All posts filed under: Religion

Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization—A Review

A review of Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization by Samuel Gregg, Gateway Editions (June 2019) 256 pages. The role of Christianity in Western history presents an interesting puzzle. Those who argue that Christianity has nothing to do with the success of the modern West need to explain why the scientific method, constitutional government, market economics, and the modern concept of human rights arose in Christian Europe rather than somewhere else. On the other hand, those who argue that Christianity is critical or integral to the success of the modern West need to explain why these developments did not occur until 12 centuries after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. For most of its history, Christianity didn’t seem to be making much of a contribution to freedom, peace, and prosperity. One interpretation which has gained currency is the “Athens and Jerusalem” argument, according to which, Western civilisation is based in a unique combination of Greek reason and Judeo-Christian faith. This argument was recently rehearsed, for example, by Ben Shapiro in …

Pell’s Pyrrhic Victory

In an essay published on this site nearly two months ago, I analysed George Pell’s conviction for child sex offences alleged to have occurred in Melbourne, Australia, in December 1996 and February 1997. On Tuesday, Australia’s highest court unanimously ruled—along substantially the same lines as those explored in my argument—that Pell was wrongfully convicted. A short time later the 78-year-old was released from the maximum security prison in which he had been serving his sentence in solitary confinement. The question for the High Court was the same as that presented to the Victorian Court of Appeal which rejected Pell’s first appeal: was it open to the jury, acting reasonably, to convict the accused based on the available evidence? Rarely for a case heard in the nation’s highest court, the judges were concerned principally with factual rather than legal matters. The court reviewed the evidence and concluded that a rational jury could not have convicted Pell on this basis, and that the Victorian Court of Appeal erred in failing to find this. The accusations, briefly stated, …

Convictions and Doubts: The Case of Cardinal Pell

On 9 January 2020, officials at the Melbourne Assessment Prison intercepted a drone flying over the prison grounds. Remotely piloted aircraft are banned within 120 metres of a correctional facility in the Australian state of Victoria to avoid the smuggling of contraband and other security breaches. This drone was not fitted with drugs or weapons or mobile phones but a camera its operator hoped would capture the prison’s highest profile inmate. That inmate was Cardinal George Pell, the most senior member of the Catholic Church ever convicted of child sex offences. Pell was moved to Barwon prison after the drone incident. Barwon houses Victoria’s most dangerous offenders, including serial killers Gregory Brazel and Paul (now Paula) Denyer, terrorist Abdul Nacer Benbrika and Barbaro ‘Ndrangheta crime clan leader Pasquale Barbaro. It was Barwon where the leader of a prison gang beat well-known Melbourne crime figure Carl Williams to death with a metal rod extracted from an exercise bike in 2011. From Ballarat to Barwon via Oxford and Rome Barwon is a mere one hour drive from …

Confucius Got It Right: Giving in to ‘Bias’ Is Part of Living an Ethical Life

“I would strangle everyone in this room if it somehow prolonged my son’s life.” That’s what I blurted into a microphone during a panel discussion on ethics. I was laughing when I said it, but the priest sitting next to me turned sharply in horror and the communist sitting next to him raised her hand to her throat and stared daggers at me. Why was I on a panel with a priest and a revolutionary communist? Long story—not very interesting: we were debating the future of ethics with special attention to the role of religion. The interesting part, however, is that at some point, after we all shook hands like adults and I was on my way home, I realized that I meant it—I would choke them all. Well, of course, one can’t be entirely sure that one’s actions will follow one’s intentions. The best-laid plans of mice and men, and all that. But, given some weird Twilight Zone scenario wherein all their deaths somehow saved my son’s life, I was at least hypothetically committed. …

Religious Progressivism

Almost 40 years ago I read Nikolai Berdyaev’s The Russian Revolution, in which he makes the case that Soviet Communism was essentially a religion in the mould of Christianity, with its concept of original sin (expropriation of labour), priestly class (the Communist Party), The Final Judgement (The Revolution), purification through penance (communal labour), holy scriptures (Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto), and so on. The book had a great influence on the subsequent development of my thinking about politics, morality and society. The power of this book’s message has probably been much diminished by the collapse of Soviet Communism nearly three decades ago now. But, like the famous aphorism attributed to G. K. Chesterton that, when men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything, Berdyaev’s core insight that when religion is displaced it tends to be replaced by religion in another form retains its validity. Of course, I am not here interpreting religion in the narrow sense of belief in an all-powerful deity who commands our obedience. Rather, I …

The New York Post Whitewashes the Plight of Egypt’s Copts

With Holy Week starting in nine days, Copts across Egypt were preparing for the most important week in their faith. Unlike in the West, Easter—and, more precisely, the week that precedes it—and not Christmas is the center of the Coptic calendar. Church interiors are covered in black cloth, hymns are sung in a funereal tone, and services are conducted day and night. No other event takes place, not even funerals for those unlucky enough to die during that week. But in the village of Nag Khalaf Allah, in Egypt’s south, Copts’ preparations for Holy week were interrupted by a mob. At 4 pm on April 12, 2019, as children were in their Sunday school classes, the attack began on the Saint Karas church. The church, like thousands across the country, did not have official registration papers since obtaining them from the regime is a nearly impossible task. But Copts had been praying in it for years, and Saint Karas church had submitted its request for registration in 2017, as required by a 2016 law. The …

William Peter Blatty’s Counter-Countercultural Parable

In her new book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics (excerpted in Quillette on August 27), essayist and cultural critic Mary Eberstadt documents just how damaging the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and its normalization of divorce in particular, has been to America’s children. She mentions many publications that comment on “the correlations between crumbling family structure and various adverse results,” particularly for the children of divorce. The authors she cites include former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, social scientist James Q. Wilson, and Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. A writer she doesn’t mention, however, is William Peter Blatty, author of the blockbuster 1971 horror novel The Exorcist. Those who have never read the novel, or are familiar only with its 1973 cinematic incarnation, probably believe the book to be a potboiler about demonic possession. But it is also an allegorical warning about the importance of the traditional family unit and the devastation wrought when it breaks down. Curiously, this aspect of the …

David Gelernter is Wrong About Ditching Darwin

I’ve never been one to judge somebody’s arguments by their scholarly credentials. After all, two major contributors to my own field of evolutionary genetics, Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin, were amateur naturalists and autodidacts trained more thoroughly in theology than in biology. So when well-known Yale professor and computer scientist David Gelernter rejected Darwinian evolution in his recent essay, ‘Giving Up Darwin,’ we can’t dismiss him simply because he’s not a biologist. Nor can we ignore his arguments because the piece appeared in a conservative journal, the Claremont Review of Books. No, we must attack his arguments head on, especially because they’ve been widely parroted by the media, as well as by conservative, religious, and intelligent-design (ID) websites. Sadly, his arguments are neither new nor correct. Gelernter’s claim—that evolution as envisioned by Darwin (and expanded into “neo-Darwinism” since the 1930s) cannot explain features of organisms and of the fossil record—depends heavily on the arguments of ID creationists. And every one of those arguments has been soundly rebutted over the past few decades. While Gelernter doesn’t fully …

Memories of Life at Kingdom Hall: An Alberta Schoolgirl Waits for Armageddon

In 1909, a wealthy man from Pennsylvania bought a brick building on a steep street just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, across the river from Manhattan. Blocks away from where Walt Whitman had set to type the first editions of Leaves of Grass, a small, relatively unknown group that called themselves the “Bible Students” was regrouping, with this building as their hub. Their leader was feeling discouraged after another failed prediction that the world would end. But he was not deterred. Spending his days overlooking the same East River that had inspired Whitman to write verse, he rewrote his own inspired prose that warned of the world’s imminent, violent end and urged all to join him so that they, too, could live forever in paradise on Earth. Russell had always been interested in religion and as a young man had painted fire and brimstone Bible verses on fences around his hometown as a pastime. He met a man named William Miller, who had founded a religious movement, Millerism, which was the precursor to the Seventh-day …

The Uncertain Boundaries of Corporate Morality

A deeply unusual public spectacle has been playing out in Australia for a number of weeks involving a prominent rugby player, a mangled bible verse, the rugby player’s wife, a crowdfunding platform, a major bank and a health insurance fund. All the elements of a terrible joke are present, yet the core of the matter—the messy intersection of legal freedom and corporate morality—is proving to be serious. Rugby player Israel Folau, domestic and international superstar, allegedly breached his contract with Rugby Australia by posting an adaptation of a bible verse to Instagram which suggested unrepentant homosexuals would ultimately find themselves in hell, alongside liars, adulterers, persons with tattoos, and a variety of other sinners. As a consequence of his refusal to remove the post, Folau’s lucrative contract with Rugby Australia was terminated. The legality of this decision has yet to be decided in court. The case has attracted immense interest and is already being touted as a potential landmark for freedom of religion and religious expression in the domain of Australian employment law and—to a …