Category Archives: Religion

Education and the Mental Health Epidemic

Across the western world June is exam time; in Britain, written tests taken in halls of silence and tension have triggered a mini-epidemic of anxiety rooted conditions. Pupils have reported mental exhaustion, panic attacks, crying, nosebleeds, sleepless nights, hair loss and outbreaks of acne.

Over the past 25 years, depression and anxiety amongst teenagers in the UK has increased by 70%. This pattern is repeated across the developed world, and is the result of a cocktail of pressures, pressures that result in 10% of under 18-year-olds in America being dependent on mental health medication.

In parts of Asia things are just as bad or worse: the pressure to achieve high marks in exams in Hong Kong is driving some students to suicide: “71 students took their lives between 2013 and 2016,” reports The South China Morning Post. In Singapore, which produces children who excel in standardized tests, an 11-year-old jumped to his death from the 17th floor of an apartment building in 2016 because he was afraid to tell his parents his exam results. The inquest heard that the boy’s parents relentlessly pushed him to achieve at school: his mother would cane him for every mark he received under 70%. In 2015 a record 27 suicides were reported amongst children between 10 and 19, which was double the previous year’s total.

Suicide or attempted suicide is a raw scream revealing the internal agony a child is living with; pain that he/she feels suffocated by, and unable to openly acknowledge. In most cases children don’t kill themselves, they just become ill, some, chronically. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that neuropsychiatric conditions are the primary cause of disability in under 25-year-olds worldwide and says that globally between 10% and 20% “of children and adolescents experience mental disorders,” feeding what are often long-term conditions. Research shows that 75% of all mental health issues begin before a person reaches 18, with 50% taking root before age 15.

Engines of conformity

There are various interconnected reasons for this mental health epidemic; the burden to conform and the relentless pressure to succeed are primary causes and are present throughout institutionalized education. For many young people education has become a bi-word for competition and anxiety, school or university a place where uniformity is demanded and individuality denied: a hostile place in which pressure and stress dominate.

Despite the best efforts of teachers, many of whom are doing wonderful work, the goal of academic institutions in many countries has been reduced to passing exams and achieving good-to-high grades. This is anathema to what education ought to be. At the heart of education should be the aim of creating happy human beings free from fear. This requires establishing environments that allow an individual to discover innate talents, to explore him/herself and slowly, perhaps clumsily, give expression to that; a stimulating, nurturing space where mistakes can be made, failure allowed, independent thinking fostered and responsibility for society and the natural environment engendered.

Like all aspects of contemporary life, education has been tainted by the values of a particular approach to life, a materialistic methodology that fosters negative tendencies instead of feeding the good and liberating the spirit. Competition is encouraged instead of cooperation, placing people in opposition to one another, cultivating division instead of unity. Individual success is championed at the expense of group well-being and life is reduced to a battleground ruled by desire and the pursuit of pleasure.

The focus within this paradigm of misery is on material success and the accumulation of status and things. Hedonism is sold as the source of all happiness, feeding perpetual discontent. It is an extremely narrow approach to life that denies mystery and wonder, pours cynicism on the miraculous and attempts to crush self-investigation and silence opposition.

Whilst the majority of humanity suffer and struggle to live healthy fulfilling lives within this mode of living, there are those who, economically at least, profit handsomely. As a result, and failing to recognize that they too are trapped, they do everything to maintain it; they are the wealthy and powerful, the ‘ruling elite’. Money begets power and political influence under the pervading paradigm; such influence is used to shape (and draft) government policies that strengthen systems, which maintain the existing unhealthy order.

To uphold the status quo, freedom of thought and true individuality is curtailed, social conformity insisted upon. The major tools of conditioning are the media, which is commonly owned by corporations or controlled by governments, organized religion, and education. The policies of schools and colleges are set by central government, and, consistent with the pervasive ideology politicians ensure that conformity and competition are built into the working methodology.

Students are set in competition with one another, with established standards and with themselves, and are regularly forced to sit written examinations to evaluate how much they can remember or know, about any particular subject. Taking exams dictates the passage of a child’s education and establishes the benchmark against which young people are judged, and by extension often judge themselves. Using tests as a way of assessing a person’s ability and knowledge is archaic; sitting exams exerts colossal pressure, and although some may be able to cope and ‘do well’ the majority feel suffocated.

In Britain, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) relates that in 2016/17 Childline delivered “3,135 counseling sessions on exam stress – a rise of 11% over the past 2 years.” Children aged between 12 and 18 reported that exam stress was causing “depression and anxiety, panic attacks, low-self-esteem, self harming and suicidal thoughts.” This pattern is common in many developed and developing countries, where ideologically-driven corporate governments obsessed with trade, continue to pursue methods, that are, by design, detrimental to the well being of children.

Instead of policies rooted in competition, cooperation and sharing need to be encouraged in all aspects of education and standardized exams consigned to the past. The educational environment needs to be one in which children are encouraged to support each other, to share their own particular gifts with the group and build a sense of social responsibility. Many teachers naturally employ such inclusive methods, but working within divisive systems, which promote individual success, conformity and competition, their efforts are often frustrated.

An Alternative way

A more enlightened approach to education is found in Finland. Here, children don’t start school until they are seven, there is no streaming or selection in schools, so children of varying abilities work side by side, no homework is set, school holidays are long and there is only one standardized test, administered in the final year of high school. The result is happier children than in countries where testing, homework, selection and competition reign supreme. Not only are children happier (according to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world), they achieve higher academic marks than students in many other countries; according to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) organized annually by the OECD, Finland ranks fourth for reading and 5th for Math in the world; 93% of students graduate from High School, compared to 78% in Canada and 75% in America.

Teachers in Finland are well qualified – all have a Master’s Degree – and are highly valued. They are not dictated to by misguided politicians who come and go, but are trusted to do their job independently, and the country has a long-term approach to education policy, which “means plans remain in place for a significant amount of time, giving them a chance to work, ” says Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

An education system is part of a society’s overall approach to living. As well as being a happy place to live and having a relaxed attitude to education, Finland has some of the lowest levels of wealth and income inequality in the world and the highest level of community trust. In contrast, Britain, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong have some of the highest levels of inequality. The Finland education system is inseparable from the culture, which it serves. Saku Tuominen, director of the HundrEd project says that Finland has “a ‘socially cohesive’, equitable and efficient society, and it gets a consistently reliable school system to match.”

Systems of education built around the ideals of the market that use competition, selection and examinations are contributing to a collective atmosphere of division, injustice and anxiety. Such methodologies need to be fundamentally changed, replaced by creative environments in which children and young adults can simply be, without pressure to achieve or become anything in particular. In such an atmosphere, true intelligence, which is beyond the limitations of knowledge, can flower.

Social Animals have Two Modes of Being

I want to describe what I think is a fundamental truth about the individual bio-psychology of social animals, including humans.

Setting for the model

The setting for my model is arguably the greatest current scientific revolution: The formal realization and empirical demonstration that virtually all of social behaviour and individual psychology is encased in the evolutionary, biological and metabolic reality of dominance hierarchy.

For example, see Sapolsky’s influential 2005 review of primate studies1, and my critical review of medicine2. The metabolism of the monoamine neurotransmitter serotonin and the associated evolutionary biology is now an established area of science3,4,5,6. In my opinion, the said area of science, although far from complete, constitutes a foundational building block of the new tectonic-plate theory of social science, whether social scientists are aware of it yet or not. And it has started to infuse the popular culture.7

This knowledge implies that the metabolic biochemistry of dominance locks us in. No socialism theory that presumes altruistic cooperation as its organizing principle can ever work. Non-hierarchical anarchism and its libertarian cousin are useful conceptual end-points that can never be sustainably achieved. The best we can do is to have a responsive and optimally (evolutionarily) beneficial dominance hierarchy that is actively prevented from exercising pathological excess.8

The model

In this setting, I propose that the animal has two modes of being, which are binary end-points on an attitudinal, self-image and behavioural psychological-state-scape.

I’m not saying that each individual is permanently in one or the other mode of being. Rather, I propose that the individual shifts and slides into one or the other mode depending on his immediate social circumstances and on his history (biological and metabolic memory) of being predominantly in one mode or the other.

The modes of being that I propose map onto the social dominance hierarchy, and are consistent with the roles of different individuals within the hierarchy.

Specifically, one mode is the mode (and strategy) adopted by the dominated individual. This mode is one where the individual seeks “fairness” and minimal aggressions in their environment. The individual seeks a “safe space” and has no actual design to displace dominants. The culture of individuals that coalesce into such a stratum of the hierarchy is one where “kindness” and “being a good person” are the highest social values that are encouraged and rewarded. Altruism and “goodiness” are elevated to a status meriting religious indulgences. Viciousness actuated by enforcers within the social stratum is turned towards violators of this code.

The other mode is the mode (and strategy) adopted by the individual who intends to be and to remain dominant. It is an outlook of waging and winning battles for dominance. This is the climber with a “killer’s instinct”, prepared to joust for relative advantage and eager to dominate.

These modes are distinct mental and physiological states of being. They occur inside the individual and cannot always be ascertained reliably from outside indicators. For example, climbers in a corporate or government office hierarchy may achieve success by “kissing ass” rather than by confronting superiors. Advancement in these institutions may arise from actuation of the goodiness mode rather than the competitive mode, or competition within an office level may be the selector used by superiors. Anything is possible in a given corporate enterprise, in terms of utilization of intrinsic human behaviours.

The two distinct modes are real regarding the individual’s experience and bodily biochemistry, in the circumstances, rather than ascertainable from superficial outside features such as house or car or ring size.

The psychological-state-scape is binary in the two modes because the metabolic physiologies of the two modes are incompatible. The holistic state of being cannot be both simultaneously. Different blood biochemistries and tissue and organ responses are in play. It’s one or the other: Vying for dominance or accepting subservience. Fight or flight. Challenge or hide. More than a billion years of evolution ain’t goin’ anywhere.

“Bosses” will find each other to fight. Subservient individuals, subservient in the circumstances, will lower their eyes, group to the edges of the room and exchange vital information about who is “a nice person”.

Application to politics

The establishment bosses that run the Left, more than the Right, exploit the population of individuals that are most easily corralled into the goodiness mode and seduced by goodiness promises.

The boss propaganda (mainstream media, institutional messaging) is clearly designed in this direction: human rights, minority rights, environmentalism, democracy, participation… whereas the state continues its vicious wars of dominance world-wide and its violent apartheid of aboriginal and low economic classes and of non-violent Criminal Code offenders.

It is a textbook illustration. Extreme social justice warriorism and safe-space obsessionism are, in my opinion, pathological and predictable outcomes of unchecked exploitation by those who ride the Left.

As a backlash against the overly successful establishment Left propaganda and institutional capture, individuals who are inhabited by the competition mode react in revolt by violating the goodiness rules of expression and behaviour, causing generalized and amplified outrage. They break the taboos, express racism, use the N-word, graffiti swastikas, speak their minds, and trigger and troll the masses.

The establishment bosses that run the Right have not been keen to use this relatively unmanageable population and have been only tentative in exploring how to use it. Trump changed that. There is no denying that Trump unsettled traditional Republican forces.

This does not mean that all Right-thinking voters are competition-mode individuals, not by any stretch. Most Right-thinking voters are conservatives who seek the “safe space” of traditional family and religious values. They are horrified at the prospect of an eroded institutional framework that could threaten this safe space and they seek the good-person representatives that would protect them.

The establishment bosses that exploit both the Left and the Right understand that goodiness is a winning electoral formula, since most individuals in a dominance hierarchy are goodiness-mode followers rather that competition-mode individuals who vie for higher echelons. This is the nature of a stable dominance hierarchy: Most people just want to be oppressed fairly, to know their place and to be safe.  In a so-called “democracy”, since show elections are required, the only question is the flavour of the goodiness.

A problem arises when the flavours of goodiness are so different that the other side is threatened when institutions are captured. Then many will feel they are in danger and the conditions are ripe for competition-mode redress.

In these circumstances, the Right voters shift to seeking and supporting competition-mode leaders that will fight back on their behalf, and more of the Right adopts a competition-style stance. It could have gone the other way, like it did for decades. The Right could have accepted defeat, accepted the humiliation of being “bad persons”, and sought refuge in their own spaces. The Right could have stayed in a social state with most of its individuals in the goodiness mode being pampered by goodiness-mode representatives promising elusive “justice”.

In Canada, I think Preston Manning was a goodiness organizer (reform by rational argument) whereas Harper organized a coup and dismantled as much Left capture of institutions as possible. The Left stuck with goodiness and turned it on, screaming about the Right’s demolition of “human rights”, “environmental protection” and “democracy”.  We got Trudeau. Now the Right is rightly pointing to some of the pathologies of going too far with Left goodiness, and its managers are exaggerating the institutional threats against family and against human nature itself, no less.

So goes the seesaw of political manipulation, perfectly in resonance with the intrinsic modes of being of the individual.  The individuals naturally self-organize and are corralled into protective communities, both within and between strata of the hierarchy.

Application to religion

Institutionally organized religion is a perfected system of goodiness rules, which stabilizes and strengthens a dominance hierarchy. Even environmentalism can be understood as such a state religion.9

Religious belief and practice, for most people, is deeply ingrained in the goodiness mode of being of the individual, as should be obvious from my above description. The rituals of recycling, healthy lifestyle practice, donations to The United Way and so on, while they have no positive effect on population health, systemic negative class bias or “the planet”, nurture and solidify a prolonged and robust adoption by the individual of the goodiness mode of being.

As long as a majority of citizens reside in the goodiness mode of being, the dominance hierarchy cannot be challenged and major displacements will not occur. Public peace will prevail.

Of course, religious seminal texts, nowadays including much of the so-called scientific literature, are more complex than state propaganda and can be used, as needed or desired, to incite individuals into the competitive mode of being, into the confrontational state, to be manipulated by political organizations.

This is actively seen today in Zionist Israel with Torah and holocaust scholarship, where the texts are used to incite and rationalize genocidal displacement, confinement and suppression of the native population. Interestingly, hard science (genetics) has established that white European Jews that have always run the modern state of Israel do not have a relevant ancestry that originated in Palestine.10 If science mattered.

Conclusion and verification

It is in our animal and human nature — inherited on our evolutionary path — to occupy either the goodiness or competitive modes of being, which represent biochemical and physiological states of either accepting or challenging the dominance of others.

The reality of my model of individual modes of being can be tested (experienced) by experimentation with LSD, which alters serotonin metabolism.11  A common description of mild LSD experiences is that the subject is able to escape their persona and become conscious of their identity programing and conscious of the identity or motivational programming of others.12 Dominance hierarchy is dissolved by blocking serotonin receptors on neurons.  No wonder that’s illegal.

  1. R.M. Sapolsky. “The Influence of Social Hierarchy on Primate Health”, Science, 29 April 2005, vol. 308, pages 648-652. DOI: 10.1126/science.1106477.
  2. Denis Rancourt.  “Cancer arises from stress-induced breakdown of tissue homeostasis”, Research Gate, December 2015, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.1304.7129.
  3. Donald Edwards and Edward Kravitz. “Serotonin, social status and aggression”, 1997, Current Opinion in Neurobiology, vol. 7, pages 812-819.
  4. Molly J. Crockett et al. “Serotonin modulates behavioral reactions to unfairness”, Science, June 27, 2008; 320(5884): 1739. doi:10.1126/science.1155577.
  5. Molly J. Crockett et al.  “Serotonin selectively influences moral judgment and behavior through effects on harm aversion”, PNAS, October 5, 2010, vol. 107, no. 40, 17433-17438.
  6. Anna Ziomkiewicz. “Serotonin and Dominance”, January 2016, In: Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1440-1.
  7. Denis Rancourt.  “Jordan Peterson and the Threat of Working-class Intellectual and Attitudinal Liberation”, Dissident Voice, June 3, 2018.
  8. Denis Rancourt. “Cause of USA Meltdown and Collapse of Civil Rights”, Dissident Voice, September 7, 2017.
  9. Denis Rancourt. “The Climate Religion”, Dissident Voice, September 15, 2016.
  10. Marta D. Costa et al. “A substantial prehistoric European ancestry amongst Ashkenazi maternal lineages”, Nature Communications, vol. 4, Article number: 2543 (2013).
  11. GK Aghajanian and GJ Marek. “Serotonin and Hallucinogens”, Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 21, pages 16S–23S (1999).
  12. Larry Hagman ‘All Politicians Should Use LSD‘”, interview of Larry Hagman, YouTube, November 24, 2012 upload by xBehindthetruthx.

The Catholic Church in Resistance

The tradition is represented as noble, the confiding link between confessor and penitent, a bridge never to be broken, even under pain of death.  Taken that way, the confessional is brandished as the Catholic Church’s great weapon against the wiles and predations of secular power.  The State shall have no say where the priest’s confidence is concerned, for all may go to him to seek amends.  “The sacramental seal,” goes the relevant code of canon law, “is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for the confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Those points certainly have merits, even if these seem a touch faded after the sex abuse imbroglio the Church has found itself in.  Confession, which functions as a barometric reading of Catholic guilt, has developed its own succour and relish, an ecosystem of ritual and understanding resistant to the prying of the criminal law.  Not merely does its ironclad protection provide a dispensation from the laws of the land in certain troubling cases; the confession, in effect, serves as an economy of ordered guilt, reassurance for the next binge of sin. To remove it, or at the very least heavily qualify it, would be an unsettling challenge to a distinct Weltanschauung.

The process effectively permits all – including erring priests – to engage the process from either side of the grille. Historically, the process also imperilled children.  Pope Pius X, in decreeing in 1910 that confession should commence at the tender age of seven, permitted an army of celibates access to vulnerable, and in certain instances titillating flesh.

Legislators troubled by the enduring force and fascination with the seal of the confessional have gotten busy, most notably in Australia.  This was prompted, in no small part, by the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. “We are satisfied,” went the Australian report, “that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt.”

One recommendation specifies that institutions “which have a religious confession for children should implement a policy that requires the rite only to be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult.” But the members of the Royal Commission went beyond the spatial logistics of the confessional.  Institutional jolting was required.

Each state and territory government, argued Commission members, should pass legislation creating “a criminal offence of failure to report targeted at child sexual abuse in an institutional context”.  This, it was suggested, would extend to “knowledge gained or suspicions that are or should have been formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.”  The law would also exclude existing excuses, protections or privileges.

Despite treading delicately, such recommendations were not merely matters for demurral by the Church, but considerations to be sneered at from the summit of spiritual snobbery.  President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart reduced the matter to one of neat sophistry veiled by religious freedom.  “Confession in the Catholic Church,” he reasoned in August last year, “is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” being “a fundamental part of the freedom of religion”.

Hart’s protestations did not go heeded in the South Australian legislature, making it the first in Australia to legally oblige priests to report confessions of child abuse from October 1.  Omitting to do so will result in a fine of $10,000.  Bishop of Port Pirie and acting Adelaide Archbishop Greg O’Kelly, much in Hart’s vein, saw the move as having “much wider implications for the Catholic Church and the practice of the faith.” Such comments could only come across as archaic and insensitive, given the conviction of his predecessor, Archbishop Philip Wilson, for concealing child sex abuse.

More to the point, the remarks by Bishop O’Kelly are brazenly selfish, permitting the priest an all-exclusive gold card for reasons of amendment, “that the penitent actually is sincere about wanting forgiveness, is sincere about wanting reparation”.  The conspicuous absentee here is the victim, always abstracted, if not totally hidden, by matters of the spirit.

While accounts such as John Cornwell’s, whose stingingly personal The Dark Box makes the sensible point that abolishing the confession and its lusty pull would essentially address the problem, the Church is already finding fewer penitents.  In a sense, it is already losing the appeal, the allure, and even the danger, of the confessional.  Musty physical convention has given way to digital releases and outpouring.  Social media, crowned by the confessional fetish that is Facebook, takes the disturbed soul and expresses it to the globe.

From the vacuity of the Kardashian phenomenon to the newly enlisted grandparent keen to reflect on banal deeds, these platforms have stolen an irresistible march on those in the land of Catholicity.  Such confessions of sin or achievement – the distinctions are not always clear – have become the preserve of Mark Zuckerberg and his technicians, rather than a local priest desperate to remain relevant. But that age old resistance against the laws of the civic secular domain remains the Church of Rome’s stubborn, practised specialty. The elusive spirit, in dialogue with an unverified Sky God, continues to be its invaluable alibi for crimes of the flesh.

Cover Ups and Confessions: Pope Francis and Child Abuse

It is the season for exposures and exposes, and the Catholic Church has been making regular ripples of the wrong and undeniably crude sort.  Globally, the church is finding itself being picked bare in terms of institutional malfeasance, not merely on the issue of having harboured abusive priests, but of placing a dark, impenetrable cover over them.

No area of influence has been spared.  In Guam, the disruptive efforts of former Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron made it into public eye with G. R. Pafumi’s work citing attempts to invalidate a 2016 statute lifting limitations for child sex abuse.  In Pafumi’s grave words, “The Church believes it is never wrong because it has been guided by the Holy Spirit for nearly 2,000 years.”

The Holy Spirit has not being doing much work of late, and seemed to have deserted Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson last week when he was found guilty of concealing acts of child abuse by a priest.  Australia’s media cognoscenti claimed this to be a globally significant move, as it made Wilson the most senior Catholic in the world to be found guilty of such a charge. The legal argument for Wilson had been one of ignorance: he had not known that a priest by the name of James Fletcher had abused a boy back in the 1970s.

Magistrate Robert Stone did not find much to merit that version, rejecting Wilson’s frail memory on a conversation in 1976 in which the then 15-year-old victim described the abuse by Fletcher, who was working in the Maitland/Newcastle diocese in New South Wales.

Would there be immediate effect upon his office?  Certainly no resignation, a move deemed arrogant by former NSW police detective chief inspector Peter Fox.  The Church, as ever, remains an obstinately self-policing institution at logger heads with secular institutions.  Wilson was hoping for a soft landing, a reprieve from “the people of the archdiocese of Adelaide” to whom he urged to “continue to pray for me.”   In the meantime, he would continue his “prayers and best wishes” for the faithful in the archdiocese.

There would, at best, be a temporary standing down, but hardly a genuine resignation.  Spokeswoman for the archdiocese Jenny Brinkworth seemed to undo the seriousness of the conviction with bureaucratic numbing.  “Standing aside doesn’t necessarily mean it’s forever.  He’s standing aside until process has run its course.”

Pope Francis has found himself reeling in managing the child abuse crisis, and more specifically the machinery of deception and concealment.  For all the claims of his supposedly more progressive streak, he has been traditionally resistant on the Church’s sclerosis in dealing with the culpable management of abusive priests.

Chile has proven to be particularly problematic, a veritable crown of thorns.  The Pope had, for instance, gone as far as accusing child abuse victims, notably those associated with the infamous Rev. Fernando Karadima, of calumny.  An exchange with a reporter at the gate of the Iquique venue, the site of Mass on the last day of his Chile visit, sent the press and commentators into a spin of dizzied alarm.

Central to the exchange was the pontiff’s 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros.  The appointee to the diocese of Osorno had been a Karadima protégé, who survivors say bore witness and covered-up abuses in Chile.  In a more moderate tone, the Pope decided to sober up matters on returning to Rome.  “You [reporters],” went Francis, “in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”  This was a far-fetched assertion, given that Barros has been lighting up matters on the abuse trail since 2012.

Since then, victims have been furnishing Chilean prosecutors with a bounty of testimony.  Former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Marie Collins, was significantly riled, having delivered a letter of 8 pages to the Pope outlining her own accounts of abuse.

Collins’ own resignation from the body was prompted by a seemingly incurable bureaucratic inertia.  “The most significant problem,” she penned in her resignation in March 2017, “has been reluctance of some members of the Vatican Curia to implement the recommendations of the Commission despite their approval by the pope.”

In his January 31, 2015 letter to the executive committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference, it became clear that Francis was entirely cognisant of the problems.  “Thank you for having openly demonstrated the concern that you have about the appointment of Monsignor Juan Barros.  I understand what you are telling me and I’m aware that the situation of the church in Chile is difficult due to the trials you’ve had to undergo.”

Having rounded up on critics of those accused of child abuse, he has been pushed into an act of near grovelling contrition, suggesting last month that there has been “serious errors of assessment and perception”.  The question lurking amidst the frocks was who had supplied the supposedly infallible Francis with the unreliable information. He had claimed to have precipitated the errors of assessment “due to lack of truthful and balanced information.”  Cardinals Francisco Javier Errázuriz and Ricardo Ezzati, both archbishops of Santiago, have denied being involved in that defective information loop.

By the end of April, the pontiff had met three victims of Karadima in Rome.  One of the survivors, Juan Carlos Cruz, claimed that the Pope had sorrowfully relented.  “I was part of the problem,” he is reported to have said.  “I caused this and I apologize to you.”

The Vatican Curia’s response to the dimension of shuffling, moving and redirecting errant and abusive priests supplies a general, global blue print.  Dioceses have duly complied, taking their lead from the top.  All in all, responses by the Church have been irregular and often soft.  Sabbaticals and exit strategies have been promised to those in the higher realms of the church food chain.

Those constructively guilty of abuse – through denial and administrative dissimulation – are merely moved on.  Individuals like Apuron have not been defrocked, nor restrictions placed on his continued ministry.  Wilson, despite his conviction, remains defiant.  Given the Vatican’s previous form, he has every reason to be so.

Saudi Wahabbism Serves Western Imperialism

When the Saudi Crown Prince gave an interview to the Washington Post, declaring that it was actually the West that encouraged his country to spread Wahhabism to all corners of the world, there was a long silence in almost all the mass media outlets in the West, but also in countries such as Egypt and Indonesia.

Those who read the statement expected a determined rebuke from Riyadh. It did not come. The sky did not fall. Lightning did not strike the Prince or the Post.

Clearly, not all that the Crown Prince declared appeared on the pages of the Washington Post, but what actually did, would be enough to bring down entire regimes in such places like Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei. Or at least it would be enough under ‘normal circumstances’. That is, if the population there was not already hopelessly and thoroughly indoctrinated and programed, and if the rulers in those countries did not subscribe to, or tolerate, the most aggressive, chauvinistic and ritualistic (as opposed to the intellectual or spiritual) form of the religion.

Reading between the lines, the Saudi Prince suggested that it was actually the West which, while fighting an ‘ideological war’ against the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, handpicked Islam and its ultra-orthodox and radical wing – Wahhabism – as an ally in destroying almost all the progressive, anti-imperialist and egalitarian aspirations in the countries with a Muslim majority.

As reported by RT on 28 March 2018:

The Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabism began as a result of Western countries asking Riyadh to help counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Washington Post.

Speaking to the paper, bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia’s Western allies urged the country to invest in mosques and madrassas overseas during the Cold War, in an effort to prevent encroachment in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union…

The interview with the crown prince was initially held ‘off the record’. However, the Saudi embassy later agreed to let the Washington Post publish specific portions of the meeting.

Since the beginning of the spread of Wahhabism, one country after another had been falling; ruined by ignorance, fanatical zeal and fear, which have been preventing the people of countries such as post-1965 Indonesia or the post-Western-invasion Iraq, to move back (to the era before Western intervention) and at the same time forward, towards something that used to be so natural to their culture in not such a distant past – towards socialism or at least tolerant secularism.

*****

In reality, Wahhabism does not have much to do with Islam. Or more precisely, it intercepts and derails the natural development of Islam, of its strife for an egalitarian arrangement of the world, and for socialism.

The Brits were behind the birth of the movement; the Brits and one of the most radical, fundamentalist and regressive preachers of all times – Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

The essence of the Wahabi/British alliance and dogma was and still is, extremely simple: “Religious leaders would force the people into terrible, irrational fear and consequent submission. No criticism of the religion is allowed; no questioning of its essence and particularly of the conservative and archaic interpretation of the Book. Once conditioned this way, people stopped questioning and criticizing first the feudalist, and later capitalist oppression; they also accepted without blinking the plunder of their natural resources by local and foreign masters. All attempts to build a socialist and egalitarian society got deterred, brutally, ‘in the name of Islam’ and ‘in the name of God’”.

Of course, as a result, the Western imperialists and the local servile ‘elites’ are laughing all the way to the bank, at the expense of those impoverished and duped millions in the countries that are controlled by the Wahhabi and Western dogmas.

Only a few in the devastated, colonized countries actually realize that Wahhabism does not serve God or the people; it is helping Western interests and greed.

Precisely this is what is right now happening in Indonesia, but also in several other countries that have been conquered by the West, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Were Syria to fall, this historically secular and socially-oriented nation would be forced into the same horrid direction. People there are well aware of this, as they are educated. They also see what has happened to Libya and Iraq and they definitely do not want to end up like them. It is the Wahhabi terrorist fighters that both the West and its lackeys like Saudi Arabia unleashed against the Syrian state and its people.

*****

Despite its hypocritical secular rhetoric, manufactured mainly for local consumption but not for the colonies, the West is glorifying or at least refusing to openly criticize its own brutal and ‘anti-people’ offspring – a concept which has already consumed and ruined both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In fact, it is trying to convince the world that these two countries are ‘normal’, and in the case of Indonesia, both ‘democratic’ and ‘tolerant’. At the same time, it has consistently been antagonizing almost all the secular or relatively secular nations with substantial Muslim majorities, such as Syria (until now), but also Afghanistan, Iran (prior to the coup of 1953), Iraq and Libya before they were thoroughly and brutally smashed.

Aghanistan-US-air-force-Bagrani-base

It is because the state, in which the KSA, Indonesia and the present-day Afghanistan can be found, is the direct result of both Western interventions and indoctrination. The injected Wahhabi dogma is giving this Western ‘project’ a Muslim flavor, while justifying trillions of dollars on ‘defense spending’ for the so-called ‘War on Terror’ (a concept resembling an Asian fishing pond where fish are brought in and then fished out for a fee).

Obedience, even submissiveness – is where, for many reasons, the West wants its ‘client’ states and neo-colonies to be. The KSA is an important trophy because of its oil, and strategic position in the region. Saudi rulers are often going out of their way to please their masters in London and Washington, implementing the most aggressive pro-Western foreign policy. Afghanistan is ‘valued’ for its geographical location, which could potentially allow the West to intimidate and even eventually invade both Iran and Pakistan, while inserting extremist Muslim movements into China, Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Between 1 and 3 million Indonesian people ‘had to be’ massacred in 1965-66, in order to bring to power a corrupt turbo-capitalist clique which could guarantee that the initially bottomless (although now rapidly thinning) natural resources could flow, uninterrupted and often untaxed, into places such as North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

Frankly, there is absolutely nothing ‘normal’ about countries such as Indonesia and the KSA. In fact, it would take decades, but most likely entire generations, in order to return them to at least some sort of nominal ‘normalcy’. Even if the process were to begin soon, the West hopes that by the time it ends, almost all of the natural resources of these countries would be gone.

But the process is not yet even beginning. The main reason for the intellectual stagnation and lack of resistance is obvious: people in countries such as Indonesia and KSA are conditioned so they are not able to see the brutal reality that surrounds them. They are indoctrinated and ‘pacified’. They have been told that socialism equals atheism and that atheism is evil, illegal and ‘sinful’.

Hence, Islam was modified by the Western and Saudi demagogues, and has been ‘sent to a battle’, against progress and a just, egalitarian arrangement of the world.

Poster of radical FPI in Jakarta

This version of religion is unapologetically defending Western imperialism, savage capitalism as well as the intellectual and creative collapse of the countries into which it was injected, including Indonesia. There, in turn, the West tolerates the thorough corruption, grotesque lack of social services, and even genocides and holocausts committed first against the Indonesians themselves, then against the people of East Timor, and to this day against the defenseless Papuan men, women and children. And it is not only a ‘tolerance’ – the West participates directly in these massacres and extermination campaigns, as it also takes part in spreading the vilest forms of Wahabi terrorism and dogmas to all corners of the world. All this, while tens of millions of the followers of Wahhabism are filling the mosques daily, performing mechanical rituals without any deeper thought or soul searching.

Wahhabism works – it works for the mining companies and banks with their headquarters in London and New York. It also works extremely well for the rulers and the local ‘elites’ inside the ‘client’ states.

*****

Ziauddin Sardar, a leading Muslim scholar from Pakistan, who is based in London, has no doubts that ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ is, to a great extent, the result of the Western imperialism and colonialism.

Ziauddin Sardar and Andre Vltchek discussing Islam at Mr. Sardar’s club in London

In a conversation which we had several years ago, he explained:

Trust between Islam and the West has indeed been broken… We need to realize that colonialism did much more than simply damage Muslim nations and cultures. It played a major part in the suppression and eventual disappearance of knowledge and learning, thought and creativity, from Muslim cultures. The colonial encounter began by appropriating the knowledge and learning of Islam, which became the basis of the ‘European Renaissance’ and ‘the Enlightenment’ and ended by eradicating this knowledge and learning from both from Muslim societies and from history itself. It did that both by physical elimination – destroying and closing down institutions of learning, banning certain types of indigenous knowledge, killing off local thinkers and scholars – and by rewriting history as the history of western civilization into which all minor histories of other civilization are subsumed.

As a consequence, Muslim cultures were de-linked from their own history with many serious consequences. For example, the colonial suppression of Islamic science led to the displacement of scientific culture from Muslim society. It did this by introducing new systems of administration, law, education and economy all of which were designed to impart dependence, compliance and subservience to the colonial powers. The decline of Islamic science and learning is one aspect of the general economic and political decay and deterioration of Muslim societies. Islam has thus been transformed from a dynamic culture and a holistic way of life to mere rhetoric. Islamic education has become a cul-de-sac, a one-way ticket to marginality. It also led to the conceptual reduction of Muslim civilization. By which I mean concepts that shaped and gave direction to Muslim societies became divorced from the actual daily lives of Muslims – leading to the kind of intellectual impasse that we find in Muslim societies today.  Western neo-colonialism perpetuates that system.

*****

In Indonesia, after the Western-sponsored military coup of 1965, which destroyed the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and brought to power an extreme pro-market and pro-Western regime, things are deteriorating with a frightening predictability, consistency and speed.

While the fascist dictator Suharto, a Western implant after 1965, was said to be ‘suspicious of Islam’, he actually used all major religions on his archipelago with great precision and fatal impact. During his pro-market despotism, all left-wing movements and ‘-isms’ were banned, and so were most of the progressive forms of arts and thought. The Chinese language was made illegal. Atheism was also banned. Indonesia rapidly became one of the most religious countries on Earth.

At least one million people, including members of the PKI, were brutally massacred in one of the most monstrous genocides of the 20th century.

The fascist dictatorship of General Suharto often played the Islamic card for its political ends. As described by John Pilger in his book, The New Rulers of The World:

In the pogroms of 1965-66, Suharto’s generals often used Islamicist groups to attack communists and anybody who got in the way. A pattern emerged; whenever the army wanted to assert its political authority, it would use Islamicists in acts of violence and sabotage, so that sectarianism could be blamed and justify the inevitable ‘crackdown’ – by the army…

‘A fine example’ of cooperation between the murderous right-wing dictatorship and radical Islam.

After Suharto stepped down, the trend towards a grotesque and fundamentalist interpretation of the monotheist religions continued. Saudi Arabia and the Western-favored and sponsored Wahhabism has been playing an increasingly significant role. And so has Christianity, often preached by radical right-wing former exiles from Communist China and their offspring; mainly in the city of Surabaya but also elsewhere.

From a secular and progressive nation under the leadership of President Sukarno, Indonesia has gradually descended into an increasingly radically backward-looking and bigoted Wahhabi-style/Christian Pentecostal state.

President_Abdurrahman_Wahid_Gus_Dur

After being forced to resign as the President of Indonesia during what many considered a constitutional coup, a progressive Muslim cleric and undoubtedly a closet socialist, Abdurrahman Wahid (known in Indonesia by his nickname Gus Dur), shared with me his thoughts, on the record:

These days, most of Indonesian people do not care or think about God. They only follow rituals. If God would descend and tell them that their interpretation of Islam is wrong, they’d continue following this form of Islam and ignore the God.

‘Gus Dur’ also clearly saw through all the tricks of the military and pro-Western elites. He told me, among other things, that the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta was organized by the Indonesian security forces, and later blamed on the Islamists, who were actually only executing the orders given to them by their political bosses from the pro-Western military regime, which until now is being disguised as a, ‘multi-party democracy’.

In Indonesia, an extreme and unquestioning obedience to the religions has led to a blind acceptance of a fascist capitalist system, and of Western imperialism and its propaganda. Creativity and intellectual pluralism have been thoroughly liquidated.

The 4th most populous nation on the planet, Indonesia, has presently no scientists, architects, philosophers or artists of any international standing. Its economy is fueled exclusively by the unbridled plunder of the natural resources of the vast, and in the past, pristine parts of the country, such as Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), as well as on the brutally-occupied Western part of Papua. The scale of the environmental destruction is monumental; something that I am presently trying to capture in two documentary films and a book.

Awareness of the state of things, even among the victims, is minimal or out rightly nonexistent.

In a country that has been robbed of its riches; identity, culture and future, religions now play the most important role. There is simply nothing else left for the majority. Nihilism, cynicism, corruption and thuggery are ruling unopposed. In the cities with no theatres, galleries, art cinemas, but also no public transportation or even sidewalks, in the monstrous urban centers abandoned to the ‘markets’ with hardly any greenery or public parks, religions are readily filling the emptiness. Being themselves regressive, pro-market oriented and greedy, the results are easily predictable.

In the city of Surabaya, during the capturing of footage for my documentary film produced for a South American television network TeleSur (Surabaya – Eaten Alive by Capitalism), I stumbled over an enormous Protestant Christian gathering at a mall, where thousands of people were in an absolute trance, yelling and lifting their eyes towards the ceiling. A female preacher was shouting into a microphone:

God loves the rich, and that is why they are rich! God hates the poor, and that’s why they are poor!

Von Hayek, Friedmann, Rockefeller, Wahab and Lloyd George combined could hardly define their ‘ideals’ in more precise way.

*****

What exactly did the Saudi Prince say, during his memorable and ground-breaking interview with The Washington Post? And why is it so relevant to places like Indonesia?

In essence, he said that the West asked the Saudis to make the ‘client’ states more and more religious, by building madrassahs and mosques. He also added:

I believe Islam is sensible, Islam is simple, and people are trying to hijack it.

People? The Saudi themselves? Clerics in such places like Indonesia? The Western rulers?

In Teheran, Iran, while discussing the problem with numerous religious leaders, I was told, repeatedly:

The West managed to create a totally new and strange religion, and then it injected it into various countries. It calls it Islam, but we can’t recognize it… It is not Islam, not Islam at all.

*****

In May 2018, in Indonesia, members of outlawed terrorist groups rioted in jail, took hostages, then brutally murdered prison guards. After the rebellion was crushed, several explosions shook East Java. Churches and police stations went up in flames. people died.

Destroyed Aleppo

The killers used their family members, even children, to perpetrate the attacks. The men in charge were actually inspired by the Indonesian fighters who were implanted into Syria – the terrorists and murderers who were apprehended and deported by Damascus back to their large and confused country.

Many Indonesian terrorists who fought in Syria are now on their home turf, igniting and ‘inspiring’ their fellow citizens. The same situation as in the past – the Indonesian jihadi cadres who fought against the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan later returned and killed hundreds and thousands in Poso, Ambon and other parts of Indonesia.

Indonesian extremists are becoming world-famous, fighting the battles of the West as legionnaires, in Afghanistan, Syria, Philippines and elsewhere.

Their influence at home is also growing. It is now impossible to even mention any social or god forbid, socialist reforms in public. Meetings are broken up, participants beaten, and even people’s representatives (MP’s) intimidated, accused of being “communists”, in a country where Communism is still banned by the regime.

The progressive and extremely popular Jakarta governor, Ahok, first lost elections and was then put on trial and thrown into jail for “insulting Islam”, clearly fabricated charges. His main sin – cleaning Jakarta’s polluted rivers, constructing a public transportation network, and improving the lives of ordinary people. That was clearly ‘un-Islamic’, at least from the point of view of Wahhabism and the Western global regime.

Radical Indonesian Islam is now feared. It goes unchallenged. It is gaining ground, as almost no one would dare to openly criticize it. It will soon overwhelm and suppress the entire society.

And in the West ‘political correctness’ is used. It is lately simply ‘impolite’ to criticize Indonesian or even the Saudi form of ‘Islam’, out of ‘respect’ for the people and their ‘culture’. In reality, it is not the Saudi or Indonesian people who get ‘protected’ – it is the West and its imperialist policies; policies and manipulations that are used against both the people and the essence of Muslim religion.

*****

While the Wahhabi/Western dogma is getting stronger and stronger, what is left of the Indonesian forests is burning. The country is literally being plundered by the Western multi-national companies and by its local corrupt elites.

Extremist attacks against Indonesian churches

Religions, the Indonesian fascist regime and Western imperialism are marching forward, hand in hand. But forward – where? Most likely towards the total collapse of the Indonesian state. Towards the misery that will come soon, when everything is logged out and mined out.

It is the same as when Wahhabism used to march hand in hand with the British imperialists and plunderers. Except that the Saudis found their huge oil fields, plenty of oil to sustain themselves (or at least their elites and the middle class, as the poor still live in misery there) and their bizarre, British-inspired and sponsored interpretation of Islam.

Indonesia and other countries that have fallen victims to this dogma are not and will not be so ‘lucky’.

It is lovely that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke publicly and clarified the situation. But who will listen?

For the Indonesian people, his statements came too late. They did not open many eyes, caused no uprising, no revolution. To understand what he said would require at least some basic knowledge of both the local, and world history, and at least some ability to think logically. All this is lacking, desperately, in the countries that have found themselves squashed by the destructive imperialist embrace.

The former President of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, was correct: “If God would come and say… people would not follow God…”

Indonesia will continue following Mr. Wahab, and the capitalist dogma and the Western imperialists who ‘arranged it all’. They will do it for years to come, feeling righteous, blasting old North American tunes in order to fill the silence, in order not to think and not to question what is happening around them. There will be no doubts. There will be no change, no awakening and no revolution.

Until the last tree falls, until the last river and stream gets poisoned, until there is nothing left for the people. Until there is total, absolute submission: until everything is burned down, black and grey. Maybe then, few tiny, humble roots of awakening and resistance would begin to grow.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Gay Adoption: Is This Really the Most Pressing Issue in Adoption Today?

The media has focused on gay adoption for quite a while, perhaps because it is controversial and controversy – like sex – sells. So, it is little wonder the attention being given to gay rights advocates who are up in arms about laws they see as discriminating against them in the adoption arena based on religious beliefs of adoption agencies such as the law recently passed in  Kansas granting legal protections for faith-based adoption agencies that refuse to place children in LGBTQ homes.

LGBTQ activists have now been joined by “tech giants” Google and Apple lobbying against such laws that prevent the state from denying grants and contracts to faith-based agencies for refusing to place children into homes that don’t align with their religious beliefs. A similar bill passed the house in Oklahoma and heads for the Senate. South Dakota, Michigan, Alabama, and Texas have all passed similar legislation.

It amazes [and offends] me that, of all the pressing issues in child adoption today, this is the one these mega corporations chose to take on and stand up for.  Is this really the most pressing current wrong in adoption?

What about child trafficking for adoption? What about pressure, coercion, exploitation to meet a demand for babies? What about rehoming? What about establishing a national child abuse registry so people cannot move state to state like the Hart family did to avoid detection of their abuses to the vulnerable children entrusted to them, and may possibly have prevented the murder of six adopted children? What about denial of adoptees right to access their own birth certificates? None of that matters? It is shocking that Apple and Google find the alleged rights of the LGBTQ community more important to take a stand on than all of these other issues facing adoption.

Sadly, none of these issues which cause harm and suffering to innocent children ever garnered the attention that the issue of gay adoption has. They are just not popular or sexy. Sad realities don’t sell like warm fuzzy happily-ever-after – or even indignant – stories do.

Let me be perfectly clear. Despite the recently freorted horrific abuse and murder of six children adopted by Jennifer and Sarah Hart, as a lifelong friend, ally, and supporter of LGBTQ rights to equality, to live free of harassment and violence perpetrated out of hate and discrimination and to marry whomever they choose, I know that same sex couples and gay individuals can and do make excellent care-takers and parents of children, of that I have no doubt or concern and plenty of hetero adopters have brutally abused, abandoned, and murdered children in their care (as have natural parents).

At Issue

The argument is that adoption agencies should not have the right to discriminate against same sex couples and gay individuals and that to do so causes suffering to children who need adopting by reducing their options for a loving home, a preposterous claim when demand for children to adopt greatly outweighs the “supply.”

It’s also a deceptive argument inasmuch as neither state adoptions from foster care nor secular private adoptions are being challenged. These avenues remain open to people of all persuasions. No one is screening out potential families for these children based on religious beliefs or sexual preferences.  Thus, it is patently untrue that LGBT people are discriminated against when it comes to adoption.

Gay adoption – like international adoption – is masqueraded as being in the best interest of “unwanted” children who are “languishing” in foster care.  It is true that there are approximately half a million children in state care in the United States. Many are awaiting reunification with their families. Others who can be adopted are, for the most part, ignored by those seeking to adopt because of the children’s age, because of their physical, emotional and educational abilities and limitations, or they are sibling groups. But there are still other paths to adoption open to same sex couples.

As noted in The Nation’s recent article “The Left’s Assault on Adoption”:

Same-sex couples have abundant options to foster and adopt. Every state in the country allows fostering or adoption by same-sex couples. As one LGBT advocacy group has documented, there are no states where same-sex couples face legal restrictions when petitioning for fostering, joint adoption, or stepparent or second-parent adoption.

Most private adoption agencies, as well as all public agencies in America, are willing to place children in same-sex households. The number of adoptions by same-sex couples has more than tripled from 6,500 couples in 2000, to 22,000 in 2010. And almost 40 percent of all adoption agencies, and 83 percent of public agencies, report that they have made at least one adoption placement with an LGBT person. Same-sex couples adopt and foster and are not prevented from doing so by the continued existence of adoption agencies that prefer to place kids with married moms and dads.

Anyone – regardless of their gender, marital status, or sexual preference  – is perfectly able to adopt a child needing a family. The only restriction in question is one that pits the non-existent right to adopt against the right of faith-based adoption agencies – often funded by religious institutions  – to operate in keeping with their religious beliefs and to provide services to specific communities that choices such religious based services.

The Nation also recognizes:

Faith-based adoption agencies that follow their religious beliefs have a high level of success in placing older and disabled children. They also provide services for vulnerable women seeking help with unplanned pregnancies. Moreover, some women facing an unplanned pregnancy want their child to be raised by a married man and woman. A birth mother should have the freedom to work with an agency that honors her preferences and shares her values.

In general, I am opposed to businesses refusing to serve LGBTQ customers which can result in health professionals refusing to serve clients based on their religious beliefs.  However, when it comes to adoption agencies, there are multiple clients served – those seeking to adopt , the families seeking placement, and the child. Adoption is not, or should not be, merely a business transaction.  And herein lies the difference between adoption agencies and wedding photographers or bakeries who are serving a single client.

This is nothing new. There have long been specifically Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Evangelical adoption agencies that serve their communities, providing families the option of selecting who might or might not want to raise their child based on religious values and practices. Should that right be taken from families in need of finding alternative, extra-familial care for their child? It is, after all their child up until they relinquish their parental rights or have those rights terminated by the state.  Families in crisis considering adoption have the same right to ensure their child is raised in the tradition of his or her family of birth and kin just as every parent does and thus have the right to choose a placing agency to act on their wishes and preferences.

Religious and secular adoption agencies have many criteria such as age of those seeking to adopt, standards some may object to or call discriminatory. The alternative, however, is a society in which children are treated like cars that are sold to whomever has the ability to pay. Adoption agencies act on behalf of and represent families in need. We hope they are acting on good faith and using good judgment to do the best not for the paying client – those adopting – but for the silent client, the child. In that capacity, representing the most vulnerable among us, it is their duty to be selective and have criteria. As a society, we want potential adopters subjected to criminal background checks and home studies though many object to being scrutinized in ways that people who become parents naturally are not. But should the safety net for children in need be any less cautious?

The powerful LGBTQ lobby

I have long avoided writing about this aspect adoption knowing that unless I am totally in favor and supportive of the rights of the LGBTQ community to adopt, I would be seen as biased against gays and deemed homophobic.

The rights of LGBTQ people to create anonymous offspring via genetic “donations”, to exploit women as surrogates, and their alleged right to adopt – a right no one has – become hands off, sacrosanct. Speak out against any of these practices that provide children for LGBTQs and you are labeled prejudiced against their sexual preferences, and silenced, despite speaking out against such practices for all.

Out of more than 100 blog posts I wrote for Huffington Post, only two were rejected. One was this one, opposing the sale of anonymous genetic material because it stepped on the toes of the gay community, despite my objections being the practices themselves when utilized by anyone, gay or straight.

No adoption policy should be formed without hearing and respecting the input of the lived experiences of adoptees.  Anything less treats adopted persons as commodities. Yet, the voices of adult children of same-sex parents who dare to write or speak out about their personal experience in anything but glowing terms, are silenced, discounted as “ungrateful,” bitter, angry by powerful LGBTQ lobby. Those who are less than thrilled at having been raised by same-sex parents report having have great difficulty getting published despite glowing credentials, are labeled homophobes, and are harassed to the point that at least one woman known as Rivka Edelman had to go underground and write under a pseudonym.

Gay men and women, like any group of people, are unique individuals and cannot be grouped together based on that one aspect of their lives. Not all women or even all feminists agree on everything any more than all left-handed people, or all Ohioans share similar opinions, or beliefs.  Thus, not all members of the LGBTQ community are incensed or feel discriminated against by religious adoption agencies upholding their criteria.

Bryan C. is a gay male adoptee and an adoptee rights advocate. He brings a unique perspective to  this issue:

My issue with same sex couples adopting a child is not dissimilar to my issue with any couple or individual legally and ethically adopt[ing], that being the primacy of the child’s well-being above and beyond any real or imagined “need” to parent where biological ability is absent. It is my sincere belief as an adoptee who struggled over years with my own sexuality (self-concept) issues, that a child at all cost, be allowed to thrive in the most stable environment possible. In some instances, single mothers and fathers . . . if assisted by family and professional help would be [able] to maintain an original nuclear family.  In the absence of that possibility, a child placed for adoption for whatever reason, is immediately in a destabilized environment by the very nature of the process.

When one compounds that destabilized situation, it is not, in my opinion, ameliorated by adding further to a [child] placement [with] a same sex couple by nature of it not being a societal ‘norm’ (tolerance or lack thereof ) is not itself necessarily a stable environment. A child already struggling with issues of adoption is then faced with the struggle of being raised in a created non-traditional family. There may be instances of success, but in light of what I have experienced as both a ‘successful adoptee’ who grew up and became an experienced gay man, I believe what I have written to be true from my experience.

I do not think same sex parents ‘deserve’ to be parents more than stable single parents, it simply adds another potential layer of instability to a child of whom instability, in my honest opinion, is already a large portion of their lives. This is my opinion with the interest of all adopted or potentially adopted children, including those conceived in vitro as primary.

My position on adoption

As a lifetime advocate for children and families, I too view adoption through one narrow lens: the best interest of children, above and beyond the alleged “rights” of any of the adults involved (birth or adoptive parents) over those of the child, though I recognize the powerful bond created by the mother/child dyad and believe it detrimental to both mother and child to severe that without good cause.

As such I do not give primacy for the needs, wants, desires or wishes of anyone seeking to create or enlarge their family through adoption. I believe adoption should always be about finding the best care for children not about filling longing arms. (I am equally disliked for this position in the infertility community which has accused me of being heartless and lacking compassion as in the LGBT community.)

Apple and Google and any others who support adoption need to educate themselves and learn the facts. Adoption is glamorized, applauded, encouraged, and promoted as a win-win. It is not. Every adoption, in fact, begins with a loss that creates a lifetime trauma. Many – perhaps even most – adoptees cope well with the separation, loss, lies, and secrecy of the relinquishment at the foundation of every adoption. Their resilience and coping skills do not, however, eliminate struggles such as cultural identity and lack of medical history. Stranger adoption – by any non-related person or persons –  should be a last resort turned to only when there are no extended family able or willing to parent. It should not be encouraged and fought for as a right.

Viewing adoption from a child-centric perspective, we need to be less inclined to jump on the band-wagon of anything that increases the enormously high demand for sought-after babies – currently about 36 to 1. It is this demand and the tens of thousands of dollars those seeking children to adopt are willing and allowed to pay, that creates pressure, coercion, exploitation, corruption, and child trafficking. Thus, if one agency turns down one couple there are many other agencies and many others vying to adopt! No child has suffered.

No adult’s “rights,” needs, desires, or feelings of entitlement should take precedent over the rights of children in need.

The Legacy of two Gurus: Billy Graham and Charles Manson

One belonged to the establishment; the other hung out on the fringes. One preached to presidents; the other led a tiny cult. Both left their mark on the 20th century and lived on into the 21st. Rev. Billy Graham died in February at the age of 99, and Charles Manson passed away last November in his 80s. Thus ended the lives of two prominent gurus of the 20th century; both of them had been named by the Smithsonian Magazine as among “the 100 Most Significant Americans of all time.”

“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead,” tweeted President Donald Trump, “There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.” Vice-President Mike Pence also lauded him, as did ex-presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush hailed him as “America’s Pastor.”

Praise for Graham was almost obligatory; most politicians, power figures and pundits did as expected. An exception was Washington Post columnist George F. Will, who wrote an obituary saying Billy Graham was no prophet. “Prophets take adversarial stances toward their times. . . Graham did not. Partly for that reason, his country showered him with honors.”

So it seems that even inside the establishment, not everyone loved and admired Billy Graham. The famously outspoken President Harry S Truman once said of Graham, “Well, I hadn’t ought to say this, but he’s one of those counterfeits I was telling you about.” Nevertheless, counterfeit or whatever, most politicians and pundits said politically correct things about Graham, worshipfully remembering him with appellations such as “the White House Chaplain” and “God’s ambassador.”

Nobody, on the other hand, felt obliged to eulogize Charles Manson when he passed away last year. An obituary in the New York Times read: “Charles Manson Dies at 83; Wild-Eyed Leader of a Murderous Crew.” Although not exactly a eulogy, that article was published in the New York Times, and it wasn’t just a brief notice either, it was a lengthy 2,200 words long. In addition, there were two more substantially long Manson articles in the same issue. One of them, titled “Unhinged Pop Culture Figure,” recalled that Manson “has loomed large in American culture ever since” his brutal killing spree in the summer of 1969. “It has inspired . . . pop songs, an opera, films, a host of internet fan sites, T-shirts, children’s wear” and a lot more.

Such articles weren’t only to be found in the NY Times. Manson obituaries were in the Washington Post, the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the New Yorker, the Guardian UK, the Economist, and more, too many to name. Here in the U.S. and abroad, they all had something to say about Charles Manson. Manson did not die in obscurity.

The gory Tate-LaBianca murders landed Charles Manson in prison for the remaining 47 years of his life, but it made him a household name, a “dark celebrity.” At least forty books have been written about him, and more keep coming out. Nearly all depict him as a twisted, evil, mass murderer and have colorful but haunting titles such as: Death Trip, The Unholy Trail, Member of the Family, The Shadow Over Santa Susana, Music Mayhem Murder, Helter Skelter, The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten, and Surfin’ with Satan. No, they don’t flatter him, but they do focus attention on him, adding to his aura. Charles Manson may have as much as or even more name recognition than Billy Graham.

Both Graham and Manson had a talent for drawing attention to themselves, they were expert showmen, and both cultivated their public image, though in very different ways. The two would seem like polar opposites. Graham lived a conventional, scandal-free life, so totally different from that of Manson. Manson’s style was an absolute, total caricature of just about everything conventional. He and his disciples –he called them his “family” — engaged in group sex and dropped acid. They also dedicated time to Bible study. Yes, Bible study was among their activities, and Manson’s favorite verses were to be found in Revelations. Verses such as:

“behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” . . . “And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men.”

Using Revelations as a guide and LSD for added enlightenment, Charles Manson attempted to delve into the hidden meanings of the Beatles’ music.

Revelations is truly a strange book, and not everyone has been as taken with it as Charles Manson was. It’s been controversial since ancient times, and its place in the New Testament canon was hotly disputed during the 16th century Reformation. Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli did not consider it apostolic, and John Calvin reportedly said, “The study of Revelation either finds a man mad, or leaves him that way.”

Nevertheless, Revelations remained in the canon, where Manson eventually found it. Billy Graham also took an interest in it. Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the title of a book Graham authored, and it’s quite as nutty as Manson’s eschatology, the difference being that Billy Graham’s version is conventional nuttiness, nothing original. Graham assures us that although there will be “nuclear conflagrations, biological holocausts and chemical apocalypses rolling over the earth,” we need not worry because when things get really out of hand, Jesus will show up, deus ex machina, to fix everything.

Fundamentalists are not alone in their fixation on Revelations. Many generations of poets, novelists and movie-makers have found inspiration in its pages, and who can deny that those verses are colorful and dramatic? The bizarre imagery seems to grab hold of our imagination, perhaps in somewhat the same strange way that Manson’s apocalyptic escapades and eerie personality do.

Everyone who knew Manson has described him as extremely charismatic. Indeed he must’ve been. Many normal, rational, level-headed people were attracted to him and in varying degrees fell under his spell. They included Hollywood celebrities, mostly people in the music world. Manson was perhaps the best connected mass murderer in U.S. history. The Beach Boys let the Manson family stay rent free at one of their houses for some months. The owner of a movie location, the Spahn Ranch, made the place available to the Manson family.

He was an aspiring rock musician, no doubt substantially more weird than most, but many rock musicians did tend to be eccentric. Manson was part of that milieu; he wrote songs and through his various contacts he hoped to get his music produced commercially. Here are a couple of stanza from his lyrics:

People say I’m no good
But never, never do they say
Why their world is so mixed up
Or how it got that way

They all look at me and they frown
Do I really look so strange
If they really dug themselves
I know they’d want to change

Charles Manson had his creative side and his sensitive side, even spiritual and idealistic sides. He gathered his flock together and taught them to love one another (literally) and he loved all of them (literally), and they loved him (literally) and came to worship him as their messiah; they obeyed him unquestioningly. He was their guru. Nevertheless, Manson did not call himself a guru. The term was perhaps too esoteric for him, coming from an Eastern tradition as it did; he seems to have been basically, at the bottom of it all, a Bible-Belt fundamentalist, though his interpretations and practices would’ve been considered heretical in the extreme.

Along with being the spiritual leader of his group and an outrageous heretic, he was also a guy who simply could not stay out of trouble. When he needed a car, he’d steal one, things like that. And he was always getting caught. Even much of his childhood was spent in and out of reform schools, and throughout his life he took routes that landed him in prison, time after time and finally for life. He seems to have been wired wrong, even more wrongly wired than most of us.

A childhood spent in brutal reform schools didn’t help much, nor did the prisons in which he spent years of younger adult life. He was released in 1967, and the end product was truly a monster, fiendishly manipulative and absolutely indifferent to the damage he caused, even to his followers who trusted him. He was a patriarch in the very worst sense of the word, a sociopath who used and abused people, especially women.

On the evening of August 8, 1969 he sent a team of his disciples to 10050 Cielo Drive in the Beverly Hills, where they butchered Sharon Tate and four others. Manson didn’t go with them to supervise. He just sent them out with instructions to “totally destroy everyone, as gruesome as you can.” And they did.

The next evening they went out and killed two more people, the LaBianca murders. On that occasion Manson accompanied his disciples, but left before the killing was actually done. There were also other killing sprees attributed to the Manson family; they were eventually convicted of nine murders. There’s some debate over how many they actually did kill; seven, eight, nine, a dozen, or maybe more. Nevertheless, it appears that Charles Manson never killed anyone himself. He just gave the orders and provided the inspiration.

“It was a collective idea,” Manson told a Rolling Stone journalist years later. “It was an episode. A psychotic episode, and you want to blame me for that?”

The Manson family’s “psychotic episode” took place in 1969, the same year that news of the My Lai Massacre came out. Several hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians had been slaughtered by U.S. troops, and many Americans were horrified to learn that our soldiers did such things. A low ranking army officer, Lt. William Calley, was eventually prosecuted and served three and a half years under house arrest. The trials of both the Manson family and Lt. Calley took place in 1970 and continued on into 1971.

Although Lt. Calley had participated in the killing at My Lai, it was higher ranking officers, not the lieutenant, who’d given the orders. Those orders, one soldier later testified, were: “Kill anything that breathed.”

“We have all had our Mylais in one way or another,” wrote Billy Graham in an article for the New York Times, “perhaps not with guns, but we have hurt others with a thoughtless word, an arrogant act or a selfish deed.” In the same article, published April 7, 1971, Graham also wrote, “Sherman was right, ‘War is hell.’ I have never heard of a war where innocent people were not killed.”

Billy Graham was not a pacifist. But could there have been some part of him that truly hated war and felt empathy and compassion for the soldiers who were sent to kill? That letter seems to come from a person who’s so full of love and understanding that he would even forgive mass murder, comparing it to harm done by a “thoughtless word.” Or was Billy Graham a cynical propagandist, trivializing the slaughter of 500 people, doing damage control for Nixon and cloaking it in expressions of Christian love for humanity?

My guess is that it was some of both, that Graham did have genuine feelings of love and kindness, and that at the same time he truly loved being called “God’s Ambassador” and was mesmerized by power, that is, having the ear of presidents. Graham spent more time as a guest at the White House than any other person, and has been called “the spiritual adviser to twelve U. S. Presidents,” which to varying degrees he was, but most of all to President Richard Nixon, with whom he had an especially close relationship. The two spent countless hours together, discussing the war in Vietnam. According to a thesis by Daniel Alexander Hays, “America’s most famous preacher was an active participant in promoting and even planning the war.” Graham urged Nixon to bomb the dikes in North Vietnam, even though an estimated one million people could’ve died as a result. That was farther than even Nixon was willing to go. The dikes were not bombed.

The Nuremberg Tribunal had sentenced Nazi official Seyss-Inquart to death for destroying dikes in Holland during World War II. Despite that ruling, the U.S. bombed dams in North Korea in 1953. For advising to do likewise in Vietnam, Rev. Graham is sometimes called “an aspiring war criminal.” That suggestion was just one incident in the seven-decade long ministry of Rev. Billy Graham. Graham met with every U.S. president, promoting wars, preaching death and destruction in the name of Jesus.

Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as in the Gospel of Thomas, does not look at all like a warmonger. And yet, here was this preacher, often referred to in the corporate media as “God’s Ambassador,” being part of the war effort, sending young Americans, many of them only 17 or 18 years old, to Vietnam where they’d kill or be killed. And huge numbers were killed. An estimated three million Vietnamese died; 58,000 American GIs also died in Vietnam, and a lot more died after returning to the U.S. They even died in front of us, right here at home in stateside USA, literally before our very eyes. So many people died before their time.

And while Rev. Billy Graham was preaching his sermons, Charles Manson was getting out of prison, recruiting disciples, reading the scriptures with them and leading them through the dark passages of Revelations, instructing them in eschatology, and finally sending them forth as angels of the apocalypse. It was quite as though Manson were attempting to act out the bizarre verses he’d been reading together with his disciples, verses such as: “the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill . . .”

It was bad enough that Manson would kill all those people; it was even worse that he would involve others in the killing, thus screwing up their lives as well; several of his followers who believed in him and gave him their trust spent the rest of their years in prison. Thinking of this, I sometimes wonder how many of the GIs who lost their lives in Vietnam had been persuaded by the preaching of Rev. Billy Graham that fighting the war was their duty to God and Country.

Manson recruited young people, mostly women, many of them teenagers, about the same age as the GIs who went to Vietnam. He was, in some very deep sense, the domestic face of the brutality of that era of war, and he seemed to recognize that himself. “I am just a reflection of every one of you,” he said at his trial.

The Tate-LaBianca murders were uniquely bizarre, but they weren’t the only killings going on here in stateside USA. That was also the era of the Kent State shootings (1970), the assassinations of JFK (1963) and of Malcolm X (1965), followed by those of RFK (1968), of MLK (1968), and the extra-judicial executions of Black Panthers. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) where millions of people, possibly the entire human race, came close to being wiped out.

And My Lai wasn’t the only U.S. atrocity in Vietnam. There was the CIA’s notorious Phoenix Program, the search and destroy slaughter operation which ended the lives of 50,000 Vietnamese. Manson killed nine people, so do the arithmetic: The Phoenix Program was the equivalent of about five thousand Manson murders. And there was also the air war, the massive U.S. bombing of Vietnam, not to mention the intense bombing of Cambodia and Laos, which killed millions.

While that was going on in Vietnam, President Richard Nixon held a news conference and said, referring to Charles Manson, “here is a man who was guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason.” Hearing of that, Manson said, “Here’s a man who is accused of hundreds of thousands of murders, accusing me of eight murders.”

Nixon prolonged the war, but he didn’t start it. Responsibility for that could be shared by a couple of generations of the 0.01 percent and their functionaries. Among the functionaries were the propagandists, the ones who spoke for, promoted and popularized those policies. These would include some editors, journalists and pundits, movie makers, official historians, artists and sports heroes, celebrities, and, of course, religious figures, most prominent of whom was Reverend Billy Graham who did so much to weaponize religion.

Billy Graham was discovered and promoted in 1949 by publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst Sr. (1863 -1951) — that same newspaper owner Hearst, at this time nearing the end of his long life, who had promoted the Spanish-American war back in 1898. Graham preached Hearst’s kind of religion: anticommunism, even anti-liberalism and support for Senator Joseph McCarthy.

And at the end of it all there’d be party-time. Heaven, as envisioned by America’s Pastor, would be a place where he and his followers would “have parties, and the angels will wait on us, and we’ll drive down the golden streets in a yellow Cadillac convertible.”

So we can see right there why Reverend Billy Graham hated Communists and Anarchists — those ornery souls who’d organize those overworked, long suffering, downtrodden angels into a labor union, hold a general strike, and tell Rev. Billy to get his own fuckin’ drinks.

There used to be a bumper sticker reading: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” And that does seem to be the creed of the power elite, including the media moguls who brought Rev. Graham to fame and maintained him in the public eye. The corporate media made Billy Graham famous and named him “God’s Ambassador.” He owed his fame to the corporate media, and the same could be said of many celebrities, including Charles Manson.

There are many dramatic newsworthy stories that get little, if any, coverage and without massive, ongoing coverage by the media, nearly fifty years of it now, the Manson murders would’ve been mostly forgotten. Which is not to deny that it is well worth looking at for what it may tell us about the world we live in. Historians and sociologists need to study the stories of both Billy Graham and Charles Manson. But study them together — they belong on the same page.

• Author’s Note: Steve Gilmartin and Virginia Browning contributed to this essay.

Theresa May recruits Royalty to thwart BDS

Prince William, second in line to the throne, is being sent to the Holy Land by the UK Government “to promote diplomatic and cultural ties”. In effect he’ll be helping to normalise 70 years of Israeli occupation and sanitise the unimaginable cruelty that has gone with it. His trip cuts across the Boycott Divestment & Sanctions movement’s efforts to bring pressure for justice.

*****

Kensington Palace has announced in a tweet that “the Duke of Cambridge will visit Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian territories in the summer.”

The visit “is at the request of Her Majesty’s Government.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately welcomed the news, saying: “It is a historic visit, the first of its kind, and he will be received here with great enthusiasm.” And President Reuven Rivlin wrote on his Twitter account that Prince William will be “a very special guest” and his visit will be “a very special present for our 70th year of independence.”

Royals are supposed to remain aloof from politics, at home and abroad. The Monarch, for good reason, has avoided any state visit to Israel since the entity established itself in treacherous circumstances back in 1948.

So why the sudden change in Palace policy?

Recruiting Prince William to shmooze the Zionists follows the warm welcome extended to Netanyahu by Theresa May to the infamous Balfour Declaration celebrations in London last November and her earlier speech oozing adoration for Israel. In that speech she attacked the successful BDS campaign calling it unacceptable and warning that her government would “have no truck with those who subscribe to it”.  The Israel lobby meanwhile has agitated furiously for the UK to shut down BDS.

Mrs May was ticked off for her hostility to BDS by 200 legal scholars and practising lawyers from all over Europe who pointed out to her that BDS is a lawful exercise of freedom of expression and outlawing it undermines a basic human right protected by international convention. Any efforts to repress BDS amount to support for Israel’s violations of international law and a failure to honour the solemn pledge by States to ‘strictly respect the aims and principles of the Charter of the United Nations’.

So why is she so stiff-necked about it? After all, Netanyahu is on many a wanted list for crimes against humanity and should, in a sane world, be locked up. What’s more, he is under investigation for corruption in his own country. Israel, as everyone knows, is in flagrant breach of umpteen UN resolutions of the sort that would have brought crippling sanctions down on any other offender.

The international community’s failure to act has left civil society no option but to fill the vacuum with BDS.

All the same Mrs May and the Israel lobby are pressing ahead with their anti-BDS programme and it looks like they’re getting special help from the Royal Family. But if Prince William seeks to undo the efforts of civil society he sets himself against the people.

According to May’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt, the official reason for the royal trip is that it’s “an important and unique opportunity to promote diplomatic and cultural ties in the region”, which is shorthand for enriching big business post-Brexit. So that’s OK then. Don’t let the misery of decades-long military occupation get in the way of new riches, eh?

Prince William’s mission needs to be very different to the one intended by May and Netanyahu

Kensington Palace’s tweet received this reply from a certain Suzanne Levy, who describes herself as a full-time ‘kook’: “Fantastic news, but please correct your erroneous terminology. The Palestinian Territories are not occupied by Israel – they are under the rule of Hamas and the PA.” As if jumping to her kooky instruction the British embassy in Israel released a Hebrew-language version of the Kensington Palace announcement omitting the words “occupied territories” and replacing them with “Israel and the Palestinian Authority”.

In denying the Israeli occupation Ms Levy, like other hasbara trolls, is at odds with the United Nations, international law, world opinion and documented history. Even the UK Government officially refers to Palestine as the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories), so the edit by its own embassy is puzzling.

Unless, of course, it tells the truth and the plan is to prevent Prince William from actually experiencing the Occupied Territories by confining him to the witless ‘Palestinian Authority’. The PA has precious little legitimacy and is led by a ‘quisling tendency’ who have done next to nothing for the Palestinians. Their reward for wasting the nation’s time and wrecking its prospects is a life of comparative luxury, very different from that suffered by the unfortunate people they are supposed to serve. They can be relied upon to give the Prince a suitable skewed view of things.

Here’s acid test number 1. The Occupied Territories include Gaza. So will the Israelis and May allow Prince William to visit there, shoot the breeze with Hamas (whose political wing are not proscribed as terrorists in the UK and who struggle to run the devastated place after 10 years of vicious blockade, almost daily air strikes, repeated military ground incursions and occupation of its territorial waters and airspace by Israel) and to see for himself the true horror of the humanitarian crisis all this has caused? If the answer is no, the entire visit should be called off. But it won’t be.

Acid test number 2 is this. Prince William will likely succeed to the throne one day and become Defender of the [Christian] Faith, a 500 year old obligation. As a true Christian – if that is what he is – he’ll know all about the cry for help issued only months ago by the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine to the World Council of Churches and the entire ecumenical movement. It was signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

They say:

We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour declaration…. A hundred years later and there is still no justice! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule…. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leader’s callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.

The message ends with these ominous words:

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse…. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.”

William must be allowed to hear direct the serious concerns of the Christian and Muslim communities and take a robust line that involves consequences for the occupier if those concerns are not properly dealt with.

Prince William’s wife Kate (Duchess of Cambridge) is expecting their third child towards the end of April so he’ll probably make the trip without her. But expect the visit to be accompanied by waves of media rapture over the new arrival, with Israel’s propaganda machine working flat-out to milk maximum PR benefits and subliminally stamp the Royal seal of approval on their apartheid regime.

If Prince William does set foot in the Holy Land his mission must obviously be very different to the one described by Alistair Burt or wished for by Netanyahu and May.  If he is seen to lend legitimacy to a grasping, racist enterprise like the Israel Project, which shows no respect for human rights or international law, it will surely come to haunt him.

Money, Not Protection of Palestinian Christians, Was at the Root of Holy Sepulchre Protest

It was a protest long overdue – and one that produced rapid results.

On Sunday, for the first time in living memory, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre slammed shut its doors to worshippers and tourists. In justifying the closure of the site where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, Church leaders accused Israel of launching a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land”.

By Wednesday the church had reopened after Israel, bombarded with bad publicity, appeared to climb down.

Shuttering the church had threatened economic damage too. More than a quarter of Israel’s nearly 4 million visitors each year are Christian pilgrims. They and many other tourists come primarily to follow in the footsteps of Jesus – and the Holy Sepulchre is top of their sightseeing list.

The churches are right that the survival of a meaningful Palestinian Christian presence in the Holy Land hangs in the balance. Christians now comprise just 10 per cent of the large Palestinian minority in Israel – or about 2 per cent of Israel’s total population.

In the Palestinian territories, which are under belligerent Israeli occupation, Christian numbers have similarly plummeted.

But however serious the problem, the joint statement from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic leaders was only tangentially concerned with the fate of this local community of believers. The protest was really about protecting the churches’ profits from real-estate and investment deals.

Power of evangelicals

The Christians of the Holy Land are overwhelmingly Palestinian, while the churches speaking on their behalf are overwhelmingly foreign. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Vatican are vast enterprises that are as concerned with their commercial viability and influence on the global stage as they are about the spiritual needs of any specific flock.

And nowhere is that fact more obvious and telling than in the cradle of the Christian faith – today split between Israel and the fragments of an embryonic Palestinian state.

The churches have long had to navigate a complex political game in the Middle East with Israel, the region’s key power-broker, and with Israel’s patron in Washington.

That task has grown more daunting in recent years, as Christian evangelical influence has come to dominate politics in the United States. Most US evangelicals are far more interested in “end-time” prophecies that require unthinking support for Israel and illegal Jewish settlements than they are in preserving a 2,000-year-old local Christian tradition.

The rising power of the evangelicals was exemplified in Donald Trump’s presidential election victory in late 2016, and his recent decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, terminating already frail hopes of a two-state solution.

Christian exodus

These trends are simply accelerating a long-standing process in which Palestinian Christians, whether in Israel or under occupation, are fleeing the Holy Land.

Confined to overcrowded ghettoes by Israel, starved of economic and social opportunities, and victims like other Palestinians of trigger-happy Israeli security forces, many have tapped overseas networks of Christians to re-establish their lives in Europe or North America.

Notably, however, it was not this prolonged exodus that prompted the churches to close the doors of the Holy Sepulchre, or the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, or the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.

No Catholic custodian or Greek patriarch has dared to take such a decisive and bold stance in solidarity with the Holy Land’s “living stones” – Palestine’s Christians.

‘Charade’ protest

Whatever the public relations spin, the Holy Sepulchre was shuttered chiefly because the churches’ business interests were in jeopardy.

That was why Aleef Sabbagh, a Palestinian member of the Orthodox Central Council that for many months has been trying to oust their Greek overlord, Patriarch Theophilos III, called the protest a “charade”.

He noted that local Christians had long demanded the closure of the Holy Sepulchre to protest Israeli policies but had always been overruled by church leaders.

The church did not shut during the second intifada, when Palestinians were being killed in large numbers, nor during Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza.

Business interests?

When the statement from the heads of the churches angrily denounced Israel’s break with the “status quo”, they meant a financial status quo – what they termed their “rights and privileges” – that has chiefly benefitted the clerics of Italy and Greece.

At the heart of the stand-off with Israel were two issues that have incensed church leaders.

One was a recent decision by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to end the churches’ long-standing exemption from paying municipal taxes on their properties. Given the churches’ vast land holdings, the Jerusalem municipality hoped to collect more than $180m in back taxes.

The other concern was draconian legislation the Israeli government had drafted to seize properties that the churches – chiefly the Greek Orthodox Patriarch – had been leasing at knockdown prices to private Israeli developers and settler groups.

Churches ‘squeezed’

Despite the ostensible climbdown this week, Israel has not actually abandoned either of these policies. According to Israeli media, they have been “postponed”. History suggests that the Israeli authorities will simply wait for a better opportunity, or find a different route, to arrive at the same destination.

Israel’s long-standing approach has been to intimidate the Churches by all means possible. At different times it has frozen clerical work visas, and refused or delayed approval of senior appointments, including that of the Greek Orthodox patriarch himself. Israel regularly obstructs planning permits for church property. Meanwhile, far-right groups close to the governing coalition menace clergy in the streets and vandalise church property under cover of dark.

The latest efforts to financially “squeeze” the churches were designed to intensify the intimidation, stoking their debts to further weaken their standing. That would have been bad news for Palestinians, making the churches even more submissive in their dealings with Israel.

It would also have risked fuelling the sell-off of more Church land – to Israel – to pay off existing debts and avoid incurring future ones. Palestinians living on those lands, especially in Jerusalem, would then have been at Israel’s mercy.

Atallah Hanna, the only Palestinian archbishop in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, has rightly warned that Israel’s long-standing goal is to “empty” Jerusalem of its Palestinians.

Pandora’s box

Nonetheless, the foreign Christian leaderships are at least in part to blame for opening up a Pandora’s box on land matters in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

They have treated their extensive holdings, much of it land and property entrusted to them by Palestinian Christians and overseas pilgrims, as chips in a game of real-estate poker. Israel has been looking for a chance to raise the stakes.

The tax exemption was derived from the charitable status of the churches’ spiritual mission and their outreach work with Palestinian communities that included the provision of schools and hospitals.

But increasingly the churches have downgraded their charitable works and diversified into other, more clearly commercial ventures, such as shops, offices and restaurants. Pilgrimage hostels were redeveloped into well-appointed and profitable hotels.

Part of the money was then siphoned off to the mother countries rather then reinvested in strengthening local Palestinian communities.

Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Church has been cashing in its holdings in Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank, selling long-term leases, and in some cases the title deeds, on these lands to private Israeli developers and settler organisations.

According to the Orthodox Central Council, real estate deals over the past decade may have earned the Greek Patriarchate more than $100m. Most local Christians are wondering where all that money went. Their communities certainly haven’t seen it.

Selling to settlers

Israel was squarely behind the transactions when the church was selling lands on which Palestinian families lived. Settlers, rather than the churches, did the dirty work of carrying out evictions.

But then the churches got greedier still. They started selling future leases on lands in West Jerusalem that had housed Israeli Jews since the 1950s. The investors are now preparing to turf out these Jews from their homes too, so that the prime real-estate locations can be redeveloped more profitably.

The Israeli government was enthusiastic about the evictions of Palestinian Christians, but has drawn a thick red line at the eviction of Jews. That provided the impetus for the new legislation to let Israel seize lands and properties leased by the churches.

The bill may have been shelved temporarily, but it or something similar will resurface because the problem it addresses has not gone away.

Betrayal of Muslims

In their protest statement, the churches not only ignored their years of unthinking collusion with Israel against Palestinian Christians, but also betrayed any lingering solidarity with Palestinian Muslims.

They suggested that Christians had been singled out for attack by what they termed Israel’s “unprecedented” policies targeting their financial interests. They added: “This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.”

In fact, the churches have been handled with kid gloves compared to the treatment of Palestinian Muslims and their religious institutions since 1948.

Christian endowment land may be under threat now, but almost all properties in a similar endowment for Muslims – the Waqf – were seized by Israel at the Jewish state’s birth. Muslim communities lost these lands and properties – in effect, their welfare net – 70 years ago.

Israel’s free hand

The fact is Palestinian Christians were long ago abandoned by their churches, which preferred to avoid a serious clash with Israel that would harm their larger interests.

That has left Israel with a relatively free had to act against Palestinian communities. Most recently it has been waging a relentless war of financial attrition against Christian-founded schools and hospitals – two key resources for Palestinian communities – in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem. The assault has barely registered with the Church leaderships.

Sensing its upper hand, Israel has sought to make Palestinian Christians in Israel more dependent on the state, rather than the Churches, in an effort to pressure them gradually into becoming US-style Christian Zionists.

It has established a new classification of nationality in Israel – “Aramaean” – to replace Palestinian Christians’ existing, more inclusive “Arab” nationality. The cultivation of a hardline Christian nationalism is intended to sow tensions with Palestinian Muslims.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a campaign to pressure Palestinian Christians into serving in the Israeli army, with the intention of weakening a unifying Palestinian nationalism and physically pitting Palestinian Christians against Palestinian Muslims.

Close the doors again

These measures have so far been strenuously resisted by most Palestinian Christians, but that is no thanks to the Vatican or the Greek Patriarchate.

These foreign leaderships are culpable for their casual neglect of the Palestinian cause, their slash-and-burn policies towards local Christians, and their special pleading.

There were plenty of opportunities – more honorable ones – over the past decade to shut the Holy Land’s major Christian pilgrimage sites in protest.

The cause should not have been about safeguarding business interests, but about focusing global Christian attention on the incremental destruction of indigenous Palestinian communities, Christian and Muslim alike.

The churches have seen how effective closing the Holy Sepulchre can be. It is time to close the church’s doors again – and this time for the right reasons.

• First published in Middle East Eye.

New Atheists and Islam

Remember our public intellectuals from times past, who fearlessly challenged the social mores and public zeitgeist of their times?

Henry David Thoreau comes to mind, who famously opposed the Mexican-American War with a night in jail, as does Voltaire’s sharp critique of Enlightenment optimism. Well, now these public minds are far and few between.

Instead, in the past few decades, the ‘intellectuals’ among us have borne witness to the new atheists, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins among them. With strut and stammer, they paint themselves as defiant, brave critics of religion and spirituality. And, indeed, they do critique all religions and new age creeds to varying degrees. However, their most scathing excoriations are reserved for Islam.

For example, Hitchens writes: “Islamic belief is…an extreme position to begin with,” in an article about defying the purported “fear” of offending Muslims.

According to Shermer, Islam is “dangerous,” citing a Global Terrorism database study, which found that “since 9/11, most terrorists are Islamic extremists [in the U.S.].” In this same article, he attributes the ‘danger’ posed by Islam to its supposedly never experiencing an Enlightenment as Jews and Christians have in the West.

Sam Harris, with his often-irrelevant analogies, insists that the problem isn’t religious fundamentalism but Islam itself, which is “not a religion of peace”.

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins has claimed that Muslims would be happier without Islam, for then there would be no terrorism, hostility to science, homophobia, etc., etc.

These stalwart atheists claim that they’re simply advocating for a break of political correctness in denouncing Islam. However, riding the rising crest of racist Islamophobia in the West, they’re simply verifying the public’s ill-informed malice towards Muslims. Instead of offering social criticism against Westerners’ misguided beliefs about Muslims and against Islam, they offer their ‘intelligent’ and supposedly ‘moderate’ perspectives that uphold widely-held, specious stereotypes.

The new atheists’ anti-Islam arguments, masked in pseudo-philosophical dressing, are vapid, flimsy and impotent.

In his discussion with Sam Harris, the Young Turks’ Cent Uygur has accurately pointed out that Sam Harris (among other new atheists) all come from a Judeo-Christian background where extreme criticism of Islam, over and above other religions, comes natural to them.

Uygur goes on to highlight that in religious-related terrorism, such as Catholics in Northern Ireland, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Muslims in Palestine, the question is primary political, and religion is merely a contributing factor. Similarly, Uygur suggests that global violence perpetrated by Muslims is principally geopolitical in nature, with Islam as only another part of the mix.

Concerning terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, statistics show that white men pose a greater threat than Muslims. If new atheists argue on a global scale, it is true that Islamic terrorism has been the most prevalent form of terrorism since 2001.

Many of these terrorist attacks are against other Muslims, some are directed towards U.S forces in Muslim countries and others towards Sufi and Shia sects, who are considered heretical by the more extreme Sunni fundamentalists. Some motivations can indeed be attributed to radical visions of Islam that harken back to a mythical and idealized time in Muslim history. However, the social context in which most global Islamic terrorism derives are societies in disarray, under military occupation or adversely affected by Western intervention.

And if we were to compare the violent deaths caused by U.S. military adventures, that United States feels free to undertake as unelected world leader, with Islamic terrorism – what would we find?

Since 9/11, the U.S. interventions into Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have directly resulted in 370,000 deaths and indirectly in 870,000 deaths, totaling 1.24 million deaths and 10.1 million displaced persons. Meanwhile, from 2001-2016 (the last year with data), there have been 241,808 terrorism-related deaths resulting throughout the world. A significant number have come from non-Muslim countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and the Ukraine. Estimating that a majority of 60% were caused by Islamic extremists (as ‘majority’ was suggested in this article) would put the total Islamic terrorism deaths at 101,559 from 2001-2016. U.S. state violence eclipses Islamic terrorism deaths at 1.24 million to 101,559.

It’s certainly telling that new atheists do not critique Americans’ religious-like worship of their military that are responsible for the overwhelming majority of unnatural, violent deaths in the post-9/11 era. More importantly, they offer little criticism of U.S. foreign policy that directs the military towards such action.

When states are shattered into anarchic specters of themselves and day-to-day security is lost, there is inevitable ‘blowback’. Islamic extremist blowback has led to roughly 8 percent of the global deaths in comparison with those caused by U.S. intervention and counter-terror policies.

New atheists can demonize Islam all they want, illuminating it as the most ‘dangerous’ of religions. But perhaps they should think twice as to whether they’re acting as intellectual mouthpieces for irrational government policy and public dislike of Muslims or breaking new ground with their ‘politically incorrect’ critiques. Perhaps they should realize there’s a stark difference between political correctness and being racist, anti-Islam advocates. And, too, their ‘courage’ should be called into question: this isn’t the age of Galileo, where atheists’ lives are endangered in the West. On the contrary, they have increased their celebrity status following spouting their anti-Muslim perspectives on CNN or Fox News. Their views are celebrated because they offer false verification of the rabble’s anti-Muslim racism and xenophobia.

And to Mr. Shermer: Islam did have an ‘Enlightenment’ period. It was called the Abbasid caliphate. During this time, ethnic groups in the caliphate were treated equally, Hellenistic philosophy and medical literature were translated into Arabic, and “Muslims made more scientific discoveries during this period than in any of the whole previously recorded history (p. 54-56).

Please step out of the rabble’s world schema and stop trumpeting mainstream backwardness, as though it were a fortitudinous virtue. Step into the bones of Nietzsche, Thoreau and Voltaire, who had the intellect and intrepidity to sharply criticize their own societies.

Why be a mouthpiece for fallacious, myopic beliefs that stigmatize a vast swath of everyday people, when your putative aim is to counter these same sort of notions in your much-vaunted criticism of religion?