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Press: Creationists, Buddhists, QAnon, and the Tories  

15 January 2021

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THE Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar once sent out tens of thousands of copies of a glossy hardback book full of photos meant to disprove evolution. The one that I remember was a photo of a fossilised winged insect next to a contemporary caddisfly — the sort made from feathers and deer hair spun on a hook and used to catch trout. It turned out that he ran a personal cult with all the usual abuse that follows it, and he has just been sentenced after two years in prison. AFP reported, picked up by The Guardian: “During the trial, which was followed closely by Turkish media for months, the court heard lurid and harrowing details of sex crimes.

“Oktar told the presiding judge in December that he had close to 1,000 girlfriends. ‘There is an overflowing of love in my heart for women. Love is a human quality. It is a quality of a Muslim,’ he said in another hearing in October. He added on a separate occasion: ‘I am extraordinarily potent.’”

I had hoped that all future reports would call him a pro-creationist propagandist, until I read a little further down the piece and found this: “Asked about 69,000 contraception pills found in his home by the police, Oktar said they were used to treat skin disorders and menstrual irregularities.”

Although he was sentenced to 1075 years in prison (not a misprint), this was not, I fear, for his career as a serial rapist, but because he was suspected of plotting with the Gulenist network.

 

THIS was not the only story about the intersection of politics and religion this week. The US Congress passed as part of its Covid support package a law concerning the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Washington Post reports that “Traditionally the successor to the Dalai Lama has been determined by a group of disciples close to the previous holder of the title, who seek the reborn person of the Dalai Lama after his death. But the Chinese government has indicated it may name its own Dalai Lama, in hopes of controlling his statements and teachings.

“In 1995, the government kidnapped the second-highest Buddhist spiritual figure, the Panchen Lama, when he was 6. He and his family have not been seen since.

“The new act provides for sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials if they attempt to name a successor to the Dalai Lama.” This should, perhaps, be read in conjunction with a profoundly harrowing Guardian Long Read from a woman who spent two years in a “re-education” camp in Xinjiang.

 

AND so to President Trump’s attempt at a cultural revolution of his own. QAnon, as I may have mentioned here before (Press, 29 May, 14 February), is a new religious movement. This analysis was all over the serious American papers in the wake of the riot in Washington. The Atlantic pointed out that “The Jericho March is evidence that Donald Trump has bent elements of American Christianity to his will, and that many Christians have obligingly remade their faith in his image.

“Defiant masses literally broke down the walls of government, some believing they were marching under Jesus’s banner to implement God’s will to keep Trump in the White House. The group’s co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. . . Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants.”

The failure of the attempted coup is only a preliminary victory in what will be, at best, a long struggle, but it is also a moment for schadenfreude, as when Reeni Mederos, a “Prophet for Trump”, attempts to make sense of it all for her Facebook followers: “The fight continues. Just in a different way now. Be encouraged. In times like these, innovation is supreme. We can actually accomplish more without government. God’s government is supreme and Trump will learn his real governmental authority in heaven is greater than his governmental authority on the earth. Here we go! Going higher! Please do not be discouraged!”

 

JUST time to mention a really excellent essay by the Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, online at The Fence, a site that I had not come upon before. He is writing about the way in which the Conservative Party has come to rely on the Church to do much of the work that is neither undertaken by the State any more nor an opportunity for party donors to make a profit from supplying: “In essence, the wider structure of the welfare state is being treated by those in power as an elaborate game of Jenga — relying on forces, such as the Church of England, that can be taken as read, keeping an increasingly fragile skeleton standing while any support that can be removed is quietly and carefully taken away. The question is, of course, how long can that continue?”

He also writes: “As the famous mixer of Anglican religion and Tory politics, Jonathan Swift, once observed: ‘I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them unashamed.’”

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