Jesus’s very bad sermon 1

This is an interesting take on the advice “Jesus Christ” is reputed to have given in “the sermon on the mount”.

Matt Dillahunty is the (atheist) speaker. He posted this video on October 31, 2015.

(Note: the technical quality of the video is not good.)

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Commentary, Religion general, Videos by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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Now Carabbas 2

For some fun on a Friday and Saturday, here’s a borrowing from a website dedicated to debunking all the legends of “Jesus Christ”. It is written by Kenneth Humphreys, and is a site well worth visiting.

He quotes a story told by the Jewish philosopher and theologian, Philo of Alexandria, and suggests that one of the stories of the martyrdom of Jesus derives from it.

Philo was a contemporary of the alleged “Jesus Christ”. He was a prolific writer, closely connected with the powers in Jerusalem, and fully aware of current events in Judea. Yet he never mentions Jesus of Nazareth.

Philo says not a word about Jesus, Christianity nor any of the events described in the New Testament. In all this work, Philo makes not a single reference to his alleged contemporary “Jesus Christ”, the godman who supposedly was perambulating up and down the Levant, exorcising demons, raising the dead and causing earthquake and darkness at his death.

With Philo’s close connection to the house of Herod, one might reasonably expect that the miraculous escape from a royal prison of a gang of apostles (Acts 5.18,40), or the second, angel-assisted, flight of Peter, even though chained between soldiers and guarded by four squads of troops (Acts 12.2,7) might have occasioned the odd footnote. But not a murmur. Nothing of Agrippa “vexing certain of the church” or killing “James brother of John” with the sword (Acts 12.1,2).

Actually, these events were alleged – by St. Paul and his friend Luke – to have happened at times that came after the death of Philo in 50 C.E. But the general point holds: that nothing Jesus or his followers did was of sufficient importance or interest to attract the attention of Philo or any other writer or leader at the time.

Strange, but only if we believe Jesus and his merry men existed and that they established the church. If we recognize that the Christian fable was still at an early stage of development when Philo was pondering the relationship of god and man, there is nothing strange here at all.

Here’s the story:

The Works of Philo Judaeus – Flaccus, VI.(36) There was a certain madman named Carabbas … this man spent all this days and nights naked in the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, the sport of idle children and wanton youths;(37) and they, driving the poor wretch as far as the public gymnasium, and setting him up there on high that he might be seen by everybody, flattened out a leaf of papyrus and put it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed the rest of his body with a common door mat instead of a cloak and instead of a sceptre they put in his hand a small stick of the native papyrus which they found lying by the way side and gave to him;(38) and when, like actors in theatrical spectacles, he had received all the insignia of royal authority, and had been dressed and adorned like a king, the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead of spear-bearers, in imitation of the bodyguards of the king, and then others came up, some as if to salute him, and others making as though they wished to plead their causes before him, and others pretending to wish to consult with him about the affairs of the state.(39) Then from the multitude of those who were standing around there arose a wonderful shout of men calling out Maris!; and this is the name by which it is said that they call the kings among the Syrians; for they knew that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he was possessed of a great district of Syria of which he was the sovereign; Matthew27:26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
27:28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
27:29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!


Posted under Christianity by Jillian Becker on Friday, October 30, 2015

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Trump’s religion 1

Donald Trump repeated several times, a few days ago, that he was Presbyterian. His tone suggested he was proud of it. “That’s down the middle of the road,” he said.

The Presbyterian church is Calvinist.

When Jehan Calvin was dictator of Geneva, Calvinism was at least as fanatically and cruelly enforced as any religion has ever been.

Today, October 27, is the 462nd anniversary of the day on which Calvin had Miguel Servetus burned slowly to death chained to a stake, for disagreeing with him on a point of Christian doctrine.

We very much doubt that Trump knows anything about it. But he ought to.

Here’s the story as Jillian Becker has told it before on this website, quoting the famous book by Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy:


Beyond a certain point it is hardly possible to discern degrees of evil or degrees of cruelty. And yet I think it may be said of Jehan Calvin, dictator of Geneva in the sixteenth century, that he was more appallingly cruel and more intensely, intrinsically, through-and-through evil than other great persecutors, dictators and mass murderers of history. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Torquemada are the very names of evil, so what was it about Calvin that can distinguish him as specially terrible in his own nature than even any of these?

He oppressed the subjects of his dictatorship unremittingly and mercilessly; but so, you say, did the others. Not content with killing his enemies, he prescribed extreme tortures for them while they survived to suffer them; and yes, so did the others. But – and here we come to the nub of the case – Calvin was different in that he (often, if not always) personally specified the torments for the particular victim. He gave thought to the minutiae of their sufferings. All the others, even Catholic Inquisitors like Torquemada, issued general orders for terrorizing, torturing, killing. Calvin gave a personal service, tailoring his cruelty to his individual prey.

And that’s not all that distinguishes him among human monsters. Consider this: he was squeamish. He could not stand the sight of blood. He was afraid of pain. He felt horror at the thought of physical suffering – so he made thinking about it into a spiritual exercise, to strengthen by self-inflicted agony, as a monk does with a hairshirt, his resolve to do what was hardest for him in the service of his God. He ordered the infliction of agony, then meditated on the process, imagining it as fully as he could. He nourished his spirit on visions of torture.

This he did in private. The spiritual discipline he forced himself to undergo did not impel him to the prison and the public square to witness the torments and killings that he prescribed. He never attended a racking, a flogging, a breaking on the wheel, a burning to death. That far in the service of his God he would not push himself.

This grooming of his soul by inflicting suffering on others, did not replace general orders of oppression. He gave those too. He instituted a totalitarian reign of terror. He was as convinced a collectivist as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the rest. He would allow “no liberty, no freedom of the will, for [a] man could only misuse such privileges. … [He, Calvin] must frighten him … until he unresistingly accepts his position in the pious and obedient herd, until he has merged in that herd all that is individual within him, so that the individual, the extraordinary, vanishes without leaving a trace.”

So wrote Stefan Zweig in his devastating dissection of Calvin and Calvinism, The Right to Heresy. He goes on:

“To achieve this draconian suppression of personality, to achieve this vandal expropriation of the individual in favour of the community, Calvin had a method all his own, the famous Church ‘discipline’. A harsher curb upon human impulses and desires has hardly been devised by and imposed upon man down to our own days [pre-Second World War]. From the first hour of his dictatorship, this brilliant organizer herded his flock … within a barbed-wire entanglement of … prohibitions, the so-called ‘Ordinances’; simultaneously creating a special department to supervise the working of terrorist morality … called the Consistory [which was] expressly instructed to keep watch upon the private life of every one in Geneva. … Private life could hardly be said to exist any longer … From moment to moment, by day and by night, there might come a knocking at the entry, and a number of ‘spiritual police’ announce a ‘visitation’ without the citizen concerned being able to offer resistance. Once a month, rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, had to submit to the questioning of these professional ‘police des moeurs’. “

The moral police poked into every corner, examined every part of every house, and even the bodies of those who lived in it. Their clothes and shoes, the hair on their heads, was inspected. Clothes must be dark and plain; hair must not be artificially curled.

“From the bedroom they passed on to the kitchen table, to ascertain whether the prescribed diet was not being exceeded by a soup or a course of meat, or whether sweets and jams were hidden away somewhere.”

They pried into bookshelves – only books approved by the Consistory were permitted.

“The servants were asked about the behaviour of their masters, and the children were cross-questioned as to the doings of their parents.”

Visitors to the city had their baggage examined. Every letter, in and out, was opened. Citizens could not write letters to anyone outside the city, and any Genevan permitted to travel abroad was watched in foreign lands by Calvin’s spies.

Spying became universal. Almost everyone, in fear of being thought heretical in the least degree, and to prove himself clean and upright, spied on everyone else.

Whenever a State inaugurates a reign of terror, the poisonous plant of voluntary denunciation flourishes like a loathsome weed … otherwise decent folk are driven by fear to play the part of informer. … After some years, the Consistory was able to abolish official supervision, since all the citizens had become voluntary controllers.”

As far as he could, Calvin put an end to pleasure. Music – except for what Calvin deemed to be sacred – was forbidden. So was dancing, skating and sport. Theaters and all other public amusements including popular festivals, were prohibited. Wheeled carriages were not allowed. People had to walk to wherever they needed to go. Guests at family celebrations, even weddings and baptisms, were limited in number to twenty. (The names parents could give their children had to be from an approved list.) The red wine of the district could be drunk in small quantities, but no other alcohol. Innkeepers were not allowed to serve their guests until they had seen them saying their prayers, and had to spy on them throughout their stay and report on them to the authorities.

Punishments included imprisonment in irons, hanging, decapitation, burning to death.

“Everything was forbidden which might have relieved the grey monotony of existence; and forbidden, of course, was any trace of mental freedom in the matter of the printed or spoken word.”

The first thought,” Stefan Zweig declares, “of any one of dictatorial temperament, is to suppress or gag opinions different from his own.”

One man who dared to argue with Calvin was a Spaniard named Miguel Servetus. A child of the Reformation, he innocently thought he could express his own boldly Protestant opinions. He thought Calvin was the very man to hear him expound his personal interpretations of Holy Writ. He could not have been more mistaken. For having the effrontery to send them to him, Calvin had the man thrown into prison. “For weeks … he was kept like a condemned murderer in a cold and damp cell, with irons on his hands and feet. His clothes hung in rags upon his freezing body; he was not provided with a change of linen. The most primitive demands of hygiene were disregarded. No one might tender him the slightest assistance.”

Finally, for daring to disagree with Calvin, Servetus was condemned to death by the dictator’s order. The death Calvin chose for him was “roasting with a slow fire”.

‘The prisoner was brought out of prison in his befouled rags. … His beard tangled, his visage dirty and wasted, his chains rattling, he tottered as he walked. … In front of the steps of the Town Hall, the officers of the law … thrust him to his knees. The doomed man’s teeth chattered with cold … In his extremity, he crawled on his knees nearer to the municipal authorities assembled on the steps, and implored that by their grace he might be decapitated before he was burned, ‘lest the agony should drive me to repudiate the convictions of a lifetime’. This boon was denied him. Relentlessly, ‘the procession moved on towards the place of execution. … The wood was piled round the stake to which the clanking chains had been nailed. The executioner bound the victim’s hands. … The chains attached to the stake were wound four or five times around it and around the poor wretch’s wasted body. Between this and the chains, the executioner’s assistants then inserted the book and the manuscript which Servetus had sent to Calvin under seal to ask Calvin’s fraternal opinion upon it. Finally, in scorn, there was pressed upon the martyr’s brow a crown of leaves impregnated with sulphur. … The executioner kindled the faggots and the murder began.

“When the flames rose around him, Servetus uttered so dreadful a cry that many of the onlookers turned their eyes away from the pitiful sight. Soon the smoke interposed a veil in front of the writhing body, but the yells of agony grew louder and louder, until at length came an imploring scream: ‘Jesus, Son of the everlasting God, have pity on me!’”

Needless to say, neither Jesus nor an everlasting God did anything to relieve the roasting man.

‘The struggle with death lasted half an hour. Then the flames abated, the smoke dispersed, and attached to the blackened stake there remained, above the glowing embers, a black, sickening, charred mass, a loathsome jelly, which had lost human semblance. …

“But where was Calvin in this fearful hour? … He was in his study, windows closed. … He who had really willed and commanded this ‘pious murder’, kept discreetly aloof. Next Sunday, however, clad in his black cassock, he entered the pulpit to boast of the deed before a silent congregation, declaring it to have been a great deed and a just one, although he had not dared to watch the pitiful spectacle.”

To this day, Jehan Calvin is regarded as a great Christian whose teaching continues to shape the lives of millions of citizens in the Western world through the Presbyterian and various “Reformed” churches. People are no longer burnt to death for disagreeing with the master. But dictatorship, in the name of similarly dogmatic collectivist faiths, is not absent from the modern world, not even from America now, in 2010. A much vaster community has fallen under an organizer of dictatorial temperament. His consistory has made it plain that they wish to control what you eat, how you live in your homes, and what you say. Children are being urged to impress the leader’s messages on their parents. The names of those who disagree with him are blackened, and the silencing of broadcast dissent is openly advocated.

What should be done about it? There are conservative voices maintaining that the way to resist incipient totalitarianism is to “return to Christian values”.

Our hope is that this reminder of how Christian values affected life in the past may serve not only as a cautionary tale against collectivism and dictatorship, but also as a rebuttal of the idea that Christianity can be a counterforce against them.

Posted under Christianity by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

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Atheism, science, and the law 9

Any idea that needs a law to protect it from criticism is ipso facto a bad idea.

That is our own maxim. We repeat it often. It cannot be repeated often enough.

There used to be laws, in Western secular states, protecting religious ideas; usually the ideas of a particular religion favored by the state. The crime was called “blasphemy”.

Such a crime, carrying severe punishment, including the death sentence, still exists in Islamic countries.

And the crime still exists in Communist countries. As Communists do not acknowledge their ideology to be a religion, they do not call it blasphemy. It is called an offense against the state, or “dissidence”. It was often treated as a mental illness in the Soviet Union. It was also often punished by execution, not only in Russia but wherever the iron fist of the Soviet regime was the law.

In America the First Amendment to the Constituion, as everybody knows, enshrined freedom of belief and freedom of speech. Yet there lingers in the mores of the American people, generation after generation, the notion that religious beliefs should not be publicly criticized. Such criticism is felt to be a discourtesy at best, and at worst an actual defiance of the First Amendment itself!

Even some scientists respect this social taboo.

We quote a good article on the subject from the New Yorker, by Lawrence M. Krauss:

As a physicist, I do a lot of writing and public speaking about the remarkable nature of our cosmos, primarily because I think science is a key part of our cultural heritage and needs to be shared more broadly. Sometimes, I refer to the fact that religion and science are often in conflict; from time to time, I ridicule religious dogma. When I do, I sometimes get accused in public of being a “militant atheist”. Even a surprising number of my colleagues politely ask if it wouldn’t be better to avoid alienating religious people. Shouldn’t we respect religious sensibilities, masking potential conflicts and building common ground with religious groups so as to create a better, more equitable world?

I found myself thinking about those questions this week as I followed the story of Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who directly disobeyed a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and, as a result, was jailed for contempt of court. Davis’s supporters, including the Kentucky senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul, are protesting what they believe to be an affront to her religious freedom. It is “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberties”, Paul said, on CNN.

The Kim Davis story raises a basic question: To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it? It’s possible to take that question to an extreme that even Senator Paul might find absurd: imagine, for example, a jihadist whose interpretation of the Koran suggested that he should be allowed to behead infidels and apostates. Should he be allowed to break the law? Or — to consider a less extreme case — imagine an Islamic-fundamentalist county clerk who would not let unmarried men and women enter the courthouse together, or grant marriage licenses to unveiled women. For Rand Paul, what separates these cases from Kim Davis’s? The biggest difference, I suspect, is that Senator Paul agrees with Kim Davis’s religious views but disagrees with those of the hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist.

The problem, obviously, is that what is sacred to one person can be meaningless (or repugnant) to another. That’s one of the reasons why a modern secular society generally legislates against actions, not ideas. No idea or belief should be illegal; conversely, no idea should be so sacred that it legally justifies actions that would otherwise be illegal. Davis is free to believe whatever she wants, just as the jihadist is free to believe whatever he wants; in both cases, the law constrains not what they believe but what they do.

In recent years, this territory has grown murkier. Under the banner of religious freedom, individuals, states, and even — in the case of Hobby Lobby — corporations have been arguing that they should be exempt from the law on religious grounds. (The laws from which they wish to claim exemption do not focus on religion; instead, they have to do with social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.) The government has a compelling interest in insuring that all citizens are treated equally. But “religious freedom” advocates argue that religious ideals should be elevated above all others as a rationale for action. In a secular society, this is inappropriate.

The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more. Religious liberty should mean that no set of religious ideals are treated differently from other ideals. Laws should not be enacted whose sole purpose is to denigrate them, but, by the same token, the law shouldn’t elevate them, either.

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise. “My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.” It’s ironic, really, that so many people are fixated on the relationship between science and religion: basically, there isn’t one. In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature—just as it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to follow the law.

Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion. The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems. Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world. Even so, to avoid offense, they sometimes misleadingly imply that today’s discoveries exist in easy harmony with preëxisting religious doctrines, or remain silent rather than pointing out contradictions between science and religious doctrine. It’s a strange inconsistency, since scientists often happily disagree with other kinds of beliefs. Astronomers have no problem ridiculing the claims of astrologists, even though a significant fraction of the public believes these claims. Doctors have no problem condemning the actions of anti-vaccine activists who endanger children. And yet, for reasons of decorum, many scientists worry that ridiculing certain religious claims alienates the public from science. When they do so, they are being condescending at best and hypocritical at worst.

Ultimately, when we hesitate to openly question beliefs because we don’t want to risk offense, questioning itself becomes taboo. It is here that the imperative for scientists to speak out seems to me to be most urgent. As a result of speaking out on issues of science and religion, I have heard from many young people about the shame and ostracism they experience after merely questioning their family’s faith. Sometimes, they find themselves denied rights and privileges because their actions confront the faith of others. Scientists need to be prepared to demonstrate by example that questioning perceived truth, especially “sacred truth”, is an essential part of living in a free country.

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments — totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic — that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred”. Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

If that is what causes someone to be called a militant atheist, then no scientist should be ashamed of the label.

We have said it is a good article. And what we have quoted, we heartily agree with.

But we left out one paragraph (where the dots are).

Here it is:

This reticence can have significant consequences. Consider the example of Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers are calling for a government shutdown unless federal funds for Planned Parenthood are stripped from spending bills for the fiscal year starting October 1st. Why? Because Planned Parenthood provides fetal tissue samples from abortions to scientific researchers hoping to cure diseases, from Alzheimer’s to cancer. (Storing and safeguarding that tissue requires resources, and Planned Parenthood charges researchers for the costs.) It’s clear that many of the people protesting Planned Parenthood are opposed to abortion on religious grounds and are, to varying degrees, anti-science. Should this cause scientists to clam up at the risk of further offending or alienating them? Or should we speak out loudly to point out that, independent of one’s beliefs about what is sacred, this tissue would otherwise be thrown away, even though it could help improve and save lives?

Either the author did not watch the videos that recorded Planned Parnethood personnel talking about their trade in the body parts of aborted fetuses, or he did not hear, or chose to forget, some statements they made. The videos make it perfecty clear that the organization was not just selling the parts in order to cover costs, but carryng on the trade for profit.

Now we have nothing against trade for profit. On the contrary, we think the making of profit is the morally best and most socially useful reason for selling anything and providing any service.

But it happens that the selling of the body parts of aborted fetuses for profit is against the law.  So exactly the same objection that Lawrence Krauss makes to Kim Davis’s action – that she broke the law – applies to Planned Parenthood’s action.

What seems to cloud his judgment in the case of Planned Parenthood – if he did watch the videos and take in what was said –  is the fact that the body parts went to scientists for the great cause (and we do think it is a great cause) of scientific research.

But however good the cause that the illegal trade was serving, it was still illegal.

In fact, what emerges from those videos is criminal action more morally outrageous than just selling the parts of aborted fetuses. (Note, please, that we are calling them fetuses, not “babies”, in order not to use controversial language.) It is revealed, in an interview with an employee of a firm that bought the body parts, that Planned Parenthood was urging pregnant women to have an abortion – even when they were uncertain that they wanted one, and even in one case when the woman was inclined NOT to have one – so that Planned Parenthood could sell the fetus’s body parts and so make a profit. 

That is iniquity.

Now scientists like Lawrence Krauss might argue persuasively that there should not be a law forbidding the selling of fetuses, whole or in parts, for profit. Just as Kim Davis might argue that there should not be a law that compels her to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. But there are such laws. And if it is wrong for Kim Davis to break the law on the grounds that it does a disservice to her idea of a higher good, so it is wrong for Planned Parenthood to break the law even if by doing so it is serving the genuinely higher good of science.

We have said that Lawrence Krauss’s judgment may be clouded by his belief in the supreme goodness of scientific research. We will not go so far as to say that he holds that end to be “sacred”, because we agree with him that the word has no place in the vocabulary of atheism. So we toss the accusation aside.

It could be said that our moral judgment of Planned Parenthood – accurate though our allegation is that the organization broke the law – may be clouded by our extreme distaste for their abortion services. (Note that we call them “services”, firmly resisting the temptation to call them “abuses”.) It  is true that we have an arguably irrational prejudice in favor of human life. We very much dislike abortion – while acknowledging that there are reasonable grounds for it in certain cases, and on no account arguing for it to be made wholly illegal. But obviously our objection to it is not on religious grounds. We do not believe that it frustrates “God’s purposes”. We are against it because we are against the deliberate destruction of human life - unless the human in question has forfeited his or her life by taking someone else’s.

Those who are for abortion on demand accuse those of us who are against it of being inconsistent when we call ourselves “pro-life”, because many of us are for the death penalty. By the same token, we can accuse them of inconsistency when they are for the destruction of life in the womb, but against putting convicted murderers to death. We are for saving the innocent and punishing the guilty, while they are for destroying the innocent and saving the guilty.


(Hat-tip for the article to our reader, Stephen)

The Westphalian question 3

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse, Henry Kissinger wrote:

ISIS’s claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen. Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies … The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.

What was Kissinger talking about? What did he mean by “a legitimate Westphalian state”? What does “Westphalian” mean?

Commander J. E. Dyer views what is happening in the Middle East – and so in the world – very much as we do (though she approaches it from a different angle). She discusses Kissinger’s article and explains what is meant by “Westphalian”.

She writes:

Reading Henry Kissinger’s typically well-considered and intelligent article for the Wall Street Journal this weekend (“A Path out of the Middle East Collapse”), I had a growing sense that it isn’t so much a prescription for the future as a description of the past.

We wholly agree. Dr. Kissinger is not seeing the world as it is. He has not grasped – or been hit by – the import of the events that are unfolding: millions of Sunni Muslims, terrified of the power America has put in the hands of Shia Iran, flowing in a great tidal wave out of the Middle East to break on Europe’s shores and swamp the continent.

The sense began with the first paragraph, in which Kissinger defines the scope of what’s collapsing, and dates it only to 1973, when the U.S. moved to stabilize the Middle East during the Yom Kippur War.

But far more than recent U.S. policy on the Middle East is collapsing today.  What we’re seeing is more like the collapse of “Rome” itself:  the organization of Western power as a Europe-centric territorial phenomenon, setting unbreachable boundaries north, south, and west of a restless and perennially “unorganizable” Middle East.

Last year, we might have said that it was “Sykes-Picot” that was collapsing: a popular shorthand reference to the European colonial disposition of Middle Eastern boundaries at the end of World War I.  But that was last year.  Now it’s 2015, and with the utter paralysis of Western nations in the face of massive and unforeseen, unarmed migration, it’s clear that Roman Europe itself is no longer a meaningful reality.

Consider:  the Roman Empire in its heyday would not have tolerated this migration.  Neither would the Europe of muscular Christendom, or the Europe of trading monarchies, of the Westphalian nation-state era, of the “concert of Europe” era, or of the Cold War.  As long as Europe had a civilizational idea of defending and preserving itself, the legacy of Rome was alive.  Altered, perhaps, with the passage of time and the emergence of new ideas, but still kicking.

Today, the legacy of Rome looks to be an empty shell.  There is territory left, of course – but there is no idea.  In fact, the West has spent much of the last 50 years apologizing for ever having had its signature idea, and vowing to no longer have it.

Without that idea, the West has no motive to organize itself against destruction, either internal or from an external source.  The idea of the West is ultimately what has collapsed, at least as an organizing principle that preserved for many centuries, and for multiple purposes, the security boundaries of “Rome.”

And with that collapse goes the whole structure of expectations that made Dr. Kissinger’s prescription for American policy possible.

This point crystallized for me at the end of his article, when he wrote these words (emphasis added):

The U.S. role in such a Middle East [i.e., with a stability structure supported by U.S. policy] would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.

In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.

But that’s just the problem.  Without a dominant European idea – the civilizationally confident Europe of “Rome” – there is no such thing as a Westphalian state.  There is no form of power or authority that can enforce Westphalian rules.  Nor is there any great nation with a motive to enforce them.

This is too big a subject to bite off all of in a single blog post.

We found that too. This is a vast, deep, and overwhelmingly important subject. It will take much thinking about, beyond the bewilderment of the present moment.

So let me just look at two aspects of the proposition here.  One is Westphalianism itself, and why we should recognize that it must be under assault from today’s events.

Ultimately, what we call Westphalianism, after the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, is an attempt to enable nation-states to coexist pragmatically – a good in itself, enshrined as the “advantage of the other,” or the “common good” – without settling theological questions. …

The nations of 1648 had no intention of ceasing to see themselves as Christian organizations on the earth.  What they intended to do was cease making theological disputes (i.e., Protestant versus Catholic disputes, which were the main ones among the belligerents at the time) a casus belli between them.

Westphalia was a watershed statement … that the armed might of the state should not be used, implicitly against the common good, to vindicate or enforce specific theological interpretations of God. The genius of Westphalianism is that the scope of national sovereignty is held to be not limitless, but limited. …  Westphalianism leaves the things of God to God, and attends to the things of Caesar.  Westphalianism is based on a moral assumption, but is essentially an idea of pragmatism.

This is why the resurgence of apocalyptic Islam is antithetical to Westphalianism.  Predatory Shia Iran and the rise of Sunni state-Islamism – not only in the form of ISIS, but in the form of the longer-organized Muslim Brotherhood – are real and meaningful evidence that the bloody, thrashing Islamism of today is not Westphalian, and cannot be. … 

Which is to say, “is not tolerant, and cannot be”.

The premise of Westphalianism is that all the nations are trying to get along, and need a modus vivendi to regularize things.

The premise of Islamism is that nationhood itself doesn’t matter – indeed, is there to thwart Islamic unity, and must be overset.

These two premises can’t coexist.  The Treaty of Westphalia was signed by a group of nations that all agreed on nationhood.  Even internationalist Communism, the horseman of apocalypse in the 20th century, had uses for nationhood that could keep it pragmatically satisfied for decades.  Communism was willing to accept that the state would eventually wither away, but still act like a state in the meantime.

Islamism sees the nation-state as a rampart of evil, blocking the path of the caliphate.  Islamism has the excuse of belief for not respecting the rules of state sovereignty under Westphalianism.

We can’t assume away the strength or pervasiveness of the Islamist challenge to Westphalianism.  Maybe as recently as 2014, it was possible to be complacent about that.  But the earthquake of migration into Europe has reached a level that is proving against Europe, on a daily basis, that Westphalianism is not even in operation anymore.  This is the second aspect of the problem that we have to consider.

The current migration crisis means Westphalianism is dead.

If Westphalianism were still in operation, the migrant crisis wouldn’t have reached its current proportions.  Westphalian states would see it, properly, as something to defend themselves against, and would take pragmatic measures to stem the tide.  Those measures would include intervention abroad, to stabilize foreign conditions, and paying other nations to take the migrants, as well as setting strict limits on immigration and advertising clearly that the doors were closed.  Deportation and physical barriers would be seen as regrettable, perhaps, but hardly as moral evils.

The Westphalian view is clear that humaneness doesn’t demand sacrificing the benefits of national sovereignty for hundreds of millions of people.  Yet that self-abnegating idea is the default proposition governing the response of Europe – and even of the United States – to the current migration crisis.

If the West won’t enforce Westphalianism in defense of its own territory and communities, there’s no reason to think Westphalianism will be enforced on Iran.  The unenforceability of the JCPOA on Iran’s nuclear program arises from the same deficit of Western confidence in the use of state power.

And because the fundamental clash going on is between Islamism and a collapsing idea of Western civilization, this dynamic is too big to be put in balance by a mere restoration to the framework of 1973 or 1919.  That’s not actually possible, in any case – and even 1818 and 1648 don’t go far enough back. Those dates were about Christian states proving things to themselves.

It’s Islamism to which the evolutionary Western idea of multilateralism, limited sovereignty, and freedom of conscience for peoples has now to be proven.  This is a real geopolitical crisis point, not an abstraction.  If necessary, the Western idea has to prove itself over Islamism.

In the process of doing that, “Westphalianism” will inevitably evolve, to some extent.  We will end up rewriting it.  I think we’ll preserve most of it, but it will have to find a way to stand, and not give way, before a religious concept that negates Westphalianism’s very foundation; i.e., the limited-sovereignty nation-state.  I’m not sure we can foresee at the moment what it will all look like when we’re done.

One thing we can say as we part here, however, is that this tremendous crisis in world affairs represents an opportunity, for people who love limited government, freedom, and hope.  

Only with that last sentence we disagree. Commander Dyer’s website is called the Optimistic Conservative. Ours, at this point, though similarly conservative, is pessimistic.

We see the world changing for the worse. We see the idea of liberty slipping away, because the liberal democracies of the West no longer want it. 

We do not understand why they don’t want it, but it seems plain enough that they don’t.

Separation of Church and State 3

The great idea of individual freedom is what the Founders of the USA intended the new nation to embody – not Christianity.

We have selected passages on this theme from an article by Rob Boston in Church and State, denying “10 myths” about the First Amendment and its implications:

Myth One: Separation of church and state isn’t found in the U.S. Constitution.

Separation of church and state came about in America because during the colonial period there often was no separation, and this violated fundamental liberties. The system the Religious Right favors – church-state union – was tried in many colonies and found wanting.

Throughout the article, the author ascribes the myths exclusively to the “Religious Right”. In our experience, Christians of both Right and Left repeat these same fallacies.

Virginia led the way. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked together to disestablish the Anglican Church and pass legislation that extended true religious freedom to all. Some years later, it was Jefferson who penned the metaphor of the First Amendment erecting a “wall of separation between church and state”. Jefferson’s metaphor resonated with the public and the courts. Thus, the phrase “separation of church and state” came into being as a short-hand way of describing the First Amendment’s religion clauses. As the eminent church-state scholar Leo Pfeffer once wrote, “[I]t was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so widely held by the American people.”

Key Founders backed the concept. Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” and a primary drafter of the Bill of Rights, used similar language. In Virginia, Madison noted that he and Jefferson had created the “total separation of the church from the state”. As president, Madison was a strict advocate of this principle. He vetoed legislation that would have given a church in Washington, D.C., a symbolic charter to care for the poor, and he vetoed legislation giving a federal land grant to a church. In both cases, Madison issued veto messages citing the First Amendment.

Myth Two: The United States was founded to be a Christian nation.

This claim is easily debunked by referring to the text of the U.S. Constitution. If an officially Christian nation had been the Founders’ intent, the Constitution would say that explicitly. It doesn’t. In fact, it says the opposite.

Religion is referred to twice in the Constitution. The First Amendment bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion” and prohibiting “the free exercise thereof.” The first portion of this statement, which scholars call the Establishment Clause, cuts strongly against the notion of an officially Christian nation.

The second reference is often overlooked but is very important. Article VI contains language stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” What the Founders did here was ban religious qualifications for federal office – that is, they made it illegal to require that a person hold certain religious beliefs as a qualification for public office. Article VI ensures that all people – Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. – can hold office at the federal level. It is impossible to square this language with the “Christian nation” concept.

Many conservative pastors of the post-Revolution era were well aware of the secular nature of the Constitution. They knew that the document did not establish an officially Christian nation. This angered them and led to a round of pulpit attacks on the “godless” Constitution.

Myth Three: Separation of church and state was originally intended to merely bar the creation of a national church.

The text of the First Amendment goes way beyond simply banning a national church. The amendment prohibits all laws “respecting an establishment of religion”. James Madison, one of the chief drafters of the amendment, interpreted it broadly. Madison believed that tax funding of churches was unconstitutional and even concluded, later in his life, that official White House proclamations calling for days of prayer were a violation.

It is true that some colonies had official churches. But it’s worth noting that the religion enshrined in law varied from colony to colony. … This “multiplicity of sects,” as Thomas Jefferson called it, ensured an effective check on an officially established national church.

Myth Four: Most of the Founders were evangelical Christians and supported government promulgation of that mode of faith.

Evangelicalism did take hold in the colonies in the post-Revolutionary era, but it was never embraced by key Founders. Rather, they tended to align with a rival school that sought to merge certain ethical principles of Christianity with the tenets of the Enlightenment, which stressed the primacy of science and reason.

Many Founders are identified as Deists, a theological school of thought that is less popular today. Deists believed in God but didn’t interpret the Bible in a literal fashion. They were skeptical of miraculous claims and sought to find a way to bring religion into alignment with the emerging scientific view of the world.

Yes, many Founders were Deists, but here a correction is needed. As theological terms, Deism means belief that a divine being made the universe but had nothing more to do with it; Theism. in contrast, means belief in a creator who continues to concern himself with human affairs.

Some of the signers of the Constitution did undoubtedly hold traditional Christian beliefs. But this does not mean they supported merging church and state.

Myth Five: Mottos like “In God We Trust” on currency and “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are evidence that separation of church and state was never intended.

Both of these phrases are of much more recent origin than many people believe.

“In God We Trust” is familiar to most Americans because it appears on U.S. currency. But early American money did not carry this phrase. The Fugio cent, a penny authorized by Congress in 1787 and reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin, contained the mottos “Mind Your Business” and “We Are One” – a reference to the 13 colonies.

In God We Trust” didn’t appear on coins until the Civil War, when it was authorized for use on some coins minted in the North. The use of the phrase was sporadic on currency and was not codified until the 1950s. Around the same time, the phrase was adopted as the national motto. (“E Pluribus Unum” had been serving as an unofficial motto until then.) Many scholars believe that the adoption of these religious phrases was a reaction to the fight against “godless communism” during the Cold War.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a minister and a socialist. Bellamy wrote the Pledge to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Bellamy’s Pledge, which did not include the phrase “under God,” appeared in a magazine called Youth’s Companion. After a lobbying campaign by the magazine … it was adopted for use in public schools as part of a daily flag-salute ritual. Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge in 1954, again as a reaction to the fight against communism.

In short, the Founders had nothing to do with these religious mottos or their adoption.

Myth Six: Thanks to separation of church and state, kids can’t pray in public schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 and 1963 banned programs of government-sponsored, compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools. The high court did not invalidate truly voluntary prayer and hasn’t done so since then. …  Young people in public schools today may pray and read religious books in a non-disruptive way – but the choice is now theirs. No students can be compelled to take part in religious worship in a public school or singled out for refusing to do so. …

In addition, the Supreme Court has made it clear that public schools can teach about religion in an objective manner. Religion can be discussed in classes like history, art, literature and others. The Bible and other religious texts can even be read as part of a comparative religion course. As long as the approach has legitimate educational goals, public school officials will not get into trouble for teaching about religion. …

Myth Seven: Separation of church and state fosters secularism, which drains religion of its vitality.

Official government secularism is not the enemy of faith; it is the defender of it. A secular state is one that is neutral on matters of theology. An official policy of government neutrality toward religion is a positive thing for faith communities.

The United States is a perfect example of how an official doctrine of secularism helps religion. In this country, the government long ago adopted a hands-off attitude toward religion. As a result, hundreds (if not thousands) of specific faith groups have sprung up on our shores. Religious groups remain vital, and most Americans claim a religious affiliation.

Other Western nations have either established churches or some form of government aid to religion. Ironically, it is in these nations where religion is withering away. It would seem that the official tie between church and state and the rejection of secularism as a legal principle sap faith of its vitality. In the end, religion becomes a mere creature of the state and a tool for promoting whatever policies government leaders decide are appropriate. This is not what people want, and they turn away from religion.

A thought, perhaps even a fact, that does not seem a happy one to us. If separation of church and state has actually encouraged religiosness and multiplied religions, it is not an unmitigated virtue of the Constituion after all. But it may be that freedom alone is responsible for the hundreds or thousands of churches in the US. And there is no consequence of freedom that can make it regrettable.

Myth Eight: Separation of church and state means that government must be hostile to religion.

In some countries, houses of worship are shuttered by government mandate, and religious people are persecuted. Nothing like that has occurred in the United States, which operates under the separation of church and state.

The separation principle contains two key parts: The government is to refrain from promoting, sponsoring or advocating for any faith. Yet at the same time, the government is required not to meddle in the internal affairs of religious groups or impose undue regulations and oversight on them. Church-state separation protects religion by placing it beyond the reach of government. …

Not quite “beyond the reach of government”. Government’s interfering hand has held out offerings:

Religious groups in America receive many benefits. They are wholly tax exempt and are often free from the regulatory oversight that is imposed on similarly situated secular groups. They are free to lobby and speak out on political issues. They often receive special exemptions and preferential treatment in secular law. Far from experiencing hostility, the place of religion in this nation where we separate church and state is in many ways exalted.

Myth Nine: Most religious leaders don’t support separation of church and state.

Some of the earliest proponents of separation of church and state were religious leaders. Roger Williams, a Puritan clergyman and the founder of Rhode Island, strongly advocated for separation during the colonial era. Years later, clerics like John Leland and Isaac Backus demanded separation as the best vehicle to protect the right of conscience for all.

In colonial Virginia and elsewhere, clergy from Baptist, Presbyterian and other traditions worked alongside Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to secure church-state separation. These religious leaders knew that only separation could protect their faith and enable it to prosper.

In the modern era, many members of the clergy … [and] religious denominations are on record as officially sup­porting the concept.

Myth Ten: Separation of church and state stifles the public voice and presence of religion.

Anyone who believes this hasn’t been paying attention. The United States operates under separation of church and state, yet religious groups have a loud and robust public voice. They speak out – from the left, right and center – on any number of political issues. As tax-exempt entities, houses of worship are not permitted under federal law to endorse or oppose candidates for public office, but there is nothing to stop them from addressing issues. … Nor does separation of church and state result in what one foe of the principle called a “naked public square”. It’s true that government may not post or erect religious symbols, but private religious groups are often able to use public space to display them with their own money and on their own time. All that is required is that the government must treat all religious and secular groups equally; if access to public space is extended to one group, it must be extended to all.

To sum up: the Constitution does require the separation of church and state, even though the phrase itself does not appear in it.


(Hat-tip Frank)

The darkness of this world (17) 6

Today we have posted in our Pages section essay number 17, The Orgiasts (Two), in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part 3).

Here it is in full.



The Orgiasts (Two)

Hermann Nitsch (1938 – ): Hell’s bells and buckets of blood

Hermann Nitsch, one of the founders of the Action Art movement in Austria, publicly performed rituals with animal carcasses and their viscera, and naked human bodies deluged with blood, to the accompaniment of cacophonous music.

He also performed his rituals at private “festivals “ in the courtyard of his home, a baroque castle standing secluded near the Austrian-Czech border. His wife, a Jungian psychoanalyst, had bought it to provide the perfect venue for Hermann’s “Orgy Mystery Theater”. There, Nitsch intended his performances to rouse audiences to such excitement that an orgy would spontaneously erupt.

I witnessed a performance in an art gallery (where I was introduced to Nitsch as “the international press”, having credentials from a British newspaper), and was invited to the castle a few days later.[1]

In preparation for his Action, the flayed and eviscerated carcasses of sheep, goats, oxen and pigs were hung by the stumps of their hind legs from rails and hooks, each against a backdrop of a stretched white sheet, their heads dangling, open-jawed, a few feet from the ground. (In a theater or gallery there would be up to three; but at the castle, ten or more.) Their viscera were heaped near their heads on a plastic sheet covering the ground.

The action began with Nitsch’s assistants bearing in a naked, blindfolded youth (in public these participants were more often boys, but sometimes girls took part too), lying supine on a white stretcher or a wooden cross, and setting him down with his face directly beneath the gaping mouth of a skinned beast beside the viscera.

Recorded music – mostly organ and brass – started plangent and reverberating but not loud. Then Nitsch entered, and strode purposefully towards the carcass in black rubber boots: a thick-set man of medium height with tonsured black hair, dressed all in black but for yellow rubber gloves. At the same time his assistants brought plastic buckets, blue, yellow, black and red, and set them down near the naked body. Nitsch took up a bucket and ladled red wine into the open rear of the dead beast so that it trickled down through its mouth on to the face below. The trickle was followed by a splash, and another, and another, until Nitsch flung the ladle aside and – the music growing louder – sent all that was left gushing through the carcass. He seized another bucket, and poured all it contained through the carcass on to the body. The next bucket that he emptied in the same way was full of blood. Bucket after bucket was brought and emptied, faster and faster. A bucket of wine alternated with a bucket of blood. The downpour became a deluge, now the shining wine, now the viscous blood. The music grew very loud. Whistles and rattles, pipes and drums were distributed to members of the audience so they could swell the noise. Many of the watchers began to stamp, clap, shout as the spirit moved them. Nitsch heaved up the buckets in a kind of frenzy, and flung their contents randomly at the carcass, the backdrop sheet, and the boy below. Bits of raw flesh were now in the blood. The music rose to a deafening pitch, and could be felt rumbling underfoot. The naked body was so drenched that not an inch of white flesh showed through the red. A slippery pool formed on the ground, with the bits of flesh floating in the mess, and as Nitsch continued to swing the buckets, gouts and gobs spattered the spectators. Some of them slithered in the pool of blood and wine. At last Nitsch gathered the slimy viscera in his arms, and reaching up, struggled to stuff them into the stiff cadaver, poking, punching, wrestling with them as they bulged out of his grasp. Some long pieces of intestines tore away and fell over his face while he struggled on blindly. He slipped and fell, letting go the guts to flop where they may. The recorded music stopped abruptly. The whistles and rattles, pipes and drums, clapping and stamping subsided. When Nitsch rose and gestured to his assistants, the blood-dyed, gore-smeared body was taken up and borne away. In the sudden silence, the spectators contemplated for a moment the bloodstained white sheet and the dripping carcass, and then another naked white blindfolded youth was carried in and set down beneath the next beast, the music started again, and the ritual was repeated.

Originally Nitsch slaughtered the animals himself as part of his Action, but the Authorities had objected that his method was cruel. They permitted him to carry on with his performances, but only if he bought dead beasts from licensed wholesale butchers. At the castle, the rites would go on for hours, sometimes through the greater part of a day or night. The spectator-participants would be intoxicated with drugs and wine – some of it from the castle’s own vineyard. (Nitsch told me that he himself preferred wine to the drugs his acolytes brought to the castle – the cannabis, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and hallucinogens – because he found that drugs “discouraged eroticism”.) They would be further entranced by the corybantic music. Their nostrils would be filled with the raw fetor of blood and guts, augmented by both incense and its counter-smell of animal excreta sprayed from cans. They were expected to be participants in the rite “like any congregation at a religious ceremony”, Nitsch explained to me. “But participating more intimately than co-worshipers. More even than communicants. Like the members of ecstatic cults, they should achieve a kind of trance – which is a proof of therapeutic response.” The ceremonies would be brought to a climax with “copulation, all kinds of sex, including sado-masochistic interactions”. (But, he assured me, my presence at the castle as “the international press” precluded an orgy.)

His performances, he said, were “catharsis-therapy, comparable to psychoanalysis”. He gave me a book, a very thick volume, in which he describes dozens of his actual and imaginary Actions. An example: “Hundreds of Popes, crucified, having a poem read to them while the Emperor Nero, 40 castrated boys, and 3,200 pigs help make up the orchestration.”

And this also is in the book: “Classical psychoanalysis is replaced by sensations which disinhibit and intoxicate: actions with raw meat, damp body-heated guts, bloody excreta, blood warm from slaughter, tepid water, the pleasure of splashing, squirting, pouring, sullying is heightened to intense joy by tearing raw flesh, stamping into guts. The shredded abreactions-god drops into the association-field. The dramatic burrows its way into the excitement of cruelty. Chaos, orgiastic drunkenness, breaks upon us. The intensity of the experience allows a mysticism of aggression and cruelty to develop.”

“The ultimate purpose of the artist,” Nitsch said, “is self-liberation. He needs to break through to the essential, strongly felt experience of existence. Calls to bliss are mixed with the pain of overcoming. That is why it is a form of therapy.”

In many chambers of his castle, crosses were displayed, upside-down or draped in used menstrual bandages. There were monstrances and censers. Blood-stained priestly vestments were hung in rows along a wall. In a long shed, rows of meathooks dangled from overhead rails. And there was a once-consecrated chapel, painted white and gold, with wooden pews carved and polished, and an altar. On the ceiling were frescoes of chubby cherubs with rosy flesh among diaphanous white veils and whipped-cream clouds, holding Christian symbols. Blasphemous rites, Nitsch said, were celebrated there.

Yet Nitsch vigorously denied that Catholicism had anything worth mentioning to do with his work for self-liberation. “My art is Dionysian”, he said.[2] “There is both creation and destruction in our existence. All flows together in the River of Life. So in one festival I must represent all aspects of existence. My work contains cruelty but the opposite of cruelty too. People come here to eat, drink, wander in my garden, my orchard, my vineyards, and enjoy it all. That is important. But the shock of the performances is important. Cathartic, like the old Greek tragedies.”

Nitsch himself seemed a generous and even gentle person, not cruel. He denied that to stage performances with carcasses, guts, and blood-drenched people, was to feed an appetite for the sight of suffering. “On the contrary,” he said, “it channels such desires into art actions which might otherwise require sadistic expression in real life. Here the Opfers [the ‘victims” or “sacrificies” – the German word has both meanings) are all volunteers and none of them is ever hurt.” Not even psychologically? None had said so. “They understood that this too was part of the Heraclitean river of Life[3] containing all things good and evil.”


1. I was commissioned by the Sunday Times Magazine to write about a festival of Performance Art held in Vienna from the 21st to the 30th April, 1978. A Magnum photographer was sent with me. My story was duly printed, with photographs. The cover of the magazine displayed one of the pictures of a Nitsch ritual. Two days before it was to be distributed with the newspaper, the editor became anxious about the pictures. He submitted the whole issue to the editor-in-chief, who apparently said: “You cannot put a picture of all that blood on the Sunday morning breakfast tables of the nation.” So the whole thing was spiked.

2. Nitsch’s performances were indeed modeled on the rituals of the cult of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine. In those rituals, bulls and goats were sacrificed, both beasts being held sacred to him. Celebrants became intensely inebriated and danced wildly to the loud music of pipes, drums and cymbals, until the “god entered into them”, a mystic condition for which the Greek word was Enthusiasm. With the god inside them they were freed from all restrictions of law and reason and, transcending even the supposed limits set by nature, would tear an animal or human being apart with their bare hands and feast on the raw flesh. Bands of drunken men and woman (but in The Bacchae by Euripides, only bands of women called the Maenads), ran and danced, naked or partially clad in the skins of fawns, and smeared with the blood of the animal or human prey, night-long, in wild places, leaping over earth and grass and stone, and indulging every erotic desire. The name for this sacrament was an “orgion” – an orgy. An appendix to these essays will describe the cult, and its reformed version in the cult of Orpheus; and how the Orphic Mysteries contributed to the dogma and rites of both Christianity and Christian Gnosticism.

3. The (3rd century?) Greek biographer, Diogenes Laërtius, in his Lives of Eminent Philosophers, summarizes the philosophy of Heraclitus (535-475 BCE) thus: “All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things flows like a stream.” And: “Of the opposites, that which tends to birth or creation is called war and strife, and that which tends to destruction by fire is called concord and peace.” An echo of these ideas is sounded in the “dialectical idealism” of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), one of the most culpable philosophers in the flowing stream of European – especially German – thought, right up to the thinkers of the New Left.

Posted under Art, Articles, Christianity, Gnosticism, Mysticism by Jillian Becker on Sunday, October 11, 2015

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Filling the “God gap” with hogwash 4

This post adds comment to yesterday’s immediately below, The cloud of knowing.

We report there how the Chicago Council on Global Affairs urged that “the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy” be “clarified”. Which means changed. Because “some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism”.

“Imperialism” in the myopic eyes of the international Left is a very severe form of “racism” – its chief deadly sin.

What these thinkers who want the US to promote religion abroad are really getting at, is that for us to advocate religious tolerance is to impose our values on those who don’t believe in it.

That is to say, impose tolerance and freedom on states that have – and enforce – a state religion; or on religious groups that hold their own beliefs to be unquestionably and uniquely true.  

They think (if it can be called thinking) that by objecting to the intolerance of such states and groups, we are being intolerant.

And so they imply that it’s perfectly all right for them to be intolerant, but for us to be intolerant is a sin and a scandal.

In the words of the Palestinian grievance-monger Edward Said, we are guilty of regarding people of other races and cultures and religions (he meant specifically Muslims) as “the other”, and looking down on them. He was not concerned, as neither are his followers, that they regard us as “the other”, and not merely look down on us, but plan perpetual warfare (holy war, jihad) against us, so that they may force us to convert, or  – if we are lucky –  pay them to let us live, or else die. 

In consideration of that alone, it is obvious that our values, our political system, and our culture is immeasurably superior to theirs. And the view that we are in the wrong to look down on their intolerance, cruelty, immoral creeds, and oppressive government is hogwash.

These critics of the West – in particular of America – seem unaware that when they deplore “white privilege” they are acknowledging that our system, our way of life, our achievements, our culture, our economy, our form of government (all of which include people of many races, colors, ethnic backgrounds and religions) are better than the others. What else can they mean by “privilege”? We weren’t picked out by some great Emir in the Sky to be the recipients of his bounty more than any other society.

What the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ proposal inescapably means is that first, we should refrain from condemning (for instance): the Sunni persecution of Christians, Yezidis, and Shias; or the Shia persecution of Sunnis and Baha’i; or the general Muslim subjugation of women and demonization of Jews; or the Indonesian mass murder of Ahmadis; or Hindu actions against Muslims; or Muslim actions against Buddhists. And second, we  should actively encourage it. What other meaning can be found in their recommendation?

The implications go still further. Even if we were to take a tolerant view of all that tyranny and bloodshed, we would still be in the wrong. Because our secularism is wrong.

And what does that imply if not that we too should have an enforced state religion? (Any bets on what religion it would be if President Obama could impose it by executive order?)

Also that when that happens, not only could we be intolerant of all religions that are not ours, but we positively should be – just like the others.

And finally, to attain perfect Lefty virtue, we would have to resist forever any temptation to so much as think that maybe we should all be free to believe and not believe whatever we damn well like.

Posted under Buddhism, Christianity, Commentary, Hinduism, Islam, jihad, liberty, Muslims, Religion general, United States by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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The cloud of knowing (revisited) 1

President Obama openly promotes Islam both within the United States and abroad.

It seems that at first the plan to do this (or call it a conspiracy, since we are likely to have someone tell us that we are propounding a conspiracy theory), was being cunningly disguised as a plan to promote religion generally –  or at least those religions and religious organizations that “promote peace and human rights”.  As the World Council of Churches did, perhaps – when it had been penetrated, taken over, and manipulated by the USSR?

Did the Chicago Council on Global Affairs assist the plan?

In 2010, after a two year study, that institution found that “Western secularism feeds religious extremism“.

Is it still doing that? Did ISIS, for instance, arise as result of Western secularism?

Or has Western secularism become less “narrow, ill-informed and uncompromising”?

This article of ours was first posted February 24, 2010.


Traces of some very abstruse reasoning emerge tantalizingly from the Cloud of Knowing – the thinkers who influence current US foreign policy. Secretive ends are being pursued. Can we discern what they are, or guess what they might be, from the clues dropped by the press?

The Washington Post reports:

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.

So, according to a body that calls itself the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, secularism “feeds” religious extremism. Presumably that means it nourishes it, energizes it, makes it stronger than it would otherwise be.

Now how could it do that? Does it drive the religious mad by simply being non-religious? And if so, is it to blame for that, or are the religious perhaps over-reacting?

Wait. It’s not any old secularism that is guilty of annoying the religious; it is specifically Western secularism. Other sorts – if there are sorts of secularism – are not bad, or not as bad.

Why? Apparently because Western secularism, in contrast to, say, Eastern secularism if it exists, is “uncompromising”. But how should not-being-religious compromise? Should it be a little bit religious? If so, how much? And would it then still be secularism?

One may begin to suspect that here is another formulation of the now familiar accusation from the left that the West has only itself to blame for being attacked by religious extremists – aka Muslim terrorists – because it is not Muslim. Or is that leaping too quickly to an as yet unwarranted conclusion?

Let’s proceed cautiously. As well as “feeding” religious extremism, this Western secularism also “threatens traditional cultures”. How? Does it proselytize non-belief? Not that anyone’s heard. Does it try to force non-belief on believers? Again, no, not noticeably. Then does its mere existence raise questions that endanger the belief of “traditional cultures” – in which case what would the Chicago Council on Global Affairs have it do to lift the threat from those intimidated folk?

Wait again – the list of accusations against this dangerous force called secularism is not yet exhausted. It also “fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights”.

Which groups would those be – could we have some names, please? And why can they only carry out their noble mission if they are encouraged?

Answers to these questions cannot be found in the Washington Post story.

What it does tell us is that it took this body two years to reach its conclusion. So we  should not brush it off as nonsense: in two years it is possible to go very deeply into grievances.

What’s more, the conclusion requires, and will elicit, action by the government of the United States.

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”. 

A serious capabilities gap? Not a mere pothole in the diplomatic road to perfect global accord? And it could be filled in by – what exactly? A state religion? No – that could not be the recommendation of 32 officials and scholars representing all major faiths.

Just a generalized religiosity then?

But how is religion, whether specific or a mere aura of sanctity assumed by the State Department, going to improve American foreign policy, soothe the extremists of foreign creeds, reassure traditional cultures,  and stiffen the backbone of groups (presumably different from the religious extremists) intent on virtuously promoting peace  and human rights?

We are not told, and can only hope that the Chicago Council’s report to the White House provides answers to these difficult questions.

Thomas Wright, the council’s executive director of studies, said task force members met Tuesday with Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and State Department officials. “They were very receptive, and they said that there is a lot of overlap between the task force’s report and the work they have been doing on this same issue,” Wright said.

Something is already being done by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships [and the State Department] to make religion in some way an integral part of US foreign policy? It would be most interesting to know what exactly.

DuBois declined to comment on the report but wrote on his White House blog Tuesday: “The Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership and the National Security Staff are working with agencies across government to analyze the ways the U.S. government engages key non-governmental actors, including religious institutions, around the globe.”

Ah! He’s not being exact, but there’s a clue in here somewhere.

The Chicago Council isn’t as influential as the Council on Foreign Relations or some other Washington-based think tanks, but it does have a long-standing relationship with the president. Obama spoke to the council once as a state senator and twice as a U.S. senator, including his first major foreign policy speech as a presidential candidate in April 2007.

It could depend on his sympathy then, with whatever it is they want done.

Michelle Obama is on the council’s board.

Again, ah!

Now we learn that the problem, however obcure it may seem to the public, has been troubling smart people for quite some time.

American foreign policy’s “God gap”has been noted in recent years by others, including former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright.

Well, she has been associated with a few faiths in her time – Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism. So perhaps she would be especially aware of a shortage of religious belief in the State Department. Could have struck her forcibly when she assumed office.

“It’s a hot topic,” said Chris Seiple [read something very politically correct that he’s written here], 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.

Come now, politics can hardly be avoided by a Council of Foreign Relations. But you say that religion is “the elephant in the room”? And it is “at the nexus of national security” ?

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.

Who is Richard Cizik, and what is the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good? According to Newsweek he was the Washington lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals for nearly 30 years, and then, towards the end of 2008, he announced “the formation of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a group devoted to developing Christian responses to global and political issues such as environmentalism, nuclear disarmament, human rights, and dialogue with the Muslim world”.


“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.

So the particular religion they have in mind is Islam?

Not necessarily … don’t jump to conclusions …  it could also be  .. hmmm-mmm … Hinduism and …  Christianity and … who knows what?:

“Despite a world abuzz with religious fervor,” the task force says, “the U.S. government has been slow to respond effectively to situations where religion plays a global role.” Those include the growing influence of Pentecostalism in Latin America, evangelical Christianity in Africa and religious minorities in the Far East.

All of which feel threatened by Western secularism? Are crying out for it to compromise a little?

But okay, mostly Islam:

U.S. officials have made efforts to address the God gap, especially in dealings with Islamic nations and groups. The CIA established an office of political Islam in the mid-1980s. … During the second Bush administration, the Defense Department rewrote the Army’s counter-insurgency manual to take account of cultural factors, including religion.

Could that have had something to do with the shooting of soldiers by an “extremist” Muslim officer at Fort Hood? Just wondering.

The Obama administration has stepped up the government’s outreach to a wider range of religious groups and individuals overseas

… even, say, the Dalai Lama if he’ll use the back door

…  trying to connect with people beyond governments, said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Very hush-hush stuff this.

The effort, he said, is more deliberate than in the past: “This issue has senior-level attention.”

He noted that Obama appointed a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference …

The envoy being a Muslim and a terrorist sympathizer [see our post The trusted envoy, February 20, 2010], and the Organization of the Islamic Conference being a major instrument of the Ummah for the conquest of the non-Muslim world, chiefly by methods of “soft jihad” in Europe …

… and created a new Muslim outreach position in the State Department. In the past year, he said, embassies in Muslim-majority countries have held hundreds of meetings with a broad range of people not involved in government.

Huh? Muslim-majority countries have had hundreds of meetings with individual people not involved with government? What people? Why? To what end? How does the government know about them?

Whatever was going on with that, it was apparently too “episodic and uncoordinated”. Now there must be something more programmatic, more official, more formal, more defined, and definitely involving government:

To end the “episodic and uncoordinated nature of U.S. engagement of religion in the world,” the task force recommended:

— Adding religion to the training and continuing educationofall foreign service officers, diplomats and other key diplomatic, military and economic officials. …

— Empowering government departments and agencies to engage local and regional religious communities where they are central players in the promotion of human rights and peace, as well as the delivery of health care and other forms of assistance.

Leaving aside the code words “human rights” and “peace” which in such a context as this usually mean “leftism” and “Islam” – diplomats, and military and even economic officials should deliver health care?

But here comes the stunner. (Remember that “clarify” in diplomatic talk always means “take it back and say something more to our liking”.)

– Address and clarify the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

Cizik said some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism.


We give up. Such nuanced thought is beyond our grasp.

The saintly masochistic Inquisitor 1

The Washington Post reports:

Thousands of Catholics poured onto the grass of Catholic University [today] to watch Pope Francis make a Spanish missionary a saint when he celebrates Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception … in Washington, the first canonization on U.S. soil.

During the Mass, Francis will canonize 18th century Franciscan theologian Junipero Serra, who is credited with spreading Christianity in California but is controversial among some for the treatment of Native Americans under his leadership.

Controversial, eh?

So what sort of man was Junipero Serra?

Extracts from Wikipedia:

Junípero Serra Ferrer (1713 – 1784) was a Spanish Franciscan friar who founded a mission in Baja California and the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California from San Diego to San Francisco, which at the time were in Alta California in the Province of Las Californias in New Spain. He began in San Diego on July 16, 1769, and established his headquarters near the Presidio of Monterey, but soon moved a few miles south to establish Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in today’s Carmel, California.

The missions were primarily designed to bring the Catholic Christian faith to the native peoples.

Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988, and Pope Francis expects to canonize him on September 23, 2015 during his first visit to the United States. This has been controversial with some Native Americans who criticize Serra’s treatment of their ancestors and associate him with the suppression of their culture.

During his 1752 visit to Mexico City, Serra sent a request from the college of San Fernando to the local headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition. He asked that an inquisitor be appointed to preside over the Sierra Gorda. The next day, Inquisition officials appointed Serra himself as inquisitor for the whole region.

Serra made a habit of punishing himself physically, to purify his spirit. He wore a sackcloth spiked with bristles, or a coat interwoven with broken pieces of wire, under his gray friar’s outer garment. In his austere cell, Serra kept a chain of sharp pointed iron links hanging on the wall beside his bed, to whip himself at night when sinful thoughts ran through his mind. His nightly self-flagellations at the college of San Fernando caught the ears of some of his fellow friars. In his letters to his Franciscan companions, Serra often referred to himself as a “sinner” and a “most unworthy priest”. 

A man who could do that to himself – what could he do to “heretics”? Wikipedia does not tell us how he dealt with them. But we do know how the Inquisition generally dealt with them. And we are given an example of how he inspired masochism – to the point of death – in others:

In one of his sermons in Mexico City, while exhorting his listeners to repent their sins, Serra took out his chain, bared his shoulders and started whipping himself. Many parishioners, roused by the spectacle, began sobbing. Finally, a man climbed to the pulpit, took the chain from Serra’s hand and began whipping himself, declaring: “I am the sinner who is ungrateful to God who ought to do penance for my many sins, and not the padre [Serra], who is a saint.” The man kept whipping himself until he collapsed. After receiving the last sacraments, he later died from the ordeal.

During other sermons on the theme of repentance, Serra would hoist a large stone in one hand and, while clutching a crucifix in the other, smash the stone against his chest. Many of his listeners feared that he would strike himself dead. Later, Serra suffered chest pains and shortness of breath …  While preaching of hell and damnation, Serra would sear his flesh with a four-pronged candle flame … 

A model for all mankind.

Posted under Christianity by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

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