Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “morality”

American elections: rhetoric and reality

The American general election is difficult to avoid on the Internet, as people are discussing it everywhere. As the election has drawn closer, the rhetoric has tended to become more and more intemperate, and I was tending to judge the merits of the candidates by the nastiness of their supporters, and blogged about it here.

But that is not the best way of becoming aware of the issues, or what the candidates stand for.

And then this came up on my Facebook thingy (I’m not sure if it’s a “wall” or a “timeline” or a “status”, but if you’re on Facebook you’ll know what I mean). It comes from an Orthodox priest — no names, no packdrill. I’m sure he is not ashamed of saying such things, but I am embarrassed for him.

Inspired by the comments of David French, in The Christian Post:
This election presents perhaps the clearest moral contrast of my adult life.

On one side is a candidate who is pro-life, and defends religious liberty. As governor of one of America’s most liberal states, he vetoed expanded access to the so-called “morning after” abortion pill and vetoed a bill permitting embryonic stem cell research, and was awarded by Citizens For Life for his prolife leadership.

On the other side is an incumbent who is radically pro-abortion (even supporting taxpayer funding of abortion), and has launched a frontal assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience. After promising his healthcare plan would not include abortion, his administration redefined “preventative care” (which means to screen for diseases, such as cancer) to include contraception (as if pregnancy is a *disease*); he then redefined “contraception” to include abortion drugs (so his healthcare plan would require abortion coverage), and finally, his administration redefined “religious exemption” such that churches will be forced to pay for this murder of children.

On the one side is a candidate who supports marriage, both by policy and by personal example. In the battle for marriage, Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage, writes: “Mitt Romney didn’t just oppose court-ordered same-sex marriage with words, he fought hard, including behind the scenes.” On the other side is an incumbent who refused, as Chief Law Enforcement Agent in the Nation, to defend the federal law DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act (signed by Bill Clinton), and who recinded military policies in favor of a homosexual agenda, and who has come out publicly in favor of same sex “marriage.”

I’m not sure that political candidates in a democratic election present a moral choice that is that clear and simple, so I did a Google search for one of those quiz thingies that present you with policies of election candidates, and then tell you who comes closest to your moral choices.

I found several such quizzes, and did four of them.

One told me I should suppport Barack Obama, clearly and unequivocally.

Another said that I should support the Democrats and/or the Libertarians, as they fitted the bill equally.

The other two said I should support Jill Stein.

Jill who?

I had to Google to find out who she was.

It turns out she’s the leader of the Green party.

This is what one of the quizzes said:

I thought that that was also the best quiz, and you can see more about it here.

It has simple Yes/No questions, but if you want something more nuanced, it will show you more possibilities.

Of course I’m not American, and the things that are important to me might not be as important to those who live in the USA, and vice versa.

For what it’s worth, I answered the quiz from a strongly “pro-life” point of view. I marked the “pro-life” questions as “most important” to me — abortion, capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research and the war in Iraq — and indicated that I was strongly against them all.

Of course in the interpretive summary, those are not all classified together as “pro-life”, but are divided between social, domestic, foreign and science policies.

But one thing I am sure of is that this election does not present the “clearest moral contrast” of anybody’s adult life.

The issues are not black and white, but varying shades of grey.

The greatest mistake would be to think that the election of one of the candidates would be a great triumph, or that the election of another would be an unmitigated disaster. Such an attitude indicates a kind of political messianism that is unbecoming for Christians, to say the least. “Put not your trust in princes.”

Advertisements

Is an abortion debate possible?

Abortion is one of the issues that I have generally avoided blogging about. The reason for this is, as the Opinionated Vicar, David Keen, puts it, that “the heat/light generation ratio is so dire”. The extreme bigotry of both “sides” in the abortion “debate” make it almost impossible to discuss.

And so a hat-tip to the same Opinionated Vicar for pointing me to Mehdi Hasan: Being Pro-Life Doesn’t Make Me Any Less Of A Lefty

What I would like is for my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life, rather than demonise us as right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists.

One of the biggest problems with the abortion debate is that it’s asymmetric: the two sides are talking at cross-purposes. The pro-lifers speak about the right to life of the unborn baby; the pro-choicers speak about a woman’s right to choose. The moral arguments, as the Scottish philosopher Alasdair Macintyre has said, are “incommensurable”.

Another problem is that the debate forces people to choose sides: right against left, religious against secular. Some of us, however, refuse to be sliced and diced in such a simplistic and divisive manner. I consider abortion to be wrong because of, not in spite of, my progressive principles. That I am pro-life does not make me any less of a lefty.

And that made me recall how gobsmacked I was when I first saw pro-abortion views described as “liberal”. That was back in 1966, when I had recently arrived in Britain as a card-carrying Liberal, having just escaped being banned by the South African government by the skin of my teeth (I have a copy of the banning order was signed, but not delivered, because I had skipped the country and sought asylum in the UK). Back then terms like “pro-life” and “pro-choice” had not been invented, or if they had, I had never heard of them. My first reaction, at the age of 24, on hearing a pro-abortion policy being described as “liberal”, was as follows (from my diary from 4th February 1966; I had been in the UK for about 2 weeks had was staying with an Anglican priest, Canon Eric James, near Herne Hill in south London):

I woke up relatively early, and while eating breakfast discussed with Eric an article in yesterday’s “Sun” on the subject of abortion. The thing that struck me was that they spoke of the “liberal and enlightened practice of legal abortion” and “a human approach unaffected by moral attitudes” which sounded completely nonsensical.

As they put it the whole thing sounded to me like fascist piggery based fundamentally on the idea that if the existence of another person causes me inconvenience or discomfort then I am morally justified in trying to get rid of the other person. And here the fact that many of the people involved (in abortion) were married women who already had children would seem to indicate a certain amount of selfishness. And once having established the practice that it is all right to get rid of inconvenient individuals in some circumctances, then the way is open for doing it on others. If unwanted babies are to be disposed of in this manner, then why not euthanasia, which could rid society of the mental defective and the physically deformed, and possibly the old people who can no longer look after themselves and so become a burden on society.

The practice might be extended to social misfits as well — those who, while having no obvious physical or mental defects, nevertheless fail to adjust themselves to society. Political deviates would be the next on the list. Why, we’ll be back to the good old days when Jews were liquidated in the gas chambers.

Of course the good doctor in Aberdeen might say that in a liberal and enlightened country things couldn’t escalate like that — but do we live in a liberal and enlightened society? And of
course a humane approach must not be affected by moral attitudes.

How lovely for Mr Vorster, I am sure. We can embark at once on a humane and enlightened programme for all Bantu women who become pregnant. Humane, because most of them have starving children already, and another mouth to feed when there is not enough food as it is could cause them worry, and damage their mental and physical health and well-being. And the world will have cause to be grateful, because we are solving the problem of overpopulation by a liberal and enlightend practice of genocide. The foregoing, of
course, is an extensive exaggeration of what the article actually said. But such escalation would really be perilously easy. Perhaps there is something in human rights after all; if it were enshrined in law — the illiberal, unenlightened and inhumane idea that every human being from the moment of conception, had “an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Some time later it occurred to me that they might be using “liberal” in the sense of “permissive”. Liberalising the abortion laws would make it easier for people to have abortions, just as liberalising the gun laws might make it easier for people to own and carry guns. So one might advocate “liberal” abortion laws or “liberal” gun laws, but advocating or opposing such laws might not be a reliable indication of whether or not one was liberal.

After that, however, the “debate” hotted up, and the heat/light generation ratio got worse. There was so much bigotry on both sides that it became almost impossible to discuss it. Here’s one example of “pro-choice” bigotry A General Query | Clarissa’s Blog

Dear woman-hating anti-choicers, please go away to those badly written websites with horrible spelling and ridiculously stupid arguments where creatures of your ilk graze, OK? This is a blog for people who have a fully developed adult brain. You are not going to like it here anyways.

Strangely enough, I haven’t taken the advice to go away, and actually do quite like it there, because not all the posts are as bad as that one.

And then from the other side of the argument, there is this, equally bigoted: EXPOSING LIBERALS: Libs claim Abortion isn’t Murder | Rise Up America Party

Liberals are on a never ending futile mission to justify the senseless slaughter of innocent children. They claim that Abortion just kills a clump of cells, not an actual human life. Yet pictures like these tell a very different. Liberals want to rationalize what can and will not ever be rationalized: that killing babies is not Murder.

Liberals: Responsible for the biggest holocaust of our modern times since Roe Vs Wade.

So having learnt from opposite extremes on the spectrum that I am a woman-hater who lacks an adult brain and that I am responsible for the biggest holocaust of modern times, what can I say?

As Mehdi Hasan put it in the piece quoted above, the two sides were simply talking past each other. ‘The pro-lifers speak about the right to life of the unborn baby; the pro-choicers speak about a woman’s right to choose. The moral arguments, as the Scottish philosopher Alasdair Macintyre has said, are “incommensurable”.’

They are not talking about apples and oranges, which at least are both edible fruit; they are talking about chalk and cheese.

As the sociologists Peter and Brigitte Berger put it:

The issue of abortion has galvanized more passion, on both sides, than any other issue in the area under consideration here. This should not be surprising, in view of what is at stake here. For the one side, what is at stake is the fundamental right of a woman to have control over her own body and her own life. On the other side, what is at stake is the very purpose of society in protecting the life of even its weakest member. Clearly, there is an enormous cognitive gulf between the two sides, in terms of the understanding of the nature of the human person: Is the fetus a person, yes or no?

This is a cognitive issue, logically prior to any discussion of norms, for the norms of each side, one may assume, would be readily acceptable to the other side, provided the cognitive issue were resolved: The most ardent pro-abortionist does not recommend infanticide in the exercise of a woman’s right to control her own life, which presupposes that an infant has a different status from a fetus; and the most fervent anti-abortionists do not dispute a woman’s rights over her own body, but what they do dispute is that a fetus is simply part of a woman’s body.

The language used in this debate over abortion has systematically obfuscated this fundamental cognitive divide. This is already apparent in the appellations used by each side to describe its own position: “Pro-choice” versus “pro-life.” Pro-abortionists demand a woman’s right to choose for herself – which only begs the question as to whether, in the case of an abortion, she is choosing only for herself and not also for another human being. Anti-abortionists claim to be defending human life – which presupposes agreement as to when the life of a human individual begins. Both appellations, of course, have powerful emotional connotations. “Choice” is one of the key concepts of modernity, as we have argued elsewhere. Being modern entails a vast expansion in choices and thus in the control of human beings over their own lives. Conversely, to be “anti-choice” suggests a deeply reactionary and obscurantist attitude – a suggestion used to the hilt in pro-abortion propaganda. And “life,” after all, is one of the most potent words in the language. One can hardly say anything worse of political antagonists than that they are “anti-life.” As part of the language battle in this area, it is noteworthy how carefully words are chosen by each side. Pro-abortionists will always use language that avoids suggesting a human status for the fetus; anti-abortionists will regularly say “child” instead of “fetus.” Anti-abortionists, by the logic of their own position, must, then, speak of “murder” to refer to abortion and, in view of the number of abortions now taking place in the United States (more than one million annually), of “genocide.” Little room for compromise would seem possible under these circumstances, and the debates over other family issues seem mild by comparison.

Unlike Mehdi Hasan, I don’t see the question as divorced from religion. Back in 1966, when I wrote the piece quoted above, I was anti-abortion for precisely the same reason I was anti-apartheid. And the argument of the pro-abortion lobby about a women having the right to control her own body sounded very similar to the apartheid-government’s stock response to any criticism of its policies from abroad, “We will not tolerate any outside interference in our domestic affairs.”

I was a Liberal, and joined the Liberal Party because I was a Christian. And the Liberal Party, it seemed to me, advocated political policies that were most in accord with Christian anthropology. That is not to say that the Liberal Party was a Christian party. Many of its members were Christian, but many were Hindus, Jews, Muslims, atheists or agnostics. They might have had a variety of reasons for supporting such policies at the mundane level, and it was at that level that we agreed.

On the question of taking the life of another Orthodox Christianity seems to approach the matter differently from Western Christianity, or from Western secular humanism. In Western thought there seems to be a strand of legalism — the notion that there can be a “just” war, or “justifiable” homicide. In Orthodoxy killing someone, whether in battle or by abortion, is always a sin that needs to be confessed. One cannot say, “I am a soldier obeying lawful orders, and therefore killing the enemy is not a sin, and is therefore justified.” And the same with abortion. Whether it is legally permitted or not, abortion is a sin and to be confessed. But the Church does not exist to punish sinners, but it is rather a hospital in which they can be healed. There is thus a distinction between what is “right” and what is “moral”. It coincides roughly with the distinction between “law” and “gospel”.
As a Liberal, I support the concept of human rights because if applied properly, it can help to mitigate the effects of human unlovingness and human sinfulness. Laws cannot force people to love one another, but they can mitigate the effects of human hatred. Justice is good, but Christians are called to go beyond justice to love. At its best, justice is congealed love.

This difference, between rights and morality, between the legal rights of a citizen and the calling of a Christian, has been well expressed here Second Terrace: Fire in the Theater: Rights and Christians:

An American citizen has many rights. A Christian has none — all he has are invitations to virtue, and the promise of beatitude.

An American has a right to bear arms. A Christian may make such a claim, but not as a Christian. I’m sure that a Christian can go hunting and can even keep something for the defense of his home (although that possibility is even less supported for a priest). But I am even surer that a Christian — as a Christian — cannot ever demand the right to possess and traffic in assault munitions.

An American has a right to terminate a fetus. A Christian does not.

An American has a right to engage in sexual activity outside the contours of a sacramentalized union of a man and woman. A Christian does not. He or she, whether we like it or not, is asked to surrender not only homosexual activity, but also heterosexual activity that is before or outside of traditional marriage. He is requested to devote himself to not only physical chastity, but also to the “chastity of the imagination” — a concept, I’m sure, is not the most popular of positions.

An American has the right to accumulate wealth, and to deny comfort to his neighbor and pollute the environment in the process of doing so. A Christian does not. Wealth is given to Christians, as St. Paul and the Prophets and the Fathers make painfully clear, solely for the sake of “kenotic” giving away. It was only the Reformation that made the idea of “wealth-protection” a Christian possibility.

And the rest of that post is worth reading too.

Slavish morality

One sometimes sees interesting things juxtapossed on Twitter, which also illustrates the limits of Twitter as a medium (or must we call it a media nowadays)?

On my Twitter stream this morning were the following:

“Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy.” (Bible)

followed shortly afterwards by:

The church uses sophisticated propaganda techniques in order to implant a slavish morality in the hearts of the populace.

Reggie’s tweet is presumably an example of the church using sophisticated propaganda techniques (ie Twitter) to implant a slavish morality in the hearts of the populace.

I presume that an unslavish morality would take a more proper Übermensch tone, since I believe it was Nietzsche who came up with the term and described Christianity as a religion suitable only for slaves.

The morality of the assassination of Osama bin Laden

An Anglican bishop’s thoughts on the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Bishop Alan’s Blog: Moral relativism is not enough…:

It follows from this basic theology from page 1 of the Bible, that if I commit an act, like a lynching, that denies the image of God in another human being I not only act out my own fallen nature (thus losing the moral high ground), but I also behave in a way that compromises my own humanity — thank God he gave it as an absolute that no human being can take away, not even me.

The moral relativism of some journalists about this (“Normally, of course, we should respect life, but he didn’t so we don’t have to”) is a real slippery slope, morally. It betokens not Conservatism, but Pelagianism — one of the oldest heresies in the book. They must not be surprised if bishops, including the Archbishop, do not collude with their Pelagian views.

I’m not sure how Bishop Alan concludes that it is Pelagian, and I find it difficult to connect the dots. But the moral relativism he ascribes to the jounalists (“Normally, of course, we should respect life, but he didn’t so we don’t have to”) is the same slippery slope on which Western theologians who argue for a “just war” are to be found. Western legalism subscribes to the notion of “justifiable homicide”. There is almost an obsession with justification. Whether we kill people by war, assassination, or abortion, there is the need to justify it.

The main consequence of this is that we can kill people and feel righteous about it, and see no need to repent, because our act was “justified”.

But there can be no peace without repentance, as Doestoevsky showed in his novel Crime and punishment.

Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate

Apparently some people in the USA are opposed to universal healthcare on the grounds that it will increase the abortion rate. It seems that they are operating on a faulty premiss.

T.R. Reid – Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate – washingtonpost.com:

Increasing health-care coverage is one of the most powerful tools for reducing the number of abortions — a fact proved by years of experience in other industrialized nations. All the other advanced, free-market democracies provide health-care coverage for everybody. And all of them have lower rates of abortion than does the United States.

This is not a coincidence. There’s a direct connection between greater health coverage and lower abortion rates. To oppose expanded coverage in the name of restricting abortion gets things exactly backward. It’s like saying you won’t fix the broken furnace in a schoolhouse because you’re against pneumonia. Nonsense! Fixing the furnace will reduce the rate of pneumonia. In the same way, expanding health-care coverage will reduce the rate of abortion.

At least, that’s the lesson from every other rich democracy.

The Morality of Water Privatisation

The Morality of Water Privatisation — Anthony Bosco’s Weblog:

The growing global phenomenon of water privatisation is an issue which has far-reaching political, economic and social implications. It is becoming of increasing concern in the early years of the 21st-century due to the ever-expanding influence of multinational corporations whose primary objective is to secure as much of the world’s capital for the financial gain of their shareholders.

Is fresh air next?

First they pollute it and make it unbreathable, then they’ll sell it back to you.

Niehaus: journos twist the knife — and the facts

When journos get the knife in, they really twist it (and the facts), and stab again and again.

Consider this report about the former ANC spokesman

News – South Africa: Niehaus has no degree: report:

Former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus does not have a doctor’s degree in theology as claimed, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to Beeld newspaper, Niehaus did not get a doctor’s degree in theology from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, as he had claimed. This was during his stint as South Africa’s ambassador in Den Haag.

Note that the body of the story says that he didn’t have a doctors degree from Utrecht, but the headline suggests that that he has no degree at all, which seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead.

Now perhaps that is because there’s a general election coming up, and the media believe that all’s fair in love, war and politics. If your political opponent is down, kick, kick and kick again. If he’s done one thing wrong, make it look as though he’s done everything wrong, and nothing right.

Max du Preez, a well-known journalist, goes even further, and is more specific: “He lied about having a degree and a doctorate… he apparently only has a matric certificate behind his name” (Pretoria News, 19 Feb 2009).

Now when Carl Niehaus was released from prison he visited the Missiology Department at Unisa (on 26 March 1991) and all the department staff gathered in David Bosch’s office to meet him. He was a student in the department, and was one of the very few to have been allowed to study for a Masters degree in prison. Willem Saayman, his supervisor, described the hoops he had to jump through to deal with all the red tape in order to visit him in prison to discuss his studies. I don’t know if Carl Niehaus was ever awarded the Masters degree, summa cum laude or not, but he would certainly not have been allowed to register for such a degree at all if he had “no degree” as the media are now claiming.

On the Emerging Africa blog there is a discussion on whether the important questions today are about authority, identity, morality or something else. And I would say that at this point in our history, with a general election coming up, and all sorts of stories circulating about corruption among politicians, that morality probably tops the list. I’m as disturbed as some journalists that people in the ANC seem not only to support people who have been involved in corruption, but also to approve of their behaviour (the demonstrations in support of Tony Yengeni are a case in point). Going to jail for fighting for truth and justice is one thing, going to jail for fraud and corruption is another.

But morality is also an issue for journalists. Carl Niehaus may have lied about some of his past achievements, but some journalists have also apparently lied about Carl Niehaus.

Greed, which used to be regarded as one of the seven deadly sins, is now regarded as a virtue by many of our political leaders, and that makes morality a hot issue.

And for those of us who are neither politicians nor the journalists who write about them, St Paul’s advice applies, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor 10:12). In ten days Great Lent begins, and we pray the prayer of St Ephraim:

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages.

Unfavourable opinions of religions

In my previous post I commented on a survey that asked whether people had a favourable or unfavourable opinion of a religion (in this case Wicca), and said I would be among those who was neutral or had no opinion.

But the question was raised if the people who practised the religion did things one disapproved of, what then?

I disapprove of some practices of some adherents of some religions, but one can’t blame a religion for the behaviour of its followers.

Where a practice is something I believe to be wrong or immoral and intimately bound up with the practice of the religion, that is something else, and probably deserves a separate discussion, and is not something that can easily be determined by a survey questionnaire.

Let me give an example of practices that I believe to be wrong or immoral, but which are closely bound up with the practice of a religion.

When Protestant missionaries evangelised the Kikuyu (Gikuyu) people of central Kenya, they strongly disapproved of some features of Kikuyu culture, such as polygamy and female circumcision, and urged the British authorities (Kenya was at that time a British colony) to assist them in suppressing them. They demanded that all teachers in church schools (and all schools for Africans in Kenya were church schools) take an oath against female circumcision. As a result two independent school associations were formed, the Kikuyu Karing’a Educational Association and the Kikuyu Independent Schools Association. The former became affiliated with the Orthodox Church, and the latter with the African Independent Pentecostal Church (for more details, see my article on Orthodox mission in tropical Africa).

Female circumcision (female genital mutilation) was an integral part of Kikuyu religion and culture, but Christianity generally opposes bodily mutilation (Protestant missionaries in China, for example, started the Natural Foot Society to counter the Chinese practice of binding the feet of female children to keep them small). So the Protestant approach was to suppress practices that they regarded as immoral, and to seek the aid of the government in doing so, thus linking mission and colonialism.

The Orthodox Church, however, did not begin with moral denunciations of practices it thought immoral. Polygamists could be baptised, but after baptism further marriages were discouraged. Now, after 70 years, polygamy and female circumcision are not practised by Kikuyu people who are Orthodox Christians, but this was not achieved by a direct frontal attack on Kikuyu culture. The Orthodox approach was that people need first to know Christ, to worship the Triune God, and and then gradually be transformed into the image of God, not by human laws and prohibitions and sanctions and punishments, but by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Female circumcision is still practised in some parts of Africa, and some Westerners still make an issue of it, and those who do are not always puritanical Protestant missionaries, but are often quite secular. They regard African cultures that do such things as barbarous, and, like the puritanical Protestant missionaries, campaign for laws to be passed against them, yet their own cultures practise wholesale abortion, which seems equally barbarous to many Africans (and to many Christians outside Africa). What lies behind it, in the case of both the Protestant missionaries and the secular social reformers, is Western cultural imperialism.

So there are two things here.

One is the behaviour of some adherents of a religion. Is that adequate cause for indicating disapproval of a religion?

Some people cite the Inquisition and the Crusades as examples to show that Christianity is an evil religion that one should disapprove of. But I think it is silly to blame a religion for the behaviour of some of its followers. The Crusades and the Inquisition were products of certain periods of human history, and show that Christians, like other people, sometimes succumb to social forces and sometimes even mistakenly identify these with mandates of their religions. One can say the same of suicide bombings and pogroms and various other things.

In the case of Wicca, it is clear that some Wiccans have created a myth of “the Burning Times”, which they have quite deliberately and consciously used to fan the flames of hatred against Christians. Should I therefore disapprove of Wicca? No, because not all Wiccans do this, and some have spoken quite strongly against it. One cannot blame a religion for the behaviour of its followers, unless that behaviour is an integral part of following the religion.

And that brings us back to the second thing. Female circumcision was an integral part of Kikuyu traditional religion and culture, which is why the attack on it by Protestant missionaries was seen as a direct attack on Kikuyu culture and part of a scheme by the colonial government to deprive the Kikuyu people of their land. The Protestant missionaries demanded oaths against female circumcision, and, almost as a counter to that, the Mau Mau movement began demanding oaths to recover the land, and suddenly the Kenya colonial government began denouncing “oath-taking” as the greatest evil of all, and to punish people for doing that, and detaining them if they were even suspected of it.

And this is a point at which I follow the Orthodox missionary tradition, which is not to denounce the religions and cultures of others. All human religion and all human culture is fallen, including my own, and needs to be transformed by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. This can be seen in the missionary instructions of St Innocent of Alaska

On no account show open contempt for their manner of living, customs, etc., however these may appear deserving of it, for nothing insults and irritates savages so much as showing them open contempt and making fun of them and anything belonging to them.

Even if one disagrees with their culture and customs, one can show respect for people. One can disagree with their theology, and can say why one does. as St John of Damascus did in pointing out where Islamic theology differed from Orthodox theology (he regarded Islam as a Christian heresy). But it should be done in an atmosphere of respect. It is fashionable nowadays in some Western to belittle the notion of respect, and to despise it as mere “political correctness”, and that is something I think worthy of disapproval!

St Innocent of Alaska also disapproved of the linking of mission and colonialism, when he said,

2. On arriving in some settlement of savages, thou shall on no account say that thou art sent by any government, or give thyself out for some kind of official functionary, but appear disguise of poor wanderer, a sincere well-wisher to his fellow-men, who has come for a single purpose of showing them the means to attain prosperity and, as far as possible, guiding them to their quest

and

12. Ancient customs, so long as they are not contrary to Christianity, need not to be too abruptly broken up; but it should be explained to converts that they are merely tolerated.

So tolerance is an Orthodox missionary principle. Some things cannot be tolerated, as contrary to Christianity, such as human sacrifice. In this, I think Fr Thomas Hopko’s account of tolerance is worth repeating:

Tolerance is always in order when it means that we coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own, even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God’s creation.

To be tolerant is to be neither indifferent nor relativistic. Neither is it to sanction injustice or to be permissive of evil. Injustice is intolerable and evil has no rights. But the only weapons which Christians may use against injustice and evil are personal persuasion and political legislation, both of which are to be enacted in an atmosphere of respect. While Christians are permitted under certain conditions to participate in police and military actions to enforce civil laws and to oppose criminality, we may not obey evil laws nor resort to evil actions in defence of the good. This means that Christians are inevitably called to suffer in this age, and perhaps even to die. This is our gospel, our witness and our defence.

So generally my attitude towards religions other than my own is one of tolerance. I neither approve nor disapprove of them. I may approve of some of their beliefs or practices, and disapprove of others, but recognise that if these are integral parts of the religion that they cannot be abruptly separated without destroying the whole, therefore I cannot either approve or disapprove of the whole, unless the whole thing is evil or based on evil, and such religions are rare.

I disapprove of the Hindu caste system and sutti, I don’t disapprove of Hinduism. I disapprove of Jewish support for Zionism, but don’t disapprove of Judaism, and recognise that Zionism is a secular movement, and is no more necessarily tied to Judaism than crusades and crusading and pogroms are tied to Christianity.

There are also some aspects of these and other religions that I might approve of, though that does not necessarily mean that I approve of the religion per se, nor that it would be right for me as an Orthodox Christian to believe and practise them. I used to think, and to some extent still do, that Jack Kerouac’s Zen Catholicism was quite cool, but Orthodox Christianity has different, and I believe better, ways of achieving similar ends.

Darwinism has all the answers – but what are the questions?

When I was an undergraduate I had an argument with a fellow student about racism. He was majoring in botany and zoology, and was convinced that some races were more evolved than others, and was in fact a Social Darwinist. He recommended that I read the works of Ayn Rand, whom I had never heard of before then. He said that if I read her works they would change my mind on the topic.

One result of his argument was that I avoided reading anything by Ayn Rand for about ten years, believing that if they contributed to his ideas, they were not worth reading. Later, when I realised that Ayn Rand’s ideas were becoming more influential in the world at large, I did read some of her books to understand what was going on. I believe they contributed to the spread of neoliberalism, for example.

And today, thanks to The Western Confucian, I came across this piece.

Mercatornet: Darwinism 2.0 has all the answers:

The Economist’s contention is that all social policy ought to be framed in evolutionary terms. Otherwise, it is destined to fail. Traditionally, policy has been shaped by philosophy, sociology or even religion. But these are inadequate tools, it says:

They describe, rather than explain. They do not get to the nitty-gritty of what it truly is to be human. Policy based on them does not work. This is because they ignore the forces that made people what they are: the forces of evolution.

Welcome to social Darwinism 2.0. SocDar 1.0 used the ideas of natural selection and survival of the fittest to promote racism, eugenics, and robber baron capitalism. What fearsome ideas will emerge from 2.0?

The problem with Darwinism of any hue, at least when applied to society, is that its enthusiasts can cook up an explanation for everything in terms of survival and reproduction, the two pillars of Darwin’s theory. Whatever exists must somehow be necessary for survival, no matter how debased it may seem in old-fashioned moral terms.

This leads to some sticky problems. One of these, for instance, is genocide. Since it exists, it must confer an evolutionary advantage — which is about as close as Darwinism gets to the old-fashioned notion of ethical goodness. Some evolutionary theorists even think that humans are programmed for genocide and war. Indeed, the old man himself seems to have thought genocide something between a jolly good thing and a regrettable necessity. As he wrote in his other great text, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”

It seems to me, however, that Darwin failed to see the implications of his own theories. Civilisation may confer a short-term advantage, but not really a long-term evolutionary one related to survival. A lot of our “civilisation”, for example, is built on the use of fossil fuels, which enable mechanised farming and conveying of food and other goods over vast distances. But what happens when fossil fuels are exhausted? Perhaps civilisation will collapse. In civilised societies the development of optics has allowed short-sighted people to survive and breed. In hunter-gatherer societies, such people would be less likely to survive. And if civilisation collapses, perhaps the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies in the Amazon jungles will prove fitter to survive.

Similarly, in civilised societies medicine has allowed babies with birth defects to survive and breed. There are endless news stories about parents of babies with defective hearts or other organs appealing for money for an operation that will save the life of their child. “Civilisation” does not necessarily confer a survival advantage, in the Darwinian sense.

And Mercatornet goes on to say

While evolutionary thought may shed some light upon why young men commit more murders than any other age group, the far more interesting question is why most of them do not. Human consciousness clearly indicates that man has a spiritual dimension which is not determined by the iron law of survival of the fittest. Even some of the more intelligent Darwinists acknowledge this.

Capitalism as an economic system evolved, without too much thought being given to it. Then some people realised that the system encouraged behaviour that was regarded as immoral on the basis of phlosophy, religion or social values. In response to this various forms of socialism were proposed as alternatives to capitalism. By the 19th century capitalism seemed to have developed into a “dog eat dog” society. For some, it seemed natural, and indeed, for Social Darwinists, it was seen as part of “natural selection”. Socialist ideas took many forms, but most were based on the idea that cooperation is a better basis for economic activity than competition.

In some cases the ideas became ideologies, as in Marxism, which was linked to a deterministic philosophy. And in reaction to this, people like Ayn Rand decided to provide an ideology for capitalism, which led to the neoliberalism of today.

From a Christian point of view the problem with all this is that the economic ideologies, of both Marxism and neoliberalism, assert that man ought to be subjected to economic powers. Is that what St Paul was saying when he said “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers” (Romans 13:1)? Or did he also envisage a strouggle against them, as he says in Ephesians 6:10?

Perhaps there is indeed a Kulturkampf, and in the West there is an increasing divergence between Christian values and those of society. But many Christians tilt at windmills, and argue about things like how the world was created, arguing over things like “old earth” and “young earth”, yet accept without question the values propagated by the likes of The Economist, showing that they have already capitulated. That is straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Darwinism has all the answers – but what are the questions?

When I was an undergraduate I had an argument with a fellow student about racism. He was majoring in botany and zoology, and was convinced that some races were more evolved than others, and was in fact a Social Darwinist. He recommended that I read the works of Ayn Rand, whom I had never heard of before then. He said that if I read her works they would change my mind on the topic.

One result of his argument was that I avoided reading anything by Ayn Rand for about ten years, believing that if they contributed to his ideas, they were not worth reading. Later, when I realised that Ayn Rand’s ideas were becoming more influential in the world at large, I did read some of her books to understand what was going on. I believe they contributed to the spread of neoliberalism, for example.

And today, thanks to The Western Confucian, I came across this piece.

Mercatornet: Darwinism 2.0 has all the answers:

The Economist’s contention is that all social policy ought to be framed in evolutionary terms. Otherwise, it is destined to fail. Traditionally, policy has been shaped by philosophy, sociology or even religion. But these are inadequate tools, it says:

They describe, rather than explain. They do not get to the nitty-gritty of what it truly is to be human. Policy based on them does not work. This is because they ignore the forces that made people what they are: the forces of evolution.

Welcome to social Darwinism 2.0. SocDar 1.0 used the ideas of natural selection and survival of the fittest to promote racism, eugenics, and robber baron capitalism. What fearsome ideas will emerge from 2.0?

The problem with Darwinism of any hue, at least when applied to society, is that its enthusiasts can cook up an explanation for everything in terms of survival and reproduction, the two pillars of Darwin’s theory. Whatever exists must somehow be necessary for survival, no matter how debased it may seem in old-fashioned moral terms.

This leads to some sticky problems. One of these, for instance, is genocide. Since it exists, it must confer an evolutionary advantage — which is about as close as Darwinism gets to the old-fashioned notion of ethical goodness. Some evolutionary theorists even think that humans are programmed for genocide and war. Indeed, the old man himself seems to have thought genocide something between a jolly good thing and a regrettable necessity. As he wrote in his other great text, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”

It seems to me, however, that Darwin failed to see the implications of his own theories. Civilisation may confer a short-term advantage, but not really a long-term evolutionary one related to survival. A lot of our “civilisation”, for example, is built on the use of fossil fuels, which enable mechanised farming and conveying of food and other goods over vast distances. But what happens when fossil fuels are exhausted? Perhaps civilisation will collapse. In civilised societies the development of optics has allowed short-sighted people to survive and breed. In hunter-gatherer societies, such people would be less likely to survive. And if civilisation collapses, perhaps the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies in the Amazon jungles will prove fitter to survive.

Similarly, in civilised societies medicine has allowed babies with birth defects to survive and breed. There are endless news stories about parents of babies with defective hearts or other organs appealing for money for an operation that will save the life of their child. “Civilisation” does not necessarily confer a survival advantage, in the Darwinian sense.

And Mercatornet goes on to say

While evolutionary thought may shed some light upon why young men commit more murders than any other age group, the far more interesting question is why most of them do not. Human consciousness clearly indicates that man has a spiritual dimension which is not determined by the iron law of survival of the fittest. Even some of the more intelligent Darwinists acknowledge this.

Capitalism as an economic system evolved, without too much thought being given to it. Then some people realised that the system encouraged behaviour that was regarded as immoral on the basis of phlosophy, religion or social values. In response to this various forms of socialism were proposed as alternatives to capitalism. By the 19th century capitalism seemed to have developed into a “dog eat dog” society. For some, it seemed natural, and indeed, for Social Darwinists, it was seen as part of “natural selection”. Socialist ideas took many forms, but most were based on the idea that cooperation is a better basis for economic activity than competition.

In some cases the ideas became ideologies, as in Marxism, which was linked to a deterministic philosophy. And in reaction to this, people like Ayn Rand decided to provide an ideology for capitalism, which led to the neoliberalism of today.

From a Christian point of view the problem with all this is that the economic ideologies, of both Marxism and neoliberalism, assert that man ought to be subjected to economic powers. Is that what St Paul was saying when he said “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers” (Romans 13:1)? Or did he also envisage a strouggle against them, as he says in Ephesians 6:10?

Perhaps there is indeed a Kulturkampf, and in the West there is an increasing divergence between Christian values and those of society. But many Christians tilt at windmills, and argue about things like how the world was created, arguing over things like “old earth” and “young earth”, yet accept without question the values propagated by the likes of The Economist, showing that they have already capitulated. That is straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Post Navigation