Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting back to paradise

I've read the book Saving Paradise by Brock & Parker and even wrote several pages of notes from it. Naturally, after going through that much work I'd like to share. The book explains why modern Christianity is so messed up. It also sheds new light on key early events in American history. Christianity started with creating paradise, then threw it away. We've been trying to get back to it ever since. That's the short version. The rest of this posting is long because the book is long.

The authors toured many places of Christian art of the first millennium. They were surprised to discover this art never depicted the dead Jesus. That's in contrast to modern Catholicism where a dead Jesus hangs from the cross in every church. Instead, this ancient art usually depicts a paradise. So the two authors did several years of research into the beliefs and practices of Christians over two millennia. They found that indeed the emphasis of the first millennium is on paradise, creating a heaven on earth now, rather than waiting for heaven until after death. Even though life was pretty good (for the times) Christian leaders didn't get everything right. The men rather liked the Roman notion that women should be submissive and bent theology to explain why they were right.

That all changed with Charlemagne. Christianity changed from a religion of life to one of death (details below). We haven't recovered yet.

These are passages and their ideas from the book that caught my attention. Quote marks mean I have taken the passage straight out of the book.

Part 1, Paradise on earth

While the description of how ancients viewed paradise is fascinating I'm more interested in what went wrong. So I have few notes on ancient paradise.

Paradise is a way of life. Member's strengths, weaknesses, needs, and contributions complemented each other. Life is a shared accomplishment. Actions of one matter to others. Members learn to negotiate power and responsibility for the whole. Talents bless many, burdens shared by many.

When the Eucharist, the central rite of Christianity, focuses on the death of Jesus it also focuses blame on who killed him. It separates the forgiven from the guilty, the absolved from unrepentant killers, those who deserve life from those who deserve to die. How can Christians memorialize the crucifixion without being hostile to those of another faith?

In paradise the process of becoming divine was done by the group. There was no individual salvation.

Prior to the 4th Century wisdom was highly prized. However, the definition of martyrdom changed with the emphasis on the innocence of the victims. That idea spread beyond martyrdom. Any power or decision-making ability was corrupting. Innocence was prized. Powerful could only be good if it was used in the benefit of the powerless. The powerful became the kindly helper, the innocent the grateful victims. People were not expected to take charge of their own lives and live in dignity. The powerful no longer needed to create social conditions so that all could live equally. The powerful needed to have a victim.

Icons or other religious imagery were suspect and forbidden. That's because images evoked passionate feelings, including hatred and violence. In other words, propaganda. Images could be used unethically and the community could be led astray. Veneration of icons took the place of actually building community.

Part 2, What went wrong

The Saxons had been harassing Charlemagne's eastern border. For 33 years around 800 CE. Charlemagne terrorized the Saxons and forced religious conformity as a means of making treaties binding. He was annoyed that Christian theology had been freely mingled with pagan ideas by the Saxons. Charlemagne's treatment of the Saxons was both a security issue and an expanding empire issue.

Charlemagne destroyed the Saxon's holy sites -- sacred springs, trees, etc. -- as part of his effort to convert them. That caused Charlemagne and his army to reject the Christian idea of the time that the earth is infused with divine presence. That opened the ecosystem to exploitation.

The Eucharist shifted from a celebration of the resurrection to a reenactment of the crucifixion. The purpose of Christ shifted from redemption and love to judgment. Death was not defeated, but became eternal. Death haunted the West European imagination leading to wide and diffuse anxiety. To be human was to suffer and die. Each man was a killer of Christ and condemned unless he performed sufficient penance, but it was impossible to know how much penance was sufficient. Carolingians used violence to convert pagans, then taught the victims such violence was justified and sanctified.

In 1095 Pope Urban II called a "Peace Council" to call for the First Crusade. As part of his call to arms, he said "Whoever goes on the journey to free the church of God in Jerusalem … can substitute the journey for all penance of sin." (ellipsis in the original) This reversed a thousand years of Christian teaching. War was no longer a sin, but a way to absolve sin, a way to paradise. The penance was so complete a crusader could erase all previous, current, and future sins.

According to Anselm, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, the greatest gift the Christ gave us is his death (not the resurrection). Therefore God took pleasure in that death and the best way for a person to honor that death and to honor God is to die in a Christian cause. This justified holy war and the Crusades.

The First Crusade spurred the creation of holy fighting knights, such as the Templars. These were knights who killed for God. While Jews and Muslims also shared ideas of holy war, the Christian version mixed adoration of the crucifixion, the gift of death, expectation of judgment, and the inability to distinguish between defeat and death or victory and life. Earthly paradise -- the Holy Land -- became a place to conquer and colonize.

"In seeing Christ's suffering on the cross, Abelard felt, people should be moved in pity to blame themselves, entreat forgiveness, and promise to make amends." Peter Abelard lived 1079-1142.

"Abelard confused innocence and impotence with love and implied that no use of power could ever be loving. … His emphasis on selfless love also meant that his total love for Christ the victim of sin involved embracing Christ's suffering without thought of himself. Abelard takes on Christ's pain. Now, instead of a victim of pain and someone to help him, there are two helpless victims of pain, Christ and Abelard. Abelard's love is the compassionate absorption and multiplication of suffering, not its alleviation. Abelard offers no ethical way to use power to stop harm."

"Christianity moved increasingly towards love that was submissive, brokenhearted, and perpetually unrequited, always longing for final fulfillment, The church in western Europe had once been in love with the risen Christ, who joined his bride in the earthly garden of delight and helped her tend it. Beginning in the ninth century, she began to doubt her lover and took a violent Lord into her bed, lay with him, blessed him, and finally took him into the Christian family by marrying him. Erotically enthralled by her seductive abuser, the church spawned devotional pieties of fear, sorrow, torture, and death, whose progeny journeyed into the world determined to destroy their own shadows and neighbors. To solidify this unholy union, the church sacrificed her former love by killing him repeatedly and partaking of his mutilated body. She told herself that conquest, genocide, and the colonization of Jerusalem were God's will, a holy pilgrimage that would someday, if she sacrificed and suffered enough, deliver salvation, end the violence, and restore her to her first love. This delusional pattern would later carry conquistadors and pilgrims to America and leave Jerusalem as one of the most contested cities on the planet. To assuage her broken heart and bleeding body, she told herself that such a marriage was good and pleasing to God. She hung, suspended in eschatological terror and hope, longing elusively for release, relief, and love's fulfillment. They did not come."

In the 14th Century a series of calamities hit Europe. The biggest was the plague, but there were various other devastating diseases. There was also drought and famine and the Hundred Year's War. Wars, epidemics, and disasters killed perhaps 20 million people, half the population. Christianity was no longer built on hope and was not up to the task of being a religion for the people. If such a horror was part of the divine plan for salvation, humans could not find the hope. If God's wrath caused the faithful to suffer so much, divine power was indistinguishable from evil. But if these calamities were outside of God's control, no one was in charge of history and God was irrelevant.

Of course, there were the voices who proclaimed all this suffering was a result of human sin and we only need to return to God's laws. Some even called for another crusade.

Europe's people needed an escape, a way back to paradise. They found it in 4 ways: the legend of Prester John (I won't elaborate), worldwide exploration for the actual Garden of Eden, the Protestant Reformation, and Calvin's resurrection of Eden through Puritanism.

Cristobal Colon (who we know as Christopher Columbus) set sail looking for paradise (which he thought was in India). He found it in the New World. But his heart was too cold to be able to set up a paradise community. Instead, he turned paradise into a way of generating cold cash.

The rallying cry of the Protestants was Sola Sciptura, which translates as Scripture alone. It was a call to return to unsullied Christianity, to be found not in interpretations, but in the pages of the bible. The church had banned bibles in the vernacular, which required the priests to interpret the bible for the people and impose their own meaning on it. With the bible in the hands of the people (thanks to Gutenberg) and in a language they understood they could read and interpret it for themselves. Sermons changed to explain the meaning of the text. Churches were designed around making sure everyone could hear the sermon.

The Puritans came to New England not only for religious freedom, but to create a new Eden out of the wilderness. Their Calvinist faith taught that the world was filled with deceptive images and decoys of the devil. Thus senses were not to be trusted. They could not rely on astute observation to understand the world around them. Instead they relied on biblical interpretation as a guide to the truth. This baffled the natives, who used observation to understand their place in the world.

The natives were sometimes seen as original inhabitants of Eden and thus innocent children. Sometimes they were viewed as Canaanites, the illegitimate inhabitants of the Promised Land, to be rooted out. Mostly they were viewed as agents of Satan, demons in the shape of humans.

"The first colonists saw in America an opportunity to regenerate their fortunes, their spirits, and the power of their church and nation; but the means to that regeneration ultimately became the means of violence, and the myth of regeneration through violence became the structuring metaphor of the American experience."

In 1679 King Philip, a native, unleashed war on the Puritans. The Puritans did not examine how their treatment of the natives prompted the attack. Instead, they viewed the war as God's punishment for straying away from proper observance of their faith. The response to divine punishment was to be stoic endurance. In inflicting horror God proved his love. One should be grateful for such divine attention. The punishing pain led to later glory. The proper response was stricter control over the community. One must be ever vigilant because a tiny thread of hope was all that kept them from the horror of Hell.

"The restless Puritan impulse to build paradise and their obsession with their own piety and redemption remain in white supremacist culture in the United States. Preoccupied with its own needs an anxieties, it tends to regard those it opposes and exploits as important only insofar as they can play a role in a script in which whites are the main characters. Locked within a biblically based master narrative, white society embraces African, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Native Americans as instruments of judgment and as agents of absolution. However, those shaped by such a culture tend to be primarily concerned with the state of their own souls -- their guilt and their longing to be restored to innocence and their need to believe in their own goodness."

Can we create paradise here and now? We yearn for what we had and hope for what we might create. Thus we do not live in the present. We ache for paradise and the ache drives consumerism, the unquenchable need for the unnecessary. This ache for idealized wilderness perversely leads us to harm the environment. This American romanticism is based on the Puritan habit of dividing life. The "good" is to be preserved and the "evil" destroyed. Not surprisingly, snakes are described as evil. But life is sustained by integration and living in the present.

Hosea Ballou (1771-1852) promoted the idea of Christian Universalism. This is the idea that everyone will get to Heaven, not just the ones who believe in God. Some of the other ideas that Ballou promoted: If one believes in a violent God one will imitate that violence and feel justified. If God condemns some to Hell then one human torturing another is acceptable. It makes no sense to attribute to God behaviors we would regard as immoral when a human does them. Violence cannot beget peace.

Some said that without punishment for sin and incentives to be moral why would anyone avoid sin? Ballou responded with a story: Your child has fallen and become dirty and you wash it and give it clean clothes. Do you love it because you washed it or did you wash it because you loved it?

God's love and beauty is what draws people to acts of justice and mercy and draws them to happiness. Loving God does not require enduring misery in this life for happiness in the next. True happiness lay in seeking it for every human being. It requires promoting common good, justice, and well-being for all, including the poor, outcast, imprisoned, and injured. Loving relationships are available here and now. Hell is what people create through cruelty and greed, it isn't eternal punishment after death. Paradise is also available here and now.

Calvinist Puritans saw social justice as a prelude to apocalyptic end times with purifying violence. Universalists worked for reform to fulfill the prayer, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

Though many white elites supported the abolition of slavery they balked at reforms that would disrupt their privileged status of true Americans. Others troubled by slavery still didn't want to let go of the economic advantages.

Theologies that emphasize how the other is like oneself don’t get very far. A community must see people as both kin and other, as a celebration of difference. The work of justice is in paying attention on how difference is used to justify privilege or oppression and to challenge it.

Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) lists six kinds of community sins that combined to kill Jesus: religious bigotry, political power used for private profit instead of public good, a corrupt legal system, mob spirit and mob action which can include whole countries (a well dressed mob is more dangerous than a ragged one because it is more efficient), militarism, and class contempt and class division.

After American slaves were freed lynching was a way for Christian white supremacists to reassert themselves. These were not done by outlaws but were community events with people coming in their Sunday best and holding a picnic. This shows how deeply Christian notions of redemptive violence are ingrained in the American psyche. Such violence benefits from those who teach that selfless love acquiesces to violence.

Strong grief is not something a person can handle alone. Those who are alone survive only by clamping down on all feeling. Within a protecting community grief can lead to restoration and injustice can fuel creative action.

Paradise is for the broken. Within a community shattered lives can recover. Paradise does not mean conflict, despair, and injustice are eliminated, but it means being present, fully feeling, and passionately engaged in the struggle for life.

It is difficult to keep open to human horrors, especially for one who is privileged. It is easy to deny or at least turn away from an injustice that happens to someone else. Simple condemnation can become a dodge. One can become an immune participant to injustice. What is needed is working towards restorative action. A deep affirmation of life's goodness, beauty, love, and grace -- knowing paradise -- allows one to protest injustice. It is living life here and now rather than waiting for an afterlife.

We Christians long for a pristine past and future. We judge this age to be corrupt -- we look for the problems and are suspicious of the rest. But we don't actually pay much attention to the time in which we live. We seek paradise elsewhere. We look for happiness in separation, free from conscience. We get hostility to obligation and limits of what we can consume. Avarice motivates economic aggrandizement, military domination, environmental exploitation, violence, and colonization.

What we should develop instead is salvation that depends on paradise as now. It is based on mutual responsibility and knowing, Paradise does not mean no more struggle, but does mean wrestling with legacies of injustice to bring our culture into accord with paradise. We are to live in ethical grace with strong communities, rituals to train perception, and beauty to give us joy. Ethical grace requires us to share responsibility, act generously, and resist dominating forces. We are to value the distinct gifts of individuals. Beauty calls us to be fully in the world, attentive to details around us, emotionally alive, open to grace, and responsive to injustice.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

We'll definitely pay for it

I mentioned Rand Paul before, the Senate candidate in Kentucky who said we could do without the Civil Rights Act because market forces will take care of the problem. Blogger Pam Spaulding says that idea (and many ideas held by Libertarians) looks great on paper but doesn't make sense in reality. The Civil Rights Act didn't make racism go away, it only made it illegal. The market can't account for deeply-held prejudices, even if letting go of such prejudices means there is a larger pool of customers. Purity of worldview should not take precedence over the complex circumstances of life.

Blogger/essayist Terrence Heath says Rand Paul is trying to have it both ways by saying that Paul claims to not be racist, yet says there should be no laws that ban discrimination. The big problem with that statement is that Paul is not the one affected if the Civil Rights Act is repealed. His privileged life will go on as before. There are lots of other people who will be affected and those effects will cut deeply.

One doesn't have to go all the way back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to see examples of one group proposing laws that will have no effect or will help the lawmakers, but will have disastrous effects on other people. There are enough examples in the last year. And that brings us back to a discussion of the national deficit.

The current GOP mantra is the deficit must be cut. They are getting a lot of Blue Dog Democrats to join their chant. While there are long-term structural problems in the national budget (which are not being addressed by those chanting the mantra), there are plenty of short term problems being short-changed. At the top of the list is job creation. Terrence Heath expands on this idea. Business has figured out how to increase profits without creating jobs. There is no one but government to take up the slack like it did in the 1930s with the WPA. Yet government is slashing works programs, training programs, unemployment benefit programs, and education programs while chanting their mantra. Heath says:

We will let our people go without work. We will even cut off their unemployment benefits. We will subject our children to ever more crowded classrooms. Because we do not believe they are worthy of investment any more.

Well, we won’t have to worry about building a new economy, because we won’t have anyone capable of building it or a workforce capable of sustaining it.

Heath says the choices are even more stark. If we address the human problem first, we'll be able to tackle the fiscal problem in due time. If we address the fiscal problem first, there will be no chance to fix the human problem and America faces oblivion.

Tackle the fiscal problem first and we'll pay for it. We'll pay for it through unemployed Americans who are cut loose -- no prospect of a job and no income to tide them over. We'll pay for it through children who can't get an education. We'll pay for it through underfunded parks, libraries, community colleges, and services that matter to working families. We'll pay for it by telling millions of families to expect a lower standard of living for yourselves, your children, and beyond. That ends the dream of economic mobility.

The deficit hawks have won a few rounds and they have done so without answering -- or providing contemptuous answers -- to some basic questions. And the prez. hasn't demanded those answers. These are questions like: Without government stimulus what does the GOP see as the plausible engine of job creation? What will the effect of massive teacher layoffs have on the education of American children? Why are the working class and the poor made to pay for the sins of the wealthy?

We'll pay for it by shattering the social contract (which leads to fascism) and the concept of a common good. We'll pay for it through increased joblessness -- the more workers out of a job, the slower the recovery, and the more workers out of a job. We'll pay for it through slashed state budgets because of dwindling tax revenue, leading to cut services (for the poor) and the inability to attract new business. We'll pay for it through rising resignation and the loss of the American Dream.

I've written before about the need to address the deficit. By that I mean addressing the long-term structural problems (Social Security/Medicare) and doing so now so that those affected can plan on the changes. I do not mean slashing programs that are meant to prevent the working class from becoming the underclass.

All that leaves me wondering what's really behind the GOP drive to reduce the deficit, though I think I know. One reason is racism. The don't want money to go to those people. Another is they really do want to send the country towards fascism as a way to remain in power.

Putting those parental instincts to good use

I just finished the book The Wild Man by Patricia Nell Warren. I borrowed it from the library in the Affirmations center in Ferndale. I chose it because I had enjoyed her other books The Front Runner, Harlan's Race, and Billy's Boy, which are seen as the top novels in gay fiction. Yes, this is a lesbian writing about men loving men.

Wild Man is about a gay bull fighter and his lover in Spain in 1969. Thankfully the only fight described in detail is one in France where killing the bull is not permitted. The tension that drives the plot is that Spain was still under Franco and the regime was Old Catholic fascist. Of course, that meant they did not tolerate gays (quite the contrast of today's Spain, an early adopter of gay marriage). The matador's brother is trying to be a rising star in the regime.

One enjoyable aspect of the story is that the matador and his lover are trying to restore a game preserve that had become over-hunted. They become conservationists. After the novel the author included a few notes, such as how she came to be living in Spain in the late 1960s. She proposes the idea that while gay couples (where they are allowed to be couples) don't reproduce, they do have an evolutionary purpose. Their parental instincts can be turned to the environment as a whole, nurturing plants and animals, making life better for everyone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pardon me for being skeptical

The big news is there is a compromise in the bill to repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell ban on gays serving openly in the military. Obama has been saying it is a high priority yet hasn't done anything to assure its passage. His Secretary of Defense told Congress not to do anything until their study is done at the end of the year and he and various people around him have said some anti-gay things. Yet Dems in Congress want to push ahead, fearing more GOP lawmakers in November will make the repeal harder.

The compromise seems to be a step in the right direction. Congress will repeal the law and leave the repeal of the policy up to the prez., Sec. Defense, and Joint Chiefs. They'll actually do the right thing only if their review shows the repeal won't affect military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting, and retention. The good news: the ban will no longer be legally required. The bad news: that doesn't mean the ban will go away.

Lots of gay lobbying organizations and Dem lawmakers are praising the compromise and will take advantage of it, telling gay voters, "See! Obama has done something substantial for you! Now give us money for the fall election."

The organization Queer Rising is not convinced. They list these objections:

* Eliminates a timeline for repeal.

* Puts the decision into the hands of Sec. Defense and Joint Chiefs (who would have veto power over repeal) who are not elected. We lose power to persuade them.

* Having "no impact" on readiness, unit cohesion, and the rest is subjective and open to interpretation, making it quite possible that repealing the policy never happens. It could be enough for only one potential recruit to say, "I ain't joining if I have to serve with fags." to mean "recruiting will be negatively impacted." Never mind the many (including gays) who currently won't join because they abhor the current discrimination.

* Obama can blame the Joint Chiefs and Sec. Defense if the ban isn't lifted.

* Lawmakers get credit for something they haven't actually done.

* Gay soldiers are currently discharged for a specific reason -- they're gay. Under the new law the reason can be shrouded in secrecy -- there's a lack of "readiness". Commenters think putting the policy back in Pentagon hands gives permission for gay witch-hunts.

Defenders of the compromise say that without it the repeal wouldn't pass. Some who want the ban repealed say they voted for change, not compromise. Others say that black leaders would not have tolerated a bill that only promised repealing Jim Crow. Given Obama's track record with gays and the squeamish (at least) comments coming from military leaders I remain skeptical that this compromise will actually allow gay soldiers to serve openly.

With over 70% of Americans and over 50% of GOP voters in favor of repeal, why is this so hard?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The pitiful spinster

I wrote before about the claims that Supremes nominee Elena Kagan just might be a lesbian. Since then a friend has come forward to say that Kagan is indeed straight, though has remained single. Julia Baird in Newsweek says with that the tone of comments has shifted from "We can't allow a lesbian on the high court!" to "Ah, the poor dear can't get a date." That moldy claim that spinsters are pitiful. And a brilliant mind is reduced to her (lack of) dating life. Isn't it much more important to discuss her judicial philosophy and her views on the rights of states?

Ezra Klein, also in Newsweek, noted that Chief Supreme Roberts spoke a great line during his confirmation hearings about the justices only being umpires. Roberts, once seated on the court, started his own sweeping activism. So how much did we learn from his hearings?

Kagan has written in the past that the Senate should demand nominee's views on important legal issues. The Supremes have vast power and jurisdiction and its members are there for a long time. We should know more about what we're getting. Does Kagan the nominee agree with her younger self?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

You can protect marriage or be anti-gay

Rand Paul, newly elected GOP Senate candidate from Kentucky (and son of Ron Paul), declared that we no longer need the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Let the market decide the best way to treat black people. Alas, the wisdom of the market fails when many businesses are run by bigots. We still get tyranny of the majority. You can thank the Tea Party for this one. Post-racial America? Not yet.

Enough people believe we should have recognition of gay couples that it's only a matter of time before some type of recognition is available in all states. Alas, that recognition won't always be marriage. Which means things will likely backfire on those "protecting marriage." That's because, based on studies in Europe, many straight couples will decide they want the less binding unions or partnerships that gays are allowed to have. We wouldn't want to discriminate against the straights, now would we? So you're faced with a choice -- save marriage or be anti-gay. You can't have both.

Blogger Daniel Gonzales heard about the rejoicing from a couple because their lesbian daughter broke off a 22 year relationship and became Christian. It made him think of the book, 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality. I don't recommend it. Consider this scenario: A man tells his parents he has finally accepted he is gay and has never been happier. What's a parent to do? The book counsels to tell the son it isn't too late to turn back. In the meantime, the parents should pray the son becomes as miserable as possible. So the loving thing to do is to make someone miserable? I don't buy that brand of Christianity.

Andy Tobias, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, has listed 30 things Obama has done for gays. John Aravosis is not impressed. The big reason is Obama has said a lot of words and has done very little. In particular, Obama has expended no political capital. Out of those 30 things…

One was a lie (it had already been done 15 years ago).
One wasn't actually gay related.
Ten were mere words, hot air apparently signifying nothing.
Six were tiny bits of action such as awarding Presidential Medals of Freedom to two gay icons.
And twelve were actions to the good, including a hate-crimes bill (Obama signed, but made no effort to get it passed).

Missing is any action by Obama on the gay community's big issues: the gay military ban, defense of marriage, employment non-discrimination, bi-national couples, cabinet level positions.

Coupled with that is another blogger lamenting we're tired of Obama ignoring us. I've seen comments that the GOP sweep to power in November is no longer a sure thing. Voters are annoyed with incumbents, but of both parties. However, Obama might be making things worse for Dems by getting gays so upset with him they sit out the election.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reconciling science and God in strange ways

My friend and debate partner wrote to me about a science article in the New York Times. The article is about the latest research in subatomic particles and the tantalizing (at least to subatomic particle researchers) question of why there is more matter than anti-matter. Before your eyes glaze over this posting is not about quark flavors and other such stuff. My friend and debate partner wrote:
Then... the last paragraph:
Joe Lykken, a theorist at Fermilab, said, "So I would not say that this announcement is the equivalent of seeing the face of God, but it might turn out to be the toe of God.”

WHAT is going ON here? Nothing that happens in science can ever get us to "God", much less God's "face" or "toe". That's religious interpretation! Of an immature sort!
Could scientists please tend to their knitting? Could someone please lift Lykken's spokesperson-to-press credentials?

I am not about to offer a defense of Lykken. My friend is right. However, a bit of insight might be useful.

A science has explained more and more things that religion used to explain (like how humans came to be) some highly religious scientists have tried to explain how God works and still be something we should believe in. I've heard about lots of miraculous healings and I believe that God plays a part in them. Now that we're understanding some atomic structure yet so much of it is still mysterious some of these religious scientists have proposed the idea that God takes advantage of atomic uncertainties to manipulate the outcomes God wants. It sounds like a lot of nonsense to me too.

All that comes down to people trying to reconcile science and religion, which is better than religion being antagonistic to science. But better yet would be not making the attempt.

I've got more important things to worry about

1969 Santa Barbara oil spill
1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill off the coast of Brittany
1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power core meltdown
1979 Ixtoc I oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound
2008 Coal-ash spill in Tenessee
2010 29 coal miners die in West Virginia
2010 Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

This is only a few of the items on a very long list of devastations on behalf of energy production. Sharon Begley in Newsweek notes that we don't balance the risk of environmental damage with our energy use. We also have short memories. Enthusiasm for drilling doesn't take long to rebound after a disaster. Why? The answer is simple. We love our SUVs and wide screen TVs too much to care how many birds and beaches are lost in the process of keeping the energy flowing.


In spite of last week's visit by Pope Benedict, the president of Portugal has signed the bill granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. The other countries permitting gays to marry are: Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and parts of USA and Mexico. The prez. isn't signing it because he actually approves of same-sex marriage. Quite the contrary. However, he knows the Parliament will override his veto and he would rather they spend their time on the country's economic crisis. How sweet of him. We'll take a win any way we can get it.

A lesbian bishop!

Mary Glasspool, lesbian, has now been ordained as the second homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church. She will serve in Los Angeles. The attendees had to bypass protesters to get into the arena. The protesters were annoyed that not only is Glasspool a lesbian but that both bishops being consecrated were female. There were only two protesters who made themselves known inside (quickly escorted out). The rest of the ceremony went off without problems.

The ceremony was held in an arena that's part of the Long Beach Convention Center -- at the same time the Long Beach Pride festival was also on the Convention Center grounds. Either one would have been enough to draw Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church "God Hates Fags" clan so how could he resist a twofer? Leave it to the gays of Long Beach to turn a protest into a party. The Phelps gang was soon surrounded by conterprotesters with signs such as these: "I hate Brussels sprouts." "I have a sign." "I can't believe it's not butter." They make as much sense as the Phelps' signs.

You don't want the court to define you

I haven't wanted to bother with this particular scandal -- ho hum, another anti-gay "expert" is caught with his pants down in the company of a rentboy -- but there is now a twist that interests me. George Rekers was paid by the state of Florida to testify against repealing the ban of adoption by gays. He found "Lucien" on a rentboy website and hired him for a 10-day European vacation so that Lucien could "lift his luggage" and provide extensive nude massages. If you really want more detail there are numerous gay blogs happy to share.

Rekers is now threatening a defamation lawsuit because some Florida newspapers have said he's gay, something he hotly denies. If the suit goes to court it will hinge on what is the definition of homosexuality. Is homosexuality an orientation in which one is attracted to people of the same sex -- one who is aroused by same-sex contact? A trial witness from a mental health profession or psychological organization would testify to that commonly accepted definition of the term. However, the anti-gay crowd, of which Rekers had been a head honcho, defines the term differently. There is no such thing as homosexual orientation, there is only homosexual behavior. They insist on this definition because they want to claim everyone is straight, only deviants engage in homosexual behavior, and they can be cured from doing that. This then requires defining homosexual behavior. Rekers can then claim he and Lucien did only certain things (though Rekers was clearly aroused, according to Lucien), but they didn't do those things, so he can't be gay. All a part of the linguistic gymnastics.

What happens, then, when a court says Rekers' definition is nonsense? The court just might confirm what Rekers is trying to avoid by saying, "Yes, you are gay." Commenters wonder if that makes him a Rekersexual. Does Rekers want that risk? Perhaps the court would simply throw the case out by saying accusing someone of being gay is not defamation.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The message you sent got jumbled along the way

I've seen John Corvino discuss and debate gay issues. He teaches ethics at Wayne State University and has made a name for himself as the Gay Moralist. I've heard a lot about Maggie Gallagher, a driving force behind National Organization for Marriage and their victory over gays in the Maine marriage vote. I was surprised to learn that Gallagher no only knows Corvino, but understands that Corvino and his partner are in love. Which makes me wonder what drives her.

Corvino and Gallagher will write a book together in which each will give their side of the gay marriage debate their best shot and each will offer a rebuttal of the other.

As a prelude to the book, Gallagher participated in Corvino's ethics class by audio link. He wrote an essay about what happened. He wanted her to explain to his class why gays should not be allowed to marry. Gays are icky? No. Gays will kidnap kids? No -- she even thinks gays should be allowed to adopt. A church thing? She doesn't say. How does gay marriage undermine straight marriage?

Gallagher says children need mothers and fathers, preferably their biological parents. I'll object to her premise, though Corvino lets it ride. Kids do better with two parents and the studies that examine that issue never included gay couples.

But to continue with her analysis. Since kids need a mom and a dad society promotes marriage as a way to bind the family together. I'll object again. Society promotes marriage for a whole host of reasons, the welfare of the kids being only one of them. And if this were the reason society would provide parents with a whole lot more assistance to make that bind work.

Gallagher concludes her argument with this nugget. If we allow gays to marry and a kid may have two mothers or two fathers then it is no longer possible to sustain the argument that kids need a mom and a dad. The claim would seem bigoted. (Well, yeah, it would.) So to maintain the clarity of the message Gallagher says we must deny marriage to gays.

My response is: Oh honey, that's your best shot? That's it? That was your flimsy excuse to raise millions of dollars and spout all kinds of lies, while keeping this reason silent, to rouse up the populace of Maine to vote against us? Surely there is something a whole lot deeper than that.

But I'll let Corvino continue. We'll take this message issue seriously. An intact family is much better than a broken one. However, there are perhaps 1001 better ways to get that message across than to deny marriage to gays.

Messages matter. And Gallagher's message destroys a few others that are mighty important to hear, such as: Sometimes people marry for love and don't have children. People marry for better or worse, until parted by death. Just as important: families made up of adoptive kids, step-parents, single parents, and gay parents also need society's support. Gallagher's message also says to step, single, and gay parents, "You're family isn't real."

Marriage does send a message. So does it's denial.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

That's because their vision in 1787 was just so amazing

Politics today can get truly bizarre. Elena Kagan at 50 has never married and has no children. Perhaps because she has written things favorable to gays the anti-gay crowd is trumpeting, "SHE'S A LESBIAN!" We can't have that kind of person on the court! She would always rule in favor of the homosexual agenda! (Has nobody paid any attention to the harm gay yet homophobic legislators have been doing?) She should just tell us whether she is or not. And if she doesn't it's an admission that she is.

Though Kagan hasn't, Obama has. Long before he nominated her he said she is straight. Then again, people don't listen to him when he says he was born in Hawaii.

Perhaps we'll see if the Obama team is able to handle this kind of mess.

This storm has brought a variety of responses from the gay blogsphere. One voice says she should put the issue to rest and say so one way or the other. It's no longer shameful. Another asks if Obama is using a Supreme Court nominee to advance the cause of the closet. It's important to ask and cowardly not to tell. A dissenting voice says it would ruin her chances of confirmation if she disclosed a female lover now after being silent for so long (and the only reason for the silence is because she is ashamed of it). Besides, her sex life is of no importance (though Bill Clinton might disagree). A second dissent tells the accusers to offer evidence or shut up.

Aside from this distraction the Fundie smear machine is swinging into action. The National Organization for Marriage (the Fundie group prominent in the Maine marriage battle last year) is convinced that if Kagan is confirmed then gay marriage will be imposed on the rest of the 50 states. The reason they give is Kagan defended the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supremes and "purposefully" did a weak job of it.

Bill Kristol is convinced she is hostile to the military because she barred recruiters from Harvard Law School. Or maybe she tried to steer a middle ground and have it both ways.

Some suggest that if Kagan is confirmed even if she is a lesbian then when any gay related case comes before the court she'll have to sit out the case. Which must mean the only people qualified to sit on the Supreme Court are neutered eunuchs.

Dahlia Lithwick writing in Newsweek (before Kagan's nomination was announced) has an issue that actually has some weight behind it. She is bothered by the criteria that Obama laid out to guide his selection (and apparently resulted in Kagan). He said he wanted the candidate most likely to influence the rest of the court. This court? Can anyone influence the gang of Roberts-Alito-Scalia-Thomas? So Kagan's job will be to win over Kennedy? It would be so much better if the new justice was capable of crystallizing the liberal worldview into fiery dissents. Not long ago the fiery dissenter was Scalia and look where he (and the country) are now.

Anyone want to convince me that Obama didn't blow his chance?

Joseph Ellis of the Washington Post (sorry, no link) takes a swipe at the conservative notion that justices are supposed to read the Constitution only in the way the original authors intended. That's ludicrous. He wrote:

"But the doctrine requires you to believe that the 'miracle at Philadelphia' was a uniquely omniscient occasion when 55 mere mortals were permitted a glimpse of the eternal verities and then embalmed their insights in the document. … We might call it the Immaculate Conception theory of jurisprudence. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the very justices most disposed toward wrapping their opinions in the protective armor of original intent have consistently voted in support of the conservative political agenda championed by the Republican Party."

We're just like everyone else

The review for The Kid by New York Times critic Ben Brantley is in. He says the major message of the show is how normal gay couples are. They act just like straight couples, though with the sex toys left lying about. The same anticipatory jitters, the same sniping, yelling, and reconciliation. Compared to many other families depicted on Broadway, this couple has as much angst as the Brady Bunch. The drawback is that there is a lot less dramatic tension than your average show.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Constitutional rights

So our predominantly Protestant Christian country will have a Supreme Court made up of six Catholics and three Jews. Many are also wondering if Elena Kagan is progressive enough to be a bit of a counterweight to Roberts/Alito/Scalia. At least there is a bit more gender balance.

Though she doesn't have a judicial paper trail, all of her writings are now being carefully parsed to see how she might rule on hot-button issues. Gays are, of course, wondering if Obama dissed us again. Evidence for that comes from only a year ago when she was confirmed for the job of Solicitor General.

Question: Given your rhetoric about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy—you called it “a profound wrong—a moral injustice of the first order”—let me ask this basic question: Do you believe that there is a federal constitutional right to same sex marriage?

Answer: There is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.


One way of parsing that is that the gay marriage cases coming from Calif. and Mass. are doomed. We'll have to get gay marriage through the ballot box and legislative action.

Another is to say that when the question was posed a year ago, that was true. But that has no bearing on whether it will stay true. Is she one (as the GOP hopes) who will only uphold rights specifically spelled out in the Constitution, or is she one who sees the meanings in the Constitution grow as our understanding grows? Signs point to the latter.

And another is that she had to say it to be confirmed. But she did the bob-and-weave thing on many other issues, but not this one.

Yet another view says that marriage is not mentioned in the Constitution, yet it is seen as a fundamental right and the ban on marriage between the races was found to be unconstitutional more than 40 years ago.

That's a lot of oil

Want to get a feel for how big that oil spill in the Gulf is? It can be rather hard to tell in comparison to the Louisiana coast since we don't live there. Someone developed a site that will overlay the spill over someplace we know -- like Detroit. You can enter your own city.

As of May 6 (4 days ago now), when positioned over Detroit it reached from Pelee Island in Lake Erie to Port Huron, from Ann Arbor to the far side of Lake St. Clair, with a tendril reaching onward to London, Ont.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Living family values

June Carbone of University of Missouri-Kansas City has taken a look at family values in red and blue states and found a distinct difference. She wrote a book titled Red Families Vs. Blue Families. She had an interview on NPR with Guy Raz today. Alas, there is no transcript yet, so details are from listening online and pausing to type.

Blue states (those that voted Democratic 2004 & 2008) have lower divorce rates, lower teen pregnancy rates. Put another way, these states stress: grow up, get established, get financially sound, then have a family. A young person has a good idea of a viable marriage partner when one marries near age 30.

Red states have higher divorce rates, higher teen pregnancy rates. In these states it is expected one will avoid teen sex and get married out of college so one is getting established and starting a family at the same time. Marriage is at a younger age and a person doesn't yet know what a viable marriage partner means and can't tell who might fit the criteria.

Meaning, blue states tend to have families that are what the red states say is idea. States where teen pregnancy is dropping are also shifting from red to blue.

So who preaches family values?

Like living in a house that's too big

A Free Press Editorial discusses problems related to residents fleeing Detroit (which they've been doing since 1950) and also the entire metro area. The Detroit Water department supplies water for the whole metro area. Water usage is down 24% in the last decade. Yet, even though there is less income the department still has to maintain the same infrastructure of purifying plants and pipes. The same kind of thing is true for roads and power (though electricity usage hasn't dropped much because we keep coming up with more powerful gadgets that need it). What's a region to do?

Alas, the online version doesn't have the cool population graphic. So I recreated it as best I could. The data is from SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which is the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Livingston, Monroe, and St. Clair and stretches from Toledo's northern suburbs to Ann Arbor, Howell, Oxford, and Port Huron) Note the population for the metro region has been essentially flat since 1970.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I hope you are patient

I heard a little bit about an intriguing story on an NPR show this afternoon about the Ozark Medieval Fortress. An authentic Medieval castle is being built in northern Arkansas (of all places -- one builds where one is offered land). The builders are using local materials and will do all the work according to the current understanding of how builders in the 13th century worked. Building began last year. The site opens this month as a living history museum. Visitors will be able to talk to the workers as they work. They may not be hiring, but they appreciate the help of volunteers. They expect to complete the whole thing in 2030 -- yep, it will take them 20 years.

My friend and debate partner will appreciate the discussion of the rope with 13 knots, which is described under the Construction menu.

Why stop and sing?

I read and enjoyed Dan Savage's book The Kid about what he and his partner (now husband) Terry, a gay couple, went through to adopt a son. I know several of you have enjoyed it too. A musical version of the book opens Off-Broadway on Monday. Here is the story of how the show was put together and some of the decisions they creators had to make.

Some of us dismiss musicals because normal, everyday people don't stop what they are doing and sing about it (perhaps we need to define normal …). The creators actually ask the question, "Why do the characters need to sing?" The immediate answer is because Savage's heartfelt writing about wanting a child made wonderful songs.

The basic plot outline doesn't make much of a musical, so the writers had to delve into the relationship between Dan and Terry, and between them and their parents. They also introduce us to the baby's mother and father. It all sounds quite interesting.

Dan, Terry, and their son (now 12) have seen the show and approve. I wonder what the son thought of having his birth turned into a musical.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Another important court case

We're coming up on the sixth anniversary of gay marriage in Massachusetts! Eight gay couples and three widowers were in federal court in Boston to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which specifies the federal government cannot recognize gay marriages. DOMA also says that states do not have to recognize each others gay marriages, but that provision is not before the court in this case.

The challengers are saying three things: "By singling out only the marriages of same-sex couples, DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution; DOMA represents an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into marriage law, which for 230 years has been legislated by states; and by denying federal protections to families, DOMA burdens the marriages of same-sex couples and their right to maintain family integrity."

No word yet on how long the trial will last or when a decision will come. No doubt there will be an appeal, eventually to the Supremes. This trial is getting a lot less coverage than the Calif. trial that started in January (final arguments next month, a decision sometime after that).

Struggling in an ill-fitting suit

In response to my post yesterday about the conundrum many church people face over gays my friend and debate partner wrote:

My, this is hard work. Logic so intense, it makes my head hurt. I feel very sympathetic. Must the relationship with God always be such a struggle? Must one's religion always bind, like a horribly fit suit of clothes? Are you not as a gay man always fighting yourself in this context? Is it not fundamentally about changing things (the religions dictates of others) that you can never control?

Perhaps spiritual life should begin with a welcoming religious context, where the individual can experience his/her inherent human dignity. I see neither pride nor arrogance in that, only self-confidence and a commitment to survival. Perhaps one should want to be in contact with one's religion rather than tortured by it.

There was a period after I realized I am gay (which is now about a half a lifetime ago) I struggled with being gay v. being Christian. I don't remember it lasting all that long, with the conclusion that God still loves me and the church, at least on this issue, doesn't speak for God. It took a while to find books that supported my personal understanding. Those books usually explain the clobber verses, those seven tiny verses that supposedly "prove" God hates gays. The best of the lot is What the Bible Says -- and Doesn't Say -- about Homosexuality written by Mel White and distributed by Soulforce.

That issue was disposed of quickly for a number of reasons. First, I was not brought up in a fundamentalist denomination. The United Methodist Church has very little doctrine that it demands I believe. I am allowed to make up my own mind about a lot of issues (though the denomination certainly has a viewpoint it recommends).

Second, I had already decided that stories, such as Creation, that get Fundies all riled up are mighty fine allegories, but don't (and are not supposed to) explain what actually happened. To put it another way, I had already accepted the liberal viewpoint of the Bible, which I said yesterday included the people most likely to accept gays.

Third, while I was growing up (and pretty much since) homosexuality was not preached from the pulpit and not a topic of discussion in youth groups. While silence does taint the issue with a bit of shame, it is a lot better than shouted condemnation. However, it was that silence that kept me from figuring out I am gay until well after college.

All that means I had a head start on the conundrum compared to a lot of Christian gay kids. The conundrum of reconciling my faith and my orientation wasn't that much of a struggle. What has been the struggle is getting the rest of the denomination (and all of Christianity) to agree with me.

So, back you the questions posed above.

There are aspects of my being that should not struggle against my religion, my orientation being one of them. I agree that acceptance of me (or anyone) by the religious community should not be a struggle. Whoever walks through our church doors should, of course, be welcomed in a way that upholds their dignity. However, my religion teaches me to love others, even those far different from me, and it is a struggle to learn how to overcome where that conflicts with my personal comfort zone. I'm far better at that now than I was decades ago. My current struggle is to get the rest of my congregation to see that acceptance of others far different from themselves is an advantage for our church. That hasn't been going well.

So, no, my faith does not bind like an ill-fitting suit. I'm not caught in a fight between my orientation and my faith, I am not tortured by it. I do struggle with God, but not over being gay.

Alas, many gay people do struggle with a faith that binds them. My post yesterday is another step in understanding why that still happens.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Facing a central conundrum

Timothy Kincaid takes a look at a central conundrum faced by many of our Christian opponents. He wrote this as a way of explaining why our religious battles are difficult. He starts with three central premises that many church people hold:

* God is good, as opposed to capricious or a bully who likes to torment humans for amusement (as the gods of other cultures are portrayed). Therefore the rules and restrictions given to us are for our benefit and lead to happiness.

* The Bible is divinely inspired and thus an accurate representation of God, God's people, and God's rules for better living.

* Church doctrine accurately represents the Bible.

I personally don't agree with the second and third and would amend the first. I would revise those statements like this.

* God is good, and the rules and restrictions are for our benefit, though many of them were only appropriate for the time in which they were recorded. While God doesn't change (a frequent Fundie claim to say we must uphold Leviticus) our culture, knowledge, and the way we view God does. There are consequences for disobeying the rules -- mostly spoiled relations between people -- but God won't smite us for our disobedience. In addition, God's love for us is not dependent on our ability to follow the rules.

* The Bible is a historical recording of the Jewish and early Christian encounters with God. It is subject to the understanding of the writer. The reason why any particular story is told is because somebody had a life-changing encounter with God.

* Some church doctrine does represent the Bible. A lot doesn't. I've seen too many instances in which church leaders use tortured logic and selected phrases to make sure the Bible "proves" what they want it to prove. Part of this is what the Jews called "fencing the law" -- to make sure the law (such as don't work on the Sabbath) wasn't broken, a lot of auxiliary rules (turning on a light switch is work) were set up around it. Part of it is political. And part of it is reinforcing personal biases.

Back to Kincaid's conundrum.

If God's rules are for our benefit and the Bible clearly says homosexuality is bad, then gays willfully defy God.

Modern science says homosexuality is as naturally occurring as different hair colors, not something a person chooses.

What is a church to do with the discrepancy?

They are faced with 4 options:

* The writers of the Scripture got it wrong and thus Scripture has no authority.

* The readers of the Scripture got it wrong (this could be anyone from the pew-sitter to the top of Church hierarchy), and how could they be wrong when Leviticus says it so plainly?

* Modern science around homosexuality has it wrong.

* God is a bully, who has created some people who have no chance of getting into heaven.

Three out of those four options are highly troubling to many Christians. Is there a way out? Various denominations have come up with responses that fit in the following categories:

1. Liberal interpretation: The Holy Spirit continues to reveal truth and overarching Biblical Principles trump specific troublesome verses. If a passage conflicts with do justice, show mercy, love your neighbor as yourself, then it is relevant only in context or shows the bias of the author. Condemnations of gays are actually about prostitution, abuse of power, and pagan worship. This response best fits what I do.

2. Rethink how scripture is interpreted. Verify the translation is as accurate as possible and delve into the context of the society in which it is written. For example, St. Paul used words that can't be found in other ancient documents so their meaning is unclear. Elsewhere the word eunuch refers to any sexual minority, so the Ethiopian eunuch who is baptized shows that the Leviticus condemnations no longer apply.

2A. Remain in conflict. They recognize both the scientific evidence (and the lives of gay people they know) and the long-held Biblical prohibitions. They may believe it is sin, but won't stand in the way of rights.

3. Deny evidence. Personal testimony trumps scientific evidence. In the same way miracles are viewed, the less empirical is seen as more holy and more truthful -- creationism is more holy than evolution. If God will punish people for being gay, then they deserve it. And since sin is about choice then homosexuality is a choice. The ex-gay is the poster-boy, even though the success rate of change is at zero.

3A. Obfuscate by changing language. Everybody has a heterosexual orientation and there is only homosexual behavior. Even identifying as gay is rebelling against God. So even celibate gays can't be trusted. They might have sympathy if you are struggling to overcome same-sex attractions.

3B. Make excuses. Gays deserve punishment because of the other things they do -- hate God, threaten families, be promiscuous, seduce children. And all gays do these things. A careful tally is kept of all the negative things some gays do, so they can be properly portrayed as evil. Of course, they are convinced they aren't bigoted.

4. Step away from the issue. The contradiction just can't be handled.

4A. Abandon decency and compassion. If God wants to be cruel to gays, well, that's his prerogative. This group tends to be the most vocal.

4B. Abandon faith. If there are no gods there is no need to worry about whether God is fair.

4C. Wait and see. Let the pastor rant about gays. I just won't talk to my gay friends about it and leave it all up to God.

This is a basic conundrum that strikes many at the core of their beliefs. Change doesn't come easily. It will take time. However, when someone faces the conundrum and comes out believing gays should be welcome in the church it is a hard-fought resolution and they won't give it up easily.

A commenter sees the whole conflict as being between domination theology and liberation theology. Domination theology says everything declared to be a sin must be eliminated and society must strive to be a place where only good works are allowed. Humans are basically corrupt, so goodness must be coerced. Liberation theology uses the standard "love God and your neighbor" to evaluate the rest of the Bible. Given a chance humans can recognize good. The shift from monarchy to democracy is part of the shift from domination to liberation. The change must come from within the church. Since the church is such a major player in our culture the pains of this shift affect everyone.

In response to my posting on how anti-gay organizations portray gays as scary in order to justify keeping petition signer names secret, my friend and debate partner wrote:

Scary gays -- say what? -- a silly oxymoron, 0% credible. Buff ain't the same as tough. Comedians in gay bars all over the country must be having a field day with this.

He's right. Very few people are buying that line, especially compared to the intimidation, violence, and killing done against gay and transgender people.

Monday, May 3, 2010

What if we swapped races in the story?

Essayist Terrence Heath proposes a mental exercise. Take a prominent story in the news and change the race of the participants. In what ways does the story resonate differently? For example:

There was a recent march in Washington promoting gun ownership and Second Amendment rights. Most of the participants were white. How is the story different if they were mostly black? Mostly Muslim?

There were white health care reform protesters shouting racial slurs against black congressmen who had voted for it. What if the protesters were black and the congressmen white?

Most of the Tea Party protesters are white, very conservative, married, older than 45, and angry. They make up about 4% of the population, yet command a great amount of attention. What if they were black instead of white?

Terrence believes that in all three cases the media would pay a lot less attention. In the second and third scenarios I would agree. Terrence explains that blacks aren't allowed to be angry because that implies you have something to be angry about. Being angry means there is something in the culture to which you're entitled and you're not getting it. And blacks are supposedly not entitled to anything.

But I disagree that blacks or (especially) Muslims marching to protect second amendment rights would also be ignored. Such a rally would scare the living daylights out of many whites. They might form an insurrection against us.

A theological impossibility

Jon Meacham in Newsweek wrote an essay in response to the federal judge in Wisconsin who ruled the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional because it was state-sponsored religion. Alas, the Newsweek search won't provide a link. His essay is about reasons why the separation between church and state should be maintained. The first few are the traditional reasons from the secular side:

* Human freedom extends to freedom of conscience.

* With the separation America has created a free "market" in which religion can take it's own stand in the culture.

However, the rest of his reasons are religious.

* Meddling by the state corrupts the religion. Too many rulers have used faith to justify evil.

* Jesus refused to be a government ruler and said, "My kingdom is not of this world."

* St. Paul wrote that God does not show partiality among nations ("neither Jew nor Greek"), so no nation can claim the status of being blessed by God. God is not concerned with whether a person is American or Norwegian.

* If God gave us free will -- the choice to believe or not -- than no person should try to force another to declare belief.

Thus, a Christian Nation is a theological impossibility. Faith coerced is not faith, but tyranny.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Botched primary job

Christopher Hitchens, avowed atheist, has an essay in Newsweek wondering why the Pope hasn't been brought in for questioning about his role in the growing child molestation scandal. He goes on to document that for many years as Cardinal Ratzinger his main job was damage control around the scandal and he did a mighty poor job of it. That questioning may happen. Various victim lawsuits are making their way towards the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. The pope can't be granted diplomatic immunity because no country regards Vatican City as a separate state. So if the pope travels away from Rome -- he's planning a trip to Britain soon -- one of the scandal's victims could hand him a subpoena. Alas, Newsweek search doesn't provide a link.

Who gives the orders around here?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote a letter to Congress saying you had better not repeal the ban on gays in the military until we're done with our study! Wasn't the study about how to repeal the ban, not whether it should be repealed? And wasn't Gates the guy who just overturned a ban on women serving in submarines by essentially giving his subordinates an order to get it done? Doesn't the DoD take orders from Congress and the Prez., not give them? Surely Congress can write a bill (and probably has) that says the ban will be lifted after the study is done and will use the study's guidelines for a smooth implementation.

Some wonder if Gates, a Bush holdover, is using the study to push a possible repeal into the next Congress where more GOP members will make it harder or perhaps impossible. Which could push repeal into 2013. Some wonder also if the Obama team is thoroughly spooked by what happened to Clinton when the ban was enacted, not paying attention to how much support there is for its repeal, even among conservatives.

Spill, baby, spill

An image of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill from last Tuesday.

And images from yesterday. The spill is easily 60 miles east-to-west.

Be careful with your justification

Let's see. If a woman (well, any person) signs a petition calling down bad things on gay people she has a right to privacy. If a woman is pregnant and considering abortion she doesn't have a right to privacy. But consistent logic isn't our opponent's strong suit.

If petition organizers demand the signers of their documents be kept private because gay people are so scary and intimidating, then when privacy can't be maintained because of court order future petitions won't gather enough signatures. Because of this bit of logic (it does occasionally sink in) the folks in Washington state who were before the Supremes last week to protect privacy are now keeping very quiet.

That hasn't stopped a national organization Concerned Women for America from taking up the cry about the scary gays, but with a twist. Yeah, gays are scary and intimidating, but we have a just cause and you should, in the same manner that John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, be willing to sign petitions and be a martyr over it if it comes to that. We're happy those scary gays haven't committed murder yet, but we'll be ready to stand up to them if they do.

Ah, what's a little fear-mongering between friends?