14 September, 2015

Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, Part II

I've seen this and similar articles and can't help but feel they are an attempt to once again shore up the murders committed by terrorists; they are, inevitably, accompanied by mockery of the 'je suis Charlie Hebdo' campaign, which had the gall to condemn murders conducted in response to the depiction of Mohammed and general irreverence towards a religion. Those murders and the hand-wringing attempts to justify them remain crass and brutal and idiotic.

Whether intentionally or through outright stupidity - frankly given how consistently the cartoons are misrepresented I suspect it's cynical and deliberate - these articles are missing the point. Charlie Hebdo is mocking capitalism and Christianity - two planks of western civilisation - for failing refugees. The first cartoon is about our own hedonism, represented in the body of an obvious McDonald's parody, and the empty promise of salvation it offers; while we know plenty in garish and grotesque amounts we allow a child to drown, unnecessarily. The second - explicitly about Jesus walking on water while Muslims drown - is about Hungary and Slovakia, who have both very publicly and openly been willing to discriminate against refugees if they happen to be Muslim, and the EU generally, given its lacklustre response to the crisis and the bigoted attitudes commonly displayed towards Muslim refugees.

They are both very striking cartoons, and both very harshly expose our hypocrisy and immorality - we have so much yet pretend we cannot afford to stop a little boy from drowning, we have ostensibly Christian values and yet try to say those values dictate we cannot save lives if they belong to Muslims, that our morality tells us protecting our culture from an imagined threat is more important than human lives. Charlie Hebdo is not mocking Aylan Kurdi, but mocking our indifference to the death of so many people, including him. The one image, the only picture which seems to have gotten through to anyone in Europe that we are failing human beings is the one showing Aylan Kurdi lying dead in the surf, and yet when anyone shows us this image, when anyone talks about how he would still be alive were it not for our limp and pathetic xenophobia and penny pinching, we are stupid and banal enough to call it exploitative.

Charlie Hebdo has always been extremely supportive of refugees, and has never shied away from showing us what their struggles are: it has always been frank about the human cost of our indifference. As in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, where deliberately provocative images that appeared in Charlie Hebdo - which condemned the attitudes and beliefs of racists and xenophobes by showing us nakedly what those are - the cartoons are cast in the opposite light of the point being made. Articles like these are capitalising on the lack of awareness of British and Americans for the purpose of supporting the murders of cartoonists.

Meanwhile, the central point of these cartoons remains true, and that truth is that before we saw Aylan Kurdi lying dead in the sand we hated him, and the truth is that many still do. How weak do we believe our culture to be that we think innocent people, innocent children, need to die to preserve it? But sure, get cross at a magazine for pointing that out bluntly, instead.

-The Rev. Schmitt., FCD.

27 August, 2015

A Catholic agrees with the Pope, who is a Catholic

A very important news article finds that a Catholic is Catholic.

'Perhaps we should de-politicize human sexuality', he said, 'by abandoning women's health to uncertainty and privation for political reasons'. 

Literally every claim here is the most beautiful ever made. Corporations are a fiction designed to prevent individual shareholders and owners from being personally liable for the misadventures of the company; as a convenience for legal proceedings. There are dramatically important reasons to protect an individual's religious freedom and the freedom of religious organisations - from the public utility to the individual sacredness of freedom of thought - but these considerations simply do not extend to the legal fiction of a for profit business. The instrument of a company already funds that which is against owners' morals through other taxes - and what is ACA other than a tax system to directly support employees' healthcare insurance through their employer - and we regularly suborn religious practices to the public and individual good. Jehovah's witnesses have no right to refuse blood transfusions for their children, no one has a right to refuse to provide basic healthcare, food, and shelter for their dependents, businesses are unable to dictate how their employees' wages are spent unless it personally offends Catholics sitting on the SCOTUS, etc. Freedom of thought and worship does not mean freedom from the basic administrative functions of civil society a public has designed through its government for the common good. The SCOTUS' argument is a nonsense, which they literally acknowledge in the decision: the distinction between contraception and blood transfusions, medical treatments that include pork-derived materials and psychological medication is that none of the latter religious objections derive from the mainstream American Christian belief set which, say, a given handful of rich white old Americans would hold. When an appeals court explicitly pleads in a ruling that its reasoning should not be used as a precedent or its logic be applied to anything else it is not a terribly good sign in even their confidence in it.

The fiscal arguments against universal and free access to contraception - the 'burden' of providing it - are absurd. No social democracy should or would allow children - who are innocent of the crimes, or ignorance, or irresponsibility, or forlorn hopes, or poor fortune of their parents - starve and suffer where there exists enough capital to prevent it. Freely available contraception reduces the number of single parents and the number of children supported through welfare; the cost of contraception is minuscule compared to the cost of supporting a struggling family. It is a nonsense to suggest that poor women - those most likely to abort foetuses - are able to afford contraception; for some women condoms are not an option - and can be expensive and difficult to acquire and use safely anyway - relying on a man to use condoms safely can be a very reliable method of ensuring an unplanned pregnancy or STI transmission, for some women other forms of contraception are non-viable or extremely difficult to implement reliably (they may be allergic to spermicides, have severe reaction to IUDs or the pill, etc.,) and so more expensive or multiple options must be considered. Noticing this as a woman is enough to be called a 'slut'
 in political discourse, never mind the fact that such costs have
 nothing to do with the amount of sex, let alone sexual partners, one is enjoying. There are an enormous wealth of reasons why the US has a much higher rate of single parenthood than the rest of the first world, although they can be summarised bluntly: poverty, a lack of political drive for (and frequent political opposition to)  competent education and a lack of universal access to basic medical care. Assuming Americans are uniquely, innately stupid is not one of those reasons, and desiring to be less like nations which have had immense success in handling the issue is actively opposing solutions to the issue.

Opposition to contraception turns arguments against abortion on their head, since such beliefs and practices actively promote it. The dramatic drop in abortion rates even America has enjoyed is one of the many boons of an albeit slow and imperfect unfettering of women from a Luddite and brutish understanding of and attitude towards their reproductive cycles and increasing acknowledgement of their equality as people. As education on human reproduction improves - as local religious and social restrictions on teaching children about contraception have gradually dissipated, as legislation (and community restrictions) on contraception and abortion drop away, as access to such things develops, then living conditions improve, children die less frequently and the harshest effects of poverty are alleviated. Empowering women actually has a huge number of benefits for society, unsurprisingly.

But the teachings of the Church are immune to such critiques, since they hold that contraception is itself an evil to rival both abortion and the unnecessary deaths of children, which has about as much to do with moral philosophy as opposed to intentionally segregating tribal beliefs as female genital mutilation and circumcision. Indeed we are left with the self-parody of the largest organisation of celibate virgins on the planet talking down to the rest of society, telling us that to fail to multiply is selfish.

The paucity of the supposed theological complaint against contraception is demonstrated by the repeated suggestions of numerous popes, for whom the mere fact that they have said it is against 'God's design' is enough to demonstrate that it is (except for one, who in a flash of inspiration and in an off hand comment that could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives if made several decades earlier noticed that an HIV infected prostitute wearing a condom during sex is acting more morally responsible than one who does not).

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

It is facile. To rage against contraception as contravening God's plan is no different to complaining about lightning rods on churches diverting lightning (a contemporaneous objection raised against Benjamin Franklin's development of them), or roofs on churches to keep out rain (a witticism apocryphally attributed to Franklin in response), or using medicine to prolong the lives of those afflicted by disease, age, or for instance to save a newborn struggling from any one of a myriad number of common complications during childbirth, which are, for want of a better word, completely natural and a result of the evolutionary baggage of our own bodies. To suggest something is contrary to God's design because it is a product of the human mind is an entirely artificial pseudo-rage against a piece of technology, strategy or system, a veneer raised in lieu of an argument. Condoms are simply not logically distinct from using the rhythm method; both employ the ingenuity of the human will to greatly mitigate the risk of pregnancy during coitus, one merely has a much higher success rate. No Catholic teaching has ever explained, meaningfully and morally, the difference, and as one does not exist they never will. Instead, they stamp their feet and declare it is so, because they have said it is so. Such is their capacity for persuasion.

Indeed it is difficult to parse what it could possibly mean for us to be able to frustrate God's will or design in such matters: it casts God as actively evil minded but weak, determined to make us suffer and bend in some ways, to seek to limit our will in a completely arbitrary, illogical fashion, to restrict our capacity to express our love relationships, all for completely ineffable purposes. It sees God as someone whose heart is so hardened that we will be cast away if we fail to have sex with each other in the prescribed manner: not in terms of the love between us, the compassion and the intense emotional and physical bond and the tenderness we share in such moments - it is very strange to read virgins attempting to capture such emotions in their clammy writings - but in the precise way in which we confound our fecundity while we do it. Such machinations in his profound, infinitely clever design, in his will, are apparently baffled by a rubber sheath. There is little to respect here. The richness of the world and our capacity for decency, and life, and love, should not be sacrificed to esteem such silliness, and there is no other word for it. It's silly.

I can, however, evince more meaningful reasons for why the church teaches that contraception is evil: the fact that restricting the capacity of women to choose the manner and timing of their procreating is an exceptionally effective barrier to a society dragging its way out of poverty is a boon. It keeps societies, communities and individuals nestled in the arms of the church, which remains ever so pleased with its hold over millions of poor and uneducated, those it talks to in a completely different way than when it talks to industrialised nations - where a majority of Catholics may actually use or agree to the public funding of condoms - because, a less charitable soul than myself may suggest, the Vatican remains more than willing to suborn morality to political and financial interests.

When a Christian Scientist tries to prevent their child from obtaining basic medical treatment we overrule them, and in both the UK and the US, the taxes of Christian Scientists taxes pay for medical treatment through the NHS and medicaid, CHIP etc. When creationists attempt to get their nonsense taught in science classes we overrule them, and in both the US and the UK, the taxes of creationists fund biology, astronomy, geology and other science lessons which directly and fundamentally contradict their sometimes sincerely held beliefs. The providing of free contraception is an enormous boon to a society, it reduces the need for abortion, reduces the number of teen pregnancies, reduces the number of single parents, grants women and couples the opportunity to plan their lives and careers beyond their bodies, and ultimately saves the public money.  I do not particularly care that individuals believe their rights are being infringed by having to contribute to good civil society anymore than I care that the tax denial movement believes its rights are being stripped because they have to pay taxes. It simply fails to be a response but is a whine offered instead of one. They feel they do not have to contribute to the civil good because they believe it is wrong for them to do so, and this demands examination; but upon examination these beliefs are wicked and absurd. We are therefore under no obligation to kneel to them.

For some  people, the fact that there is usually a sexual component involved with using contraceptive methods - although there are frequently additional health benefits; for instance the recombinant human papillomavirus vaccine dramatically lowers the risk of cervical cancer in young women and the pill can help control painful menstrual flows - immediately causes a moral panic. In such a panic they presumably forget the suffering of an unwanted child, they abandon the reason involved in calculating the worse evil. Except the Vatican, of course, whose personal happiness is presumably enriched by condemning human sexuality and reveling in the misery of abused and neglected children. But paying for contraception is not paying people to have sex, because they will do it anyway; it is paying so that we do not have to pay the moral and financial costs of unwanted childbirth, disease and medical complication. The results of unplanned pregnancies are less pleasant than of people having sex without physical repercussions: more children growing up knowing hardship, suffering, broken homes and what it means to be unwanted and burdensome. 

-The Rev. Schmitt., FCD.

25 January, 2015

Je Suis Charlie Hebdo

The vision I have of the world I want to live in includes a huge amount of ideas, a perpetual battle of words, the vast majority of which I am going to find at least wrong and often morally unpalatable, but which ultimately are going to lose, because I live in a liberal democracy and the best ideas will win. So often politicians and journalists scramble to blame the victims for the acts of violence committed against them, which helps to pour ice into a chilling effect far beyond the handful of people targeted and hurt and killed directly. Even now, despite the march (which helpfully included amongst its number numerous despots who have whittled or crushed the right to object), the banners, the demonstrations, there's a willingness to mutter about irresponsible use of free speech, of somehow abusing it from all sorts of quarters. We are told to respect the religious beliefs of others and we are told that we are provoking violence when we do not.

I find it a struggle to heap anything but scorn and mockery on, for instance, a man who has never known romance yet professes the belief that gay marriage threatens traditional families; who has as much respect for gay families as I do for bigots. Such posturing about how we should love ideas no matter how harebrained or dangerous or horrific they may be gets us nowhere; certainly the sort of people who speak about the inherent dignity of belief lack any such restraint and tolerance themselves. When we are diametrically opposed to a value or a belief or an epistemology then feigning respect under threat of violence is to palm off one's own rights and values through fear. I love people. Occasionally the things they say and do and believe are very evil indeed. Sometimes, as a salve for one's soul, or a hope for positive change in people's attitudes and beliefs, it is right and proper to ridicule such wickedness because it is so paltry and obtuse.

It is easy enough to shrug one's shoulders, perhaps, dismissing the satire of Charlie Hebdo as moving so far beyond the realms of good taste - or of tackling easy targets, for instance - that the crimes of the murderers are contextualised away or spoken of in a sympathetic, understanding tone. It is some fringe, brutish rag - who cares. It is easy enough, perhaps, to dismiss acts of murder as being provoked when some bigoted pastor who burns a holy book or a wally who makes a goofy and incoherent Youtube video are threatened and people assault and kill innocents in imagined retaliation, save some lip-service about how sad it was that those guiltless in the creation of the works were targeted. But it seems not to matter how noble your message, how savage or how mild your criticism, how tongue in cheek the insult, how accurate the point, or how dumb and silly and irrelevant your script for the accusation of provocation to be leveled - so how much do we cede on this front? Do we shrug our shoulders when it's Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, a poignant, beautiful book about the strains of conflicting pressures on immigrants, in response to which the Ayatollah Khomeini - who we know had not even read the book - issued a fatwa, in due course of which at least one man - whose supposed crime was to translate the book into Japanese - was murdered? Do we shrug our shoulders when Theo van Gogh is murdered for creating a film about the violence enacted against and oppression of women in certain Muslim communities? Do we capitulate when it is a group of cartoonists living in fear of their life, when one is attacked in their home, when Dutch embassies are assaulted and burned, for engaging in parody and satire? The heads of nations call upon diplomats to apologise for violence enacted by their citizens, for the violation of the sanctity of embassies over the freedom of speech and of thought and of religion which in all other realms we rightly cherish so highly. The murderers who struck Charlie Hebdo were not incited to such violence by cartoons any more than Charles Manson was incited by the Beatles, nor more than journalists faithfully reporting on the Kent State shootings or the gunning down of unarmed black people by police officers should be held responsible for protesters erupting into violence. Murderous thugs are not rabid dogs unleashed by cartoons - no matter how zealously they may hold to their faith - but human beings with their own moral sense, however corrupt, violent, short-sighted and ignorant it may be.

Irreverence and mockery and meanness towards ideas and people and ideologies are part of the tapestry of the world I want to live in, even when it's misplaced, and wrong ideas should be fought solely with right ones because all knowledge is, in principle, tentative; no matter how passionately we believe, how strongly we feel, we could be wrong. Such an understanding hardly precludes us from conclusions - testing them is how we become more confident in them - but does mean that those who disagree with us should not be barred from having a voice, even if it is self-published, even if it has to be fought to be heard, even if it is socially and academically marginalised. The distinction between deliberately angering people and inciting violence is paramount - sometimes we should be made angry, sometimes it is powerful to make a point crudely, and we should be and we should feel free to spark such emotions because of the huge potential for positive change when we are made to view ourselves through other filters. It is not and should not be a crime worthy of death for a person to make a gesture of rudeness and meanness towards people and beliefs and books that they disagree with. This is everything this civilisation has become and every right and individual power this civilisation needs to flourish, the wellspring from which everything valuable about our culture flows, and rationalising away that knowledge because it is easy to dismiss the target of such opprobrium turned violent seems exceptionally myopic. I think it is right to stand shoulder to shoulder with Charlie Hebdo not necessarily because of the content of what they have said but because, and excuse a cliche here, their right to say it without fear is everything that makes us great.

I appreciate attempts, such as this, in the wake of the shootings, and the inevitable outpouring of violence against Muslims from bigots, to raise focus on different cruelties and horrors. And we must not forget them, or allow our hearts to harden against them out of simplistic nationalism or racism and visceral reaction to an attack on what feels like our home turf - yet so often it is an excuse for a tu quoque. The central problem of victim-blaming remains.

I am not terribly comfortable with what feels distinctly like an abstracting of terrorism away from what it is and does. There is a treatment that it is a grand coincidence that cartoonists were targeted - were marched out, name by name, and then shot - and that we should instead consider the act in terms of imperialism and colonialism and war. The attack was not about free speech, we are told, at the same time that it is pointed out that Charlie Hebdo's caricatures tend to be problematic at best (and falsely told that they are part of the forces which subjugate immigrants). The tendency to agree with the justifications offered by mass murderers is, to put it mildly, somewhat sinister. It is to accept the pro-offered and absurd suggestion that we are part of a war of cultures, where western civilisation faces down Islam. The magazine attacked had no arms, threatened no lives, took no hostages, invaded no nations, is not even a standard bearer for such things - Charlie Hebdo is anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-war - and so such posturing falls rather flat. The mosques which are attacked in supposed retaliation for the murders have no arms, threaten no lives, took no hostages, invaded no nations, frequently, publicly, stand against such things - although it hardly matters if they do not - and both mosques and juvenile comics are part of the tapestry of our nations.

When a skinhead burns down a mosque, when a government enacts some backwoods law banning non-existent minarets, or some petty law barring some aspect of freedom of expression and religion, when a Sikh man is assaulted and abused because a turban is sufficiently foreign looking to the sort of person who does such things should we give in to the same inclination to say, well, come on now, look at the context - look at the horrors enacted in those nations, those theocracies where Islam has temporal power, where violence is enacted by Muslims against other Muslims, against former Muslims, against religious minorities. I'm not justifying the violence of the bigot, oh no, just providing some context, some understanding of why violent awful people do violent awful things, by telling you how they justify it. Here is the context, the understanding of such arguments: it is the same banal, absurd tribalism, the same belief in collective guilt and collective punishment required to conduct such atrocities in the first place. 

Imperialism and colonialism are dread evils which have fractured societies, ruptured and pooled power into the hands of cruel and stupid dictators and stolen the wealth of entire peoples. Also, some men with guns shot some cartoonists in Paris the other day because they were really rude about Islam.

None should have to apologise for acts supposedly conducted in the name of their belief or ideology; we are not our brother's keeper. Pretending otherwise gets us to absurdities fast: are we to suppose all of Islam is somehow represented by the Kouachi brothers on that day or by Mssrs. Bathily and Merabet? It seems so banal, so obvious, and yet proves necessary to point out: how Islam is practised and understood differs dramatically from Turkey to Pakistan to Iran to Kosovo to Indonesia to New York to the West Midlands to Paris, and within these communities there is dramatic variation, even where it is not legally permitted. Islam is not a monolith (although the worst elements in Islamic traditions desperately try to portray it that way, or enforce it under threat of violence and imprisonment) and the tendency to paint it in that fashion is not racism - should not be conflated with racism - but frequently tends into outright bigotry. A massive level of sophistication is warranted when speaking of a billion and a half people with such a ridiculously broad array of beliefs. Charlie Hebdo frequently fights on the side of angels - has frequently existed to mock the worst racial prejudices and facile anti-immigrant arguments of the far right; they have stood against oppression irrespective of whether it has been against immigration in their own country or against Palestinians in Gaza (their cartoons have been widely misrepresented in some Anglo outlets, see here and here for discussions of this) - yet, the criticism that the caricatures of Muslims remain racially charged holds water; they're shocking, they tap into racial prejudices and ideas as a shorthand in the way comics frequently do, and such a thing is problematic and troubling. But this notion that criticisms of Islam and Muslims are unnecessary or cowardly and are 'punching down' because French Muslims are a marginalised minority is hokum. Again, the idea rapidly gets us to absurdity: when protests against Israeli policy turn to the burning down of Jewish businesses and attacks on synagogues in Sarcelles, is it punching down to condemn the acts of people from one marginalised religious minority upon another marginalised religious minority? Is it punching down to talk about young girls from the families of expatriates who are spirited abroad so that their genitals may be mutilated? Or is it just to be consistent in one's values irrespective of who breaches them?

The completely accurate belief that religious minorities suffer oppression even in western liberal democracies, that they are frequently and unfairly blamed for social ills, that reactionary forces scapegoat them even as they expand the divide between us and those who wish to join us, does not mean we get to ignore the role religion and culture has to play in injustice. When women face subjugation in given Muslim communities and families, which occasionally seek to deny them education and other fundamental rights or force them out of the public sphere; when refugees flee the horror unleashed by Boko Haram only to face ridicule and dehumanisation and threats of violence from your own country's far right; when religions seek to suppress the rights of its citizenry and its residents through the machinery of the state; when you live under perpetual fear because criticising or satirising any of these things is all it takes for your life to be threatened, it seems evident that a lot of people confuse giving away everything you are for the reciprocal and mutual nature tolerance and respect must take if they are to have any meaning. The Islam which drives people to such extraordinary evil is not the same as that practised by the friends you live with, the family you have or the folks you go to work with, nor that of millions of others. They are no more responsible for such violence and suffering than I am of Stalin's purges or the Magna Carta. But we cannot hide our faces from the reality that the behaviour of zealots and bigots is so frequently religiously and culturally and politically driven. The drive to empathise with other people should not be a drive to conceptualise very real problems until they disappear.

The killing of 12 people by Islamist terrorists is, however, a small threat to French democracy and her freedom of speech; a week later the very magazine which was attacked responded with a cartoon of Muhammed. Terrorism is a minuscule threat: our values are so much more powerful than anything a terrorist can accomplish because the ideas underpinning liberal democracy are good, are moral, are useful, are right. They uplift us, they liberate us in ways our forebears could not have imagined, they give us luxury and eliminate want in ways unknown in history. Attacks, murder, threats, merely strengthen our resolveDeaths due to all armed conflicts have declined dramatically in recent years; people globally (not that it is of much help to those who live in specific, violent localities) and we in particular have less to fear from violence than ever before. Perhaps this makes it easier to understand the horror we feel from the dripping death toll caused by the constant, but ultimately low-intensity conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps, ultimately, it is why 9/11, and the July 7th bombings, and the Charlie Hebdo murders stand so stark.

But it's important to keep in mind that more women will be murdered by their boyfriends and husbands 
in the US this year alone than people have been killed by all known terrorist incidents in human history throughout the world. As awful as it is to be a victim of terrorism, you are far more likely to be apolitically murdered, and far more likely than that to be killed in a car accident, and far more likely than that to be killed by your own slovenliness or drug of choice or genetic quirk or disease. While the fact that there are worse and more prevalent things in the world does not mean we should not fight terrorism - of course we should - a sense of perspective should teach us, and teach us rapidly, that we do not need to cede our morality, or our rights; we do not need to become bigoted, or to quail, to torture or to fear or to hate in order to defeat the threat of terrorism. The mundane and pervasive is so much more dangerous than the rare and sensational by virtue of its ubiquity and yet we can suffer through our day to day lives without doing something dreadful to our fellow man.

Unlike Islamist terrorism the braying prayers of halfwits sent to racist demagogues who seek to place French democracy and her freedom of speech under a militaristic boot heel demonstrably have threatened French democracy before; have come very close indeed to killing it, and once more menace Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité. I feel roughly as much kinship with Islamist fundamentalists as I do European fascists. Neither have a very pretty track record when it comes to mass murder and terrorism, yet one is dramatically more popular than the other.

Also this.

-The Rev. Schmitt.

25 March, 2014

Sharia Not to be Adopted into UK Legal System for First Time, says more accurate headline


But really, let's face it, it could be any article by a rag about sharia in any Anglo nation because it feeds into, amongst other things, the popular Londonistan myth.

'Sharia law to be adopted into UK legal system for first time' bleats the headline, and as with most such sensationalist headlines is somewhat contradicted by the article. Nonetheless rather more clarification is in order.

The Law Society is not a governmental or judiciary body; more a lobbying, self-regulating union of lawyers. They issue best-practice guidelines as an aid to solicitors as part of their basic function. In this instance they issued guidelines on how to draw up sharia-compliant wills.

It is given very basic shrift in the article but to be clear: under English common law (and codified by statute in the specific case of England and Wales) individuals are able to agree to third-party arbitration rather than go through civil courts. There can be some very good reasons for doing this indeed and religious minorities have for many decades, if not centuries, used them as a way of establishing some forms of voluntary contracts amongst their own community. There are legal limits to arbitration; rulings cannot violate English law and cannot be entirely unreasonable. As a rather extreme example one cannot agree to a marriage license under which a woman will be stoned for adultery for instance, it would not be a legally binding provision of the marriage because the act of murder is unlawful. Similarly if a marriage license is obtained through the civil courts, the regular rules and functions of civil law apply.

But for instance a couple of people can come to an agreement to decide that, say, an oath will be made under Halakha, that is religious Jewish law. Experts (eg., Rabbis) will draw up (or oversee, or give witness to) the agreement, and if matters come to a head a Beth Din or other Jewish court will decide if it has been broken. If any parties involved take issue with the result they may avail themselves of a regular secular court, which will then have to consider the agreement, which likely means that the court will have to consider Jewish law because the agreement was made in those terms. Unless the agreement is illegal or wholly unreasonable the arbiter will (because the parties agreed to it) be deferred to.

This is the same principle applied to sharia. Given that Muslims are a growing minority and that uses of sharia arbitration are on the increase it makes sense that the Law Society has drawn up guidelines for its members given that they may well encounter clients who wish to have wills compliant with sharia in their practices. This does not mean sharia is being adopted into English law, the Law Society lacks the power to legislate; merely its members are being offered direction in a kind of arbitration that is already lawful.

The points raised about the misogyny and bigotry inherent in how sharia is practised are of course well founded; I'd strongly suggest religious laws tend to be myopic and primitive attempts at morality and almost invariably therefore are actually quite wicked and cruel in many instances. Their almost inevitably discriminatory nature rubs against the grain in liberal democracies which, again almost invariably, have trended towards not merely being tolerant of minorities and the vulnerable but actively moving to prevent acts of bigotry against them. 

All that being said, and recognising they are not equivalent forms of discrimination by any stretch of the imagination, England has an established church with an assured place in government and taxpayer-funded schooling, and denies women an equal share of inheritance when it comes to titles and aristocratic estates irrespective of wills or the wishes of anyone involved. Still. Seriously.

-The Rev. Schmitt, FCD.

06 March, 2014

Journalist Hypocrite Shock Bonk Horror

RT Host Abby Martin Condemns Russian Incursion Into Crimea – By Glenn Greenwald 4 Mar 2014, 7:26 AM EST

The vast bulk of the commentary issuing from American commentators about the Russian military action in Ukraine involves condemning exactly that which they routinely advocate and which the U.S. itself routinely does. So suffocating is the resulting stench that those who played leading roles in selling the public the attack on Iraq and who are still unrepentant about it, such as

Greenwald's gloriously passive acquiescence to supporting George Bush and the invasion of Iraq has never been repented or apologised for or even honestly acknowledged, and why would it be? Such humanitarianism manifested itself also in his supporting the surely democratic invasion of Mali by numerous miltias; decrying France for bombing Muslims, which presumably, since Greenwald is an honest man, is all that was done. Such criticism is grounded in one simple fact: without any kind of analysis - which fortunately Greenwald is unburdened by - any given western government can simultaneously be held to blame for doing nothing to prevent the terrible things done by dictatorships, and also for the terrible effects of opposing them. We are left stood around saying 'oh dear'. Except when it comes to invading Iraq, evidently.

Also tu quoque of course. In a few months, after stability has been re-established, after Russia's military occupancy has ended, it would be rather awkward indeed for western nations to find fault with Crimea re-negotiating its relationship with Ukraine, even leaving for Russia (if she's stupid enough to take it); not that this would necessarily stop them. Governments are as morally mercurial as popular civil libertarian bloggers. For the publics of our nations, self-determination is paramount. Russia picking a puppet ruler amidst a military invasion is not self-determination; her awareness of this generates her hilariously transparent lies about what all her unmarked soldiers are doing at gunpoint.

-The Rev. Schmitt, FCD.

21 September, 2013

Shock and Horror as Pope Less Awful than Last Pope


Seriously though think of all the suffering gay people go through because of bigotry, tending into outright persecution and murder socially and legally in many countries, such as, for instance, majority Catholic Uganda, in which homosexuality is illegal upon pain of death. It is all well and good to speak to the west of how tolerant the Church is now, to plead for less focus on issues that lose the Church so many congregants amongst the first world. But to raise this facade on the one hand, while Cardinals and priests still tout the murderous lie that condoms are worse than (and propagate) AIDS throughout so much of Sub-Saharan Africa, to preach that gay people are tempters, maintaining the perpetual and vile fabrication that they are acting immorally and unnaturally when they move amongst nations where this can and does get innocent people killed.

The Pope can make a massive positive difference in the lives of so many by saying what all good and reasonable people know: the gender of the people you love and the people you are attracted to says nothing at all about your morality; monogamy and its legal codification through marriage is good and bountiful and beautiful for all of us, and condoms totally save lives and help alleviate poverty. It is cruel to feed into that morass of hatred, however minutely, however timidly Francis wishes to do so, however weakly he foists the bulwark of faith against what we all know in our hearts to be true about our gay brothers and sisters. He has the power within his grasp to do so much and he chooses not to, maybe because his own beliefs are wicked, maybe through fear of the political powers within and without his own church; it is not the first time a Pope has sat silent, or added his voice to the perpetration of evil that it is within his power to change. The fact remains that no matter how he flaps his hands, and really anything a Pope has to say about condoms or heretics or gay people should begin and end with an apology, he could do something very good, at no risk to his own life or safety, and instead chooses to either remain silent or to feed meekly into that evil. He's a Pope, a station now bereft of temporal power, and like anyone else whose power lies in his words this is the wickedness he is capable of. And he does it.

-The Rev. Schmitt., FCD.

01 December, 2012

Popes N Kids

The Catholic Church comports itself as a moral authority, speaking and lobbying regularly on temporal matters. As a matter of routine its opinions are treated as worthwhile fodder for reproduction by all mainstream news agencies across Europe, the UK, the US and beyond. Meanwhile, many very important people within the Catholic Church, both within individual diocese and within the Holy See itself, covered up and continue to hide the activities of child rapists and child abusers, working to prevent such people from being prosecuted or treated, from their crimes being exposed publicly; they worked diligently to prevent the victims of such crime receiving due compensation and frequently, even, to prevent the paedophile from being removed from a position of trust, thereby actively facilitating their crimes.

People are responsible for their individual failures and it would not be right or appropriate to blame all people within the Church for the crimes, the culture of silence, etc. That being said it is perfectly appropriate to recognise the failures of the Church as an organisation in regards to issues of transparency, justice, and duty of care, for it surely did fail on a truly massive scale in self appointed responsibilities on a very serious issue, and designedly so.

The problem as applied to the organisation of the Catholic Church as it pertains to the shielding of paedophiles, as opposed to the laity, is that a) the Church is highly hierarchical, and it is therefore right and proper to condemn the power structure which deliberately shelters clergy from prosecution for their crimes and even allowed individuals known to have abused children to remain in a position of responsibility to vulnerable charges, b) the sexual abuse and its subsequent concealment was international, occurring in churches, orphanages and places of education in Ireland, the US, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands etc., c) the Church, even now, has failed to come clean about the full extent of such abuse and continues to fail to even seriously attempt to expiate its sins with its continued zeal in preventing justice from running its course, d) some people very high up indeed have been implicated, or were directly involved in the protection of clergy from investigation by secular authorities.

Additionally it is not merely the fact that sexual abuse happened. Nor is it merely a case of individual serial monsters, nor, to re-emphasise, am I suggesting collective guilt; the fact remains that Catholic Church is an organisation with a hierarchy which facilitated such abuses. For instance the power structure of the clergy was involved in the decision to castrate boys for being abused or for being gay: the structure of the Catholic Church designedly did shield paedophiles, designedly did maim boys for their sexuality or for being abused. Those individual Catholics involved in such decisions are personally responsible for their crimes and their protection of crimes, but one has to also question how they were given such absolute jurisdiction over people in the first place, prerogative they clearly should not have had.

The response to the charges, and to moral blame being laid at the feet of the Church, has almost without exception been ad hominem tu quoque. We are to suppose that the crimes of the church are reduced because they also occur in state schools. We are supposed to be dissuaded that such acts are not heinous because we cannot know how many Catholic clergy participated in crimes compared to the general population in a given nation. We are to prevent ourselves from recognising the role of the Church in protecting paedophiles because paedophiles are ubiquitous, or may be more or equally prevalent in other bodies. We are supposed to fail to recognise the many abuses which occurred in the past couple of decades, because most of the known scandals happened in the 70s or earlier. It is a paltry attempt at relativism by those who, for centuries, when not engaging in insipid political apologetics, feebly claim divinely inspired knowledge of an external moral absolutism. It is not good enough to say that others have been or were at the time as morally retrograde as you were if you purport to be a moral authority of any value, particularly one ordained and guided by God. Frequently, instead, such supposed jurisdiction is merely a dark mirror of our worst inclinations as a society allowed to run unfettered; instead, frequently, it is about control and greed on a massive scale. That there were more such acts that we know of happening several decades ago does not alter the fact of ongoing abuses, and pretending otherwise is a shameful apologetics of such crimes.

The sins of one are not mitigated by the sins of another. Indeed such arguments are an obvious and transparent false equivalence intended to defend some of the worst organised crimes in civilised society, as is pretending such crimes are about gay people in the Church, a claim that demonstrates a complete lack of concern for the seriousness of the crimes or a proper sense of responsibility.

The current Pope himself has been implicated in hiding paedophiles, and certainly knew of both the crimes and the efforts of the Church to hide them, but his efforts to defend the culture of insularity from justice are instead cast as triumphs. No one is absolved by the document, particularly considering how selectively released such information is. Of especial note it becomes clear that at no point does it seem to have entered anyone's head that perhaps child molesters should face actual punishment, removal from society, justice or rehabilitation. It is not a terribly startling display of ethics that inside the Church there was discussion of how hard it should be to demote some of the predators. Although one supposes that since he recognised there would be less fallout for the Church in the event of the wall of silence being breached, Benedict is a hero.

The further claim is that the church is finally getting the problem in hand, that it is working to finally expose and prevent such abuses, we must forgive and forget. The abuse and cover ups, meanwhile, continue; this resistance to justice ran all the way up to the Holy See, as it always has. They are ongoing to a shocking extent in countries across the world. The catholic church at its highest levels cannot be trusted to allow the paedophiles within its clergy to be brought to justice, frequently cannot even be relied upon to remove them from positions where such crimes can be committed easily. Even now!

Ire and frustration at a body conducting this sort of thing is entirely appropriate. Any individual who protects a single paedophile from being exposed to justice is a monstrous evil; any institution which shelters such criminals on a regular basis purely to protect its own reputation, as a matter of course, even now - even now! - is wedded to the evil of the initial crime. To defend that sort of behaviour, to defend the squirming apologetics of the Church's behaviour in this regard, to repeat their falsehoods, is to be wedded to that evil.

Unsurprisingly an international lobby group masquerading as a moral authority cannot be trusted to be open or to serve the public good when short term political gains are to be had protecting its image by protecting the paedophiles in its own ranks. For decades child abuse and rape has been institutionalised across the globe in orphanages, churches and schools; in some places it still is, and only in drips and drabs does the truth out, fought so vigorously against by the Church, often far too late for punishment or rehabilitation to be meted out against individual offenders, let alone to rescue children from such horrors or provide timely assistance or after care. Again and again a power structure obsessed with the personal lives of its laity has the transparency of a brick of lead, and it wields this opacity as a bludgeon against any kind of justice.

And yet, the very same officials partaking in such acts, in such apologetics, in such cover ups, have their opinion on moral and political matters – abortion, contraception, women, and so forth – treated as if it were any less trivial than that of a random punter on the street. Their pretensions to superior knowledge of an external morality are treated as legitimate positions – their faith, in other words, treated as potentially fact. But such notions are a nonsense. The Holy See is a political body with political goals. The fiction of them being anything else is perhaps most amply demonstrated by the child abuse scandals and the way in which they have been handled.

Shorter version:

-The Rev. Schmitt., FCD