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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Trump is evangelicals’ ‘dream president.’ Here’s why.

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Michael Gerson has a good column in the Washington Post:

Even in an era of marriage diversity, it remains the most unlikely match: President Trump and his loyal evangelical base. In the compulsively transgressive, foul-mouthed, loser-disdaining, mammon-worshiping billionaire, conservative Christians “have found their dream president,” according to Jerry Falwell Jr.

It is a miracle, of sorts.

In a recent analysis, the Pew Research Center found that more than three-fourths of white evangelical Christians approve of Trump’s job performance, most of them “strongly.” With these evangelicals comprising about a quarter of the electorate, their support is the life jacket preventing Trump from slipping into unrecoverable political depths.

The essence of Trump’s appeal to conservative Christians can be found in his otherwise anodyne commencement speech at Liberty University. “Being an outsider is fine,” Trump said. “Embrace the label.” And then he promised: “As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith.” Trump presented evangelicals as a group of besieged outsiders, in need of a defender.

This sense of grievance and cultural dispossession — the common ground between The Donald and the faithful — runs deep in evangelical Christian history. . .

Continue reading.

He concludes the column:

. . . In the Trump era, evangelicals have gotten a conservative Supreme Court justice for their pains — which is significant. And they have gotten a leader who shows contempt for those who hold them in contempt — which is emotionally satisfying.

The cost? Evangelicals have become loyal to a leader of shockingly low character. They have associated their faith with exclusion and bias. They have become another Washington interest group, striving for advantage rather than seeking the common good. And a movement that should be known for grace is now known for its seething resentments.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2017 at 11:38 am

Who are the new jihadis?

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Olivier Roy writes in the Guardian:

There is something new about the jihadi terrorist violence of the past two decades. Both terrorism and jihad have existed for many years, and forms of “globalised” terror – in which highly symbolic locations or innocent civilians are targeted, with no regard for national borders – go back at least as far as the anarchist movement of the late 19th century. What is unprecedented is the way that terrorists now deliberately pursue their own deaths.

Over the past 20 years – from Khaled Kelkal, a leader of a plot to bomb Paris trains in 1995, to the Bataclan killers of 2015 – nearly every terrorist in France blew themselves up or got themselves killed by the police. Mohamed Merah, who killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, uttered a variant of a famous statement attributed to Osama bin Laden and routinely used by other jihadis: “We love death as you love life.” Now, the terrorist’s death is no longer just a possibility or an unfortunate consequence of his actions; it is a central part of his plan. The same fascination with death is found among the jihadis who join Islamic State. Suicide attacks are perceived as the ultimate goal of their engagement.

This systematic choice of death is a recent development. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks in France in the 1970s and 1980s, whether or not they had any connection with the Middle East, carefully planned their escapes. Muslim tradition, while it recognises the merits of the martyr who dies in combat, does not prize those who strike out in pursuit of their own deaths, because doing so interferes with God’s will. So, why, for the past 20 years, have terrorists regularly chosen to die? What does it say about contemporary Islamic radicalism? And what does it say about our societies today?

The latter question is all the more relevant as this attitude toward death is inextricably linked to the fact that contemporary jihadism, at least in the west – as well as in the Maghreb and in Turkey – is a youth movement that is not only constructed independently of parental religion and culture, but is also rooted in wider youth culture. This aspect of modern-day jihadism is fundamental.

Wherever such generational hatred occurs, it also takes the form of cultural iconoclasm. Not only are human beings destroyed, statues, places of worship and books are too. Memory is annihilated. “Wiping the slate clean,” is a goal common to Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, the Khmer Rouge and Isis fighters. As one British jihadi wrote in a recruitment guide for the organisation: “When we descend on the streets of London, Paris and Washington … not only will we spill your blood, but we will also demolish your statues, erase your history and, most painfully, convert your children who will then go on to champion our name and curse their forefathers.”

While all revolutions attract the energy and zeal of young people, most do not attempt to destroy what has gone before. The Bolshevik revolution decided to put the past into museums rather than reduce it to ruins, and the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran has never considered blowing up Persepolis.

This self-destructive dimension has nothing to do with the politics of the Middle East. It is even counterproductive as a strategy. Though Isis proclaims its mission to restore the caliphate, its nihilism makes it impossible to reach a political solution, engage in any form of negotiation, or achieve any stable society within recognised borders.

The caliphate is a fantasy. It is the myth of an ideological entity constantly expanding its territory. Its strategic impossibility explains why those who identify with it, instead of devoting themselves to the interests of local Muslims, have chosen to enter a death pact. There is no political perspective, no bright future, not even a place to pray in peace. But while the concept of the caliphate is indeed part of the Muslim religious imagination, the same cannot be said for the pursuit of death.

Additionally, suicide terrorism is not even effective from a military standpoint. While some degree of rationality can be found in “simple” terrorism – in which a few determined individuals inflict considerable damage on a far more powerful enemy – it is entirely absent from suicide attacks. The fact that hardened militants are used only once is not rational. Terrorist attacks do not bring western societies to their knees – they only provoke a counter-reaction. And this kind of terrorism today claims more Muslim than western lives. . .

Continue reading.

The article is in effect describing the evolution of memes. Try reading it from that perspective.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2017 at 3:30 pm

The practical side of Jesus’ ukase on wealth

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Tejvan Pettinge writes in Economics Help:

Diminishing marginal utility of income and wealth suggests that as income increases, individuals gain a correspondingly smaller increase in satisfaction and happiness.

Utility means satisfaction, usefulness, happiness gained. Utility could be measured by the amount you are willing to spend on a good.

Marginal utility of first £100

If you have zero income, and gain £100 a week. This £100 will improve your living standards significantly. With this £100 you will be able to pay for basic necessity of life – food, drink, shelter and heating. Without this basic £100 a week, life would be tough.

Marginal utility of income increasing from £500 to £600 (6th £100)

However, if you already gain £500 a week, an extra £100 has a proportionately smaller increase in utility. You  may be able to eat out at restaurants more often, but it doesn’t significantly affect your standard of living and happiness. At £500 a week, you can afford most things you need. But, still most people would be happy to gain an extra £100 to spend on luxuries like going out.

Marginal utility of income increasing from £10,000 to £10,100

If you are earning £10,000 a week – you would hardly notice an extra £100 a week. You may not even have time or ability to spend it; this extra income is liable to be just saved. Therefore, we say the marginal utility of an extra £100 at this income level is very limited.

Therefore as income increases, the extra marginal benefit to individuals declines.

Diminishing marginal utility of wealth

Income is the amount of money received per time period. Wealth is a stock concept (the amount of savings, property owned)

It is a very similar effect with wealth. If you have savings of £10,000 – this can be useful for giving you insurance in periods of unemployment or the need to buy large items, like a new cooker. If you own one car, it can be useful for getting to work. Also, owning a house is a form of wealth and it is important for giving you a place to live.

However, suppose your wealth increases. If you now own two cars, the extra benefit is much diminished compared to the first car. It might be useful to have two cars in case one breaks down, but you can only drive one at a time. If you have 7 or 8 cars like a collector, you may get some joy from having a collection, but the extra utility of that 8th car is significantly lower than the working person who has just one car to get to work.

Positional wealth

Some economists argue that wealthy people can use their wealth primarily to gain feelings of prestige and show their position in society. For example, the utility of a £100,000 car is not because you get anywhere quicker, but because it becomes a status symbol – a symbol to show other people your success. Therefore, the utility to society is very minimal. . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 4:24 pm

Is there now an afterlife? Turns out, the answer is yes, though digital

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Watch this amazing video, about 25 minutes. Several segments, sequential in nature, shot in different locations and with different people on different aspects of one’s digital afterlife. Some very odd questions arise: do you want your posthumous bot making jokes of the sort you would made but were not made by you—though in the natural mental shorthand people use, the joke was made by “you.” You and your digital ghost will be merged in people’s memories, like grafting a lemon branch onto an orange tree.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2017 at 2:17 pm

Pro-life, my ass: Decades-old mass grave of children of unwed mothers confirmed in Ireland

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So contraception is bad, but mistreating and killing babies and young children is okay? Actually, I think contraception is a much better choice, but the Catholic church clearly does not agree. I do not see how the Catholic church can presume to lecture us on moral conduct given its own terrible track record over the centuries.

In the Washington Post Fred Barbash reports on the latest atrocity unearthed:

Between 1925 and the 1960s, in a tiny town called Tuam in western Ireland’s County Galway, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Mother and Baby Home operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours. After a period of involuntary service and penance, many of the women who came to the home left to resume their lives, as The Post’s Terrence McCoy reported in 2014.

But some of the children did not leave. And what became of them remained a mystery into which few cared to inquire.

But after painstaking research, a local historian named Catherine Corless became convinced in 2014 that the infants and small children — perhaps 700 to 800 of them — died in the home and were buried without markers in mass graves beneath the property, perhaps in an underground structure such as a septic tank.

The story, which attracted worldwide publicity, was met with skepticism and even suggestions that it was a hoax. It wasn’t.

A commission established by the Irish government in response to her research and the ensuing controversy has reported finding “significant quantities of human remains” in 17 “underground chambers” inside a buried structure.

That structure, the commission said Friday, “appears to be related” to the treatment and containment of sewage and/or wastewater, though it was uncertain whether the structure was ever used for that purpose.

There is no uncertainty about the remains.

A small number of them were recovered for analysis, the commission reported. “These remains,” it said, “involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges” from approximately 35 fetal weeks to 2-to-3 years.

“Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time frame relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home,” the commission said. “A number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s.”

Further tests are being conducted.

The commission said it was “shocked” by the discovery and “is continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way.”

The testing and excavation found another structure as well, which the commission said appeared to be “a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil.” The report did not say whether researchers had yet looked for remains in that structure.

“This is very sad and disturbing news,” Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s minister for children and youth affairs, said in a statement. “It was not unexpected, as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years.”

But previously the claims amounted to mere rumors, Zappone said. “Now we have confirmation that the remains are there, and that they date back to the time of the Mother and Baby Home,” she said.

“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home,” Zappone added. “We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately.” . . .

Continue reading.

“Sad and disturbing news.” Where is the outrage?

Later in the report (and read the whole thing):

Records for that home show that babies died at the rate of two per week from malnutrition and neglect, and from diseases such as measles and gastroenteritis, Corless told the Post in 2014.

Pro-life, they call it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2017 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Two interesting sites on modern Stoicism

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Stoicism is like a religion in that it offers moral precepts and guidance for our daily lives, but it does not involve a God. The emotional motivation in Stoicism is not fear of God but rather self-respect.

Take a look at The Daily Stoic and 21st Century Stoic. The Daily Stoic has a free packet of information and provides daily quotations. In addition “Daily Stoic Quotes” and “Daily Stoic Inspiration” are two groups on Facebook with daily messages—e.g.,

Remember:

“Thou sufferest justly: for thou choosest rather to become good tomorrow than to be good today.”

You have always got to take advantage of today. Marcus Aurelius knew this thousands of years ago, and it is just as true today.

Hustle hard. The best version of you is waiting to arrive. But you’ve got to work for it.

There are modern books on Stoicism (e.g., William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, but the mother lode is in the writings of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca.

This post on Boing Boing has a good take on Stoicism.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2017 at 10:18 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

President Trump’s Anti-Secular Foreign Policy

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Lawfare has an interesting piece by Jacques Berlinerblau:

Jacques Berlinerblau is the Rabbi Harold S. White Professor of Jewish Civilization at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (Cambridge), How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and co-editor of Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, and Israel (Palgrave Macmillan).

President Trump is taking the U.S. in many new directions. This piece explores one of them:

Editor’s Note: The Trump administration is turning many things on their heads, not least the role religion is playing in society. But what is happening is also shaping U.S. policy overseas. Jacques Berlinerblau, my colleague at Georgetown, argues that the Trump administration’s foreign policy represents a dramatic shift for the United States and one that may prove disastrous.

***

In a landmark 1960 speech, John F. Kennedy warned against pointing “a finger of suspicion” at any one religious group. “Today,” intoned the man who would soon be the nation’s first Catholic president, “I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped.” Kennedy’s sentiments express what might be the Golden Rule of modern American secularism: our government cannot discriminate against, nor show preference towards, citizens on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The administration of Donald J. Trump appears eager to turn this secular logic completely upside down. As for preference, the president has made common cause with conservative Christians and their particular policy goals, like the reinstatement of the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy, which bans federal funding for any NGO providing abortion counseling, often affecting the provision of other forms of birth control. As for discrimination, Trump’s flagging “Muslim Ban” points “the finger of suspicion” at members of one religious group. Just a few weeks past his inauguration, Trump is poised to become the most anti-secular president in recent American history.

What does that mean in practice? Drawing a distinction between anti-secularism’s domestic and foreign policy applications is a good first step toward understanding its implications. On the domestic front, Trump’s disdain for mid-century secular conventions is evident in everything from the “Merry Christmas” sign ostentatiously glued to his podium at a post-election rally to his Supreme Court and cabinet nominations. At the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump vowed that he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pulpits from becoming veritable PACs. Alongside his GOP allies, Trump may try to nationalize countless “religious freedom” bills, like the one Mike Pence signed in Indiana. That legislation, which was framed as a “restoration” of religious freedom, legitimated discrimination in accordance with one’s faith convictions, including denying services to members of the LGBT community.

Implementing an anti-secular agenda in world affairs, however, is a different matter altogether. For starters, the activism that takes place in Republican state houses is usually a pipeline for ideas about national, as opposed to international, policies. Second, the infrastructure for effectuating such policies on an international scale is less built-out; there are far fewer operatives, legal advocates, think tanks, pressure groups, and donors committed to the promulgation of anti-secularism in global relations.

One also wonders if an anti-secular Trump administration would have partners in the State Department and elsewhere as helpful and reliable as the Republican Party. As recently as 2006, The Economist dubbed America’s foreign policy elite “one of the most secular groups in the country.” It is telling that Madeleine Albright describes the study of international relations in the 1980s as “theorized in almost exclusively secular terms.” “I cannot remember,” writes the former secretary of state reflecting on the pre-9/11 period, “any leading American diplomat…speaking in depth about the role of religion in shaping the world.”

From the Kennedy era to 9/11, while experts like Albright were steadfastly avoiding religious questions, a culture war was raging within U.S. politics. In the 1960s a late-blooming variant of secularism known as “separationism” achieved unprecedented judicial victories. Resurrecting a Jeffersonian metaphor, mid-century secularists spoke of a “Wall of Separation.” They proceeded to shunt prayer out of public schools and eliminate religious tests for civil service employment. These separationists challenged the idea that the federal government should be for, or against, any religion.

The backlash, led by conservative Christian activists who first came to national prominence during the Reagan years, was swift and devastatingly effective. In the intervening decades they endeavored to dismantle the Wall brick by brick. They were buoyed by Justice William Rehnquist’s 1985 dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree that the Wall was “a metaphor based on bad history…and should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” The result has been a notable decline in the acceptance of separationism as a judicial or governing ideology on the local, state, and federal levels.

The activism of the Christian Right has yet to achieve globally what it has achieved nationally. That could now begin to shift. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 9:49 am

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