2019
March
11
Monday

After the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight this weekend, Ryan Brown, our Africa bureau chief, shared her thoughts on what the roster of passengers says about Africa’s place in the world. We thought you’d like to hear them:

A young Togolese crop scientist who loved sweet potatoes and believed they could help save his country from hunger. A Kenyan studying at Georgetown Law who dreamed of advocating for refugees in east Africa. A Nigerian-Canadian poet known for his acerbic wit and  challenges to the powerful.

Like so many of the victims of Flight 302, which crashed near Addis Ababa Sunday, Kodjo Glato, Cedric Asiavugwa, and Pius Adesanmi were people whose lives reached across borders.

Those who died were academics, aid workers, activists, doctors, clergy, and tourists from 30-plus countries. Nearly two dozen worked for the United Nations. One advised the prime minister of Somalia. A Kenyan nun worked as a missionary in Congo.

It’s hard to imagine a group that better encapsulates how interconnected the world is or how important Africa is to that story. The wingspan of this tragedy stretches from Beijing to Ottawa. Its victims will be mourned in Maputo, Bratislava, and Moscow.

I would venture few would want to be remembered as victims of anything. “We are … dedicated to meeting the African continent at the level of agency and not victimhood,” Mr. Adesanmi said in an interview a few years ago.

Indeed, the passengers were the agents of 157 extraordinary lives. Lives defined by scathing satire. By the pursuit of justice. And by sweet potatoes.

Now to our five stories for today.

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Global report

1. In a polarizing world, signs that the center may rally

What is a centrist? It sounds desirable amid a heated political moment. But centrism’s definition and practicality all depend on where you are standing.

Amelia

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Around the world, politics are polarizing and leaders are ruling from the further reaches of the political spectrum. In today’s belligerent global mood, is there any fruitful ground for a moderate politician to plow?

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz thinks so; he says the U.S. two-party system is broken, and he’s planning an independent bid for the presidency. In London, 11 centrist members of Parliament who broke away from their mainstream parties last month think the same thing.

Polls suggest that a centrist coalition could unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in next month’s general elections. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is still battling to justify voters’ faith in his brand of centrism.

Are these the tentative hints of a new direction, a sign that the populist pendulum may have swung its full arc? Or are they destined to be crushed by angry voters seeking radical solutions from demagogues?

“The problem with centrism is that its style of moderation and compromise is not in fashion at the moment,” says Pascal Perrineau, a political analyst. “But its strength is that it seeks solutions beyond the tired old left-right divide. One can imagine new political space emerging from the wreckage of the old system.”

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In a polarizing world, signs that the center may rally

Around the world, politics are polarizing. From Brexit to Brasilia, from the District of Columbia to the Danube, leaders are ruling from the further reaches of the political spectrum. In today’s belligerent global mood, is there any fruitful ground for a moderate politician to plow?

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz thinks so; he says the U.S. two-party system is broken, and he’s planning an independent bid for the presidency. In London, 11 centrist members of Parliament who broke away from the Conservative and Labour parties last month think the same thing as they consider founding a new party.

Polls suggest that a centrist coalition could unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in next month’s general elections, while in France President Emmanuel Macron is still battling to justify voters’ faith in his brand of centrism.

Are these the tentative hints of a new direction, a sign that the populist pendulum may have swung its full arc? Or are they destined to be crushed by angry voters seeking radical solutions from demagogues?

“The problem with centrism is that its style of moderation and compromise is not in fashion at the moment,” says Pascal Perrineau, a veteran French political analyst. “But its strength is that it seeks solutions beyond the tired old left-right divide. One can imagine new political space emerging from the wreckage of the old system.”

The American moderate

That seems to be Mr. Schultz’s hope. He says that the two-party duopoly that has long ruled the United States is now a broken system and that “it’s time for a centrist candidate not affiliated with either party to be president.”

Given the intensity of partisanship in today’s America, and the structure of the Electoral College, his chances of success look slim. But a moderate running on the Democratic ticket, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, or two-term Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, might be better placed to capture and harness the middle ground.

“There’s certainly a place” for moderates in national politics, says Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, in an email.

“Between Trump’s behavior and the progressive policies of many of the leading Democratic candidates, more moderate voters may feel they don’t have great options, and they might see someone like Hickenlooper providing one,” Dr. Masket says.

Both parties have been pulling away from the center for a number of years. Conservatives dominate the Republican Party at all levels, and it is liberals such as new Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York who are providing the Democrats with energy and policy ideas such as the Green New Deal.

Three-quarters of Republican voters call themselves conservatives, and just over half of Democrats describe themselves as liberal – up from 38 percent in 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected president.

Moderate candidates in both parties are few and far between, says Danielle Thomsen, author of “Opting Out of Congress: Partisan Polarization and the Decline of Moderate Candidates.”

“They’re just not running for office at the same rate” as liberals or conservatives, her research has found. “That’s really changed dramatically,” she says. “Now they’re only about three or four percent” of each party’s candidates.

When they do run, they face the sort of challenge that a presidential candidate such as Mr. Biden would be up against: how to fashion a campaign platform that appeals to all the diverse types of moderate in the U.S. political landscape.

Polling by Pew Research Data has found that white voters without a college degree make up 30 percent of Democratic moderates and conservatives, black voters comprise 22 percent, Latinos 21 percent, and white college graduates 16 percent.

Mr. Biden appears potentially capable of appealing to a wide range of demographics, but his main asset as a moderate – and an asset just as important as any particular policy – is his avuncular, genial style. In today’s America, moderation of demeanor and rhetoric could be the key to any centrist presidential candidate’s chance of success.

Blue and White

As general elections draw near in Israel, there is clearly a growing appetite for such an approach in that country, where the tone of political discourse has grown increasingly bitter over the 10-year rule of hard-line, right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For the first time, the principal division in the country is not between Jews and Arabs but between left-wing and right-wing Jews, according to a recent study by the Israel Democracy Institute, a leading think tank.

Seeking to bridge that gap is the new “Blue and White” party, created by a merger of two centrist parties and named for the colors of the Israeli flag. The latest polls put the newcomer ahead of all rivals in the elections next month, as the leftist camp shrinks and moderate right-wingers desert Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Blue and White is tapping a sentiment that Mr. Netanyahu’s divisive rhetoric, such as his attacks on the media and the criminal justice system, has gone too far, say analysts.

“There is an agreement among those on the left and some on the right that the incitement has to stop, that it is not OK to call left-wingers traitors, as has been legitimized by this government,” says Gayil Talshir, who teaches politics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Pollsters have found that while Israeli voters still care about security and peace, they are increasingly concerned by more day-to-day matters. Blue and White, led by a retired general, has serious security credentials but is also focusing on education, health care, public transport, and the cost of living, says Asaf Zamir, one of the new party’s parliamentary candidates: “We have to speak about bread and butter issues.”

The Independent Group

Those are just the sort of issues that moderate Conservatives and moderate Labour Party members in Britain are longing to get their teeth into whenever the Brexit debate is over and politicians can get back to normal life.

“The vast majority of people … want answers that improve their daily lives rather than angry, adversarial rhetoric,” says Will Tanner, the young founder of “Onward,” a reformist Conservative Party think tank in London.

The leaders of both main British parties “are setting people against each other,” says Stephanie Lloyd, deputy director of Progress, a centrist pressure group within the Labour Party. “The two-party system works if both are broad church, but they are hardening into singular ideologies.”

Does this mean there is room for a new party in the middle? That is what The Independent Group is betting. Its 11 members – three former Conservative and eight former Labour members of Parliament – are united by their fears that their parties risk being dominated by extremists. Having broken away from their old parties, they are currently considering creating a new one.

Polls show that, between them, The Independent Group and the Liberal Democrats (a traditional centrist party) command more electoral support than any party other than the ruling Conservatives.

It is very early days, but Nora Mulready hopes that the new grouping will inject “more of the moral and pragmatic essence of centrism” into British politics. Ms. Mulready, a former Labour party activist, is making a series of films designed to stimulate moderate debate of controversial issues to generate ideas to challenge extremist viewpoints.

If centrists are to seize the time, they need to go on the offensive, agrees Ms. Lloyd. “The center left has ignored a series of challenges for a long time,” she says, notably the question of immigration. “We never made the argument that it is a good thing because we were scared to do so, and that created a vacuum that the extreme right filled.”

Whether The Independent Group has a future may depend on how the Labour Party and the Conservative Party react, says Sheri Berman, who teaches European politics at Barnard College in New York. “Sometimes breakaway groups remind established parties that there’s a problem, and they recalibrate,” Professor Berman says. But such a recalibration would nonetheless put more political weight in the center.

Vying for the center ground

That is not, however, the way that traditional centrist parties in Germany are behaving.

The center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and center-left Social Democrats (SPD) have been hard to distinguish recently, wedded as they are in a “grand coalition” government that ties them to the same policies.

Voters, dissatisfied with the lack of choice that the two mainstream parties are offering them, have been flocking at recent elections to more extreme groups, notably the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and to a lesser extent The Left party, which sits at the far left of German politics.

The CDU and the SPD are now seeking to stanch the flow with firmer policies appealing to their traditional supporters. The CDU is taking a less tolerant attitude to immigration than it did when Germany welcomed over 1 million migrants in 2015-16, while the SPD is proposing hikes in the minimum wage and in pensions.

As they harden their identities, the Greens are proving the big centrist success story.

Once dismissed as pacifist tree-huggers, the Greens have found political strength in centrism as they have moved to the middle with new policies while keeping their environmental principles intact. Greens are as firmly opposed to Russian aggression in Ukraine as anyone, support armed intervention abroad to defend human rights, and have pushed for more spending on infrastructure and education.

“From the left, the Greens have moved to the center to make themselves attractive to CDU and SPD voters,” says Gero Neugebauer, a politics professor at the Free University of Berlin.

The move has worked; the Greens are seen as reliable coalition partners by both the CDU and the SPD, and they are members of nine regional governments.

At the same time, a third of German voters say they sympathize with anti-establishment views. That trend clearly benefits the AfD and the Left party, but the Greens appear to have enough “alternative” street cred to profit as well. After all, populism is not an exclusively extremist phenomenon.

Centrism as populism

Take French President Emmanuel Macron’s successful 2017 campaign at the head of the brand new En Marche! (In Motion!) party, for example, which betrayed more than a hint of Donald Trump-style populism. Both Mr. Macron and Mr. Trump ran as outsiders against their respective political establishments and won.

Mr. Macron campaigned on a resolutely centrist platform based on a strong European Union, a social market economy, and a culture of compromise. Sometimes he described it as “neither left nor right” and sometimes as “both left and right.”

His platform clearly contributed to his victory, but it was not the only factor. “Eighteen months on, I realize that people did not necessarily vote for Macron because of his ideas; … they voted for change,” acknowledges Delphine O, an En Marche! member of parliament.

“Macron’s strength lay as much in who he was not as in who he was,” says Professor Perrineau. He won because the French public was fed up with the two main parties – the Socialists on the left and the Republicans on the right – which had alternated in power for decades.

It is because voters have not yet seen the results of the changes in economic and social policy that Mr. Macron had promised that his government is facing so much social unrest, says Professor Berman.

“He said he would reinvigorate French capitalism and strengthen social protection,” she says. “But he cannot yet claim success on either part of his program.”

That bodes ill for Macron’s brand of centrism. “If European governments cannot reinvigorate their economies and also take care of those citizens who have fallen behind,” she says, “that could be very dangerous for democracy.”

• Peter Grier in Washington, Clifford Coonan in Berlin, and Dina Kraft in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed reporting to this story.

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2. As Britain plans its exit from EU, Ireland proves a sticking point

In a big week for Brexit, all eyes are on Westminster. But you should be watching Ireland as well, where the issue of the border is driving conversation about a reunited island.

Amelia
Peter Morrison/AP
Leaders of Northern Ireland political party Sinn Fein knocked down a mock wall on the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border as part of a demonstration against potential future border checks, near Newry, Northern Ireland, Jan. 26.

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When Britain debated Brexit before the 2016 referendum, there was little mention of what it would mean for Ireland. But Ireland’s border has become a focal point of the negotiations between Britain and the EU – even though consideration for the issues that Brexit raises for Ireland remain limited in Britain. The process seems certain to leave a lasting scar on relations between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, which have sunk to their lowest level in decades.

Today, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is only a line on a map. But Brexit, if it goes badly, could reintroduce border checks. That would stymie trade and movement, and worse, could reignite the violence that ended in 1998.

Brexit may also inadvertently speed up the reunification of Ireland, by bringing Northern Ireland’s attention back to the topic at a time when the republic has a better economy than the North – and isn’t threatened by the economic effect of Brexit. “There are people thinking to themselves, ‘you know what, a united Ireland couldn’t be any worse than this,” says Bill Rolston, emeritus professor at Ulster University.

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As Britain plans its exit from EU, Ireland proves a sticking point

A corner just down the road from Danny Morrison’s home in west Belfast used to house a police station barracks, a target of repeated bombings during the Troubles. Now it’s gone, replaced by a grassy plot and a cluster of young birch trees. An hour away, the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is visible only on a map. 

Since the changes brought about by the Belfast Agreement that ended the Troubles, nationalists “no longer feel vanquished” in Northern Ireland, says Mr. Morrison, a former provisional IRA volunteer who spent years in prison. Polarization over the status of Northern Ireland became less pressing as people focused on more immediate concerns. 

Despite his reservations over the compromise required, Mr. Morrison supported participating in the regional power-sharing government, known as Stormont. But because of the way British and Northern Irish unionist politicians have handled Brexit, and due to an unrelated scandal that collapsed the government two years ago, that has changed. “I’ve become disillusioned with Stormont,” he says. 

His is just one example of the way Brexit has rekindled Irish tensions that had been pushed to the background in two decades of peace.

Less than three weeks before the deadline for the United Kingdom’s planned departure from the European Union, the question of what exactly will happen on March 29 is entirely up in the air. But whatever unfolds, the process seems certain to leave a lasting scar on relations between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, which have sunk to their lowest level in decades.

“The border is nearly 100 years old, and there was a feeling 100 years ago that Ireland was a pawn in English politics,” says Diarmaid Ferriter, a professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin. “For some there’s a feeling that history is repeating itself.”

The backstop

When Britain debated Brexit before the 2016 referendum, there was little mention of what it would mean for Ireland, where the U.K. has its only land border with the EU.

That border was a militarized zone during “The Troubles,” the conflict that roiled Northern Ireland for more than three decades, when Irish nationalist militias fought British forces and loyalist militias with the goal of making Northern Ireland part of the Republic. But it ended with the Belfast Agreement in 1998, which brought peace to the island and opened up travel and trade between north and south.

Today, the 310-mile-long partition is only a line on a map. One of the few indications you’ve driven into Northern Ireland from the Republic is that the speed limit signs are in miles instead of kilometers. The ease of movement is possible in part because both countries are members of the EU customs union and single market, so goods going between the two countries don’t need to be checked.

Brexit threatens to change that. British Prime Minister Theresa May is in the midst of making last-minute attempts to convince lawmakers to support the deal she negotiated with the EU laying out the terms of Brexit, which comes up for a vote in Parliament on Tuesday. If the deal is voted down, as is currently expected, one of the key reasons why is likely to be the “Irish backstop” – a provision that could keep the U.K. more closely connected to the EU for an indefinite period.

The backstop is meant to act as an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border if a larger agreement is not in place by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020. An open border is essential to the maintenance of both the Belfast Agreement and of the numerous social and economic relationships that have developed since the end of the Troubles between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But British Brexiters have refused to accept Ms. May’s plan for a backstop for fear that it could prevent the U.K. from ever truly leaving EU regulations. And the Democratic Unionist Party, a Protestant Northern Irish party that Ms. May relies on to prop up her minority government, has been similarly opposed, arguing it would subject Northern Ireland to different rules than the rest of the U.K.

English miscalculations?

That’s left the U.K. on the brink of leaving the EU without an agreement, which could mean that border checks are once again put in place. Many on both sides of the border worry that border infrastructure could attract attacks by dissidents unhappy with the peace process, and that the violence could quickly escalate. 

In Britain and among Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit community, much of the blame for the backstop impasse has fallen on Ireland. To many in the Republic, it appears the English ruling class either do not understand the effects Brexit could have in Ireland, or do not care.

“What’s returned is the distrust that was very much a part of the history of Anglo-Irish relations,” says Professor Ferriter. “We felt that probably that had been solved through the last 20 years, through the peace process and through London and Dublin governments working very closely together in dialogue and including the Belfast government. There’s a return to a lack of trust and accusations of bad faith, and accusations of, almost a return of a willful ignorance on the part of some English politicians.” 

English politicians made two miscalculations in regards to Ireland and Brexit, says Edward Burke, director of the Center for Conflict, Security, and Terrorism at the University of Nottingham: They overestimated their own negotiating leverage with the EU, and also overestimated Ireland’s dependence on the U.K.

Professor Burke says the British expected Ireland to be forced to alter its relationship within the EU in order to accommodate Brexit and avoid a hard border, rather than the other way around. “That’s a diplomatic miscalculation, not necessarily to do with malevolence,” he says. “I see this as diplomatic carelessness, not as callous malevolence toward Irish affairs. It’s perhaps an asymmetric lack of knowledge, in that Ireland is a small country, and a poor strategy.”

‘A united Ireland couldn’t be any worse than this’

Whatever the intent, the result is that tensions that had been tamped down for 20 years are resurfacing.

The Belfast Agreement pushed into the future the issue of whether Northern Ireland should be part of the Republic, by recognizing the aspiration for unity but saying it could only be decided with the consent of its citizens. If a majority on both sides of the border vote for reunification, then Northern Ireland could join the Republic. By removing the border, it dissipated a day-to-day reminder of Irish division and allowed unionists and nationalists to work together on more immediate public concerns.

But Brexit has reversed that, says Sam McBride, political editor of the Belfast newspaper the News Letter. “It has brought constitutional politics, orange and green politics, politics of Irish unity, it has brought those to the fore in a way they had really gone into the background.”

And Brexit has increased the likelihood of Irish reunification. Demographic changes had always put that possibility on the horizon – the Catholic population, which tends to vote nationalist, is increasing, and the Protestant population, which leans unionist, is decreasing. But for some, societal and economic shifts on both sides of the border are making a future with Ireland more appealing than a future with Britain.

In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 56 percent of voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and there is a widespread desire for the border to remain open. A government report recently estimated that a no-deal Brexit would shrink Northern Ireland’s economy by 9 percent, and could cause many businesses to fail. In the past, the Republic of Ireland’s economy was poor, and a deterrent to reunification – but now it’s strong. Many young people in Northern Ireland are upset with its conservative social stances, including bans on abortion and gay marriage – both of which Ireland has legalized in recent years.

“There are people thinking to themselves, ‘You know what, a united Ireland couldn’t be any worse than this,’ ” says Bill Rolston, emeritus professor at Ulster University. “It’s not people committed to a nationalist consciousness all of a sudden.”

For Mr. Morrison, it’s apparent that such a change would not be easy. “I realize that a united Ireland that I fought for and went to prison for is not going to be that romantic vision. And I am prepared for that,” he says. “The most important thing to me is we get sovereignty and the British stop interfering in our affairs.”

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3. Democrats, citing Russia, move to block foreign funding in 2020

Shoring up the democratic process is a concern for both parties ahead of the next presidential election. But a wide gulf separates them when it comes to how you go about doing that. 

Amelia

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Will Russians be able to funnel illegal donations into the 2020 presidential elections? Democrats in Congress are determined to thwart any such meddling. They have zeroed in on a Trump administration rule change last summer regarding nonprofits known as “dark money” groups, which are no longer are required to disclose their donors even to the IRS. Democrats worry that could allow foreigners to donate to such politically active nonprofits without detection.

Two bills making their way through Congress would address such loopholes, with the House passing H.R. 1 last week and the Senate considering the Spotlight Act. However, Republicans see such measures as an overreaction to what was likely a minuscule percentage of overall spending in the 2016 election. “You’re going to let a few hundred thousand dollars of Facebook ads bought by the rump state of the Soviet Union cause us to give up our speech rights?” asks Bradley Smith, chairman of the Institute for Free Speech in Arlington, Virginia. “Their solution is to apply restraints that will affect every American and not just these entities they are supposedly worried about.”

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Democrats, citing Russia, move to block foreign funding in 2020

With special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation reportedly wrapping up, the spotlight on Russian election interference is heating up. And one of the most contentious issues, aside from any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, is how to prevent foreign money from influencing the 2020 election.

Democratic members of Congress, in their opening salvo after winning the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives last fall, spearheaded passage of a major bill late last week that includes provisions to thwart foreign spending in U.S. elections. The sweeping anti-corruption act, known as H.R. 1, covers a wide range of issues from campaign finance to voter rights and government ethics.

Not a single Republican voted in favor of the bill, which passed 234-193, reflecting a deep partisan divide over how best to shore up American democracy after the tumultuous 2016 campaign. 

Democrats and campaign finance advocates see an urgent need to close loopholes that could allow foreign money to surreptitiously influence American voters, citing in particular a Kremlin-linked company that bought divisive Facebook ads and a Trump administration tax rule change last summer that could allow illegal foreign donors to evade detection.

H.R. 1 would require greater disclosure of donors, increased transparency on digital ad spending, and disclosure of gifts from foreign agents to officeholders. It would also change the structure of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to break its current partisan deadlock, which has severely hampered the commission’s ability to enforce existing campaign finance rules.

Republicans, while acknowledging Russia’s previous attempts to sow dissension, see Democratic legislators’ measures as an overreaction to what was likely a minuscule percentage of overall spending in the 2016 election. They describe Democrats as using a foreign boogeyman to push through an agenda that predates Russian trolls – an agenda which they say would curtail American rights to privacy and free speech.

“You’re going to let a few hundred thousand dollars of Facebook ads bought by the rump state of the Soviet Union cause us to give up our speech rights?” asks Bradley Smith, the former head of the FEC who is now the chairman of the Institute for Free Speech in Arlington, Virginia. “You’ve got this kind of made-up crisis and these appeals to xenophobia, ... and their solution is to apply restraints that will affect every American and not just these entities they are supposedly worried about.”

But Democratic Rep. David Price, a former Duke University political science professor who represents North Carolina, says it’s not about the current extent of the practice; it’s about the possibility of greater abuse. “Why would they assume that this … couldn’t take on greater proportions in the future?” he asks.

‘Dark money’ 

Technically, it is illegal for foreign donors to give money to nonprofits for political purposes. But there are several channels through which such money could still flow.

One key channel of concern is so-called “dark money” groups, particularly 501(c)4s. These are nonprofits which are allowed to accept political donations in unlimited amounts and do not have to disclose their donors to the public. They can spend up to half of their funds advocating for or against political candidates, with the rest available for other activities, including advocating for certain issues in which they can also mention candidates by name who support or oppose those issues.

In the 2018 cycle, such groups spent about $150 million. That accounts for only about 4 percent of total spending on the midterm elections, but in highly competitive races it can play an outsized role.

“If we know there’s big secret money, we can’t possibly know whether it’s foreign or not,” says Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the top group tracking money in U.S. politics.

“You’re seeing groups spending tens of millions of dollars or popping up and spending $1 million on an election, and you don’t know if this was some billionaire donor with a stake in the election … [or] a foreign power trying to influence the election,” says Anna Massoglia, who researches nonprofits and foreign influence for CRP. “It’s really just hard to tell.”

Especially now.

Up until last summer, these groups were required to disclose their donors to the IRS, which redacted such information in public releases of tax forms. But then in July 2018, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that given privacy violations and the fact that donor information was not necessary for tax administration (because donations to such groups are not tax-deductible), they would no longer be required to disclose their donors on the Schedule B form filed with their 990s every year.

That was deeply concerning to campaign finance advocates, particularly in light of the Mueller investigation into foreign actors seeking to influence U.S. elections.

“Rather than the IRS more diligently reviewing Schedule Bs to identify any potential foreign money, the Treasury Department is just doing away with the reporting requirements on the Schedule B altogether,” says Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) in Washington, D.C. “It could be viewed as a green light to foreign actors that this is a way to funnel money into U.S. elections with even less threat of being caught.”

The Treasury Department did not answer the Monitor’s questions regarding the rule change, pointing instead to last summer’s press release and IRS tax guidance.

Democrats found the timing of Treasury’s rule change highly suspect, coming just two weeks after McClatchy reported that Mr. Mueller had likely obtained the NRA’s tax forms revealing its donors in order to investigate whether a Kremlin-linked Russian banker had funneled money through the NRA to help Donald Trump get elected. The NRA, which endorsed Mr. Trump, spent more than $30 million on the 2016 election.

James Bopp Jr., one of the most prominent American lawyers advocating against campaign finance regulation, dismisses that as a conspiracy theory. He cites longstanding concerns over the IRS targeting groups based on partisan affiliation, such as a 2013 scandal in which the agency admitted scrutinizing groups with terms like “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their name. A 2017 report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that such groups were unfairly targeted and determined that the IRS had inappropriately targeted liberal-leaning groups as well.

In light of that, Mr. Bopp says, the focus on a supposed link between the IRS rule change and the Mueller investigation is unwarranted.

“This is like a herd of elephants just went through the property, but there’s a little mouse over there – [and saying] it’s the mouse’s fault,” he says.

H.R. 1 would effectively reverse the IRS rule change, thanks to a last-minute addition spearheaded by Representative Price. It would also require disclosure of all donors giving $10,000 or more to groups spending money in U.S. elections. Separately, the Spotlight Act – introduced by Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Ron Wyden of Oregon in January – would overturn the IRS rule change and also require dark money groups to disclose not only to the IRS but also to the public any donors making contributions of $5,000 or more.

“Dark money is a threat to our democracy,” said Senator Tester, in a statement issued when the bill was introduced. His state has taken a harder line than most on the issue ever since a copper baron literally bought himself a seat in Congress in 1899. “I will do everything I can to defend Montanans from this shadowy behavior because we need more light in our elections, not less.”

Another channel

Another channel through which foreign money could flow is donations by U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies. Such donations are allowed if they are not made at the direction of foreign executives. 

In the last presidential election, a U.S. subsidiary transferred $1.3 million at the behest of its Chinese owners into a SuperPAC supporting Jeb Bush. The FEC on Friday handed down a $550,000 fine to American Pacific International Capital, Inc., and a $390,000 fine to Right to Rise, the pro-Bush super PAC involved. The dual fine represents the third-largest financial penalty the FEC has ever handed down.

But even if foreign owners don’t explicitly direct their American partners to make such a donation, it could be implicitly understood.

“If foreign nationals own and run the company, the fact that you have a U.S. national directing the contribution doesn’t mean anything, because they know what their foreign bosses want,” says Mr. Fischer of CLC.

Josh Kirschenbaum, an illicit finance expert at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, says it’s virtually impossible to keep sophisticated foreign actors from funneling money into U.S. elections. “There’s a million ways you can do it,” he says, such as instructing a U.S.-based fund manager to make a donation and then repaying him or her under the guise of a finder’s fee – and not even necessarily into a U.S. account.

But just as people still lock their doors even when it’s possible to break in through a window, he says that if rules are put in place to prevent foreign actors from donating, it will slow them down and likely cause them to leave more of a trail.

H.R. 1, which would bring more transparency and make it easier to spot illegal foreign donations, is unlikely to become law so long as the GOP maintains control of the Senate and the White House. The bipartisan cooperation on campaign finance seen in the wake of Watergate has eroded to the point where it’s nearly impossible to get Republicans on board, says North Carolina’s Mr. Price, who first took office in 1987.

Still, he’s not giving up.

“I think we’ve got to, down the road, explore the possibilities of smaller pieces of this that might get some buy-in,” he says, referring to H.R. 1. “But it is much, much harder than it was 10 years ago.”

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4. Spiritual or atheist? More nonbelievers are saying ‘both.’

In a letter up for auction, Albert Einstein talked about admiring “in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of the world.” More nonbelievers say they are seeking that sense of awe. What does spirituality look like when separated from faith?

Amelia

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Americans have long been uneasy with those who say they don’t believe in God. As a whole, in fact, Americans have consistently reported that they view atheists with more suspicion than any other group.

A decade ago, the public face of atheism was dominated by a cadre of aggressive and media-savvy thinkers who were cheekily dubbed “the four horseman” – including Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens – who often ridiculed traditional faith as “childish.”

But as the number of atheists and religious “nones” continues to rise, they are in fact wildly diverse, observers say, and many who say they don’t believe in God also consider themselves spiritual, and in some cases, even religious.

Bart Campolo, the humanist chaplain at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, says the challenge now is to try to build communities for Americans who don’t believe in God, rooted in humility and compassion. “We should pursue lovingkindness not because God commands it, or because we’ll go to heaven if we do it, but rather, we should pursue lovingkindness because it’s the most sensible way of trying to flourish as a human being.”

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Spiritual or atheist? More nonbelievers are saying ‘both.’

In the summer of 1945, Albert Einstein typed a note to a young ensign stationed aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier out in the Pacific, responding to the passionate letter he’d received from him the month before.

A Jesuit priest had told the ensign he had convinced the famous physicist to believe in “a supreme intellect who governs the world.” The ensign was shocked, and he wrote to Einstein to offer a number of arguments against such an idea.

In his reply, a letter that is up for auction at Bonhams in New York, Einstein dismisses the tale, saying that from “the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist.” The “anthropomorphical concepts” in religion are “childish analogies,” he wrote.

As an artifact of America’s religious history, there is something familiar in the tone of these two atheists: the earnestness, the certainty, the near mocking tone toward “childish” religious beliefs.

But Einstein also closed his letter with a sentiment that is often overlooked in the complicated and, in fact, wildly diverse landscape of American nonbelief, including atheism and its less strident cousin, agnosticism. And many see his closing sentiment as really quite spiritual:

“We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of the world – as far as we can grasp it. And that is all,” wrote the physicist who changed the course of human history.

Americans have long been uneasy with those who say they don’t believe in God. As a whole, Americans have consistently reported that they view atheists with more suspicion than any other group, whether ethnic, racial, or religious – including Muslims. Even as the country has become, overall, more tolerant and more accepting of other faith traditions, atheism has long remained the conspicuous exception.

A decade ago, the public face of atheism was dominated by a cadre of aggressive and media-savvy thinkers who were cheekily dubbed “the four horsemen” – the biologist Richard Dawkins, the philosopher Daniel Dennett, and the cultural critics Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens – who railed against the “God delusion” and ridiculed traditional faith and piety as “childish analogies.”

But as with many religious communities – or in this case, areligious communities – the voices that often dominate the digital pulses of modern media often belie the steady hum of people’s daily lives and lived beliefs, and the wide range of historic institutions and moral commitments in which American nonbelievers have been more likely to express humility, compassion, and lovingkindness.

“Those who are theists tend to conflate nontheism, atheism, humanism – they don’t see that there is a spectrum of differing perspectives,” says Anne Klaeysen, a leader in the New York Society for Ethical Culture and the humanist chaplain at New York University. “And on the other hand, we have what I call fundamentalist atheists, who look at all theists as the same.”

“I am not a big fan of the so-called new atheists,” she continues. “They lack an intellectual and a moral humility about the world and about people’s beliefs.”  

Platform address on the ‘God letters’

On Sunday, the “platform address,” aka “sermon,” at the Society for Ethical Culture, a nontheistic community founded in 1876, was a meditation on another of Einstein’s “God letters,” Ms. Klaeysen says. In this letter (which Christie’s recently auctioned for $2.9 million), the physicist explains his rejection of a supernatural God, but explains how he is deeply religious.

Indeed, whether it’s the humility and awe that many feel before “the beautiful harmony” of the universe, or perhaps even the feelings of fear and trembling before its sheer cosmic vastness, many among the estimated 30 million Americans who say they don’t believe in God have been exploring what could be called nontheistic forms of spirituality.

Rather than emphasizing centuries-old objections to supernaturalism or the idea of a personal and perhaps patriarchal God, an array of American atheists, agnostics, and humanists have turned toward what they describe as a deeply felt impulse to participate in communities that mark the rhythms of life and death, and work to build moral character and a better world.

This isn’t really anything new in the American religious landscape, notes Bart Campolo, the humanist chaplain at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio and a “community builder” for self-described religious humanists.

For him, “the awe and wonder that naturally arise from contemplating the universe” is just the starting point for humanist leaders like him. Today, he and others are seeking to “encourage such contemplation and then help people practically translate those noble emotions into lovingkindness,” says Mr. Campolo, a former Evangelical pastor.

“So the question is, hey, how do we translate that, or how do we manifest that in a group when the narrative at the center of it isn’t, we should pursue lovingkindness because God commands it, or because we’ll go to heaven if we do it, but rather, we should pursue lovingkindness because it’s the most sensible way of trying to flourish as a human being.”

Like Mr. Campolo, more Americans have begun to turn away from organized religion. The millennial generation, especially, has been at the center of one of the fastest-growing religious cohorts in the nation – the so-called nones, a culturally diverse group of Americans who no longer check a specific faith tradition as part of their identities. But even those who say there is no God have begun to reject easy labels, experts say.

“So many labels try to define people by what they are not – spiritual-but-not-religious, non-believers, atheists, even religious ‘nones’,” says Douglas Hicks, dean and professor of religion at Oxford College of Emory University in Georgia, via email. “But everyone has a worldview and it is often incredibly profound. They often have layers of moral complexity that defy labels.”

‘I don’t want to be defined by what I’m not’

This has made the job of demographers and pollsters difficult. Today, the burgeoning number of “nones” has swelled to about 25 percent of the population, Pew Research Center reports. These include the growing number of Americans who call themselves “atheists,” about 3 percent of the population, and “agnostics,” or those who believe the existence of God cannot be known, and who make up about 4 percent of the population.

Surveys that try to gauge atheistic beliefs with more indirect questions estimate that the number of people who don’t believe in a supernatural God may be as high as 26 percent of the population.

“Do I make any decisions based on the possibility that God exists? I don’t,” says Mr. Campolo. “So technically, I guess, I’m agnostic. Practically, I’m an atheist, but I would never call myself either of those things, because those words in our society at this moment connote anti-religious or connote anti-anti-Christian perspectives, and I don’t want to be defined by what I’m not.”

Instead, he prefers to call himself a “humanist.” “But not because it’s a great name, but because it was kind of undefined. And so, like when I was the humanist chaplain at USC [in Los Angeles], the ‘humanists’ ended up being people who are committed to pursuing love as a way of life and who eat dinner with Bart on Sunday nights.”

As the number of “nones” and nonbelievers grow, there are signs that some of the antipathy Americans have had toward atheists have begun to thaw, recent surveys suggest.

Last Monday, Portland, Oregon, became the second city in the U.S. to extend civil rights protections to atheists, agnostics, and other “non-religious” people, after Madison, Wisconsin, did the same in 2015. Nearly a third of the population in Oregon describe themselves as “nones” – the largest single cohort in the state, followed by evangelical Protestants, who make up 29 percent, and Catholics, who make up 12 percent, according to Pew.

As many critics note, the “new atheism” movement is overwhelmingly white and male, and even plagued by a “brazen sexism” and vehement intolerance that makes women and others prefer to distance themselves from the term. And of course, every group has its trolls – eager to cast derision and mockery on people who believe differently than they do.

That said, “I’ve seen plenty of evidence of folks in the nontheist movement moving away from the four-horsemen ‘new atheism,’ and moving away from antagonism toward religion,” says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

Many nontheists have used terms such as “religious naturalism” or “religious humanism” or “humanistic spirituality” to describe the underlying beliefs that support their ethical and moral convictions without an appeal to divine revelation or a supernatural God.

“Do I believe in a personal God? No,” says Robert Strock, a therapist and counselor who heads The Global Bridge Foundation, a humanitarian group in Santa Monica, California. “Do I feel like humanistic spirituality is including people that do? Absolutely, yes. I feel like I’d be a bigot if I didn’t.”

Not all nontheists, especially those who embrace the identity “atheist,” are comfortable with terms like “religion” or “spirituality,” however. And many see their role as combating the dangers of supernatural beliefs and sectarian ideologies that they see as a major source of human discord and violence.

“Spirituality is a term that I’m comfortable with, but not all of my colleagues are,” says Ms. Klaeysen, who has a doctorate in pastoral counseling and congregational development.

“How I look at it is, I think of transcendence not as an out-of-body or other worldly experience, but more of, how am I making a real connection, a connection not outside myself, but kind of a ‘super connection’ if you will, whether it is with another human, or a community, or with music, art, nature – a sense that I’m fully aware of myself in nature or as part of the universe.”

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5. Can you pay an 18-year-old to be ‘cultured’? France gives it a try.

What would you do if your government paid you $560 to experience culture? France is about to get some insights by removing barriers for young people to engage with art.

Amelia
Charles Platiau/Reuters
Visitors take pictures of Leonardo Da Vinci's ‘Mona Lisa’ at the Louvre museum in Paris in late 2018. A new mobile app from the French government identifies many different types of cultural offerings. In its test phase,12,000 18-year-olds have been given €500 to spend on them.

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The Pass Culture, or Culture Pass, is a French mobile app that suggests everything from museums to movies. But for more than 12,000 18-year-olds, the app also comes with €500 ($560) to spend. If successful, the pass could be extended to some 800,000 young people across the country.

The government hopes that exposure to cultural offerings – both French and not – will lift the level of critical thinking, and it wants to remove any barriers. “Money is not the only obstacle for most youth, it’s also about access,” says Clémence Chalopet, in charge of implementing the Pass Culture. “Depending on the region, there can be a lack of reliable internet, information, or transportation. We want to remove those obstacles.”

Some are skeptical about the reach of the pass – even with the monetary bonus – and whether it will be enough to get teens to care about the arts. Yet as 18-year-old Jeanne Marmion says, “Classical music is really not my thing. But if a friend asked me to go to a classical music concert with her and I had this extra money from the pass, I’d probably say yes.”

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Can you pay an 18-year-old to be ‘cultured’? France gives it a try.

Amid streets lined with soot-washed buildings, the illuminated expanse of windows from Drancy’s local library beckons teens streaming in to get help with their Pass Culture, or Culture Pass, mobile app. The incentive for 18-year-olds to use it is a €500 credit to spend on all things cultural.  

Alan Daniel, a university student, scrolls through the geo-located Pass Culture offerings on his cell phone. “This initiative to give young people easier access to culture is such a good idea because we live in an isolated area,” says Mr. Daniel, a resident of Drancy, one of Paris’s outlying northeastern suburbs. “So to have something that avoids us being stuck, it’s great.”

The Pass Culture, which was rolled out in five regions in an experimental phase last month, is the long-awaited outcome of French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promise to make culture more accessible to the French. The new initiative hands €500 ($560) to 18-year-olds on the condition that the money be used to experience culture – anything from museums of impressionist paintings to hip-hop, theater or Spotify. Nearly 12,000 18-year-olds volunteered to help test the program, and if it takes off, the pass could be extended to some 800,000 young people across the country.

“We have a very intellectual, theoretical way of looking at culture,” says Frédéric Gimello-Mesplomb, a professor of information and communication sciences at the University of Avignon. “Unlike in most other countries, culture is a public affair and governed by the state. We really work to protect culture in France.”

A more varied diet

André Malraux, who was France’s first minister of culture six decades ago, said that at least once in a lifetime, one should experience an “aesthetic shock” after witnessing a piece of art. The government hopes that, with the Pass Culture, French youth will be exposed to cultural offerings – both French and not – that will lift their level of critical thinking in order to encounter that shock. And officials want to remove any barriers that might obstruct it from happening.

“Money is not the only obstacle for most youth, it’s also about access,” says Clémence Chalopet, in charge of implementing the Pass Culture. “Depending on the region, there can be a lack of reliable internet, information, or transportation. We want to remove those obstacles.” Ms. Chalopet’s small startup team working with the French Ministry of Culture also hopes the pass will diversify young people’s interests.

“I usually try to find cultural events online, but this app will help me enrich my knowledge of what’s out there,” says Ziad Lahzami, a Drancy resident. “I want to try to experience new things. That’s the whole point.”

Drancy is located in Seine-Saint-Denis, the region with the lowest living standard in mainland France and a high proportion of youths. Three out of 10 people live below the poverty line and crime is high.

While Mr. Lahzami and others passing through the library say that money isn’t necessarily an obstacle for them when it comes to experiencing culture, the €500 credit could ultimately work to challenge their interests.

“Classical music is really not my thing,” says Jeanne Marmion, an 18-year-old from Drancy. “But if a friend asked me to go to a classical music concert with her and I had this extra money from the pass, I’d probably say yes.”

Dr. Gimello-Mesplomb says that even when money isn’t the primary barrier to accessing culture, it tends to influence how cultural choices are made. It’s been shown that users of France’s unlimited cinema card – which allows viewers as many films as they want for a relatively low monthly charge – tend to see three films that interest them before branching out to more diverse choices.

Still, some are skeptical about the reach of the pass – even with the monetary bonus – and whether it will be enough to get teens to care about culture.

“If a young person has never been exposed to the theater and has no awareness of what it is and you give him a free pass to go, he’ll probably prefer to stay home and watch TV instead,” says Gabriel Segré, a sociology professor of art and culture at the University of Paris-Nanterre.

Dr. Segré says that a campaign to raise awareness in parallel would be useful to maximize the pass in order to reach teens who aren’t naturally interested in culture, but also to make sure the pass isn’t just a continuation of their current consumption.

“It’s very difficult to say if there is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ type of culture, but there’s certainly ‘mainstream’ culture, which is consumed en masse” says Segré, “and it’s not really necessary to put things in place to make this type of culture more accessible. Young people will gravitate toward it naturally.”

Engaging the young

If the Pass Culture works, it could be a model for other countries looking to engage teens – a notoriously demanding demographic. For it to be successful, however, it would need political backing. While France’s government is responsible for cultural education and funding, the United States, for example, uses a complex web of public and private entities to promote culture. France will also be looking to avoid Italy’s result, whose similar youth pass in 2016 reportedly failed to increase cultural participation, due to misuse by teens and retailers.

And cost is, of course, a factor. The Ministry of Culture will need to cough up around €400 million of its €10 billion annual budget to keep the pass running if it’s found to be successful. The Pass Culture team has six months to assess its progress before turning in a full report.

Until then, those working with teens see the pass as, at the very least, an insider’s view into the minds of 18-year-olds, who vary considerably – from high school and university students, to salaried workers and the unemployed. Shanys Francillette, who is in charge of culture and communication for the town of Drancy, sees learning about the app and meeting with young people as a type of reconnaissance mission.

“We’re always looking at what interests young people,” says Ms. Francillette. “But it’s hard to find things that will be of interest to everyone. This generation is very difficult to please.”

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The Monitor's View

A critical vote to define ‘home’ for Europe

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In May, European Union voters will choose a new parliament. Normally a boring democratic exercise, the election this time could result in nationalist, right-wing parties winning many more seats. Their continuing rise poses an existential threat to the future of the 28-country union. Yet just as compelling is how the bloc’s most powerful defenders – France and Germany – are responding.

Appealing to “citizens of Europe,” French President Emmanuel Macron asked that people reinforce the bloc “because it is European civilization that unites, frees, and protects us.” And Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union and the frontrunner to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, wrote this: “The reform of Europe will not work without the nation-states. They are the guarantors of democratic legitimacy and a sense of belonging.”

The EU was designed to be an economic and a values-based community that could prevent a return of blood-and-soil nationalism. Now, with the coming election, two of its leaders are offering visions of a different sort of nationalism. They aim to counter the type of nationalism that shuts its borders and turns against democratic values. Most of all, each sees Europe as home.

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A critical vote to define ‘home’ for Europe

One of the most compelling elections of 2019 comes in May when voters of the European Union choose a new parliament, which represents more than a half-billion people. Normally a boring democratic exercise, the election this time could result in nationalist, right-wing parties winning many more seats. Their continuing rise poses an existential threat to the future of the 28-country union.

Yet just as compelling is how the bloc’s most powerful defenders – France and Germany – are responding. In recent days, leaders in each country have tried to redefine how the EU can provide a stronger identity for its people, even a feeling of a common home despite disputes over issues like immigration. This Pan-European debate is not politics as usual. And the outcome could be more important than Britain’s possible exit from the EU.

On March 5, a letter written by French President Emmanuel Macron was published in 28 newspapers across the Continent. It proposes stronger, more centralized institutions, such as a single security force for the EU border. It also uses the language of the populist parties. Mr. Macron, for example, appeals to “citizens of Europe.” He asks them to reinforce the bloc “because it is European civilization that unites, frees, and protects us.” The euroskeptic nationalists are misguided, he writes, “when they claim to defend our identity by withdrawing from the EU.”

His letter triggered a response on March 11 from Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of Germany’s ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union. As the front-runner to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, she could be the next power broker within the EU. She is also an able challenger to Macron’s vision.

She opposes what she calls a European superstate, preferring to see identity in Europe as still rooted in each country but bound together by shared interests, values, and goals. The EU’s many institutions cannot claim any moral superiority over the collaborative effort of national governments.

“The reform of Europe will not work without the nation-states,” she writes. “They are the guarantors of democratic legitimacy and a sense of belonging.”

Her vision is to better balance the interests and resources of each member state. “The more [a state] does in one area, the less should be its contribution in other fields,” she proposes.

She sees Europe’s attraction as lying in its diversity and its ability to work together. Her mentor, Ms. Merkel, often quotes the Czech writer Karel Čapek: “The Creator made Europe small and even divided her, so that our hearts could find joy not in size but in diversity.”

The EU was designed after World War II to be both an economic and a values-based community that could prevent a return of blood-and-soil nationalism. Now, with the coming election, two of its leaders are offering visions of a different sort of nationalism. They may differ, but at least they aim to counter the type of nationalism that shuts its borders and turns against democratic values. Most of all, each sees Europe as home.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

A God we can know

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Today’s contributor shares how his healing of severe hereditary tremors gave him a life-changing sense of God’s goodness and presence.

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A God we can know

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Some time ago something happened that I never expected to happen, which changed my life forever. After going more than 30 years with no connection to God, or so I thought, I came to know God.

For some years I’d been suffering from a tremor in my right hand that became progressively worse. Other members of my family had suffered from similar symptoms. By the time I was in my early 30s, I began to almost exclusively use my left hand for writing, because it had become too painful and haphazard for me to write with my right hand. An orthopedic surgeon diagnosed the tremor and weakness in my hand as “focal action dystonia” and prescribed a medication, but it didn’t help at all.

Meanwhile, I had gotten married. My wife was a student of Christian Science, which as an atheist I felt was quite goofy. We didn’t discuss religion or God very much, but we tolerated each other’s beliefs. One day my wife and I were coming home from an event, and my hand was shaking so badly I could not get the key into the lock. And she said, “Look, you just have to do something.” So I agreed to talk with a Christian Science practitioner, someone whose ministry is to help others through prayer.

I made an appointment and went to the home of this practitioner, though I had no thought that I would be helped in any way. I described my heredity, and said that I had experienced the difficulty for years. And what she said to me was that my true inheritance was actually from God, not from other mortals, because God is my divine Father.

None of this made any sense to me. I had been an atheist from about the time I got out of college. I had no religious life. I was convinced that there was no God. But when the practitioner handed me a pen and some paper, I wrote effortlessly, without inconvenience, without pain, without shaking – for the first time in many, many years. I had been healed.

After my healing – and I mean immediately after my healing – I found that my thought had been transformed. I was as certain of the existence of God after my healing as I had been of the nonexistence of God before my healing. It was absolutely as if a light had been turned on in a pitch-black room. From the moment of that healing, I “saw” God. For me it was a dramatic proof of God’s power and existence.

I asked the practitioner what I needed to do to find out more about where that healing had come from. She encouraged me to buy my own copies of the Bible and “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science. So I did that. I opened my heart and read them both.

The interesting thing is that today my natural right-handed handwriting is not only better than my left-handed handwriting, but it’s better than it ever was before the symptoms that made me become left-handed.

Now my approach to life is hugely different from how it was before. For one thing, I wake up every day with great gratitude to God. I would say simply that I am in many ways a new man. I listen for the voice of God in all things. And I’ve had other healings, too, as a result of what I’ve learned in Christian Science.

I now know that I have never been unconnected to God. God was always present in my life, even though I denied His existence. I now see how God was guiding me and rewarding me every day without my help, without my assent, and, sadly, without my gratitude. Now I see God’s goodness, power, and love everywhere.

Adapted from an article published in the March 15, 2010, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Solace from the sea

Kyodo/Reuters
A woman faces the sea to pray while mourning those killed in the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 12th, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. Come back tomorrow for Ned Temko's column on what is and isn't anti-Semitism. And here's an extra read you might enjoy: our readers' answers to how a teacher changed the way they saw themselves.

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