Friday, July 20, 2012

Variation on a Theme of Antonio Machado

Variation on a Theme of Antonio Machado:

Y podrás conocerte recordando
Del pasado vivir los duros golpes,
Y tus muertos, la vision de ti mismo,
El arbol y las flores que sembraste.

Epistemological Dialogue

Epistemological Dialogue:
--"Truth is relative, a social construction."
--"So evolution is relative, a social construction?"


Life is a protracted reprieve.

To corrupt is easier than to edify.

Never underestimate human ingratitude or the correlation between favors done and resentment created.

The course of human life could be regarded as a series of losses, which could be used as an ασκησεις, a training or preparation for the final one.

Religion in Latin America

The recent appearance of a number of Christian historical movies, such as There Be Dragons, on the sufferings of Catholics during the Spanish Civil War; Of Gods and Men, on a massacre of Trappist monks by Muslim fighters in 1996; and For the Greater Glory, on the Cristiada War in Mexico, makes John Lynch’s New Worlds: A Religious History of Latin America curiously timed.  This excellent book gives a panoramic description of the rise, ups and downs, and present state of religion in Latin America.  It covers the different Christian churches, Judaism, Vodou, Santeria, and Amerindian religions.  However, it justifiably focuses on the Catholic Church, for as the author makes clear, Catholicism has been for five centuries “the defining religion of Latin America.” 

The book reads like an adventure story, with the Catholic Church as its flawed, but charismatic hero.  We are reminded that a succession of popes, in agreement with a number of Catholic theologians since the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, spoke against slavery.  Pius II in 1492 condemned the slave trade as a great crime, censuring Christians who enslaved Black Africans.  Paul III in 1536, Urban VIII in 1639, and Benedict XIV in 1741 defended the liberty of the Indians.

Before Pius II, none of the legal authorities of the other great monotheistic religions had condemned the slavery, not only of their coreligionists (which Islam and Judaism did), but also of their non-coreligionists (which Islam and Judaism did not).  In Islamic lands, in fact, the enslavement of whites, blacks, and Asians acquired unheard-of proportions, with slaves found everywhere, from state bureaucracies and armies to private households and the harems of sexual slaves.  Robert C. Davis has estimated that in Islamic lands just from the 1530s to the 1780s, of white slaves alone, between 1 million and 1.25 million people were traded–men, women, and children, taken from the Mediterranean coasts, Greece, the Balkans, Armenia, Persia, and Slavic lands.

However, not until Benedict XIV and Gregory XVI did popes after Pius II condemn the trade of Black Africans.  Moreover, although the famous Bishop of Chiapas, Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, vigorously defended the liberty of the Indians, he suggested in 1516 the importation of Black Africans into the New World in order to spare the Indians from slavery—an idea from which he eventually repented.  Thus Las Casas, the “Protector of the Indians,” bears responsibility for a trade that had ominous consequences.

We are also reminded that the Vatican’s record in Latin America includes its less than sterling treatment of some of its most devout followers in a particularly sad episode of the continent’s checkered history: the Cristiada, or Cristero War.  The progressive Mexican Constitution of 1917  forbade all religious education and schools (as Carlos Perez Vazquez translates, “educational services shall be secular and, therefore, free of any religious orientation…The educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorance’s effects, servitudes, fanaticism and prejudice.”).  It forbade Catholic worship outside church buildings, gave sole power to the State to determine the number of churches and priests in Mexico, and denied priests the right to vote (“the State and the churches are separated entities from each other. Churches and religious congregations shall be organized under the law”).  The government forbade religious publications to comment on public affairs.  It outlawed religious orders.  It prohibited confession (thereby effectively prohibiting communion), fasting, abstinence, religious vows, wearing clerical garb publicly, and Church ownership of property.  After 1926, the government forced priests to register before being allowed to perform their duties.  Echoing the French Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and Marxism-Leninism, politicians in the Mexican Congress called priests “vermin,” “foul and treacherous vampires,” and “insatiable vultures.”  Eventually, churches were sacked, Church property seized, confessionals burned, and bishops, priests, and nuns were jailed or exiled.  These events and the ensuing Catholic rebellion are still glossed over in Mexican schools and Mexican history books, or presented as the result of the actions of superstitious peasants led by fanatical priests and nuns.  Some works in English (such as The Inveterate Dreamer) even misrepresent the Cristero tragedy as an “anti-Church feeling (known in Mexico as La Cristiada).”

On 11 April 1920 a huge procession of Catholics went to the center of Mexico to inaugurate a statue to Christ the King.  This statue would soon be blown up by the government, but it became the symbol of the Cristo Rey, the Cristiada rebellion.  In the hinterland, bands of Catholics attacked government buildings and burned government schools.  Cristero forces were made up mostly of young men, “raised in family piety, who prayed and received the sacraments, and many were married according to canon though not civil law; they included workers as well as peasants, and women’s brigades provided logistical support.”  “Some of the Cristero groups were led by priests who acted as fighters as well as chaplains.”

Though under-armed, the Cristeros beat Federal troops in guerrilla engagements and pitched battles in Jalisco and Durango because of superior morale.  They controlled much of the states of Zacatecas and Michoacan, inflicting over 60,000 casualties on government troops.  However, the Federal army had the power of the Mexican State behind it and the logistical and diplomatic support of the United States.  Although the government could not defeat the Cristeros, the Cristeros could not defeat the government.

For the Cristeros, fighting for “Christ the King and the Virgin of Guadalupe was inherently just.”  However, “Rome did not share these views, convinced as it was that armed force would not succeed and would compromise the Church in future.  At the end of 1927 it ordered the Mexican bishops to distance themselves from the rebellion and work for a negotiated settlement.”

These Catholics were, in effect, left out to dry by Pope Pius XI.  As they deposed their arms in obedience, the rebels were massacred.  In a manhunt, all Cristero leaders and many of their followers were rounded up and executed, for a total of 5,000 killed between 1929 and 1935 alone.  A total of over 40,000 Catholics died during the rebellion.  It would not be the first, or, for that matter, the last time that the Vatican would do nothing of substance to help devout Christians and even devout Catholics (the Orthodox have not forgotten A.D. 1204 and 1453; and the terrorizing and killing of Catholic men, women, and children in the Middle East, Africa, and Indonesia continue today without the Vatican doing anything of a practical—not to mention military—nature to help them).

The “negotiated settlement” of the Cristero War gained little for Catholics in Mexico. Lynch summarizes the scene:
As the rebels demobilized, the government pressed harder.  Catholics gained a minimal freedom to practice their religion but no other rights, and the anti-Catholic religious legislation remained in place unchanged in the slightest degree.  The government presented this as the surrender of the Church, and so it was.  The revolution had apparently crushed Catholicism and driven it back inside the churches, and there it stayed, throughout the 1930’s and beyond, preserved by the sheer religiosity of the Mexican people, while the government, dedicated to perpetual revolution, repeated its anti-clerical clichés and reinforced its anti-religious ideology.
Pius XI lacked the resolve of such popes as St. Pius V, organizer of the Catholic coalition which defeated the Muslim Turks at Lepanto in 1571and which momentarily interrupted their conquest of Christian Europe.  All Pius XI did was issue a series of encyclicals.  Pius XI, in fact, presided during the years of that “Terrible Triangle” of atheist states which persecuted and killed Christians in  the twentieth century–not only Catholics in Mexico and in Spain under the Spanish Republic, but also millions of Orthodox Christians in Russia under Marxism-Leninism.

It took the Church more than sixty years to beatify the most famous martyr of the Cristeros: Father Miguel Pro.  Scheduled for 1987, Father Pro’s beatification was postponed because it would have coincided with an election year in Mexico, and the party in power, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the PRI, happened to be the governing party during the Cristiada.  In fact, General Plutarco Elias Calles, the atheist Mexican President who ordered the shooting, without trial, of Father Pro, was also the founder of the PRI, and is still considered a national hero.  The Church was afraid that Catholic celebrations would anger the PRI.  However, when Pope John Paul II finally beatified Father Pro on September 25 1988, the ceremony took place on the birthday of long-dead Calles.  The Church claimed it was a coincidence.

The least convincing in this otherwise excellent book are those pages dedicated to the native cultures, which are treated with the utmost delicacy.  No mention is made of the thousands of people killed every year by the Mexica (the “Aztecs”) and obtained as captives in a yearly ritual war (the Guerra Florida).  No mention is made of the chilling account by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who was rather sympathetic to Moctezuma because the Mexica emperor had granted him a number of beautiful females: according to Bernal, one delicacy Moctezuma enjoyed was the flesh of babies.

In fact, the Mexica empire was what one might call a vampiric empire, since it lived off the tribute, in goods, and in men, women, and children, exacted from other Amerindian nations as slaves and victims.  When seen under this light, and especially when one takes into account that other Amerindian nations gladly joined Hernan Cortes in his destruction of the Mexica empire, the conquest of Mexico by the Catholic Spaniards begins to look less like the destruction of a charming native civilization and more like the liberation of a land long oppressed and bloodied by a hellish religion.

A similarly politically correct treatment, not unusual among modern anthropologists, is given to the Maya religion.  All we read about its bloodiness is that “the Maya underworld is peopled by deities placated by human sacrifice.”  But the entire Maya world, not just the “underworld,” was peopled by horrendously looking deities, who were not only “placated” by—but actually dependent on—human blood for their continuing support of the universe.

This support required the self-bleeding of their genitals and tongues by Maya kings and queens (carried out with thorns attached to ropes, and stingrays), as well as the more abundant blood obtained through the ingenious torturing (pulling nails was one frequently used method) and eventual killing of captives.  After the Catholic Spaniards destroyed the power of this horrific religion, which was one of the bases of Maya culture, the Maya stopped their internecine wars and their torturing, bleeding, and killing of humans for religious purposes.  Instead of using people, these days Maya priests use chickens, ritually beheaded and bled in colorful ceremonies which tourists and anthropologists admire and even film enthusiastically in complete safety—chicken blood being a less powerful means of appeasing the native deities, to be sure, but one safer, at least for human beings. 

No mention is made, either, of the fact that Maya cities, which often spoke languages unintelligible to each other (the eventual universal adoption of Spanish made a previously difficult communication among the several Maya nations easy), engaged in endemic bloody wars, with captives taken as slaves or sacrificial victims.

The more unsavory aspects of Inca culture are also prudently left out in this book.  We read nothing of the Inca’s conquest and, in some cases, extermination of other Amerindian nations, the destruction of their religions, the imposition of the Inca cult of the Sun and the Inca Emperor, and the use of ethnic cleansing as an effective means of conquest.  No mention is made of the Inca religious sacrifice of children and young women on the mountain peaks of the Andes either.

Nonetheless, this readable and learned book is probably the best available one-volume account of religious phenomena, and especially of the trajectory of the Catholic Church, in Latin America.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brave New World’s Critique of the Present

Brave New World=s Critique of the Present

by Dario Fernandez-Morera

As in the case of Nineteen Eighty-Four, criticism of Huxley=s great novel has reflected the views of its critics. And since most critics have been academicians, andsince most academicians are not political libertarians or even conservatives, they have emphasized the seeming anti-capitalist themes in the novel, while downplaying or outright ignoring its sometimes libertarian, sometimes outright conservative messages.

The book=s attack on what today we call consumerism is a case in point, although there are others, such as the dangers of technology, genetic engineering, and so on. Consumerism as a feature and often as a lamentable feature of our modern capitalism is undeniable. It is a byproduct of the abundance of goods and services that we should thank capitalism for. But we are still free simply not to consume. I do not consume much. I bet there are many here who do not consume much. And presumably the numerous and vociferous critics of consumerism in our society do not consume much either.

          Why is it then that we, in today=s society, can not consume, whereas practically all the people in the novel cannot avoid consuming? The answer is that the society of Brave New World is not a free market society any more than it is a free political society. It is not quite clear if production is publicly controlled or not, but it is certainly clear that a central authority controls both the media and production well enough so that no alternative to the doctrine of consumption and no alternative to the government-sanctioned production can reach the public. Surely this situation is not even close to that of a very moderately free market society like ours, where anti-consumerist voices can make a living attacking consumerism and having their anticonsumerist product consumed by other anti-consumerists. More important, we know that businesses and their means of production do not have to be owned by the government for production not to be free. Government directives and regulations suffice. Government authority simply directs private industry to produce certain items in such and such quantities and to advertise certain items with such and such frequency and such and such intensity. National Socialism did it. The American war economy during the Second World War did it. And a mild form of such directional control can be seen in today=s United States, when government pushes industry through regulations or monetary incentives to do many things presumably for the good of the society, such as hiring people that if left to its own devices industry would not hire, or modifying products in certain ways that if left to its own devices industry would not modify (or consumer stop consuming), or advertising against or in favor of things that if left to its own devices industry would not advertise for or against. Brave New World, then, is not a capitalist world: as the book makes clear, people are compelled to consume (33); whereas in a free market society, people are not compelled to do much, including consuming. That is the whole point of a free market. You buy one thing instead of another if you want. Or you do not buy, period, if you do not want. One way or the other, then, whether its businesses are privately or publicly owned, Brave New World is not a free market society, but a benevolently socialist world, a corporate state, a case of Socialism with a human face.

But even more interesting than what critics choose to emphasize in
Huxley=s novel is what they choose to ignore or even honestly fail to see. Some of these issues are apparently too hot to handle. One of them is the question of forced communitarianism. Another is the question of a New World Order that leads to a benevolent World State. Other questions too hot to handle are sex and religion.

         Critics tend to ignore the individualist message in the novel because they are usually socialists of either the left or the right to whom individualism is a bad word. Yet the message is clear, strong, and ubiquitous. There are constant Community Sings. There are constant Solidarity Services (35). Critics ignore also the localist message of the book because they are usually internationalists who dream of a one-world that will bring final peace and abundance to all. Yet the anti-one world themes in the book are clear, strong, and ubiquitous. The cultural vacuum of Brave New World=s society stems in part from the lack of alternative societies, and there are no alternative societies because nations, with their unique ways, have disappeared. A gray uniformity prevails. The local has been pushed away and confined to the Reservations. Only there do we find remnants of a long gone multiform culture that includes Christianity, paganism, and even a copy of Shakespeare=s complete works. AWe have a World State now,@ voices in the novel say. (35)

         I would like to examine this question at length, but lack of time
compels me to move on to the questions of sex and religion. These questions, however, have implications for the anti-statist and cultural themes of the book, so that here and there I will go back to these issues as I move along.

Brave New World is a society where techne is supreme and the transcendent has been defeated. That is one reason Shakespeare is not around (other reasons are of course that he is OLD, not healthy and not politically correct, often sad, or too complicatedly merry, and so forth). Shakespeare is not techne. That is also one reason why Christianity is not around (other reasons are of course that Christianity is OLD, not healthy and not politically correct, often sad, or too complicatedly merry, and
so forth). Christianity is not techne. But what does the transcendent have to do with sex and Shakespeare and Christianity? Of course we know about that sonnet where Shakespeare recommends procreation as a means to immortality. And we know that passage in the Old Testament where Abraham is about to kill Isaac, the means God promised him to achieve family continuity, the same kind of immortality that Shakespeare talks about. And we also know of that passage in the New Testament,
where Jesus promises immortality, a passage often read in Christianity in conjunction with the previous passage in the Old Testament. We are closer here to the matter of transcendence. But what does all this have to do with sex?

Well, it seems that a great deal, at least in the mind of the social thinkers of Brave New World, since their fight against transcendence includes the question of sex. By turning sex into yet another form of entertainment, the social engineers of Brave New World have removed transcendence from sex. Now sex is no different from sports, traveling, skiing, movies, TV, partying, buying, sailing, and all the other sometimes frenetic activities and forms of entertainment that keep a person=s mind from thinking, really thinking, concentrating on his reason for existing, the conditions of that existence, and so forth, the sort of thinking that may lead to unhappiness and therefore to unhappiness with one=s existence and therefore to alienation from authority and even to rebellion. That is why, too, the novel makes clear that in the brave new world people
do not read much and certainly do not read anything that may tax their intellect too much: such reading creates problems because it may lead to thinking, and especially to thinking in isolation, for oneself, which is potentially very subversive.

Moreover, sex separate from the transcendent function called procreation and therefore family-building facilitates the weakening and eventual elimination in Brave New World of the family as a social unity and therefore the elimination of one of the strongest obstacles to allegiance to larger social units like the state. In Brave New World the family has ceased to exist as a rival to the state. Thus turning sex into just
another pleasant activity is fundamental to the political agenda of the social engineers.

In the novel we have a vast, amorphous state where there is no local differentiation of customs, cultures, political organization, or even languages. It would certainly be the ideal of the U.S. State Department=s Deputy Secretary of State and New Worldist Strobe Talbott (now President of the Brookings Institution), who in a New York Times profile piece (September 1999) declared that in the 21st century the U.S. AIn its current form@ will not exist because the very concept of nationhood will have ceased to exist. Some years earlier (Time, July 20, 1992), Talbott had confessed that he looked forward to a universal government run by Aone global authority.@ AWithin the next hundred years,@ Talbott wrote, Anationhood as we know it will be obsolete, all states will recognize a single, global authority.@  Talbott went on to explain the theoretical foundation for his optimistic view of the future: AAll countries are basically social arrangements....No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact they are all artificial and temporary.@ We can see in Talbott=s words the explicit and implicit contrast and hierarchy of the Artificial as positive against the Sacred as negative, the Temporary and therefore the New as positive against the Permanent as negative, the Now as positive against the Old as negative, and the Present and the Ahistorical as positive against the Historical as negative.

Another professor, Joh Huer, might be talking about Huxley=s new worlders and the Savage when he wrote recently, comparing the United States and the Serbs, that the latter are an Aatavistic holdover from a bygone era,@ while the Americans are probably the Afuture prototype humans.@ For professor Huer the United States represents a world of Aultimate sophistication, so logical and so rational, with little human involvement,@ in contrast to the Atotal disregard of logic and rationality@ of the Serbs. Americans believe in the power of technology and all that that impliesBreason, logic, solution-finding,@ whereas the Serbs believe in the power of their destiny,Apowerful and so human.@ The professor concludes that the Serbs have Ato recognize this inevitable development of history and join up with what will be, not what was or should be.@ Indeed, join or die, as the fate of the Savage illustrates.

Here there are of course Orwellian notes. In Brave New World life has been arranged by the wise and benevolent rulers independently of existing traditions and ancestral memories, which can only contribute to conflict and blood shedding. The social engineers of Brave New World share the views of the NATO politicians who in our own time have told the Serbs that, unlike you, we are not interested in History. History is the past, and the past is undesirable because bloody and intolerant and
messy and unhealthy and politically incorrect. It is better to construct a society anew, ex-nihilo, in a reasonable fashion, more geometrico, without worrying too much about traditions and religions and languages and customs, or at most let us create some new ersatz traditions intended as plausible and accommodating substitutes for the OLD practices.

These ersatz traditions include religion. Today in the U.S. we hear many actual and potential social engineers speak of the need to develop and encourage a secular religion (never mind the oxymoron) that will enshrine the statist communitarian ethos dear to the engineers, and that will teach that service and allegiance and obeissance to the government is a high, praiseworthy goal. In an article called ACivil Religion, Cultural Diversity, and American Civilization,@ professor Leroy S. Rouner cites, approvingly, a letter by a Yankee Civil War veteran made famous by Ken Burns=s Civil War TV series, not coincidentally an icon of the Public Broadcasting Corporation, in which the Yankee soldier wrote to his sweetheart a letter shortly before the battle where he lost his life. The soldier fervorously and favorably compares his love for the Lincoln government to his love for her and even to religion. As he writes, AI know how the triumph of American civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government...and I am willing, pefectly willing, to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government....@

Professor Rouner, excstatic over this letter, uses it as the springboard for his defense of a strange something which he and others call ACivil Religion.@ In Orwellian fashion, these professors give to the word religion whatever meaning they want. Religion now does not necessarily have to do with God. We are also told that this AAmerican Civil Religion@ is shared by all Americans, Awhether they are formally religious or not.@ It is true that, as professor Rouner himself admits, this Civil Religion is, I quote, Aso vague and general that it almost isn=t anything at all.@ But a good professor is not deterred by such obstacles as vagueness and generality. Besides, the question is not whether there is such a thing as Civil Religion. He assumes there is. The question is how do we use it for our benevolent purposes? One possible answer isthat, as other communitarians have argued, we should start re-emphasizing this nonreligious religion=s rituals, such as celebrating even more vocally and intensely the more politically correct National Holidays, using uniforms in schools, or attending parades, or holding services in praise of cultural diversity as long as the diverse culture is not too diverse from ours (such as that of the Christians, or the Serbs) and engaging in other such soul-lifting civic or civil practices.

Professor Rouner is not alone. As the importance of spiritual beliefs and the human craving for transcendence and ritual become widely recognized, alarmed statists, and even some libertarian atheists and agnostics endeavor to develop practices that may function as substitutes for religion. Even people who until recently viewed themselves as superior to the unwashed masses partly because the masses could not seemingly function without religious practices, are now searching for some kind of ritual that will satisfy their own cravings and their unwillingness to leave that area of human life in the dreadful hands of religion. These people remind me of the elite of classical antiquity, who having lost their faith in the gods, retreated into mathematical cults like those of the Pythagoreans, or, later on, into variously abstract Neoplatonic sects. They were unable to give up their cravings for transcendence, or live without a spiritual dimension, yet could not stoop to sharing the masses= allegedly naive versions of what the elite wanted. Modern examples of this search include something called Acentering,@ which its advocates hope will work as a substitute for the dreaded old-fashioned thing once called Aprayer.@ Even many followers of Ayn Rand have joined the effort to, as they put it, Areclaim spirituality from religion.@ In the catalog of publications of The Objectivist Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, one finds such titles as ARational Rituals, or Pay no Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain,@ where the author, Dr. Madigan, I quote from the blurb, Adiscusses the experience of the humanist movement in creating secular alternatives to religious practicesBespecially when they=re based on reason rather than faith.@ In another work titled AGreen Cathedrals: Modern Spiritual Poverty and the Rise of Environmentalism,@ the author, Robert James Bidinotto, I quote, Ashows how the modern secular world view can incorporate a sense of the sacred@ without falling into the religious pitfalls of some environmentalists. Even Nathaniel Branden, Rand=s one-time favorite disciple andlover, who has over the years moved over to some kind of vague, hip, California spirituality has contributed a piece called AWhat Are Our Spiritual Needs,@ where he, I quote, Aexplores the meaning and misconceptions of spirituality. Based on his many years of practice and reflection, Dr. Branden presents his own understanding of our spiritual needs and their role in our development.@

As usual, Huxley foresaw the future by looking at his present. The social engineers of Brave New World have long confronted and solved the problem now consuming the attention of the non-religious religionists. Like them, they have understood human needs and have tried to satisfy them without making any concessions to religion and certainly without making any concessions to dreaded Christianity.

Their solution is a secular religion indeed, of which the Orgy Porgy is a culmination. In Huxley=s novel, the grotesque rituals of the Orgy Porgy are a caricature, not of old religion, as other critical readings of the book have opined, but of the nonreligiousreligionists= attempt, so necessary if the state is to have absolute control, to offer some kind of substitute that modern man can use and trust in place of the potentially anti-statist power (compare ancient Rome; compare late twentieth-century Poland, and so on) of old-fashioned religion and even more so, of local religious
practices and communities. All these local and traditional forms of spiritual expression, including Christian ones, Brave New World has confined to the badlands, subhuman world of the Reservations, from which John, the Savage, comes, like a failed John the Baptist, to announce a hard, self-denying, self-punishing faith that probably no one in Brave New World will follow (a possible future exception is Helmholtz).

Most criticism of Huxley=s work has been written by literature professors. Since literature professors by and large are a rather irreligious group, these critics have been willfully or perhaps unknowingly oblivious to the religious angles in Huxley=s thought and writing and therefore in his greatest novel. And yet Huxley makes rather clear how
the social engineers in Brave New World in fact provide a complete and systematic alternative to the social theory of traditional religion. Here I am coming back to the question of sex. In place of the old religious injunctions against abortion and even against contraception (Agrow and multiply@ says the Bible), the brave new world of the novel offers women total protection against pregnancy by means of the regular supply and consumption of contraceptives carried in the very accurately named Malthusian

In fact, in the novel reproductive freedom, as we call it today, has been taken to its logical conclusion. The world government offers not just reproductive freedom, but actual freedom from reproduction. Women are no longer burdened by pregnancy. Like men, they no longer have to connect sex with future discomforts. They have achieved perfect sexual equality through technology, sexual equality being only one aspect of
the pervasive equality aimed at by the social engineers, an equality which critics have overlooked, misled by the existence of different classes of people. The critics have overlooked that, within each class, perfect equality is the norm (this is one reason Helmoltz does not fit and is looked upon with suspicion: he is too good for the other Alphas). Now babies are made in laboratories, without the messiness and the painful and rather unhygienic quality of old-fashioned reproduction. Against the sacrosant
fetishization of the family, of which the old religion was guilty, brave new world societyhas dissolved the family altogether, replacing it with allegiance to the much larger community, the colossal village (for it takes a village, not a family) of brave new world, with its community rituals and solidarity practices. Allegiance is now social, not familial.

Freedom from motherhood has also been accompanied by a transformation of the concept of mother into something not just undesirable but actually repulsive, the mere mention of which makes women blush in embarrassement, much as in a long,
long gone era the mention of sex in polite company made them blush. Sex, of course, no longer makes women blush in the brave new world. Again Huxley knew what he was talking about. He extrapolated, with amazing lucidity, from his own observations of the behavior of British elite intellectual society during the 1920's (not much different from that of the British elite in the twenty-first century) to what the future
might hold in store.

A noticeable shift in the word Amother,@ in the same direction, has taken place in the U.S. today. In a recent article titled AI Want to Be a Mom,@ Bethany Patchin writes that when her 10th grade English teacher asked the females in the class, AHow many of you want to be at-home moms?@ Patchin raised her hand. At once the room got awfully
quiet and everyone stared at her. Patchin recounts a discussion with her college adviser four years later. When she told him she wanted to marry and have children after graduation from college, he said, AI wouldn=t have expected you to be that type.@ The expression Athat type@ by the professor counseling the woman was telling. A recent article by Kathleen Parker makes the same point, namely that the idea of a woman being a mother and nothing else, is already OLD, quaint, and generally looked
down upon, the more so the more educated and elite the one doing the looking is.

Moreover, instead of the sexual prohibitions, taboos, and caveats of the old religion, brave new world society offers unlimited sexual freedom. Sex as mere recreation, a la Playboy. Sexual experimentation among little children, encouraged as a healthy way to, as we say today, explore one=s sexuality, is part of the exceedingly desacralizing, matter-of-fact approach to life in the brave new world of Huxley=s novel. Like religion, sex has been thoroughly de-mythologized, to use the expression of famous so-called Christian theologian Rudolf Bultmann.

But like our more advanced social thinkers, the enlightened social engineers of the brave new world have realized the need to do something about the stubborn, undesirable, embarrassing, but nonetheless factual importance of religion. Like physicist Freeman Dyson, who recently won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (another oxymoron here?), they may think that (I quote Dyson) Areligion has a much more important role in human destiny than science.@ (By the way, Dyson has
declared he is both a Christian and an agnostic, and that to him religion is a way of life, not a belief; go figure; his daughter has recently being ordained a Presbyterian minister). And so the leaders of the brave new world have come up with something that today=s social thinkers are still trying to come up with, namely a religious ersatz, an undisputably man-made, plastic religion. It is a religion that mimics the rituals of the older religion, but steers clear of spiritual transcendence, and that instead of the OLD God with whom individuals could come into personal contact, offers a sort of impersonal collective deity who stands for the shared communality in which the inhabitants of the brave new world participate. The parody reaches obscene proportions toward the end of the ritual, where the ubiquitous sexuality of the new society surfaces, during the ceremony that celebrates communitarianism, in the form of the Orgy Porgy, where everyone is for and does everyone else, in a proper collective climax to the social ethos of the brave new world.

There are many differences and similarities between the creative visions of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. What Orwell saw he may have seen more sharply and distinctly. Huxley often saw more dimly, but he saw more than Orwell did. Like Nineteen Eighty-Four, but in a more spiritual, perhaps even more profound way, Huxley=s Brave New World is a deeply conservative book.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Truth About the Convivencia of Muslims, Jews, and Catholics in Islamic Spain

That in Medieval Islamic Spain the three cultures of Muslims, Jews, and Catholics lived together in happy harmony is one of the many remarkable falsehoods of today’s widely accepted "knowledge." In Al-Andalus Muslims were in fact at the top of a religiously, racially, and socially stratified society and the sole controllers of the political sphere, with Jews functioning as an ancillary class that had allied itself with the Muslim invaders during their early conquest of Catholic Spain and that for some centuries continued to enjoy an intermediary and at times influential status between Muslims and Catholics.

In fact, in Al-Andalus the majority of the members of "the three cultures" lived in their own neighborhoods, interacting only whenever it was necessary for commercial reasons. Catholics (or "mozarabs," a misleading term, since they were not Arabs in any form or shape, but Catholics who had stayed in Islamic Spain after the Muslim conquest and had kept their religion, customs, and traditions in spite of adverse conditions: in fact, Muslims referred to these Catholics not as "mozarabs," but as dhimmis, that is, a people subject to and "protected"--an ominous term for anyone familiar with protection rackets--by the Islamic hegemonic law) were at the bottom of the totem pole. Many of their churches had been converted to mosques, as had been the practice in all lands conquered by Islam. The best known examples are probably the mosque of Cordoba, built upon an ancient Catholic church (and converted into a Catholic church when Catholics re-conquered Cordoba in the twelfth century), and the great Greek Orthodox church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (changed by Muslims to "Istanbul" in the early twentieth century in another well-known procedure whereby the conquerors changed the names of the places they conquered), probably the most beautiful building of the early Middle Ages, turned into a mosque upon the conquest and sacking of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Kaliph Mehmet II: though now converted into a museum, it still features four minarets that constitute not only a religious desecration but an aesthetic travesty.

It is not true that Muslims shared the Catholic dhimmis' festivities with Catholics (or for that matter, Jewish festivities with Jews). In lands re-conquered by Catholics, but not in Muslim lands (where such temptations did not exist because Catholics were simply forbidden to celebrate publicly their religious holidays), the remaining Muslim population was occasionally tempted to enjoy the merry festivities of Christians, but this always provoked stern rebuttals from the Muslim ulama. These ulama functioned and still function today as the equivalent of a priesthood, another historical myth being that Islam in Spain had not priests. Even today among Muslims the ulama function as priests because they are a source of religious knowledge, preaching, advise, religious injunctions, etc. with no distinction being made between what is religious and what is not, but of course with different rituals, beliefs, organization, etc. than those of Catholic priests: one only has to read the papers to see today the ulama class as a religious clergy in action in Shiite Iran, in Sunni Islamic lands, and even in Western cities. But of course that in Medieval Spain some Muslims wanted to have fun during the Catholic festivities in cities re-conquered and once again controlled by Catholics (again such festivities were forbidden in lands controlled by Islam) constituted no more a sharing of such festivities than when today’s Americans who are not Catholic enjoy Christmas without actually sharing what Christmas means for Catholics, namely the celebration of the incarnation of one of the three personae of God in human form and His birth in Bethlehem–all notions blasphemous to Muslims in Spain.

Catholic dhimmis did not share political power in Muslim Spain, could not hold processions or display publicly the cross or other Christian symbols such as images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or the saints, they could not ring church bells, their buildings had to be lower than Muslim buildings, they could not ride horses or carry weapons, they had either to convert to Islam or pay a special tax to the Muslim state or die, they could not marry or have sexual intercourse with Muslim women under punishment of death (whereas Muslim men could marry Catholic women and their children must be brought up as Muslims), they could not build new churches (still the case in Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, where building churches is forbidden, and in some other Muslim nations where building churches is extremely difficult or de facto impossible), they had to defer to Muslims socially, and in all legal matters they were subordinate to the Muslim population whenever they came in conflict with it.

The effect of these oppressive social conditions on Catholics was that by the twelfth century Catholics had basically become extinct in Islamic Spain because of flight to the Catholic North, conversions to Islam, and expulsions. Over the centuries, Muslim authorities expelled hundreds of thousands of Catholics to Muslim Africa. Some of these expulsions occurred in retaliation for the armed resistance of the Catholics, among them the famous Omar Ibn Hafsun, who for many years in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada held off the forces of Abd-el-Rahman III (Arab chronicles tell us that Hafsun died as a Catholic, and that Abd-el-Rahman III had his body disinterred and desecrated as an example to the population). Thus by 1492, when Granada was finally re-conquered by Catholics, no Catholics could be found in the city. The process of Catholic cultural and religious extinction in al-Andalus was similar to what one can witness in the Middle East and North Africa today, where the Christian population has been steadily declining from a time when most of the Middle East and North Africa was Christian, prior to the Islamic conquests.
For a more detailed treatment of these issues see my "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise" at
Professor Dario Fernandez-Morera
Northwestern University

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Esther Fernandez-Morera's Salmon Paste

Esther (or “Sonia,” her stage name as an assistant to the magician, my father, "El Gran Dary") Fernandez-Morera’s Salmon Paste Recipe
My mother, que en paz descanse, taught me this recipe many years ago, when I was still living in California and going to Foothill College, or perhaps I was already at Stanford, I don’t remember.  It is easy to make and very nutritious and tasty.  It is loaded with protein.  It can keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days.  The garlic in it helps preservation.
One 14.75 oz. (418 g.) can of red or pink Salmon, such as Pillar Rock.
3 eggs, boiled.
4 cloves of garlic, cut in very small pieces or equivalent (bottled garlic is ok; use two teaspoons of bottled garlic).
1/3 large onion, cut in very small pieces.
8-10 full tablespoons of mayonnaise, preferably with all the fat, for taste and calories; non-fat or low fat is ok but less tasty of course.
1/2 teaspoon of herbs seasoning in powder form; I prefer Garlic & Herbs by Ms. Dash.
1/3 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
½ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce.
½ teaspoon of Soy sauce.

Start boiling the eggs in a soup pan with water (well, someone might want to use wine, or who knows what) for about 5 minutes.  Use a timer of course.
While the eggs boil, chop the onion and the garlic and mix them in a soup bowl.
Open the Salmon can on one end and cut the metal all around but not completely so that you can use it as a sort of lid.  Walk over to the dog dish and pour most of the liquid in the dog dish holding the salmon in with the lid.  Dog loves licking the liquid (using this recipe at dog feeding time has the advantage of one’s being able to pour the liquid over the served dog food; dogs love it).  If you don’t have a dog (too bad) just pour the liquid in the garbage can, unless you have other cooking plans for it.  Empty the Salmon into a large soup dish or other large bowl.  Break down the salmon with a fork.
Pour the mayonnaise over the salmon and mix it well.  The amount of mayo should not obliterate the flavor of the salmon, merely complement it.  Start with 8 tablespoons.  Feel free to taste the mixture for flavor and add more mayo if you wish.  Do not use the same fork or spoon you use to taste for further mixing.
Pour the mixed onion and garlic on the salmon and mayo mix.  Mix well with a fork.
If eggs are ready, take them out and place them inside a container with cold water from the faucet.  When one is cool enough, peel the egg.  Place it on a cutting board.  Then cut it up, first by half, then again by half.  Do the same with the other eggs.  You will end up with four pieces for each egg.
Pour the cut boiled eggs into the salmon mixture.  Mix it.
Pour the seasoning and the cayenne.  Mix it.
Pour the Worcestershire sauce.  Mix it.
Pour the Soy sauce.  Mix it.
Esther Fernandez-Morera’s Salmon Paste is ready to be spread (or, which I prefer, plopped on the bread using a soupspoon) on toasted bread (which you may have already toasted in the toaster) or untoasted bread.  Either sliced whole wheat bread or whole wheat pita bread works well with this salmon paste.  It makes I don’t know how many servings; it depends on how much one eats.  Leave unused paste in the same bowl, cover it with see-through plastic wrap and refrigerate.