Saturday, March 26, 2016

What's the matter with religion???

I write this as a person of faith.  There are things in this world that have been changed, in a positive way, because of people of faith.

Yet, in this day and age, especially when fundamentalism runs into the secular values of the West.

First we must understand that our current understanding of secularism, actually has its roots in Christian philosophical discourse.  It did not seek to create secularism, yet when you stretch the mind, couple that with poor examples of "Faith", eventually this was bound to happen and in reality has happened throughout history.

The biggest thing that "Faith or Religion" has, when it is devoid  from "ratio" or "reason", it creates a culture that separates itself and eventually will clash in Western Culture.  I want to be clear that this manifestation does not only find itself in Islam, though, as I have written before many segments have been devoid to reason or philosophical development. This finds itelf rooted in any part of a "Fundamentalism" that is out there.  In the US, we see this with many "separatists and home grown terrorists".

One thing that I find,especially in light of the recent events in Belgium you are seeing this clash.  I will go in further depth with these areas later, but you are seeing a manifestation of fundamentalism when it encounters secularism in the West.  Most people of faith will see secularism as the reason for denigration in society, I will argue it actually gives and challenges faith to have to become real and if done right, can manifest itself in a meaningful way.

Belgium, though small is a society that does live very free, there are ways you see this.  I am amazed, even the day after, people want to take to the streets, not with guns, or bombs or violence, yet they want to go into public places, join together and commemorate and experience that freedom, which they will reaffirm and live.  To go out and gather, to have a coffee or a beer, is a defiant act to those who wish to instill fear, somehow thinking that it takes their faith to a new level.  It is this dichotomy which will continue to play itself out.

Terror will not defeat the values of the West, in fact I think it will strengthen those values, it will reawaken to ground itself both in the philosophical foundation's that have been laid, as well as venture to new ways of meaning of this culture that influences much of the world.


Douglas Langner March 26, 2016

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Short meditation, I would be jailed...

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” ~Albert Camus (quoted by Raif Badawi, shortly before arrest)

Just a short thought of the day,  that freedom is an on going struggle. On a day when some of the Charlie Hebdo journalists are buried, the struggle continues.

Yesterday I wrote about Saudi blogger Raif  Badawi, tomorrow he goes back for more lashes.  Reading what he wrote,  I would be given the same punishment,  if not more, just for blogging.  Yet he seems to be taking this in stride and is a true hero for the idea of Liberty.  It is chilling to know that I could suffer the same,  if I was in that country,  would i react thesane wayhe has?  Probably not, it makes me thankful we can have an open debate of ideas in the West. 

To you Raif, you have become a true hero of mine.   I end this with a quote of his.

"As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities." ~ Raif Badawi

Douglas F. Langner
January 15, 2015

For more on him, here is a good article on what got him in trouble with the Thought Police in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

State Our Values, other places are...and sometimes it Ugly!

Yesterday talked about the theme that now that the rallies are over, the work begins on how we respond.  One of the things, and maybe the central theme of my writings are that we need to define what are "Values" are in "Western Culture".  Other places are, and it makes many of us cringe.  Yet there can be a disillusionment of what our values are, that often happens in a pluralistic world.  It is messy but the alternative of certainty has been scary in our history  and an area we don't want to give ground to.  Let's look at a few examples.

Just today we have address what other cultures are doing in response to "Freedom of Speech".

Blogger and Journalist: Raif Badawi of Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to public flogging, yesterday he received his first 50 of 1,000 lashes, he is to receive in public, he also is to spend 10 years in prison.  While this occurred the crowd chanted "Allahu Akbar" or "God is Great", a common call from those who are Muslim, not just in times of violence but for their call to prayer as well.

I bring this up not to cause a stir, yet this is a law carried out by a Government who uses Islamic Law as it's basis for the rule of law and it was done because he had criticized the powerful clerics that is in line with the Saudi Government on a blog that he had founded.

There are countless other examples of "violence" carried out in the name of religion.  I want to be clear that the Islamic World does not hold the cornerstone on this and are the only perpetrator's of this but here is a clear recent example of what will happen if you have a differing opinion of a state that does  not separate itself from its prevailing religion.  The old saying goes; "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely".  Secularism is not just a value held by those who are non-believers, but a value held in many parts of the world by devout believers that don't want to be dominated by their government for that belief.

Look also at Nigeria, in the Northern part of that country people would like the "law of the land" to be their interpretation of their religious law, other believers of other faiths, as well as dissenting voices from within their own faith are also suffering.

One of my biggest worries that the aftermath of these senseless attacks will be that of Xenophobia and other racist attacks, so sometimes those will attack the rights of, let's say the Muslim Community, but ignoring the fact that some of these things are happening and that some people within the West would like to see this type of law carried out it missing the big picture.

One can take the situation in Turkey, some parts of their society would like to enter the EU, yet they would not allow the images that Charlie Hebdo produced today to be printed.  On another front for over a century the Turkish Government has asked places like Germany to build mosques to accommodate Turkish people who are living in Germany, the government has helped facilitate that. Yet, the same request has happened within the Republic of Turkey, and until just recently there has been no action.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a stand on that, over a year ago, and stated that there would be no more requests until the Turkish government afforded the minority Christian communities the same respect.  Thankfully  the first church is to be built in Turkey (first in over 100 years, they have allowed old churches to be restored).

My point here is pluralism is a two way street.  That and like any country in the East the values of the culture that people are coming to must be respected, otherwise there will not be a peaceful coexistence of people.

One of the most hotly debated issues is in France as well as Belgium they have banned the public wearing of the "Burqa" or "Niqab" that covers all of the woman's body except for the eyes or in some cases even that.

To those countries it is both a sign of their secularism, but also this is a symbol of the oppression of women.  I personally find it interesting that this is a relatively new phenomenon in parts of the Muslim world.  Hotly contested issue?  Of course, I can even buy into some of these arguments from those within the Muslim community why they feel it is discriminatory to them.  My point is about the respect of the culture you have asked, chosen or happen to live in.  My wife, not that she would not even want to do this, could not go to Saudi Arabia and say, "In my culture it is ok for me to wear a bikini out in public whenever and wherever I please".  This would not be tolerated there, because it is against their current value set, yet neither should we allow it in our culture on the opposite end.

Recently we even have a case of Mia Khalifa, an American that is of Lebanese decent, and of Muslim parents who are not religious.  She has received death threats from people because she is in the Adult Film industry.  Regardless of your personal beliefs, no matter the many challenges of that type of belief system of an industry with big problems, it is not acceptable in Western Society that this should be punishable by death.

It hits my final point that we should argue this even for the example of many Muslims that have come to the West that have brought great talents and vitality to many communities, yet many came to be away from some problems in their homeland, many times because of religious persecution.  So we need to uphold a Secular attitude so that those people are free to be who they want in their religion or even, maybe especially, if they want to be "free" FROM their religion, if they so choose.  The biggest challenge is to integrate people so that they can freely choose their religion and the fervency of their practice, and believe in the Western Ideal that you can disagree with that and even not like the alternative, but live...and let live.  That is a challenge!

Douglas F. Langner
January 14, 2015

P.S.  What a day for Free Speech!  Three Million Copies Sold, Two more on the way  #JeSuisCharlie

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Messiness Begins: Terror, its Response and Pluralism, How do they work together?

Yesterday I mentioned that the "messiness" of how to respond now begins.  While the  scene's from Sunday were amazing now we must roll our sleeves up and ask the question: What Now?

Pivoting away from France where of course the media is focused on, but what about other places? To the North of France, group's threatened Belgium for publishing photo's for Mohammad, To the North of there you have Gert Wilders in The Netherlands and Kurt Westergaard in Denmark, who are on the same list "To Kill for offenses to Islam" that the editor of Charlie Hebdo was on.  Sunday in Hamburg the paper was attacked for publishing images of Mohamed.  Today I am going to pivot East to take look at the Largest Country in Europe and see how their debate will be similar to other's in Europe, with of course their own history and unique situation.

Last night we saw the images of anywhere of 25,000 to 35,000 people rallying with a group called PEGIDA, translated for the English “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”, basically a group against the Islamization of Europe.  Some of these people come from traditional far-right groups that have always been against those who don't conform to "German:" society.  That is a major concern, yet to only feel it is group of extremists is an overstatement and a sad oversight from main stream parties to see some of the real problems that Terror has, can and might bring, as well as how that fits in with many people, German, French, Belgian, American and ALL of the people that reside within them.

As stated that the main leader's of the main  stream parties of Germany have mentioned that these people are extremists, and trying to spread Islamaphobia.  I would say there are elements within this group that are trying to stoke those fires, yet to blanket this movement, is not the full story.

I come at these topics as a person who would support, for lack of a better term: "Progressive Concept of Western Culture".  I am one who defends: Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Plurality, Freedom of Expression, the Right of All People to have their voice heard in peaceful freedom, Free to Worship, or not Worship as they want, all of that can and should co-exist, even for and with those you don't agree with or are even disgusted by. 

A poll taken by opinion polling firm Forsa for Germany's Stern magazine, found this below.

"Respondents to the poll were asked to choose which of 21 statements they were offered about Islam that most closely reflected their opinion. 83% of them think that Islam is associated with impairing women's rights, 77% thought Islam was a literalist religion; 70% said Islam is associated with religious fanaticism and radicalism. A significant part of Germany's population also believes that Islam is ready for violence (64%), hatred (60%), active missionary activity (56%), and striving for political influence (56%). Only 13% of respondents associate Islam with love for neighbours; 12% - with charity; 7% - with openness and tolerance."

If you look at these numbers there are some very serious opinion's that have nothing to do with typical "Right Wing" ideology.

83% Feel that Islam impairs women's rights - This should be a major concern for people of the West.

77% feel Islam is a literal religion  - If you know anything about religion of Europe, this is alarming and is an affront to many who are "progressive".

64% feel Islam is ready for violence - I find it hard to believe in my time in Germany that most people don't see this in a balanced way, but fear for the fringe of any religion.

7% YES 7% feel Islam accepts openness and tolerance - That is an alarming number and even if that statement is totally false, there is an enormous image problem, and therefore I would argue the problem must have some traction to it.

For all of those who agree with some of the basic tenants that many countries in the West have adopted, these stats show there is work to do.  Islamaphobia is a real risk in the coming weeks and months, yet there does seem to be something in these fears that are at least partially true.

There has to be an open discussion that these types of action's must and can't be tolerated, that is a hallmark of Western Society, whether ANYONE likes that or not.  You can be a believer and still stand up for a pluralistic society. It was heartening to hear  from the Muslim Community in Paris who spoke and even marched in force over the weekend how they were outraged and not only distanced themselves from the action's but seemed to frame, not universally, a way forward that Islam can, does and will need to find a better framework to enjoy the freedom's they enjoy and that are granted to them for living in a free, secular and pluralistic society.

The concerns of those marching should not be ignored as they seem to be by the main stream politician's and they need to find a way to separate extremist views with valid critiques of how integration has happened to immigrants who add much to each society.  We can't allow a parallel society where neighborhoods are intimidated into living under a De facto Sharia Law, where those who might even share their faith, but in a De facto way can't live freely under the law's of the Land. In Short, one nation, one set of Law's, that protect Freedom, equality and solidarity for all!

The history of Germany bears those scars well, from the rise of fascism, to the rule of communism in the East and the division's in caused in places like Berlin it is a conversation that will be contentious but it must be taken seriously and that there are people, not just "Right Wing" sympathizers who have some valid points to offer in a Secular Democracy.

These are tough discussion's, but the first thing we should resolve is that we must have them.  We should define what our values are and what we want them to be and then we need to engage in a FREE PUBLIC and PEACEFUL debate, that is taken for granted in the West and in some parts of the world are something they wish they had.

#JeSuisCharlie  #Frieden #Freedom

Douglas F. Langner
January 13, 2014

P.S.  Any Topic you want to hear about? Comment or email below!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Today, the Real Work Begins. Why Secularism should be Cheered, even to believers.

Today, the Real Work Begins. Why Secularism should be Cheered, even to believers.

These past five day's have been gut wrenching, inspiring, fearful and hopeful, all at the same time.

Monday January 12th, the real work begins. How do we respond,what will be the consequences, what is it that we change.  The biggest mistake would be to let what happened after the September 11th attacks, in light of an  attack we trade many liberties for a false sense of security.  Now, that shows you first where I stand, yet I am not a pacifist or unrealistic  to know that there might need to be changes to ensure future security, I just say we must weigh these items or we have let the tyranny of terrorism, fascism, or many other restrictive "-ism's" to prevail.

One pillar that was specifically attacked in the Charlie Hebdo massacre was what I will call the 4th pillar of French Society, and in almost cases in Europe and North America, Laicite or secularism.  With the fact that almost every European, North American and even many central and South American Countries (As well as many throughout the rest of the World), we need to say for some reason that has become a value, to various degree's, that the West has acclaimed for it's own.

Now, in for full disclosure, I am a believer, I am a Catholic, in fact I used to be a Catholic Priest and I am a firm believer in the Secular Nature of most government's (One notable exception I see is the Vatican,they are a sovereign nation and therefore I have no problem with them being an absolute monarchy, though I am glad they no longer are in control of the "papal states").  To be clear this  discussion is not about how, why and way's religion should influence, or not influence the political sphere, yet how I feel the government's themselves should be secular in nature, as many Americans call it the "Separation of Church and State". First what is laicite or secularism?  I am going to use a definition for French Laicite or Secularism, because it seems to be clearer or as some might call it an extreme interpretation of this word.

"French secularity (Frenchlaïcité, pronounced [laisite]) is the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs.[1][2

  1.  Madeley, John T. S. and Zsolt Enyedi, Church and state in contemporary Europe: the chimera of neutrality, p. , 2003 Routledge
  2. Jump up^

Just this past October, I was in Paris and for the first time was able to go out and see the beautiful ground's of the Palace at Versailles.  It is a beautiful place, a beautiful day and a great place to wander around. Yet I realized when the King of France built this, it was not for me, it was in fact a way to separate the ordinary citizen from the often argued divinely appointed King and or Queen.  The great opulence was also tolerated often times through the complicity and social constructive (or destructive) nature of the Church State Relation's.  This was one of the many things that led to the French Revolution and thus the Nature in France and that spread throughout the western world of the current Secular nature of these governments. I am not going to go into a history lesson but this was a sweeping and new concept, but not one that wasn't forming itself for centuries.  In fact you could go all the way back, if not before to the two way's that Plato and Aristotle saw the world. In the famous Raphael painting "The School of Athen's" which is housed at the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, the dramatic scene culminates with Plato pointing his finger up to search to the heaven's while Aristotle points down to the world to find our answer's. (Some would argue this but even those who would argue this was not a symbolism must admit that many have taken this painting as a clear depiction of renaissance thought).

Before there was a deep relationship of the Churches and State's, many times there were many deep positive outcomes to this relationship. The growth of the University System, hospitals and health care.  Yet many times it did lead to tension's, wars and even at time corruption.  Right here in the United States, which has never had a State Religion, this tension bore itself out.  Well before my time the Catholic Church in this country was fighting to not allow "Prayer in School's", because it meant that the prayers offered were "protestant" prayers even if it was in a heavily Catholic area.  As a believer I am always countering the argument that we need more prayer's in school, with; "What belief should those prayers be?"

Turning back to our current context we can see that most Western Democracies with some varying degree of secularism (Germany, for example, does pay money to the Lutheran, Catholic and Jewish Churches from monies raised by the state.) also have  a clearly defined model that people should be free to exercise their religion in an unhindered way.  No longer is it permissible to charge people to live in their country and be a Jew in a "Christian Nation", as was the case in the past and still happens in some middle eastern countries who practice minority religion's.

We have to agree that this is one of the reason's that many, for example Muslim's, have come to Western Europe and other places because they may not have been able to practice freely their form of belief system and have found that home in a new land that is not their cultural homeland.  This is why I hope that the response will not be xenophobia, because the vast majority who might have come to new land's respect the very value of the Western World because they can worship freely in a pluralistic world their own beliefs.

Yet it is a valid concern that you can't allow a parallel set of rules in a society, such as in some pockets and neighborhood's where people have tried to instill shariah law.  This would smack in the face of other values of the Western Democracies. This is why I am even personally in favor of the laws of prohibiting in the public the "Burqa" and other religious symbol's of France Belgium, in context with their own constitution's.  They are seen as an infringement of their Laicite and the idea of equality of the sexes, and I would argue it does in no way hinder their way of "worship".  It would have a harder time in the context of the United States of America's understanding, that wouldn't have as strict a separation of Church and State.

What will happen?  I really don't know, yet my hope is that we can continue to create and nuance a society that does understand a health tolerance, yet even more so, I hope we can move beyond "tolerance" and embrace the differences in people's lives and beliefs.  It is and can be a joy to live in a pluralistic society, time will tell, but it will be interesting to see how this moment of history unfolds.

Douglas F. Langner
January 12, 2015

P.S.  (Looking at my last few post's it would seem that many of my article's have taken on a "Francophone" tone.  This is true in recent day's but I promise you that is not the full extent of this web page, in fact my expertise in Europe is much more the Germanic cultures, at least of what I have studied.  Yet I will say the French have always given us an beautiful picture of some of the formation's of Western Society in today's world..)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Freedom in a Post Modern World: Decadence or Progress?

As I watch the people march in Paris for unity, just days after a vicious attacks by radical voices, I take heart that Freedom seems to be stirred and maybe is having a renewed awakening.  The people of France and really the people of the Western world have reawakened to the fact that Western Culture does have some deep seated values, sadly I think most people don't even know these values, yet we just live while not knowing how to put into words.

This word Liberte or Liberty or Freedom, what does it mean in 2015.  We know it has been attacked, not just a few days ago by a bunch of terrorists but by a wide range of people.  In the West we have seen an erosion of independent minded media, at least in what I will call "old" media, billionaires buying this or that newspaper and news station, in some way that has created a vacuum that "new" media is now much more polarized.  Whether this is a good or bad thing is a discussion for another day.

Why is freedom so fundamental to Western Society?  I was following and even participating in an online discussion via a German Media's blog.  It centered around, "Should media post the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, in light of the violence it has sparked?"  The prevailing notion seemed to be YES, Print!  Yet the responses were varied, as normal, in various degree's of thoughtfulness.  Yet I offer a few posts, just to show how contentious some were on this idea of Freedom of expression. 

via Facebook:  "if you continue printing it means you're ready with the consequence, good Muslims are ready to die for thier  (sic) beloved prophet

via Facebook:  "Notice there is no terrorism in the UAE or other wealthy Muslim countries They do not tolerate it. Most of the fanatics leave their own countries because they cannot make it their. The killing of these cartoonists was murder"

via Facebook:  "If being insulting to any religion is freedom of speech then i dont want freedom of speech...... respect other's religion to spread peace and harmony between religion and people...."

via Facebook:  "Let them publish cartoons and get ready to be........."

Just a few of the more extreme examples, almost if not threats of violence, with a few more being even more direct statements of almost sympathy with the "Fanatics of Islam".  There is in the world, mainly outside of the West that we should not have unfettered "Freedom of Expression" or that it ends when you insult someone. Even non-Muslim voices, such at those at the "Catholic League" even have insinuated that some of the blame is on the Charlie Hebdo publication.

I will argue that we have claimed this as a right. It has been a long fought and ever debated value, yet one that I feel for most people in the west take for granted, and this act does stir in us a response and a memorial that YES, this is a value I hold and even need to "March for, Fight For and in for some have now Died for."  We need to be daughter's and son's of Liberty and more specifically for "Freedom of Expression", otherwise it I would argue that it will trample on the dignity of the human person.  One only has to look at the constitution's and or documents of many governments in the West.


Article 5 [Freedom of expression]  From the Basic Law of the German Federal Republic

(1) Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing, and pictures and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
(2) These rights shall find their limits in the provisions of general laws, in provisions for the protection of young persons, and in the right to personal honor.
(3) Art and scholarship, research, and teaching shall be free. The freedom of teaching shall not release any person from allegiance to the constitution.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of constitutional value, states, in its article 11:  (Republic of France)
The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, save [if it is necessary] to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.
United States of America

First Amendment :  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This value the Freedom of Expression is now deeply engraved in the West, it seems to be slowly reaching all parts of the world and those who see it are alarmed. Not so much because what it meant in the past but what they see and fear it will do in their future.

How do we express this common value in the future?  Time will tell but it seems to be in the symbol of a pen.

Viva Liberte!  Long live Liberty.

Douglas F. Langner
Sunday January 11, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015

Liberte! Freedom! The Revolution of the West!

"They would be murdered twice if we remained silent"~ Charlie Hebdo columnist Patrick Pelloux

Reporter {Are you afraid?}

"I don't know if I am afraid anymore, I have seen fear.  I was scared for my friend's and they are dead.  So I don't know where my fear is anymore.  

I know that they didn't want us to be quiet.  They wanted us to continue to fight for these values, cultural pluralism, democracy, and secularism, the respect of others.  They would be murdered Twice if we remained Silent!"  ~ Charlie Hebdo columnist Patrick Pelloux (he went in to the offices right after the massacre to see his friends, he will also be part of publishing next week's edition of Charlie Hebdo)

We all I am sure have followed the events in Paris and other parts of France this week.  The horror, the question's, the images have riveted the French People and the World.  Why has this happened?  What is the meaning behind this?  In Short there are many reason's but one of them is the truly revolutionary nature of Western Culture, in this case the principle of Western Society of Freedom, and in this case the Freedom of Expression. How can ink on paper be so revolutionary and why are some so willing to kill.

Simply, Even the above image is one of the many reason's that some are willing to commit such horrible acts of violence.  In Some way's all lovers of Liberty should be exclaiming #JeSuisCharlie  or #IAmCharlie.  These terrorists are so afraid, not so much of the past, but the tidal wave of what they deep down is the future.  This value is almost taken for granted in the West, and in much of the world is still not realized, but actually is growing. This western value is infiltrating the whole world, you saw protests in Hong Kong, the Islamic Revolution, situation's in Nigeria, and even the reaction's of some in the West against speech, but Expression lives on.  In fact Expression was attacked and might have just been reawakened in the West.

People have died to secure this right, and as we have seen, will continue, but not because they are being defeated; yet possibly because the victory of Liberte or Liberty is having in the world.  In these tragic and dark times, it is actually hopeful that Liberty will not be squelched

A statement that to many can offend, but is deeply spiritual in a profound way was made"

""It may sound pompous," he said, "but I'd rather die standing than live on my knees."  ~ Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier

There are tyrant's to Liberty and Freedom of expression, and I want to be clear that there are many voices, even in the West that are collaborators of this type of tyranny, who feel their voice and their cause is more important than the next person, even to the point where they feel their point of view must be "imposed" because of how right they are.  Not all, in fact most are not religious fanatics, why we can really relate to the officer killed on camera.  #JeSuisAhmed.

We have and we will see that Liberte will voice itself, it will not be silence, it will even multiply, the image below captures that so well.  The barbarian brothers wanted to be martyrs, they are not, yet there was a martyr, and followers will grow, new son's and daughters of liberty, their call to arms will not be with a weapon, but with the deadly force of their voices, their presence  and even with their pen!

Viva La Liberty!  #JeSuisCharlie

Doug Langner  09.01.2015