Later On

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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

GOP views default human setting as “evil,” Dems as “good,” thus the difficulties in communicating

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Robert Leonard writes in the NY Times:

Knoxville, Iowa — One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys. Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded.

They’re hard workers. As a kid, one washed dishes, took orders and swept the floor at a restaurant. Every summer, the other picked sweet corn by hand at dawn for a farm stand and for grocery stores, and then went to work all day on his parents’ farm. Now one is a welder, and the other is in his first year at a state university on an academic scholarship. They are conservative, believe in hard work, family, the military and cops, and they know that abortion and socialism are evil, that Jesus Christ is our savior, and that Donald J. Trump will be good for America.

They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.

Who are these rural, red-county people who brought Mr. Trump into power? I’m a native Iowan and reporter in rural Marion County, Iowa. I consider myself fairly liberal. My family has mostly voted Democratic since long before I was born. To be honest, for years, even I have struggled to understand how these conservative friends and neighbors I respect — and at times admire — can think so differently from me, not to mention how over 60 percent of voters in my county could have chosen Mr. Trump.

Continue reading the main story

Political analysts have talked about how ignorance, racism, sexism, nationalism, Islamophobia, economic disenfranchisement and the decline of the middle class contributed to the popularity of Mr. Trump in rural America. But this misses the deeper cultural factors that shape the thinking of the conservatives who live here.

For me, it took a 2015 pre-caucus stop in Pella by J. C. Watts, a Baptist minister raised in the small town of Eufaula, Okla., who was a Republican congressman from 1995 to 2003, to begin to understand my neighbors — and most likely other rural Americans as well.

“The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that.

“We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.”

He continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”

Mr. Watts talked about the 2015 movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La., in which two people were killed. Mr. Watts said that Republicans knew that the gunman was a bad man, doing a bad thing. Democrats, he added, “would look for other causes — that the man was basically good, but that it was the guns, society or some other place where the blame lies and then they will want to control the guns, or something else — not the man.” Republicans, he said, don’t need to look anywhere else for the blame.

Hearing Mr. Watts was an epiphany for me. For the first time I had a glimpse of where many of my conservative friends and neighbors were coming from. I thought, no wonder Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on things like gun control, regulations or the value of social programs. We live in different philosophical worlds, with different foundational principles. . .

Continue reading.

One can see how the views arose. The whole point of Christianity is how bad people are—bad enough so that it requires the sacrifice of God Himself (in the person of Jesus) to redeem them (through a mechanism that is not entirely clear to me: a trade of pain for sin, somehow: as though sin must be punished, but God took the punishment on Himself and thus we don’t have to be punished).

Evolution, in contrast, favors social animals that cooperate, and humans (being social animals) in general will tend to cooperate by default. However, their cultural teachings generally identify objects of hatred (other religions, other people who believe those religions, etc.) so that, in that view, much of the evil humans do to each other is due to teaching/culture.

Still, I don’t think even liberals will deny that some people really do start bad and get worse (often with the worsening exacerbated because of how they are treated).

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 10:05 am

Grasping for truth and dignity in Tunisia

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When a government goes bad, it can go really bad. Azadeh Moaveni reports in the New Yorker:

In 1988, when Hamida Ajengui was a teen-ager, she decided to stop getting her hair blown out and to cover it with a head scarf instead. Her parents, observant Muslims, were as accepting of her head scarf as they had been of her uncovered head. To be religious in Tunisia, after all, was as mainstream as speaking French—and it was often during their teens that girls decided it was time to put on the hijab. But when Ajengui showed up at school, the principal said that she couldn’t attend while covered. Surely, she thought, the country’s new President, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had taken power in 1987, must have been unaware of this injustice: even though the government had historically suppressed religion, Ben Ali had promised more freedoms. Ajengui gathered a group of girlfriends and boarded a tram to visit the Presidential palace, in Carthage, to tell him. They were stopped by the police and turned back. When they tried to make the journey again, they were arrested.

The experience sealed Ajengui’s resolve to wear her veil. She dropped out of school, focussing instead on religious classes and charity work. She often brought grocery money to the wives of political prisoners jailed for their Islamist beliefs. This led to more arrests, and then to torture and years of intermittent imprisonment. In detention, police would hang Ajengui upside down, naked, for hours. During interrogations, they threatened to sodomize her with a baton and once stripped her of her clothing in front of twenty men. Another time, she was locked in a room with a drunk man, who threw her against the wall and groped her. On her wedding day, security agents swarmed the reception hall, filling the space with officers instead of guests. They confiscated the musicians’ instruments, blocked her mother from attending, and ripped the head scarves off her female relatives’ heads. “My wedding was like a funeral,” Ajengui said.

For nearly sixty years, until the 2011 uprising that unseated President Ben Ali, the Tunisian government made torture and intimidation a systematic part of its rule. A police state that was also stridently secular, modelled after the French aversion to religiosity in public life, the dictatorship largely targeted Islamists or religious activists. Ajengui, who is now forty-seven, was one of eleven women and men who two weekends ago described the abuse that they had suffered, during the second hearing of the state’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which is the centerpiece of a transitional-justice law passed by the democratic government that emerged after the revolution. Broadcast live on prime-time television and widely watched, the hearings have been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller whose self-immolation sparked the Jasmine Revolution, which spread to become the Arab Spring. The proceedings, unprecedented in the Arab world for their scope, are tasked with examining a wide variety of crimes, from extrajudicial killings to torture to corruption, and intended as a public reckoning that will help both state institutions and society recover.

They are also a refutation of Tunisia’s reputation as an Arab success story, which owes less to any significant progress than to the country having avoided civil war or a descent into even nastier autocracy and chaos. This bright view, garlanded with a Nobel Peace Prize that went to a coalition of Tunisian civil-society groups, in 2015, has mostly fallen away. As George Packer reported in March, a spate of terror attacks that took place months before the Nobel Prize was announced virtually ended European tourism and weakened the country’s long-ailing economy. Acts of violence by Tunisians abroad have changed the country’s image further. Earlier this December, a twenty-four-year-old Tunisian man named Anis Amri allegedly drove a truck through an outdoor Christmas market in Berlin, killing twelve people. Tunisia has also sent the highest numbers of recruits, both men and women, to fight with the Islamic State, and the prospect of fighters returning home from Syria has left Tunisians vulnerable to the notion that the old regime was better at providing security than the new. Following two political assassinations in 2013, a political party that includes former regime officials won parliamentary elections, putting a number of politicians associated with past abuses back in power.

Outside the conference center where the hearings were being held, an ambulance waited on standby in case any of the participants fainted from the stress of testifying. Inside, young women dressed in soft linen and fluorescent lace hijabs sat with men wearing velvet pinstriped blazers and fake leather jackets. When Ajengui described being threatened with the baton de violeur, or steel baton, a woman broke down and rushed out of the room, the clacking of her heels breaking the room’s silence. Sodomy as a form of torture has featured in other victims’ testimony, as well. Tunisia is unique today for being governed by a sizable number of new politicians who are torture survivors, now members of the Islamist Ennahdha Party, and who find themselves serving alongside colleagues who, by virtue of having served under the old regime, were complicit in their abuse. When secular politicians nod together at an Ennahdha lawmaker across the room and whisper “Fanta bottle,” they are making a joke about sodomy. Last year, artists organised an installation in downtown Tunis called “The National Museum of the State Security System.” The exhibit included a row of glass soda bottles, symbolic of those upon which detainees had been forced to sit.

Sihem Bensedrine, the president of the Truth and Dignity Commission, is a former opposition journalist and human-rights activist who spent time in prison, in 2001. Bensedrine, who is sixty-six, is small-boned and wears demure suits and pearls, but her character is direct and sometimes fiery (in political circles her nickname is the Lioness). She has faced intense criticism, much of it personal, for her leadership, and she has been accused of everything from being overly fond of limousines to being a prostitute. A replica of one of Picasso’s paintings from his surrealist period—a woman with a splintered face—hangs on a wall in her office near a framed verse from the Koran. On the morning of the second day of hearings, she was scrambling to prepare an additional person to give testimony. One of the women who had been scheduled to speak, a mother of two teen-agers, had just dropped out. “I’m sorry I can’t come tonight,” she told Bensedrine over the phone. “I am destroying my children.”

“We told them from the beginning they have the right to change their mind,” Bensedrine said, shrugging. “They’ve pushed the trauma down somewhere so deep, and we can’t force them to pull it out if they are not ready.”

Anyone can submit charges of torture or corruption to the commission. Of the 62,326 charges received so far, the commission has studied around eleven thousand. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2016 at 5:02 pm

Will Trump’s sharp contrast from Obama and Bush on Islam spur jihadi recruitment?

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Just as gun dealers and manufacturers repeatedly feed threats to the gun-lover community (“Eric Holder is going to take your guns! Obama’s coming for your guns! Hillary Clinton will take your guns!”) in order to spur sales (and it always works: the power of a vanishing opportunity is well-known to everyone in sales and marketing—it’s the whole idea of a limited edition, for example: buy now or be left at the gate.

Well, Trump’s highly publicized remarks on Islam, on Muslims in general, on the wars in the Middle East and on terrorism indicate that he’s going to go after them. So…

William McCants writes in the Washington Post:

This opinion piece is by William McCants, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, where he directs the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World.

President-elect Donald Trump and his top political and security advisers are convinced Islam’s moral rules, the sharia, not only imperil the safety of Americans but their very way of life. They break sharply with Presidents Obama and George W. Bush who refused to equate traditional Islam with terrorism. The rupture view could ultimately serve as a boon to jihadist recruitment.

The president-elect has called for an “ideological screening test” for immigrants “who believe that sharia law should supplant American law.” His chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that the Roman Catholic Church and the “Judeo-Christian West” have to “struggle against Islam” just as their ancestors did. He is reportedly taking advice from the notorious sharia conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, whose team briefed Trump on the dangers of sharia during the campaign.

Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, called Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” (Flynn regularly promotes false stories of sharia law taking over in the United States.) And Trump’s nominee for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has said that the true threat confronting the United States is “the toxic ideology of Islam” and has proposed screening out immigrants who “believe in sharia law.”

Suspicion of Sharia is not confined to Trump and his advisers. It permeates mainstream Republican politics. More than half Fox viewers believe American Muslims want to impose sharia. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a front-runner in the previous election cycle, described sharia as “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” (He upped the ante during Trump’s campaign, calling for deporting every Muslim citizen who believes in it.)

The content of the sharia alone cannot explain fears of it. Many of its controversial rules, like death for blasphemy and apostasy, have parallels in the Hebrew Bible, a book revered by many Americans. Most Muslim countries to do not impose the sharia in total — they either limit its application to family law or ignore it entirely. And most of the 1 percent of Americans who are Muslim believe the sharia is just ethical personal guidelines that should not supersede the Constitution — even according to the crudest online polls promulgated by the right. Like any faith community in the United States, American Muslims can practice the Sharia as long as it does not violate American law.

So whence the worry? It arises from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2016 at 3:43 pm

At Liberty University, All Sins Are Forgiven on the Altar of Football

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Michael Powell has a great piece in the NY Times:

There was grand news out of Lynchburg, Va., last week: Liberty University announced that it had hired Ian McCaw, a “godly man of excellent character,” as its athletic director.

Liberty, which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian university, has large appetites, and it desires to vault into the big time. And McCaw, a man with the angular build and cobalt blue-eyed intensity of an ultramarathon runner, has achieved much success in his three decades in college sports.

“My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America,” McCaw said during a news conference in Lynchburg.

McCaw is well acquainted with Christian athletics. In May, he left his job as the athletic director at Baylor, another eminent Christian university. His departure followed a devastating investigation that found that the leaders of the football team and the athletic department had looked away when told of multiple gang rapes and sexual assault.

I would not bury a man without offering a dollop of praise. During McCaw’s tenure, the football team prospered mightily. There were a Heisman Trophy winner, two Big 12 championships and breathless news media coverage of its down-home coach, Art Briles, and his whiskey-cured voice. And Baylor University leveraged that success into a $260 million stadium of the sort that spots the landscape of Texas like pimples on the rear of a steer.

Liberty plays football in Division I’s second rung. The university is run by Jerry Falwell Jr., a godly sort who understands the need for occasional accommodation with the secular world. Earlier this year he strolled around the Republican National Convention with his candidate, Donald J. Trump, a thrice-married man whom numerous women have accused of sexually harassing them.

This did not please Liberty’s students, who are expected to abide by the Liberty Way, which sets strict personal guidelines including, but not limited to, no NC-17 movies, no face piercings, no naughty music, and absolutely no canoodling, such as hanging out alone with a person of the opposite sex. Getting caught in a “state of undress” with the opposite sex is good for a $250 fine and 18 hours of community service.

When a Liberty student penned an editorial critical of Trump for the campus newspaper, Falwell censored it. (Liberty University also teaches Young Earth creationism, which is the belief that God created the universe, Earth and life in the last 10,000 years.)

The hiring of McCaw has also proved contentious. As the university’sFacebook page filled up with angry comments, Falwell felt compelled to offer explanations on the university’s website. He said Liberty had conducted an “investigation.” It found that McCaw was a fine man. Far from being pushed out of Baylor, Falwell said, McCaw’s “decision to resign was his own choice.”

“If he made any mistakes at Baylor,” Falwell said — let us pause here to appreciate his use of the conditional — “they appear to be technical and unintentional.” There is not an athletic director in America, Falwell added, who better understands the importance of complying with federal guidelines on reporting any sexual assault on a campus.

And thus tin is transmuted into gold.

At this point, it’s worth recalling the summary that Baylor provided about its confidential investigation. The law firm Pepper Hamilton, which oversaw the inquiry, said it had found that the “the choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University.”

The report’s summary gloried in passive language, and in an act of apparent Christian charity, it omitted all names and, therefore, any accountability.

But this is what it meant, if not what it said: Athletic leaders (that would be McCaw) and football coaches learned of accusations of gang and date rape and decided not to report that violence; they met with the alleged victims, and their parents, and still did nothing.

The football team existed in the same hermetic world found at too many top college programs. This, the report found, “reinforces the perception” — and, of course, the reality — “that rules applicable to other students are not applicable to football players.”

McCaw, who had spoken of his hand-in-glove working relationship with Briles, oversaw all of this. When Briles chose to bring in Sam Ukwuachu, a talented defensive end who transferred from Boise State, all involved should have known his background, which was deeply troubling.

At 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, Ukwuachu was a terror to opposing quarterbacks, and to women with the misfortune to make his acquaintance. At Boise State, he was found to have beaten a former girlfriend. He was nonetheless welcomed at Baylor. While forgoing football for the year required of athletic transfers, he sexually assaulted a freshman soccer player. According to Texas Monthly, Baylor officials made a few not-so-pointed inquiries and cleared Ukwuachu. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 1:38 pm

How to tell whether your religious liberty is being violated

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Also via Danielle Muscato, this useful chart, which should be publicly displayed in states that have passed “religious freedom” laws:

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 9:54 am

Looks like gay marriage did not harm traditional marriage at all

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I never in fact understood how allowing gay marriage could have any effect on traditional marriage. I suppose the thought must have been that many repressed or closeted homosexuals are in traditional marriage, so that if they become free to marry the person they love, then lots of divorces? Is that the argument? (It was really never made very clear.)

But one of Jennifer Rubin’s posts today has a very interesting section:

Social conservatives who opposed same-sex marriage now live in a country in which the Supreme Court has ruled and gay marriages take place every day. There is no going back. And by the way, straight marriage has not collapsed in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. We ascribe no causation but divorce rates are at a 40-year low. Perhaps “traditional marriage” advocates should be cheering this:

The U.S. divorce rate dropped for the third year in a row, reaching its lowest point in nearly 40 years, according to data released Thursday.

Marriage rates, on the other hand, increased last year. In 2015, there were 32.2 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women age 15 or older, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. This represents a jump from 31.9 in 2014 and is the highest number of marriages since 2009, which suggests that marriage rates may be stabilizing after decades of decline.

On the divorce side, the 2015 rate was 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women age 15 or older, which is down from 17.6 in 2014 and a peak of almost 23 divorces in 1980.

But read the whole post.

And she raises a good point: those who opposed gay marriage because it would (somehow) harm tradition marriage—are they now pleased and happy by the outcome, which shows their fears were ill-founded and things have worked out well? or would they rather be angry?

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2016 at 1:43 pm

ISIS is only a symptom—underneath lies a much deeper threat

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Louis René Beres writes in the OUP blog:

“I learn a science from the soul’s aggressions.”
— Saint-John Perse

Amid all current debate about the best way to defeat ISIS, one easily forgets that this Jihadist adversary is merely the most visible expression of a much wider and much deeper pathology. Failing to understand this vital hierarchy of importance will be very costly, no matter what one’s own subjective position on counter-terrorism strategy and tactics may be. After all, an inevitable consequence of any such failure would be to strike vainly against symptoms, and not meaningfully against actual “disease.”

The epidemic violence we continue to witness in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, is only microcosm. It is, more precisely, just the most visible reflection of far more pervasive determinants. They are,: (1) the relentlessly malignant tribalism of our world order system; and (2) the fusion of derivative and broadly sectarian violence with reinforcing claims of “sacredness.” The philosopher Hegel once commented: “The State is the march of God in the world.” This crucial nineteenth-century observation now applies equally well to an expansive amalgam of twenty-first century Arab/Islamic terrorist groups, and not merely to ISIS.

Looking ahead, we must consider yet another ominous fusion. This is the prospective coming together of atomic capability with decisional irrationality. Such a fearful prospect should come to mind, not only in such “front page” venues as Iran and Pakistan, but also North Korea. As earlier instructed by the Prussian strategist, Carl von Clausewitz (On War), world politics are eternally and relentlessly systemic. It follows, we must finally understand, that what happens in north Asia, just as an example, could also substantially impact Europe and/or North America.

We can never really hope to fix the “ISIS problem” until we have first understood the more underlying human bases and expected rewards of Jihadist-engineered insurgent conflicts. It is important, therefore, that we soon learn to look seriously and continuously behind the news.

Always, it must be recalled, the conspicuously grinding threat from ISIS is more a visible symptom, than an actual disease.

If we should mistakenly focus too much on ridding ourselves of this singular symptom, and not the underlying disease, we could then find ourselves exacerbating the ultimately more fundamental and more insidiously “metastatic” pathology. To wit, if American policy should wrongly focus upon the “War Against ISIS” as consuming and overriding, we would then simultaneously strengthen other foes in Syria, Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah.

For other examples, focusing too much on ISIS could undermine our counter-terrorist regime allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who are presently engaged in combat operations against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, and also strengthen assorted Muslim Brotherhood forces, including Palestinian Hamas — the Islamic Resistance Movement — which is effectively the “Son of Muslim Brotherhood.” Of course, a too-consuming counter-terrorist focus on ISIS would correspondingly embolden a variety of core al-Qaeda organizations, groups from which ISIS itself had originally been spawned. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2016 at 6:49 pm

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