Category : Secularism

(Spectator) Theo Hobson– Coffee House Justin Welby needs to get off the fence

He cheerfully admits that we can’t recreate a Christian-based social order – which was always a flawed thing anyway. But he cannot quite affirm our post-Christian social order, which privatises faith, and ‘leaves a vacuum’:

‘That is not to say at this stage that the answer is to reverse the privatisation of Christian faith (which is anyway not something within human gift) but rather that there is a need for a generous and hospitable meta-narrative within which competing truths can be held. It will be the suggestion of this book that Christian faith…provides the potential for such hospitable and generous holding.’

Is there an alternative to such awkward fence-sitting? As the leader of a Christian church he must say that Christianity is what the nation needs in order to reimagine the common good, but as this is the established Church of a liberal state he must also sound respectful of secular diversity. The problem is that his respect for secular diversity never quite sounds sincere. As I say, it sounds like he is reining in his dislike of it, forcing a cheerful smile.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Secularism

([London] Times) Act now on civil partnerships, urge mixed-sex couple after court win

The extension of civil partnerships to heterosexual couples is one of the planks of The Times’s campaign with the Marriage Foundation to reform family law.

Lord Kerr, announcing the court’s decision, said the government “does not seek to justify the difference in treatment between same-sex and different sex couples. To the contrary, it accepts that the difference cannot be justified.” He said that the government sought “tolerance of the discrimination while it sorts out how to deal with it. That cannot be characterised as a legitimate aim.” He added that it was “salutary to recall that a declaration of incompatibility does not oblige the government or parliament to do anything”.

However, there is mounting support for the change. Tim Loughton, MP, who has led a campaign for a change in the law, said that he was seeking an urgent meeting with ministers to amend a private member’s bill that is going through parliament at present, and was confident of support. “We now have a decision; we need to act on it,” he said.

Read it all (subscription required).

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Men, Secularism, Women

(CC) Philip Jenkins–In Europe, even occasional prayer is on the way out

Stephen Bullivant is a highly re­spected British academic who, among other topics, studies the state of religion in contemporary Europe. He has just produced perhaps the single most depressing portrait of the Christian present and future on that continent—and that is not a genre noted for its optimism.

Drawing on the European Social Survey, Bullivant published a concise re­port, Europe’s Young Adults and Reli­gion, to assist the deliberations of the Synod of Catholic Bishops that meets in Rome in October. The report covers the religious outlook of young adults aged 16 through 29. The levels of religious behavior and interest it depicts in most countries are extraordinarily low.

In the Czech Republic, 91 percent of young adults claim no religious affiliation whatever, 8o percent never pray, and 70 percent never attend religious services. That country might be an outlier, but very low levels of religiosity also characterize Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Although Bullivant does not stress this denominational angle, by far the grimmest conditions apply in what for centuries were the heartlands of Protestant Europe. Only 7 percent of English respondents identify as Angli­cans (the state church), compared to 10 percent who identify as Catholics and 6 percent as Muslims.

The “never praying” category is striking, since it shows we are not just dealing with basically religiously oriented people who happen to be disaffected from particular state churches.

Read it all.

Posted in Europe, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NYT) When Living Your Truth Can Mean Losing Your Children

The questioning went on for days. Did she allow her children to watch a Christmas video? Did she include plastic Easter eggs as part of her celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim? Did she use English nicknames for them, instead of their Hebrew names?

This grilling of Chavie Weisberger, 35, took place not in front of a rabbi or a religious court, but in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, during a custody battle with her ultra-Orthodox Jewish ex-husband after she came out as lesbian and decided to leave the ultra-Orthodox fold. The stakes could not have been higher. In fact, the judge, Eric I. Prus, eventually ruled that she should lose custody of her children, largely because she had lapsed in raising them according to Hasidic customs.

Ms. Weisberger’s case, which was reversed on appeal in August, is still reverberating through New York courts that handle divorce and custody matters for the state’s hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

A New York State appellate court ruled that Justice Prus had erred in making religious observance the paramount factor when deciding custody. The court also said he had violated Ms. Weisberger’s constitutional rights by requiring her to pretend to be ultra-Orthodox around her children, even though she was no longer religious, in order to spend unsupervised time with them.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Judaism, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Guardian) Simon Jenkins–‘The Quakers are considering dropping God from their meetings guidance as it makes some feel uncomfortable’

The Quakers are clearly on to something. At their annual get-together this weekend they are reportedly thinking of dropping God from their “guidance to meetings”. The reason, said one of them, is because the term “makes some Quakers feel uncomfortable”. Atheists, according to a Birmingham University academic, comprise a rising 14% of professed Quakers, while a full 43% felt “unable to profess a belief in God”. They come to meetings for fellowship, rather than for higher guidance. The meeting will also consider transgenderism, same-sex marriage, climate change and social media. Religion is a tiring business.

I am not a Quaker or religious, but I have been to Quaker meetings, usually marriages or funerals, and found them deeply moving. The absence of ritual, the emphasis on silence and thought and the witness of “friends” seemed starkly modernist. Meeting houses can be beautiful spaces. The loveliest I know dates from 1700 and is lost in deep woods near Meifod, Powys. It is a place of the purest serenity, miles from any road and with only birdsong to blend with inner reflection.

The Quakers’ lack of ceremony and liturgical clutter gives them a point from which to view the no man’s land between faith and non-faith that is the “new religiosity”. A dwindling 40% of Britons claim to believe in some form of God, while a third say they are atheists. But that leaves over a quarter in a state of vaguely agnostic “spirituality”. Likewise, while well over half of Americans believe in the biblical God, nearly all believe in “a higher power or spiritual force”.

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

[The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record] Cremation gaining in popularity fast as burial costs rise

Fred and Margaret, of Clifton, N.J., died one month apart during the winter.

The couple, whose last name their children asked not to divulge, met in high school and were married for 69 years. They were inseparable.

Death was not about to change that.

They made arrangements years ago: Margaret, 87, would take the last grave in the family’s plot at St. Nicholas Cemetery in Lodi, N.J. Fred, 88, a devout Catholic who was born some 30 years before the Vatican lifted its ban on cremation in 1963, decided his ashes would be buried by her head.

Perhaps, if there were space, Fred would not have chosen to be cremated, his daughter Donna said. But there was room for only one.

“I think he just wanted to be with my mom and that’s what he had to do in order for him to be with her,” she said.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Bloomberg View) Stephen Carter–The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity in a recent New Yorker article

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress. Worldwide, Christianity is actually moving toward supernaturalism and neo-orthodoxy, and in many ways toward the ancient world view expressed in the New Testament: a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race. In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations – currently 480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America – now make up what the Catholic scholar Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the faith. The revolution taking place in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is far more sweeping in its implications than any current shifts in North American religion, whether Catholic or Protestant. There is increasing tension between what one might call a liberal Northern Reformation and the surging Southern religious revolution, which one might equate with the Counter-Reformation, the internal Catholic reforms that took place at the same time as the Reformation — although in references to the past and the present the term “Counter-Reformation” misleadingly implies a simple reaction instead of a social and spiritual explosion. No matter what the terminology, however, an enormous rift seems inevitable.

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Global South Churches & Primates, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Urban/City Life and Issues

([London) Times) Patients ‘expect GPs to heal their souls’ as the church’s role declines

Family doctors say that they are the “new clergy” and need to know what to do when patients come to them lacking meaning and purpose in life.

GPs are increasingly seeing patients with complex problems driven by social and emotional difficulties and are growing frustrated by having little to offer other than pills, a study has indicated. They are embarrassed to talk about “spiritual” questions and researchers argue that they need to be comfortable telling people about the importance of community.

Alistair Appleby, a GP who carried out the study of his colleagues’ attitude to spirituality, said: “There is an urgent need to recognise the value of community, connection and self-esteem and look at meaning and purpose in life.”

Dr Appleby said that Britain’s reluctance to talk about religion publicly had hampered discussion of deeper questions. He began the study because “I felt I was particularly bad at it. There were several occasions when I was with patients when it was fairly clear that I had not made the human connection that they hoped for.”

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in England / UK, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Guardian) NHS appoints humanist to lead chaplaincy team

A humanist has been appointed to lead a team of NHS chaplains, in a move that reflects growing demand for emotional and spiritual support from people who do not identify with any organised religion.

Lindsay van Dijk will lead three Christian chaplains and a team of 24 volunteers, including a Catholic nun, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í, at the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust. The world-renowned spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital is part of the trust.

Although there are two other humanists among the NHS’s paid chaplains, it is the first time that chaplains in hospitals and hospices will work under a non-religious leader.

Van Dijk, 28, told the Guardian: “A lot of people don’t have an organised faith, but still have spiritual and emotional needs at difficult times. Often people are trying to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in.”

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in England / UK, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NR) David French: Intersectionality, the Dangerous Faith

America has struggled with university censorship before. Litigators have battled campus speech codes for a full generation. Intolerance in the name of tolerance has been a fact of campus life for a long time. But there’s something different about intersectionality. The virus has jumped from patient zero and is spreading like wildfire in blue culture. And it’s spreading in part because it is filling that religion-shaped hole in the human heart.

I’m hardly the first person to make this argument. Andrew Sullivan has noted intersectionality’s religious elements, and John Sexton has been on this beat for a year. Smart people know religious zeal when they see it.

While there’s not yet an Apostle’s Creed of intersectionality, it can roughly be defined as the belief that oppression operates in complicated, “interlocking” ways. So the experience of, say, a white trans woman is different in important ways from the experience of a black lesbian. A white trans woman will experience the privilege of her skin but also oppression due to her gender identity. A black lesbian may experience the privilege of “cis” gender identity but also oppression due to race and sexuality. It’s identity politics on steroids, where virtually every issue in American life can and must be filtered through the prisms of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Intersectionality privileges experiential authority, with each distinct identity group able to speak conclusively and decisively only about their own experience. So when an issue impacts trans rights, the trans community takes the lead. The responsibility of the rest of the community is to act, then, as their “allies.” If a racial issue comes to the fore — for example, in the context of protests over police shootings — then African Americans take the lead, and LGBT or women’s groups come alongside in support.

Read it all.

Posted in Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Secularism

A Glimpse of Life at Harvard these days–Secularism and Its Discontents by Henry Brooks

In the past month, student group Harvard College Faith in Action endured two serious public relations debacles, both regarding the group’s relation to the BGLTQ community. The first incident arose when HCFA invited renowned ex-lesbian Jackie Hill-Perry, who became famous for claiming that her rebirth into faith saved her from a “lifestyle of homosexual sin,” to speak at its weekly Doxa meeting. Then, in the wake of a public outcryand several opinion pieces, news broke that HCFA had dismissed one of its Bible study group leaders after she dated someone of the same gender—though group leaders citedreasons of “theological disagreement.” After the latter incident, the College put the group on “probation,” reportedly marking the first instance of such disciplinary action in the history of the College.

Much of the response among community members and the wider public has echoed a familiar array of sentiments. One student interviewed by The Crimson chastised the non-denominational Christian group for exemplifying “institutional backlash against queer people.” An op-ed judged HCFA “complicit in promoting dangerous homophobic rhetoric” and threatening “the emotional and physical safety of LGBT people here on campus.” One commenter following the story on a BGLTQ news site staked out a more extreme position: “Virginal births, talking snakes, boats with two of every species on board… Enough judging people through the prism of fairy tales.”

It seems to this author that these reactions, some more respectfully than others, leave unexamined the purchase that faith still holds in people’s lives—and the lives of BGLTQ people no less. To identify “dangerous homophobic rhetoric” as the object of our frustration means leaving the underlying problem—the way faith is often framed as contending with our secular sensibilities—unaddressed. Attributing homophobia to a belief in “virginal births [and] talking snakes” only exacerbates that problem, affirming categories like “religious-and-straight” and “secular-and-queer” that constrain nonconforming expressions of identity.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Sexuality, Theology, Young Adults

(1st Things) David Bentley Hart–The Precious Stephen Pinker

In the end, what Pinker calls a “decline of violence” in modernity actually has been, in real body counts, a continual and extravagant increase in violence that has been outstripped by an even more exorbitant demographic explosion. Well, not to put too fine a point on it: So what? What on earth can he truly imagine that tells us about “progress” or “Enlightenment”—or about the past, the present, or the future? By all means, praise the modern world for what is good about it, but spare us the mythology.

And yet, oddly enough, I like Pinker’s book. On one level, perhaps, it is all terrific nonsense: historically superficial, philosophically platitudinous, occasionally threatening to degenerate into the dulcet bleating of a contented bourgeois. But there is also something exhilarating about this fideist who thinks he is a rationalist. Over the past few decades, so much of secularist discourse has been drearily clouded by irony, realist disenchantment, spiritual fatigue, self-lacerating sophistication: a postmodern sense of failure, an appetite for caustic cultural genealogies, a meek surrender of all “metanarrative” ambitions.

Pinker’s is an older, more buoyant, more hopeful commitment to the “Enlightenment”—and I would not wake him from his dogmatic slumber for all the tea in China. In his book, one encounters the ecstatic innocence of a faith unsullied by prudent doubt. For me, it reaffirms the human spirit’s lunatic and heroic capacity to believe a beautiful falsehood, not only in excess of the facts, but in resolute defiance of them.

Read it all (from 2012).

Posted in Anthropology, Apologetics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Other Faiths, Secularism, Theology, Violence

(1st Things) Mary Eberstadt–The Zealous Faith of Secularism: How the Sexual Revolution became a dogma

If the so-called right to choose were truly an exercise of choice—if the rhetoric of the people who defend it matched the reality of what they actually believe—one would expect its defenders to honor choosing against it here or there. But this does not happen: No “pro-choice” group holds up as an example any woman who chooses not to abort.

That this doesn’t happen tells us something noteworthy. For secularist believers, abortion is not in fact a mere “choice,” as their value-free, consumerist rhetoric frames it. No, abortion is sacrosanct. It is a communal rite—one through which many enter their new religion in the first place. The popular, Internet-driven rage for “telling one’s own abortion story”—the phenomenon known as #shoutyourabortion—illustrates this point. Each individual story is a secularist pilgrim’s progress into a new faith whose community is united by this bloody rite of passage. Add the suggestively popular term “woke”—today’s gnostic version of “awakened”—and there’s more evidence that secularist progressivism has erected a church.

So the fury directed at Christianity can be pressed into a single word, sex. Christianity today, like Christianity past and Christianity to come, contends with many enemies. But the adversary now inflicting maximal damage on the Church is not dreamed of in Horatio’s philosophy. It is instead the absolutist defense of the sexual revolution by its faithful.

Christians and other dissidents aren’t being heckled from Hollywood to Capitol Hill for feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, or defending the commandments against lying and stealing. Bakers aren’t landing in court because of trying to follow what’s said in the Song of Songs. All of the expressions of animosity now aimed against Christianity by this new secularist faith share a common denominator. They are rooted in secularist dogma about the sexual revolution, according to which that revolution is an unequivocal and fundamental boon.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Other Faiths, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Secularism, Sexuality

(WSJ) Reuel Marc Gerecht–The Secular Republic of Iran

Few organizations still carry the revolutionary torch. The Revolutionary Guards are willing to kill and die in Syria. The Basij, a “mobilization” force of club-wielding thugs under the command of the Guards, has been willing to murder its own countrymen to preserve the clerical state. But its commitment appears so sharp precisely because Iranian society as a whole has moved on.

Mosques all over Iran are empty at prayer times. In 2015 a Revolutionary Guard commander, Ziaeddin Hozni, revealed that only about 3,000 of the country’s 57,000 Shiite mosques were fully operational. And of the 3,000, some were only functioning during the religious months of Ramadan and Muharram. The Shiites have usually been less diligent than Sunnis in mosque attendance, but lack of attendance is striking in an explicitly Shiite state run by mullahs.

Do not underestimate how these trends influence the protests. Youth unemployment and the ever-rising price of food matter. But even more important is the collapse of the revolution’s civilizing mission among the college-educated children of the ruling elite and the poorly educated urban working class. Nothing in the nuclear accord can revive the fraternity that once bound Iranians together. The current eruptions may well fail to unseat the mullahs. Yet as the great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun warned, there is always another asabiyya, or galvanizing spirit of a superior force, waiting outside the capital, gaining unstoppable momentum.

Read it all.

Posted in Iran, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(1st Things) Matthew Rose–Our Secular Theodicy

I live in Berkeley, one of the most religious cities in America. Its churches are being converted into mosques and Buddhist temples, but its one true faith endures. A popular yard sign states its creed: “In This House, We Believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is Illegal, Science is Real, Love is Love, and Kindness is Everything.” The sign is both profession and prophecy. Like the biblical Joshua whose promise it echoes (“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”), my neighbors are in a holy vanguard. They have seen the future America, have identified its present enemies, and are leading us into a promised land.

The biblical politics of my secular neighbors would not have been lost on Ernst Bloch. Bloch was an atheist who believed Jesus was the Messiah, a Stalinist who disagreed with Marx, and a materialist who embraced natural law theory. For the moment you will have to take my word that this can make sense and that it is worth the modest effort to understand how. You would be within your rights to be skeptical. No doctrine has been refuted so often as Marxism, and the debates that consumed Bloch’s long life are dead. Yet the utopian spirit to which he gave original, sometimes brilliant, and more often bizarre expression has never been more alive, and to visit his work is to witness a moment when Christian faith began to transmute itself into the progressive creeds of today.

In a series of books beginning in 1918 and ending shortly before his death in 1977, Bloch proposed that the central category for understanding politics is eschatology—our anticipation of a future society that will reveal the meaning of human history and redeem its fallen state. He named this kingdom “utopia” and argued that its arrival is the object of every human hope and the justification of every human suffering. Bloch lived under Hitler, Vichy, and the gaze of Walter Ulbricht, the Stalinist leader of East Germany, making his work an anguished commentary on the darkest moments of the twentieth century. But his millennial hopes, expressed in critical dialogue with Christian theology, continue to inspire many.

Bloch is a guide into the concealed theology of contemporary liberalism, whose outlook remains profoundly, if paradoxically, biblical in one respect. Having rejected a Christian understanding of nature, it retains an intensely Christian understanding of history.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Secularism