Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Chip Shops and Pubs Offering Meals to the Homeless at Christmas

December 24, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece commenting on the decision by two brothers in Brum, Hamid and Asef Faqiri, who own the Classic Fish Bar, to open on Christmas Day between 13.00 and 16.00 to give free turkey dinners to the elderly and the homeless. They state that they want to help those in need and make the community happy. One of the brothers, Asef, remarked that he had seen a lot of homeless people, and always wanted to help.

While Mike welcomed the twos generosity, he also pointed out the obvious danger. That by doing something to help the poor, this would be used by the Tories to justify the government doing nothing. They’d try to argue that this is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ at work, where private charity picks up the slack from government.

Mike makes the argument instead that we pay our taxes on the understanding that the government does everything in its power to make sure that citizens aren’t homeless and starving.

He concludes:

We don’t make that argument often enough and, in the Season of Goodwill, it might be more appropriate than ever to point out that very little goodwill is coming from Westminster.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/22/free-christmas-fish-and-chips-for-the-homeless-gives-tories-a-chance-to-justify-their-apathy/

I think there are a number of places doing this up and down the country. I heard that some of the Asian restaurants and take-aways in Cheltenham will also be doing the same, as will the Market Inn pub in Glastonbury, according to today’s Western Daily Press.

I completely share Mike’s views on this issue. What these places and the people who run them are doing is very commendable, but it runs into the trap of appearing to validate the Tories’ cuts and dismantlement of the welfare state. Maggie Thatcher began her attack on it back in the 1980s with the deliberate goal of reducing the tax burden and forcing people back on to private charity to support them. She believed it would strengthen religion, and particularly the churches, if people had to come to them for aid, rather than the state. Hence the eagerness of the Salvation Army to acquire government contracts for dealing with poverty, as well as the desire of so many of the corporate management types now running very many charities likewise to do so, while at the same time demanding that the government enact even more stringent policies against the poor, the unemployed and the homeless. For the grim details, go to Johnny Void’s blog and look up his entries on these issues.

It’s a nasty, cynical attitude to bringing people back to religion, and it many Christians believe it runs contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Gospels. In the last of the series of Advent talks held at our local church on Thursday, the minister made precisely this point. Not that this would have had any effect on Maggie. When she gave a talk to the ruling body of the Church of Scotland back in the 1980s, expounding her view that people who didn’t work, shouldn’t get something for nothing, the guid ministers and layfolk greeted what she said with frowns and silence. It was obvious that they were very unimpressed. But it didn’t stop Maggie cutting welfare provision left and right.

So I heartily endorse Mike’s point. It needs to be repeated over and again, until someone in Westminster either gets the point, or is unable to drown it out and stop others from hearing it. If you want to see the drawbacks of this attitude, look at America. Americans are extremely generous in charitable giving. But there is a massive problem with extreme poverty in America, and one that is growing thanks to Reagan and corporatist Democrats like Obama and Killary. Private charity cannot adequately tackle poverty, no matter what Thatcher, Cameron, May and Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green want us to believe. And this message needs to be hammered home, until the public very obviously turns away from the Tories and their lies.

Dr Cornel West on Standing with the Native Americans, Teaching Public Philosophy and Castro

December 2, 2016

This is a clip from Democracy Now, in which the anchor, Amy Goodson, talks to the very distinguished radical Black professor, Dr. Cornel West. Dr. West is a radical Christian theologian and philosopher, standing up for the poor and minorities. In his personal appearance and speaking style, he reminds me of the great, progressive evangelical preachers of the 19th century, who campaigned against slavery and the exploitation of the poor in both America and Britain. His clothing style strikes me as rather 19th century, and when he talks, he describes people as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. He’s campaigned for Bernie Sanders, and also for Dr. Jill Stein of the Green party.

In this segment, he talks about going to Standing Rock to show his solidarity with the water protectors and the Native peoples. He states that this is the greatest coming-together of the 200 First American nations since the 19th century. He doesn’t intend to anything, except follow orders and support them. Amy Goodson asks him what he thinks about Barack Obama, as Obama visited Standing Rock in 2014. This was unusual for a president, and he has talked about supporting Native Americans. He sent in the US corps of engineers, and has tried to broker arrangements between the three parties involved. Dr West agrees, but says that Obama has managed to impress people by talking ‘pretty words’ while actually doing very little about the situation.

Dr. West also talks about how he is about to take up a new post at Harvard, teaching engagement in public philosophy. He looks forward to this appointment teaching young minds about taking up the great issues that confront America and the world. He also says that it’s going to be post where he shares and learns from others from different political perspectives, such as Conservatives and Centrists.

Finally, Goodson asks him about his views on Fidel Castro. West makes it clear that he admires the Cuban dictator, and the support he gave to the struggles of Africans and the Cuban people against imperialism. He also condemns Castro as a dictator. He criticises him for the way he hung to power and oppressed his people. He himself has gone to Cuba, and was taken to the palace to be upbraided by the Cuban authorities. He was a radical, democratic Socialist, who believed in the circulation of elites. That means not letting anyone person stay in power for too long, and throwing them out after a little while to get a fresh leader in. He made that point about Castro, and so was accused of being counterrevolutionary. But he also makes the point that the Cubans were oppressed under Battista. He therefore salutes Castro for his anti-imperialism, and the Cuban medical and educational systems. He says that Castro was a great revolutionary, ‘and I’m a revolutionary Christian. I love it.’

Many Black Americans have expressed and given their support to the Native Americans at Standing Rock, and identify with their struggle. And I don’t think it takes a genius to see why. It seems to be that both peoples have a shared history as the dispossessed, exploited victims of White supremacism, a supremacism that is coming back under Trump, and which many Whites are also very firmly against. It’s excellent that Dr West is giving the Native peoples his support, and it’d be interesting to hear his experiences of standing with the Water Protectors.

Roger Williams’ Arguments against Religious Persecution

November 22, 2016

This weekend I put up a piece about the arguments for religious toleration advanced by William Penn, the great Quaker apologist and founder of Pennsylvania. Penn believed passionately in religious toleration, and was himself, along with one of his fellow Quakers, imprisoned and tried for his religious beliefs. His trial, and the way it violated the natural liberties of the English people, were the subject of one of the three pamphlets he wrote attacking religious persecution.

One of the other great champions of religious freedom in the 17th century was Roger Williams. Williams was an English Puritan, who fled persecution in England to make his home in the new colony of Massachusetts in 1630, where he intended to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. However, his own refusal to become part of the church establishment resulted in his conflict with the authorities there, and he was expelled three years later. He went on to become one of the founders of another colony, Rhode Island. He returned to Blighty in 1643, seeking to acquire a royal charter for the new settlement. Back in England, he became heavily involved in the debate over religious toleration, writing his classic work on it, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. Parliament responded by having it burnt by the public hangman in August the following year. Williams left England, but returned to the country of his birth in 1652, leaving once more two years later. During this later sojourn in England, he wrote a sequel to his book, The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody. David Wootton in his comments on Williams and his works states

Williams has long been regarded as one of the first exponents of what were to become central principles of the American constitution: the sovereignty of the people and the separation of church and state.

David Wootton, ed., Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writings in Stuart England (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) 215.

Wootton’s book contains extracts from The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, including the following passage, where Williams lays out the main themes of his argument.

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed, in a Conference betweene Truth and Peace

Syllabus:

First: That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Secondly: Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly: Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr Calvin, Beza, Mr Cotton, and the ministers of the New England churches and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly: The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly: All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.

Sixthly: It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son, the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s spirit, the word of God.

Seventhly: The state of the land of Israel, the kings and people thereof, in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor precedent for any6 kingdom or civil state in the world to follow.

Eighthly: God requires not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced on any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.

Ninthly: In holding an enforced uniformity of religion in a civil state, we must necessarily disclaim our desires and hopes of the Jews’ conversion to Christ.

Tenthly: An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.

Eleventhly: The permission of other consciences and worships than a state professes only can, according to God, procure a firm and lasting peace; good assurance being taken, according to the wisdom of the civil state, for uniformity of civil obedience from all sorts.

Twelfthly: Lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.

I realise some Jews and Muslims may object to the tone of his comments about them, that they are somehow a threat to the Christian community and Christians should endeavour to convert them. Nevertheless, the points Williams is trying to make are good ones: provided that everyone in a community obeys the same laws, it doesn’t matter what their religious opinions are. In the case of the Jews, the underlying point can be stated more generally: no non-Christian will want to convert to that religion, if it offers them and their people nothing but persecution and hate.

It also needs to be pointed out, that Williams was writing at a time when the Turkish Empire did represent a militant threat against the states of Christian Europe, which Williams would have been acutely aware of. It can’t be argued against his demands for religious freedom and pluralism, that he was living in a more peaceful time.

I’ve put this up because this is one of the founding documents of the great American tradition of religious freedom and tolerance, from one of the Puritan divines who also was one of the great pioneers of American democracy. This is now threatened by Trump and his proposed registry for Muslims. As I pointed out yesterday, this violates the argument for freedom of conscience argued on Christian theological and scriptural grounds by William Penn, just as it violates Williams own arguments on the same grounds for religious toleration.

Trump’s claim to be protecting Americans through this registry not only violates due process, as George Takei, Star Trek’s Mr Sulu, made clear, it also violates the essential theological principles on which America as a tolerant, democratic, Christian nation was founded. If the religious Right are supporting his motion for this registry, then they are showing a complete ignorance and contempt for one of the cornerstones of American and British Christianity and liberal democracy.

William Penn on Religious Toleration

November 18, 2016

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was a Quaker and an ardent campaigner for freedom of conscience. He wrote at least three pamphlets arguing for it, The People’s Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted of 1670; The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience (1670) and A Perswasive to Moderation to Dissenting Christians (1685). They’re collected, along with his other writings, in The Peace of Europe, The Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, edited by Edwin B. Bronner (London: J.M. Dent 1993). Penn argues for freedom of conscience on scriptural, theological, and historical grounds, as well as citing cases of contemporary religious toleration amongst the states in his day, where religious diversity had not caused civil dissension and war. This included the various Muslim empires, which he noticed also were characterised by different sects, all of which apparently lived in peace. He particularly felt that religious persecution was not something Christians should do. Not only was it positively forbidden by scripture, in his opinion, it was unnecessary. Christianity did not need the use of force to prove its truth. Furthermore, the use of force was actually self-defeating, as it caused people to despise, rather than respect Christianity.

Here’s a couple of passages that struck me as particularly acute, though all of the arguments in The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience are worth reading, as one of the arguments for toleration is the peaceful coexisting of Christians and Muslims in Spain under Charles V. This didn’t last long, as they were expelled in the 15th century under Ferdinand and Isabella. Nevertheless, it is important and acutely relevant to today that Penn had no doubts that Christians and Muslims could live together peacefully without religious coercion.

11. It ever was the prudence of the wise magistrate to oblige their people; but what comes shorter of it than persecution? What’s dearer to them than the liberty of their conscience? What cannot they better spare than it? Their peace consists in the enjoyment of it: and he that by compliance has lost it, carries his penalty with him, and is his own prison. Surely such practices must render the government uneasy, and beget a great disrespect to the governors, in the hearts of the people.

12. But which concludes our prudential part shall be this, that after all their pains and good will to stretch men to their measure, they never will be able to accomplish their end: And if he be an unwise man that provides means where he designs no end, how near is he kin to him that proposes an end inobtainable. Experience has told us, 1. How invective it has made the imposed on. 2. What distractions have ensued such attempts. 3. What reproach has followed to the Christian religion, when the professors of it have a used a coercive power upon conscience. And lastly, that force never yet made either a good Christian, or a good subject. (p, 171.)

3. Unity, (not the least, but greatest end of government is lost) for by seeking an unity of opinion (by the ways intended) the unity requisite to uphold us, as a civil society, will be quite destroyed. And such as relinquish that, to get the other (besides that they are unwise) will infallibly lose both in the end. (p. 172).

In short, what religious, what wise, what prudent, what good natured person would be a persecutor; certainly it’s an office only fit for those who being void of all reason, to evidence the verity of their religion, fancy it to be true, from that strong propensity and greedy inclination they find in themselves to persecute the contrary; a weakness of so ill a consequence to all civil societies, that the admission of it ever was, and ever will prove their utter ruin, as well as their great infelicity who pursue it.

And though we could not more effectually express our revenge than by leaving such persons to the scope of their own humours; yet being taught to love and pray for our persecutors, we heartily wish their better information, that (if it be possible) they may act more suitably to the good pleasure of the eternal just God, and beneficially to these nations. (p. 185).

Penn was aware of the counterargument that by arguing for freedom of conscience, he was also arguing for religious Dissenters to be able to attack and murder everyone else, and deals with it in the following passage:

Object. 3. But at this rate ye may pretend to cut our throats, and do all manner of savage acts.

Ans. Though the objection be frequent, yet it is as foully ridiculous. We are pleading only for such a liberty of conscience, as preserve the nation in peace, trade, and commerce; and would not exempt any man, or party of men, from not keeping those excellent laws, that tend to sober, just and industrious living. It is a Jesuitical moral, to kill a man before he is born: first, to suspect him of an evil design, and then kill him to prevent it. (p. 175).

Trump’s embrace of Fascists and anti-Semites, and his automatic suspicion of all Muslims, as somehow a threat to America, is here explicitly condemned by one of the very first founders of America, and a leading figure in the centuries-long campaign for freedom of conscience in Britain. Penn was one of the founders of the great American tradition of religious liberty, a tradition which Trump is determined to attack and uproot. He must not be allowed to do so.

TYT Politics on the Historic Unitarian Church Determined to Defend Trump’s Victims

November 17, 2016

This is really heartening. In this video, The Young Turks’ Eric Byler interviews the Rev. Dr. Robert Hardies, the minister of All Souls Unitarian church in Washington DC, on his determination to offer his church as sanctuary to all the groups, who are going to be attacked by Trump now he’s in office – the gays, Latinos, Muslims, Blacks and others. There’s footage of the reverend gentleman preaching, in which he talks about how God, before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, were told to set up cities of refuge, to which persecuted individuals could flee. He describes how in the Middle Ages the church also offered sanctuary for those fleeing secular justice, and so his decision to make his church protect those now threatened with persecution from Trump is part of this tradition. He also talks about his historic church’s own individual tradition of sounding its bell during times of national crisis and celebration, including the ending of the American Civil War.

The Turks, in their blurb for this video, state:

“This congregation will provide sanctuary to all who are vulnerable and oppressed by the incoming administration.”

Rev. Dr. Robert M. Hardies, addressed his congregation at the historic All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington DC on the Sunday following the election of Donald J. Trump to be the United States’ 45th president. TYT reporter Eric Byler ( http://Twitter.com/EricByler ) sat down with Rev. Hardies, who is one of the nation’s most respected gay ministers as well as a leader in the national fight for racial justice, to ask whether his advice to his church would be the same he would offer to the nation. Hardies spoke both of reconciliation and resolve to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

Our response to a comment saying churches should stay out of politics:

“The reality is we are going to be governed either by (a) corporatists plus religious people blinded by partisanship and “white racial identity” or (b) corporatists and people of conscience and compassion whether their inspiration be secular or nonsecular. One of these two coalitions will govern us better. It won’t harm anything to learn about, and have dialogue with religious communities, and, perhaps even learn how to tell the difference.” — @EricByler

Our response to comments from viewers marvelling at the existence of progessive people of faith:

“There have always been progressive and regressive churches. As the abolitionist movement began to take root, circa 1830, many of the churches split over slavery. This is why we have Southern Methodist vs. Methodist, Southern Baptist vs. Baptist, for instance Other churches, like the one seen in this report, were formed for the PURPOSE of fighting slavery and other forms of oppression. The reason why we are SO MUCH MORE familiar with regressive churches in today’s America is that plutocratic interests have worked very hard to annex the churches as amplifiers of their political agendas. They did so in the 1830’s (slave owners) and they did so in the 1970’s and 1980’s (white nationalist corporatists), both times with great success. The progressive churches have continued to exist, but they have not been put in the lime light of corporate media, with the intermittent exception of progressive Black churches, especially during the Civil Rights movement. But they do exist. Two of the best known progressive evangelicals are Rev. Dr. William Barber (whom you probably know) and Rev. Jim Wallis ( http://Twitter.com/jimwallis ) Here is info on Wallis: https://sojo.net/biography/jim-wallis

Their comment about the greater attention given to the regressive churches due to their annexation by the plutocracy is exactly right. A few years ago, a pair of sociologists published a book The Truth About Evangelical Christians, which presented the real picture of the nature of American theologically conservative Christians. They found that, in contrast to the picture presented by the Televangelists like Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson and his appalling 700 Hundred Club and the rest of the religious Right, about half, or over half of American Evangelicals were actually left-wing. In fact, many were even further left than American Roman Catholics.

This is part of submerged, left-wing America, the America of the unseen, ignored masses of liberals and progressives, coming together to challenge the quasi-Fascist beast now squatting in the White House. It’s part of the movement that saw Americans in cities across the US get on to the streets to march together against Trump’s election, and the political and corporate corruption that put him there. Amen to all this.

Video of Mass Meeting of Orthodox Jews against Israel in New York 2013

October 9, 2016

I’ve also mentioned several times in my blog posts about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the anti-Semitism smears, that some Orthodox Jews strongly reject Zionism and the state of Israel from religious reasons. As Sam Seder explained in a clip from the Majority Report I put up about a week ago, and a young Jewish woman, who was brutalised for heckling Binyamin Netanyahu when he addressed Congress, traditional Jewish theology considers it a sin to try to establish a Jewish state in Palestine before the coming of the Messiah.

I found this clip on YouTube of a mass meeting of 10,000 plus Orthodox Jews in New York in 2013 to condemn the state of Israel, and in particular a law by the Knesset that would force Yeshiva students – that it is, students at the Jewish religious schools and seminaries – to join the army. The speakers not only make it plain that they see the state of Israel as a blasphemy, they also bitterly resent what they see as the Israeli military’s attempt to make their young men complicit in the military’s crimes. One speaker denounces the Israel government for trying to turn Jews, a traditionally peaceful people, into a militaristic and aggressive nation – ‘the hands of Esau’.

The clip is also interesting as they quote a former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Sonnenfeld, who refused Zionist aid for his people during a terrible famine in the 1920s. Despite the fact that his people were dying of starvation, Rabbi Sonnenfeld refused the money, as he felt it was an attempt by the Zionists to buy influence in his community. As pious, Orthodox Jews, they also pray for God to return to His people quickly, and come to dwell with them in the Holy City of Zion, as prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament.

The speeches are in Yiddish, but there is a English voiceover and subtitles.

Pitt’s Speech Demanding the Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the French Revolution

March 2, 2016

Also going through the book, Your MP, by the pseudonymous ‘Gracchus’, I found Pitt’s speech of the 16th May 1794, asking parliament to pass a bill suspending Habeas Corpus in order to allow the government to round up subversives during the French Revolutionary War.

Now I’ve written a number of pieces on this blog about the origins of democracy in certain strands of theology that stressed the need for representative assemblies and which permitted Christians to overthrow a tyrant. One of the criticisms of this type of history, however, is that it misrepresents how difficult and arduous the process by which democracy emerged in the West actually was. Instead of a being a smooth development in which democracy finally flowered from long, historic constitutional roots, at each stage of the process valuable constitutional freedoms had to be fought for, and were only painfully won. And historians have pointed out that for much of its history, Britain was an authoritarian state, which was all too ready to dispense with its citizens’ ancient freedoms when it suited the governing classes. The classic example of this was the 18th century, when fear of the Revolution across le Manche spreading over here moved the British government to suspend Habeas Corpus and pass range of legislation severely limiting free speech and banning a variety of ‘seditious combinations’, including the nascent trade unions.

Here’s Pitt’s speech:

The monstrous modern doctrine of the Rights of Man … threatens to overturn the government, law, property, security, religion, order and everything valuable in this country, as it has already overturned and destroyed everything in France, and endangered every nation in Europe …

That great moving principle of Jacobinism, the love of plunder, devastation and robbery, which now bears the usurped name of liberty … the arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich, and crush all; the dark designs of a few, making use of the name of the people to govern all; a plan founded in the arrogance of wretches, the outcasts of society …

With some qualifications because of its florid 18th century, this has a peculiar contemporary ring about it. The attack on the ‘Rights of Man’ for example. If you replace that with the European convention on Human Rights, which is based on the French Revolutionary tradition of les droits du l’homme, (excuse my French), then the sense is more or less the same. As is the rant about the ‘arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich.’ With a few alterations, you could put this in the pages of the Daily Mail today and no-one would notice. Really. A few years ago the Mail took it into its tiny collective skull to publish a rant against the French education system. It particularly attacked the elite state schools, which educated the French technocratic and governmental elite. They were nasty, horrendous, undemocratic, and excluded the French hoi polloi. Which is probably true, I dare say. It then started to compare them negatively with the British public schools, which were supposed to be better, and the mark of a freer society. Some of us would argue that it actually shows the alternative.

In fact before the introduction of democracy over here in the form of the acts finally extending the franchise to women and the rest of the working class, the doctrine of universal human rights really wasn’t widely adopted over here. The ruling classes thought it was too abstract, and too French. Instead, they linked political rights to property qualifications and the ability to pay certain levels of tax and rates. And you can see that today. It’s carefully hidden, but there is definitely an attitude that if you’re rich, you should have more rights than the rest of us. Willie Whitelaw in the 1980s said that business owners ought to have two votes, as they were responsible not just for themselves, but for their employees. One of the High Tories about twenty years ago wrote a book arguing that we should ditch all the horrendous reforms of the 1960s, and get back to a more stable age before gender equality, the legalisation of homosexuality, when there was better respect for property. He wanted the property qualification restored for jury service, so that people with a responsible attitude to the protection of property would fill the court rooms, passing guilty sentences on those caught infringing the country’s property rights.

So it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the long history of suspicion by the ruling classes against any doctrine of equality and universal rights, that Theresa May now wants to extend the powers of the surveillance state. Or even that in the last parliament the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation providing for secret courts and massively extending the length of time a suspect could be held for trial during their investigation.

Britain considers itself one of, if not the great founding nation of political liberty. Pitt’s speech, and the ominous rise of the surveillance state under Major, Bliar and Cameron, makes you wonder how true this really is.

+69***++++66666
3.+

Praise the Lord! Pope Denounces Trump

February 20, 2016

And now a piece of good news from the Roman Catholic church, for a change. The new Pope, Francis, was in the news the other day for criticising the Tousled Gauleiter of Trump Tower. According to the Holy Father, Trump ‘is not a Christian’. The Pope said he couldn’t really comment on politics, ‘but anyone who talks about building a wall instead of bridges between people is not a Christian’.

Well, he’s right. Trump isn’t a Christian, despite his claims to the contrary. None of the evangelical churches in New York have any record that he’s attended services. When he did go to church in the Iowa Primary, he mistook the Communion plate, on which was the bread and wine Christians take in this part of the service, with the collection plate and slapped money on it.

It also shows how important the Developing World is to the Roman Catholic church, as well as other Christian denominations, as church membership falls in the West.

This isn’t the first the Pope’s said something to upset the Republicans. They got very angry a little while ago when the Pope endorsed the doctrine of climate change and attacked its critics and opponents. One of the Republicans then went on the offensive and tried to school his Holiness on Christianity. Somehow, I think the Pope, for all that Roman Catholic theology can be very different from Protestant, Evangelical religious views in certain areas, probably knows far more about Christianity and the basic doctrines of the faith than a Right-wing blowhard.

I’m not a Roman Catholic, and I’m quite aware that not all the readers of this blog will be religious. But here I think the Pope’s done something unequivocally right, regardless of one’s beliefs in God or religion or whatever. The Vicar of Christ 1, Donald Trump Nil, as they say on Final Score.

Vox Political Admits Making Outrageous (and Entirely True) Claims about Ian Duncan Smith

February 11, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has written a long piece openly admitting that he has made ‘outrageous’ claims about aIDS, and challenged the ‘Gentleman Ranker’ to prove that they’re untrue. The Tory MP currently in charge of killing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled is angry that certain people have been making the connection between his wretched welfare policies, and the mass deaths of people, who’ve been sent back to work despite being clearly unfit. His outburst whining about these critics was written in response to an inquiry by Labour’s Frank Field, asking about the numbers of deaths of people assessed as fit to work and the possible link to his policies.

This has been too much for aIDS’ delicate ego, and he written back trying to defend himself, and accusing some in the media of making ‘outrageous claims’. Mike, understandably, has taken that as a personal attack on him and his blog, as he has been one of those fighting to get the true statistics on the number of people, who’ve been killed by the Gentleman Ranker’s wretched welfare to work policy for years. And throughout those years Mike, and the others also requesting this information, have been turned down, stonewalled and frankly lied to. I’ve reblogged Mike’s pieces on it and commented on his progress here. Now Mike’s hit back at IDS’ own ‘outrageous claim’ that he’s killed no one with his policy, citing academic studies. And, as any good academic does, he also shows that he has a good understanding of the underlying scientific methodology regarding the collation and interpretation of such information. This is probably more than … Smith has. His academic credentials are entirely spurious. He claims to have received a degree from an Italian institution, which doesn’t actually issue them. And when previously challenged on his statistics, which were shown to be untrue, aIDS refused to accept the evidence. Despite it being shown otherwise, Smith stated that he ‘believed’ they were true. No proof, no evidence, just blind faith. It’s an attitude that would astonish theologians and philosophers, who have to deal with questions of proof, evidence and reason in their own disciplines. One feels that Wittgenstein and Popper, two of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, would have their work cut out trying to teach this man the basic principles of ‘epistemology’ – the theory of knowledge.

Mike’s article begins

Iain Duncan Smith can’t prove us wrong. He deliberately refuses to collect the statistics that would confirm his claims – or ours.

Instead, he has claimed that This Blog (and presumably others) has accused him of “outrageous action”, without providing a scrap of evidence against the allegation.

This Writer is delighted that the Gentleman Ranker has tried to defend himself. I am currently working on a book covering this subject and his words may provide an excellent introduction.

The man we like to call RTU (Return To Unit – a Forces description of someone who trained to be an officer but was a washout) was responding to a request for information from Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee.

Mr Field had asked what data the DWP collects on the deaths of benefit claimants, in an attempt to find out whether there is any link between the work capability assessment (WCA) – carried out on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance and the Personal Independent Payment – and suicide, self-harm and mental ill-health.

The issue had been raised in research by Oxford University and Liverpool University entitled First Do No Harm.

This Blog reported on that document’s findings here – and you would be well-advised to refresh your memory of that article before you see the Secretary-in-a-State’s comments.

You should also read Vox Political‘s follow-up article in which a response from the Department for Work and Pensions – attempting to deny the research findings – is comprehensively disproved.

And there’s more. Much more. It’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/11/yes-iain-duncan-smith-vox-political-has-accused-you-of-outrageous-action-prove-us-wrong/

As for the title of the Oxford University study, First Do No Harm – this is was part of Hippocratic Oath. You know, the oath that for centuries doctors had to swear, which prescribed correct professional medical conduct. And the first and most important of its provisions was that the physician should do no harm to his patient. It’s a principle of medical ethics that’s glaringly, painfully obvious when you think about it. But not to the aIDS or the Tories. It’s not as though this is particularly arcane academic knowledge either. It gets into Star Trek, in the Voyager series, where in one episode it’s repeated by the holographic doctor played by Robert Picardo. Somehow, I don’t think IDS watched that one. Unfortunately, he didn’t learn it anywhere else either. And certainly not at an Italian college or uni, which didn’t give him his fictional degree.

The Global African: How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Black Politics

January 25, 2016

This is fascinating. It’s an attack on Neoliberalism from a Black American perspective, talking about the harm it has done to Black communities, churches, politics and people’s personal psychology and sense of self-worth. In this piece from the Global African, there’s a discussion between the host, Bill Fletcher, and a professor of Black Studies at Johns Hopkins university, Lester Spence about the harmful effects of Neoliberal economics. The second segment talks about the Paris conference on Climate Change, and the implications this has for communities in the Developing World.

They’re both important issues, but the piece that interested me was the first half, the critique of Neoliberal economics. Lester Spence, the professor being interviewed, has written a book about it. Apart from the economic theory itself, he also wanted to correct and supplement some of the ideas in Cornel West’s book, Racial Matters, and a work on Neoliberalism by a White academic. He admires both books, but states that the leave out vital issues, like the way Neoliberalism has corroded Black people’s ability to organise and their sense of self-worth for Cornel West’s book, and the racial dimension of Neoliberalism in the study of it by the White academic.

For the benefit of their viewers elsewhere in the world, Spence defines what Neoliberalism is. He states that it is the view that people should organise themselves as a business, and that politics and public services should also adopt the methods of private industry, including libraries. This has resulted in the destruction of the notion of ‘the public’. In the case of the churches, it has resulted in a mentality that sees the Bible as a business manual, which if adopted will not only spiritually enrich you, but also materially as well. In this it resembles the teaching of some of the earlier Black cult leaders. This is in line with Neoliberalism generally, which despite the part of the word being ‘neo’, Greek for ‘new’, takes much of its doctrines from the 19th century.

The result of Neoliberal economics, as pioneered by Milton Friedman, has been massive income inequality and the economic devastation of the working class. This has affected all Americans, but African-Americans have been particularly hard hit, in places like Detroit. Spence and Fletcher point out that Neoliberal economics was rolled out when Black Americans were first being elected to positions of political leadership, particularly in the communities that were worst affected. Thus, Black politicians and leaders became the scapegoats, charged with the failures that the economic system had produced.

Spence states that some Black people have prospered through Neoliberalism. These were middle class people, who had the education and affluent background, which gave them the entrepreneurial qualities prized by the system. People like himself. But those less privileged, like citizens with special needs, it has been devastating. They have got poorer.

He also talks about the ‘Black Nihilism’ that the economic system has spawned. This was identified by Cornel West in Race Matters, which was written about the time of the Rodney King riots. In the words of the two conversing here, it’s the lack of love Black people have for themselves and their fellow Black Americans. This takes away their power to combine and organise politically, and replaces it with therapy. The result is that Black politics has been enervated, and the ability to bring about political change nullified.

There is also a distinct racial dimension to the economic theory and its political appeal to specific American demographics. He criticises the White academic’s otherwise excellent study because it ignores this. Spence states that some of the people, who vote overwhelmingly for Neoliberal policies are poor Whites, who are suffering as much as Black communities. This needs to be explained.

Spence has also taken the unusual stem of publishing his book with a small press publisher, Punctum. It’ll be available at the price of a few dollars for about five years as PDF, then free on-line after that. Spence states that he wanted to break out from the ‘honeyed noose’ of academia, and make the book’s publishing, and not just its contents, a political act. He also disliked the appellation of ‘scholar activist’, despite his actions.

This is a very thought-provoking piece from the perspective of one of the racial groups hardest hit by the wretched brainchild of Milton Friedman, von Mises and co. It’s a perspective that needs to be taken into account when addressing the poverty and despair this pernicious theory has created.

Regarding the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, there’s an increasing movement away from it, and some of its worst preachers have attacked it. One of these was the American right-wing Evangelist, Jim Bakker. Bakker was one of the televangelists that emerged in the 1980s, with Swaggert, Jerry Fallwell and the rest of the corrupt crew. Bakker was criminally corrupt, as well as morally bankrupt, and ended up going to gaol for defrauding his church. He has since written a book criticising and denouncing the very theology he used to preach as heretical.

And the doctrine of self-enrichment through religion or spirituality isn’t confined to Christianity. It’s also in the New Age movement. Deepak Chopra, one of the movement’s leading writers, has said that he promotes ‘Prosperity Consciousness’. You can see the same corrupt ideals at work in The Cosmic Ordering Service, another New Age book that told you if you wanted something, you could get it, so long as you went through the proper New Age mental rituals. The Qabbala cult Madonna belongs to is also part of it. This isn’t much like the original Qabbala, which is a complicated system of Jewish mysticism. It’s a radically simplified version of it, which again promises its adherents worldly wealth through practicing a few basic spiritual formulas or exercises. It’s been strongly criticised by mainstream Jewish scholars for both its theological distortions and the massive profiteering involved. The person responsible for the Qabbala cult, for example, sells a copy of the Zohar for up to $300 or so. It might even be more. These are all in Hebrew, but he tells his followers that they don’t have to bother understanding this mystical text. Simply having it will confer spiritual benefits and material wealth. It’s needless to say that this is very definitely not what proper Jewish religious scholars believe.

As for White people voting for Neoliberal politics, my guess is that race, and particularly racial contempt for Blacks, has been an important element of the strategy through which it has been sold to them. Right-wing American politicians have stigmatised Blacks as being feckless welfare scroungers. The interventionist policies used to improve their conditions, such as affirmative action, merely act to prevent the benign market operating as it should. It stops virtuous, well-qualified Whites from getting the jobs they need by giving them to Blacks. At the same time, food stamps, unemployment benefit and support for unmarried mothers mean that Blacks are dependent on welfare and aren’t bothered about getting jobs.

The White poor, who are being fed this rubbish, don’t see themselves as dependent on welfare, despite the fact that many of the most hard-line, fervently Republican communities are the poorest in America. The Young Turks did one piece about a year ago looking at one county in the American south – I think it was Kentucky – where nearly everyone was unemployed and consequently dirt poor. And just about everyone in that county – 97 per cent – were White.

This is also the bilge being fed to people over here. A few years ago, The Spectator, never pro-Black in the first place, began running stories stating that, thanks to left-wing policies, White men were the only demographic group not welcome in London. It was a counterpart to the Republicans’ ‘Southern Strategy’ of targeting ‘Angry White men’. The fear of the economic and social threat of immigrants, whether from the EU or the Middle East, is being used by Cameron to try and frighten voters into allowing him to cut even more welfare benefits. You could see that in the reports Mike posted over at Vox Political on Cameron’s attempts to get the other EU leaders to deny migrants over here the welfare benefits to which they were entitled under EU and their own countries’ laws, which included payments to which they were entitled and which were paid by their countries of origin.

The Republicans and the Tories are using White racial fears to impoverish and degrade Whites, Blacks and other racial groups. And they’ll keep playing on this as long as it appears to work. Blacks and Whites need to unite to stop this, and ensure a better, fairer world for working people, whatever the colour of their skin.