The rapid rise and threat of the jihadist group Islamic State has confounded the secularist West. The idea that their motivations could truly be driven by religious ideology simply fails to register with those who view religion as an individualistic, private affair.
Graeme Wood’s excellent piece in The Atlantic has justly been making the rounds for the past week or so. It is well worth reading with a number of insights and points that strike at the heart of the contemporary conflict between modernity and religious violence. I commend “What ISIS Really Wants” to your reading. (Rasha al Aqeedi’s “Caliphatalism,” which looks more closely at the situation in Mosul, makes a great companion read.)
A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.
“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.
Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.
For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.
Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.
When is a ban not a ban? One answer might be when it is based on moral suasion rather than legal coercion. (I would also accept: When it’s a Target.)
In this piece over at the Federalist, Georgi Boorman takes up the prudence of a petition to get Target to remove smutty material and paraphernalia related to Fifty Shades from its shelves.
Boorman rightly points to the limitations of this kind of cultural posturing. Perhaps this petition illustrates more of a domination mentality than authentic cultural engagement, and Boorman’s right to offer many more hopeful options for engaging the kinds of cultural corruption that this case provides evidence of. I also tend to favor the more direct, personal, and relational methods of engagement to petitions, charters, public statements, and open letters, and there’s a lot of wisdom offered in Boorman’s piece.
Even before the Paris attacks, there were worries over a sharp rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and mainland Europe in 2014, says Caroline Wyatt of the BBC. In the past few years thousands of French Jews have fled the country to the one place they feel safe: Israel.
“The French Jewish community is gripped by a very deep sense of insecurity and that sense is often traced back to the attack in Tolouse in 2012,” says Avi Mayer, a spokesperson for the Jewish Agency for Israel. “But there’s also a lower-level sense that it’s simply impossible to be openly Jewish in the streets of France, and that’s something that’s manifested itself with Jewish discomfort with wearing yarmulkes in the streets or necklaces with Jewish stars.”
The resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe is appalling and tragic. What it shouldn’t be, however, is unexpected. Like it’s Islamist extremist counterpart, the roots of this hatred are often economic.
Europe has always been susceptible to the siren’s call of socialism, and as economist Tyler Cowen pointed out nearly 20 years ago, there is a direct link between statism and the persecution of minorities:
What just happened in Paris?
Today at 11:30 a.m. local time in Paris (5:30 a.m. ET), two gunmen wearing black hoods and carrying Kalashnikovs killed twelve people, including two police officers, and seriously wounded four others in an apparent terrorist attack on the offices of a French satirical news magazine that had published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
The gunmen escaped and are currently on the loose and being hunted by French police. (The police say they are looking for three men.)
Why is it assumed to be a terrorist attacks by Muslims?
In an eyewitness video of the attack, the gunmen are heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) while the shootings took place.
According to a video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV, one of the men shouted in French, “Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo.”
The attack is believed to be in response to a recent tweet by the publication of a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, with the caption (in French): “Best wishes, by the way.”
France has raised its terror threat level following the shooting.
What is Charlie Hebdo?
Topping the list of hot trends in 2014 were “Victimism” (i.e., posturing as a victim for political advantage and media attention) and “Annoy-Thy-Neighbor” activism. There were many groups that combined both to great effect, so it would be difficult to choose the best representative case. But the lamest example of the year is much easier to find: it’s by Jex Blackmore and the Michigan Satanists.
Unfortunately, that’s not the name of a band trying to hard to be clever. Blackmore is a real person (I think, but who knows nowadays) and a member of the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple. As is typical of most modern-day “Satanists” they don’t really believe in Satan at all. On their Facebook page they explain, “As Satanists, we believe that elevating revolt against arbitrary authority and defiance in the face of oppression is the highest of callings. We stand in solidarity with groups who are subject to institutionalized forms of discrimination and state oppression.”
In other words, they’re the typical lefty Social Justice Warriors—only more clueless and annoying. Secular Satanists think they’re being edgy and ironic and sticking it to Christians, while everyone else considers them as cringe-worthy in their lack of self-awareness. Seriously, is there anything sadder than a secular Satanist? They’re so pathetic you want to give them a hug and offer them some hot cocoa. You want to tell them that if they’d just stop drawing pentagrams and scribbling “I ♥ Richard Dawkins” in their notebooks and go out into the Real World they too could make friends .
Instead, they try to hide their loneliness by doing stuff like erecting a “Satanic holiday display” at the Michigan statehouse:
The BBC visited Baton Rouge, specifically the most violent part of Baton Rouge. The reporter asked people who live there what they would change about America. It’s an insightful little piece of journalism.
Several people mentioned the need for God and prayer. One young man who owns his own business credits his success with having a father who lived with him and raised him – something he says most of his peers didn’t have.
One man, showing off his scars from his violent tendencies, said he couldn’t worry about other people. He had to worry about himself and his family. “You have money and I don’t,” he bluntly stated as the problem.
Finally, one young entrepreneur says he thinks the main issue with people in his area is lack of exposure. Too many people, he says, don’t see anything else except that little zip code. “You live here, you go to school here…what else is there to aspire to?”
On Tuesday, voters in Alabama passed a ballot measure that, among other things, forbids courts, arbitrators, and administrative agencies from applying or “enforcing a foreign law if doing so would violate any state law or a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.” Such measures (other states have passed similar laws) are often dubbed “anti-Sharia” measures since preventing the encroachment of Sharia is usually their primary objective.
Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam that deals with topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual relations, hygiene, diet, and prayer. The two primary sources of Sharia law are the Quran and the example set by the founder of Islam, Muhammad. The introduction of Sharia across the globe is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements.
Opposing Sharia law may appear to be commonsensical measure. But such laws are unnecessary since state law and the Constitution already trump foreign law. They also can’t be written to oppose only Sharia (that would be religious discrimination) so they are written in a broad way that has unintended consequences.
Indeed, there is a compelling reason why Christians should be leery of joining in supporting anti-Sharia legislation: By helping to push the idea that religious beliefs should be kept private, anti-Sharia laws are a threat to all of our religious liberties. As the Catholic legal scholar Robert K. Vischer explained last year in First Things:
Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, ponders “Envy In A Time Of Inequality” in today’s American Spectator. Envy, he opines, is the worst human emotion. From the time that Cain killed Abel to today’s “near-obsession with inequality,” Gregg says envy is driving public policy…and that’s not good.
The situation isn’t helped by the sheer looseness of contemporary discussions of economic inequality. Inequality and poverty, for instance, aren’t the same things. That, however, doesn’t stop people from conflating them. Likewise, important distinctions between inequalities in income, wealth, education, and access to technology are regularly blurred. As recalled in a paper recently published by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, wealth inequalities can have greater impact upon people’s comparative abilities to build up capital for the future than income inequality. Yet we spend most of our time anguishing about the latter.