Religion

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

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 US Supreme Court is Now a Front for Christian Nationalist Minority Rule

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/05/2022 - 9:54am in

The significance of the Alito draft

Read more ›

The post The US Supreme Court is Now a Front for Christian Nationalist Minority Rule appeared first on New Politics.

St Michael’s Greek

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/05/2022 - 9:25am in

St Michael’s Greek Orthodox Church. Built post WWII, after another influx of Greek migrants. Tens of thousands fled here as refugees from the Greek Civil War (1946-49) and found steady factory/warehouse work in the Inner West. Camperdown.

Werleman’s Worldview: The Groups Promoting Hindutva and Human Slavery in the US

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 9:08pm in

CJ Werleman explores another aspect of the extreme Hindu-nationalist project persecuting religious minorities in India

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Between 15,000 and 17,000 people are lured into the United States each year by false promises of decent paying jobs and better lives, according to the US State Department. Only to learn upon their arrival that they are unwitting victims of human trafficking or what is often described as modern slavery. 

While the criminal practice is particularly rife in industries that lack government regulation or oversight, it also exists in the unlikeliest of places – including those of religious worship.

This was revealed last November when US federal authorities raided the temple of a prominent Hindu sect in New Jersey. It did so after learning that it was luring low-caste laborers from India to conduct work on the temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey, and other temples in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. It paid them as little as $1.20 per hour in a state that demands a minimum wage of $12 per hour.

Lawyers for the trafficked labourers said in a lawsuit that Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha – a Hindu sect known as BAPS – had exploited possibly hundreds of low-caste men for temple-related construction projects, which required each man to perform 13 hours a day of labour, including lifting large stones, operating heavy machinery, digging ditches, shovelling snow, and building roads and storm drains.

The lawsuit stated that their passports were confiscated and that they were also subjected to forced confinement, threats and other forms of abuse.

“At the Robbinsville temple, and elsewhere, the defendants intentionally caused the workers to reasonably believe that if they tried to leave their work and the temple compounds, they would suffer physical restraint and serious harm," the lawsuit said.

What makes this case particularly interesting is the close relationship BAPS enjoys with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the far-right, ultra-nationalist party he leads – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

BAPS, which now has more than five million devotees worldwide, was founded and based in Modi’s home state of Gujarat – the site of an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002, when Modi was the state’s then chief minister. For these reasons, Gujarat has been called a “laboratory for Hindutva” – a Hindu nationalist ideology that aims to transform India into a Hindu-only nation by expelling 300 million Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. The state is also BJP’s electoral stronghold.

BAPS has more than eight temples and 1,000 members in the US and Canada.

Martha C Nussbaum, an Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, has accused it of “inculcating militant Hindu nationalist ideology among its followers”, in her book The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future.

In 2018, Modi entrusted BAPS to build a temple in the United Arab Emirates, saying in front of 1,700 dignitaries at its launch in Abu Dhabi that it “will act as a catalyst for the flourishment of humanitarian values and harmony between the two countries" and “become a medium for India’s identity”. 

According to The New York Times, BAPS also donated the equivalent of $290,000 towards Modi’s promise to build a Hindu temple atop the ruins of the ancient Babri Mosque, which was destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992, setting off a wave of communal violence – the embers of which still burn fiercely today. When India’s Supreme Court granted permission for the construction of a temple on the site last year, Modi proclaimed: “The wait of centuries is coming to an end.”

His words symbolised his “total domination over India”, observed Arati Jerath, an Indian pollical commentator, at the time.

These ties explain why India’s right-wing ecosystem has leapt to the defence of BAPS by falsely claiming that a US-based construction company is responsible for the human trafficking taking place at half a dozen of its temples in America.

But the allegations laid bare against BAPS in the lawsuit could not be clearer. It has been charged under several US federal and state laws, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and wage laws.

The lawsuit also brings into view the relationship between BAPS and prominent right-wing Hindu organisations in the United States – including the Hindu American Foundation, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and the Vishva Hindu Parishad America.

Last year, Byline Times revealed how some of these organisations – particularly those promoting vicious Islamophobia – are lobbying US law-makers to adopting pro-Indian Government policies and talking points related to Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act, a discriminatory law targeted at Muslims.

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE?
HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

PAY ANNUALLY - £39 A YEAR

PAY MONTHLY - £3.50 A MONTH

MORE OPTIONS

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

In 2015, Hindu American Foundation executive director Suhag Shukla delivered the keynote speech at a BAPS women’s conference – and then paid it $5,500 to host a Diwali celebration in Washington's Capitol Hill in 2019, according to the foundation's US financial statements.

Notably, the Hindu American Foundation's founding board member, Dr Mihir Meghani, authored the ideological manifesto Hindutva – the Great Nationalist Ideology, which serves as a guiding light for Narendra Modi and the BJP. It calls India the “land of Hindus”, while arguing that the Muslim presence in the country is an outcome of “Islamic invasions” and “forced conversions” – despite both claims being ahistorical and rooted in hate.

In recent weeks, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (the US affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, all-male, Hindu-nationalist paramilitary outfit), and the Vishva Hindu Parishad America (which the CIA identifies as a “religious militant organisation”) partnered with BAPS to promote Hinduism at an exhibition in New Jersey titled 'Darshana: A Glimpse into the Hindu Civilisation'. This is despite the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and RSS openly declaring that Hindu nationalism – or Hindutva – is not the same thing as the religion of Hinduism.

Thus, Hindu nationalist organisations are not only operating largely under the radar in the US, but are also mischievously promoting Hindu nationalism under the guise of the Hindu faith.

Revelations that BAPS is profiting from the trafficked labour of low-caste Indian migrants is yet another layer in the extreme Hindu-nationalist project persecuting religious minorities in the world's largest democracy.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

The Rise of Humanitarian Corridors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 4:00am in

The type of global public religion that the Sant’ Egidio community offers no silver bullet for those who are internally displaced or pushed across borders. And yet, secularism and secularists cannot combat these crises alone. Although a magical solution is not at hand, a certain form of help is. The question that remains is whether new, secular-religious, transnational alliances can be formed. Can there be new collaborations between these old rivals? ...

Read More

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

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

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

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Big in India

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 10:32pm in


The afterglow of this communion extends into the final, much-anticipated delight: a “cultural boat ride” promising “ten thousand years of Indian Culture in ten minutes.” This air-conditioned funfair ride begins, appropriately enough, on the mythic “banks of the Saraswati” (a now unknown or extinct river celebrated in the Vedas) festooned with tableaux of ten-thousand-year-old “Vedic” agriculture, Vedic universities, Vedic bazaars, Vedic elections and even the “first conference on embryology.” Never mind that the prevailing historical consensus is that the earliest Vedic “texts” (they were originally orally transmitted) are little more than 3,500 years old. Further downriver, things get weirder as we witness the Indic invention of everything from plastic surgery to the airplane.

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

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

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

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

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

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

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.”

FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
& INCREDIBLE VALUE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES FOR AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

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.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Conservative MP Takes £22,000 Second Job For American Group Linked to Anti-Abortion Campaigns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 9:08pm in

The backlash over the secondary employment of MPs rolls on, as Sam Bright and Sian Norris reveal the lucrative role of one backbench Conservative

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti is being paid £22,400 a-year to work part-time for a religious pressure group in the United States linked to anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ efforts, Byline Times can reveal.

A new entry in Chishti’s register of interests shows that “from 1 March until further notice” he will receive £1,868.19 a-month for 10 hours of work on behalf of the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), based in Washington DC.

Chishti holds a formal title at the RFI – ‘Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom policy’.

The RFI covers a wide-range of issues around the persecution of religious beliefs and recognises religious liberty as a human right. It provided a financial benefit of £2,400 in 2021 to the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for ‘International Freedom of Religion or Belief’.

Part of the focus of the RFI – in respect of religious liberty – is abortion rights. It campaigns for conscience clauses that allow for medical professionals to refuse to give abortion care. It was also critical of President Joe Biden’s repeal of the global gag rule – which under President Trump banned federal funds from being donated to NGOs that provided abortion. An article on the RFI website said: “Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith communities want a US civil forum free of coercive requirements to partner with, promote, or financially support abortion providers”.

The reproductive rights charity MSI Reproductive Choices estimates that the gag rule led to an additional 1.8 million unsafe abortions under Donald Trump’s presidency and 20,000 maternal deaths. 

Chishti is one of 24 associate scholars at the RFI, alongside individuals linked to a range of anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ initiatives. 

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Take, for example, associate scholar William Saunders – chairman of religious liberty at the Federalist Society. This organisation has campaigned for anti-abortion judges on the Supreme Court, with conservative activist Edward G. Whelan saying that the Federalist Sociey’s leadership has been “dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe V. Wade”.

Another associate scholar is Andrew G. Graham, who serves as senior counsel for academic and professional affairs at Alliance Defending Freedom – a religious freedom giant that has campaigned against abortion and LGBTIQ rights.

They are joined by Todd Huizinga, senior fellow for Europe, who has a relationship with with the One of Us Federation of Pro-Life Groups which started life as a petition by the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ organisation CitizenGO. Huizinga also has links to the Acton Institute – partially funded by organisations linked to the disaster capitalist Koch Brothers – and the anti-abortion, anti-equal marriage think tank the Heritage Foundation. 

The RFI has also argued against extending anti-discrimination legislation to LGBTIQ people on the basis that many religions (or at least some of their followers) don’t tolerate non-“traditional” sexualities and relationships.

In an article written on the RFI website, Huizinga argues that LGBTIQ rights activists, academics, journalists, business leaders and Democrat politicians “now express a profound intolerance of orthodox religious faith and its traditionalist views of human sexuality”.

Rehman Chishti was the Government’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief from September 2019 until his resignation in September 2020. He was also vice chair of the Conservative Party, covering faith and communities, from January to November 2018.

There has been sustained scrutiny of the second jobs undertaken by MPs, following the case of Owen Paterson – forced to resign as an MP after a scandal involving his lobbying on behalf of two private firms. The Government has therefore faced pressure to place limits on these side-roles, with some ministers urging Boris Johnson to consider either recommending a time limit that MPs may devote to secondary employment, or a cap on earnings.

However, it was revealed last week that the Government believes a time limit “would be impractical”, while an earnings cap “could serve to prohibit activities which do not bring undue influence to bear on the political system”, such as writing books.

Chishti and the RFI did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

Conservative Links to Anti-Abortion Movement

Rehman is not the only Conservative MP with links to the anti-abortion movement in the US and UK. The groups named above have also played host – and donated to – other UK politicians. 

The chair of the ‘Pro-Life’ APPG Fiona Bruce spoke at a youth conference organised by Alliance Defending Freedom’s European arm, ADF International, in 2019. The organisation paid her expenses, at £927. 

The Pro-Life APPG has received £9,001 donations in kind from its secretariat, the anti-abortion Right to Life charity. The charity has links to various MPs, including Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

The anti-abortion Heritage Foundation is a popular destination for Conservative MPs. In January 2022, former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox spoke at its Awakening Conference, with the foundation paying expenses totalling £14,990. Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, who spearheaded anti-abortion legislation between 2016 and 2020 and signed a law forcing women to have burials for aborted foetuses, was part of the line-up. 

Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden also recently gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, despite the right-wing think-tank being accused of trying to undermine US democracy with its voting reform policies. 

Byline Times approached Bruce, Fox and Dowden for comment, but did not receive a response.

Rolling Back Abortion Rights

These connections come as the US Supreme Court debates ending the constitutional right to safe, legal abortion, and as the UK Government prepares to rollback abortion access in England. 

In March 2020, the Government allowed for telemedicine for abortions in the early weeks of pregnancy. This meant that women could get permission from medical professionals, on the phone, in order to receive abortion pills that could be taken at home.

It initially seemed that the policy would become permanent, before the Department of Health and Social Care performed a U-turn and said it would end telemedicine in August. Such a move would roll back abortion rights for millions of women, girls and pregnant people in England. 

A successful vote in the House Lords led by Baroness Sugg means that the House of Commons will now debate and have a free vote next week on whether to retain the policy.

The anti-abortion movement, including Right to Life, has campaigned for an end to the policy, including by making the contested claim that telemedicine makes it easier for abusers to coerce women into abortions, and that it is not dignified for women to miscarry the foetus at home.

This ignores the evidence from domestic abuse charities that victims and survivors prefer telemedicine as it gives them more control to end forced pregnancy, and that women taking abortion pills at a doctor’s surgery miscarry at home anyway – while some under the old policy were forced to miscarry in public after leaving the GP’s office. 

The focus on miscarrying at home suggests that the end goal of those campaigning against telemedicine abortions is to do away with medical abortion altogether, drastically inhibiting women’s access to safe and legal terminations. 

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Pages