Daily Archives: 5 February 2006

Nationalism and Religion: An Alliance of Convenience

Some leading [Polish] Catholics who had earlier felt alienated by the secular tone of the nationalist movement began to recognize an essential connection between the defense of the church and defense of the Polish nationality. Their ranks included the agricultural modernizer Dezydery Chłapowski.

A telling example of this alliance came during the funeral of Karol Marcinkowski in 1846. The event, orchestrated by Polish nationalist leaders to broaden sympathy for their cause, attracted huge crowds eager to honor the good doctor. Marcinkowski had drifted away from the church during his student years in Berlin and never returned. On his deathbed he apparently refused to take Holy Communion and explicitly declined a Catholic funeral. “Despite this,” explained provincial governor Maurice Beurmann in exasperation, “on the day of his funeral the archbishop appeared at the head of the entire clergy in clerical robes and joined the funeral procession.” Beurmann reacted so strongly to this because it foreshadowed his own worst fears. As he had explained two years earlier: “Two levers command unparalleled power to move the local population: nationality and religion. The first exercises its influence over the nobility, and the second over the common people. A combining of the two, through which religious interests also come to oppose the government’s intentions, will spell trouble.”

Heinrich Wuttke recognized the same ominous signs. In 1846 he noted: “Three or four years ago a rapprochement or alliance occurred between the Poznan-area nobility and various clerics. Its exact nature remained unknown at the time and is still unclear, but it has been betrayed by its effects. Many noble men and women widely known to be irreligious suddenly demonstrated great piety. Our disenchanted world no longer quite believes in the sudden illumination of the Holy Spirit.”

SOURCE: Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City, by Robert E. Alvis (Syracuse U. Press, 2005), pp. 106-107

Leave a comment

Filed under Eastern Europe, nationalism, religion

David Hackett Fisher Interviewed

Historian David Hackett Fisher is interviewed at The American Enterprise Online. Here are a few bits that struck my fancy.

TAE: Your religious background is Protestant and you end up teaching at Brandeis.

FISCHER: My parents were both Lutheran and I was confirmed in a Lutheran church. Then I married a Methodist and we encouraged our children in the Protestant spirit to find their own way. One became an Episcopalian and the other became a Unitarian and is now a Buddhist. I live in a town that’s predominantly Roman Catholic and I teach very comfortably in my 85th semester at Brandeis, which calls itself non-sectarian Jewish.

TAE: Did you have any expectations about Jewishness that were either confirmed or shattered upon coming to Brandeis?

FISCHER: I found a kind of excitement that I didn’t find anywhere else. There were other schools that I had offers from at the same time. One was an old New England school and the people who interviewed me there were interested in who my grandparents were and where I got my sportcoats. I had another offer from a Big Ten school. They wanted to know if I could teach the General Survey course. I said, “How big is the class?” They said it’s usually about 500 students. And then I went to a very good Southern school and they said, “We normally have gatherings to talk about subjects of current concern. Do you want to come over and join us?” I said I would be delighted. What’s the subject? “Capital punishment.” So I went over, rehearsing my arguments against capital punishment—and the discussion was about methods of execution….

TAE: Judging from the books my daughter brings home from elementary school, kids today are learning that the Revolutionary and Civil Wars were fought primarily by runaway slaves and girls who dressed as boys in order to carry a gun. Is this didacticism more of a problem now in elementary grades and high school than in the university?

FISCHER: There are lags. Whatever was in fashion in the universities remains in fashion in other places a little bit longer. But what’s really interesting is to see how military history is rapidly expanding. I was down at the annual conference of the Society for Military History in Charleston last year, and their morale has never been higher. They have a sense that history is with them. And the morale amongst the social and cultural historians has never been lower: they think that history is against them. About ten or 15 years ago it was quite the other way. And I think that’s a straw in the wind. I’m very bullish about the way things are going. Each lunacy we go through holds open the possibility of a revisionist movement that is rational, mature, and thoughtful, and that’s what we need. These are exciting times for a historian….

TAE: The word “liberty,” a rhetorical cornerstone of the Democratic Party throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, pretty much disappeared during the New Deal, and has seldom been on Democrat lips since. Is this a mistake?

FISCHER: Absolutely. The worst mistake that Kerry and Gore made was that the value of liberty was rarely mentioned. This was another instance of a party losing touch with the core values of society. The results when parties do that are always the same: they lose elections. I’m a card-carrying Independent. I really hope that the Democrats can reconstruct these great American values in a way that will give them new meaning and give them something other to do than complain about the Republicans.

TAE: Have you ever voted for a Republican for President?

FISCHER: I’ve never voted for a Republican for President in a general election, but I voted in the Republican primary for John McCain, who is my ideal of a strong centrist leader.

I’m not quite so keen on McCain, but I did vote for John Anderson when I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either Carter or Reagan in 1980. I even collected signatures to get him on the ballot in a solidly Democratic state. I’d do it again if there were a strong centrist third-party candidate.

Leave a comment

Filed under education, religion, U.S.

Is Iran Pushing the Cartoon Offensive?

Laurence Jarvik wonders whether the sudden ratcheting up of the current Cartoon Offensive, which was just a local Danish phenomenon back in September 2005, isn’t perhaps being pushed by Iran in retaliation for pressure from the EU on its nuclear program.

Anyone who has seen the cartoons knows they are “tame” and not on their face offensive. Yet the organized and international nature of the protest would indicate state support as well as religious sensitivity. Given that the original offense took place four months ago, the outbreak of violence at this point raised the question:

What if this is a shot across the bow to the EU and the non-Muslim world that an attack on Iran could lead to the Muslim “street” exploding around the world?

Just a working hypothesis at this point–but all the more reason for the US and UK to take a stronger stand in support of the Danes, if true. For if this was a test, then the US and UK look like they have failed the test. They have been intimidated. And the Europeans, so far have not.

Which means military action, if it does take place, will require a great deal better diplomatic and public relations support than the Iraq war.

If you look where the principal violent outbreaks have occurred so far in the Middle East–in areas where Iranian allies remain most influential: Hamas in Gaza, the Assad regime in Damascus, and now possibly Hezbollah in Lebanon–Iran’s possible handiwork does seem likely.

Jarvik also links to the apparently newly assembled Mohammed Image Archive:

While the debate rages, an important point has been overlooked: despite the Islamic prohibition against depicting Mohammed under any circumstances, hundreds of paintings, drawings and other images of Mohammed have been created over the centuries, with nary a word of complaint from the Muslim world. The recent cartoons in Jyllands-Posten are nothing new; it’s just that no other images of Mohammed have ever been so widely publicized.

This page is an archive of numerous depictions of Mohammed, to serve as a reminder that such imagery has been part of Western and Islamic culture since the Middle Ages — and to serve as a resource for those interested in freedom of expression.

Personally, I think ridicule is one of the most potent weapons against religious totalitarianism. And I’m not inclined to feel very sensitive to the feelings of people who, in the name of religion, (a) burn embassies, (b) blow up infidels, and (c) demonstrate with signage that contains variations on the formula “Kill/Exterminate/Massacre/Behead Those Who Insult/Defame/Slander/Ridicule [Insert your religion here].”

And here’s a nice quote posted by Kansan Bart Hall on a long, fairly temperate, and sometimes thought-provoking comment thread on Winds of Change about the Cartoon Offensive.

“Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure. Fundamentalism is, therefore, inevitable in an age which has destroyed so many certainties by which faith once expressed itself and upon which it relied.”

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) [liberal theologian]

Leave a comment

Filed under Iran