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Tag: cultural criticism (page 2 of 6)

The Bishop of Durham turns one loose on human-animal hybrid embryo plan

Remember everyone, this man is going to be in Nashville on April 22nd at West End United Methodist. Bravo to him for this stand and clarion call.

Bishop condemns embryo study plan

The Bishop of Durham has attacked government plans which could allow scientists to create embryos combining human DNA and animal cells.

In his Easter Sunday message, given at Durham Cathedral, Rt Rev Tom Wright issued a rallying call to all faiths to object to the “1984-style” proposals.

He accused ministers of pushing through legislation from “a militantly atheist and secularist lobby.”

The Anglican bishop also criticised the treatment of some asylum seekers.

As pressure from religious leaders mounted on prime minister Gordon Brown to allow a free vote on the issue of embryo research in the Commons, Bishop Wright warned that society was in danger of learning nothing from the “dark tyrannies” of the last century.

He told his congregation: “Our present government has been pushing through, hard and fast, legislation that comes from a militantly atheist and secularist lobby.

“In this 1984-style world, we create our own utopia by our own efforts, particularly our science and technology.

“The irony is that this secular utopianism is based on a belief in an unstoppable human ability to make a better world, while at the same time it believes that we have the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people, and to play games with the humanity of those in between.

“Gender-bending was so last century; we now do species-bending.

“It shouldn’t just be Roman Catholics who are objecting. It ought to be Anglicans and Presbyterians and Baptists and Russian Orthodox and Pentecostals and all other Christians, and Jews and Muslims as well.”

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Maureen L. Condic: Getting Stem Cells Right

The February 2008 issue of First Things is now available online to non-subscribers. One of the most interesting pieces is that of Maureen Condic regarding recent breakthroughs in stem cell research. No one can doubt the importance of stem cells in medical research, or the promise they hold, however, there have been a number of intense ethical dilemmas regarding their use, parrticularly the use of embryonic stem cells. Now, however, there seems to be some movement from a scientific front that may make the debate moot.

A true, no-cost resolution of a conflict, where the interests of all parties are served without compromise, is an exceedingly rare thing. Yet just such an unlikely resolution may be in hand for one of the most acrimonious conflicts of recent times: the debate over human embryonic stem cells.

Research groups in Japan and the United States have shown that ordinary human skin cells can be converted to stem cells with all the important properties of human embryonic stem cells by a process termed direct reprogramming. Like embryonic stem cells, reprogrammed cells are pluripotent, able to generate all the cells of the body, and so they have been named induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs). Unlike human embryonic stem cells, however, IPSCs are genetically identical to patients and are generated without destroying human embryos or using either human or animal eggs.

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No matter how close I come to being against capital punishment…

something inevitably comes up to make me believe it shouldn’t be done away with.

R.R. Reno: The Offense of Piety

Reno offers his take on the current trend of anti-faith authors/speakers in First Things’ “On the Square” blog:

The intemperate, even violent tone in recent criticisms of faith is quite striking. Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens: They seem an agitated crew, quick to caricature, quick to denounce, quick to slash away at what they take to be the delusions and conceits of faith. And the phenomenon is not strictly literary. All of us know a friend or acquaintance who has surprised us in a dark moment of anger, making cutting comments about the life of faith. There is no way around it. There is something about faith that agitates unbelief.

The great poet Lord Byron knew the complicated power that faith has over unbelief. He built his play Cain, a dramatization of the Cain and Abel story, around the effect of piety on doubt; and, in his version of the original murder and first death, Byron gives us insight into the present crop of crusading unbelievers.

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"I want a real chaplain…."

Interested in interest?

The Ugley Vicar brought this to my attention. Evidently something that slipped in under the radar of the Sharia dust-up was Archbishop Williams’ questioning of the use of loaning at interest:

LP: Thank you. Another, another fairly down to earth. “Our existing world order is based upon usury with control by manipulation of rates of interest. In Islam this is not just illegal but sinful. How can this be reconciled with Christianity? And this Christianity also condemns the existing order as the law of Mammon.”

RW: I’ve often been rather surprised by the ease with which the Christian church changed its mind about usury in the sixteenth century, without any very great public fuss. Martin Luther strongly disapproved of it; he was a good medieval Catholic in ail sorts of ways, and he disapproved of it like his medieval predecessors on the basis of the Bible, tradition and the authority of Aristotle. But within about fifty years of the beginning of the Reformation, virtually everybody had mysteriously and imperceptibly decided that there wasn’t a problem.

Now, without going into details of the history of that fascinating issue, I think that in all seriousness what theologians and moralists have said about lending at interest in the modern economy, is simply to raise the question “Is this what is prohibited in Jewish scripture?” And they’ve answered on the whole, “No”. And yet I have to say there remains, or should remain for the Christian moralist, a level of discomfort around this. Taking absolutely for granted the manipulation of rates of interest as the engine of an economy, ought to leave us with some unfinished moral business, let’s say, and I believe that rather than, so to speak, address that head on, we need to look – and this has been said by many people – at what are the alternative protocols and ethical frameworks for banking that are around. And that is one reason why ! am personally go very interested in the ethics and practice of micro-credit as a way of addressing serious poverty.

Read the rest of the Q&A here.

I find this interesting because I’ve made a similar observation about the rather rapid acceptance of contraception by protestant Christians. It was a rather dramatic about-face to reject the previous 1900 years of moral teaching in a period of less than 50 years.

The American Spectator: Bad faith bestseller

The American Spectator opens up a broadside against Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great:

Many, many refutations have been written of Christopher Hitchens’s god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Readers can take some small comfort that this won’t be another.

After all, what would even be the fun in piling on at this point? The Washington Post reviewer cast Hitchens as a latter day incarnation of the censorious anti-liberal Pope Pius IX and professed to have “never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject.”

In religious venues — even tolerant, liberal, kitten-hugging ones like Commonweal–the response has been not shock and outrage but open mockery. Conservative publications from this one to the Claremont Review of Books to Taki’s Top Drawer have dissected and made a study of the book’s many errors and eccentricities. On the other side of the pond, Hitchens’s brother Peter dropped the normal sibling non-review rule and had a run at it in the Daily Mail.

Hitchens’s public defenses of his thesis haven’t been much more successful. True, he bested the Reverend Al Sharpton in a televised debate — barely. But whenever he’s come up against serious opponents, it’s been ugly. Near the end of their exchange in Christianity Today, Douglas Wilson borrowed a line from Wyatt Earp in Tombstone to ask Hitchens, “You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?”

His argumentation has been found flimsy by philosophers and rhetoricians; riddled with errors by biblical scholars and theologians; sloppy and tendentious by historians of religion; unrigorous by social scientists; breezy and brazen by literary critics; and obnoxious by most readers of good will. One is half surprised that

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Rowan Williams and the real tensions between Islam, Christianity and Western liberal secularism

Archbishop Rowan Williams certainly stirred the pot with his speech at the Temple Church, in which he discussed the possibility–indeed the desirability–of certain elements of sharia being recognized in British law. Some have seen this as evidence of Williams’ failure to stand up for Christian convictions. I think quite the opposite is true, and that Williams is doing something that needs doing in western liberal societies: standing up for the desirability, even the necessity of recognizing the ability of a religious community to police itself in certain areas. In particular he was referring to Islam because that was the subject of the lecture series to which he had been invited to participate in. But, as some commentators have noted, he might just as well have been talking about Christian minority groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church and their recent conflicts with the state over homosexual adoption.

I think Theo Hobson of the Tablet has a good understanding of what motivates the Archbishop, and he offers a good analysis of this in his reflection for The Tablet:

Above all, he refused to combine Anglo-Catholicism with a general liberal agenda. Indeed he revived the Anglo-Catholic suspicion of secular liberalism that dates back to Newman. The liberal state, in this view, offers itself as an alternative community of salvation; it tempts us into supposing that we can dispense with the Church, or at least water it down, and develop a more progressive form of Christianity. This leads to weak forms of Christianity that are unable to resist dangerous ideologies: most obviously, the liberal Protestants of Germany embraced Nazism. It is Williams’ anti-liberal ecclesiology that is the root cause of the present controversy. In a sense it’s not really about sharia law, or Islam: it’s about the relationship between a Catholic conception of the Church and liberalism.

For Williams, authentic Christianity occurs within a clearly defined social body, an “ethical community” as he has sometimes put it. Without this, Christian culture will be dispersed by the cold winds of secularism. There is a need for strong resistance to the various negative spirits of the age: consumerism, celebrity, hedonism and so on, and this resistance can only occur within an alternative social world, walled off from mainstream culture.

Only from within a religious subculture can secular modernity be seen for what it is: dehumanising. He has referred to secularism’s “unspoken violence”, and to modernity as “an atmosphere in which people become increasingly formless, cut off from what could give their lives … some kind of lasting intelligibility”. He sees secular liberalism as a quietly nihilistic force that robs human life of full significance, as a demonically subtle tyranny that looks and feels like freedom.

This theme was prominent in the Dimbleby Lecture that he gave almost exactly five years ago: it is perhaps the key to understanding his agenda last week. He argued that secular culture always serves material agendas (someone’s desire to sell you something, someone’s desire for your vote); it shuns comprehensive visions of human good. Religion addresses the whole human being, it puts all short-term concerns into perspective. A religious tradition “makes possible a real questioning of the immediate agenda of society, the choices that are defined and managed for you by the market”.

N.T. Wright has also written some insightful thoughts on these issues and published them on his new blog at the Newsweek site. I share part of them with you below:

the fundamental issue he was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen. For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. In recent years various governments, including our own, have pushed the other way, to suggest that the secular state is itself master of all of life, including religious conviction. That’s why we’ve seen an airline worker sacked for wearing a cross, while in France the government has tried similarly to ban Muslim women from wearing their traditional head-covering. Because we haven’t had to address these issues before, our society has tended to slide round them by emphasizing words like ‘multiculturalism’, which often doesn’t actually mean that we celebrate our different cultures but rather that we subordinate them all to whatever the secular state wants. That is as much a problem for Catholic adoption agencies, as we saw last year, as it is for Muslims who want to follow their traditional teaching about (for instance) the prohibition of interest on loans while living within a society where the mortgage system is endemic. Rowan was going to the roots of these problems and coming up not only with fresh analysis but fresh solutions, particularly what he calls ‘interactive pluralism’. The question of how we live together as a civil and wise society while cherishing different faiths is a deep and serious one and can’t be pushed away just because people take fright at certain misunderstandings. His point was precisely that neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolize’.

Third, Rowan was very clear in his lecture to rule out exactly those points which the screaming tabloids have assumed he was affirming. We all know the standard images of Sharia law – beatings, beheadings, oppression of women, etc. He distanced himself completely from all that, though you’d never know it from the media. He knows, just as well as do his critics, that Sharia is complex, that it varies from place to place, that it demands interpretation, and so on. His point was, rather, that there are some elements of Muslim law which can and should be accommodated within our legal structures. Ironically, Gordon Brown, who was quick to offer a knee-jerk rejection against the lecture, himself altered the law last year to enable devout Muslims to obtain mortgages. That’s the kind of thing Rowan was advocating in similar spheres.

While I agree with what both Hobson and Wright have said here, we shouldn’t allow our criticisms of the enlightenment and our distaste for the hysterical reactions to the Archbishop’s lecture to lessen our appreciation of the real, if sometimes poorly understood, concerns expressed. There are good reasons for western democracies to be concerned about the manner in which Muslims are welcomed and brought within the bounds of our common civil life. In this sense the Archbishop’s speech may well have been a gift if it has truly blown the lid off of a stifled debate people seem to have been fearful of.

During this conflict, I have seen some people compare fundamentalist Christianity, which sometimes maintains a reverence for the Bible apart from an understanding that the Word of God written has authority because it testifies to the Word of God in the Flesh, Jesus Christ with Islam with its reverence for the Qur’an as the Word of God in physical, written form. (As has been pointed out before, the parallel for the Qur’an in Christianity is not the Bible, but Jesus Christ.) While helpful from an ideological point of view, such comparisons only go so far when one is considering radical Islamists (which are the root cause of the negative reaction to Williams’ lecture). Have people over-reacted? Perhaps. Many certainly do not seem to have reacted in the most beneficial way–but there is time enough for that. I would argue, however, that while we have not yet turned the corner to helpful reactions, this is not in any sense an over-reaction.

Consider the state of Islam today. It is true that Archbishop Rowan has made relations with Islam a high priority, but I would submit that the Islamic scholars he is in dialogue with (such as at Al Azhar University) are no longer those who influence the worldview of many in the Muslim diaspora. They were once the centers of ideological and intellectual power, but that is no longer the case. Several years ago I watched a question and answer period on Book TV discussing Bernard Lewis’ books (I’m sorry, I cant remember whether it was From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East or What went wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response), during which time the question of Islamist radicalism came up. The questioner was confused as to what Dr. Lewis meant by traditional Islam. His response was that in his earlier books he was referring to Islamists understanding of themselves as “traditionalists” but that in reality they were the innovators, Islamic fundamentalists who claimed a spiritual lineage for legitimacy, but actually had none. The questioner then asked another question to the effect of “where did this go wrong?” To which Lewis replied that the problem started first with the defeat of the Hashemites by the Al Saud’s who founded Saudi Arabia and gained the influence over Muslims that only the custodians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina could have and that the problem was exacerbated when oil was discovered in the Arabian Penninsula, turning what would have been a social, political and religious backwater into a financial and spiritual powerhouse. (You can hear much of the same in Book TV’s in depth interview of Lewis, which is available online. I suggest it highly.)

Why is this true? It’s true because Muslims, like immigrant communities throughout history, have a desire to maintain their traditions in the midst of a new and largely alien culture. The fault-line they are navigating has been traveled by immigrant communities from many ethnic groups: German, Italian, Irish, Polish, Chinese, Hispanics, Greeks etc… each of these communities have established their own civic and educational institutions to help maintain their cultural identity–it would be foolish to expect anything less or different of Muslim immigrants. But of course, the establishment of such institutions cost money and must be financed somehow. In the case of the Muslim diaspora this financing has come from Saudi Arabia. The effects of this are important. In the past the centers of Islamic scholarship and culture had been Egypt (Cairo and Al Azhar as the prime example) and Turkey. But with shifting political and economic realities, the center has become Saudi Arabia. What are the ramifications of this? Lewis gave a memorable example by discussing the way religious education is approached in Germany. Germany has a period of the school day set aside for religious education, wherein the various faiths divide up and are instructed in the history and beliefs of their respective religions. Because many of the Muslim immigrants in Germany are of Turkish origin, Turkey offered to provide the same text books to German schools that are used in Turkish schools. However, because Germany wanted to ensure that instruction was carried out by the faith group and not by a government, they refused the Turkish offer. Instead the classes were taught by an independent group… a group funded by Saudi oil. In the aftermath of the September 11th attack, of the ethnic Turks arrested, none were raised in Turkey, all had been educated in the German educational system. This is simply one example of a number of reasons why immigrant Muslim communities in the west seem to be producing radicals, particularly in the second generation, it’s a matter of who pays the Imams and provides the Qur’ans and what brand of Islam–and indeed what version of Islamic law–they espouse.

It would be a mistake to assume that these issues which are causing so much conflict in the West are not also present in Islamic societies. Indeed, as Dr. Lewis notes, the primary Jihad of Wahabists is the Jihad against those Muslims who-in their view–are apostates. One need only look at the resurgence of Islamism in Turkey and the concern of those who are invested in their secular experiment, or at the conflict in Chechnya, where it wasn’t simply Muslim against Russian, but instead a three way conflict between Wahabist fighters vs. those who followed the indigenous Sufi-derived form of Islam (which is seen as corrupt and pagan influenced), or were secular vs. Russia. If we truly want to have a positive impact on the integration of and respect for Muslim communities in the west, we cannot simply assume that the more friendly and palatable forms of Islamic thought coming from places like Al Azhar or the more modern and secularized variety that is struggling to maintain itself in Turkey, will be the predominant forms in the West. If we hope to have any positive impact we must help them move back to the center of their communities from the periphery they have been pushed to, and see to it that theirs is the voice heard in the mosques and fellowships of the diaspora… otherwise talk of allowances for sharia are not only pointless, they become dangerous.

Of course, all of this leaves aside the very important question of whether or not Islam is able to exist in a pluralistic setting. That’s a question of another post, but the answer will most probably be found in secular paradigm of Turkey vs. the contention of Sayyid Qutb that Islam is itself a political philosophy. For myself, I’m not sure we can see the Turkish flirtation with western-style secularism as anything but an experiment–at the moment, Qutb seems to have had the right of it. In which case the allowance of Sharia for a minority could become the imposition of Sharia on others if and when that minority becomes dominant in an area–we can already see that happening in Northern Nigeria and other places in Africa where dominant Muslim communities that once handled their disputes locally and among themselves with sharia have been pushing for codification of Sharia in the constitutions of their northern states–imposing their beliefs on religious minorities who, until recently, also handled their disputes in their own local and often unofficial ways.

So there’s my take… here’re some books to think about:

Islamists aren't the nicest people…

Yet more evidence that, at least the variety of Islam these folks espouse, is fundamentally not “a religion of peace.” If anything, such disregard for innocent human life is positively satanic (and yes, before I get hate mail, I would say the same thing about a number of things white western liberals do.)

Two women described as mentally disabled and strapped with remote-control explosives — and possibly used as unwitting suicide bombers — brought carnage Friday to two pet bazaars, killing at least 91 people in the deadliest day since Washington flooded the capital with extra troops last spring.

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, Iraq’s chief military spokesman in Baghdad, said the women had Down syndrome and may not have known they were on suicide missions, but gave no further details on how authorities pieced together the evidence. He also said the bombs were detonated by remote control.

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Oh… and then there’s the continuing irony of Muslims who get angry at westerners who say they are angry, as the Bishop of Rochester in the UK is now reported to be under police protection because he’s received threats on his life and that of his family after writing an article saying there were Muslim “no-go” areas beginning to form in Britain. I guess their are Muslim no-go areas when it comes to speech as well. Watch out, they may send some Mujahideen after you… or some poor innocent person with a disability.

Dr Nazir-Ali was in India when staff at his home in Rochester took a number of phone calls threatening his family and warning him that he would not “live long” if he continued to criticise Islam. He has been given an emergency number at Kent Police, along with other undisclosed protection measures, and said that the threats were being taken “seriously”.

Speaking to The Times, Dr Nazir-Ali, who is on the conservative evangelical wing of the Church and is Britain’s only Asian bishop, said: “The irony is that I had similar threats when I was a bishop in Pakistan, but I never thought I would have them here. My point in saying what I did was that Britain had lost its Christian vision, which would have provided the resources to offer hospitality to others.”

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The Oxford American: Carrying America's Shadow: Does bias still inform the Northern view of Southern literature?

I’ve written before about how I believe the South can provide a remedy for the general American tendency to downplay our faults and forget our own history. There is an article in the Oxford American that says much the same thing while approaching the subject from a literary standpoint. I commend it to you:

Even today the Northern visitor hankers to see eroded hills and rednecks…to sniff the effluvium of backwoods-and-sandhill subhumanity and to see at least one barn burn at midnight. So he looks at me with crafty misgivings, as if to say, “Well, you do talk rather glibly about Kierkegaard and Sartre…but after all, you’re only fooling, aren’t you? Don’t you, sometimes, go out secretly by owl-light to drink swampwater and feed on sowbelly and collard greens?”

 

—George B. Tindall, in the 1963 speech “The Idea of the South.”

 

 

You know the situation from TV: a one-way mirror separates two rooms. You’re in the second, dimmer room, and the mirror allows you to gaze through into Room One, where the lights blaze and the action rolls. The people there can’t see you, though occasionally somebody strolls to the glass and peers at her reflection, as though suspecting something.

 

This metaphor suggests the position in which contemporary “Southern” writers find themselves vis-à-vis the mainstream American literary establishment. I use quotes to draw attention to a dubious distinction: No other group of writers in this country is typically tagged by place. John Irving and Annie Proulx, for instance, aren’t identified as “Northern” or “New England” writers, or writers from the “Deep North.” Though “Southern” may be applied—and often is applied—without belittling intent, the effect makes clear that Southerners are “Other,” from a “there,” not here. And here, Room One, the center whose centrality is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be specified, is the Northeast. Room One is New York.

 

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