Christianity

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Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 1:12am in
by Max Kummerow

With the recent leaking of the draft decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the heated controversy over a woman’s right to abort—or voluntarily terminate—a pregnancy is again at the forefront of democratic discourse. At the heart of this debate are issues of morality and theology. Self-identified Christians make up 63 percent of the U.S. population, with Evangelical Protestants and Catholics representing an overwhelming portion of the “pro-life” camp.

The question of when moral and legal obligations to protect a new life should begin has been pivotal to abortion politics and policy. Throughout history, four primary theories have been proposed to mark the commencement of a new human life:

  1. Moment of Conception

The moment of conception refers to when the egg and sperm unite to create a zygote with a unique genetic code. Those who hold that this is when life begins may argue for the prohibition of voluntary terminations or contraceptives used after conception, such as IUDs and hormonal methods that prevent pregnancy; that is, the implantation of a fertilized egg to the uterine wall.

  1. Quickening

The mother’s first sensation of the fetus moving—known as quickeningtypically occurs between 16 and 20 weeks after the last menstrual period, or roughly the middle of the pregnancy. “Animus, soul, or life enters the body of the unborn infant when it first moves or stirs in the womb,” said the great 11th century theologian Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church viewed the animation of the fetus in the womb as evidence of ensoulment, or the moment when a physical body has been joined with a human soul.

  1. Viability

The age of viability refers to the time during pregnancy when a fetus could be born with a reasonable chance of survival. The time at which a pregnancy becomes viable is typically around 24 weeks; however, babies born around this time have an increased risk of disability and other complications. Most delivered before the age of viability do not survive because the lungs and other vital organs aren’t sufficiently developed.

In Roe v. Wade, the Court divided pregnancies into trimesters. During the first trimester, the woman has sole discretion to terminate the pregnancy. During the second trimester, states can regulate—but not outlaw—voluntary terminations for the sake of the mother’s health. The fetus becomes viable at the start of the third trimester, at which time states can regulate or outlaw terminations in the interest of the potential life, except when termination is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.

  1. Breath of Life

The breath-of-life theory is that a new life begins at the baby’s first breath. This theory reflects the Christian creation story in Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This theory makes the most sense to me. When, as a child, I helped my uncle pull calves, some died and some lived. To live, they had to breathe. My uncle himself died eventually, precisely when his breathing stopped.

Even birth and breathing haven’t always granted an individual protection under the law. Infanticide was common throughout the Roman Empire and many other parts of the ancient world, and has been documented in 27 countries. For instance, China’s one-child policy, implemented between 1980 and 2016, resulted in a wave of female infanticide. Scholars who have extensively studied infanticide have found a positive relationship between income inequality and female infanticide. These researchers concluded that societies with extreme poverty may use infanticide to conserve resources, reduce financial strain, or improve the family’s quality of life.

A purple bus with a large banner covering the back with a smiley face reading "We're pro-life."

What does it really mean to be “pro-life?” (CC BY-SA 2.0, infomatique)

While there are some denominational differences amongst Christians regarding ensoulment and the beginning of life, we can safely assume that those against a woman’s right to choose believe this divine moment occurs sometime in the womb. Scripture, however, provides no guidance on voluntary terminations.

The closest The Bible comes to the topic is in Exodus 21:22-23, where Moses writes, “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve. But if any harm comes to the woman and she dies, he shall be executed.” If the embryo or fetus was ensouled, wouldn’t the men have received a more severe punishment according to the “eye for an eye” doctrine? Such is the case if the men kill the living, breathing woman. In other words, Scripture clearly implies that the fetus does not have a right to life equal to that of a breathing person.

The Science of Reproduction

Galileo begged the Inquisition to “look through the telescope” to see the truth about the solar system. Those against abortion services should look through a microscope to observe the lengthy, complex processes of conception and gestation. The authors of The Bible did not have the benefit of microscopy, and accordingly wrote nothing on the science of reproduction. To reconcile theology with science though, we must understand the biological facts of conception, fetal development, and birth.

First, the terms “moment of conception” and “beginning of life” are misleading, as these processes don’t occur in an instant. The actual beginning of life took place circa 4 billion years ago when DNA (or possibly even simple RNA, ribonucleic acid) first replicated. Some of the earliest “experiments” may have blinked out, but for several billion years—while innumerable organisms have died and species have gone extinct—life has continued with no interruption.

Nor is conception a “moment,” but rather a multi-step process—prefaced by episodes of meiosis and the production of male and female gametes—taking several hours for a sperm cell (male gamete) to penetrate an egg’s (female gamete) cell wall, stimulate the zona pellucida to deploy (preventing other sperm from entering), shed its axial filament (the “tail”), burrow into the egg, and redeploy genetic material until the collective 46 chromosomes have been linked into 23 pairs. By then, a fertilized egg (zygote) exists, ready for mitosis and another very gradual process of fetal development, but precisely when did the fertilization transpire? And is that unclear moment equivalent to “conception?” Or would conception be more appropriately consigned to the first mitotic division of the zygote?

One thing we do know is that only a relative handful of the quadrillions of potential combinations of DNA win the lottery, manifesting in zygotes and ultimately children. People across the political spectrum can agree that life is sacred, but even in the absence of abortion, most potential humans—even after conception—never experience the breath of life. While often tragic for aspiring mothers, stillbirths and infant mortality are nonetheless common features of human biology. In 2019, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In poorer parts of the world, infant mortality is in the hundreds per 1,000 born.

Even with the advancements in medical technology, maternal mortality is still a risk everywhere. In the USA, the risk of death associated with childbirth is roughly fourteen times higher than that with legal abortion, making responsibly provided abortion significantly safer than childbirth. This is a point worth pondering for those who oppose abortion because they value human life, especially considering the Exodus distinction between the value of an adult woman relative to a fetus.

The Odds of Life

Charles Darwin discovered not only how species evolve via natural selection, but explained why organisms produce so many more than can survive. All species have an innate propensity to multiply. More specimens are born than can survive to adulthood; far more in the case of most species.

Meanwhile, the way organisms interact with and adapt to their environment determines their survival and reproduction. In this way, the most “fit” organisms (given the environmental conditions) begin to overtake less fit organisms, passing along more of their genetic code for traits ranging from eye color to blood type and even cognitive ability (which is influenced by genetic and non-genetic variables). The species evolves, in other words, and—assuming moderate rates of environmental change—becomes ever more fit or “successful.” One of the prerequisites of this progressive process is a surplus of specimens, from which the most fit are naturally selected.

Ensouled or otherwise, Homo sapiens is no exception. In the process of ovulation, an egg is released from the human’s ovary each month for roughly 30 to 35 years of fertility. This amounts to 350 to 400 chances of pregnancy. Of the roughly 300,000,000 sperm ejaculated during coitus, only around 200 reach the fertilization site in the oviduct. Even when one lucky sperm fertilizes an egg in the fallopian tube, half of fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus, becoming lost after conception and before pregnancy.

Table 1 reflects the reality of surplus reproduction from conception onward. Even given the substantial “drawdown” of zygotes and fetuses in 2020, there were 140 million births and only 59 million deaths, resulting in 81 million more people on Earth.

Table 1. Global Conception, Pregnancy, and Fetal Drawdown, 2020

Total in Millions
% of Conceptions

Conceptions
475
100%

Pregnancies
238
50%

(Unintended Pregnancies)
107
45%

Involuntary Termination
47
10%

Voluntary Termination
50
10%

Births
140
30%

To the best of my knowledge, no woman has ever experienced 350 or 400 pregnancies. Cases such as the Octomom (fourteen children) and the Radford family (16 children) are famous because of how extreme they are (although a Russian woman supposedly produced 69 babies in the 18th century). What if all women could have fourteen to 16 pregnancies during their 30 to 35 years of fertility? Should that be the goal of a pro-life movement?

No society, even those with early marriages and lack of contraception, has averaged more than a dozen births per woman. Contraceptives and other family planning services have allowed most societies to reduce births per woman to more manageable levels. It would seem eminently logical that maximizing the number of human lives is neither desirable nor moral compared with moderating reproduction for purposes of healthy, happy, and sustainable lives.

Choosing Life

One of the cornerstones of steady-state economics is democratically stabilizing population; another is achieving fairness and quality of life. For these purposes, access to contraceptives, comprehensive sexual education, and family planning services are needed.

Abortion rights protest with signs reading "Pro-choice is Pro-life"

Considering the wellbeing of all life forms—or all God’s creatures—pro-choice is  congruent with pro-life. (CC BY 2.0, Debra Sweet)

Better contraceptives and family planning services have already proven to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions. In countries that restrict abortion, the percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion has ironically increased from 36 percent to 50 percent over the past 30 years. In the end, if preventing the frequency of abortions is truly the goal, then widening access to sex education, contraceptives, and other forms of reproductive healthcare—even abortion itself—is the most effective course of action.

Ending abortions altogether, were it possible, would increase the number of children born each year by at least 50 million globally. These children would be born to families that, in many and probably the vast majority of cases, couldn’t afford them or are otherwise not prepared to assume the responsibilities of parenthood. Banning abortion would also increase maternal mortality and the presence of negative health effects in mothers and children.

In my opinion, an abortion should be considered a responsible parenting decision to the degree the pregnancy is unwanted. Unintended teen pregnancies are one of the leading circumstances for abortions in the USA. Among teens 15 to 19, 75 percent of pregnancies are unintended. Teenagers have many other chances (about 350 to 400) to be a mother when they are more prepared for the responsibility. An abortion allows the teenager to choose a better time to have a child who will grow up better cared for.

For a woman already with children, a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy lessens her family’s financial and psychological strain, and leaves more resources to be shared by her pre-existing children. In other words, terminating an unwanted pregnancy can reduce the burden on the mother, on society, and on the planet, or the fullness of God’s Creation for the faithful among us. In that sense, abortion too has a pro-life element.

Max Kummerow portraitMax Kummerow is a population activist and researcher, and author of the forthcoming book, Too Many People.

The post Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The Upside Down: Where Is the Man? The Many Lives of Pontius Pilate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/04/2022 - 5:30pm in

John Mitchinson explores the enduring fascination with the man who was asked to send Jesus to his death

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As the religious festivals of Passover and Easter begin against the background of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the cautionary tale of Pontius Pilate reminds us of the dilemma that all who wield power at some point face: should we do what we feel to be right or go with what we know to be popular?

Jesus’ trial by the governor of the Roman province of Judaea is the dramatic climax of the Gospel story. Each of the four evangelists tells it slightly differently, with John giving Pilate some of the most memorable lines: “Here is the Man”; “What I have written, I have written”; and my favourite, “What is truth?”. 

What all four agree on is that Pilate is conflicted. He can’t see why the chief priests of Jerusalem want the death penalty for Jesus: “What evil hath he done?” he asks. “I find no fault in this man.” Earlier, according to Matthew, Pilate’s wife has complicated things by telling her husband that she has had a troubling dream, the burden of which is that her husband “should have nothing to do with that just man”. Pilate, looking for what we might now call an off-ramp, asks Jesus if he really is a king. This elicits the not entirely helpful reply: “My kingdom is not of this world.” 

The crowd are baying for blood and the high priests remind Pilate that, for Jews, calling yourself the son of God is punishable by death. Pilate wavers. And then they deliver the clincher: “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.”

At this appeal to his imperial boss, Pilate caves and (in Matthew’s account) performs the ritual washing of hands which has become indelibly associated with his name: “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.” The crowd bellows: “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Much of the persecution of Jews by Christians over the past two millennia takes its justification from this single line.

This uncertainty is one of the reasons that the Pilate story continues to resonate: because the biblical accounts offer no explicit reason for him making his decision – they simply tell the story and we must sketch in the motivation ourselves; something we’ve been doing ever since. 

In one tradition – broadly followed by the Eastern Orthodox church and the Coptic Christians of Ethiopia – Pilate is often portrayed as being so moved by his encounter with Christ that he converts to Christianity and, in some accounts, is even martyred for his faith. In Ethiopia, he and his wife Procla were canonised. 

In the Western Christian tradition, Pilate it more usually portrayed as a villain, often suicidal, sometimes a murderer. By the Middle Ages, he has several back stories – in one he’s a Spanish soldier from Seville or Tarragona who seduces the granddaughter of the Roman emperor. In another, he’s an illegitimate German from Forchheim near Mainz, the product of a one-night stand. In an even more unlikely tale, he’s half Scottish, born in Perthshire to a Roman nobleman and a local woman from Clan McLaren. In the medieval mystery plays, the actor playing Pilate was often paid more than the actor playing Christ, and he was portrayed as a rich, sensual man of the world swathed in gold braid and expensive cloth. 

The verifiable historical facts are scarce. 

Pilate appears to have been a middle-ranking Roman aristocrat – at the rank below senator – and probably served in the military before being appointed to Judaea. According to the Jewish Roman historian Josephus, writing 60 years later, he was recalled to Rome in 37CE for violently repressing a revolt on the West Bank. Thereafter, all we know is that he didn’t return to Judaea. Maybe he’d been sacked; maybe he’d had enough. 

To the philosopher Nietzsche, Pilate is “the one honourable figure” in the New Testament, whose question, “what is truth?”, annihilates Christianity before it even begins. In Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, written in secret in 1930s Russia, Pilate is a tormented bureaucrat, held in suspended animation between life and death and forced constantly to revisit his encounter with Jesus – and that something “he didn’t finish saying” 2,000 years earlier.

In her 1999 ‘biography’ of Pilate, Ann Wroe captures this protean quality: “The Pilate we think we know is a mixture of dozens of invented men, each symbolic of something: the state facing the individual, the pagan world opposing the Christian one, scepticism versus truth, ourselves facing God. He represents either man’s free will, or his hopelessness before fate, or his struggle to distinguish good and evil, or the tyranny of hard choices.”

The choices get no less hard. And Pilate’s equivocation continues to haunt our imaginations and our politics.

John Mitchinson is a writer and publisher and co-founder of Unbound, the world’s leading crowdfunding platform for books. He was one of the founders of BBC’s ‘QI

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The Church of Putin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 9:25pm in

Reverend Joe Haward explores how the Russian President has won support from US evangelicals and his playbook matches that of the European far-right

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On 23 February 2022, a few hours before the Russian military began bombing Ukraine, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, issued a statement on behalf of Vladimir Putin. 

Kirill began by “heartily” congratulating the Russian President “on the Defender of the Fatherland Day”. He went on to honour those carrying out military service, “strengthening its defence capability and national security” through “ardent love for the Fatherland”. 

Strikingly, Kirill declared that military service is a “manifestation of evangelical love for neighbours, an example of fidelity to high moral ideals of truth and goodness”. 

Kirill’s support of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine comes as no surprise. For a decade now, he and the increasingly authoritarian President have established a close relationship. Both men see in the other someone who will establish the conservative, nationalist values that they both desire for Russia. 

Two days before Kirill’s praise, Putin made his ideological claim on Ukraine clear. He said that “Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space. These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties”. 

This is an ideological position shared by Kirill. He too believes that many countries that once made up the Soviet Union belong to some kind of transnational Russian civilisation. In a sermon preached on 13 March, Kirill declared that endurance through this time of war would result in “our Russian land [being] preserved, which now includes Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus”. 

This cocktail of religious nationalism, wedded to militarism, has unleashed atrocities and a humanitarian catastrophe against the Ukrainian people. Unfortunately, there are those beyond Russia who have become intoxicated by the message and actions of Vladimir Putin and his supporters – including US evangelical churches.

Evangelical Adulation

Kirill’s approval of the war – and the ideological, religious fanaticism used to justify this – has received praise within conservative evangelical camps in America. 

This support comes in part from Kirill’s outspoken criticism against Western liberalism. Like Putin, he has argued that Western culture’s support of LGBTIQ rights stands in stark contrast to the 'traditional values' of Russian morality. This kind of diatribe fits easily within the worldview and belief systems of Trumpian evangelicals. 

In 2021, Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, in a study on the allure of post-Soviet Russian Orthodoxy with American conservatives, noted how the nationalistic and religious ideals promoted by Kirill under Putin’s regime aligned closely with the traditionalism and ideological reimaging of the American 'culture wars'. 

In other words, evangelicals find in Kirill and Putin messengers with a message that they strongly resonate with. 

There are those within radical-right politics – both socially and theologically – who believe that Russia now represents Christianity, as opposed to the 'anti-Christianity' of American culture. These are not just conservatives or traditionalists, but also far-right ideologues. 

Issues around gender, body rights, sexuality and morality continue to hold a particular significance to American conservatives – as well as a growing significance within UK right-wing circles. 

Yet, these issues of ‘traditionalism’ are rooted in ideas of national identity. Just as Putin and Kirill continue to collapse church and state into one, so conservative Christians desire America to be governed according to evangelical doctrine and ideology, through the lens of nationhood.

This is nothing new within the right-wing playbook.

On 16 February 1933, Hitler told a crowd in Stuttgart that “today Christians... stand at the head of Germany... We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit... we want to burn out the rotten developments... this poison which has entered our whole life and culture”.

Five years later, on 20 April 1938, the legal director of the German Evangelical Church Friedrich Werner ordered “that all pastors in active office were to take the oath of allegiance to the Führer”. 

History Rhymes

Nationalism and religious ideology are a powerful concoction. 

Earlier this week, Nigel Farage tweeted his congratulations as Viktor Orbán won his fourth term as Hungary's Prime Minister.

Orbán – who has been a vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin – has spoken of wanting to create a “Christian democracy” – blurring hardline migration policies with religious language. It should be of little surprise then that former US President Donald Trump praised Orbán while he was on a visit to the White House.

“Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered,” George Orwell once wrote. “Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning”. 

The UK is not immune from such mendacity. These tactics are regularly deployed, with religious dogmatism, by Boris Johnson’s Government as the public are assured that our hard Brexit and the Government's disastrous handling of the Coronavirus pandemic are outstanding successes. 

As Richard Dawkins highlights, Brexit has become like a religion, a type of faith and creed, preached with religious zeal, regardless of the cost and consequences, and despite all the evidence against it. 

“They are determined to get Brexit even if they destroy the country,” he has observed. It is a path to little England nationalism. Brexit ideologues will continue to preach 'sovereignty' and 'victory' whatever the cost and sacrifice to living standards, so enraptured they are to the Brexit cult. It is a nationalist, religious zeal that is akin to Putinism in its goals.

Once again deploying religious language, the Russian President told his troops that “there is no greater love than giving up one’s soul for one’s friends”.

As truth and goodness are crushed to the earth under his despotic regime, we must pursue justice so that they may one day rise again.

Reverend Joe Haward is a community and business chaplain

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Macron and the Long March of the French Far-Right

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 10:41pm in

Radical right-wing forces in France will not be buried by a second Macron presidency, says Shafi Musaddique

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Emmanuel Macron has become a force of nature in French politics in recent years – the apparent inevitability of his continued reign defining the country’s upcoming presidential election, set to begin in less than two weeks.

Macron has barely campaigned in what many of his critics have construed to be complacency, using the war in Ukraine to avoid TV debates with rival candidates. Le Monde has described this presidential race as a “phantom campaign” – a foregone conclusion with little need for candidates other than Macron, such is the assumption that he will take back the presidency without a fight. 

While there are grounds to assume, and hope, that the French will bat away the challenge of the far-right at the voting booth, such thinking remains a fool’s game. 

Anger continues to simmer in some quarters over Macron’s iron-fisted attempt to repel anti-vaxx sentiments in the country. Public backlash over fuel prices, the cost of living, concerns over the welfare state and the continued French obsession with immigration has made politics more uncertain across the Channel – even if the result of this election seems almost guaranteed.

But, most of all, apathy is the most dangerous emotion lingering over this French presidential cycle. 

“On 10 April there could be strong abstention from moderate voters who are anti-Marine Le Pen but hostile to Emmanuel Macron and this is the largest group in the electorate,” says Dominique Reynié, head of the influential Fondapol think tank.

“If they don’t turn out for the first round, thinking it’s a foregone conclusion, we just don’t know what the consequences will be. What we do know is that high abstention creates situations that are irreversible and weaken the democratic nature of the vote.”

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The Liberal Strongman

In 2002, a combination of voter apathy and protest votes saw a surprise first-round victory for far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen over the Socialist candidate. 

Le Pen senior ultimately lost that election, but the spectre of the far-right lives on via his daughter, Marine, who may well disrupt Macron’s procession with a more sophisticated strategy than her failed 2017 campaign.

Disillusioned masses from the old left, alongside those in French industrial towns where many feel left behind, are already campaigning for Le Pen on the back of a new ‘normalisation strategy’, with less public focus on immigration and more consistent campaigning on the cost of living.

There is no hope of a renaissance from a splintered left, unable to rally around a united campaign or leader. 

The fact that the French far-right remains the biggest challenger to Macron should be a glaring alarm signal to all those who abhor its politics. Regardless of an unlikely far-right win, the implications will be far deeper, and far longer reaching, than this election.

The arrival of Eric Zemmour, a far-right ‘celebrity’ – with overtly Islamophobic ideas – has led to Macron lurching further right in a bid to appease voters. Zemmour’s ‘zero immigration’ vision and his ‘great replacement’ theory – describing the supposed Islamification of France – is poisonous, and Macron is by no means immune.

Macron sees Islam through a Christian lens, publicly stating that he believes Islam needs its own ‘Enlightenment’ period. In a televised clip that went viral last year, the French Interior Minister described Le Pen as “too soft” on Islam – a sign that within Macron's administration, a hard-line approach to religious diversity is deeply embedded.

Should he succeed, Macron would be the first President to win a second successive term in two decades. But re-election is no guarantee that liberal values will succeed under his second presidency. And so it is imperative that he, and by extension France, is closely examined on its values and ideals. 

There are two narratives of Macron at play; Macron the superhero, and Macron the vacuous meddler. 

Macron’s decision to keep talking to Vladimir Putin as the bombs rain down on Ukraine has divided opinion in Europe. It is an attempt to frame him as a liberal strongman: the one man capable of facing down Putin (despite much evidence to the contrary).

Yet, Macron’s unilateral, non-collaborative approach has alienated key Baltic and Nordic allies most at risk from Russian animosity.

Estonia Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, whose own family was deported to Siberia by Russian invaders in 1949, lifts the veil in an eye-opening interview with the Financial Times

“I feel there is a strong wish to be the hero who solves this case, but I don’t think it’s solvable like that,” she says.

Macron has adopted a similar modus operandi in his messiah-like ‘reworking’ of Islam in France. With the introduction of his ‘Charter of the Principles of Islam in France’ and the creation of a National Council of Imams, he hopes to stop “separatism” against the state.

Signatories are called to renounce ‘political Islam’ and to no longer criminalise apostasy – concepts that the vast majority of French Muslims do not believe in. Many among the French Council of the Muslim Faith have refused to sign up to the charter.

Macron’s pet projects and keynote infamous “Islam is in crisis” speech all amount to a leader who values political performance more than ideological convictions – echoing the playbook used by Boris Johnson. He wants to portray a simple version of the world and domestic affairs in which he, alone, is a vigilante fighting for justice.

Without ideological convictions, however, it seems unlikely that France will be able to halt the long march of the far-right.

On the surface, it may seem as though political dangers will recede in France if and when Macron wins a second term. But, the election distracts from the underlying forces shaping French politics, and the current President’s inability to resist the temptations of reactionary, populist ideas.

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Churches Declare Christianity in The Holy Land is Under Threat from Jewish Extremists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/03/2022 - 4:55am in

OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM — Last month, Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) announced plans to encompass Christian holy sites within a national park. Church leaders condemned the move as part of systematic efforts to drive Christians out of the Holy Land.

Following backlash, INPA withdrew the plan from the Jerusalem Municipality’s March agenda, saying it would instead have discussions with local churches on how to preserve the area. Yet the project is back on the municipality’s Local Planning and Construction Committee’s agenda, scheduled for Aug. 31. INPA did not respond to requests for comment on why this item was placed back on the municipality’s agenda.

The plan proposes expanding the Jerusalem Walls National Park, which surrounds the Old City, by about 25% and calls for taking over privately-owned Palestinain and Church-owned land, including some of the most sacred Christian sites. Originally, the proposal also included a Jewish cemetery, but it was left out when Jewish authorities managing the cemetery opposed the decision. 

Following the plan’s announcement, Israeli peace and human rights organizations Bimkom – Planners For Planning Rights, Emek Shaveh, Ir Amim, and Peace Now said in a joint statement:

There is a direct link between what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah and the expansion plan. These are various mechanisms used by Israel in East Jerusalem to entrench its sovereignty, to marginalize non-Jewish presence and to prevent much needed development of Palestinian neighborhoods, thereby increasing the pressure to push them out of the Old City basin.

Church leaders also slammed the outlined expansion in a letter to Israel’s Minister of Environmental Protection: 

This is a brutal measure that constitutes a direct and premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land, on the churches and on their ancient, internationally guaranteed rights in the Holy City. Under the guise of protecting green spaces, the plan appears to serve an ideological agenda that denies the status and rights of Christians in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Walls National Park was established after Israel annexed East Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War. Its declaration included the areas designated for expansion, but those efforts did not come to fruition — until now.

Israeli human rights organizations condemned expansion for restricting Palestinian building, while also stressing the park’s current state has significantly hindered Palestinian development.

Sari Kronish, the architect with Bimkom, said the Jerusalem Walls National Park contains several Palestinian neighborhoods, including Wadi-Hilweh and al-Hizbe. “It’s not just a ring around the Old City walls,” Kronish told MintPress News. “Both of these neighborhoods found themselves suddenly living inside a national park, which completely prevents their improvement and development and not to mention also brings heightened law enforcement.”

Palestinian neighborhoods are not the only community affected by the development of Israeli parks. Father Koryoun Baghdasaryan, chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told MintPress that since 1967, the Armenian Patriarchate has not received a permit to construct anything new in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City because the area is declared a green space.

“The idea of declaring [areas] national parks or green zones is to impose restrictions,” Baghdasaryan said, explaining how these restrictions have depleted the quarter’s commercial activity and economic growth. “Armenians bought these properties to secure the income for the patriarchate, the convent, to survive here,” Baghdasaryan continued. “Now there is no profit for us.” 

 

Settlers taking over 

In their letter to Israel’s environmental protection minister regarding the extension of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, church leaders wrote:

In recent years, we cannot help but feel that various entities are seeking to minimize, not to say eliminate, any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City by attempting to alter the status quo… [I]t seems that [the plan] was put forward and is being orchestrated, advanced and promoted by entities whose apparent sole purpose is to confiscate and nationalize one of the holiest sites to Christianity and alter its nature.

The churches are referring here to Israeli settler groups. More specifically, the settler associations Ir David Foundation (or El’ad) and Ateret Cohanim, which have been part of real estate and building operations in and around the Old City. 

El’ad is most recognized for managing the City of David archeological site located in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and near Al-Aqsa Mosque. In addition to spurring eviction lawsuits against Silwan residents, El’ad also conducts archaeological excavations beneath Silwan’s streets, damaging the structural foundations of many Palestinian homes. The organization is also involved in the construction of a pedestrian bridge cutting through the Old City. 

“They’re trying to create a ring of settlement-related tourism attractions around the Old City,” said Talya Ezrahi, external relations coordinator at Emek Shaveh, an Israeli non-profit focused on archaeology. “Their objective is to transform the identity of the space around the Old City from one that is multicultural and multi-faith into one that has a Judeocentric narrative that justifies the settlements.”

Ateret Cohanim’s endeavors are slightly different. In the Christian Quarter of the Old City, the settler group purchased the Petra and New Imperial hotels from the Greek Orthodox Church in 2004 through a secret deal orchestrated by Nikolaos Papadimas, who was then responsible for the church’s properties. Papadimas disappeared following the $1.25 million sale. Now, the New Imperial Hotel’s Palestinian management is embroiled in a legal battle against their eviction after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the deal was done in good faith in 2019. 

The hotel is situated between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and next to the Old City’s main entrance, Jaffa Gate. “If this is in the hands of this radical group, this will threaten the Christian presence on Jaffa Gate and in Jerusalem,” Walid Dajani, the hotel’s manager, told MintPress. His family has been running the hotel since 1949 and are protected tenants. 

Archbishop Theodosios of Sebastia, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, explained lands owned by the Greek Orthodox church are part of a Christian waqf or trust, meaning they are not for sale. “These properties support the steadfastness of Christians,” Archbishop Theodosios said. “These deals are illegal and these properties shall remain in the ownership of the church.” The religious leader added the Christian waqf had been under threat prior to the establishment of the Israeli state. “It started even before 1948,” Archbishop Theodosios said. “There are so many lands that belonged to churches in western Jerusalem that have been confiscated and so many Israeli official institutions were then built on these lands.”

Ateret Cohanim declined to comment on the matter. 

 

Attacks against Christians increasing 

A Palestinian Christian, lights candles, in a morning Christmas mass at St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in the West Bank village of Burqin near Jenin city, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

As land rights belonging to the Christian community are under threat, so too is their own safety. 

Both Father Baghdasaryan and Archbishop Theodosios described how nearly anyone wearing a cross while walking through the Old City will experience verbal or physical assaults from Jewish extremists. “Once a person is identified as a Christian — doesn’t matter whether he is a clergyman, seminarian or a lay person — they [the settlers] just behave like they are not welcome here. They spit on them. They curse them,” Baghdasaryan said.

Armenian Christians are most susceptible to attacks, given the Armenian Quarter’s proximity to the Jewish Quarter. Last May, Armenian reverends Father Tiran Hakobyan and Father Arbak Sarukhanyan were beaten by a group of Israeli settlers while walking to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Armenian Convent. Sarukhanyan was hospitalized for his injuries. “I have been in Jerusalem since 1995. [Attacks are] increasing yearly. In the past, there has never been any physical violence, but recently it’s becoming more and more common,” Baghdasaryan said.

Baghdasaryan has been spat on numerous times and Archbishop Theodosios has also been attacked when walking through the Old City. “Some of them are kids. They’re little children who spit, who verbally assault and who are treating religious people and elderly people in a very offensive way,” Archbishop Theodosios said. “These children are being raised on racism and hatred. They think that Jerusalem only belongs to them and not to any other people.”

But it’s not just physical violence that’s disturbing the Christian presence in Jerusalem. Archbishop Theodosios described how the municipality, together with settler groups, often organizes loud festivals during Jewish holidays in the Christian Quarter near the New Gate. “There will be music and dancing that is disrupting the area’s holiness and disrupting the daily lives of residents,” Archbishop Theodosios said.  “It’s an attempt to change the dominant Christian atmosphere of that area.”

 

Erasing a community
Israel Palestinians Easter

Palestinian Christians carry an effigy of Jesus Christ covered by flowers, during a symbolic funeral as part of their services marking Good Friday in the West Bank village of Al-Zababedah near Jenin, Friday, April 18, 2014. Followers of the Eastern Orthodox Churches are marking the solemn period of Easter. (AP/Mohammed Ballas)

Christianity was born in Palestine, but its population there is dwindling in numbers. In 2019, Jerusalem’s Palestinian Christian population was only 4% of the city’s demographic, with just under 5,000 residents in the Old City’s Christian Quarter.

Archbishop Theodosios believes strategic efforts are behind the city’s decreasing Christian numbers. Violence and land confiscation are part of a larger plan to empty Jerusalem of its Christian inhabitants.  

“We are facing a very dangerous situation,” Archbishop Theodosios said, “wherein a few years we might find the holiest city for Christians without any local Christians, without any indigenous Christians.”

The post Churches Declare Christianity in The Holy Land is Under Threat from Jewish Extremists appeared first on MintPress News.

Having a laugh in church? God forbid | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 06/02/2022 - 9:00pm in

A cathedral’s plan to host standup comedy has been criticised, but if it keeps places of worship relevant I’m a believer

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The Alfred Jewel and Kingship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/02/2016 - 4:04am in

Amy Faulkner explores how Alfred’s translations question what it means to be a good king in this TORCH Bite-Size talk at the Ashmolean Museum LiveFriday The Alfred Jewel is a testament to Alfred’s educational reforms, supposedly one of the mysterious and valuable aestels that would have accompanied the translations Alfred distributed to his bishops. This talk shows how Alfred’s translations question what it means to be a good king, and how the use or misuse of wealth is at the heart of this question.