Quotulatiousness

June 22, 2016

Kathy Shaidle wonders if the Pope is even Catholic

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Her latest column for Taki’s Magazine discusses her own journey away from the Catholic church and the current Pope’s own journey in a similar direction:

Such are the epochal times we’re living in that even timeworn truisms are at risk of obsolescence.

Take “Is the Pope Catholic?” Those of a certain age may prefer Steve Martin’s absurdist gloss — “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” — but the original has been every wise guy’s idea of a witticism for as long as I’ve been alive, and presumably longer.

But I’m not the first to wonder if the election of Pope Francis has rendered the phrase extinct. Great news for anyone whose taste in conversation veers away from the Runyonesque, but obviously not so great news for, you know, the Church.

Years ago, I would have cared more.

I spent much of my career as a semiprofessional Catholic. Besides working in Catholic publishing, such as it is, I’d called my first blog Relapsed Catholic. That was in 2000. When the American priestly sex-abuse scandals exploded shortly thereafter, I was in a uniquely helpful position: Canada had undergone an identical crisis the previous decade, and my blog posts about both found an eager readership. I encouraged others to start their own sites, and eventually an informal network grew up — run by priests, nuns, canon lawyers, laity — which I nicknamed “St. Blog’s Parish.”

I was then, as I am now, the resident brat. When, in 2002, America’s clueless cardinals called for a Day of Reparations — during which the laity would perform penance for what were undeniably clerical sins — I blogged that collective guilt was exactly one of the “trendy modern notions” (like the New Age “therapy” sporadically employed to “treat” pervert priests, and the diocesan deference to secular lawyers’ morally dubious advice) that had exacerbated the corruption. Jesus, I noted, had been bracingly clear on the topic of child abuse: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck.”

“Implicitly,” I blogged, “someone has to stay dry. And do the tying. I’m delighted to volunteer.”

June 20, 2016

Early Christian Schisms – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 28 May 2016

We hope this series will serve as a primer to the Christian faith, specifically how it interacted with the Roman Empire – even though we had to simplify many complex theological concepts to fit an introductory series.
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James wanted this series to be the primer he always wished he’d had when studying the later history of Rome. Since it was focused on the impact of Christianity upon the Roman Empire, we left out the Gnostic movement which had a greater impact on the Persian Empire. Our history begins with Paul the Apostle, whose fundamental belief was that the sacrifice of Christ erased the sins of mankind and freed them from having to follow the old laws, specifically the Mosaic Laws which Judaism believed were the path to salvation. In abolishing these laws, he emphasized that circumcision would no longer be necessary because Roman men, while perfectly willing to give their lives for a noble cause (and Christianity at the time often required sacrifice), were pretty hesitant to let anyone cut off parts of their penises. Not until Constantine, though, would Christianity be embraced in large numbers – but was Constantine really Christian? Many scholars have suggested otherwise, and it may be hard to say given our current sources, but he did originate as a monotheistic Sol Invictus worshipper and probably saw the political advantage of ruling a people united under one God instead of thousands of cults. He may not have realized the difficulty of that, however, until the Council of Nicaea which brought together many bishops who had been actively persecuted for their faith – hence the eyepatches and missing limbs! – and felt very strongly about how it should be practiced. Even Saint Nicholas, who is the foundation for Santa Claus, supposedly punched Arius during this council over his heretical statements. And they were none too tolerant of each other’s opposing beliefs. Although there were many different beliefs that evolved from monophysitism, miaphysitism being the most common, they were often lumped together as one heretical group. Even in our series, we lumped their beliefs together in a way that made their differences easier to understand, but weren’t entirely accurate. And these divisions persist to today: not until 1994 did the Assyrian and Catholic churches repair the divide from the Council of Ephesus. But while religion is often a contentious topic, we’ve been fortunate to see much thoughtful dicussion in our comments section and want to thank our viewers for that. The history of the faith is a way to understand how it has shaped our history, and it has been the genesis of great acts of charity along with great moments of strife. Understanding and accepting that legacy in all of its complexity is vital to understanding the path that took us here.

June 18, 2016

Early Christian Schisms – IV: Ephesus, the Robber Council, and Chalcedon – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 21 May 2016

The Council of Ephesus meant to heal a rift between Nestorius of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria, but instead it set off a chain of ecumenical councils that disagreed with each other, excommunicated rivals, and ultimately led to more factions within the church.
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Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on the Romane Empire.

A centuary after Constantine, the Emperor Theodosius II found himself wrapped up in yet more theological disputes. His chosen patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop Nestorius, had angered many other church leaders with his teachings that Christ had separate human and divine natures. Cyril of Alexandria wrote to the Pope in Rome for support against Nestorius, and received permission to excommunicate him. Nestorius responded by having the emperor call an ecumenical council, at which he intended to excommunicate Cyril. But Cyril acted first, declaring for the excommunication of Nestorius and forming a majority by pushing the council to begin early before the supporters of Nestorius could gather. When they did, they formed their own council and excommunicated Cyril right back, only to be excommunicated in turn by Cyril’s Council of Ephesus. Theodosius II attempted to resolve this by calling a second council, but this time none of the Western delegates had time to arrive and in their absence, monophysite leaders from the East excommunicated Nestorius again and declared monophysitism the official doctrine of the church. Those who didn’t get to participate called this the Robbers Council and refused to acknowledge it. Then Theodosius II died, and this fight devolved onto his successor, Marcian. Marcian called together the Council of Chalcedon to rule on the previous councils, where it was finally decided that Christ had two unified natures, human and divine, and everyone who’d supported the Robbers Council should be excommunicated. Instead of bringing Christians together under an orthodox theology, they split the faith as those who wouldn’t accept their decisions continued to preach and believe their own doctrines and a multitude of Christian sects became their own separate orders. Ultimately, these new denominations followed regional lines, which meant that different areas of the empire formed distinct cultural identities shaped in part by their faith, and these areas were less connected to Constantinople and became the first to split off as the empire weakened over the centuries.

June 16, 2016

Early Christian Schisms – III: The Council of Nicaea – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 14 May 2016

The Council of Nicaea convened to decide the guiding rules of the church – and to resolve the questions posed by Arian theology. A deacon named Athanasius set himself against Arius and succeeded in getting his teachings declared heresy.
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Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome.

Constantine called the Council of Nicaea not only to address the teachings of Arius, but also to decide basic matters for how the church would go forward. Yet it was the debate over Arian theology which quickly came to dominate the council’s time. The bishops effectively split into two factions, one backing Arius and the other led by a deacon named Athanasius. Athanasius vehemently opposed the Arian teachings and would not allow any compromise to be formed with the other group. Yet he played the politics very carefully, adopting in his own arguments the phrase “homoousian” (or “of the same substance”) to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, knowing full well that Arius would never accept an agreement which included this idea. Even when others tried to compromise with the phrase “homoiousian” (or “of similar substance”), Arius would not agree. Athanasius used the extra time to make private deals and assemble a majority coalition, with which he successfully caused Arianism to be declared heresy and forced Arius himself into exile. Emperor Constantine was just happy a decision had been reached, but a bishop in his own court would not let matters rest so easily. This bishop, Eusebius, campaigned tirelessly for the restoration of Arius and managed to get Athanasius exiled instead. Constantine himself wound up being baptized by Eusebius, and his son Emperor Constantius II would be a die-hard Arian in his turn. Eusebius even ordained a Goth named Ulfilas to preach to the Gothic tribes, and his sucess meant that the tribes became Arian Christians who would never completely assimilate into the Roman Empire. Thus, despite the firm decree at the First Council of Nicaea, Arian Christianity continued to grow and thrive alongside orthodox teachings.

June 14, 2016

Early Christian Schisms – II: The Woes of Constantine – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 May 2016

Constantine had restored full rights to Christians in the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan, but he did not expect theological debates to divide the church. Conflict between the orthodox church and both the Donatists and the Arians drew him to intervene.
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Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome.

Constantine had gained control of the Roman Empire, its first Christian emperor, and he restored full rights to people of the Christian faith with the Edict of Milan. But his generosity immediately raised a question: what did the church do with so-called traditors, who had renounced the Christian faith during the days of persecution and now wanted to return? The Roman Church demanded they be restored, because the doctrine of penance declared that anyone could repent for any sin, no matter how grievous. But in North Africa, one group was outraged when a traditor named Caecilian was not only restored to the faith but elected Bishop of Carthage. They refused to accept him and elected their own bishop, Donatus, instead. Donatus performed the role of a bishop without official church authority and he insisted on re-baptizing traditors in contradiction to the doctrine of penance. The church wanted to put him on trial, but since Donatus had rebelled against the people calling for his trial, he didn’t believe it would be a fair trial. He wrote Constantine asking for help and the emperor decided to intervene, setting a dangerous precedent for imperial involvement in affairs of the church. Over a series of several trials, church leaders continued to condemn Donatus and he continued to ask Constantine for retrials until the emperor grew fed up and washed his hands of the matter. The unrepentant Donatists went on to become a splinter church that divided North Africa for centuries. Around the same time, a bishop named Arius had begun to teach a view on the nature of the Father and the Son which contradicted the trinitarian belief in co-equal and co-substantial natures. The Bishop of Alexandria excommunicated him when his teachings attracted too many followers and again threatened to split the church. Since the debates continued to rage, Constantine sent a cleric to try and broker peace between the two sides – but the cleric he sent was a strident trinitarian who only tried to put down the Arian sect and sparked riots instead. That cleric attempted to call a local council to resolve the matter, but Constantine – well aware by now that his representative was probably laying a trap for the Arians – suggested instead that a universal council of bishops from across the empire be called together at Nicea.

June 12, 2016

Early Christian Schisms – I: Before Imperium – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 30 Apr 2016

Understanding the early theological struggles of the Christian church is vital to understanding history. This series will focus on Rome and the political and religious forces that drove various interpretations of Christ and his teachings – and a push towards orthodoxy.

Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome.

One of the toughest questions early Christians had to face was Mosaic Law. Did the laws of Moses still apply, or did the teachings of Jesus Christ replace them? The issue of circumcision became a focal point for this conflict. In an era without surgical anaesthetic or procedures, asking grown men to have their foreskins removed was a painful process. Paul the Apostle argued vehemently against the practice because he believed that Christianity needed to be accessible to Romans, the gentiles, and he knew that requirements like circumcision would vastly reduce the number of people willing to convert. Gradually, Judaizing forces were pushed out of mainstream Christianity as the religion began to convert more Romans. But it soon faced another crisis: what was the nature of Christ? This issue would come up time and time again, but one of the earliest conflicts over it came from the Docetists. They believed Christ was a being of pure spirit, and that it would denigrate his godhood to consider him a human man. But in the Epistles, John argued fervently against that idea, saying that Christians must believe in Christ “in the flesh” in order for his sacrifices to be meaningful. A bishop named Ignatius of Antioch embraced that idea when facing a conviction to be thrown to lions in the Colossuem, believing that his martyrdom echoed Christ’s and he was proud to give his body to prove his faith. Then the 3rd Century Crisis hit, and the Roman government fell apart. The Church stepped in, and many people believed its prophesies of apocalypse had come to pass in this era. Although the government eventually recovered thanks to men like Aurelian and Diocletian, conversion rates had gone up. But civil war rocked the empire again, and it came down to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine, one of the claimants for the throne, supposedly had a vision telling him to paint “Chi Rho” (the Greek letters for Christ) on his soldiers’ shields. He did so, and won the day. In gratitude he converted to Christianity and eventually brought most of the empire with him, with the population going from about 10% Christian to 50% Christian followers.

June 4, 2016

The tale of the Good Samaritan, updated for modern times

Filed under: Humour, Religion — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

James Bryant assures me that this isn’t original to him, but he doesn’t recall where he first encountered it. I thought it was a very appropriate re-telling of the old story:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But then two social workers, as they journeyed, came where he was: and when they saw him, were moved by a deep compassion.

And as they passed by on the other side one said unto the other “Whoever did that needs our help.”

June 2, 2016

QotD: The problem with Islam

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What, gentle reader may ask, is that fundamental problem with Islam, that even many Muslims begin to understand? Now, that is a question much easier to answer.

It is the coercion thing. This has been deeply implanted through fourteen centuries, and to be fair to the religion in Egypt, it is backed by forty more of pharaonic or quasi-pharaonic history — with only a few centuries of Christian relief. Basically, your Musulman, like your modern Liberal, thinks that the Good is something that must be compelled. That is why Muslim fanatics and Leftists are likely to see eye to eye, and find ways to cooperate, wherever the work of the Devil is afoot, even though the theological differences between them are substantial. They have a common enemy, in us. They agree on the basic principle of Shariah: that law should be more than negative and preventative; that instead it should be positive and pro-active; that it is an irreplaceable tool for social engineering.

This is starkly in contrast with the Christian, or might I say, Judaeo-Christian inheritance, in which men should be discouraged from committing specific crimes, but virtues should not, indeed cannot be compelled. They can only be inspired. Christians and Jews have not always been good. Some have been tyrants. But their faith does not command them to be tyrants, does not tell them to enforce the Good, even on themselves. It tells them instead to be good. At most, Deus vult is for special occasions.

Not even God compels the Good. Instead, He tells us what it is and suggests that we choose it. He lets us make mistakes; lets us learn from the consequences, even terrible consequences. He does not chop our hand off the moment it reaches for something it should not take, for we shall need the same hand to restore what we have taken.

David Warren, “Into the desert”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-01-17.

May 31, 2016

“Illegal” British schools – “If this whole fuss were any more of a smear you could use it to test for cervical cancer”

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Natalie Solent uses up some past-the-use-by-date outrage over a report of “illegal” schools in Britain:

Here is a BBC story from a couple of weeks ago: Thousands of children taught in ‘illegal schools’. Similar pieces appeared in the Times, the Guardian, and other newspapers. When this story came out I listened on the radio to an interview on the subject with some Ofsted guy, either the Sir Michael Wilshaw quoted by the BBC or one of his minions. Whoever it was, he came across as so evasive on one particular point that by comparison even the BBC interviewer was plain-spoken. From the way Ofsted Guy spoke of these illegal schools as places where only “religion” was taught you’d think clicking on the BBC Bitesize GCSE Religious Studies page makes a red light flash in GCHQ, and from the way he spoke of “radicalisation” you’d think that all roots resulted in the same flower. Oh, and from the way he spoke of these schools being “illegal” you would think that they had been convicted in a court of being illegal. The BBC interviewer pressed him and eventually got him to admit that the alleged illegality was merely his opinion, not having been tested in court, and that “some” of these schools were Islamic.

That’s progress of a sort. The Guardian article linked to above does not mention Islam at all but has a quote from a disgruntled former pupil at a Charedi school. We should all be very grateful to the Charedim and the Belzers. When one simply must have someone other than the Muslims to point to, they are there. They ought to start an agency and charge for their services: “Jews in Hats: the safe option for all your denunciation needs.”

The Times says the unauthorized schools are “predominantly Islamic”.

So far this post has almost written itself. The usual pathetic fear of naming Islam from the establishment, the usual pushback from angry commenters, the usual opportunity for bloggers like me to use up old out-of-code packets of sarcasm from the bottom of the freezer. But now things get a little odd and diffuse and unsatisfactory.

I would like to offer a few scattered thoughts regarding three points. (1) Not for the first time, the efforts of the media to conceal that some minority are disproportionately involved in some disfavoured activity has resulted in the public overestimating the involvement of that minority; (2) this whole effort on the part of the so-called Office for Standards in Education has all the characteristics of a power-grab and a smear; and (3) there is no evidence that these little informal schools, including the Muslim ones, do any worse than the state schools at either education or terrorism-prevention. There is some reason to suppose they might do better in some circumstances despite worse facilities. Many children turn to these schools having suffered bullying at normal schools. The low number of people involved means that everyone, teachers and pupils, knows everyone else; no one can “slip through the cracks”. Another benefit is that the presence of an affordable alternative helps keep more traditional types of schools on their toes.

May 26, 2016

QotD: The weaknesses of laws

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The strange American ardor for passing laws, the insane belief in regulation and punishment, plays into the hands of the reformers, most of them quacks themselves. Their efforts, even when honest, seldom accomplish any appreciable good. The Harrison Act, despite its cruel provisions, has not diminished drug addiction in the slightest. The Mormons, after years of persecution, are still Mormons, and one of them is now a power in the Senate. Socialism in the United States was not laid by the Espionage Act; it was laid by the fact that the socialists, during the war, got their fair share of the loot. Nor was the stately progress of osteopathy and chiropractic halted by the early efforts to put them down. Oppressive laws do not destroy minorities; they simply make bootleggers.

H.L. Mencken, Editorial in The American Mercury, 1924-05.

May 12, 2016

QotD: Non-religious religious mania

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The left are secularists, but they are extremely poor secularists. As you may know, I’m a secularist myself. I’m a nonbeliever, and to the extent I’m willing to entertain any belief at all, it’s only because I’m a skeptic. That is to say, I’m skeptical of my nonbelief.

It occurs to me — as a skeptic and secularist — that if you seek to put away Magical Thinking, you put it all away. If you disbelieve in God, then you really ought to disbelieve in Transcendence as well, and Rightwing Sorcerers, and Magic Words, and Sustaining Myth-Lies, and all the rest of it.

One amusement to me, as a lonely disbeliever on the right, is noticing this about the Left: The Left imagines that their disbelief in God frees them from superstition.

In fact it does no such thing. The Left’s disbelief in God does not free them from superstition — rather, it frees the superstition to infect all other modes of their thought.

Rather than thinking in terms of the divine and magic in the area of theology and metaphysics — which is really where thoughts about the divine and magic should be contained — the left, being Bad at Secularism, instead permits superstition, myth, and magic to flood into all other compartments of their ship of the mind.

Rather than keeping religious thought confined to religions matters, as the openly religious do, the left, which is intensely religious but believes it is not, instead employs religious thought in all modes of thinking, particularly in politics (where The Government easily steps into the place of God as the Large, Abstract Power That Lords Above Us), but also in what they call “science.”

You know, the science which personifies the Earth as a deity who seeks vengeance upon polluters and people who drive cars.

These Bad Secularists do not call this religion. They will not acknowledge it as fundamentally magical thinking, “pre-logical” and falling into the same primitive thought patterns still kicking around in the human mind which require that every extraordinary event be conjured by Mighty Sorcerers, or sent by the gods as punishment for a Grievous Sin.

And yet those who preen as being the most Free From Superstition are in fact the most shackled by it, because their very vanity will not permit them to see the ridiculous magical mythology they surround themselves in. Thus, within one single day, the Bad Secularists at the New York Times will posit that magical rightwing sorcerers directed the communist crocodile Lee Harvey Oswald to snatch the Princeling Kennedy from the river’s bank, and the Bad Secularists at the Washington Post likewise weave mythic strands around Lee Harvey Oswald, Marxist, Soviet Defector, and world’s first known Tea Partier.

And thus all the world’s Devils are grouped together, ranked in Might and put into their diabolical hierarchy, Satan on top, Baal and Moloch next, and so on, down to Sarah Palin and the Koch Brothers.

We live in an age of religious hysteria. And the religious hysteria is not coming from the usual quarters, the self-acknowledged religious. Instead it comes from the irreligious, whose liberation from god only loosens the leash of their illogic and preference for mythic structures over reality.

You don’t need God to be religious hysteric.

All you need is a Dogma and a Devil.

Ace, “Enchanted Crocodiles, Mighty Sorcerers, and Lee Harvey Oswald”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2013-11-22.

May 8, 2016

QotD: The endgame of postmodern nihilism

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Lenin and Stalin wanted classical-liberal individualism replaced with something less able to resist totalitarianism, not more. Volk-Marxist fantasy and postmodern nihilism served their purposes; the emergence of an adhesive counter-ideology would not have. Thus, the Chomskys and Moores and Fisks are running a program carefully designed to dead-end at nothing.

Religions are good at filling that kind of nothing. Accordingly, if transnational progressivism actually succeeds in smothering liberal individualism, its reward will be to be put to the sword by some flavor of jihadi. Whether the eventual winners are Muslims or Mormons, the future is not going to look like the fuzzy multicultural ecotopia of modern left fantasy. The death of that dream is being written in European banlieus by angry Muslim youths under the light of burning cars.

In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin’s memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism — Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism. The self-panicking leftists who think they see that in today’s Republicans are comically wrong (as witnessed by the fact that they aren’t being systematically jailed and executed), but it is quite a plausible future for the demographically-collapsing nations of Europe.

The U.S., fortunately, is still on a demographic expansion wave and will be till at least 2050. But if the Islamists achieve their dream of nuking “crusader” cities, they’ll make crusaders out of the U.S., too. And this time, a West with a chauvinized America at its head would smite the Saracen with weapons that would destroy entire populations and fuse Mecca into glass. The horror of our victory would echo for a thousand years.

I remain more optimistic than this. I think there is still an excellent chance that the West can recover from suicidalism without going through a fevered fascist episode and waging a genocidal war. But to do so, we have to do more than recognize Stalin’s memes; we have to reject them. We have to eject postmodern leftism from our universities, transnational progressivism from our politics, and volk-Marxism from our media.

The process won’t be pretty. But I fear that if the rest of us don’t hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing. I don’t want to live in that future, and I don’t think any of my readers do, either. If we want to save a liberal, tolerant civilization for our children, we’d better get to work.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

May 6, 2016

QotD: The Quakers

Filed under: Britain, History, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Fischer warns against the temptation to think of the Quakers as normal modern people, but he has to warn us precisely because it’s so tempting. Where the Puritans seem like a dystopian caricature of virtue and the Cavaliers like a dystopian caricature of vice, the Quakers just seem ordinary. Yes, they’re kind of a religious cult, but they’re the kind of religious cult any of us might found if we were thrown back to the seventeenth century.

Instead they were founded by a weaver’s son named George Fox. He believed people were basically good and had an Inner Light that connected them directly to God without a need for priesthood, ritual, Bible study, or self-denial; mostly people just needed to listen to their consciences and be nice. Since everyone was equal before God, there was no point in holding up distinctions between lords and commoners: Quakers would just address everybody as “Friend”. And since the Quakers were among the most persecuted sects at the time, they developed an insistence on tolerance and freedom of religion which (unlike the Puritans) they stuck to even when shifting fortunes put them on top. They believed in pacificism, equality of the sexes, racial harmony, and a bunch of other things which seem pretty hippy-ish even today let alone in 1650.

England’s top Quaker in the late 1600s was William Penn. Penn is universally known to Americans as “that guy Pennsylvania is named after” but actually was a larger-than-life 17th century superman. Born to the nobility, Penn distinguished himself early on as a military officer; he was known for beating legendary duelists in single combat and then sparing their lives with sermons about how murder was wrong. He gradually started having mystical visions, quit the military, and converted to Quakerism. Like many Quakers he was arrested for blasphemy; unlike many Quakers, they couldn’t make the conviction stick; in his trial he “conducted his defense so brilliantly that the jurors refused to convict him even when threatened with prison themselves, [and] the case became a landmark in the history of trial by jury.” When the state finally found a pretext on which to throw him in prison, he spent his incarceration composing “one of the noblest defenses of religious liberty ever written”, conducting a successful mail-based courtship with England’s most eligible noblewoman, and somehow gaining the personal friendship and admiration of King Charles II. Upon his release the King liked him so much that he gave him a large chunk of the Eastern United States on a flimsy pretext of repaying a family debt. Penn didn’t want to name his new territory Pennsylvania – he recommended just “Sylvania” – but everybody else overruled him and Pennyslvania it was. The grant wasn’t quite the same as the modern state, but a chunk of land around the Delaware River Valley – what today we would call eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, southern New Jersey, and bits of Maryland – centered on the obviously-named-by-Quakers city of Philadelphia.

Penn decided his new territory would be a Quaker refuge – his exact wording was “a colony of Heaven [for] the children of the Light”. He mandated universal religious toleration, a total ban on military activity, and a government based on checks and balances that would “leave myself and successors no power of doing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of a whole country”.

His recruits – about 20,000 people in total – were Quakers from the north of England, many of them minor merchants and traders. They disproportionately included the Britons of Norse descent common in that region, who formed a separate stratum and had never really gotten along with the rest of the British population. They were joined by several German sects close enough to Quakers that they felt at home there; these became the ancestors of (among other groups) the Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and Mennonites.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.

April 30, 2016

QotD: “SETI is a religion”

Filed under: Quotations, Religion, Science, Space — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two-week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation:

N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL

[where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live.]

This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses — just so we’re clear — are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

April 23, 2016

QotD: Colonialism

Filed under: History, Middle East, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are Muslims in Israel for the same reason that there are Muslims in India. They are the remnants of a Muslim colonial regime that displaced and oppressed the indigenous non-Muslim population.

There are no serious historical arguments to be made against any of this.

The Muslim conquests and invasions are well-documented. The Muslim settlements fit every historical template of colonialism complete with importing a foreign population and social system that was imposed on the native population. Until they began losing wars to the indigenous Jewish population, the Muslim settlers were not ashamed of their colonial past, they gloried in it. Their historical legacy was based on seizing indigenous sites, appropriating them and renaming them after the new conquerors.

The only reason there’s a debate about the Temple Mount is because Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem and ordered a mosque built on a holy Jewish site. The only reason there’s a debate about East Jerusalem is because invading Muslim armies seized half the city in 1948, bombed synagogues and ethnically cleansed the Jewish population to achieve an artificial Muslim settler majority.

The only Muslim claim to Jerusalem or to any other part of Israel is based purely on the enterprise of colonial violence. There is no Muslim claim to Israel based on anything other than colonialism, invasion and settlement.

Israel is littered with Omar mosques, including one built in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, because Islam is a colonial entity whose mosques testify to their invasive origins by celebrating colonialism as their true religion. The faith of Islam is the sworn religion of the sword.

Islam is a religion of colonialism that spread through invasion, settlement and conquest. Its caliphs, from the original invaders, including Omar, to the current Caliph of ISIS, wielded and wield religious authority in the service of the Islamic colonial enterprise.

Allah is the patron deity of colonialism. Jihad is just colonialism in Arabic. Islamic theology is nothing but the manifest destiny of the Muslim conquest of the world, colonial settler enterprises dressed up in the filmy trappings of religion appropriated from the culture of conquered Jewish and Christian minorities. Muslim terrorism is a reactionary colonial response to the liberation movements of the indigenous Jewish population.

Daniel Greenfield, “Islam is Colonialism, Palestine is Colonialism”, Sultan Knish, 2016-04-10.

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