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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Sunday, December 16th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos ]
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Holy Athos

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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Thee title of the Guardian piece, which came to me via my admired scholar friend Michael Robinson, is Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos. Michael pointed it my way because “holy Mount Athos” — not because “Ukraine-Russia tensions”.

Nevertheless, forget religion, it’s all politics! (a popular refrain in our secular-dominant world)..

“Ukraine is an independent country and deserves its own church,” Makarios told the visiting Belarusians, who nodded dubiously. His view is not shared by all: a Ukrainian monk based at Makarios’s cell, Father Agafon, had a different opinion, calling those Ukrainians in favour of an independent church “splitters and heretics” and saying the Ukrainian church should remain under the control of Moscow.

and:

Although most of the monks on Athos are Greek, for many Russians, as well as Ukrainians and Belarusians, a pilgrimage to Mount Athos has become almost like an Orthodox version of the Islamic hajj, seen as a spiritual must for any true believer. Oligarchs and government elites particularly like the peninsula, with its difficult-to-obtain permits and air of a VIP club. In the weeks prior to the Guardian’s visit, Makarios said he had hosted a Belarusian army general, a number of Ukrainian MPs and several rich Russians at his austere cell.

Makarios’ austere breakfast, btw, is coffee and nuts — for the visiting generals, MPS and rich folk, too..

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Forget religion, it’s all violence and strategy!

With a meeting in Kiev on Saturday set to formally proclaim the church’s independence, some are predicting violence if Kiev tries to seize church property from the Moscow patriarchy.

Subtitle of the piece:

Orthodox church’s decision to make Ukrainian branch independent of Russia causes schism and predictions of violence

and:

M:alofeev blamed the Americans for the turmoil, claiming that “Pyatt is trying to stir up the same things he did in Ukraine” in Greece. He also claimed Bartholomew’s entourage was “infiltrated with CIA agents” and said the decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian church could lead to violence in Ukraine and Athos to split with the ecumenical patriarch.

**

Forget religion, it’s all money!

One Russian who has been particularly active on Athos is Konstantin Malofeev, a businessman known as the “Orthodox oligarch”, who is currently on EU and US sanctions lists for his alleged role in funding the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

and:

He insisted that most of Athos was united in its loyalty to the ecumenical patriarch, but conceded that the feeling was not unanimous. “There are some monks who just love Russian money,” he said with a sigh.

**

Forget religion, it’s quintessentially religion..

For centuries, Orthodox men have come to Mount Athos, a closed peninsula in northern Greece, to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world. The only entrance is by boat, and women are strictly forbidden to set foot on the territory. Male pilgrims, after receiving a special permit, can visit to confess and seek counsel from the 2,000 monks at the 20 monasteries and smaller “cells” dotted along the hilly shoreline. It is one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, the eastern form of Christianity that split with Catholicism in the 11th century.

Monks enter Athos “to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world,” okay?

Athos runs on Byzantine time, an archaic system in which the clocks are reset each day at sunset, and it uses the Julian calendar, rendering Athos 13 days behind the rest of the western world. At sunset the monasteries shut their gates and a stillness settles on the peninsula until the bells ring for morning liturgy.

“People come here to try to be saints, and leave the difficulties of the world behind,” said Father Porfirius, a 27-year-old Greek monk. “The hardest part is to kill your will. We try to destroy it, to get to the level of obedience of Jesus Christ.”

Patriarch vs Patriarch (with Putin Plus):

All is not well in Orthodoxy currently, with a split linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine causing a schism and dark talk of violence among the various Orthodox churches. Bartholomew of Constantinople, known as the ecumenical patriarch and the “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs, agreed in October to give autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox church, essentially making it an independent church. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian church, which regards Ukraine as its domain, responded furiously and announced a split from the ecumenical patriarch.

and:

Kirill has banned Russians from taking holy communion in the churches of Athos, calling any priests who bless the ecumenical patriarch schismatics, leading to a dilemma for those Russians who want to visit.

Schism is about as bad as it gets within Christianity. The Pope and the Patriarch are currently trying, with some little success, to heal a schism between Catholics and Orthodox which began as a dispute over a clause in the major credal statement — the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed — which broke the two major branches of the Church, east and west, apart in 1054. That’s more than a millennium of strife between brothers whose savior prayed at the end of his life [John 17.22-23]:

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

**

Okay, kudos to Guardian writer Shaun Walker for knowing the importance of religious reporting of issues that also have economic, strategic, political aspects!

And let’s conclude with a link to this related Orthodox prayer page:

:Concerning the Orthodox Prayers for the Union of All and the Prayer in St. John 17
Excerpts from Ecumenism: A Movement for Union or a Syncretistic Heresy?
by Bishop Angelos of Avlona

Of Note: Tim Furnish, & Trump’s National CT Strategy

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — and a few ppl whose views on trump’s strategy document I’d also like to read ]
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  • Tim Furnish, Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King
  • Trump, 2018, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Obama, 2011, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Tim Furnish, Sectsploitation: How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World
  • **

    I wanted to draw your attention to our blog-friend and sometime contributor Tim Furnish‘s post, which offers a lucid introduction to the Trump administration’s National CT Strategy paper, situating it in contrast to the Obama admin’s version, and linking it to a very helpful breakdown of what we might call (remembering William James, but in mostly lower case) the varieties of Islamic experience.

    Let me just say that from my POV:

    1) Tim Furnish has a way superior understanding of the said varieties than John Bolton ever will have — plus he has a taste for pop culture asides!

    2) that the key issue to be further explored could be expressed in terms of the overlaps, Venn diagram-wise, between “literalist”, “mainstream” and “authentic” Islams.

    That’s a project I’ve been circling for more than a decade, and the closer I get, the more subtleties arise to be considered. Still circling in..

    Thomas Hegghammer, JM Berger, Leah Farrall, Adam Elkus, Will McCants and John Horgan are others whose varied voices and opinions regaarding the new CT Strategy text I’ll be watching for.

    **

    Tim’s essay and associated matters: Warmly recommended.

    Zen — pray chime in.

    JM Berger’s Extremism, from MIT Press. Brilliant.

    Monday, September 24th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — my third JM Berger review, following reviews of Jihad Joe and ISIS: State of Terror ]
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    I ordered a copy of JM Berger‘s Extremism months early from Amazon, having followed many of the posts in which he was formulating the insights that led to the book, and expecting a volume full of the very detailed diagrams and network analyses they contained:

    Image sources:

  • ICCT, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis
  • Intelwire, EXTREMIST CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY
  • **

    These diagrams, and the research that underlies them — the work of JM and his colleague, Haroro J Ingram — attest to JM’s skill at the detailed drill-down level, the equivalent of rock-face drilling in a mine. The book couldn’t be further from my expectations: it attests to an entirely different set of skills, those of simplicity, grace, and a superb command of language.

    JM has the ability to communicate directly with a lay audience at their (our) level. He neither shies away from nuance nor adds needless complications — either of which would be a form of condescension to the reader.

    JM’s writing is direct and clean:

  • Terrorism is a tactic, whereas extremism is a belief system.
  • Extremism is a spectrum of beliefs, not necessarily a simple destination.
  • Group radicalization precedes individual radicalization
  • **

    Above are three of the pull-quotes, extracted from the book’s text, that state some of JM’s basic propositions on lucid, large-print, white on black pages, scattered as needed across the book’s 167 short pages (plus glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index)..

  • What extremism is, how extremist ideologies are constructed, and why extremism can escalate into violence
  • That’s the core proposition of the whole work, buttressed as it is with a wealth of detailed research and analysis. And radical…

    JM’s approach is already radical in its (his) refusal to treat only one ideological or religious frame for extremism. Studying both ISIS and home grown Identity groups, those who promote violence and those who arguably foreshadow it, led JM to see extremism itself as the most fruitful category to study — not terrorism, nor Islam, not the Citizen Sovereignty movement nor alt-right, but extremism tout court.

    That broadening of the frame allows Berger a set of analytic insights that were obscured by detail in earlier, more limited studies, and his book is the elegant formulation of those insights, simply, and with a forest of scholarship in support.

    **

    JM lists Impurity, Conspiracy, Dystopia, Existential threat, and Apocalypse as central “crisis narratives” utilized by in-groups as they view out-groups — but it is the in-group-out-group distinction which is central to his thinking, its wrongness characterized by the in-group’s paranoid conspiracist suspicions of the out-group’s impurity, dystopic being the nature of the world now ruled by the out-group, and to be abhorred or saved by the in-, with existential threat and apocalypse providing the sense of time-crunch, urgency.

    All this, I say, with a simplicity and elegance which belies the originality and scholarship that undergirds it.

    Above highly recommended.

    Liturgically speaking, the Missing Man formation..

    Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — loss and grief, formalized ]
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    Over North Vietnam, Naval pilot John McCain was shot down out of his intended flight path in his youth, to suffer years of captivity and torture before his release, and after a long life of service in the House and Senate, as his body was interred in the Annapolis Naval Academy Cemetery, one jet from a formation of four peeled away up and rose vertically while the three remaining planes regrouped in formation, the purpose of the gesture, the aviation fuel made available for it, and the honor accorded to the four pilots being, in the words of a Naval Air Force Atlantic release

    the missing man formation is a salute performed as part of flypast of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event in memory of a deceased aviator. One airplane in a four-plane formation will pull up vertical to signify the passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens.

    You’ll note that the “passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens” is a theological, rather than a Naval, doctrine, and indeed the gesture is a deeply emotional one, made all the more powerful by the strict discipline required of the pilots involved.

    Jets perform ‘missing man’ formation in tribute to John McCain

    I just wanted to note, as a religious matter, and as an indication of the power of simplicity, constraint, and tradition in liturgy, the power of this last note in McCain’s funeral passage from Sedona to Annapolis.

    Contexts for Catholic Church child abuse & cover up

    Monday, August 27th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — responding to E.J. Dionne Jr. and others in a similar plight ]
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    You may consider this post a response to E.J. Dionne Jr.‘s Washngton Post op-ed, It’s becoming harder to explain why I’m still Catholic

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    The Catholic Church is being hammered, nailed — there’s even a crucifixion echo there, but no, that won’t work here — for its extensive clerical — priests, yes, but nuns too — child abuse, long covered up and mushrooming under that cover..

    The focus is on the Catholic Church, as though Catholicism itself were the problem. In its bureaucratic structure, it surely is — but the message in the second panel of this DoubleQuote, a quote from one of Billy Graham‘s grandsons, should remind us that the rot is found outside as well as inside the Catholic tent:

    Worse!
    And btw, they don’t have (repressed!) celibate clergy!

    **

    That’s to say, don’t keep the “conversation” focused on the Catholic tent, as though it’s all on Pope Francis, when it’s not. And this second one is to remind us of the very real spiritual implication of the abuse for those who commit, or by extension permit it, for instance by assigning a known pedophile priest to a new parish where he can continue his practice de novo — as Dionne mentions in his opening salvo.

    Here in the second panel is Christ’s response to all such:

    **

    If we bear in mind Christ’s personal and divine identification with the innocent, the victims, the gravity of the situation will not be lost. And if we can take Tullian Tchividjian’s word for the state of affairs in Protestant circles — he has a somewhat checkered past — then maybe we can escape the Catholic silo so prevalent in current news reports, and search more broadly for similar manifestations across faiths (and “none”) laterally, and vertically in terms of psychological drivers, generational descent, and so forth.

    This is no time for blame-calling within the box.


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