Quotulatiousness

January 27, 2015

“Well, I certainly didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition…”

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Shakespeare’s tender treatment of Catholicism

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren explains how he deduced that William Shakespeare was probably a Catholic:

Long before I became a Catholic, I realized that Shakespeare was one: as Catholic as so many of the nobles, artists, musicians and composers at the Court of Bad Queen Bess. I did not come to this conclusion because some secret Recusant document had fallen into my hands; or because I subscribed to any silly acrostic an over-ingenious scholar had descried, woven into a patch of otherwise harmless verses. My view came rather from reading the plays. The Histories especially, to start: which also helped form my reactionary politics, contributing powerfully to my contempt for mobs, and the demons who lead them. But with improvements of age, I now see an unmistakably Catholic “worldview” written into every scene that is indisputably from Shakespeare’s hand. (This recent piece by another lifelong Shakespeare addict — here — will spare me a paragraph or twenty.)

That our Bard came from Warwickshire, to where he returned after tiring of his big-city career, tells us plenty to start. The county, as much of Lancashire, Yorkshire, the West Country, and some other parts of England, remained all but impenetrable to Protestant agents and hitmen, well into Shakespeare’s time. Warwick’s better houses were tunnelled through with priest holes; and through Eamon Duffy and other “revisionist” historians we are beginning to recover knowledge of much that was papered over by the old Protestant and Statist propaganda. The story of Shakespeare’s own “lost years” (especially 1585–92) has been plausibly reconstructed; documentary evidence has been coming to light that was not expected before. Yet even in the eighteenth century, the editor Edmond Malone had his hands on nearly irrefutable evidence of the underground commitments of Shakespeare’s father, John; and we always knew the Hathaways were papists. Efforts to challenge such forthright evidence, or to deny its significance, are as old as the same hills.

But again, “documents” mean little to me, unless they can decisively clinch a point, as they now seem to be doing. Even so, people will continue to believe what they want to believe. In Wiki and like sources one will often find the most telling research dismissed, without examination, with a remark such as, “Against the trend of current scholarship.”

That “trend” consists of “scholars” who are not acquainted with the Bible (to which Shakespeare alludes on every page); have no knowledge of the religious controversies of the age, or what was at stake in them; show only a superficial comprehension of the Shakespearian “texts” they pretend to expound; assume the playwright is an agnostic because they are; and suffer from other debilities incumbent upon being all-round drooling malicious idiots.

Perhaps I could have put that more charitably. But I think it describes “the trend of current scholarship” well enough.

Now here is where the case becomes complicated. As something of a courtier himself, in later years under royal patronage, Shakespeare would have fit right into a Court environment in which candles and crucifixes were diligently maintained, the clergy were cap’d, coped, and surpliced, the cult of the saints was still alive, and outwardly even though Elizabeth was Queen, little had changed from the reign of Queen Mary.

The politics were immensely complicated; we might get into them some day. The point to take here is that the persecution of Catholics was happening not inside, but outside that Court. Inside, practising Catholics were relatively safe, so long as they did not make spectacles of themselves; and those not wishing to be hanged drawn and quartered, generally did not. It was outside that Queen Elizabeth walked her political tightrope, above murderously contending populist factions. She found herself appeasing a Calvinist constituency for which she had no sympathy, yet which had become the main threat to her rule, displacing previous Catholic conspirators both real and imagined. Quite apart from the bloodshed, those were interesting times, in every part of which we must look for motives to immediate context, before anywhere else. Eliza could be a ruthless, even fiendish power politician; but she was also an extremely well-educated woman, and in her tastes, a pupil of the old school.

Indeed the Puritans frequently suspected their Queen, despite her own Protestant protestations, of being a closet Catholic; and suspected her successor King James even more. A large part of the Catholic persecution in England was occasioned by the need to appease this “Arab spring” mob, concentrated in the capital city. Their bloodlust required human victims. The Queen and then her successor did their best to maintain, through English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, the mediaeval Catholic inheritance, while throwing such sop to the wolves as the farcical “Articles of Religion.”

The question is not whether Shakespeare was one of the many secretly “card-carrying” Catholics. I think he probably was, on the face of the evidence, but that is a secondary matter. It is rather what Shakespeare wrote that is important. His private life is largely unrecoverable, but what he believed, and demonstrated, through the media of his plays and poems, remains freely available. He articulates an unambiguously Catholic view of human life in the Creation, and it is this that is worth exploring. The poetry (in both plays and poems) can be enjoyed, to some degree, and the dramatic element in itself, even if gentle reader has not twigged to this, just as Mozart can be enjoyed by those who know nothing about music. But to begin to understand as astute an author as was ever born, and to gain the benefit from what he can teach — his full benevolent genius — one must make room for his mind.

January 20, 2015

Victimology

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

In last week’s Goldberg File, Jonah Goldberg explained why the media as a whole are much more concerned about an anti-Muslim backlash than they are about any terror attack:

Dear Reader (including my Twitter followers who are just scanning this for the hidden glottal stops),

So Charlie Hebdo is selling like hot cakes, giving new meaning to the Profit Mohammed. And, just as I suspected, the images are pissing off lots of Muslims who aren’t terrorists. And, again just as I suspected, the New York Times et al. can’t help but make that the real story. No doubt millions of people hashtagging “Je Suis Charlie” were sincere — or thought they were — but the real reason that slogan spread into nearly every ideological quarter is that sympathizing, empathizing, and leeching off the moral status of victims is the only thing that unites Western societies these days. Celebrating winners is divisive. How long did it take for the Sharptonians to leap on the Oscar nominations?

What is remarkable is how short the half-life of solidarity for Charlie Hebdo was. The moment it dawned on people that there must be consequences to the Hebdo attack, not just group hugs and hashtags, the divisions, gripes, and handwring re-emerged.

Simply put, victimology is the language and currency of our politics. Fighting for victims is a calling and minting new victims and grievances is a trillion-dollar industry. Heroism, fidelity, courage, duty, temperance: Their stock value may be volatile but the long-term trends have been bad for a while. But guilt and resentment are the gold and silver of our realm, a perfect hedge against the civilizational recession.

And so before the street-sweepers even put a dent in the discarded “Je Suis Charlie” signs, the media was already on the prowl for signs of Western overreaction. The New York Times editors warned that “perhaps the greatest danger in the wake of the attacks” was a backlash against Muslim immigrants.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want an anti-Muslim backlash, but in all of this talk of Islamophobia, it seems the most acute and relevant phobia is the fear our elites have of their own people. The rabble can’t be trusted to keep things in perspective. While the story was still unfolding in Paris, Steven Erlanger, the New York Times’s London bureau chief, was invited on Shep Smith’s show for a “phoner.” Erlanger couldn’t resist starting the interview by warning Fox about how “careful” it needs to be covering the story. The Eloi must be ever vigilant not to arouse the Morlocks, don’t you know. It was this sentiment that no doubt motivated the Times to edit its own reporting on the attack, removing any reference to the fact that one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers spared a woman’s life — and advised her she needed to convert to Islam. You can almost hear the editors saying, “Look, if we leave that in, the little people might get the impression this had something to do with Islam. We know it does, but we can handle that truth. The flyover people might miss the nuances.”

By the way, how much have you heard about the anti-Muslim backlash over the last decade and a half? Well, here’s a fun fact. In every year since 9/11 the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes in the U.S. has dwarfed anti-Muslim hate crimes.

In 2001 — you know, the year when the World Trade Center was knocked down by Islamist terrorists — there were still twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim ones reported to the FBI. By 2002, things got back to “normal” and anti-Jewish outstripped anti-Muslim hate crimes by roughly a factor of five – and it’s stayed that way ever since. In 2013, nearly 60 percent of anti-religious hate crimes were against Jews. Just over 14 percent were against Muslims. Now, I’m not saying America is anti-Semitic, far from it. It’s easily the most philo-Semitic country in the world, save for Israel (and if you spent time listening to Israelis criticize themselves, you’d consider that a debatable proposition). But when was the last time you heard a reporter from the New York Times fret over the need to be careful lest we encourage an anti-Semitic backlash?

January 19, 2015

Jewish life in Europe

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

Back in 2012, Mark Steyn wrote about the plight of individual Jews in Europe, as the various national governments seemed unable to prevent violent attacks on Jewish businesses, schools, synagogues and individual Jews. He’s reposted the original column, as it’s even more relevant today than it was then:

If the flow of information is really controlled by Jews, as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright assured his students at the Chicago Theological Seminary a year or two back, you’d think they’d be a little better at making their media minions aware of one of the bleakest stories of the early 21st century: the extinguishing of what’s left of Jewish life in Europe. It would seem to me that the first reaction, upon hearing of a Jewish school shooting, would be to put it in the context of the other targeted schools, synagogues, community centers, and cemeteries. And yet liberal American Jews seem barely aware of this grim roll call. Even if you put to one side the public school in Denmark that says it can no longer take Jewish children because of the security situation, and the five children of the chief rabbi of Amsterdam who’ve decided to emigrate, and the Swedish Jews fleeing the most famously tolerant nation in Europe because of its pervasive anti-Semitism; even if you put all that to the side and consider only the situation in France… No, wait, forget the Villiers-le-Bel schoolgirl brutally beaten by a gang jeering, “Jews must die”; and the Paris disc-jockey who had his throat slit, his eyes gouged out, and his face ripped off by a neighbor who crowed, “I have killed my Jew”; and the young Frenchman tortured to death over three weeks, while his family listened via phone to his howls of agony as his captors chanted from the Koran… No, put all that to one side, too, and consider only the city of Toulouse. In recent years, in this one city, a synagogue has been firebombed, another set alight when two burning cars were driven into it, a third burgled and “Dirty Jews” scrawled on the ark housing the Torah, a kosher butcher’s strafed with gunfire, a Jewish sports association attacked with Molotov cocktails…

Here’s Toulouse rabbi Jonathan Guez speaking to the Jewish news agency JTA in 2009: “Guez said Jews would now be ‘more discreet’ about displaying their religion publicly and careful about avoiding troubled neighborhoods. … The synagogue will be heavily secured with cameras and patrol units for the first time.”

This is what it means to be a Jew living in one of the most beautiful parts of France in the 21st century.

Well, you say, why are those Jewish kids going to a Jewish school? Why don’t they go to the regular French school like normal French kids? Because, as the education ministry’s admirably straightforward 2004 Obin Report explained, “En France les enfants juifs — et ils sont les seuls dans ce cas — ne peuvent plus de nos jours être scolarisés dans n’importe quel établissement“: “In France, Jewish children, uniquely, cannot nowadays be provided with an education at any institution.” At some schools, they’re separated from the rest of the class. At others, only the principal is informed of their Jewishness, and he assures parents he will be discreet and vigilant. But, as the report’s authors note, “le patronyme des élèves ne le permet pas toujours“: “The pupil’s surname does not always allow” for such “discretion.”

January 17, 2015

Still nothing to see here, folks, just move along now…

Filed under: Europe, Law, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren expresses his surprise at the news of police raids in Europe:

“Two die in Belgian anti-terror raid.” … The headline is from the BBC website, yesterday, but these keywords could be found in breaking-news headlines all across Europe. (I checked.)

Gentle reader must have been wondering, who is it this time? The Buddhists, perhaps? (Mahayana or Theravada?) Jains? Angry rampaging Hindu swamis? Prim Confucians? Taoist anarchists? What about the Zoroastrians, we haven’t heard from them in a while. But it might be the Lutherans, no? Or the Presbyterians? Pentecostals more likely, or Fundamentalist Christians from Allah-bama. Hey wait, Belgium used to be a Catholic country, perhaps they were Latin Mass traditionalists? SSPiXies? Dominican monks? Third Order Franciscans? On the other hand, Secular Humanists would be statistically more likely. Wiccans? Druids? Nudists? Maybe we should bet long-shot on Animists of some sort, from the former Belgian Congo. Or from New Guinea: could be, you never know these days.

Well, the answer caught everyone by surprise. Turned out they were Muslims.

As some wag in Washington recently responded, to another “religion of peace” muttering from on high: “How odd that so many are killing for it.”

A correspondent in Alexandria-by-Egypt reminds of Christians slaughtered and churches trashed in his town not so long ago, after rumours circulated that a Coptic priest had said, “Islam is a violent religion.” Turned out he hadn’t said that. But whatever it was, he won’t be saying it again.

The media have thoughtfully spared us from reports of demonstrations in the Muslim world in support of recent actions in Paris, which involved the “execution” of several French cartoonists who had drawn vile, blasphemous pictures of their Prophet Jesus, and his Mother Mary. Also, of the Prophet Muhammad. The media don’t want to abet prejudice against any particular religious community; and Islam is quite particular.

Pat Condell – Nothing to do with Islam

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Jan 2015

The death rattle of a dhimmi society.

January 15, 2015

It’s a matter of faith

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

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Steven Den Beste has a guest editorial to explain why the most recent attacks by “extremists” create deep philosophical problems for our friends in the media:

The Press have created an ideology over the last fifty years or so that approaches the level of a secular religious dogma. They believe that the Press are like the referees in a football game, present everywhere but not involved in the action. Surrounded by violence, they themselves never contribute to the violence and are never the objects of violence. And they are strictly neutral, favoring no one but simply calling it all like they see it.

Except that they’ve also mixed in a big dollop of Marxist ideology: they aren’t, and shouldn’t be, strictly neutral. As good progressives they can and must work against global capitalism and everything associated with it. That means it’s OK to criticize Christianity and Judaism, for instance, because those religions are part of the Capitalist monolith. By working against all the things that Marxism says they should, this gives them credibility with the world’s proletariat, who will respond to that by leaving the press alone. Or so they think.

And violence by the world’s proletariat is a good thing because it may presage the global Socialist revolution prophesied by the sainted Marx. That includes, in particular, all the violence in the world being committed by Muslims.

Like a lot of religious dogma, this is subconscious in a lot of the press. They simply accept that it’s the way things are (or should be) and don’t worry about where it came from or whether it really makes any sense.

The lethal attack on Charlie Hebdo, and the firebombing of a tabloid in Germany, has brought out a major contradiction in the Religion of the Press, and a lot of members of the press are demonstrating their confusion in how they respond.

First, there is the fundamental dogma of press freedom: no matter what the press says or does, no one is supposed to harm them in return. They’re the referees, dammit, not players in the struggle!

Second, though, is the fact that Charlie and the Hamburg tabloid which was firebombed broke the compact by criticizing Islam. This was wrong! Not, surprisingly, because Muslim fanatics are dangerous (that is a good thing!), but because it is hoped that dangerous Muslim fanatics will fight against the Capitalist enemy which all good progressives are supposed to be working to undermine. Islam is a Third World religion, and criticizing it undermines the Press in trying to prove to the world Proletariat that the Press is on their side in the great Marxist struggle.

And as a result of this Progressive sin, Charlie Hebdo et. al. have dragged all the rest of the press into the battle, on the front line, where they no longer seem to have their assumed immunity.

January 12, 2015

Polls show that most Muslims believe in freedom of religion … sorta

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Eugene Volokh on the topic of freedom of religion in the Islamic context:

    Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone.

So writes “a radical Muslim cleric in London and a lecturer in sharia,” Anjem Choudary, in a USA Today op-ed. USA Today has performed a valuable public service here — I mean this entirely sincerely — in reminding people that there is a very dangerous religious denomination out there, which is willing to teach the propriety of murder of blasphemers, which supports the death penalty for apostasy, and which would more broadly suppress the liberty of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

To give one more example, a survey touted by CNN as showing that “Around the World, Muslims Heralded Religious Freedom” actually showed that, though “Ninety-seven percent of Muslims in South Asia, 95% in Eastern Europe, 94% in sub-Saharan Africa and 85% in the Middle East and North Africa responded positively to religious freedom, according to the poll,” in many countries huge percentages of Muslims favor “the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion.” For instance, in South Asia, death for apostates is favored by 79% of Afghan Muslims, 75% of Pakistani Muslims, and 43% of Bangladeshi Muslims. In the Middle East and North Africa, the numbers were 88% in Egypt, 83% in Jordan, 62% in the Palestinian Territories, 41% in Iraq, 18% in Tunisia, and 17% in Lebanon.

I don’t think it’s unfair to characterize those differing poll findings in this way — Muslims believe non-Muslims should be free to submit to the will of Allah (that is, to become Muslims), but that it’s still a religious requirement for them to prevent Muslims from leaving the faith by whatever means are necessary, up to and including killing them. If viewed in this way, the poll results make more sense. Despite the implications of that, the west must continue to find ways to work with Muslim governments and organizations:

Condemning all Muslims as having such murderous and illiberal views (views that blasphemy or apostasy, for instance, should be suppressed through either private or governmental violence) is thus both factually mistaken and counterproductive. If you were trying in 1800 to fight the excesses of the Catholic Church — I use this just as a structural analogy here — doing so by condemning all Christians would be a pretty poor tactic. At the same time, the fact remains that there is within Islam a religious denomination, stream, sect, movement, or whatever else that is a deadly ideological, political, and military enemy to us and our way of life.

January 8, 2015

Christopher Hitchens – Don’t waste my time with Islam

Filed under: Politics, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

January 7, 2015

Claire Berlinski reports from the scene of the Paris massacre

Filed under: Europe, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:20

Claire Berlinski wasn’t working as a journalist earlier today, but she happened to be right in the area of the terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo:

If I sound incoherent, it’s because I am shaken. The reasons will be obvious.

I had no intention of reporting on this from the scene of the Charlie-Hebdo massacre. I was walking up Boulevard Richard Lenoir to meet a friend who lives in the neighborhood. But the moment I saw what I did, I knew for sure what had happened. A decade in Turkey teaches you that. That many ambulances, that many cops, that many journalists, and those kinds of faces can mean only one thing: a massive terrorist attack.

I also knew from the location just who’d been attacked: Charlie-Hebdo, the magazine known for many things, but, above all, for its fearlessness in publishing caricatures of Mohamed. They’d been firebombed for this in 2011, but their response — in effect — was the only one free men would ever consider: “As long as we’re alive, you’ll never shut us up.”

They are no longer alive. They managed to shut them up.

The only thing I didn’t immediately know was how many of them had died.

All of them, it seems, or close enough. So did two police officers who had been assigned to protect their offices. Twelve are dead for sure; I assume that number will rise; seven are seriously injured. It was at the time I was there unclear how many were wounded.

And the attackers are still at large.

Given that two police officers are dead, now doesn’t seem the time to say what comes to mind about the fact that the assailants escaped. It will say this much though: if they’re not dead before nightfall, I’ll say exactly what comes to mind, respect for the dead be damned.

This was the Twitter update sent shortly before the attack began:

This was the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the London tube bombings of 2005. If I’m correct — I have not checked carefully — it was also the worst in France since the Nazis were running the place.

I was there only by luck: I had no desire to see this. Luck is probably not the right word. I wish I hadn’t seen it. But lucky, certainly is the right word to use in noting that I was running late, and thus there a few minutes after the fact. Had I not been running late, it’s fairly obvious what might have happened. They weren’t discriminate in their targets.

There wasn’t much for me to do. I didn’t even have a pen on me. I spoke to a cameraman from France 3, to make sure I understood the facts. I didn’t ask if I could quote him, so I won’t use his name. But his comment summed up the sentiment. “This is the kind of thing you expect in Pakistan. And now it’s coming here.”

January 5, 2015

Morality in public, perversity in private?

Filed under: Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Nita Farahany looks at an interesting study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study gives away the game in the title — Do American States with More Religious or Conservative Populations Search More for Sexual Content on Google?

“In America, religiosity and conservatism are generally associated with opposition to non-traditional sexual behavior, but prominent political scandals and recent research suggest a paradoxical private attraction to sexual content on the political and religious right. We examined associations between state level religiosity/conservatism and anonymized interest in searching for sexual content online using Google Trends (which calculates within-state search volumes for search terms). Across two separate years, and controlling for demographic variables, we observed moderate-to-large positive associations between: (1) greater proportions of state-level religiosity and general web searching for sexual content and (2) greater proportions of state level conservatism and image-specific searching for sex. These findings were interpreted in terms of the paradoxical hypothesis that a greater preponderance of right-leaning ideologies is associated with greater preoccupation with sexual content in private Internet activity. Alternative explanations (e.g., that opposition to non-traditional sex in right-leaning states leads liberals to rely on private internet sexual activity) are discussed, as are limitations to inference posed by aggregate data more generally.”

The researchers found that the American states with the greatest proportion of individuals who self-identify as very religious, or consider religion to be an important part of their lives, engage in more active searches for sexual content online compared to states with fewer religious and conservative individuals. There was a direct correlation between the proportion of conservatives in a state and image-specific Internet sex searches documented in that state.

Their conclusion? More restrictive social norms drive behaviors underground. There are quite a few limitations of the study and alternative hypotheses that may drive the results, which the researchers acknowledge. But it’s still quite an interesting study.

December 26, 2014

A close encounter with an almost-kinda-sorta hate crime

Filed under: Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:54

Mark Steyn on how the brave and timely action of a “special-events employee” in Riverside California just barely averted a horrific hate-ish crime-ish:

I passed through Shannon Airport in Ireland the other day. They’ve got a “holiday” display in the terminal, but guess what? It says “Merry Christmas.” The Emerald Isle has a few Jews, and these days rather a lot of Muslims, and presumably even a militant atheist or two, but they don’t seem inclined to sue the bejasus out of every event in the Yuletide season. By contrast, the Associated Press reports the following from Riverside, Calif.:

    A high school choir was asked to stop singing Christmas carols during an ice skating show featuring Olympic medalist Sasha Cohen out of concern the skater would be offended…

I hasten to add this Sasha Cohen is not the Sacha Baron Cohen of the hit movie Borat. The Olympic S. Cohen is a young lady; the Borat S. Cohen is a man, though his singlet would not be out of place in a louche Slav entry to the ice-dancing pairs. Likewise, the skater-puts-carols-on-ice incident seems as sharply satirical of contemporary America as anything in Borat, at least in its distillation of the coerciveness of “tolerance”:

    A city staff member, accompanied by a police officer, approached the Rubidoux High School Madrigals at the Riverside Outdoor Ice Skating Rink just as they launched into ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ and requested that the troupe stop singing…

The cop and the staffer — “special-events employee Michelle Baldwin” — were not acting on a complaint from the celebrity skater. They were just taking offense on her behalf, no doubt deriving a kinky vicarious thrill at preventing a hypothetical “hate crime.” The young miss is Jewish, and so they assumed that the strains of “Merry Gentlemen” wafting across the air must be an abomination to her. In fact, if you go to sashacohen.com, you’ll see the headline: “Join Sasha On Her Christmas Tree Lighting Tour.” That’s right, she’s going round the country skating at Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Christmas tree lighting ceremonies accompanied by singers singing Christmas music that uses the C word itself — just like Sasha does on her Web site.

Nonetheless, the Special Events Commissar and her Carol Cop swung into action and decided to act in loco Cohenis and go loco. Many of my fellow pundits find themselves fighting vainly the old ennui when it comes to the whole John Gibson “War On Christmas” shtick, but I think they’re missing something: The idea of calling a cop to break up the singing of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” would strike most of the planet as insane.

December 21, 2014

“Wicca is religion’s answer to the Liberal Democrats”

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

All the British newspapers have apparently decided that it’s worth column-inches devoted to the random Twitter comments of J.K. Rowling:

Of the various insights into the diversity of Hogwarts culture JK Rowling has been sharing on Twitter lately, one in particular caught my eye. It wasn’t the revelation, reported by the Guardian, that the school had Jewish wizards. (So what?) Nor was it that Hogwarts probably had a few poofs in it. (We knew that already, didn’t we?)

No: what tickled me was her remark that the only group she never envisaged in the achingly multi-culti Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was Wiccans, those faux-druidic attention-seekers and drop-outs obsessed with black candles, lesbianism and velvet gowns.

Wiccans and those oddballs who dress up in bizarro costumes, redolent of cheap seasonal medieval re-enactment camps, who believe in magic (or, as they hilariously insist on spelling it, “magick”) and the mystical forces of mother nature.

[…]

What most fans will have taken from that, I’m guessing, is: “Come off it, even by the standards of my totally invented fantasy-land full of mystical creatures, boy wizards and horcruxes, those people are off their trolleys.”

You can tell rather a lot about those respective newspapers by which details they chose to lead their reports with. The Guardian, with its creepy Jewish obsession, leapt on Rowling’s confirmation that Anthony Goldstein of Ravenclaw was semitic, while the Independent ran with her statement that “of course” Hogwarts would have been an LGBT-friendly place to learn how to magic up enchanted water.

What neither of them saw fit to give due prominence to, though, was the fact that Wiccans, hilariously, are the only group in the Harry Potter universe incapable of performing magic. You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

December 16, 2014

Affluence and the rise of major modern religions

Filed under: Economics, History, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:30

Colby Cosh linked to this article in Popular Archaeology, which discusses an interesting idea about what triggered the rise of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam:

It seems almost self-evident today that religion is on the side of spiritual and moral concerns, but that was not always so, Baumard explains. In hunter-gatherer societies and early chiefdoms, for instance, religious tradition focused on rituals, sacrificial offerings, and taboos designed to ward off misfortune and evil.

That changed between 500 BCE and 300 BCE — a time known as the “Axial Age” — when new doctrines appeared in three places in Eurasia. “These doctrines all emphasized the value of ‘personal transcendence,'” the researchers write, “the notion that human existence has a purpose, distinct from material success, that lies in a moral existence and the control of one’s own material desires, through moderation (in food, sex, ambition, etc.), asceticism (fasting, abstinence, detachment), and compassion (helping, suffering with others).”

While many scholars have argued that large-scale societies are possible and function better because of moralizing religion, Baumard and his colleagues weren’t so sure. After all, he says, some of “the most successful ancient empires all had strikingly non-moral high gods.” Think of Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Aztecs, the Incas, and the Mayans.

In the new study, the researchers tested various theories to explain the history in a new way by combining statistical modeling on very long-term quantitative series with psychological theories based on experimental approaches. They found that affluence — which they refer to as “energy capture” — best explains what is known of the religious history, not political complexity or population size. Their Energy Capture model shows a sharp transition toward moralizing religions when individuals were provided with 20,000 kcal/day, a level of affluence suggesting that people were generally safe, with roofs over their heads and plenty of food to eat, both in the present time and into the foreseeable future.

December 10, 2014

Matthew Inman finds religion, sorta

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

Published on 5 Dec 2014

Keynote speaker Matt Inman introduces us to a new deity, enlightening the the San Francisco audience in the process, in the first ever BAHFest West keynote at the historic Castro Theatre

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong evolutionary theory. Additional information is available at http://bahfest.com/

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