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class="post-34 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-blog-archive tag-amsterdam tag-culture tag-dutch tag-holland tag-liberalism tag-libertarianism tag-marijauna tag-politics tag-smoking tag-virtue entry">

Congratulations, We Are Healthier Than Ever!

I live in Amsterdam. For the geographically challenged — or for those who have spent too much time in an American high school — Amsterdam is in Holland. Holland is also called The Netherlands. This literally means “Low Lands”, which is why in French it is called the Pays Bays.

Low is the word to keep in mind when thinking of this land. There is a free market on sex. Drugs, some soft, and some bordering on hard (i.e., certain mushrooms) are tolerated, de facto legal really. Salaries are stifled (i.e., kept low) by an paternalistic tax regime. And the general culture here is currently competing with American popular culture to see which can slouch further and faster towards Gomorrah (in Robert Bork’s coinage).

Morality may be a least common denominator approach, live and let die may be the M.O. in all but aid for Africa, and the streets may look like a cross between Istanbul and Bunyan’s ‘Vanity Fair.’ But one thing is for certain, we are sure that we are healthier than ever.

And once we rid this place of smoking, we will be really healthier than ever.

Thus, instead of tackling problems that make Holland a burdensome place to live for a person of moderate Christian faith — or even a person of the general moral sentiments that Paul tells us are written on the heart — the Dutch have decided to ban smoking in restaurants, cafes, and hotels.

In July 2008 the whole Horeca (the collective name for Hotel-Restaurant-Café) will become smoke free. Those little uncivilized animals, smokers, if they still insist on smoking publicly, will be quarantined in a smoking room where no other services are allowed. Coffeeshops are the only stores not affected. Oh yes, I forgot, a coffeeshop here deals in marijuana, a cafe sells coffee. All this for workplace health and safety.

Let it be said that cigarette smoking kills 30 percent of lifetime smokers, be it through emphysema or lung cancer or heart problems. However, the Dutch government’s coming ban on smoking is not about smokers, it is about “passive smokers” who used to be called “second-hand smokers” who used to be called “non-smokers.” Ostensibly, the law is for the protection of this group in the workplace, that is oppressed by the acrid odor and carcinogens of smoke and thus endangered. From the rhetoric of the Dutch anti-smoking lobby, you would think there is now a shortage of Horeca workers because workplace smoke is offing them.

Perhaps there is some risk. Living with others is always negotiated risk; humans are dirty, dangerous animals. And part of our samen leven, our ‘life together’ is accepting some of that risk. But we must know whether there is an actual, serious risk or only a presumed risk. We do not want ideology packaged as science.

Those championing this ban assume that the science is settled and that what we now need is decisive action. It is not that simple, and the evidence is not as monolithic as the politicians (for example, do a careful read of the American Lung Association’s Second Hand Smoke Fact Sheet and its sources). Nevertheless, to paraphrase Belloc, let us never doubt what no one is sure about.

Instead, we must act. We must legislate.

That is the strong option, and a favorite of modern bureaucrats. But there used to be the soft option: culture. And some places still appeal to it. In sections of America, cultural changes in the perceptions of smoking have cleaned up the air in restaurants. Many Horeca now voluntarily forbid smoking. Most Americans believe that cigarette smoking is not something ons-sort does. There is an elitism that promotes health.

But as history shows, where culture fails government grows — or at least the laws increase. This is where we are in Holland. The worry is that through this we are legislating into existence a society that ostracizes the smoker but welcomes the junky — a society in which you are permitted to buy sex but not to smoke afterwards (as if in a brothel, smoking is the chief workplace health and safety issue!). Simply for the sake of irony, all Horeca in Holland should apply to become coffeeshops.

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class="post-30 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-blog-archive tag-culture tag-hilarion-alfeyev tag-liberal-christianity tag-russian-orthodox tag-world-council-of-churches entry">

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: Liberal Christianity will not survive for a long time

Address at the opening session of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, 13 February 2008. Source: Europaica

I would like to draw your attention to the danger of liberal Christianity. The liberalization of moral standards, initiated by some Protestant and Anglican communities several decades ago and developing with ever-increasing speed, has now brought us to a situation where we can no longer preach one and the same code of moral conduct. We can no longer speak about Christian morality, because moral standards promoted by ‘traditional’ and ‘liberal’ Christians are markedly different, and the abyss between these two wings of contemporary Christianity is rapidly growing.

We are being told by some allegedly Christian leaders, who still bear the titles of Reverends and Most Reverends, that marriage between a woman and a man is no longer the only option for creating a Christian family, that there are other patterns, and that the church must be ‘inclusive’ enough to recognize alternative lifestyles and give them official and solemn blessing. We are being told that human life is no longer an unquestionable value, that it can be summarily aborted in the womb, or that one may have the right to interrupt it voluntarily, and that Christian ‘traditionalists’ should reconsider their standpoints in order to be in tune with modern developments. We are being told that abortion is acceptable, contraception is agreeable, and euthanasia is better still, and that the church must accommodate all these ‘values’ in the name of human rights.

What, then, is left of Christianity? In the confusing and disoriented world in which we live, where is the prophetic voice of Christians? What can we offer, or can we offer anything at all to the secular world, apart from what the secular world will offer to itself as a value system on which society should be built? Do we have our own value system which we should preach, or should we simply applaud every novelty in public morality which becomes fashionable in the secular society?

I would also like to draw your attention to the danger of a ‘politically correct’ Christianity, of a Christianity which not only so easily and readily surrenders itself to secular moral standards, but also participates in promoting value systems alien to Christian tradition.

We are facing a paradoxical situation. British secular politicians who share Christian convictions are concerned about the rising Christianophobia in the UK and initiate a debate on this issue in Parliament, calling for recognition of the country’s Christian identity. At the same time the primate of the Church of England calls for ‘a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law.’

I am sure I will be told that Christianity must become more tolerant and all-inclusive, that we Christians should no longer insist on our religion as being the only true faith, that we should learn how to adopt other value systems and standards. My question, however, is: when are we going to stop making Christianity politically correct and all-inclusive; why do we insist on accommodating every possible alternative to the centuries-old Christian tradition? Where is the limit, or is there no limit at all?

Many Christians worldwide look to Christian leaders in the hope that they will defend Christianity against the challenges that it faces. It is not our task to defend Sharia law, or to commend alternative lifestyles or to promote secular values. Our holy mission is to preach what Christ preached, to teach what the apostles taught and to propagate what the holy Fathers propagated. It is this witness which people are expecting of us.

I am convinced that liberal Christianity will not survive for a long time. A politically correct Christianity will die. We see already how liberal Christianity is falling apart and how the introduction of new moral norms leads to division, discord and confusion in some Christian communities. This process will continue, while traditional Christians, I believe, will consolidate their forces in order to protect the faith and moral teaching which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached and the Fathers preserved.

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class="post-32 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-blog-archive tag-armenian-orthodox tag-ataturk tag-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-i tag-halki tag-history tag-politics tag-religious-freedom tag-syriac tag-syrian-orthodox tag-turkey entry">

‘A Patriarch in Dire Straits’

At the Acton Institute, where I labor as communications director, I published a commentary pegged to Patriarch Bartholomew’s forthcoming book, “Encountering the Mystery.” The commentary was also picked up by the Assyrian News Agency. Read the full commentary here.

In 1971, the Turkish government shut down Halki, the partriarchal seminary on Heybeliada Island in the Sea of Marmara. And it has progressively confiscated Orthodox Church properties, including the expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage for Boys on the Prince’s Islands (and properties belonging to an Armenian Orthodox hospital foundation). These expropriations happen as religious minorities report problems associated with opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Many services are held in secret. Indeed, Turkey is a place where proselytizing for Christian and even Muslim minority sects can still get a person hauled into court on charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.” This law has also been used against journalists and writers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk for mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In a 2005 report on the Halki Seminary controversy, the Turkish think tank TESEV examined what it called the “the illogical legal grounds” behind the closing and how it violates the terms of the 1923 peace treaty of Lausanne signed by Turkey and Europe’s great powers. TESEV concluded that “the contemporary level of civil society and global democratic principles established by the state, are in further contradiction with the goal to become an EU member.” And, because of its inability to train Turkish candidates for the priesthood, TESEV warned: “It is highly probable that the Patriarchate will not be able to find Patriarch candidates within 30-40 years and thus, will naturally fade away.”

The patriarch’s solution to Turkey’s problems — and that of religious minorities — is to move the country to a more Western model of tolerance and religious freedom by bringing it into the European Union. “It is my conviction that the accession of Turkey to the European Union would benefit all of its citizens, including the minority communities of the country,” Bartholomew writes in his new book. “For Turkey would be required to make significant, indeed substantial modifications to its legislation, adhering to the principles of other European nations.”

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class="post-31 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-blog-archive tag-archbishop-anastasios tag-culture tag-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-i tag-globalization tag-social-justice entry">

Conflicted Hearts: Social Justice and Orthodoxy

Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christians and Social Justice in an Age of Globalization, my article on economics and social justice, has been posted on the AGAIN Magazine Web site. Read the full article here.

Just as there is no real understanding of many bioethical issues without a general grasp of underlying medical technology, there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else—poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance. In the environmental area, for example, the current debate on global warming is just as much focused on how to finance the means of slowing the rising temperatures of the earth as it is on root causes. And the question always is: Who will pay?

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.

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class="post-22 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-blog-archive tag-culture tag-greece tag-hymns tag-music tag-nana-mouskouri entry">

Amazing Grace — Nana Mouskouri

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

John Newton (1725-1807)

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