase and that last sentence again. Forget royalty, formality, and silliness. Look at the dates!

Four and a half weeks.

My fellow Americans: I’m just sayin’.

Argumentum ad hominem

Sometimes the secular world informs the religious, just as vice versa. Contrary to the whimsy of the most extreme fundamentalists on both sides of this divide, that is how it should be.

As an illustration of the religious informing the secular, I offer this morning the example of Cardinal Pell.

Former Archbishop of Sydney, this physically very big Australian was appointed by Pope Francis, early on in the papacy, as the one to clean the Augean stables of the Vatican financial system.

The Vatican bank had become a manure heap of corruption, hidden money, money laundering, and outright thievery.

Needless to say, the manure in this stable was “placed there” by those charged with keeping it all neat and clean and their not inconsiderably powerful cronies.

Cardinal Pell, in diverting whatever cleansing river he used (honesty and good accounting, mainly) knew that ripples of protest, resistance, and outright rebellion would be met. These have most recently taken the form of innuendo and rumor of his personal excesses and disreputable character. Such ripples, of course, are generated by energies exerted by those Cardinal Pell’s work is exposing and threatening. They increasingly find themselves swimming in the excrement and they are starting to scream and shout.

Cardinal Pell is in the awkward position of not really being able to defend himself without seeming to be guilty of self-service. Thus, others are fighting back against the rumor mongers and opponents of reform. I give two examples, one from the UK Spectator and the other from First Things.

I write this post, not to defend Cardinal Pell. Heavens, with friends like George Weigel and Damian Thompson, he hardly needs my meagre fighting skills, although if in reading this you, dear reader, have your confidence in the integrity of the church restored or enhanced that would be comforting. My purpose in citing this case is different.

Reformers in all walks of life always meet resistance.

That is both to be expected and is fair enough. After all, the reformer may be wrong-headed or misguided.

However, the argumentum ad hominem is always hollow and deceptive, self-serving and intellectually lazy. Whether offered in merely verbal form or, more insidiously, in manipulative actions (rumor mongering, for example, and calculated leaks,) the argumentum ad hominem is the weapon of the opponent with no real substance. It is the argument of the intellectually naked, entertaining perhaps but on closer examination always disgusting.

The Cardinal Pell kerfuffle is a clear example of it. Use that example and you will see it all around in the culture.

Of God and spooky things

Let me start by offering you two links:

This speaks of a resurgence in exorcisms within contemporary Catholicism, encouraged in large part by the reality mentioned in the second, the “Francis effect,” which in this context refers, according to the author of the second piece, to the Latin American milieu Pope Francis brings to leadership, a familiarity with “devil” vocabulary.

Notice a paradox in the second piece. The lead photograph is a reflection of the entertainment world. Is that world a reflection or a framer of the culture? Is Sir Anthony Hopkins out on the cutting edge or is the reality he depicts more of a creation of the cutting room? In short:

We are witnessing a cultural resurgence in the dark side of supernaturalism because for nearly two centuries the sophisticated cultural norm has been Nietzsche’s doctrine that ‘God is dead.’

Dostoevsky has Ivan Karamazov take Nietzsche’s aphorism a step onward: If God does not exist, then everything is permitted. Sartre would later opine: If everything is permitted then we all will have to do what the men with the biggest guns order us to do.

One could, without too much whimsy, say that this syllogism pretty well captures the history of the twentieth century and, alas, the brief years of the twenty-first.

Indeed, the syllogism has been enshrined in strategic doctrine. Is this not what M.A.D. is? Mutually Assured Destruction demands that the biggest gun becomes the norm. In a theological sense, nuclear war is a denial of the doctrine of Creation, an embodiment of Nietzsche.  

This shows that the existence of God is not fundamentally an astrophysical, cosmological, or biological issue. It is an issue of politics, power. If God doesn’t have the power then who does? What is to prevent the dangerous, the insane, the greedy, the delusional, the wicked, the merely manipulative from seizing and using it? There is nothing to prevent it.

The death of God is the triumph of the diabolic.

Diabolic comes from two Greek words: dia which means through, against, opposite, and ballō which means to throw or place. The diabolic is that which is thrown over against or sets itself up in opposition to.

In opposition to what? To God!

The diabolic is that-which-is-not-God-but-pretends-to-be.

The death of God is a matter of power and politics.

In this sense I am all with Pope Francis. I see the diabolic all around. The old Scots prayer is well-advised:

From ghoulies and ghosties
And lang-leggedy beasties
And a’ things that go bump in the nicht,
Guid Lord, deliver us!

A pledge

It is April 13, 2015.

Yesterday former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.  Earlier Senators Cruz and Paul, both Republicans, had announced their candidacies for the Republican nomination. Many, and I mean very many, others are expected to participate, on both sides, not to mention independent and third-party candidates.

A neat review of the current state of the game was provided yesterday by the New York Times.

Consider the timing:

  • The date of the election is November 8, 2016, one year and seven months from now.
  • The date of the inauguration of the next president is January 20, 2017, one year and nine months from now.

Two brief points:

The election process itself is broken.

It is far too long. Not only do candidates become weary with it, so too does the electorate.  The assumption that presidential politics is so important as to consume so much of the nation’s energy is itself corrupting. Such delusional self-importance is a culturally corrosive power. The amount of money which will be spent (many hundreds of millions of dollars) is itself indicative of something sick at the heart of the process.  Parliamentary governments hold much briefer, cheaper, but no less politically charged and articulate campaigns. I am sick of it already!

This blog makes a pledge of silence.

There will be nothing about the election posted here until at least the beginning of October 2016. My policy is going to be silence.  So, if you need an oasis , a place of rest and recovery, a chance to focus on other things, to still the voices of self-marketing deceptions, come here. You know you will get nothing about it here. There will be time enough for all that between October 1st and November 8th.

A? Non? Ir? Anti?

My son sent me this link yesterday with a message that he hoped my head wouldn’t explode. My reaction to it follows and I’ll leave it to you to decide if my head is still intact.

In the link you read a piece with an accompanying video by Carol Costello of CNN in which she reports her interview (shown briefly in the video) with a group of Millennials. Millennials, in case you do not know, are fast becoming the most influential demographic in America. Born between 1980 and 2000, their numbers are such (80 million) that their opinions and views are going to “shape America.” So it is claimed. 

From the interview it would appear, to me at least, two main points emerged.

One, they all want to get married, but not until they are at least 30.

Between graduation from college, which for them all was imminent, and 30 they want to “do things,” like go to Europe, pay off their considerable college debts, and acquire some stuff, thus not wanting to devote time and energy to “having children.”  One guy summed it up: “I want to do what’s right for me.” He meant me, myself, and I.

Nothing inherently wrong with all that, nothing really surprising, and nothing to make my head even heat up a little. True, if this becomes in fact their mode of living the face of America will change. I can foresee, for example, a dramatic impact on all levels of the institutions of education, from child-care and pre-school on up to colleges and universities. (Their inevitable shrinkage may well in fact turn out to be a good thing; a sort of distillation process, if you will allow me a whisky metaphor. But I digress.)

Two, Costello asked how many of them were “religious.”

Not a hand was raised. (I think this was the point at which my son feared my head would be in danger.) But I waited for a response to Costello’s immediate follow-ups. I have to say none of the students challenged Costello’s references in these follow-ups to “church” and “churches,” seemingly accepting that “religious” in her original question meant “Christian.” Be that as it may, Costello characterized their response, and asked them to corroborate, as being uneasy with “restrictions the church places on you.” This got a more animated and positive response. I summarize it:

I want to make my own decisions, choose my own morals, and believe what I want to believe.

(Those in the know will recognize rampant Sheilaism.)

Costello added another nuance by asking if they found the church “hypocritical” and another girl said that she certainly did and that she disliked institutions that “don’t practice what they preach.” I was thrilled to hear her response include politics in this all-embracing condemnation.

No head explosion, but a certain heaviness of spirit with the deadly chill of despair. Let me see if I can verbalize that reaction here.

Institutional hypocrisy is part of institutional being.

The institutions of politics, commerce, finance, manufacturing, law, education, even hi-tech wonder institutions like Apple, Google, and Facebook (I name these three simply because they are beloved by Millennials), all are riddled with hypocrisy. The students’ premise for not being religious is that they do not want to participate in a hypocritical institution. Follow that premise out into the real world of employment and you will forever be unemployed. Religion, in other words, is picked on because it is such a soft target and who wants to work for pennies anyhow? Where’s the hypocrisy now? Give me a break. Grow up. (Whoops I fear a fuse has been lit in my head!)

Moreover, by saying they are not religious what is it they are in truth rejecting?

Can you reject that about which you know nothing because you reject it? Yes you can, of course, but to do so is intellectually bankrupt and nothing less than a reflexive prejudice.  Somehow I got the eerie sensation that they felt they were expected to respond the way they did which was not just to admit to not being “religious,” but quite proudly to be so.

Costello, to be fair to the students, prompted them with her question about “restrictions.” That in itself puzzled me. I spend a lot of my time and energy in and around churches and have done so all my life, including all my working life. “Restrictions”? What on earth is Costello talking about? Mainline churches (Catholic and Protestant) hardly mention “restrictions” and when they do it is with a tone of sadness and an explicit offer of mercy and help. There are, of course, a few old-fashioned Bible thumping hard-liners out there, but Costello does not look like a woman with much direct experience of them. I think they are not found in her neighborhood.

But, again, I am driven to ask:

Is the church the primary institution of restrictions today?

Are there no other areas of living in contemporary society where restrictions confront you on a daily basis? It’s just far easier to poke fun at some ancient “Thou shalt nots” in the name of individual freedom than to highlight the machinations of governmental assaults on that very same freedom.

Costello’s silence on all this implies her agreement with the students’ utterly naive world-view:

  • that they will shortly sally forth from the halls of higher learning into a world waiting to embrace and indeed encourage their heroic self-image without restrictions;  
  • that self-expression will be the wind beneath their wings, with no compulsory nine to five drudgery, no work year with only ten personal days off to be sick or “go to Europe”, say, no deadlines and no one telling them what to do and when;
  • that they will never confront anything to restrict their growth towards the world of celebrating their own decisions, morals, and beliefs.

No explosion. Good luck guys.

No fooling

I logged on to the internet this morning and started my routine reading of the news. I was alert. Skeptical. It is April 1st after all.

There it was, surely. Amazon announces an order button. Instantly order items you suddenly run out of with one press of a button. Coffee? Press and presto. So too with Corn Flakes, washing up liquid. Stuff you gotta have NOW or at least know it’s on the way Now. But, no: Amazon isn’t fooling.

On to the next. Google and Asus announce a simple stick which converts any TV into a PC. Wow. Amazing. Wait: what? Why? A joke, right? No: Google isn’t fooling.

Here it is: the USA and Iran after all that talk about nuclear bombs have agreed …. to more talk. That is hilarious! No wait: John Kerry isn’t fooling. (No real surprise there!)

I was getting desperate.  I read about:

Obama’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Nope. Not a joke.

An article suggesting the possibility that Hillary may be too old to run for president. No joke.

The Russians complaining that NATO exercises in Europe are too “aggressive.” Hilarious. No .. wait: no joke.

Sigh. April Fool’s ain’t what it used to be. No joking.