Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

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The Aboriginal Writer on Release of Documents about America and Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’

May 9, 2016

Back in March, the Aboriginal Writer over at La Moderna Epoko put up a grim piece about the release of official papers, which may cast light on America’s role in the ‘Dirty War’ unleashed by the Argentinian junta against not just domestic guerrillas, but also dissidents and suspected Socialists. The article consists of several excerpted pieces from press articles. One of these, from the Nation, states that

A special declassification project of still-secret CIA, Defense Department, and FBI records not only would reveal concrete evidence regarding unresolved atrocities in Argentina, but also offer a long-overdue acknowledgment of US support for the ensuing repression in the months following the military takeover. “This anniversary and beyond,” Rice said, “we’re determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation.”

It’s almost needless to say that this outbreak of right-wing state terror was supported by Hillary’s good friend, Henry Kissinger. The editorial board of the NY Times wrote:

A few months after a military junta overthrew President Isabel Perón of Argentina in 1976, the country’s new foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Guzzetti, told Henry Kissinger, America’s secretary of state, that the military was aggressively cracking down on “the terrorists.” Mr. Kissinger responded, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly,” an apparent warning that a new American Congress might cut off aid if it thought the Argentine government was engaging in systemic human rights abuses. The American ambassador in Buenos Aires soon reported to Washington that the Argentine government had interpreted Mr. Kissinger’s words as a “green light” to continue its brutal tactics against leftist guerrillas, political dissidents and suspected socialists.

Another excerpt quotes Kissinger as saying that Nixon’s administration was eager to show the Argentinians they supported them. And the piece also quotes the present Pope Francis, then head of the Jesuit order in Argentina, as stating that he has many regrets over his own response to the regime. Pope Francis has been criticised because when he was a priest in Argentina, he did little to criticise the regime’s attacks. That particularly snippet states that Francis, then simply Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was an opponent of Liberation Theology. This is a form of Christian theology, which is strongly influenced by Marxism to stress the Christian commitment to the poor. This suggests that at the time, Bergoglio shared the regime’s hostility towards Communism, even if he was not a supporter of the regime’s wider attacks on the Left and civil society.

Other snippets cover the continuing efforts of the mothers and grandmothers to reunite the Disappeared – children who were stolen from their biological parents and given up to be raised by Fascists – with their surviving relatives.

For more information, go to: https://aboriginalwriter.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/what-was-the-united-states-role-in-argentinas-dirty-war/

The other year, Britain declassified documents going back to the Mao-Mao rebellion in Kenya, revealing the atrocities the British committed in their attempts to suppress the rebellion. The release of the documents also allowed a group of Kenyans, who had been the victims of war crimes committed by the British, to win a lawsuit against the British government. There’s a book out about the atrocities, entitled Britain’s Secret Gulags. Lobster’s long-term contributor, John Newsinger, has also written a book about atrocities committed by the British Empire, The Blood Never Dried. The article states that the documents on America’s role in the Argentinian ‘Dirty War’ were released after legal decisions by judges and following FOIA requests. Over here, the Tories and their New Labour collaborators, like Jack Straw, have been trying to water down the British Freedom Of Information Act. This has now stopped, but they still have the view that you should only request government documents to understand how official decisions were made, not to challenge them. Apart from being a deliberate attempt to stop people like Mike and the other disability campaigners trying to use it to challenge the DWP’s appalling maltreatment of the disabled, it also makes you wonder what terrible atrocities our government is hiding from us.

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.

Pax Christi and Christian Anti-War Groups

December 27, 2015

Several of my relatives are Roman Catholics. I was at their parish church yesterday, as I’d been invited to join them for a special family service. Looking around one of the stalls in their church carrying the church’s religious and devotional literature, I found several newsletters from Pax Christi. They’re the official Roman Catholic peace movement, and are part of a broader Christian organisation, the Network of Christian Peace Organisations. The other Christian peace groups in the Network include the following:

Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Baptist Peace Fellowship
Campaign Against Arms Trade Christian Network
Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Christian International Peace Service
Church and Peace
Community of Reconciliation
Congregational Peace Fellowship
Fellowship of Reconciliation England
Franciscan Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation
Martin Luther King Peace Committee
Methodist Peace Fellowship
Northern Friends Peace Board
Pax Christi
Quaker Peace and Social Witness
Student Christian Movement
United Reformed Church Peace Fellowship.

Pax Christi in Britain publishes a monthly newsletter, Justpeace. The April 2015 edition gives a brief history of Pax Christi International and an overview of their activities across the world. According to the newsletter, it was

founded in France in March 1945 as Catholic movement for peace and reconciliation following World War II, Pax Christi International is now a network of 115 member organisations on five continents with over a hundred thousand members worldwide.

Recognised by Pope Pius XII as the official Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi has also always been autonomous, with members of the hierarchy, clergy and laypeople working together as equals for peace and reconciliation in situations of violence and war around the world. The presidency of Pax Christi International, for example, is shared by a bishop, Bishop Kevin Dowling from South Africa, and a lay woman, Marie Dennis from the United States, both of whom were elected by Pax Christi member organisations.

Pax Christi International has held consultative status at the United Nations since 1979 and is working at the UN in Geneva, New York, Vienna and Paris. It is also officially represented at the African Union and the Council of Europe and has regular access to the European Parliament, the European Commission and NATO.

Among its activities across the world, Pax Christi is involved in

* a multi-year strategy to address deep-seated racism in the United States

* dynamic ‘sports for peace’ programs in South Sudan and Haiti

* strategies to integrate former combatants back into their own communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo

* courses in preventive reconciliation using the principles of haikido in the Philippines.

* efforts to address destructive mining practices in Colombia and Peru;

* advocacy and campaigning at a national and international level for the abolition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; for a meaningful arms trade treaty; for an end to the use of depleted uranium in weapons.

* ‘peace week’ initiatives, many of them annual, in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, the African Great Lakes region, Kosovo, Russia, Croatia, the Philippines and Colombia.

* collaboration with local partners to support active nonviolence in southern Mexico.

* excellent grassroots peace education programs in Lebanon and Philippines.

* exchanges of experience between civil society from the Middle East and from Central Europe on their role in bringing about nonviolent social change

* work with the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), our partner in Brazil, in response to growing conflict over land – and

* ongoing work with civil society groups in Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

The Network of Christian Peace Organisations and Trident at the General Election

The NCPO also produced a General Election Briefing for this last year’s election in order to promote disarmament and specifically to tackle the government’s intention to introduce Trident. Their very short – four page! – pamphlet outlined the way Christians and church groups could work to promote peace, and had short sections on the issues of Military Spending and Human Security, Renewal of Trident, the UK Arms Trade , the UK Armed Drones Programme and Britain’s Role in the World. It included questions and requests that should be asked of politicians respecting these issues. The pamphlet also carried details of other organisations dealing with those specific issues and their websites.

Pax Christi and Atomic Weapons

Pax Christi also produced a little pamphlet outlining their opposition to nuclear weapons. This included statements by the Church, including papacy, condemning them. Pope Francis last year (2014) declared that ‘Nuclear deterrence cannot be the basis for an ethics of solidarity and peaceful coexistence among people and states’.

His predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2007 was much stronger in his condemnation. He said, ‘What can be said, too, about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries?… that nuclear weapons have any place in civilised society, is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims’.

The Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World in 1965 states in article 80 that

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities and or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and humanity. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

This is all enough to have Pat Robertson and the right-wing American evangelicals start screaming ‘Social gospel! Social gospel!’ at the top of their lungs, before launching into a long tirade about how ‘cultural Marxism’ is undermining society. And just to show you how ‘Christian’ some of these right-wingers are, a few of them flew into a rage this past year when Pope Francis said something rather left-wing. They like Christianity, but only when it appears to support their prejudices and policies.

I’m not a member of Pax Christi or any of the other organisations. But if you’re a Christian and would like to join their witness for peace, their address is:

NCPO, c/o Pax Christi,
St Joseph’s, Watford Way,
London NW4 4TY

and their website is http://www.ncpo.org.uk

Pax Christi is also on the web. Their address is http://www.paxchristi.net.

May God bless them and their work.

Commemorating Christian Martyrdom: The Armenian Genocide

April 24, 2015

Armenian Gospels

Armenian Gospel Book from the Monastery of Gladjor, c. 1321

Today is the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. This was a series of massacres carried out by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people. The Armenians had risen up, like the other, majority Christians subject nations in the Balkans across the Black Sea to gain their freedom from the decaying Turkish empire. To counter this, the last Turkish sultan, Talat Pasha issued a firman ordering that the Armenians should be rounded up and slaughtered. 1.5 million Armenians, men, women and children were butchered.

The Pope caused controversy earlier this week when he marked the massacres, calling it the first genocide of the 20th century. I’m not sure if this is quite true, as I think about ten years or so previously the German colonial authorities in East Africa had also organised a genocide of the indigenous Herrero people. The occasion has a wider, European significance than just its attempt to exterminate the Armenians. Hitler noted the way the other European powers remained silent and did not act to stop it. This convinced him that they also wouldn’t act to save the Jews when the Nazi state began to persecute and murder them in turn. As he said ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’

Denial of Genocide by Turkish Authorities

Unfortunately, the genocide is still controversial. Robert Fisk in his article in Monday’s Independent discussed the Turkish government’s refusal to recognise the massacres as a genocide. Pope Francis’ comments sparked outrage amongst the Turkish authorities, and the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned to meet the prime minister. Fisk himself recalled the abuse he had received from Turks outraged by his discussion of the genocide. He stated he began receiving mail about the issue when he personally dug the bones of some of the Armenians out of the sands of the Syrian desert in 1992. He stated that some of the letters were supportive. Most were, in his words, ‘little short of pernicious’.

In Turkey any discussion or depiction of the Armenian genocide as genocide was brutally suppressed. A few years ago, the Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, was killed for writing about them. Liberal Turks, who wish their nation face up to this dark episode of their history, have been imprisoned. The great Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, was sent to jail a few years ago. His writing on the genocide was judged to be ‘insulting to Turkish nationhood’, a criminal offence.

Fatih Arkin, Turkish Director, on Movie about Genocide

Dink’s assassination has, however, acted to promote a greater discussion and awareness of the genocide, and a large number of both Armenians and Turks are now pressing for the Turkish government to recognise it as such. Indeed, the Turkish-German film director, Fatih Arkin, made a film about the genocide, The Cut which premiered in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in January.

In the interview below, Mr Arkin talks about he was moved to make the film following Dink’s assassination, and the number of Turks, who also join with the Armenians in demanding their government officially recognise the atrocity. Among those is the grandson of one of the leading perpetrators. What is interesting is that the film received a wide release in Turkey with no opposition or move to ban it.

Fisk on Turks Who Saved Armenians

This seems to show a new openness amongst the Turkish people as a whole about the genocide. And Fisk in his article notes that there many courageous and humane Turks, who refused to comply with Sultan’s orders, and saved Armenians. He stated in his article that these included at least one provincial governor, as well as lesser Turkish soldiers and policemen. Fisk felt that the Armenians should compile a list of these heroes, not least because it would make it harder for politicians like Erdogan, the country’s prime minister, not to sign a book of condolences, which included their names.

And these men were courageous: they risked their lives to save others from the carnage. There is absolutely no reason why they should not also be commemorated. In Judaism, I understand that righteous gentiles, who save Jews from persecution, are commemorated and believed to have a part in the olam ha-ba, the world to come. There is a section of the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, which displays the names of such righteous gentiles, who saved Jews during the Third Reich.

Syriac Evangelistary

The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, from a Syriac Evangelistary

Massacre of Syriac Christians as Part of Wider Pattern of Massacres

The massacre of the Empire’s Christian minorities was not confined to the Armenians, although they are the best known victims. Other Christian peoples, including the Syriac-speaking churches in what is now Iraq and Syria, were also attacked and massacred, in what has become known as ‘the Day of the Sword’. The massacres also spread into Iran, where the Christian communities there also suffered massacres. They too deserve commemoration.

Peaceful Relations between Christians and Muslims Normal in Ottoman Empire

Historians of the Turkish Empire have pointed out that the Armenian genocide, and similar massacres committed by the Ottoman forces in the Balkans during the nationalist wars of the 19th century, were largely the exception. For most of the time Christian and Muslim lived peacefully side by side. Quite often Muslims and Christians shared the same cemeteries. And in one part of Bosnia, at least, the local Roman Catholic church stood bang right next to the local mosque. There were even a small group of worshippers, who seem not to have differentiated between Christianity and Islam.

There’s a story that one orthodox priest, while officiating mass at his church, noticed a group of people at the back wearing Muslim dress. He went and asked them why they were attending a Christian church, if they were Muslims. The people replied that they didn’t really make much difference between the two faiths. On Friday, they prayed at the mosque, and on Sunday they went to church.

Historical Bias and Nationalist Violence by Christians in 19th century Balkans

Historians of the Balkans have also pointed out the dangers of religious bias when discussing the various nationalist wars in the 19th century. In the 1870s the Ottoman Turks committed a series of atrocities suppressing a nationalist uprising in Bulgaria. This outraged public opinion in England, and provoked the Liberal prime minister, Gladstone, to demand that the Turks be ‘thrown out of Europe, bag and baggage’. Other British and American observers noted that atrocities were hardly one sided. Christians also committed them, but these were ignored by the West. One author of a book on the Balkans I read back in the 1990s argued that the various atrocities committed in this period were caused not so much by religious differences, but from nationalism, and so were no different from other atrocities committed by other countries across the world, and in western Europe today as part of ethnic and nationalist conflicts, such as Northern Ireland.

British Empire and Atrocities in Kenya

Other decaying empires have also committed horrific atrocities, and attempted to cover them up. It was only after a very long legal campaign, for example, that the British government admitted the existence and complicity in the regimes of mass murder, torture, mutilation and internment in Kenya to suppress the Mao Mao rebellion. See the book, Africa’s Secret Gulags, for a complete history of this.

ISIS and the Massacre of Christians

The commemoration of the genocide of the Armenians, and by extension the other Christian subject peoples of the Ottoman and Persian Empires at the time, has become pressing relevant because the persecution today of Christians in the region by the resurgent Islamist movements, like ISIS, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Yet these groups differ in their attitude to the massacre of non-Muslim civilians from that of the Turkish government. The official Turkish attitude has been silence and an attempt to suppress or rebut the genocide’s existence. This points to an attitude of shame towards them. ISIS, which last Monday murdered 30 Ethiopian Coptic Christians, shows absolutely no shame whatsoever. Far from it: they actually boast about their murder and enslavement of innocent civilians.

Conversion of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians by Force, and Murder of Civilians Contrary to Muslim Law

I was taught at College that their actions contravene sharia law. Islamic law also has a set of regulations for the conduct of warfare, which rule out the conversion of the ‘Peoples of the Book’ – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians – by force. Nor may women, children and non-combatants be harmed. And this has been invoked by the ulema in the past to protect Christian and other minorities in the Ottoman Empire. In the 17th century one of the Turkish sultans decided he was going to use military force to make the Christians in the Balkans convert to Islam. He sought approval for his course of action from the majlis, the governing assembly of leading Muslim clerics, who issued legal opinions on questions of Muslim law and practice. They refused, on the grounds that it was un-Islamic. The sultan backed down, and his planned campaigns against his Christian subjects were abandoned.

ISIS Also Butcher Muslims and Yezidis

Nor do ISIS, and similar Islamist movements limit themselves to attacking Christians. We’ve also seen them butcher and enslave the Yezidis, as well as other Muslims, simply for being the ‘wrong’ type of Muslim. For ISIS, they, and only they, represent true Islam. The rest are part of the ‘juhailiyya’, the world of darkness and ignorance, who must be fought and conquered.

Need to Commemorate All Victims of Atrocities

The Armenian genocide and its victims should rightly be remembered, as should so many other holocausts since then. Not only is this owed to the victims and history itself, but also to stop similar massacres occurring. And we need to remember that the capacity for such evil is not confined to particular nations, but can be found throughout history and humanity.