Published on 9 Apr 2016
Chair of Wisdom Time! We are talking about Military Chaplains and the German Skull Caps. Bonus: Indy is preaching to all of us on why we shouldn’t compare numbers and statistics of the war without loosing touch with the individual fate.
April 10, 2016
March 8, 2016
Published on 20 Feb 2016
Theodora had kept the empire together, but it was deeply scarred. The Plague had killed a quarter of the citizens and imperial revenues were in dire straits. In Italy, the Gothic tribes had rebelled again under the united leadership of Totila, while the disorganized Romans failed to mount an effective defense. Italy quickly fell back into Gothic hands, and even when Justinian sent back Belisarius, he could barely raise an army and didn’t have the money to support his few conquests. Eventually he had to be recalled to defend Constantinople, and Rome was lost forever. A similar rebellion occurred in Africa, but was mercifully quelled. And then Theodora died. Justinian wept at her casket. He refused to remarry and designated a nephew-in-law as his successor. Even in mourning, he managed to organize a defense against Persian aggression and reorganize the Empire’s tax system to bring revenue back into the coffers he’d drained for grand monuments and expensive wars. As his final tribute to Theodora, he attempted to heal the divide between Monophysite and Orthodox Christians, which had been one of her life goals. He went about it by pressuring the Pope to join him in condemning the Nestorian religious leaders who’d championed monophysite beliefs at the Council of Chalcedon. The Pope reluctantly agreed, but as he feared, it did not heal the divide in the east and only created new controversy in the west.
February 27, 2016
In Spiked, Kevin Rooney tells the tale of a young soccer fan who faces jail time for joining hundreds of other fans in singing a song:
Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.
So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.
Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’
Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise — the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.
H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.
February 10, 2016
QotD: “The Catholic Church is unique among institutions in the modern West, in taking women seriously — as women“
Parse [the headline] carefully and one will find less overstatement than one might have hoped for. I did not use “unique” to mean “exclusive”; and “modern” may be restricted to the last half-century or so. Focus, rather, on what is plainly intended: the italicized qualification after the long dash.
Many individuals, of both sexes, do in fact take women seriously (as women). In many jurisdictions, this is now against the law, but it happens all the same. Various other “faith groups” continue to recognize women as having their own distinct nature and identity — Orthodox Jews come first to mind, then Orthodox Christians. Lots of Evangelicals.
On the other hand, most mainstream Protestant congregations, so far as they have any members left at all, formally withdraw this recognition. Too, many “modern” or “liberal” or “recovering” Catholics (nominal ones who look upon Church teaching as merely quaint) reject the notion that women could be women. But the Catholic Church cannot always be held responsible for the views of those who contradict her. (Even if, in the long run, she probably can, as I argued here.)
Certainly, the post-Christian, post-rational “secular” authorities deny that women (or men) exist, and have gone to the trouble of eliminating “father,” “mother,” “son,” “daughter,” “brother,” “sister,” “uncle,” “aunt,” and any other terms that seem to imply a sexual identity, from all legislation — making much of it retroactively quite insane. Their attack on what they call the “traditional” (i.e. normal) family is unambiguous. For it was and remains highly sexed, whereas the new State-protected “alternative families” are invariably sterile. (Some wiggle-room is still left for “breeders,” however, pending the invention of new reproductive technology.)
A good test of this — fanatic denial of the blatantly obvious — may be conducted by using the word “priestess.” Those demanding female priests (an unCatholic notion if there ever was one) are likely as not to freak at the use of that word. They do not like the connotation, and will declare that it is “sexist.” They want females to be priests the same as men. It would defeat this intention to call them “priestesses,” as well as calling attention (among the historically informed) to the very conscious decision made by the early Church to avoid the cultural and spiritual implications of the priestess function within ancient and pagan religions. For priestess cults, and their reputations, were something early Christians wanted to get away from.
David Warren, “Sexes & saxes”, Essays In Idleness, 2014-12-03.
December 14, 2015
David Warren’s essay on the pending influx of tens of thousands of Muslim refugees from the Middle East and other areas covers a lot of territory, including the current stance of “The Donald”:
In fact, Trump is a typical liberal, and his “moratorium” a typical expression of asinine liberal thinking. That is to say: “Let us call a time out, while we find a way to fix this cock-up in our social engineering.”
That Trump is risking his own substantial business interests in the Middle East, is an indication that he sincerely intends to become President. It is this very sincerity that is making his “connexion” to the American masses. So note: he is not just a Clinton plant. Vice versa, when Hillary says that she fears him, she is not kidding, either. Any emotional connexion between Trump and voters endangers her own presidential prospects. The media say otherwise, but one must remember they are usually wrong; and always, when they are certain.
I think the chances Trump will become the next President are not high, but rising. He climbed another eight points after his “moratorium” suggestion. About ten more like that, and his bid is clinched.
Or put this another way. The “mainstream” politicians think the voters will swing back to them, when they realize how scary the “alternatives” are. One might describe this as the optimism of despair.
And the similarities and differences of Christians and Muslims in their religious observances:
The great majority of Muslims, like the great majority of Christians today, do not take their religion that seriously. They prefer it watered down, often to homaeopathic doses. And yet there will always be revivals and, contrary to the hopes of liberals, the “core teaching” of each religion remains, ever awaiting rediscovery.
At the Reformation, Christianity was not “reformed.” It was jarred and split, but then it reassembled. The Catholic teaching did not go away. With time, even the most radically schismatic sects returned to something like the Catholic teaching, or left Christianity altogether. By comparison, Islam was apparently shattered, when it came into collision with European modernity. But it has been reassembling, ever since.
The idea of spreading Islam through violence is not a deviation. Indeed, the founder of that religion preached violence against all “infidels,” and set a personal example in spreading Islam through Arabia, by the sword. His successors continued thus, spreading the new religion from Morocco to India. Later Caliphs have honoured this precedent through fourteen centuries. Islam is not and has never been a “religion of peace.” It is a religion of war, and peace through conquest. Liberals may deny that anything in history really happened, but this is what did.
They may on the contrary insist, like the delusional Barack Hussein Obama Soebarkah, that Christians were sometimes violent, too. Darn right, but if he ever gets around to consulting his New Testament, he will find that this is not doctrinal. A Christian could remain doctrinally sound, and go through his whole life without killing, or even promising to kill should the opportunity arise, a single person. He might even proselytize, without uttering mortal threats. So could a Jew, for that matter, a Hindu, Buddhist, or Confucian — so far as I can see from my (admittedly modest) forays into comparative religion. The criticism is Islam-specific.
Which leads to the third liberal argument: that we are prejudiced against Islam. This is quite true in my own case, and that of every other observant Christian. But we also observe the Christian distinction between sin and sinner.
Muslims, as all other humans, should be loved (which is not the same thing as “tolerated”). It is the religion, Islam, that we have always condemned, so fulsomely. I have met many fine Muslims, especially in those countries where I lived or travelled among them. I have heard or read many noble attempts to interpret Islam in a Sufi, spiritual way. I have observed that, “We have a religion that is better than we are, while they are often better than their religion.” I have admired the many, extraordinary feats in science, philosophy, and the arts, done by great Muslims in centuries gone by. I have also noticed that these accomplishments were sooner or later disowned, within the civilization itself, as being in conflict with Islamic teaching.
November 14, 2015
Suppose you were kidnapped by terrorists, and you needed someone to organize a rescue. Would you prefer the task be delegated to the Unitarians, or the Mormons?
This question isn’t about whether you think an individual Unitarian or Mormon would make a better person to rush in Rambo-style and get you out of there. It’s about whether you would prefer the Unitarian Church or the Mormon Church to coordinate your rescue.
I would go with the Mormons. The Mormons seem effective in all sorts of ways. They’re effective evangelists. They’re effect[ive] fundraisers. They’re effective at keeping the average believer following their commandments. They would figure out a plan, implement it, and come in guns-blazing.
The Unitarians would be a disaster. First someone would interrupt the discussion to ask whether it’s fair to use the word “terrorists”, or whether we should use the less judgmental “militant”. Several people would note that until investigating the situation more clearly, they can’t even be sure the terrorists aren’t in the right in this case. In fact, what is “right” anyway? An attempt to shut down this discussion to focus more on the object-level problem would be met with cries of “censorship!”.
If anyone did come up with a plan, a hundred different pedants would try to display their intelligence by nitpicking meaningless details. Eventually some people would say that it’s an outrage that no one’s even considering whether the bullets being used are recyclable, and decide to split off and mount their own, ecologically-friendly rescue attempt. In the end, four different schismatic rescue attempts would run into each other, mistake each other for the enemy, and annhilate themselves while the actual terrorists never even hear about it.
(if it were Reform Jews, the story would be broadly similar, but with twenty different rescue attempts, and I say this fondly, as someone who attended a liberal synagogue for ten years)
One relevant difference between Mormons and Unitarians seems to be a cultural one. It’s not quite that the Mormons value conformity and the Unitarians value indivduality – that’s not exactly wrong, but it’s letting progressives bend language to their will, the same way as calling the two sides of the abortion debate “pro-freedom” and “anti-woman” or whatever they do nowadays. It’s more like a Mormon norm that the proper goal of a discussion is agreement, and a Unitarian norm that the proper goal of a discussion is disagreement.
There’s a saying I’ve heard in a lot of groups, which is something along the lines of “diversity is what unites us”. This is nice and memorable, but there are other groups where unity is what unites them, and they seem to be more, well, united.
Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.
October 28, 2015
Published on 19 Sep 2015
Time to look back on the First Crusade and talk about errors and stories that didn’t make the final cut! The religious nature of the First Crusade meant that many of the primary sources for it (certainly on the Christian side) had a vested interest in reinforcing the idea that the crusaders had the blessing of God. Untangling the truth from their stories reminds us that there is no such thing as “the real story” when it comes to history: our modern perspective cannot help but shape the way we see these events also, and even to the extent that we try to set aside our bias, the conflicting accounts mean we still have to conjecture about what’s most correct. This episode also features answers to questions posed by our supporters on Patreon!
October 22, 2015
Published on 12 Sep 2015
The Crusaders now held Antioch, but not securely. The Turks still control the citadel atop the mountain and had a massive army coming to reinforce them. The situation grew worse when Stephen of Blois deserted from the Crusades, and told the Byzantine reinforcements not to bother: he believed Antioch would fall immediately. Now entirely on their own, the Crusaders held the wall in constant vigil until a mystic named Peter Bartholomew claimed to have received a vision from Saint Andrew. Guided by his vision, he discovered metal which he claimed to be the holy lance of Longinus – nevermind that the church already had the holy lance in its possession. Though the Crusade leaders had doubts, the soldiers were inspired so they launched an assault on the Turkish armies. Surprisingly, they won the day: the Turks did not fully support their leader, Kerbogha, and many took the Crusade counter-attack as an excuse to abandon the siege. Bohemond now kept Antioch, while Raymond of Toulouse – after the disastrous Siege of Maarat led the soldiers to commit acts of cannibalism – took the remains of the army south to Jerusalem. His attempt to capture a small city called Arqa along the way almost fractured the crusade army again, and did lead to the death of Peter Bartholomew. They arrived in Jerusalem to find the local wells poisoned, giving them no choice but to attack the city head-on. After days of intense fighting, they won their way inside the walls and began a massive slaughter of the people who still lived inside Jerusalem – the Christian population had been expelled, leaving only Muslims and Jews still in the city. And thus, with Antioch and Jerusalem both in crusader hands, the First Crusade came to an end.
October 15, 2015
Published on 5 Sep 2015
After their victory at the Battle of Dorylaeum, the Crusaders have an open path to Antioch and beyond that, Jerusalem. After the Sultan of Rum, Kilij Arslan, ordered the wells destroyed along their path, the Crusaders struggled through the desert and eventually decided to split their forces. Tancred and Baldwin set off towards Tarsus and Tancred tricked the Turkish garrison into surrendering to him, but Baldwin claimed the city for himself and broke his oath to the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos. Tensions between the two lead to another confrontation in the next city, after which Baldwin abandoned the Crusade entirely and conned his way into becoming the Count of Edessa. Tancred meanwhile returned to the main force of Crusaders, who were besieging Antioch. When a force led by Bohemond and Robert of Flanders met Antioch’s Turkish reinforcements on a foraging mission, they attacked them and scared them away. Then Bohemond tricked the Byzantine general into leaving as well, and threatened to leave himself unless the Crusaders let him keep Antioch. They had no choice but to agree to keep their forces together. With this assurance, Bohemond engineered the capture of Antioch: he bribed a Turkish commander to let them through the gates. The Crusaders massacred the people of Antioch when the city fell, but they had no time to rest after their victory: a huge Turkish army was already bearing down on them.
October 8, 2015
Published on 29 Aug 2015
Having sworn their oaths to Emperor Alexius Comnenus, the Crusaders finally sailed across the Bosphorus River to Turkey. When they disembarked, however, there were no Turkish armies waiting for them. Unopposed, they marched to Nicaea, the capitol of the Sultanate of Rum, and laid siege to it. At last word reached the sultan, Kilij Arslan, who rode back to save his city (and his family) only to realize that this army of crusaders was much larger and better organized than the People’s Crusade which had come before. They had not yet realized, however, that the city of Nicaea was being secretly resupplied by ships arriving by night from Lake Askania. Once they did, the Byzantines transported their own ships overland to blockade the lake and launch a coordinated assault with the crusaders to force the city to surrender. The crusaders marched towards Jerusalem, but along the way, the Turks launched a surprise assault on Bohemond’s army. He ordered his knights to form a shield wall around the priests and civilians traveling with them, and they held for hours under a burning sun until reinforcements from the other crusading armies arrived. They rallied, defeated the Turks, and resumed their march.
October 1, 2015
Published on 22 Aug 2015
Although it finds Peter the Hermit’s group from the People’s Crusade in shambles, the summer of 1096 finally sees the “official” forces of the First Crusade set out for Jerusalem. This was not one army, however, but five separate armies led by men with very different motivations and sympathies – many of them surprisingly hostile towards the Pope or the Byzantine Empire. Hugh of Vermandois, brother of the King of France, led one army despite his brother having been excommunicated by Pope Urban II. Godfrey de Bouillon from the German territory had actually helped kick the Pope out of Rome and install the anti-Pope. Bohemond of Taranto brought an army whose experience primarily came from fighting the Romans twelve years prior. Raymond of Toulouse led the largest army and believed himself the main leader of the Crusade, despite the fact that he traveled with the Pope’s appointed leader, Bishop Adhemar. Only Robert of Flanders could be said to be on good terms with both the Pope and the Eastern Roman Empire. When the five armies arrived in Constantinople, Emperor Alexius Comnenus approached them all privately with bribes and threats to get them to swear an oath that any land they conquered on Crusade would be returned to him. They all took it (except Bohemond’s nephew, Tancred) and so the emperor sent them across the Bosphorus to attack the Turks at last.
September 27, 2015
His Holiness the Pope would do far better for the remaining billion truly poor people on the planet if he ignored the blandishments of the anti-capitalists and looked at the actual track record of free enterprise in the developing world:
He has been called the “slum pope” and “a pope for the poor.” And indeed, it’s true that Pope Francis, leader to 1.3 billion Roman Catholics, speaks often of those in need. He’s described the amount of poverty and inequality in the world as “a scandal” and implored the Church to fight what he sees as a “culture of exclusion.”
Yet even as he calls for greater concern for the marginalized, he broadly and cavalierly condemns the market-driven economic development that has lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty within the lifetime of the typical millennial. A lack of understanding of even basic economic concepts has led one of the most influential and beloved human beings on the planet to decry free enterprise, opine that private property rights must not be treated as “inviolable,” hold up as the ideal “cooperatives of small producers” over “economies of scale,” accuse the Western world of “scandalous level[s] of consumption,” and assert that we need “to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits.”
Given his vast influence, which extends far beyond practicing Catholics, this type of rhetoric is deeply troubling. It’s impossible to know how much of an impact his words are having on concrete policy decisions — but it’s implausible to deny that when he calls for regulating and constraining the free markets and economic growth that alleviate truly crushing poverty, the world is listening. As a libertarian who is also a devout Roman Catholic, I’m afraid as well that statements like these from Pope Francis reinforce the mistaken notion that libertarianism and religion are fundamentally incompatible.
There’s no question that the pope at times seems downright hostile to much of what market-loving Catholics believe. In this summer’s lauded-by-the-press environmental encyclical Laudato Si (from which the quotes in the second paragraph were drawn), Pope Francis wrote that people who trust the invisible hand suffer from the same mindset that leads to slavery and “the sexual exploitation of children.” In Evangelii Gaudium, his 2013 apostolic exhortation, he chastised those who “continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”
Even more frustratingly, he asserted that such a belief in free markets “has never been confirmed by the facts.” Worse still, this year he stated in an interview: “I recognize that globalization has helped many people to lift themselves out of poverty, but it has condemned many other people to starve. It is true that in absolute terms the world’s wealth has grown, but inequality and poverty have arisen.” Globalization has caused poverty to “arise” and “condemned…many people to starve”?
A man Politico described as insisting “reality comes before theory” could not be more mistaken about the empirical truth of capitalism’s role in our world. While income inequality within developed countries may be growing, the income gap between the First World and the rest of the world is decreasing fast. As the World Bank’s Branko Milanovic has documented, we are in the midst of “the first decline in global inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution.” In 1960, notes the Cato Institute’s Marian Tupy, the average America earned 11 times more than the average resident of Asia. Today, Americans make 4.8 times as much. “The narrowing of the income gap,” Tupy found, “is a result of growing incomes in the rest of the world,” not a decline in incomes in developed nations.
September 24, 2015
Uploaded on 24 Sep 2010
A song about the fall of Constantinople.
Al Stewart – Constantinople Lyrics
Across the western world
The fights are going down
The gypsy armies of the evening
Have lit their fires across
The nether side of town
They will not pass this way again
So here in the night
Leave your home it’s time for running
Out of the light
I see the hosts of Mohammed coming
The Holy Sister bars her doors against the East
Her house has stood too long divided
The uninvited guests are breaking up the feast
She may not bid them leave again
So here in the night
Leave your home it’s time for running
Out of the light
I see the hosts of Mohammed coming
I dreamed I stood like this before
And I’m sure the words that I heard then
Were much the same
It’s just an old Greek tragedy they’re acting here
Held over by popular acclaim
So here in the night
Leave your home it’s time for running
Out of the light
I see the hosts of Mohammed coming
Published on 15 Aug 2015
Emicho of Leiningen and Walters sans Avoir certainly made a mark, but the largest group in the People’s Crusade was led by Peter the Hermit. To gain passage through Hungary, they swore an oath not to destroy anything, but the lack of real leadership for their group became clear when they very quickly started a market brawl, stormed the local citadel, then fled to Belgrade and immediately repeated their aggression by turning on the Byzantine troops sent to keep them in line. At the city of Niŝ, the Byzantine troops pinned them down and slaughtered a quarter of the entire crusading “army.” The remainder fled to Constantinople and secured passage into Turkey, but the group fractured from within and became two separate factions, with Peter leading one and a man named Reinald leading the other. Both factions competed for bragging rights, committing horrible atrocities to outdo each other. One group actually managed to siege a castle, but it had no water supply, so they were easily starved out by the Turks. The Turks, however, spread a rumor that this group had actually gone on to capture the capitol city, and the remaining crusaders set out to join what they thought would be a loot extravaganza. Instead, they ran into a Turkish ambush that left only 3,000 of their 20,000 soldiers alive. Now led by Geoffrey Burel, they retreated to Constantinople.
September 17, 2015
Published on 8 Aug 2015
In 1095CE, Pope Urban gathered the leaders of the Christian community at the Council of Clermont. Urged on by Emperor Alexius Comnenos of Constantinople, he called for a crusade to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims who occupied Jerusalem. Muslims had occupied the Holy Land for over 400 years, but the timing was politically right for the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor. Pope Urban wanted to re-unite Christendom after the anti-Pope kicked him out of Rome, while Alexius Comnenus wanted to retake the territory he had recently lost in Anatolia from the Seljuq Turks. As incentive, the Pope offered crusaders a plenary indulgence: complete forgiveness for past sins in the eyes of God and the church. It worked too well. While the official armies of the Crusade prepared, a charismatic leader named Peter the Hermit began preaching directly to the people, claiming Jesus had sent him to lead them on Crusade. Walter sans Avoir joined him in France, and a man named Count Emicho of Leiningen emulated him in Germany. Both peasant groups met with and created disaster: Walter Sans Avoir’s group pillaged Belgrade while Count Emicho’s group turned on the local Jewish population as an excuse to slaughter them. Thus the First Crusade began with a disastrous People’s Crusade.