Category : Europe

(CT) Free at Last: Andrew Brunson Released by Turkey After Two Years

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been released after being detained for two years in Turkey.

At a hearing this morning, a Turkish court freed him from judicial control, which lifts his house arrest and travel ban.

Despite a guilty verdict sentencing him to 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days in prison, Brunson may return home to the United States as soon as today due to good behavior and time already served.

NBC News broke the news yesterday of the expected deal between Turkey and the United States over Brunson, a North Carolina pastor who had worked in Izmir for decades and was arrested on terrorism and espionage charges in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016.

US officials and religious freedom advocates considered the charges against Brunson to be erroneous, and multiple witnesses retracted their testimonies against him during today’s hearing.

Trump administration officials were optimistic but cautious that Turkey would follow through on the deal, reported The Washington Post. The deal would likely lift recent US sanctions in exchange for Brunson’s release by being sentenced today to time already served.

Officials expect Brunson to “be handed back his passport and put on a plane to the US,” reported The Wall Street Journal….

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Foreign Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Missions, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Turkey

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Therese of Lisieux

O Gracious Father, who didst call thy servant Therese to a life of fervent prayer; Give unto us the spirit of prayer and zeal for the ministry of the Gospel, that the love of Christ may be known throughout all the world; through the same, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Posted in Church History, France, Spirituality/Prayer

A poem written by Archpriest Grigory Petrov (Gregory Petrov) shortly before his death in a Siberian prison camp

From there:

What is my praise before Thee?

I have not heard the cherubim singing,
that is the lot of souls sublime,
but I know how nature praises thee.

In winter I have thought about the whole earth praying quietly to Thee in the
silence of the moon,
wrapped around in a mantle of white,
sparkling with diamonds of snow.

I have seen how the rising sun rejoiced in Thee,
and choirs of birds sang forth glory.

I have heard how secretly the forest noises Thee abroad,
how the winds sing,
the waters gurgle,
how the choirs of stars preach of Thee
in serried motion through unending space.

Posted in Liturgy, Music, Worship, Poetry & Literature, Prison/Prison Ministry, Russia

Revisiting Alexander Solzjenitsyn’s 1978 Address ‘A World Split Apart’

‘A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and even morally worn it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance….

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

And what shall we say criminality as such? Legal frames, especially in the United States, are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There are many such cases.

Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually, but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature….’

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Religion & Culture, Russia

(Atlantic) Alexis Madrigal–Facebook believes too strongly in the goodness of people

In an unusually revealing moment for Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg told Recode’s Kara Swisher on Wednesday that he didn’t support taking down content about Holocaust denial on Facebook. Zuckerberg is Jewish, and he finds such denials “deeply offensive,” he said. But Holocaust deniers were not “intentionally getting it wrong.”

When Swisher followed up that “in the case of Holocaust deniers, they might be,” Zuckerberg retreated to a stance he’s never quite made explicit before. “It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” he said.

In place of “understanding” the intent, this statement makes clear that Facebook takes a default stance of assuming users act in good faith—or without intention, at least. Zuckerberg and Facebook have been repeatedly criticized, and accepted the criticism as largely true, that they have been too willing to ignore the potential negative ways the platform can be used. And yet here, one of the basic principles of how they moderate speech is to be so optimistic as to give Holocaust deniers the benefit of the doubt.

Zuckerberg seems to be imagining a circumstance where somebody watched a YouTube video that makes a case against the (real, documented, horrifying) Holocaust and ignorantly posts it to Facebook. Under the rules the platform has established, there is no penalty for that (in countries where Holocaust denial is not illegal)….

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Germany, History, Judaism, Theology, Violence

(PewR FactTank) Populist views in Europe: It’s not just the economy

Ethnocentrism also plays a role in this wave of populist views. About six-in-ten (61%) AfD supporters in Germany, a majority (56%) of National Front backers in France and nearly half (47%) of Party for Freedom (PVV) adherents in the Netherlands say their people’s culture is “superior to others.” This sense of national cultural pre-eminence is far less prevalent among the rest of the publics in their countries.

Another sentiment strongly expressed among those who support right-wing European populist parties is that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with their country’s culture and values: 75% of Germans with a positive view of AfD, 66% of Dutch PVV supporters and 63% of French National Front backers say Islam is “fundamentally incompatible with our culture and values.” About four-in-ten or fewer adults with unfavorable views of populist parties in these nations agree.

Old-fashioned nationalism is still evident in modern European right-wing populism, too.

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Posted in Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Bartolomé de las Casas

Eternal God, we offer thanks for the witness of Bartolomé de las Casas, whose deep love for thy people caused him to refuse absolution to those who would not free their Indian slaves. Help us, inspired by his example, to work and pray for the freeing of all enslaved people of our world, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who livest and reignest with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Spain, Spirituality/Prayer

Congratulation to Novak Djokovic, 2018 Wimbledon men’s Champion

John Updike, the great American author, made the following observation: “Professionalism in art has this difficulty: to be professional is to be dependable, to be dependable is to be predictable, and predictability is aesthetically boring — an anti-virtue in a field where we hope to be astonished and startled and at some deep level refreshed.”

I wonder if it is this sentiment that underpins the lack of affection for Djokovic. Is he too dependable? Too predictable? Does his game lack that element of surprise that is so central to, say, Federer? If so, allow me to suggest that dependability contains its own kind of beauty. To watch this unique athlete hitting groundstrokes deep and true, returning serves with solidity, chasing down balls with those elastic legs, is a privilege.

One must surely admire his journey, too. He lived his formative years in the devastation of war-torn Belgrade, spending 78 straight nights in a shelter as Nato bombs rained down during the Kosovo campaign. He was almost killed by the precision bomb of an F-117 bomber, which levelled a building a few yards away. There have been other upheavals, not least in tennis where, for many years, he had a body that broke down at critical moments.

Today, dependability is not just an approach to tennis, but a kind of sanctuary. His phenomenal work rate, on and off the court, is an elusive search for shots that never miss, never fragment, never let him down. Yesterday, he looked as implacable as two years ago, when he won four straight slams and had a stranglehold on the game. He is not just one of the greats of tennis, but of sport.

Read it all (subscripiton).

Posted in England / UK, Men, Serbia, Sports

Congratulations to France, Winners of the World Cup 2018

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Posted in France, Men, Russia, Sports

England’s Magical Run in the 2018 World Cup Finally Comes to an End

They tell you it’s about who wants it more. It’s not. You don’t get to a World Cup semifinal — via a combined three penalty shootouts — if you don’t want it desperately, as much as the air you breathe and the affection you crave. Nobody could look the players from England or Croatia in the eye and judge who was hungrier, not after seeing them battle for 120 minutes Wednesday night at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Rather, it’s about lies and deception. The lies you tell your body in an attempt to deceive it into thinking your hit points aren’t down to zero. And the lies you tell yourself when you convince yourself that, yes, you can reach that stray ball and, no, you won’t let that opponent pass. Most of all, it’s about believing that you can keep going through heavy legs, searing pain and shortness of breath.

And do it all with clarity of mind. That last bit is crucial and, perhaps, the reason Croatia will be back here on Sunday to take on France in the World Cup final. England’s collective mind got fuzzier as the game went on. Croatia’s, somehow, seemed to grow clearer, scything through the pain, fatigue and inevitable errors.

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Posted in England / UK, Men, Russia, Sports

Vital Food for Thought from Alisdair MacIntyre on Saint Benedict’s Feast Day

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead–often not recognising fully what they were doing–was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another–doubtless very different–St. Benedict.”

–Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Terre Haute, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 3rd. ed., 2007), p. 263 (my emphasis)

Update: Peter Leithardt’s comments on this are also worth pondering:

“The turning point, he says, occurred with a renunciation of the “task of shoring up the Roman imperium,” which required “men and women of good will” to begin to distinguish between sustaining moral community and maintaining the empire. Roman civilization was no longer seen as synonymous with civilization itself. Mutatis muntandis, this is the intellectual and practical transformation that has to take place before we can begin to construct “local forms of community” for the flourishing of civility and intellectual life. We need to acknowledge that our task isn’t to shore up America, or the West, or whatever. If we promote local communities of virtue as a tactic for shoring up the imperium, we haven’t really grasped MacIntyre’s point, or the depth of the crisis he described.

That renunciation is as emotionally difficult as the project of forming local communities is practically difficult.”

Posted in America/U.S.A., Canada, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Philosophy, Theology

A NY Times Article on the Surprising England Team that has made the World Cup Semi-Finals

The spiritual figurehead of the team in many ways has been Southgate, a former England player whose self-effacing enthusiasm has become central to the group’s appeal. With a subtle knack for storytelling, he has done as much as any columnist to build a narrative about his players as lovable underdogs.

About their ambition to reach the final, rather than to play a third-place match after losing in the semifinals, Southgate said: “We spoke to the players today that none of us fancied going home. We’ve got to be here for another week, so it’s up to us the games we play in.”

And asked about uniting their country during a period of political division, he said: “All these players come from different parts of the country, and there will be youngsters watching at home from the areas that they come from who they’ll be inspiring at this moment, and that is of course even more powerful than what we’re doing with our results.”

The road to the final has looked surprisingly open for England for a while now, thanks at first to an easy group stage and now because of a series of fortuitous results in other games. England, with a different series of outcomes, could have faced Brazil or Germany in the quarterfinals and Spain in the next round.

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Men, Russia, Sports

The Wonderful World Cup Heads to the Round of 16 Clashes

Posted in Globalization, Men, Russia, Sports

(Economist Erasmus Blog) For those who fight sex-trafficking, dark rituals compound the problem

People who campaign against the ghastly phenomenon of human trafficking and sex slavery soon become aware that they are contending not only with flesh-and-blood wrongdoers but also with invisible forces which, if nothing else, are very much alive inside people’s heads.

One of the most notorious North-South rackets involves transporting young women, often minors, for sex work in Italy and beyond from Nigeria, in particular the southern area around Benin City. That part of the country has a powerful Christian presence, from Catholic to Pentecostal, but it is also a stronghold of traditional animist practices, including witchcraft. Its sex-slave trade has existed for three decades but it seems to have burgeoned recently. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that in 2016, some 11,100 Nigerian women landed in Sicily, and 80% entered a life of forced prostitution.

Before she is spirited off to Europe, the bond between a victim and her trafficker is often sealed with a voodoo ritual in which she surrenders pieces of clothing, fingernails and body hair; these fragments may be combined with drops of blood into a mixture which the victim is made to drink. This terrifies the young woman into thinking that curses will befall her family unless the debt to the trafficker, which can be around $50,000, is paid off.

According to Eugenia Bonetti, a Catholic religious sister who heads an NGO called Slaves No More, one of the many tragic consequences of all this is that young Nigerian women who are expelled from Italy or are helped by charities to return home can find themselves ostracised by their own families. Christian religious orders in Nigeria try to look after these returnees but they are treated as social pariahs.

In March, an attempt was made to tackle this problem by fighting fire with fire….

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Posted in Italy, Nigeria, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence, Women

Archbp Justin Welby–Christian Presence and Witness in Europe An address to the Assembly of the Conference of European Churches

Europe is not in danger of falling. And there is no sense in which I suggest that Brexit or other crises currently around will derail the European Union or bring about the downfall of
Europe. To suggest that would be akin to the old English saying that when there is fog in the Channel then the continent is cut off. But Europe, like other parts of the world, is in a
fragile phase. Current geo-political uncertainty is unsettling. In my part of the continent there is a nation attempting to leave the EU, on the other edges of the EU such as here there are countries and peoples keen to get in.

For Augustine the fall of Rome showed the specious nature of putting faith in the earthly city. For Augustine the benefit of being a Christian is citizenship of an eternal city. This
comes through faith in Christ.

That cannot lead to complacency. The fact that Christianity survived in Europe does not indicate that it is indestructible, but that God protects the Church that he created and loves.
Christian survival within Europe is not an objective of the Church, rather it should be for the Church to be obedient to the pattern of Christ, to be Christ’s hand, mouth and love in this
world today.

Jesus told his disciples that they were to be salt and light (Matthew 5: 13-16), both the means of preserving the society in which the Church exists and also the source of illumination that reveals both shadow and truth, that unveils what seeks to be hidden, and illuminates what inspires.

For the Church to be effective and to continue to be blessed by God, it must speak truth to the societies that it sees around it and act in a way that is consistent with the truth it
speaks….

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church History, England / UK, Europe, History, Religion & Culture