From the category archives:


I really don’t know what to say

by Maria on March 15, 2010

Sad and upsetting times in Ireland. Cardinal Brady, it turns out, was instrumentally involved in the closed investigation of the monstrous Fr. Smyth, and himself swore to secrecy two children raped by Smyth. The incident simply resulted in Smyth getting some form of censure from the Church and going on to rape and abuse many, many more children. Whose parents were in turn stonewalled by the Church. How does anyone get over this? Should they?

Meanwhile, Pope Ratzinger is wriggling off the hook – at least this hook, this time – for his own involvement in a cover up. It’s odd to me that people are searching so intently for Ratzinger’s smoking gun, when as head of the Congregation for the Indoctrination of the Faith, he wrote to bishops telling them that breaking the seal of secrecy on church investigations of sex abuse was punishable by excommunication. That’s the smoking gun that destroyed not just the childhoods and perhaps lives of one or two children in Ratzinger’s direct responsibility, but thousands of children around the world who deserved better from the one, true Church.

The Irish adult voices of raped children are joined by American ones; people now grown up who were raped and abused by Fr. Smith when he was sent away from these shores and off to where he wasn’t known and could start again. A Connecticut woman poignantly asks why she was repeatedly raped by a priest who had been sent to America instead of to the police. An Irish woman asks why no one went to the police. If they had, she might have been saved. Many might have been saved. [click to continue…]

“Contrary to the values of the republic”

by Chris Bertram on January 27, 2010

Sometimes a thought occurs about something that might make for an interesting blog post, but I realise that whilst I know enough to have the thought, I’d have to do a great deal of research to write something that would survive the scrutiny of people who know their stuff. Still, it may be that commenters who know more than me can say something of value, and that I could at least serve as a prompt. So here goes. An article on the BBC website discusses the recommendations of a French parliamentary committee which described the veil as :

bq. “contrary to the values of the republic” and called on parliament to adopt a formal resolution proclaiming “all of France is saying ‘no’ to the full veil”.

Hmm, I thought. It wasn’t so long ago that “all of France”, at least for some values of “all of France” had a more divided view about the veil. Roughly at this time, in fact:

(Picture nicked from the very excellent Images of France and Algeria blog, which has, incidentally, lots of interesting stuff on the 1961 Paris massacres of Algerians.)

But then I also remembered that official France had not, in fact, been very tolerant of the veiling of Algerian women. The photographer Marc Garanger is famous for his many pictures, taken during the war, of Muslim women forcibly unveiled so that they could be photographed for compulsory ID cards. There are some “here”: . So how did that all work out then? A little googling reveals that this very month, historian Neil MacMaster has a new book entitled _Burning the Veil: The Algerian war and the ’emancipation’ of Muslim women, 1954-62_ (Manchester University Press). I couldn’t find any reviews, as yet. The blurb writes about a campaign of forced modernisation followed by a post-revolutionary backlash involving a worsening of the position of women in Algeria.

So two thoughts then: (1) far from being an aberration in France, there was a very recent period when very many French women (or perhaps “French” women) were veiled; (2) attempts by the state to change that didn’t lead to female emancipation and the triumph of Enlightenment values.

History is the Devil’s Scripture

by Scott McLemee on January 15, 2010

One hesitates to refer to the rational kernel in any statement coming from Pat Robertson, of course. But his recent venture into explaining the earthquake in Haiti does contain a small, heavily distorted, yet recognizable fragment of historical reality.

That kernel has passed through his system without giving him any nourishment, but I’ll try to pluck it out of all the batshit craziness.
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Political Correctness Gone Mad

by Henry on December 28, 2009

Perhaps the recent “terrorist outrage in the skies”: will bring the delusional opponents of group profiling to their senses. But I fear not. It should be a cut and dried case. A “member of a group”: that is “notoriously”: “associated with terrorist violence and fundamentalist political beliefs”: tries to set off a bomb in a plane and only fails because of sheer luck. The nabobs of political correctness will try to convince us yet again that there are many strains of thought among these people, that most of them are non-violent, that compulsory cavity searches will alienate them and so on, and on, and on. But the PC mafia will be ignoring these people’s plans to “build temples that dominate our major cities”:, and “actions taken deliberately to flout our common norms”: A strong country has a strong culture that it is willing to defend against the enemy – and a willingness to ignore the natterers of multiculturalism when its citizens’ lives are in danger. We were lucky this time. We may not be so lucky the next.

Minarets in Switzerland

by Kieran Healy on November 30, 2009

I hadn’t been following the story of Switzerland’s efforts to ban the construction of minarets. Switzerland has about 400,000 muslims and — though there are many mosques — precisely four minarets. The referendum succeeded by a comfortable majority. As you can see from the poster, the rights of women under Islam were pointed to as a reason to support the ban. The Guardian reports that the pro-ban SPP

said that going to the European court would breach the popular sovereignty that underpins the Swiss democratic model and tradition … It dismissed the arguments about freedom or religion, asserting that minarets were not a religious but a political symbol, and the thin end of a wedge that would bring sharia law to the country, with forced marriages, “honour” killings, female genital mutilation and oppression of women … The prohibition also found substantial support on the left and among secularists worried about the status of women in Islamic cultures. Prominent feminists attacked minarets as male power symbols, deplored the oppression of Muslim women, and urged a vote for the ban.

The Times reports that there’s some evidence that more women were in favor of the ban than men, too. One can only suppose that, having waited until 1971 to give women the vote in Federal elections, and in some parts of the country until 1990 in Cantonal elections, the Swiss are now making up for lost time making good on their commitment to feminism.

One doesn’t fire a professor like this

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 27, 2009

In August, the Erasmus University Rotterdam fired Professor Tariq Ramadan. Well, strictly speaking, they didn’t fire him, but rater withdrew the invitation to be a guest professor. Since December 2006 Ramadan had a contract with the City Council of Rotterdam to advise the City Council on civic integration & multicultural policies (about half of the population in Rotterdam is not from Dutch origin and the city has enormous socio-economic-cultural problems). At the same time he was invited as a guestprofessor at the Erasmus University for the same period (allegedly he had asked for this affiliation himself when he was asked to work for the City Council). So legally speaking in August the City Council fired him, and at the very same moment the University withdrew its invitation to be affiliated as a guest professor. Yet for what follows, I don’t think this legal quibble is very relevant. From an ethical-political point of view it remains a dismissal. The question is: was this dismissal justified?
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Saving the cat

by John Quiggin on August 28, 2009

Quite a while ago, I raised a question about the practical implications of the “rapture” doctrine, held by large numbers of evangelicals.

Do they install automatic watering systems for their gardens and arrange for unsaved neighbours to feed the cat? Or do they just pay into their IRAs as if they expect the world to last forever?

Now it appears, some enterprising atheists have set up a service addressing one of the problems I raised. In the event of rapture, they guarantee that , assured of being left behind, they will look after the pets of those who are taken up. (video here)

Another one bites the dust

by Chris Bertram on July 30, 2009

Judging by a review I read in the New York Times, there is some danger of Christopher Caldwell’s _Reflections on the Revolution in Europe_ being taken more seriously by some Americans than earlier examples of the Europe-about-to-become-Muslim genre. Matt Carr, writing for the Institute of Race Relations, “provides some detailed rebuttal”: .

Politic religion, again

by John Quiggin on May 6, 2009

While the aesthetic defence of religion offered by Terry Eagleton might appeal to a small fraction of the intelligentsia, a far more common belief is that, regardless of truth value, religious belief makes people better citizens, and should therefore be encouraged.

Although this claim has various components, the most obvious social benefits of religious belief, and the biggest source of concern about the adverse consequences of unbelief, is the doctrine of an afterlife in which good actions will be rewarded and bad ones punished. Back in the 19th century, lots of people were really worried about this and, even in the 21st it’s a common theme in US discussions of religion.

But do we really need religion for this?

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Think Again

by John Holbo on May 5, 2009

Oh, I suppose Stanley Fish’s latest, “God Talk”, can do with its own CT comment thread.

There’s this bit, for example: [click to continue…]

Reading the Bible in Reading Time

by Harry on April 22, 2009

A story that circulates in some evangelical and homeschooling circles concerns a boy who was told, in a public elementary school, that he could not read the Bible during his free reading time. One version of the story has him being sent home. In some versions of the story (that have been told to me directly) the courts find in favour of the school. I’ve heard the story for quite a while, and assumed there was a grain of truth in it, but have never done the work to find the details (I assumed that the “sent home” version was embellishment, and that the “court finding for the school” bit was… well, at best remarkably ignorant of the law). But now I look for the story, I can’t find any version in what I regard as a reliable news source. Here is the Thomas More Law Center’s version of its own work, which must be true, surely. But google the boy’s name and you get lots of blog posts, but nothing from, for example, the Chicago Tribune, or AP, or.. (There’s the Catholic News Agency, which I might regard as reliable if it weren;t the only source). More mysteriously I’ve heard versions of the story for at least a decade, whereas this version seems very recent. I’m not the best googler or wikipedia user, but am surprised I haven’t found more. Do any readers know the true story?

Annals of Unfortunate Spellcheck Accidents

by Henry on April 7, 2009

From the “Chronicle”:

The student-newspaper staff at Brigham Young University removed some 18,500 copies of the paper from the campus yesterday, and reprinted nearly the entire press run, because an embarrassing typo in a front-page photo caption appeared to offend key leaders in the Mormon hierarchy…. The caption described a photograph illustrating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ General Conference, and it referred to the group’s “Quorum of Twelve Apostates” rather than “Apostles.” … A student had misspelled the word “apostle,” and the article’s editor chose the wrong word from among the options offered by spell-checking software.

Sockpuppeting your way into trouble

by Kieran Healy on March 6, 2009

This sort of puts Mary Rosh in the ha’penny place:

The son of a prominent Dead Sea Scrolls scholar was arrested on Thursday on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation, and aggravated harassment relating to a complex online campaign designed to smear opponents of his father’s theories. The Manhattan district attorney’s office alleged in a statement released on Thursday that Raphael Haim Golb, 49, son of Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and civilization at the University of Chicago, used dozens of Internet aliases to “influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls” and “harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars who disagree with his viewpoint.” …

The office contends that Mr. Golb impersonated and harassed Lawrence H. Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University and a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, by creating an e-mail account in Mr. Schiffman’s name and using it to send e-mail messages in which the sender admitted to plagiarism. Mr. Golb also allegedly supplemented that campaign to discredit Mr. Schiffman by sending letters to university personnel accusing Mr. Schiffman of plagiarism, and by creating blogs that made similar accusations. Two blogs, each with a single entry, accuse Mr. Schiffman of plagiarizing articles written by Norman Golb in the 1980s. …

Mr. Cargill began tracking the cyberbully—whom he calls the “Puppet Master”—two years ago after he himself was targeted. At the time, he was a doctoral student at UCLA helping to produce a film about Khirbet Qumran—the site in present-day Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered—and its inhabitants for an exhibit on the scrolls at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Mr. Cargill said it was then that the aliases began attacking him and his film, both in e-mail messages to his superiors and on various Web forums, for failing to give credence to Norman Golb’s long-held theory about the origin of the scrolls and how they came to Khirbet Qumran. Some scholars, including Mr. Schiffman and Mr. Cargill, believe that the 2,000-year-old documents were assembled by inhabitants of Qumran. Mr. Golb, however, holds that they originated in Jerusalem and were transported to Qumran later.

Risa Levitt Kohn, a professor of religious studies at San Diego State University who curated the San Diego show and several subsequent Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions, said she too has been “under regular attack” by Internet aliases since then, both in Web forums and in e-mail messages addressed to her superiors. “Sometimes the criticisms of me are straightforward and overt,” she told The Chronicle via e-mail, “and sometimes the letters appear reasonable but essentially demand that these individuals take note of previous exhibitions’ supposed ‘failings.’ Then they provide helpful suggestions to find solutions, almost always involving Norman Golb in one way or another.”

A number of other Dead Sea Scrolls scholars also said they have been harassed by mysterious Internet personas. Because the messages were written under aliases, they had little choice but to ignore them. “This person has posted horrible stuff about me online,” said Jodi Magness, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I don’t even look anymore, it makes me too upset.”

According to The NY Times, Golb Sr has commented, too:

Professor Golb said that opposing scholars had tried to quash his views over the years through tactics like barring him from Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions. He said he saw the criminal charges as another attack on his work. “Don’t you see how there was kind of a setup?” he said. “This was to hit me harder.”

Sounds like this might get both uglier and more entertaining in equal measure.

Mormon beefcake

by Henry on March 3, 2009

From the “Chronicle of Higher Education”:

Brigham Young University has rejected an appeal from a student who had completed all the requirements for a degree but saw his diploma withheld last year after he published Men on a Mission, a calendar of buff Mormon missionaries without shirts, the Associated Press reported.

The student, Chad Henry, was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the university, over the calendar last July. In September he was told that, to receive his degree, he would need to be reinstated as a member of the Mormon church.

Which reminds me that anyone who hasn’t read Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s wonderful account of how she “came to be excommunicated”: by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints really doesn’t know what they are missing.

I have acquired a copy of R. Wilmott’s English Sacred Poetry of The Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1861) for the Dalziel brothers engravings. Which I am moderately pleased with. The book itself is fantastic looking. Comically heavy-bound and smoky-dark object. Zoë (age 7) got to see the thing before I did and her reaction shows she understands me well: ‘Daddy is going to love this. It even has water damage.’

And now I would like to report that the book contains the single worst argument against atheism yet devised. I present “The Atheist and the Acorn”, by Anne, the Duchess of Winchelsea. Complete with an engraving of the young PZ Myers by H.S. Marks: [click to continue…]