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  • feedwordpress 09:01:18 on 2019/02/23 Permalink
    Tags: Brazil, , Crusades, Diocletian, Far Right, Hagia Sofia, , , , religion,   

    “History repeats itself, “the first as tragedy, then as farce”*… 


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    Brazil

    The First Mass in Brazil, by Victor Meirelles, oil on canvas, 1860

     

    On the day of Jair Bolsonaro‘s inauguration as president of Brazil, Felipe Martins, a political blogger close to the Bolsonaro family, tweeted his personal celebration of Bolsonaro’s victory: “The New Order is here. Everything is ours! Deus vult!

    Observers would be forgiven for wondering why “Deus vult”—Latin for “God wills it,” a medieval battle cry associated with the First Crusade—is reappearing in 21st-century Brazil. In recent years, the “Deus vult” line has been appropriated by the far right in Europe and the United States, and has now become a slogan for the far right in Brazil. Indeed, Martins had already explicitly linked this battle cry to the Crusades when he tweeted on the day of the second round of elections, “The new Crusade is decreed. Deus vult!” On January 3rd, Bolsonaro named Martins as presidential special adviser for international affairs.

    In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the new government and far-right groups are propagandizing a fictional version of the European Middle Ages, insisting that the period was uniformly white, patriarchal, and Christian. This reactionary revisionism presents Brazil as Portugal’s highest achievement, emphasizing a historical continuity that casts white Brazilians as the true heirs to Europe. In this way, through a genetic view of history, the far right frames Brazilian history as essentially linked to Portugal’s own imaginarily pure medieval past…

    In Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the new government and far-right groups are propagandizing a fictional version of the European Middle Ages to legitimize their reactionary agenda: “Why the Brazilian Far Right Loves the European Middle Ages.”

    * Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

    ###

    As we resist (opportunistic) revisionism, we might recall that it was on this date in 303 that Roman emperor Diocletian orders the destruction of the Christian church in Nicomedia, beginning eight years of Diocletianic Persecution, the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.

    800px-Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Christian_Martyrs'_Last_Prayer_-_Walters_37113

    “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer,” by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)

    source

    230 years later, on this date in 532, Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the building of a new Orthodox Christian basilica in Constantinople – the temple that became the  Hagia Sophia.

    220px-Hagia_Sophia_Mars_2013 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:49 on 2018/12/08 Permalink
    Tags: Adam and Eve, , , Immaculate Conception, Original Sin, , religion, The Fall, , , Virgin Mary   

    “There’s no such thing as an original sin”*… 


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    adam_and_eve

    Paradise, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

    Still…

    … The philosophical ideas behind the concept of Original Sin were explored in detail by St Augustine, developing the seminal thinking of St Paul, who saw Original Sin as a concept of radical equality; that no one speaks from a position of strength. All are flawed and when mankind seeks perfection, it is setting itself up, literally, for a fall.

    Though fundamental to Christianity, the concept survived the Enlightenment, despite Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s argument that man was born innocent. The rationalist philosopher Immanuel Kant, for example, wrote of the ‘crooked timber of humanity’. Two centuries later, Sigmund Freud offered a secular version of Original Sin, tracing the  dark forces that lurk within the subconscious. Original Sin is a tenacious idea…

    The fall of humankind and the concept of Original Sin: “Adam and Eve.”

    Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met  – Fran Lebowitz

    * Elvis Costello, “I’m Not Angry”

    ###

    As we sort out sin, we might recall that today is The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a solemn celebration in some form in most Christian faiths, of belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

    290px-Rizi-inmaculada

    Mary’s holy and immaculate conception, by Francisco Rizi

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2018/10/29 Permalink
    Tags: advertisements, , , , , , , religion, ,   

    “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”*… 


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    Food

    Food regularly plays a role in religious life, in forms that range from communion wine to Kahlua cheesecake…

    A sampling of 34 cloistered comestibles: “A Guide of Heavenly Cuisine.”

    * Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

    ###

    As we devour with devotion, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that the first “Got Milk?” ad premiered.  Created by the advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board, it  was later licensed for use by milk processors and dairy farmers nationwide.  The campaign launched with the now-famous “Aaron Burr” television commercial, directed by Michael Bay.

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:48 on 2018/10/21 Permalink
    Tags: catholic Church, Catholics, Evangelicals, , , , Protestant Reformation, religion, Religious Right, ,   

    “The real novelty of our own time is not the prominence of the religious Right but the silence of the religious Left”*… 


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    idea_sized-touchdown_jesus_at_notre_dame

    “The Word of Life” mural, otherwise known as the “Touchdown Jesus,” at the Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame University

     

    Catholics make up a disproportionate share of the intelligentsia of the religious Right in the United States. Although they constitute only a fifth of the US population (and white Catholics make up less than 12 per cent of the US population), they maintain a high profile among conservative think tanks, universities and professional organisations. On the US Supreme Court, four out of five Republican-appointed justices are Catholic, despite evangelicals making up a substantial portion of Republican Party support.

    To understand Catholic overrepresentation on the US Supreme Court, and how Catholics in some sense became the brains of American conservatism, we must look to the history of Catholic education in the US…

    When evangelicals mobilised politically in the 1970s and declared a ‘culture war’ against the menace of secularism, they put aside their longstanding anti-Catholicism and reached out to Catholic conservatives. Catholics proved to be perfect partners. Unlike evangelicals, conservative Catholics could draw on research universities, law schools, medical schools, business schools and other intellectual-producing institutions in the fight against secularism. Evangelicals’ suspicion of higher education since at least the days of the 1925 Scopes trial over teaching evolution meant that they had built few institutions of higher learning. Their bible colleges and seminaries were meant to create believers and converts, not intellectuals.  Evangelical law schools and PhD programmes remain extremely rare in the US. Ironically, a tradition so devoted to spreading literacy saw too much learning as a potential danger…

    Catholic intellectual life in the US is not solely conservative, and Catholic conservatism sometimes cuts across the Left-Right divide in the US (on immigration and the death penalty, for example). But it remains the case that Catholic intellectuals are overrepresented in the US conservative movement. By virtue of their 19th-century separationist anxieties and their investment in institutions of higher learning, Catholics have become the brains of the religious Right in the US…

    How the Catholic Church became the intellectual engine of the religious Right: “Evangelicals bring the votes, Catholics bring the brains.”

    * Alec Ryrie, Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World

    ###

    As we ruminate on religion, we might recall that it was on this date 1512 that Martin Luther joined the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg… where, five years later, he wrote his famous Ninety-five Thesesand launched the Protestant Reformation.

    Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_Monk source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:21 on 2018/09/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Niles Eldridge, , punctuated equlibrium, religion, , Stephen J. Gould,   

    “We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies”*… 


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    http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.00267

    Methodist Camp Meeting, early 19th century. Source: Library of Congress

    The contrast between the cold logic of science and the emotionality of religion is a seemingly unshakable binary today. But back in the early nineteenth century, people saw things very differently. Historian Jeffrey A. Mullins examines the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s.

    At that time, Mullins writes, Americans did not see science and religion as opposites. Instead, they were “two aspects of the same universal truth.” And that truth was not based in pure logic. Emotions were a key to human behavior, and controlling and channeling emotions was a job for scientifically- and morally-grounded experts.

    This perspective led to a wealth of reformist interventions, from Sunday schools to penitentiaries to graham crackers. Preachers who led religious revivals around the country in the 1830s saw the need for a highly engineered emotional experience…

    During the Second Great Awakening of 1830, science and religion were seen as “two aspects of the same universal truth”: “When Science and Religion Were Connected.”

    * “We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies, intriguing us in opposite directions. But this effort at special identity is loudly false. It is not religion but the church and science that were hostile to each other. And it was rivalry, not contravention. Both were religious. They were two giants fuming at each other over the same ground. Both proclaimed to be the only way to divine revelation” — Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

    ###

    As we puzzle over perspective, we might send dynamically-evolved birthday greetings to Stephen Jay Gould; he was born on this date in 1941.  One of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science in his generation (e.g., Ever Since Darwin, The Panda’s Thumb), Gould was a highly-respected academic paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science.  With Niles Eldridge, he developed the theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” an explanation of evolution that suggests (in contrast with the gradualism that was prevalent until then) that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which are interrupted– “punctuated”– by rare instances of branching evolution (c.f., the Burgess Shale).

    Scientists have power by virtue of the respect commanded by the discipline… We live with poets and politicians, preachers and philosophers. All have their ways of knowing, and all are valid in their proper domain. The world is too complex and interesting for one way to hold all the answers.

    Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:53 on 2018/05/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Lucifer, religion, , , ,   

    “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization”*… 


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    The phrase confuses me. I was born in California. My mom was born in New York. “Go back where you came from.” Um, okay. I mean, I was headed home anyways. My house is just a few blocks away.

    I grew up in a mostly non-Asian city, so I used to hear the phrase sometimes. Kids like to pick on the one who looks a little different. But these days, when I hear an adult say it to another adult, it catches me off guard. It doesn’t make sense.

    You traverse an American’s family tree, and eventually you find an immigrant. And most of the time, you don’t have to go back that far.

    So … what if everyone went back where they came from?

    Find at at Nathan Yau‘s “If We All Left to ‘Go Back Where We Came From’.”

    * Gandhi (who also observed, “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.”)

    ###

    As we stir the melting pot, we might recall that today is the Feast Day of  Lucifer– more properly, of St. Lucifer of Caligari.  At least, it’s his feast day in Sardinia, where he’s venerated.  Lucifer, who was a 4th century bishop fierce in his opposition to Arianism, is considered by some elsewhere to have been a stalwart (if minor) defender of the orthodoxy; but by more to have been an obnoxious fanatic.

    “Lucifer” was in use at the time as a translation of the the Hebrew word, transliterated Hêlêl or Heylel (pron. as HAY-lale), which means “shining one, light-bearer.”  It had been rendered in Greek as ἑωσφόρος (heōsphoros), a name, literally “bringer of dawn,” for the morning star.  The name “Lucifer” was introduced in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, roughly contemporaneously with St. Lucifer.  But the positive spin of Lucifer of Caligari’s name was, even in it’s day, in tension with the received idea of “Lucifer”; the conflation of “Lucifer” with an altogether evil “Satan” had begun centuries earlier.

    Indeed, Satan had undergone a pretty profound transition: “Satan” is from a Hebrew word, “Saithan,” meaning adversary or enemy; in original Jewish usage (see the book of Job); but Satan is the adversary, not of God, but of mankind; i.e., the angel charged by God with the task of proving mankind an unworthy creation.  Thus Satan was originally not in opposition to God, but doing His will.

    Later– during the Second Temple Period, when Jews were living in the Achaemenid Empire, and Judaism was heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism— the concept of an evil power ruling an underground domain of punishment for the wicked became fixed in doctrine (mirroring Angra Mainyu, the Zoroastrian god of evil, darkness, and ignorance).  Over time, elements of the Graeco-Roman god Pluto/Vulcan/Hephaestus, the Underworld, & various aspects of Nordic/Teutonic mythology also made their way into the Jewish, then Christian, understandings of Satan and his realm.

    St. Lucifer of Calgari

    source

    Satan doing God’s work: The Examination of Job (c. 1821) by William Blake

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:32 on 2018/04/26 Permalink
    Tags: ethnic groups, , , , religion, religion in the US, ,   

    “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”*… 


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    America, they say, is a melting pot. This map, put together by Redditor delugetheory, ​lets us see where the melting begins and ends. Turns out it’s a melting pot of white Catholics and Protestants, mostly.

    The map gives us a lot of insight into concentrations of religious groups around the country. The mainline Protestant population is mostly contained in the upper Midwest, while evangelical Protestants spread into the Pacific Northwest and the South. The Mormon states are pretty predictable, but the split between Mormonism and Catholicism in the Native American population in Arizona is an interesting quirk…

    For more background– and a larger version of the map– visit “The Dominant Ethnic And Religious Groups In The United States, Mapped By County.”

    * John Milton, Paradise Lost

    ###

    As we say our prayers, we might send self-abnegating birthday greetings to Marcus Aurelius (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus); he was born on this date in 121. Roman emperor from 161 to 180, he was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors.

    He is perhaps as well remembered as a practitioner of Stoicism.  His untitled writing, commonly known as the Meditations, is a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy and is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of philosophy.

    A detail from the Statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Musei Capitolini in Rome

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:38 on 2017/09/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Lagos, , megachurches, , , , religion,   

    “I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State… These two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death”*… 


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    The Redeemed Christian Church of God’s international headquarters in Ogun state has been transformed from a mere megachurch to an entire neighbourhood, with departments anticipating its members’ every practical as well as spiritual need.

    A 25-megawatt power plant with gas piped in from the Nigerian capital serves the 5,000 private homes on site, 500 of them built by the church’s construction company. New housing estates are springing up every few months where thick palm forests grew just a few years ago. Education is provided, from creche to university level. The Redemption Camp health centre has an emergency unit and a maternity ward.

    On Holiness Avenue, a branch of Tantaliser’s fast food chain does a brisk trade. There is an on-site post office, a supermarket, a dozen banks, furniture makers and mechanics’ workshops. An aerodrome and a polytechnic are in the works.

    And in case the children get bored, there is a funfair with a ferris wheel…

    In Nigeria, the line between church and city is rapidly vanishing: “Eat, pray, live: the Lagos megachurches building their very own cities.”

    * George Carlin

    ###

    As we re-read Max Weber, we might recall that it was on this date in 1545 that Renaissance writer, physician, humanist, monk, and Greek scholar François Rabelais received the permission of King François I to publish the Gargantua series– Gargantua and Pantagruel as we know it.  In fact, Rabelais’ wild mix of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes, and songs had been circulating pseudonymously for years.  The censors of the Collège de la Sorbonne stigmatized it as obscene; and in a social climate of increasing religious oppression in a lead up to the French Wars of Religion, it had been treated with suspicion.

    Rabelais wrote at a time of great ferment in the French language, and contributed mightily to it– both in coinage and in usage.  But his influence was even broader (Tristram Shandy, e.g., is full of quotes from Rabelais) and continues to this day via writers including Milan Kundera, Robertson Davies, and Kenzaburō Ōe.

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:47 on 2017/09/10 Permalink
    Tags: benefices, , church, Council of Agde, faith, , religion, ,   

    “The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven not man’s”*… 


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    The American religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation. White Christians, once the dominant religious group in the U.S., now account for fewer than half of all adults living in the country. Today, fewer than half of all states are majority white Christian. As recently as 2007, 39 states had majority white Christian populations. These are two of the major findings from this report, which is based on findings from PRRI’s 2016 American Values Atlas, the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted…

    From the non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian Public Religion Research Institute, a fascinating– and illuminating– report on the state of the sacred in the United States: “America’s Changing Religious Identity.”

    [TotH to @timoreilly]

    * Mark Twain

    ###

    As we direct our prayers, we might recall that it was on this date in 506 that the Council of Agde ended at the  the Basilica of St. Andrew ( in the Hérault , in Languedoc-Roussillon in France).  A gathering of Bishops from across the Visigothic Kingdom (roughly, Southwestern France and much of Spain), it issued 47 canons.  One forbade ecclesiastics to sell or alienate the property of the church whence they drew their living, and seems to be the earliest indication of the later system of benefices.  Another banned marriage between first and second cousins.

    The Basilica of St. Andrew today

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:14 on 2017/09/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , religion, , , Tommaso Campanella,   

    “Religion is like a pair of shoes… Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes”*… 


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    Procession of the Catholic Holy League on the Place de Grève, Paris, 1590-3 (oil on canvas). Such displays of intolerance became increasingly rare with the advent of the modern European state. [source]

    Religious freedom has become an emblematic value in the West. Embedded in constitutions and championed by politicians and thinkers across the political spectrum, it is to many an absolute value, something beyond question. Yet how it emerged, and why, remains widely misunderstood.

    According to the conventional narrative, freedom of religion arose in the West in the wake of devastating wars fought over religion. It was catalysed by powerful arguments from thinkers such as John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle and Voltaire. These philosophers and political theorists responded to the brutality of the religious wars with support for radical notions of toleration and religious freedom. Their liberal ideals then became embedded in the political institutions of the West, following the American and French Revolutions.

    In broad outline, such is the account accepted by most political philosophers and social scientists. But the evidence does not support this emphasis on the power of ideas in shaping the rise of religious freedom, and underestimates the decisive role played by institutions…

    Ideas were not enough to realise religious freedom. Crucially, it took political and institutional changes – specifically, the growth and strengthening of the ability of states to create and enforce rules – to make religious freedom in the West possible and appealing. It wasn’t the ideas of Bayle or Spinoza or Locke driving the rise of state power, it was the need to raise resources for governing and war. For the rising fiscal-military state, religious uniformity and persecution simply became too expensive and inefficient…

    The first change was the transformation in the scale of European states. In the late Middle Ages, medieval rulers began to invest in building administrative capacity and to raise taxes more regularly. The most dramatic developments, however, occurred after 1500, as a result of developments in military technology that historians label the Military Revolution. This continent-wide arms race, brought on by the development of gunpowder, forced rulers to invest in greater fiscal and administrative capacity.

    To pay for larger armies, new taxes had to be raised and a permanent system of government borrowing established. Moreover, there was a shift away from ad hoc, feudal and decentralised tax systems, and a move towards standardisation and centralisation. Rather than relying upon tax farmers, the church or merchant companies to raise taxes on their behalf, rulers invested in vast bureaucracies to do it directly. It was the only way they could pay for their ever-growing armies…

    Economic changes complemented the rise of religious freedom, most notably the onset of modern economic growth. As in the Jewish example, greater freedom allowed religious minorities to flourish. French Protestants expelled by Louis XIV brought with them advanced skills and industrial expertise to England, the Netherlands and Prussia. In Industrial Revolution Britain, Quakers and other religious dissenters were overrepresented among businessmen, entrepreneurs and innovators.

    The indirect consequences of moving from identity rules to general rules were even more important. Identity rules had limited the scope of trade and the division of labour. As these identity rules were removed – as guilds lost authority, and cities and lords lost their ability to charge internal tariffs – trade and commerce expanded.

    The growth of trade, in turn, reinforced the trend towards liberalism. Trade, as Enlightenment thinkers such as Montesquieu argued, encouraged individuals to see the world through the positive-sum lens of mutual beneficial interaction rather than through the zero-sum lens of conflict. Religious freedom began to seem less like a recipe for social disorder and civil war, and more like a win-win proposition…

    The history of how religious freedom came to be is a reminder that commitment to liberal values alone is not enough for liberalism to flourish. It requires a suitable political and economic foundation. As the experience of 1930s Germany suggests, religious persecution can quickly re-emerge. We cannot rely on liberal ideas alone to be effective. If we value religious freedom, and other achievements of liberalism, we must look to the vitality of their institutional foundations.

    This fascinating essay in its entirety at: “Ideas were not enough.” (Note earlier examples of of religious freedom as both a tool and a result of statecraft, e.g., Genghis Khan’s building of the Mongol Empire.)

    * George Carlin

    ###

    As we celebrate diversity, we might send free-thinking birthday greetings to Tommaso Campanella; he was born on this date in 1568.  A Dominican friar, philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet, he was an early empiricist and a vocal critic of the Aristotelian orthodoxy (indeed, he wrote and published a defense of Galileo during the great astronomer’s ecclesiastical trial).  For his heterodoxy, he was denounced to the Inquisition and imprisoned.

     source

     

     
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