True freedom of religion

I’ve just been reading David Nirenberg’s history of antisemitism Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, and I came across the interesting letter 40 of Ambrose. Ambrose was Bishop of Milan for two decades in the late 4th century, and is considered one of the Fathers of the Church. The letter, addressed to the Roman emperor Theodosius, is framed as a plea for freedom and tolerance. And what is it that the “Godfearing, merciful, gentle, and calm” Theodosius has not sufficiently tolerated? It is the religious obligation to burn down synagogues.

In 388 a mob of monks in the Mesopotamian city of Callinicum burned down the Jewish synagogue and a gnostic Christian church. The local military governor ordered that the monks be punished and that the synagogue be rebuilt, at the expense of the local bishop, who had incited the attack.

There is, then, no adequate cause for such a commotion, that the people should be so severely punished for the burning of a building, and much less since it is the burning of a synagogue, a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of folly, which God Himself has condemned.

Ambrose goes on to remind Theodosius of the fate of his predecessor, who was thought too solicitous of the safety of Jews and their houses of worship:

Is it not on this account that Maximus was forsaken, who, before the days of the expedition, hearing that a synagogue had been burnt in Rome, had sent an edict to Rome, as if he were the upholder of public order? Wherefore the Christian people said, No good is in store for him. That king has become a Jew.

In other words, if you defend the Jews you might be suspected of being kind of a Jew yourself.

Anyway, this reminded me of John Boswell’s Jews and Bicycle Riders, and certain cries for religious tolerance that are abroad in the land today…

Last refuge

Northern Ireland under pressure after Irish gay marriage referendum win

I’m looking forward to seeing the arguments they will use to resist the pressure. Perhaps Northern Ireland can present itself as a last refuge in Europe for the non-gay-marrying, Christian bakers and florists, antigay clerics. It will help if they can get a high profile asylum case. Maybe the straight son of two North London radical feminists fleeing an arranged marriage to another man.

In all seriousness, I doubt there is anyone who is not astonished at the rapid international progress on same-sex marriage. That includes, most especially, those of us who came of age when acceptance of same-sex relationships was the norm in our student environments and/or recognised the logical force of the argument decades ago. Logical coherence doesn’t usually carry the day in politics nor, I have to admit, should it necessarily. But here we see the power of ideology in political affairs, against those who suppose that politics is merely about balancing competing interests. It’s the ideology of marriage, which had changed enormously in the past two centuries. People like Andrew Sullivan recognised in the 1980s that people’s intuitive understanding of marriage, in Europe and its cultural confrères, had evolved to where it was actually quite hospitable to same-sex marriage. Those of us who felt little emotional attachment to marriage immediately recognised the coherence of this position, but assumed that it would take approximately forever to get over that emotional hurdle, at least everywhere but Holland.

And because I personally attached little weight to marriage, I was definitely among those who thought this an unpromising, because unnecessarily charged, ground to fight on for gay rights. I didn’t see what Sullivan saw, that marriage equality could be the linchpin of a coherent struggle that could overthrow the entire framework of homophobia.

The political opinions of corporations

I’ve been intrigued by the forced resignation of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla Corporation, on account of his donation of $1000 to the 2008 campaign to amend the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Some fascinating issues it brings up:
1. I’d forgotten that the last great political battle over same-sex marriage was fought in California. And the conservatives won it. How fascinating to be reminded that barely five years ago it was still possible to muster a majority for banning same-sex marriage in California of all places, and in the same year that Barack Obama was elected (also promising to oppose same-sex marriage). And after that Pyrrhic victory the conservatives basically fled the field, overwhelmed by an almost inexplicable tide of social change. Continue reading “The political opinions of corporations”

Can Russia stab us in the back?

Who knew that things had gotten so intimate between the erstwhile Cold War adversaries? Senator Charles Schumer (of New York) says

Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife.

As Mr Schumer surely knows, the “stab in the back” is a favourite antisemitic trope, or more generally a reference to treacherous fellow citizens who are “behind us” because we think we can trust them, while our eyes are focused on the enemy across the border. They are the internal enemy, taking advantage of our attention focused on the external enemy.

1919 Austrian postcard.
In Schumer’s telling, Russia is the one on the right.

Now, Russia is a powerful nation, and I hope that the US has a reasonably cooperative diplomatic relationship to it, but I would never have thought it was a US ally.

So, what I want to know is, who screwed up and let the Russians have our backs?

Of course, we wouldn’t have this problem if Snowden (like Bradley Manning) was gay. Maybe we should stop giving security clearances to heterosexuals. It’s too easy for them to get asylum…