Experts warn of 'ominous trends' in Western secularism

Two articles that I think are interesting when read together. The first is from CNA (Catholic News Agency):

Experts warn of 'ominous trends' in Western secularism
By Kerri Lenartowick

Rome, Italy, Dec 16, 2013 / 03:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Experts on religious liberty cautioned participants at a weekend conference in Rome that discrimination and persecution against Christians is growing in many regions of the world.

Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, spoke about the causes underlying current global anti-Christian persecution.

“Western secularism has been growing in the last few decades,” Marshall told CNA in a Dec. 13 interview. “I want to emphasize that the patterns we're talking about are not like those in the remaining Communist world or the Middle East. It's not persecution in that sense, but it's getting very worrying.”

“There are very ominous trends and I think we need to be aware of them, in terms of job discrimination, of the ability to speak out your mind, the ability to live out your faith. Things are really worsening in the West,” he explained.

He pointed to several recent examples of this discrimination, including “German home-schooling families applying for asylum in the United States; people being fired from their jobs for holding Christian symbols.”

“These things are new, and then the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a major center on religion statistics, says its measures of religious hostility in Western Europe are now as high as they are in the Middle East.”

Such situations arise from an underlying mentality, noted Marshall. “You've had patterns, very strongly in the educational system, of the assumption that a secular society is a society where religion has no place. It can be private, within your home, within your church, but it has no place in society at large.”

Rather than a traditional notion, “this is a new and very unusual view,” which is further tied to the “idea that a society cannot really be open if religion is present.”

“Instead of a generally open society where secular people are free, Christians are free, (and) Hindus are free,” the more novel view of secular society is one “where the State holds to a particular ideology and demands that everybody succumb to it.”

Marshall described the change in understanding as “a shift from a plural society to an ideologically secular society.”

“And that’s worrying,” he stressed.

Marshall spoke at the “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” conference, held Dec. 13-14 at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. The conference is a project of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States, also addressed the conference on Dec. 13, focusing on “discrediting the erroneous and outdated notion that Christianity is the enemy of personal freedom and conscience, and that its claim to truth surely leads to violence and oppression.”

“Nothing could be historically less accurate than statements such as these,” he said.

The Archbishop emphasized the crucial link between Christianity and freedom, noting that “it has its roots in the teaching of Christ himself.”

“Freedom is intrinsic to Christianity, for it was, as (St.) Paul says, for freedom that Christ set us free.”

Although the apostle was referring primarily to “interior freedom,” explained Archbishop Mamberti, “this interior freedom naturally also has consequences for society.”

When human beings fail to value religious freedom, the results for wider society can be quite damaging, he cautioned.

“Indeed, whenever human beings cannot be open to the infinite according to their conscience, truth yields to a mendacious relativism and justice to the oppression of the prevailing ideology, whether it be atheistic, agnostic, or even overtly religious.”

The modern notion of freedom tends to be understood as “mere caprice” or “in a purely negative sense as the absence of constraint,” he said.

Yet the more traditional and Christian idea of freedom is “not dominated by fear, but rather by the joy of that truth which sets us free,” the archbishop clarified.

Such a vision, he said, “provides a bulwark against both relativism and against those forms of religious fundamentalism which, like relativism, see in religious freedom a threat to their own ideological dominance.”

Vox Wrote:There's religious freedom as in tolerance, which is good -- but to a point.  There is such a thing as "the public square," and there's such a thing as culture that extends beyond the family unit and one's parish (or "faith community" or synagogue or what have you). Things involving the public expression and recognition of religious faith -- in a specific way, such as "December 25 is Christmas, a Christian holiday and a national holiday" -- are necessary for civilization. You can't have a population that doesn't agree on the Good, True, and Beautiful, that has no shared values, symbols, aesthetics, holidays, etc. Well, you can -- but you end up with what we've got:  a cluster**** in which no one is happy.


The second article is from The Telegraph:

Vladimir Putin claims Russia is moral compass of the world

Vladimir Putin asserts in his annual state of the nation address that Russia takes a morally superior world-view to the West and defended its Conservatives values
By Damien McElroy
5:27PM GMT 12 Dec 2013

Vladimir Putin sought to cast Russia as the moral arbiter of the world on Thursday, as he hit out at America’s “non-traditional values” and its influence across the world.

Vox Wrote:It is truly astounding to think that the President of what was -- until a little over twenty years ago! -- part of a formerly Communist super-power is telling the United States we're not Christian enough! Think about that! And he's right!

In an annual state of the nation address, the 61-year-old Russian president said his country did not aspire to be “some kind of superpower”.

“We do not infringe on anyone’s interests, we do not force our patronage on anyone, or try to teach anyone how to live,” he said.

Vox Wrote:Neither would we if the people would have -- could have -- voted Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul into the oval office.

His comments amounted to an oblique rebuttal to the growing international movement against Russia’s restrictive laws on homosexuality. Support for a boycott of Russia in the run up to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games has widened with celebrities announcing they will not perform in Russia. Others including Joachim Gauck, the German president, have declined invitations for the event.

Mr Putin defended his government’s increasingly conservative values and decried the “review of norms of morality” in the West and elsewhere.

“This destruction of traditional values from above not only entails negative consequences for society, but is also inherently anti-democratic because it is based on an abstract notion and runs counter to the will of the majority of people,” Mr Putin said, adding there could be no benefit for society for treating “good and evil” equally.

Vox Wrote:That is one of the most frustrating things about this secularization and cultural corruption of the West: it is a top-down thing, something thrust upon us by academia, the media, politicians, and judges, and we know the type that pays to get that accomplished. We blather on about "democracy" (a sucky form of government anyway), invade countries to impose this "democracy" on them, but don't have it all in our own "land of the free."

In his 70-minute televised speech from an ornate Kremlin hall, Mr Putin said traditional family values where a bulwark against “so-called tolerance – genderless and infertile.”

Critics of the speech were quick to point that post-Soviet Russia has seen a deep and damaging decline in its birth rates to among the lowest of any developed nation.

Vox Wrote:One'd think that his critics would be pleased about that.

While the speech did not contain a widely-trailed push to eliminate local mayors, one of the few power centres outside the Kremlin’s control, Mr Putin did appear to signal a push against oligarchs dominance of the economy.

Vox Wrote:Be careful, Mr. Putin; you'll be accused of "anti-semitism" for going after the oligarchs. Here's why.  You go after them, and "the West" (that is, the aforementioned academia, media, politicians, etc.) will really go after you in a big way. We'll hear Obama expressing his "concern" which could lead to --- anything. Something bad, I'm sure.

The Russian leader attacked the prevalence of offshore companies in the economy, claiming the use of such vehicles was hampering growth.

“The main reasons for a slowdown in economic growth are internal, not external,” he said. “We must establish more stability and a good investment climate.”

Half of the $50 billion (£30 billion) that Russian companies invest abroad every year is sent to offshore jurisdictions, which Putin described as the “transfer of capitals that should be working in Russia.”

“You want to have offshores? Fine. You want to have benefits, support and to make profit by operating in Russia? Then do register in the Russian jurisdiction.”

However his wake-up call on the economy was criticised by Alexei Kudrin, a former close associate and Russia’s finance minister until 2011. The much-respected technocrat said the government was incapable of meaningful reforms.

“It’s a shame that so little has been done,” Mr Kudrin said after the speech. “The president’s proposals for reactivating the economy are a tactical response to the problem. We need a strategic plan to get out of stagnation.”

The Russian leader has had notable foreign policy success in 2013, forging a deal on Syria’s chemical weapons with the US and helping force Iran to the nuclear negotiating table. But internally the impression has grown that his regime is increasingly fragile.

Vox Wrote:"The impression has grown" -- who is having these "impressions"? How can we also ask them about their "impressions"? See how newspapers verbalize things? They could techinically be talking about one guy who said, "It's my impression, and this has been growing over the past couple of years, that blah blah blah." But we're supposed to read it and believe that the Russian people overall have this big impression of fragility in the regime. Maybe they do; I have no clue. But I'm not believing anything one way or another because of how this newspaper is putting it to me.

Stefan Meister, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr Putin had lost room for political maneourve as he entered his presidential third term since 2000. “He has isolated himself from the proactive part of society and the elite,” he said. “He has surrounded himself with hardliners from the security service who promote Russia’s “modernisation” through the country’s military-industrial complex.”

Vox Wrote:"He has isolated himself from the proactive part of society and the elite" -- and who could these "proactive" types, these "elites" be, I wonder, and why is it an apparently bad thing for Putin to be "isolated" from them (which I'm interpreting to mean that the proactive elites no longer dig him)?

Mr Putin also revived the Kremlin’s warnings again American plans for anti-missile shields and the dangers of reducing to nothing the post-Cold War strategic balance.

“Nobody should have any illusion about the possibility of gaining military superiority over Russia,” he said. “We will never allow this to happen. Russia will respond to all these challenges, political and military.”

An earlier version of this article said Sir Elton John was boycotting Russia
but in fact he has made clear in statements at his website and elsewhere
that he believes it is important not to isolate Russian people because of the actions of their government.

Vox Wrote:Awww, Putin almost succeeded in keeping Elton away LOL


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