Erasmus

Religion and public policy

  • Russia's royal martyrs

    The commemoration of an act of regicide falls short of expectations

    by ERASMUS and N.S.

    THE commemoration could have been a great and solemn moment of truth, a time to reflect on the passage from one era of Russia’s tragic history to another. 

    As it was, the proceedings were impressive enough: tens of thousands people gathered in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains for a nocturnal act of worship to recall the killings which had taken place there exactly 100 years ago. The victims were Tsar Nicholas, the Empress Alexandra and their five children, along with their doctor and three servants. Many worshippers trudged for miles between the spot where the killings took place and the mineshaft where the bodies, doused in acid, were thrown.

  • Islam in Belgium

    Belgium struggles to manage its burgeoning Islamic scene

    by ERASMUS | BRUSSELS

    As Donald Trump stormed through Brussels this week, alternatively dishing out anti-European tirades and paeans of fawning praise, he had little time to mingle with the city’s residents or take in its cultural and architectural landscape. If the president had attempted any of that, he might have been quite confused.

    The city, like Belgium as a whole, has long been split between French-speakers and Dutch-speaking Flemings. These days, a still more obvious social gap divides people of loosely Catholic heritage and the more introvert parts of a Muslim community which now accounts for a quarter of the city’s population, and could be in the majority by mid-century, on present trends.

  • A giant of Vatican diplomacy

    Jean-Louis Tauran opposed the Gulf war and mended fences with Islam

    by ERASMUS

    THE months leading up to the Anglo-American assault on Saddam Hussein in 2003 produced some tense moments in diplomacy of the religious, as well as the secular, sort. To the dismay of American conservatives, especially Catholic ones, the ailing Pope John Paul II was unequivocal in his opposition to any recourse to war. By one count, the pontiff made this point at least 56 times.

    Among those leading the Vatican’s diplomatic charge was a French prelate, then styled as Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the holy see’s secretary for relations with states. At one point, he told 174 foreign envoys accredited to the Vatican that “a war of aggression would be a crime against peace.”

  • Ukraine and Christianity

    Ukraine wants a national church that is not beholden to Moscow

    by ERASMUS

    THE row is over points of ecclesiastical history and procedure that most people, including ordinary folk who belong to the relevant churches, find utterly obscure. But the geopolitical stakes are enormous. That is one way to describe the escalating dispute over religious authority in Ukraine, a devout and divided country, where 70% of people identify as Orthodox Christians.

    At the root of the argument is a fact that would surprise many people. Although Ukraine is in a state of barely frozen conflict with Russia, the most widely organised Christian church on Ukrainian territory (and the only one which enjoys real international legitimacy) owes allegiance to the Patriarchate of Moscow.

  • William’s wanderings

    Britain’s future king faces up to Jerusalem’s religious politics

    by ERASMUS

    THE tortured relationships between two royal families, Jerusalem, Israel and the Jews came to a head this week as Britain’s future king (and unless something changes, the future head of the Church of England) toured the city, which is held dear by three monotheistic religions.

    His itinerary included the Western Wall, where he stood in prayerful silence, wearing a Jewish head-covering, and the peak known as both the Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif, which is revered by Jews and Muslims. He also visited the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Jesus Christ where six Christian confessions exercise joint stewardship, but a Muslim dynasty holds the keys.

  • The Templeton Prize

    A Muslim monarch and religious diplomat wins some overdue recognition

    by ERASMUS

    ONE of the world’s most lucrative prizes for spiritual endeavour,  bequeathed by an American-British billionaire who was a fervent Christian, has been awarded this year to one of the luminaries of the Muslim world, King Abdullah of Jordan.

    The Jordanian monarch, whose dynasty claims descent from the prophet Muhammad, is only the second Muslim to receive the Templeton Prize, worth £1.1m, since it was instituted in 1973. Its stated aim is to honour, every year, an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.

  • The sex trade and religion

    For those who fight sex-trafficking, dark rituals compound the problem

    by S. D'I. AND ERASMUS | CATANIA

    PEOPLE who campaign against the ghastly phenomenon of human trafficking and sex slavery soon become aware that they are contending not only with flesh-and-blood wrongdoers but also with invisible forces which, if nothing else, are very much alive inside people’s heads.

    One of the most notorious North-South rackets involves transporting young women, often minors, for sex work in Italy and beyond from Nigeria, in particular the southern area around Benin City. That part of the country has a powerful Christian presence, from Catholic to Pentecostal, but it is also a stronghold of traditional animist practices, including witchcraft.

  • America, migration and the Bible

    Scripture offers much material for arguments about dividing families

    by ERASMUS

    AMERICAN commentators both religious and secular have been digging deep into the Bible over the past week. They have been searching for answers to the claim by Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, that a new practice of separating parents and children at the Mexican border is founded in holy writ. Mr Sessions defended the policy of placing minors and their parents in separate detention facilities by referring to a passage in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. As he put it, this verse gave the “clear and wise command” that people should obey the law. The passage he mentioned reads:

    Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.

  • Religion and universities

    Faith and higher education can intersect in many different ways

    by ERASMUS

    THE PRESIDENT of one of America's best-known Catholic places of learning came this week to his alma mater, Oxford University, and with some fanfare delivered a lecture on the future of higher education. His hosts included Chris Patten, the eminent Conservative politician who is now Chancellor of Oxford University and happens to be a fellow Catholic. 

    So did the visitor, whose academic interests include medieval theology, deliver a lament over the weakening Christian connections of places like Oxford, which emerged in a 12th-century world where learning and public activity of any kind were almost inseparable from religion?

  • Carbon emissions and the after-life

    Oil executives seek atonement at the Vatican

    by ERASMUS | SPETSES

    AMONG radical environmentalists, it has often been said that carbon trading and carbon offsets (which allow emitters of greenhouse gases to “redeem” their sins by countervailing actions) are comparable to the medieval practice of selling indulgences. In those days, believers were encouraged to improve their prospects in the after-life through a monetary transaction with the Church. Reaction against this practice helped to inspire the Protestant Reformation. 

    The parallel is not perfect. Buying indulgences had few earthly consequences, besides making the Church richer.

  • Defining and defending human rights

    Europe and America part ways when it comes to “religious freedom”

    by Erasmus | OSLO

    RELIGION and human rights have always had an intense, tortured relationship. On one hand, liberty of conscience and belief is one of the first and most fundamental principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and other documents that lay out humanity’s minimum entitlements. On the other hand, secular campaigners often blame oppressive forms of religion for a high proportion of the worst assaults on human welfare: from religiously inspired ethnic cleansing to female genital mutilation to the nihilist jihadism which treats every form of faith but its own as a legitimate target. 

  • Christianity in Europe

    In lands where “Christian civilisation” emerged, faith still shapes identity

    by ERASMUS

    AMONG conservative Americans, a school of conventional wisdom holds that Christianity in Europe is rapidly heading for extinction, as the historic faith is supplanted by secularism, Islam or just a lazy-minded lack of concern for all things metaphysical. Yet a new survey by Pew Research, a polling organisation based in Washington, DC, suggests that Christianity still matters to a plurality of west Europeans, as a marker of identity and a shaper of attitudes, even if active churchgoers and committed believers are a small minority.

    After an investigation including 24,000 telephone interviews in a total of 15 countries, Pew concluded that:

  • Muslims in Athens

    Where Islam flourishes despite being half-underground

    by D.I. and ERASMUS | ATHENS

    ON A baking-hot Friday afternoon in the dusty Athenian district of Neos Kosmos, a cheerful assortment of (mostly male) worshippers greet one another in Arabic, Greek and other languages, and enter a nondescript building in a side-street. They descend a steep set of stairs, perform their ablutions, and make their way into a large undergound space, pleasantly carpeted, but with ventilation pipes half-hiding the low ceiling. Soon the imam is leading them in prayer and prostration, and pronouncing a khutba or sermon. Despite the makeshift premises, this has the feeling of a well-organised and confident community.

  • Religion and royalty

    The difficulties with crowning King Charles III

    by ERASMUS

    THE AMERICAN political system, despite its formal separation of church of state, still finds room for a sort of civic religion which lends dignity to military funerals and presidential inaugurations. In Britain, by contrast, a quirky unwritten constitution gives a central place to what might be called royal religion. This reflects the twin role of the monarch as the apex of secular governance and guardian of the Christian faith. That royal faith was on spectacular display on May 19th when an African-American prelate, Michael Curry, dazzled some and perplexed others with an exuberant hymn to love delivered at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

  • The peace of Jerusalem

    Followers of Jesus fail to agree about his homeland

    by ERASMUS

    HUNDREDS of millions of followers of Jesus Christ are about to celebrate the annual feast of Pentecost, which recalls an event in Jerusalem roughly 2,000 years ago, when it is believed that cultural and ethnic barriers were miraculously overcome. The festival, which falls on May 20th in this year’s western Christian calendar and a week later in the Orthodox one, commemorates what many regard as the establishment of the Christian church. A new kind of divine inspiration, including the ability to communicate with speakers of any language, is said to have come over the disciples who had gathered in the holy city for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which falls seven weeks after Passover.

About Erasmus

Notes on the interplay between religion and policy, in the spirit of the Dutch Renaissance humanist and scholar

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