20 questions – no make that 21

Feb 24th, 2010 5:27 pm | By

Jerry Coyne points out another outbreak of godbothering from Francis Collins – which is all the more inappropriate (the apt word, for a change) now that Collins is director of the National Institutes of Health. (The outbreak is inappropriate, not the pointing it out.) The publisher does not omit to get in the obligatory slap at those god damn pesky impertinent inappropriate noisy New Atheists:

“Is there a God?” is the most central and profound question that humans ask. With the New Atheists gaining a loud voice in today’s world, it is time to revisit the long-standing intellectual tradition on the side of faith.

‘Is there a god?’ is not the most central and profound question that humans ask; far from it; at this stage of the game it could better be called the most futile time-wasting childish infatuated question that humans ask. The voice the ‘New Atheists’ have gained, if they have gained one, is really not all that loud compared to the voice the Old Theists have had and continue to have for the last however many thousands of years, so I really don’t see why so many people feel compelled to pitch such a huge fit about a few atheists finally plucking up the nerve to say atheist things aloud instead of under their breath in a closet when no one is home. I really don’t. I really don’t see why so many people are so god damn truculent about having to share a minuscule corner of the discourse with atheists. I don’t see why our ‘gaining a voice’ is treated as some kind of foul presumption.

At any rate (she said, smoothing herself down and coughing slightly and picking up the scattered objects that fell off the desk), what is this about revisiting ‘the long-standing intellectual tradition on the side of faith’? Had that ‘tradition’ fallen into desuetude? Not that I’ve noticed. It seems to me that the putative ‘long-standing intellectual tradition on the side of faith’ has been shouting away without a break since Aquinas was a schoolboy.

And that’s just the publisher’s blurb. Collins himself is worse…but check him out at Jerry’s, I’ve run out of time and (for the moment) patience. I’ll just say this. What I would like to know is, even if ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ is a stumper (and of course it is, in its way, as are so many questions of that kind), why does anyone think the answer to it could possibly be ‘God’? Why does anyone think the answer to it is obviously ‘God’? Why does anyone think that’s a good and satisfactory answer? Why does anyone think that’s a logical and reasonable and even inevitable answer? I don’t know. It seems to me ‘I don’t know’ is a better answer, and ‘we don’t know’ is better still. Saying ‘God’ sounds to me like saying ‘Janet’ or ‘Larry.’ It sounds like a risibly human, small, parochial answer – it sounds like saying an orange cat is the reason there is something rather than nothing.

Those grovelling bishops kissing Pope Benedict’s hand

Feb 24th, 2010 11:27 am | By

A scorching piece on Catholic brutality in Ireland by Sharon Owens.

The church that forbade birth control, yet despised big families of starving, barefoot children. The church that encouraged education yet hated free-thinkers. The church that revered Mary the Mother of God, yet treated all mortal women as sinners and whores. The church that raved about poverty and humility, yet lined the walls of the Vatican with priceless works of art. The church that took the pocket money off children during Lent, yet covered up the brutal rape and buggery of little boys and girls for more than 50 years. And I wondered, looking at those grovelling bishops kissing Pope Benedict’s hand, do they really understand, even now, why there is a crisis in the church? Have they any idea of how the survivors of abuse must feel? Have they no empathy whatsoever for the unnamed Magdalene slaves who died of exhaustion or malnutrition or a broken heart and were quietly buried behind those high stone walls? I’m beginning to think only snobs, sociopaths and narcissists are drawn to religious life in the first place, for I have yet to see a flicker of shame, regret or sadness from any bishops.

Except, of course, for themselves and their colleagues and their church.

Hair of the dog

Feb 24th, 2010 11:17 am | By

It turns out that American foreign policy isn’t too religious, it’s not religious enough. So says the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The council’s 32-member task force, which included former government officials and scholars representing all major faiths, delivered its report to the White House on Tuesday. The report warns of a serious “capabilities gap” and recommends that President Obama make religion “an integral part of our foreign policy.”

Yeah great – then we can have the Christian nukes to go with the Islamic nukes and the Hindu nukes and the Jewish nukes. Coolerino.

“It’s a hot topic,” said Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement in Arlington County and a Council on Foreign Relations member. “It’s the elephant in the room. You’re taught not to talk about religion and politics, but the bummer is that it’s at the nexus of national security. The truth is the academy has been run by secular fundamentalists for a long time, people who believe religion is not a legitimate component of realpolitik.” The Chicago Council’s task force was led by R. Scott Appleby of the University of Notre Dame and Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. “Religion,” the task force says, “is pivotal to the fate” of such nations as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen, all vital to U.S. national and global security.

Well yes, religion is ‘pivotal to the fate’ of all those nations because the leadership of those nations takes religion far too seriously. It’s not obvious that the best way to deal with that is to emulate it – or to listen to advice from people who equate secularism with fundamentalism.

Tariq Ramadan has a prezzy for us

Feb 23rd, 2010 11:22 am | By

Ah the indispensable wisdom of Tariq Ramadan. He’s full of it.

We are equal citizens, but with different cultural and religious backgrounds. So, how can we, instead of being obsessed with potential “conflicts of identity” within communities, change that viewpoint to define and promote a common ethical framework, nurtured by the richness of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds?

I have no idea. I don’t in fact think we can do that – for the boringly simple reason that it combines two incompatible items: the (welcome) claim that we are equal citizens, and the claim that ‘diverse religious and cultural backgrounds’ are (in and of themselves, with no qualification) rich and nurturing. The drearily obvious problem there is that many ‘religious and cultural backgrounds’ are strongly and coercively anti-egalitarian. Many cultural and religious backgrounds consider women inherently and profoundly inferior. Many consider gays abhorrent; many group people into clean and unclean, touchable and untouchable; many consider slavery acceptable. Just saying ‘hoo-ray diversity’ ignores all that, or, worse, hides it. I suspect Ramadan of doing the latter – because he’s nowhere near stupid enough or sheltered enough to be unaware of it.

[A]n ethics of citizenship should itself reflect the diversity of the citizenship. For while we agree that no one has the right to impose their beliefs on another, we also understand that our common life should be defined in such a way that it includes the contributions of all the religious and philosophical traditions within it. Further, the way to bring about such inclusion is through critical debate.

Who’s we? I understand no such thing. And the claim that such ‘inclusion’ relies on critical debate introduces another incompatibility. Religious traditions are not about genuine critical debate. Traditions as such are not about genuine critical debate – the two are fundamentally opposed. Once genuine critical debate gets going, traditions become vulnerable. That’s not to say that no traditions can survive critical scrutiny, since plenty of them are harmless or beneficial, but it is to say that they’re not automatically partners or allies of critical debate, because they’re not rooted in it in the first place.

Islam is perceived as a “problem”, never as a gift in our quest for a rich and stimulating diversity. And that’s a mistake. Islam has much to offer…Islamic literature is full of injunctions about the centrality of an education based on ethics and proper ends. Individual responsibility, when it comes to communicating, learning and teaching is central to the Islamic message.

And so on and so on. That’s nice, but what about it is specific to Islam and cannot be found in other, secular systems of thought? Nothing. So what does Islam have to offer that no other sets of ideas have to offer? Nothing. Ramadan just bangs on about various ok ideas that can be found in Islam as well as other places (though he omits the last five words) and lets it go at that.

More broadly, the Muslim presence should be perceived as positive, too. It is not undermining the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian ethical and cultural roots of Europe. Neither is it introducing dogmatism into the debate, as if spiritual and religious traditions automatically draw on authoritarian sources. They can operate within both the limits of the law and in the open public sphere. On the contrary, the Muslim presence can play a critical role in thinking about our future and shaping a new common narrative. It can help recall and revive some of the fundamental principles upon which the cultures of Europe are based.

Here he’s shifted his ground, in a shifty way – he started out talking about what Islam has to offer, not ‘the Muslim presence.’ But translating ‘the Muslim presence’ back into Islam, what he says is pure assertion, and some of it is pretty damn bald, too. Yes Islam is inserting (though not introducing) dogmatism into the debate – as witness this very piece, for a start. ‘Spiritual and religious traditions’ do draw on authoritarian sources – not automatically, perhaps, but historically and as a matter of fact, yes. Tariq Ramadan is an interesting example of that very thing, dressed up in convincing modernish academicky garb.

(I was careful not to look at any of the comments before writing this because I knew if I looked at them I would decide ‘no need to bother’ and I wanted to say what I thought even if a couple of hundred people had already said it. I’ve looked at some now, and sure enough. The Graun is weird – insisting on this endless relentless Islamophilia while something like 90% of its readership tries to remind it of the secular heritage of the left and the not altogether progressive quality of life under sharia.)

Everything by proxy

Feb 22nd, 2010 10:35 am | By

It’s interesting and frightening how pervasive the thought is, that people can be taken to represent or stand in for something else, in such a way that it’s useful and meaningful and appropriate to attack the former in order to punish or instruct or threaten the latter.

I just read one example in one of the answers to last week’s CIF ‘Belief’ question. Jonathan Romain knew a guy whose daughter was killed in a car crash whose cause was unknown.

But Henry knew why it had happened. God was punishing him for not going to synagogue. I told Henry over and over again that this was ridiculous and God would not punish his daughter for his supposed sin. But Henry was adamant. Suddenly I realised what was going and stopped rebuking Henry. He couldn’t cope with his daughter’s death if it was meaningless…

But he could cope with it by thinking his daughter’s death was about him. He could cope with it by thinking that the way God found to punish him was to kill a different person. It’s not just the obvious moral perversion that’s interesting, it’s the weird egotism. It’s the weird belief that he, Henry, was all-important, while his daughter turned out to be just an instrument for his chastisement. It’s the bizarre belief that his daughter was just some kind of symbol or copy for Him.

Then shortly after reading that I read Norm on anti-semitism in Sweden. The mayor of Malmö said ‘he was opposed to anti-Semitism, but added: “I believe these are anti-Israel attacks, connected to the war in Gaza…”.’ Norm commented:

[H]atred of Jews or attacks on them and their places of worship, schools or other institutions are nothing but anti-Semitism, whether they are linked to passions about Israel or not. For the targets of them are not, in fact, Israel; they are, in this case, Swedish Jews.

Just so. And Swedish Jews, as Norm says, are not Israel, and Americans are not America, and Londoners are not British foreign policy, and so on. People don’t stand in for other people or for abstractions, and random strangers don’t stand in for anything, because they are an unknown quantity. Knowing they are ‘Jews’ or ‘Americans’ or ‘Nigerians’ or whatever it may be is not to know enough. People aren’t proxies, and it’s always stupid and often dangerous to treat them as such.

Vatican priorities chapter 2

Feb 21st, 2010 5:23 pm | By

Right, the Vatican and the pope and secrecy and what oh what is the catholic church supposed to do about all these priests having sex with children. Wikipedia provides a parallel translation of Crimen sollicitationis, with a little commentary. Clearly the subject is using the ‘sacrament of Penance to make sexual advances to penitents’; that’s the crime, that’s the accusation at issue, that’s the problem. It’s a church thing. And one bit of the commentary reveals the…weirdness.

Except in connection with the sacrament of Penance, canon law imposed no legal obligation – though a moral one might exist – to denounce clerics guilty of engaging in or attempting a homosexual act; but the procedure described in Crimen sollicitationis was to be followed also in dealing with such accusations (71-72). And any gravely sinful external obscene act with prepubescent children of either sex or with animals engaged in or attempted by a cleric was to be treated, for its penal effects, as equivalent to an actual or attempted homosexual act (73).

If you read that carefully it bcomes clear that the issue is the priest, and the priest’s sin, and obscenity. It’s about the priest being dirty. It’s not about the priest harming anyone else. It’s dirty nasty sinny – it’s equivalent to an actual or attempted homosexual act. Eric pointed this out in comments, and there it is, spelled out. It’s not about harm, it’s about smut. It’s not about others, it’s about the self. It’s not altruistic or compassionate or even basically minimally decent, it’s self-regarding and self-protective and self-obsessed (the ‘self’ here being the church and the priesthood in general).

So no, I have no immediate plans to withdraw anything I’ve said about the pope. On the contrary, I’m learning that I haven’t yet understood how twisted and impervious they really are.

The cutting room floor

Feb 20th, 2010 5:13 pm | By

I’ll get back to the pope and the Vatican and secrecy and Crimen Sollicitationis – today was a bit rushed – but meanwhile, there is the related, large, vexed subject of suffering, and what to think of it, and what to think of what religion tells us about it and does about it. I did a piece on the subject for Comment is Free – but I didn’t say everything I could have (in a longer piece) or thought of.

I didn’t for instance say that it’s true (as one commenter mentioned) that suffering can teach us sympathy for other people (or it can get us to shut up inside ourselves – it all depends), and that it’s also true that we wouldn’t need sympathy for other people, and other people wouldn’t need our sympathy, if there were no suffering, so we can’t really say it’s good to have suffering because it teaches us sympathy when the sympathy it teaches us is parasitic on suffering.

And yet – I share the feeling, or intuition, that in some sense we would be worse off if sympathy just didn’t exist. What, even if suffering didn’t exist either? Yes, sort of. But the thing about that is, we are what we are, and what we are is an animal that is never immune from suffering, and that (obviously) shapes how we think about these things. So we’re trapped in this circle.

Anyway I don’t think sympathy is worth the worst kinds of suffering, which are all too common. And I don’t think we should make friends with whatever it is that makes suffering inevitable. Natural selection stinks. If you think God did it, you should think God stinks. We shouldn’t let God get away with the ‘suffering is necessary for compassion therefore it’s a good thing’ excuse. We can have doubts about life with no sympathy at all, and still think God stinks.

I didn’t say that at Comment is Free because I said other things. One can’t say everything, though commenters at C is F seem to expect one to. They also ask ‘Why didn’t you say what I would have said instead of what you wanted to say?’ I have great sympathy for them, but I cannot help.


Feb 19th, 2010 11:51 am | By

We need an expert in Vatican jargon, or Catholic doctrine, or Jesuitical Vaticanesque doctrinal legalistic jargon. Hamilton Jacobi alerted us in a comment on ‘The pope invited the bishops to explain’ to the possibility that the pope’s 2001 letter didn’t mean what The Observer reported it to mean. I took a look at the English version* and I’m not at all clear on what it’s saying. It’s not unmistakably saying ‘Bishops must hide clerical sex abuse of children from the police’ and it could well not be saying that at all – so I have to withdraw some of what I’ve said on that subject in the last few days about the coverage of the pope’s scolding the Irish bishops. At least provisionally, I have to withdraw it. The first part of the letter looks as if it at least could be saying that 1) sex abuse by priests is a ‘delict against the sanctity of the sacrament of penance’ and 2) as such it is a church matter, and that that part alone is what is church business and no one else’s. It looks as if it could be consistent with meaning it’s also a criminal matter…although it also looks as if it could be consistent with the church refusing to do anything about the criminal matter because to do so would violate the putative ‘sanctity of the sacrament of penance’ – which would pretty much leave the pope back where he was, and I would withdraw my withdrawal.

Farther down it gets even more ambiguous, and I’m just not at all clear what it’s saying.

The church might say we don’t have to be clear what it’s saying, it’s none of our business, it’s the church’s business – but of course that’s just what’s at the heart of this: it isn’t just the church’s business, obviously, and if the church thinks it is, the church needs to get its priorities straight.

So what do you think? Can you figure out what it’s saying?

It must be noted that the criminal action on delicts reserved to the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith is extinguished by a prescription of 10 years.(11) The prescription
runs according to the universal and common law;(12) however, in the delict perpetrated
with a minor by a cleric, the prescription begins to run from the day when the minor has
completed the 18th year of age.

What does that mean, for instance? I can’t make head or tail of it.

I don’t suppose any lawyer theologians read B&W regularly…but if any do…how about a little exegesis for us heathens?

*Catholicism is a global religion, so it seems fair to take translations as no less official than the Vatican’s Latin version, unless of course they’re just bad translations.

The BBC nearly fainted when he phoned

Feb 18th, 2010 12:47 pm | By

This is disgusting! I can’t say anything more coherent than that – it’s just a showy display of complete abject belly-crawling disgustingness. The BBC is dribbling all over itself with ecstasy because that reactionary theocratic bastard Joseph Ratzinger might consent to give its poxy theocratic patronizing stinking Thought for the Day. What is the matter with everyone?!

The Pope is in negotiations to appear on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day slot after Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, made a personal approach to the Vatican. The planned broadcast on the Today programme would be timed to coincide with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain later this year and would represent a coup for the corporation.

A coup? A coup? Why? Because he’s famous? Because ‘the pope’ is a household name so he’s a total hot celebrity and nobody else can get him so the BBC will be a really big deal if if gets him? Are they really that pathetic?

Details of the approach were disclosed by Mark Damazer, the Radio 4 controller, who said securing the Pope for the daily faith slot was a long-held personal ambition. The Pope is on Mr Damazer’s “fantasy wish list” of contributors to the station, alongside Sir Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen.

That answers that; yes, they are really that pathetic.

God people are stupid. This is the guy who tells Africans not to use condoms, who told the bishops to shut up, who tells the UK to knock it off with all this equality bullshit. This is not some nice old geezer in a white dress – this is a horribly powerful man filled with evil ideas.

Ad maiorem dei gloriam.

The pope invited the bishops to explain

Feb 18th, 2010 5:20 am | By

It really is extraordinary how deferential the news media are toward the Vatican and how completely they are letting the pope get away with pretending to be outraged by the fact that the Irish church concealed sexual abuse of children when in fact the pope told them to do exactly that less than a decade ago. It really is extraordinary the way journalists simply fail to point that out. One is tempted to think they’re not doing their jobs properly.

Pope Benedict spent two days in one of the Vatican’s sumptuous marble audience halls closeted with 24 Irish bishops who both individually and collectively confessed to him their shortcomings and omissions in the paedophile clergy scandal which has shocked the entire Catholic world…Pope Benedict did not spare his words in addressing his Irish bishops. He said that child abuse was a “heinous crime” as well as a “grave sin”. He lambasted the bishops for failing to act effectively over cases of sexual abuse of young people. Seated at two long tables, the red-clad bishops were invited by the Pope to describe individually – in interventions limited to a maximum of seven minutes each – how they had dealt with cases of priestly paedophilia in their own dioceses, and to explain why so many cases had been systematically covered up during a period of decades.

Why? Why?! Because you told us to, that’s why! Because you told us to, you sanctimonious buck-passing white-robed sack of shit!

The BBC article doesn’t mention that. It has been reporting on this meeting for days, and I have yet to see it mention the 2001 letter to all the bishops in the church – the letter from Joseph Ratzinger. David Willey is the Beeb’s Vatican correspondent, yet he writes this long piece without mentioning the letter. That must be BBC policy rather than correspondent policy – and it’s pathetic.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild

Feb 17th, 2010 11:47 am | By

We hear so much about ‘militant’ atheists and yet it is theists who like to bully people. A science teacher in North Carolina has been suspended for saying caustic’ things about her students at Facebook. The students have been bullying her.

Parents said the situation escalated after a student put a postcard of Jesus on Hussain’s desk that the teacher threw in the trash. Parents also said Hussain sent to the office students who, during a lesson about evolution, asked about the role of God in creation. On her Facebook page, Hussain wrote about students spreading rumors that she was a Jesus hater. She complained about her students wearing Jesus T-shirts and singing “Jesus Loves Me.” She objected to students reading the Bible instead of doing class work…The flash point for the comments came after the Bible was left on Hussain’s desk in December. The Bible was accompanied by an anonymous card, which, according to Hussain, said “Merry Christmas” with Christ underlined and bolded.

Twelve-year-old sadists.

The Celtic doormat

Feb 17th, 2010 10:57 am | By

Meanwhile, in Scotland…

A study of schoolchildren has found that most of those questioned thought violence towards women was acceptable if there was a reason behind it. The majority of the pupils said it was justified if the woman had an affair, or if she was late in making the tea.

Or anything in between, no doubt.

If commanded, we will obey

Feb 17th, 2010 10:51 am | By

The Catholic church in Ireland is all heart – like Mr Collins, it graciously consents to do what it is obliged to do.

The Primate of All-Ireland Cardinal Seán Brady said this afternoon that were the remit of the Murphy Commission to be extended to other Catholic dioceses in Ireland, the Catholic Church “will co-operate fully with that inquiry.”

Is that not kind? Is that not generous? Is it not affable and condescending and truly gracious? The Catholic church will co-operate fully with an inquiry into its long habit of letting its priests molest children while it keeps the whole thing secret. I’m totally impressed.

The pontiff also noted “the more general crisis of faith affecting the Church,” the statement said…and he linked that to the lack of respect for the human person and how the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors”.

Aha! So it turns out it’s the atheists’ fault! It’s not the church’s fault, for being a powerful unaccountable arrogant self-protecting bunch of thugs, no, it’s the atheists’ fault for causing a ‘crisis of faith.’ Of course the child-molesting and the horrors of industrial schools have been going on for generation after generation, so one wonders which crisis of faith the pope has in mind…but never mind, the point is the atheists did it, and that’s what matters.

A name to conjure with

Feb 16th, 2010 5:04 pm | By

The Templeton Foundation is having more and more success at getting its message under the radar. The Times Higher for instance tells us about an upcoming lecture which will include some things we have grown familiar with in recent months.

It is often assumed that religion and science have always been locked in a life-and-death struggle…Such views would have startled the scholars, including some of the greatest names in British science, who founded what became the Royal Society 350 years ago. In a Faraday Institute public lecture, to be delivered in Cambridge this week, Peter Harrison, Andreas Idreos professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford, will challenge such arguments about the impossibility of being both scientific and religious, pointing out that they “obviously didn’t apply to the earliest fellows”.

Right…and we have learned some things in those 350 years, so what people thought 350 years ago is not necessarily a conversation-stopper now, but no matter – do go on, I’m listening.

In reality, Professor Harrison said, “almost without exception, early modern natural philosophers cherished religious convictions, although these were not invariably orthodox. Some – but by no means all – made the point that they were motivated to pursue scientific inquiry on account of these religious commitments.” Far from being militant atheists, they “believed that the disinterested study of the structures of living things could offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism”.

But that of course is not the really important part of what Professor Harrison has to say. I wonder if you can guess what is?

A historian with a first degree in zoology and “an overt religious commitment”, Professor Harrison regards the recent spate of anti-religious polemics headed by Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion as “intellectually vacuous, although their popularity is sociologically interesting”.

That’s it! It’s another deadly blow at the ‘spate’ of anti-religious books (the one that occupies two feet of shelf at most at the University Bookstore here, two feet which are embedded in long shelves packed with pro-religious polemics stretching to the horizon).

The really interesting thing about this is that the article never mentions – never mentions – the fact that the ‘Faraday Institute,’ which sounds so sciency and academicky and serious, is a creation of – wait for it – the Templeton Foundation.

Thanks to Karel De Pauw for the article.

The glowing future

Feb 16th, 2010 4:32 pm | By

A guy called Joseph Mayton at Comment is Free tells us about the ‘reform-minded younger generation’ in the Muslim Brotherhood.

In many ways, these young people have created a new identity and image of the Brotherhood, both in Egypt and abroad. No longer do knowledgeable people view its members as the stereotypical bearded Islamists. Instead, they see members who talk of their desire for democracy and greater freedoms, not to mention their love for American films. The first time I met a group of the MB’s young bloggers a few years ago, they talked for 10 minutes on the upcoming Charlize Theron and Tom Cruise films.

Aw, gee, really? Isn’t that sweet? Some ‘MB’ bloggers are interested in movies with Charlize Theron and Tom Cruise in them, therefore they have ‘created a new identity and image of the Brotherhood,’ therefore the Brotherhood is kind of cool and reformy and okay and interesting. Kind of like if Hitler and Goebbels had only gotten excited about Carole Lombard and Jimmy Cagney, all that misunderstanding between 1939 and 1945 would have been avoided, because there was certainly nothing wrong with those guys that a little exposure to Hollywood wouldn’t have fixed. Same with the Muslim Brotherhood, ok?

You’ll think I’m being unfair, but I’m not; there’s nothing in the article that actually gets to grips with what the Muslim Brotherhood is.

Might makes right in Sevenoaks

Feb 16th, 2010 10:33 am | By

That curate in Kent is standing by what he said – he’s not backing down just because a lot of boring politically correct rightsy types are pissed off. He’s got principle. He really thinks women should be submissive to men.

Two weeks ago the curate delivered a controversial sermon at St Nicholas’s Church in Sevenoaks in which he triggered outrage by partly blaming the high divorce rate on women no longer submitting to their husbands…During yesterday’s sermon Mr Oden said he wished to make it clear that he did not believe women were “weaker intellectually” but that it was “an eternal principle that women are physically weaker than men”.

Well, it’s not the case that all women are physically weaker than all men, of course, but leave that aside – even if that were the case, what would follow from that? Is there an ‘eternal principle’ that physically stronger people should, morally speaking, be the boss of physically weaker people? Is that what follows from Mark Oden’s inaccurate claim? No. Nobody thinks that. In fact there’s a word for that thought, a pejorative word: that word is ‘bullying.’ There is of course a reality that physically stronger people often do boss people who are physically weaker, but that’s not a moral principle. On the contrary the fact that it’s not a moral principle is something that adults try to teach children, and that decent people try to teach bullies. It is odd that an Anglican curate would want to offer an argument from bullying in a sermon.

I am shocked, shocked, that there is child-rape going on in this establishment

Feb 15th, 2010 5:25 pm | By

So the pope is doing the ostentatious hand-washing thing – though of course it would be impolite to murmur anything about Pontius Pilate.

Pope Benedict XVI will today complete his interrogation of Ireland’s 24 bishops before pontificating on one of the most shocking clerical scandals of recent times: the extensive sexual abuse of children by Irish priests and the pervasive campaign to conceal it…The Pope has said he is “disturbed and distressed” by the abuse in Ireland and shares the “outrage, betrayal and shame” felt by the Irish people…Observers note that widespread abuse of children by priests is not unique to Ireland.

To put it mildly. But what fewer observers seem to be noting is the absurdity of the pope’s display of shock-horror now. As I have mentioned before, the pope’s pretense of outrage now sits uneasily with that order he issued in 2001 when he was still just Joe Ratzinger.

…an order ensuring the church’s investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret. The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001. It asserted the church’s right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

That order. One wonders if any of the Irish bishops are shouting about that letter while the pope shouts at them for obeying it, or are they just sitting quietly while he goes through the motions because all of them know perfectly well it’s a charade, not to say a pageant, and that they just have to read their lines and be done with it.

Yet these are the people who claim the right to tell everyone how to be good. These thugs who fiddle with children and then protect each other as long as they can get away with it, and by way of rest and relaxation tell the people of Africa not to use condoms. With friends like thse who needs the Mafia?!

Crucial distinctions

Feb 15th, 2010 4:48 pm | By

Gary Rosen, the chief external affairs officer of the Templeton Foundation, reviews Timothy Ferris’s The Science of Liberty in The New York Times.

Nor is it clear, as Ferris would have it, that science furnishes the ideal template for liberal democracy. Science, he notes, is antiauthoritarian, self-correcting, meritocratic and collaborative…But crucial distinctions are lost in these comparisons. The scientific community may be open to everyone, in principle, but it has steep and familiar barriers to entry…[M]odern science is, in the most admirable sense, an aristocracy — a selection and sorting of the best minds as they interact within institutions designed to achieve certain rarefied ends. Experiment, equality and freedom of expression are essential to this work, but it is the work of an elite community from which most people are necessarily excluded.

But crucial distinctions are lost in Rosen’s claim, too. Very crucial. ‘Most people’ are not excluded in the most pernicious sense of the word – formally, permanently, without appeal, because of who they are rather than what they know or what they can do. Nobody is excluded in that sense, and that distinction is as crucial as it gets. People are ‘excluded’ by for instance not wanting to do the hard work it takes to be a scientist, but that’s a very provisional kind of exclusion. Steep barriers to entry are very different from absolute barriers to entry. There are more or less steep barriers to entry to all forms of work, but it remains possible to try, or to dream about trying. That’s a different thing from knowing that you will never be allowed to do a particular kind of work no matter how much education you get and no matter how good you are. This matters enormously, and there’s something faintly sinister about exaggerating the amount and kind of ‘exclusion’ that science entails.

It’s not a normal position

Feb 14th, 2010 5:55 pm | By

Gita Sahgal is not having an easy time.

She fears for her own and her family’s safety. She has — temporarily at least — lost her job and found it almost impossible to find anyone to represent her in any potential employment case. She rang round the human rights lawyers she knows, all of whom have declined to help citing a conflict of interest. “Although it is said that we must defend everybody no matter what they’ve done, it appears that if you’re a secular, atheist, Asian British woman, you don’t deserve a defence from our civil right firms,” she says wryly.

Moazzam Begg sets us all straight about that.

He counters Sahgal’s view by saying she is, in her own way, a fundamentalist: “She advocates the government shouldn’t even be engaging with the Muslim Council of Britain. It’s not a normal position.”

Because…? Because the BBC thinks the Muslim Council of Britain is as normal as any Council of Britain could possibly be, therefore to think otherwise is not normal, in fact it’s downright perverted, while affectionate support for the Taliban is entirely average and healthy and quotidian. It’s good to get these things sorted out.

Multicultural mayoring

Feb 13th, 2010 1:02 pm | By

In a small town near Barcelona a Moroccan-born Muslim woman with a master’s degree

says she was threatened by Muslim fundamentalists because she took off her veil and tried to live like a Spaniard. The treatment of Fatima Ghailan, 31, prompted an investigating magistrate to bring charges against the sheik of the local mosque, Mohamed Benbrahim, and the head of the Islamic Association, Abderraman el-Osri, the leading figures in Cunit’s Muslim community. The case also generated demands for the resignation of Mayor Judit Alberich, a liberal Socialist who, her political opponents said, catered to her Muslim constituents at the expense of respect for the law.

The self-appointed ‘leading figures’ in the male portion of ‘Cunit’s Muslim community’ – except those who don’t agree with them, of course, who never count when journalists are telling us who the leading figures are. It’s just shorthand of course, and we get the drift, but when there is controversy that usage does bestow a legitimacy on putative leaders that they don’t necessarily have or deserve. We don’t really know whether those two are ‘leading figures’ or just bullies. And clearly Alberich catered to some of her Muslim constituents, at the expense of others of them as well as respect for the law. Clearly not all of Alberich’s ‘Muslim constituents’ want women to be bullied by men for not wearing hijab.

Ghailan was an unlikely champion of assimilation when she arrived in Cunit as a teenager. Her father had been the sheik of a mosque in Morocco, and until recently, she dutifully wore a scarf. But things began to change several years ago. Ghailan received a master’s degree in Barcelona…Then she got a job at City Hall, assigned to work with the town’s approximately 1,000 mostly Moroccan Muslims as a “cultural mediator.” Her job was to encourage Muslims, particularly cloistered women, to participate in the life of the town, to take advantage of language classes and to leave their homes to attend festivals. Ultimately, that is what brought her into conflict with Benbrahim and Osri. As a representative of City Hall, Ghailan wielded power over the immigrant community. That, residents said, was something the traditionalists could not accept — particularly because it involved a woman who refused to cover her hair. Benbrahim organized a petition demanding Ghailan’s firing. Ghailan said the dispute soon escalated; she lodged a formal complaint against Benbrahim in November 2008, charging that he had harassed, threatened and attacked her and her family. A local court issued a restraining order, barring the sheik from going near Ghailan or her family, and launched a formal investigation in which procedure dictated that Benbrahim be taken into custody. But, Ghailan said later, the mayor, Alberich, intervened to prevent the arrest, saying that it would disrupt relations with Cunit’s Muslim community.

Alberich is a woman and a socialist – yet she opted to leave Ghailan exposed to the bullying of an imam.