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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It

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The NY Times has an interesting column by Kamel Daoud, which seems appropriate to the brutal and tyrannical theocratic government of Saudi Arabia:

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.

The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.

One might counter: Isn’t Saudi Arabia itself a possible target of Daesh? Yes, but to focus on that would be to overlook the strength of the ties between the reigning family and the clergy that accounts for its stability — and also, increasingly, for its precariousness. The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime.

One has to live in the Muslim world to understand the immense transformative influence of religious television channels on society by accessing its weak links: households, women, rural areas. Islamist culture is widespread in many countries — Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania. There are thousands of Islamist newspapers and clergies that impose a unitary vision of the world, tradition and clothing on the public space, on the wording of the government’s laws and on the rituals of a society they deem to be contaminated.

It is worth reading certain Islamist newspapers to see their reactions to the attacks in Paris. The West is cast as a land of “infidels.” The attacks were the result of the onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs have become the enemies of the secular and the Jews. The Palestinian question is invoked along with the rape of Iraq and the memory of colonial trauma, and packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses. Such talk spreads in the social spaces below, while up above, political leaders send their condolences to France and denounce a crime against humanity. This totally schizophrenic situation parallels the West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia.

All of which leaves one skeptical of Western democracies’ thunderous declarations regarding the necessity of fighting terrorism. Their war can only be myopic, for it targets the effect rather than the cause. Since ISIS is first and foremost a culture, not a militia, how do you prevent future generations from turning to jihadism when the influence of Fatwa Valley and its clerics and its culture and its immense editorial industry remains intact?

Is curing the disease therefore a simple matter? Hardly. Saudi Arabia remains an ally of the West in the many chess games playing out in the Middle East. It is preferred to Iran, that gray Daesh. And there’s the trap. Denial creates the illusion of equilibrium. Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives.

Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2015 at 12:22 pm

When reality fails to respect ideology: Sex-ed division

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Jen Hayden has an excellent post at Daily Kos. From it:

Who could’ve seen this coming? When you don’t teach kids about safe sex, they tend to have sex anyway, minus the safe part: . . .

And later she quotes:

Abstinence-only programs have been an enormous failure, despite heavy funding from the George W. Bush administration and conservative legislatures:

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don’t work.

To date, 11 states have evaluated the impact of their abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. None has been shown to reduce teen sexual activity.

Virginity pledgers have found “loopholes” to keep their pledges intact—engaging in risky oral or anal sex—and neglecting to use condoms when they do begin to have vaginal intercourse, according to research from Peter Bearman at Columbia University.

2007 federally-funded evaluation of these programs found that youth in the control group were no more likely to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having sex, had a similar number of partners and had initiated sex at the same age.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:50 am

Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts

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An interesting finding reported in the Guardian by Harriet Sherwood:

Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.

“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

Almost 1,200 children, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The numbers of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were too small to be statistically valid.

They were asked to choose stickers and then told there were not enough to go round for all children in their school, to see if they would share. They were also shown film of children pushing and bumping one another to gauge their responses.

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

Muslim children judged “interpersonal harm as more mean” than children from Christian families, with non-religious children the least judgmental. Muslim children demanded harsher punishment than those from Christian or non-religious homes.

At the same time, the report said that religious parents were more likely than others to consider their children to be “more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others”. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 10:06 am

Frank talk from an Israeli about the state of mind of modern Israel

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Assaf Gavron writes in the Washington Post:

I was an Israel Defense Forces soldier in Gaza 27 years ago, during the first intifada. We patrolled the city and the villages and the refugee camps and encountered angry teenagers throwing stones at us. We responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Now those seem like the good old days.

Since then, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has seen stones replaced with guns and suicide bombs, then rockets and highly trained militias, and now, in the past month, kitchen knives, screwdrivers and other improvised weapons. Some of these low-tech efforts have been horrifically successful, with victims as young as 13. There is plenty to discuss about the nature and timing of the recent wave of Palestinian attacks — a desperate and humiliated answer to the election of a hostile Israeli government that emboldens extremist settlers to attack Palestinians. But as an Israeli, I am more concerned with the actions of my own society, which are getting scarier and uglier by the moment.

The internal discussion in Israel is more militant, threatening and intolerant than it has ever been. Talk has trended toward fundamentalism ever since the Israeli operation in Gaza in late 2008, but it has recently gone from bad to worse. There seems to be only one acceptable voice, orchestrated by the government and its spokespeople, and beamed to all corners of the country by a clan of loyal media outlets drowning out all the others. Those few dissenters who attempt to contradict it — to ask questions, to protest, to represent a different color from this artificial consensus — are ridiculed and patronized at best, threatened, vilified and physically attacked at worst. Israelis not “supporting our troops” are seen as traitors, and newspapers asking questions about the government’s policies and actions are seen as demoralizing.

Since the start of last year’s Gaza war, there have been several incidents of anti-leftist violence to go along with the attacks aimed at Palestinians: Left-wing protesters were assaulted at antiwar demonstrations in Tel Aviv andHaifa last summer, during the war; left-wing journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz was accused of treason by a Knesset member, a crime that during wartime is punishable by death. He’s since hired bodyguards. The comedian Orna Banai lost an advertising job after an interview in which she expressed horror over Israeli actions against Palestinians. This month, people in Afulaattacked an Arab correspondent for an Israeli TV network and his Jewish crew while they reported on a stabbing attack. A new bill in the Knesset encourages the thought police by turning away visitors to Israel who have supported the movement to boycott companies profiting from the occupation. On Friday, a masked Jewish settler attacked the president of leftist group Rabbis for Human Rights in a Palestinian olive grove in the West Bank.

On social media, the gloves are taken off, social courtesies abandoned, hatred rears its ugly head. Facebook pages calling for violence against left-wingers and Arabs appear frequently, and even when they’re taken down, they pop up again in one guise or another. Any sentiment not aligned with the supposed consensus is met with a barrage of racist vitriol. One Facebook group calling itself the Shadow Lions discussed how to disrupt a wedding between an Arab and a Jew, posting the groom’s phone number and urging people to call and harass him. On Twitter and Instagram, hashtags like #leftiesout and #traitorlefties abound. Film director Shira Geffen, who asked her movie audiences for a moment of silence to respect Palestinian children killed in an Israeli offensive, was flayed across Israeli social networks. “Shame,” a new and brilliant play by actress Einat Weitzman, brings to the stage a selection of the hateful comments she received after wearing a T-shirt bearing the Palestinian flag. One example from the play: “If the baby that was murdered was yours I wonder which flag you would put on yourself. Now step on it and get your ugly head back to your tiny apartment and bury yourself from the shame until you die there alone and maybe in your funeral we will ask the Jihad to read verses from the Koran.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2015 at 8:47 pm

Strong words from Pope Francis

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Laurie Goodstein has a good report in the NY Times. From that report:

. . . The next steps are now in the hands of Pope Francis, who after three weeks of assembly meetings and more than a year of discussions, at least has a clearer picture of the forces arrayed for and against change.

Francis made a strong plea for inclusiveness in his final address to the 270 bishops gathered for the assembly, known as a synod. He said that the synod “was about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the church’s teachings or good intention, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.” . . .

That’s very interesting, to think that Pope Francis deliberately made the Synod divisive, by more or less forcing them to take stands on divisive issues, so he now can name exactly those who are sheep and those who are goats. And that’s some serious straight-talkin’.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 5 years or so, and also interesting to see who will be named as new cardinals in the next few years.

Later in the article, another strong message from Pope Francis, boldfaced:

. . . About 270 bishops from around the world met for nearly three weeks, much of the time cocooned inside a theater-like auditorium dedicated to Pope Paul VI. Cardinals in red skullcaps sat in the front rows, archbishops and bishops behind them, and in the upper seats on the right sat the couples and laypeople who had been invited to take part as nonvoting auditors and give a three-minute address — the same time limit given the bishops. . .

By all means, read the whole thing. This issue affects many people: about 1.2 billion. The piece ends with this powerful (and factually, clearly true) statement:

“There is no black or white, a simple yes or no” when it comes to couples not living according to the church’s precepts, he said. Every situation is different, and pastors had to understand — and evaluate — each one individually.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2015 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Religion

Mormons Say Duty to Law on Same-Sex Marriage Trumps Faith

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Interesting article by Jack Healy in the NY Times. From the article:

“Office holders remain free to draw upon their personal beliefs and motivations and advocate their positions in the public square,” Elder Oaks said. “But when acting as public officials, they are not free to apply personal convictions, religious or other, in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices. All government officers should exercise their civil authority according to the principles and within the limits of civil government.”

A very sensible position, IMO. It will be interesting to see whether Kim Davis will issue marriage licenses to couples who have been divorced. Since divorce is specifically forbidden in the New Testament, I imagine she won’t.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2015 at 10:51 am

Posted in Government, Religion

The Vatican vs. Pope Francis

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The struggle is now in the open. Alexander Stille reports in the New Yorker:

The honeymoon for Pope Francis is over—at least in Rome. The first two weeks of the Synod on the Family have been characterized by open rebellion, corridor intrigue, leaked documents, accusations of lack of transparency, and sharp divisions among the bishops and cardinals. In the first real crisis of his papacy, Francis finds himself in the position of enjoying a rare degree of popularity among the public but facing an unusual degree of dissent within an institution generally so respectful of hierarchy.

There was some inkling of this during the Pope’s triumphant visit to the U.S. “If a conclave were to be held today, Francis would be lucky to get ten votes,” a Vatican source told me at the time. “He gets an A-plus on public relations, but an F on all the rest.” This statement was certainly an exaggeration, but it reflected genuine unease within the Roman curia. An obvious sign of trouble came when the papal nuncio in Washington arranged for the pope to meet Kim Davis, the Kentucky state employee who refused to grant (or to delegate others to grant) marriage licenses to gay couples. The move—by a monsignor who is no stranger to Vatican intrigue and power politics—embarrassed the Pope and scored a couple of points for Church conservatives on the eve of the synod.

Traditionalists in the Church were alarmed by some of the developments at the first session of the Synod, held last fall. Progressive cardinals and bishops—drawing on the work of the German theologian Walter Kasper—pushed an agenda that included the possibility of allowing divorced Catholics who had remarried to take communion, and a more open attitude toward both homosexuals and couples who lived together without marrying. They reintroduced the concept of “graduality,” so that unmarried, previously divorced, and gay couples, by demonstrating love and fidelity toward one another, could be seen as moving toward the gospel rather than simply “living in sin.” As the German cardinal Reinhard Marx put it, “Take the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for thirty-five years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives… How can I say that this has no value?”
Pope Francis, while careful not to take sides, seemed to give his blessing to this position when he said that communion was “not a reward for the perfect but medicine for the sick” and mentioned that he had been reading the work of Cardinal Kasper. A preliminary report from the first synod reflected these relatively radical positions, but that language was beaten back in a counterattack by conservative bishops. In the final report, a passage about needing to recognize that homosexuals bring “gifts and qualities” to the church was replaced by bland language about avoiding discrimination against gays. Many tradition-minded bishops and cardinals felt that they had been ambushed by the first draft of the report, as is made clear by a recently published book, “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” by Edward Pentin, a journalist for the National Catholic Register, a news agency owned and operated by a conservative Catholic organization based in Denver, Colorado.
This year, the traditionalists, evidently determined to avoid a second ambush, were on the offensive from the beginning of the synod. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2015 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Religion


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