September 30, 2010

Glenn Beck Revealed

Interesting piece in yesterday’s New York Times, a long profile-interview with American conservative broadcaster and political pundit Glenn Beck. Tom, at Opinion Forum, is definitely right: “Whether you view Beck with respect or disdain, you’ll learn things in the article that will help you understand where he’s coming from and maybe where he’s going.” A good read and well worth your time.

Why Did Islam Become What It Is?

I have always thought that nobody who has an ounce of common sense—not to speak of sensibility and culture—cannot help but respect other people’s religious beliefs, except for those which are manifestly contrary to universal human right principles. Such is, of course, my attitude toward Islam. Hence my deep appreciation for thinkers such as G.K. Chesteron, whose respect for Islam is as strong as his “humanistic” approach to life in general. Which obviously generates some kind of tension between the two needs: respect, but awareness of the most controversial aspects of Islam, with regard to its (much) less humanistic approach…

Here is an example of his, so to speak, “bivalent attitude” toward Islam. There is in Islam “a paradox which is perhaps a permanent menace,” he wrote in his 1917 Lord Kitchener...

The great creed born in the desert creates a kind of ecstasy out of the very emptiness of its own land, and even, one may say, out of the emptiness of its own theology. It affirms, with no little sublimity, something that is not merely the singleness but rather the solitude of God. There is the same extreme simplification in the solitary figure of the Prophet; and yet this isolation perpetually reacts into its own opposite. A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and yet this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mahomet produces an endless procession of Mahomets. Of these the mightiest in modern times were the man whose name was Ahmed, and whose more famous title was the Mahdi; and his more ferocious successor Abdullahi, who was generally known as the Khalifa. These great fanatics, or great creators of fanaticism, succeeded in making a militarism almost as famous and formidable as that of the Turkish Empire on whose frontiers it hovered, and in spreading a reign of terror such as can seldom be organised except by civilisation…

Islam as “the great creed born in the desert.” That’s the key argument he makes to explain both what is wrong and what is the sublimity hidden in the heart of the religion of Muhammad. Two faces (what is sublime and what is “a permanent menace”) of the same coin—a Weltanschauung which is son of the desert and which generates both great mystics and huge fanatics and creators of fanaticism.

But it was not until 1919 that Chesterton had the opportunity of making this perfectly clear to himself, when he left his home in Beaconsfield, and traveled backward through time to the place which is sacred to the three “religions of the Book.” And his 1920 The New Jerusalem, is just a philosophical travelogue of his journey across Europe, across the desert, to Palestine.

Chesterton saw Islam as the Way of the Desert. The desert being a place of loss of perspective, and Islam personifying that loss of perspective. When the mind has grown used to the monotony of the desert, he wrote, a curious change takes place:

It may sound strange to say that monotony of its nature becomes novelty. But if any one will try the common experiment of saying some ordinary word such as "moon" or "man" about fifty times, he will find that the expression has become extraordinary by sheer repetition. A man has become a strange animal with a name as queer as that of the gnu; and the moon something monstrous like the moon-calf. Something of this magic of monotony is effected by the monotony of deserts; and the traveller feels as if he had entered into a secret, and was looking at everything from another side. Something of this simplification appears, I think, in the religions of the desert, especially in the religion of Islam. It explains something of the super-human hopes that fill the desert prophets concerning the future; it explains something also about their barbarous indifference to the past.

We think of the desert and its stones as old; but in one sense they are unnaturally new. They are unused, and perhaps unusable. They might be the raw material of a world; only they are so raw as to be rejected. It is not easy to define this quality of something primitive, something not mature enough to be fruitful. Indeed there is a hard simplicity about many Eastern things that is as much crude as archaic. A palm-tree is very like a tree drawn by a child—or by a very futurist artist. Even a pyramid is like a mathematical figure drawn by a schoolmaster teaching children; and its very impressiveness is that of an ultimate Platonic abstraction. There is something curiously simple about the shape in which these colossal crystals of the ancient sands have been cast. It is only when we have felt something of this element, not only of simplicity, but of crudity, and even in a sense of novelty, that we can begin to understand both the immensity and the insufficiency of that power that came out of the desert, the great religion of Mahomet.

And here is a generous eulogy of Islam:

In the red circle of the desert, in the dark and secret place, the prophet discovers the obvious things. I do not say it merely as a sneer, for obvious things are very easily forgotten; and indeed every high civilisation decays by forgetting obvious things.

But a second later he challenges those whom he has just praised:

But it is true that in such a solitude men tend to take very simple ideas as if they were entirely new ideas. There is a love of concentration which comes from the lack of comparison. The lonely man looking at the lonely palm-tree does see the elementary truths about the palm-tree; and the elementary truths are very essential. Thus he does see that though the palm-tree may be a very simple design, it was not he who designed it. It may look like a tree drawn by a child, but he is not the child who could draw it. He has not command of that magic slate on which the pictures can come to life, or of that magic green chalk of which the green lines can grow. He sees at once that a power is at work in whose presence he and the palm-tree are alike little children. In other words, he is intelligent enough to believe in God; and the Moslem, the man of the desert, is intelligent enough to believe in God. But his belief is lacking in that humane complexity that comes from comparison.
[Italics mine]

And a few lines below he says:

[Islam] was content with the idea that it had a great truth; as indeed it had a colossal truth. It was so huge a truth that it was hard to see it was a half-truth.

What does he mean by that? Let’s follow his reasoning:

Islam was a movement; that is why it has ceased to move. For a movement can only be a mood. It may be a very necessary movement arising from a very noble mood, but sooner or later it must find its level in a larger philosophy, and be balanced against other things. Islam was a reaction towards simplicity; it was a violent simplification, which turned out to be an over-simplification. Stevenson has somewhere one of his perfectly picked phrases for an empty-minded man; that he has not one thought to rub against another while he waits for a train. The Moslem had one thought, and that a most vital one; the greatness of God which levels all men. But the Moslem had not one thought to rub against another, because he really had not another. It is the friction of two spiritual things, of tradition and invention, or of substance and symbol, from which the mind takes fire. The creeds condemned as complex have something like the secret of sex; they can breed thoughts.
The philosophy of the desert can only begin over again. It cannot grow; it cannot have what Protestants call progress and Catholics call development.
The highest message of Mahomet is a piece of divine tautology. The very cry that God is God is a repetition of words, like the repetitions of wide sands and rolling skies. The very phrase is like an everlasting echo, that can never cease to say the same sacred word; and when I saw afterwards the mightiest and most magnificent of all the mosques of that land, I found that its inscriptions had the same character of a deliberate and defiant sameness.
The ancient Arabic alphabet and script is itself at once so elegant and so exact that it can be used as a fixed ornament, like the egg and dart pattern or the Greek key. It is as if we could make a heraldry of handwriting, or cover a wall-paper with signatures. But the literary style is as recurrent as the decorative style; perhaps that is why it can be used as a decorative style. Phrases are repeated again and again like ornamental stars or flowers. Many modern people, for example, imagine that the Athanasian Creed is full of vain repetitions; but that is because people are too lazy to listen to it, or not lucid enough to understand it. The same terms are used throughout, as they are in a proposition of Euclid. But the steps are all as differentiated and progressive as in a proposition of Euclid. But in the inscriptions of the Mosque whole sentences seem to occur, not like the steps of an argument, but rather like the chorus of a song. This is the impression everywhere produced by this spirit of the sandy wastes; this is the voice of the desert, though the muezzin cries from the high turrets of the city. Indeed one is driven to repeating oneself about the repetition, so overpowering is the impression of the tall horizons of those tremendous plains, brooding upon the soul with all the solemn weight of the self-evident. [Italics mine]

Isn’t that a wonderful explanation of the (abyssal) difference between them and us, whose minds have been nurtured by Greek rationality and Judaic-Christian values? This difference is also why, compared with its millennial rival, Christendom, the world of Islam had become poor, weak, and ignorant. In his What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis asks, but does not answer, the following questions: “Why did the discoverers of America sail from Spain and not a Muslim Atlantic port, where such voyages were indeed attempted in earlier times? Why did the great scientific breakthrough occur in Europe and not, as one might reasonably have expected, in the richer, more advanced, and in most respects more enlightened realm of Islam?” One might say, “Just read The New Jerusalem to get the right answers to these questions and a few others.”

~ First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

September 29, 2010

Mount Athos - The Holy Mountain

A World Heritage Site, The Holy Mountain, on the peninsula of the same name in Macedonia, in northern Greece, is a self-governed part of the Greek state, subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But first and foremost it is the centre of Eastern Christian Orthodox Monasticism.

Having never been there, I cannot help but dream of the day … How about you? If you feel the same way as me, you might like the video below (thanks: Adolfo Morganti).

Mont Athos - La république des moines (bande annonce VF)
Caricato da NS-Video. - Serie TV classiche e spettacoli televisivi

September 25, 2010

A Time for Choosing

It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government.”

This idea—that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power—is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream—the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order—or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.”

The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.

~ Ronald Reagan  

Ronald Reagan delivered this speech in support of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. Besides being one of the best examples of Reagan’s rhetorical powers, and his first major national political address, this speech launched his career as both a politician and a leader of the conservative movement. Almost needless to say, these words are as relevant to the U.S. current situation as they were when he delivered them. To the extent that this speech has become a sort of “Bible” for the Tea party movement, as this new (and excellent) video shows …

September 23, 2010

The philosophical habit of mind

In his Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk located the importance of John Henry Newman as a great “philosopher of tradition” in his skill in articulating the value of knowledge, the limits of reason and science, the danger of utilitarianism and rationalism, the nature of intellectual virtue, and the necessity of such virtue for the grasp of first principles. But perhaps the fundamental feature of Newman’s defense of tradition is his natural deference to classical Greek philosophy, particularly Aristotle. To be precise, Newman conceives  and defends tradition with a mind formed and disciplined by a study of the Stagirite.

Angelo Bottone’s new book, The Philosophical Habit of Mind. Rhetoric and Person in John Henry Newman’s Dublin Writings—as far as I can tell without having read it yet …—seems to be on the same wavelength as Russell Kirk. “This work,” as the book’s cover says, “offers an original exploration of the influences of philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Locke on Newman’s own thought. Aristotle’s inspiration is presented in a new light and compared with Ciceronian rhetoric and the Utilitarianism of Locke and his followers. Moreover, the intellectual, moral and artistic dimensions of the human person in Newman’s Dublin Writings are discussed, in conjunction with his concepts of the unity of knowledge and of the philosophical habit of mind.”

Angelo, besides being an associate lecturer at the School of Arts of the Dublin Business School, where he teaches Introduction to Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Theories of Knowledge and Philosophy of Science, is a highly appreciated contributor of this blog. That’s also why I wish him all the very best with this new book.


The leaves are falling, falling as from far,
from wilting in the heavens' farthest gardens:
They're falling to negate the summer's mirth.

And in the nights the heavy Earth
falls into solitude from star to star.

We all are falling. This my hand here bends.
And look at others: Fall's in all their calling.

And yet there's One, who's holding all this falling
forever tender in His upturned hands...

Rainer Maria Rilke
[Translation by Walter A. Aue]


Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit, 
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten; 
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde. 

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde 
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt. 
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen. 

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen 
unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält.

September 22, 2010

What the Profumo affair is all about

First off let me start by saying that I am no expert in finance and economics, and that, therefore, I myself am just trying to understand what happened. And this just because of the obvious importance—not only from a financial point of view, but also from a political (and social) one—of what actually happened.

That being said, let’s face it. UniCredit SpA Chief Executive Alessandro Profumo liked to say he wanted to keep his job heading Italy’s biggest bank (or the second biggest after Intesa San Paolo, according to some sources) until he is 60. But his tenure came to an abrupt end some 7 years ahead of that deadline: the 53-year-old architect of UniCredit’s relentless growth from regional Italian bank to a global financial giant resigned on Tuesday at an extraordinary board meeting called by the chairman, Dieter Rampl. Disgruntled shareholders forced Profumo out in a dispute over Libya’s growing influence on the bank and lagging results. The company confirmed the resignation in a statement distributed by the Italian stock exchange. Profumo will be replaced, temporarily, by chairman Dieter Rampl, who is also the former head of Germany’s second-biggest bank HVB, which was acquired by UniCredit in 2005.

It is also to be said that UniCredit was the most exposed Italian bank in the global financial meltdown which began in late 2007, and this just because it had the biggest international profile, including owning the HVB group, which suffered in the subprime loan crisis that sparked the credit crunch.

And here is a good summary of what has recently happened:

UniCredit was recently assigned a banking license by the Central Bank of Libya to operate in that country. Mr. Profumo said this month that Libyan investors chose to “autonomously” build their stakes in UniCredit. But the increase in the Libyan stake infuriated some Italian officials.
The question of Libya’s voting rights — and whether the two Libyan shareholdings should be treated as one entity — is being examined by Italian regulators. UniCredit’s bylaws state that no single shareholder should control more than 5 percent of the votes.
The other main shareholders in UniCredit are Aabar Investments, an Abu Dhabi state entity with 4.9 percent, and the four regional Italian bank foundations — based in Verona, Turin, Bologna and Treviso — which together control about 10 percent. German companies including the insurer Allianz also hold significant minority stakes in UniCredit. The American investment firm BlackRock holds 4 percent.

But, with regard to the four above mentioned regional Italian bank foundations, the 2008-2009 financial crisis ended the flow of dividends

to which UniCredit’s shareholders had been accustomed; and the bank had to make calls for fresh capital, bringing hard times to the philanthropic foundations that had owned the five savings banks and which now own a combined stake of about 12% in UniCredit. As the savings banks themselves had once been, the foundations are political as well as philanthropic, with boards made up of party appointees and local bigwigs. Cuts in dividends from UniCredit have meant less largesse for them to bestow on good works such as repairing church roofs, helping hospitals and funding old people’s homes, and also less influence.
The share-buying in UniCredit by two arms of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, coming on top of recent stake-building by another Arab government—that of Abu Dhabi—has caused indignation in northern Italy, where the xenophobic Northern League political party is strong.

In fact, Flavio Tosi, a League governor and Verona’s mayor, said Profumo should have stopped the Libyans at 5%. “I’m not a banker,” he said, “but to let in partners like Gaddafi and the Libyans means letting in partners who may not have the [same] interests as Verona and the Veneto.” He also accused the bank of focusing on business abroad at the expense of Italian enterprises, which need help recovering from the world economic crisis.

Yet, now Northern League leader Umberto Bossi is urging foundation shareholders of UniCredit to defend the company against the growing German influence: “I hope the foundations don’t stand there with their hands in the pockets, but that they organize a defence,” he said. Doesn’t it seem a bit contradictory? The most vocal opponents of Profumo—his departure is a significant victory for the foundations, and for the federalist Northern League party—are now worrying about the consequences of their political fight. I just don’t understand.

However, despite the many subtle, and not so subtle, political explanations and interpretations that have been put forward in the last few hours, perhaps Oscar Giannino (in Italian)—one of the most respected economic opinion-makers in Italy, and a columnists for several Italian newspapers—is right: “This is not all about the misery of Italian politics. This is all about the misery of the Italian market.”

September 21, 2010

Madam President?

It could happen, no doubt. As a matter of fact, speculation that Sarah Palin, former Alaska Governor and Republican candidate for Vice President in 2008, will run for President in 2012 is reaching fever pitch. Yet, they say the ambition doesn’t always sit well with Alaskans, who have a saying: “We don’t care how they do it on the Outside.” At least, until the Outside suddenly lands on their doorstep… Read the story in today’s British newspaper The Independent.

The New York Times: More papist than the Pope?

It might well be the case. Things change, my friends …

All in all, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain over the weekend must have been a disappointment to his legions of detractors. Their bold promises notwithstanding, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens didn’t manage to clap the pope in irons and haul him off to jail. The protests against Benedict’s presence proved a sideshow to the visit, rather than the main event. And the threat (happily empty, it turned out) of an assassination plot provided a reminder of what real religious extremism looks like — as opposed to the gentle scholar, swathed in white, urging secular Britons to look with fresh eyes at their island’s ancient faith.
And yes, the church’s exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don’t go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism’s rivals suggests that the church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That’s what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades — and instead of gaining members, they’ve dwindled into irrelevance.

The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. But continuity, not swift and perhaps foolhardy adaptation, has always been the papacy’s purpose, and the secret of its lasting strength.
This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham — because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive.

Anyway, great article and good analysis. Excellent food for thought. Amen.

September 20, 2010

Benedict XVI's call for religious reciprocity

During his UK visit, Benedict XVI said many things on many topics. Most of these things went unreported or underreported, sometimes with a certain degree of inaccuracy (to say the least), by the mainstream media. One of them is the following statement, made during His Holiness meeting with representatives of Britain’s other major religions, namely Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs (read the full text of the speech here):

The presence of committed believers in various fields of social and economic life speaks eloquently of the fact that the spiritual dimension of our lives is fundamental to our identity as human beings, that man, in other words, does not live by bread alone. As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this ‘side by side’ dimension of our cooperation, which complements the ‘face to face’ aspect of our continuing dialogue. […] Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions. In order to be fruitful, this requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions. I am thinking in particular of situations in some parts of the world, where cooperation and dialogue between religions calls for mutual respect, the freedom to practice one’s religion and to engage in acts of public worship, and the freedom to follow one’s conscience without suffering ostracism or persecution, even after conversion from one religion to another.

Now, dear readers, which one of the above mentioned religions was the Pope referring to, in your honest opinion? Ok, no rhetorical questions … There is no doubt that His Holiness referred to them. So, the moral of the story is very simple: once again, while the Pope has shown himself to not be afraid to take a clear stand on controversial issues, the mainstream media have shown their ineptitude, i.e. their reluctance to “displease” the Muslim world, even when its behavior is grossly inadequate and inexcusable.

September 19, 2010

Stopping the Socialist Express

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

Americans are practical people. If something doesn’t work, it’s tossed aside. What the Democrats and President Obama are doing to the country doesn’t work. Socialism has a one hundred percent failure rate; it only appears to work if there’s enough money generated from capitalism to support it.

As a result of legislation that can’t be paid for, increasing debt rising into the $trillions, unemployment rate stuck at about 10% (over 30 million people out of work), racial and class divisiveness, and RINO’s (Republican In Name Only) going along with this destructiveness, there’s a grass roots revolt happening.

The TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party Movement started a couple years ago to bring public awareness to the need for limited government and lower taxes. That in turn has put RINO’s in a losing position, and they don’t like it at all. The Statist Democrats can only resort to character assassination, malicious defamation, and negative campaigning. RINO’s recently have been doing the same to Conservatives and the TEA Party movement because their jobs and power are just as threatened. Not only will the Democrats be voted out this coming November, but a lot of RINO’s will be too.

There’s a big kerfuffle going on in the Republican Party, and some talking heads that have been identified as Conservative Republicans, namely Karl Rove (GW Bush’s campaign manager) and Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, have sided with the RINO's. Christine O’Donnell, an inexperienced politician beat out a RINO, Mike Castle, in the Delaware primary this past Tuesday. The expected ad hominem attacks came from the Democrats, but Rove and Krauthammer piled on too, saying she can’t win and the TEA Party movement was basically stupid backing her rather than Castle. They have said the same about Sharron Angle of my state of Nevada, running against Statist Harry Reid. In fact they have said the same of any TEA Party backed candidate. 

The counter attack against Rove, Krauthammer and the rest of the RINO’s and weak kneed conservatives have backfired with a vengeance. Conservatives don’t want Liberals with an “R” for Republican behind their name that vote with Democrats, and want to get along with the Statists. Castle is a prime example; he mostly votes with the Democrats. Rove, Krauthammer and the rest seem to think that an unreliable Statist is preferable to a Conservative because the Statist is more likely to win in the general election this coming November. Then they’ll mostly vote Statist, with the Democrats, and that’s a good thing?

O’Donnell, within 48 hours after her win, had over $750 million donated to her campaign in small donations from all over the US. Her Democrat opponent is a self named, self indentified Marxist. He has used that word to describe his politics, and the RINO’s don’t think O’Donnell can beat him?

Here’s a little history of what RINO’s have done in Congress. The major ones are Arlen Spector, Olympia Snowe, Jim Jeffords, and Susan Collins. Jim Jeffords cost Republicans the Senate when he accepted bribes from the Democrats and changed his party affiliation to Independent. Obama’s stimulus packages could have been successfully filibustered and stopped in the Senate by Republicans (unsuccessful packages that has run up the national debt by $trillions), but Snowe, Collins and Spector voted with the Democrats. This kind of thing has been going on for years, and Conservatives are fed up with it.

The question becomes why do people that identify themselves as Conservatives think running a liberal Republican against a liberal Democrat is a winner. They will vote with the Statists, so what’s the point? We have reached a crossroads, and I think the general public is beginning to notice that the Conservative message of low taxes and limited government works, that deficit spending, anti-business, high tax, top down government control doesn't. It’s just not practical.

A bit of a side note. Not one Democrat that is up for reelection that voted for the Obama\Democrat health care bill are campaigning mentioning that vote.

There’s a revolution happening in America. The weak kneed conservatives are afraid to stand on principle and win advocating for low taxes and smaller government, so have lost credibility as Conservatives. The RINO’s in office are about to be thrown out with the Democrats. The revolution isn’t just happening nationally, but at the state and local levels too.

Viva la Revolucion! 

September 18, 2010

Benedict XVI: What is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God

Addressing British politicians, businessmen and cultural leaders a few hours ago in Westminister Hall, where in 1535 the great English scholar and statesman Saint Thomas More was tried for treason and condemned to death, Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to “the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God,” and defended the legitimate role of religion in the public square. It was a masterful speech and well worth checking out. Here are some excerpts from it (or read the full text here):

[T]he fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as "every economic decision has a moral consequence" (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore.
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This "corrective" role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves.

And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

September 17, 2010

Happy Constitution Day!

The members of the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Happy Constitution Day!

September 16, 2010

The Guardian, the Pope and the “notables”

While crowds were gathering to welcome Benedict XVI to Edinburgh, first stop on the Pope’s UK visit, I must confess that I was still fairly confused about this letter, published by the Guardian and signed by some British notables, against the Pope and his state visit. What on earth? After all Britain is not so much anti-Catholic as quite rude, and unusually secular, and the Guardian, I was repeating to myself over and over again, is an honorable daily newspaper (without ifs and buts, that’s for sure!), why did they do that? …Until I came across this Fr. John Zuhlsdorf ‘s post—kind of an “evangelical synopsis,” if I may say so—thanks to which it all became clear to me: it was a joke, just a damned joke! Or, if you prefer, as a commentator to that very post brilliantly put it, are we sure Charles Dickens didn’t invent some of those notable people who signed the letter?

September 14, 2010

Honoring John Henry Newman

In early life he was a major figure in the Oxford Movement to bring the Church of England back to its Catholic roots. Eventually his studies in history persuaded him to become a Roman Catholic (October 1845). As it was not enough, at the end of the process of canonization, Venerable John Henry Newman—the status of “venerable” is the step before beatification on the road to sainthood in the Catholic church—will be the first Englishman since the 17th century to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint. And as everybody knows the Pope will officially beatify him at the end of his visit to England and Scotland from September 16 to 19.

But perhaps first and foremost, as Conrad Black maintains in the National Review Online, Newman must rank among the very greatest Englishmen of any time or faith, and his distinction as a man, intellect, writer, and philosopher would be no less if there were no thought of his possession of saintly and miraculous powers:

For almost an entire century he was the unflagging champion of intellectual and intuitive Christian faith, who revealed the inconsistencies of the Established Church, yet was a force for Christian reconciliation, and always dissented from what was trendy and opportunistic. He was a bridge to the universal and premier church, but always an Englishman. He was as representative of the highest form of the English character as Samuel Johnson or the Duke of Wellington. The same man who opposed the Crimean War, as besmirching British integrity by propping up the Ottomans, who rendered unto the pope what was his, “could not imagine being or wanting to be anything but English.” When he died in his 90th year, the whole Christian world mourned him. There is a Cardinal Newman School in almost every community in the once-Christian world.

Pope Benedict XVI is one of the greatest intellects to hold that office in several centuries, a man of great philosophical scholarship, rigor, and originality, as well as an accomplished writer, linguist, practical administrator, and musician. His visit to Britain this month is to render homage to a man he regards as an intellectual giant, endowed with a character of comparably exceptional quality, which he believes, on the evidence of ecclesiastical scrutiny, has been recognized and amplified by divine blessings. Those who share that faith are uplifted by Newman’s intelligence and character. Those who do not should at least be aware that, in his lifetime and in the 120 years since his death, Newman has carried the British colors in his spheres of endeavor with a brilliance, panache, and durability that has put him in, or close to, the company of history’s most distinguished Englishmen, the exalted realm of Shakespeare and Churchill. John Henry Newman is being elevated for a rare fusion of genius and virtue that does great honor to his country, but transcends nationality, denomination, and religion itself.

September 13, 2010

Mormonism, stereotypes, and popular culture

I must confess my ignorance on this subject, but thought those interested in Mormonism might find it interesting and/or thought-provoking to read this paper, presented at the CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) 2010 conference in Turin by prominent Italian sociologist of religion Massimo Introvigne.

September 12, 2010

“Lead Kindly Light”

This is the choir of Wells Cathedral performing the hymn “Lead Kindly Light,” the lyrics of which were written by John Henry Newman in 1833. “Lead Kindly Light” is usually sung to the tune “Lux Benigna,” composed by John Bacchus Dykes in 1865, but there is an alternative tune: “Sandon,” by Charles Henry Purday, written in 1857. While traveling in Italy as a young priest, the future Cardinal Newman became sick and was unable to travel for almost three weeks. And here is how it all started, in Cardinal Newman’s own words:

Before starting from my inn, I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly. My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me. I could only answer, "I have a work to do in England." I was aching to get home, yet for want of a vessel I was kept at Palermo for three weeks. I began to visit the churches, and they calmed my impatience, though I did not attend any services. At last I got off in an orange boat, bound for Marseilles. We were becalmed for whole week in the Straits of Bonifacio, and it was there that I wrote the lines, Lead, Kindly Light, which have since become so well known.

“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom,
lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years!

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!”

September 11, 2010

Somewhere in Venice

Somewhere has won the top Golden Lion prize at the Venice film festival (and I think I'll go and see it as soon as I can). Written and directed by Academy Award Winner Sofia Coppola, the daughter of The Godfather (1972) director Francis Ford Coppola, Somewhere tells the story of a movie star, played by Stephen Dorff, who comes to see the emptiness of his existence through the eyes of his 11-year-old daughter, played by Elle Fanning.

“This film enchanted us from its first screening,” said director Quentin Tarantino, who headed the jury which unanimously chose Coppola’s film as the best movie at the 11-day annual festival. Much of the story takes place in hotels, and Coppola, when presenting the film, reminisced that she and her family spent a lot of time growing up in hotels where her director father was out on location while filming. Here is the official trailer for the film:

9 Years Ago Today - We Will Never Forget

George W. Bush: Bullhorn Speech to Emergency Rescue Workers at 9/11 Ground Zero, New York, delivered September 14 2001. Read the complete transcript here.
Via Gateway Pundit. See also Remembrance 9/11 at The Metaphysical Peregrine.

September 5, 2010

The New York Hamasque and the Bigoted Media

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

The Mosque at “Ground Zero” is the big controversy in the US. It’s 600 feet from where the Twin Towers used to stand. The building it was to replace had part of a landing gear lodged in it, so one could say it also was part of “ground zero”.

Muslims build mosques to make statements of triumph over their enemies. If you’re not a Muslim, you are an enemy.  The first mosque in Medina marks Mohammed’s triumph against the Medians and their allied tribes. The second mosque, The Grand Mosque at Kaaba, is the triumphal mosque of the conquering of the remaining Arab tribes, where, according to legend, he cleansed them of their many pagan gods, finalizing his conquering of the land and people. Following with all the military triumphs throughout the Middle East, mosques were built, even going into Egypt. Al-Aqsa Mosque built on Temple Mount, the most holy of Jewish sites, where Jews had been for about 1700 years before Mohammed showed up. Grand Mosque of Damascus used to be a Catholic Church. The Hagia Sophia used to be a Christian Church, now a mosque. The Babri Masjid was built on a holy Hindu site. The Great Mosque of Cordoba was a statement marking the conquering of Spain. Originally the New York mosque was to be called Cordoba, but that became an embarrassment when the link was made, so its name was changed to Park51.

A poem recited by the current Prime Minister of Turkey:
The mosques are our barracks,
The domes our helmets,
The minarets our bayonets,
And the faithful our soldiers.  

Then it turns out that the face of the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who talks about being a “bridge builder” between faiths, is anything but. Islam says it’s okay to lie to infidels but you have to speak the truth to other believers in the Koran and Sharia Law. In Australia, 2006, he said:

"We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims. You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This had been documented by the United Nations." He went on to say: "The West needs to see themselves through the eyes of the Arab and Muslim world, and when you do, you will see the predicament that exists within the Muslim community."

After a little digging, bloggers, not the Leftist Jurassic Press, started finding all kinds of statements like that, slamming Western Democracy, Jews and Christians. He’s also refused to label Hamas as a terrorist organization. Then it turns out, which he of course denies, to have ties with front groups to the Muslim Brotherhood. He has a book with two titles, one for the West and one for his Islamic audience,  What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America, but outside America it's title is A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post 9/11. A "dawa" is a stealth jihad; an aggressive promotion and marketing of Islam with the goal of conquering America.

Then there’s the question of how the $100 million project is going to get financed. Big secret.  Willing to make any bets that a lot of it will come from the number one Islamic terror exporter in the world, the Wahabi Saudi Arabia?   

Liberals and their propagandists in the Jurassic Press all say the Muslims have a right to build there, what with freedom of religion we have here. Reciprocity anyone? How about a Christian Church and a Jewish Synagogue in Mecca? 70% of New Yorkers and 70% of Americans are against this project just because it’s in poor taste, and a poke in the eye of America. If Feisal Rauf were truly a “bridge builder” he would see this for the insult that it is, and withdraw the project. There are about 100 mosques in New York, and about 30 in the city, mostly with small attendance.

Of course, if one is against this, then you’re “Islamaphobic”. The cover of the most recent “Time” magazine is titled “Is America Islamophobic?” At least they put a question mark at the end. The rest of the Jurassic Media just say the opponents are. That’s the way they, Liberals, the Democratic Party, Statists all, deal with any issue, ad hominem attacks. If you’re for traditional marriage between a man and a woman, you’re homophobic. Against Obama’s high tax high deficit spending, you’re a racist. For enforcement of border law and for stopping illegal immigration, you’re a racist, nativist, xenophobe.  That makes about 70% of American citizens’ racist, nativist, homophobic Islamophobes.

Because of all the blowback, the revealed lies, the financial skullduggery that would need to be another blog altogether, including the fact a portion of the block/building site is not owned by the Islamic tax dodger that owns “Park51”, and a host of numerous other issues, the New York Mosque of Triumph looks like it’s going down to defeat thanks to American citizens finally waking up to the threat to freedom that Islam is.  

Take note Liberals, Democrats, fascists, Statists…If this does go down in defeat, it will have been done by the will of the American Citizens, without writing laws that force people to comply with their viewpoint, beliefs and values. It will have succeeded because it has the force of morality.  

September 2, 2010

G. K. Chesterton Vs the “black legend” of the Crusades

Every now and then I feel like paying tribute to the Crusades (click here to read all my posts about this subject), one of the most controversial and misinterpreted issues—mostly because of the shadow cast on them by the Enlightenment circles to use them as a weapon in their anti-religious campaigns—in Western intellectual, religious, and political history. So here is yet another blow to the “black legend” of the Crusades, worshipped by almost every sworn enemy of the West and its Judeo-Christian values and heritage. This time it is G. K. Chesterton’s turn to be the Advocate of the Christian Cause. Here is an excerpt from his 1920 The New Jerusalem (CHAPTER XI, THE MEANING OF THE CRUSADE) :

The critic of the Crusade talks as if it had sought out some inoffensive tribe or temple in the interior of Thibet, which was never discovered until it was invaded. They seem entirely to forget that long before the Crusaders had dreamed of riding to Jerusalem, the Moslems had almost ridden into Paris. They seem to forget that if the Crusaders nearly conquered Palestine, it was but a return upon the Moslems who had nearly conquered Europe. There was no need for them to argue by an appeal to reason, as I have argued above, that a religious division must make a difference; it had already made a difference. The difference stared them in the face in the startling transformation of Roman Barbary and of Roman Spain. In short it was something which must happen in theory and which did happen in practice; all expectation suggested that it would be so and all experience said it was so. Having thought it out theoretically and experienced it practically, they proceeded to deal with it equally practically. The first division involved every principle of the science of thought; and the last developments followed out every principle of the science of war. The Crusade was the counter-attack. It was the defensive army taking the offensive in its turn, and driving back the enemy to his base. And it is this process, reasonable from its first axiom to its last act, that Mr. Pound actually selects as a sort of automatic wandering of an animal. But a man so intelligent would not have made a mistake so extraordinary but for another error which it is here very essential to consider. To suggest that men engaged, rightly or wrongly, in so logical a military and political operation were only migrating like birds or swarming like bees is as ridiculous as to say that the Prohibition campaign in America was only an animal reversion towards lapping as the dog lappeth, or Rowland Hill's introduction of postage stamps an animal taste for licking as the cat licks. Why should we provide other people with a remote reason for their own actions, when they themselves are ready to tell us the reason, and it is a perfectly reasonable reason?
I have compared this pompous imposture of scientific history to the pompous and clumsy building of the scientific Germans on the Mount of Olives, because it substitutes in the same way a modern stupidity for the medieval simplicity. But just as the German Hospice after all stands on a fine site, and might have been a fine building, so there is after all another truth, somewhat analogous, which the German historians of the Folk-Wanderings might possibly have meant, as distinct from all that they have actually said. There is indeed one respect in which the case of the Crusade does differ very much from modern political cases like prohibition or the penny post. I do not refer to such incidental peculiarities as the fact that Prohibition could only have succeeded through the enormous power of modern plutocracy, or that even the convenience of the postage goes along with an extreme coercion by the police. It is a somewhat deeper difference that I mean; and it may possibly be what these critics mean. But the difference is not in the evolutionary, but rather the revolutionary spirit.
The First Crusade was not a racial migration; it was something much more intellectual and dignified; a riot. In order to understand this religious war we must class it, not so much with the wars of history as with the revolutions of history. As I shall try to show briefly on a later page, it not only had all the peculiar good and the peculiar evil of things like the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution, but it was a more purely popular revolution than either of them. The truly modern mind will of course regard the contention that it was popular as tantamount to a confession that it was animal. In these days when papers and speeches are full of words like democracy and self-determination, anything really resembling the movement of a mass of angry men is regarded as no better than a stampede of bulls or a scurry of rats. The new sociologists call it the herd instinct, just as the old reactionaries called it the many-headed beast. But both agree in implying that it is hardly worth while to count how many head there are of such cattle. In face of such fashionable comparisons it will seem comparatively mild to talk of migration as it occurs among birds or insects. Nevertheless we may venture to state with some confidence that both the sociologists and the reactionaries are wrong. It does not follow that human beings become less than human because their ideas appeal to more and more of humanity. Nor can we deduce that men are mindless solely from the fact that they are all of one mind. In plain fact the virtues of a mob cannot be found in a herd of bulls or a pack of wolves, any more than the crimes of a mob can be committed by a flock of sheep or a shoal of herrings. Birds have never been known to besiege and capture an empty cage of an aviary, on a point of principle, merely because it had kept a few other birds in captivity, as the mob besieged and captured the almost empty Bastille, merely because it was the fortress of a historic tyranny. And rats have never been known to die by thousands merely in order to visit a particular trap in which a particular rat had perished, as the poor peasants of the First Crusade died in thousands for a far-off sight of the Sepulchre or a fragment of the true cross. In this sense indeed the Crusade was not rationalistic, if the rat is the only rationalist. But it will seem more truly rational to point out that the inspiration of such a crowd is not in such instincts as we share with the animals, but precisely in such ideas as the animals never (with all their virtues) understand.

What is peculiar about the First Crusade is that it was in quite a new and abnormal sense a popular movement. I might almost say it was the only popular movement there ever was in the world. For it was not a thing which the populace followed; it was actually a thing which the populace led. It was not only essentially a revolution, but it was the only revolution I know of in which the masses began by acting alone, and practically without any support from any of the classes. When they had acted, the classes came in; and it is perfectly true, and indeed only natural, that the masses alone failed where the two together succeeded. But it was the uneducated who educated the educated. The case of the Crusade is emphatically not a case in which certain ideas were first suggested by a few philosophers, and then preached by demagogues to the democracy. This was to a great extent true of the French Revolution; it was probably yet more true of the Russian Revolution; and we need not here pause upon the fine shade of difference that Rousseau was right and Karl Marx was wrong. In the First Crusade it was the ordinary man who was right or wrong. He came out in a fury at the insult to his own domestic poker or private carving-knife. He was not armed with new weapons of wit and logic served round from the arsenal of an academy. There was any amount of wit and logic in the academies of the Middle Ages; but the typical leader of the Crusade was not Abelard or Aquinas but Peter the Hermit, who can hardly be called even a popular leader, but rather a popular flag. And it was his army, or rather his enormous rabble, that first marched across the world to die for the deliverance of Jerusalem.

~ First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine ~