aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The Market and Intelligent Design (reprise)
As I watch Nova’s Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, I am reminded again of a piece by John Allen Paulos.
Paulos says that evolution’s been proven and Intelligent Design refuted, but “rehashing the refutation” isn’t his goal because “those who reject evolution are usually immune to such arguments.”
Rather, what he does is point to what he calls ”a surprising crossing of political lines:”
Let me begin by asking how it is that modern free market economies are as complex as they are, boasting amazingly elaborate production, distribution and communication systems? Go into almost any drug store and you can find your favourite candy bar. And what’s true at the personal level is true at the industrial level. Somehow there are enough ball bearings and computer chips in just the right places in factories all over the country. The physical infrastructure and communication networks are also marvels of integrated complexity. Fuel supplies are, by and large, where they’re needed. Email reaches you in Miami as well as in Milwaukee, not to mention Barcelona and Bangkok.
The natural question, discussed first by Adam Smith and later by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper among others, is who designed this marvel of complexity? Which commissar decreed the number of packets of dental floss for each retail outlet? The answer, of course, is that no economic god designed this system. It emerged and grew by itself. No one argues that all the components of the candy bar distribution system must have been put into place at once, or else there would be no Snickers at the corner store.
So far, so good. What is more than a bit odd, however, is that some of the most ardent opponents of Darwinian evolution ÃƒÂ³ for example, many fundamentalist Christians ÃƒÂ³ are among the most ardent supporters of the free market. They accept the market’s complexity without qualm, yet insist the complexity of biological phenomena requires a designer.
They would reject the idea that there is or should be central planning in the economy. They would point out that simple economic exchanges which are beneficial to people become entrenched and then gradually modified as they become part of larger systems of exchange, while those that are not beneficial die out. Yet some of these same people refuse to believe natural selection and “blind processes” can lead to biological order arising spontaneously.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Amy Sullivan says Hillary’s a “moral conservative”
Amy Sullivan, not unlike Hillary Clinton, has legions of detractors on the left and on the right. She’s a liberal and a Christian, an oxymoron to some on both sides. Her belief that Hillary Clinton is a “moral conservative,” voiced Thursday on Tucker Carlson’s show, is a shining example of why:
TUCKER CARLSON: What are her core beliefs?
AMY SULLIVAN: On foreign policy, she is a little more hawkish than the rest of the Democratic Party, and certainly more than the primary base is. It seems that on social issues, by which I mean kind of welfare and economic issues [economic issues are social issues?], she’s fairly liberal. But she’s a moral conservative. Which is to say that she also gets behind, you know, things like values issues. She’s endorsed a plan to lower abortion rates that actually just passed through the House and Senate conference committee this week.
TUCKER CARLSON: She also has come out in support of partial-birth abortion, against the vast majority of Americans, at least as measured by poll numbers. So that suggests that’s an issue she really believes in.
SULLIVAN: But she also stood up to the choice community a few years ago and declared that abortion was a tragedy.
CARLSON: Hmm. Well, that’s not, I mean, her husband has said the same thing. That’s not really standing up-
SULLIVAN: "Safe, legal and rare," but she was the one who started it, safe, legal and rare first.
CARLSON: Has she ever suggested placing any restriction of any kind on abortion, limiting for instance abortion for sex selection? Or any restriction, of any kind. Ever? I must have missed it. Has she?
SULLIVAN: I think she’s focused more on preventing unwanted pregnancies and providing support for women who are pregnant and want to have their babies but aren’t sure that they can afford it.
Via Mark Finkelstein, a conservative appalled to find “that she’s been a member of "Faithful Democrats" and the "Progressive Faith Media" where her bio states that she formerly served as an "aid" [sic—at least we hope so] to Senator Tom Daschle.”
I’m an atheist in Sullivan’s camp. And just as spelling-empaired too.
Evangelical opportunity coming for Democrats?
The other day the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Richard Land, said on All Things Considered:
NORRIS: Now, even though that evangelical Christians are often painted as a monolithic bloc, how do Democratic or independent evangelicals fit in this picture?
Dr. LAND: Well, the majority of evangelicals do not identify themselves as either Republicans or Democrats. And let me speak now for the constituency I know best, which is the Southern Baptist constituency, which is 16.4 million folks and 43,700 churches. Most of them did not grow up in Republican homes. Most of them have been voting solidly Republican starting with the 1980 presidential election. But they’ve not been doing so because they see themselves as voting Republican. They see themselves as voting pro-life.
And if the Republicans are foolish enough to take the life issue off the table - that bright-line distinction - then they have given the Democrats the license to go hunting for evangelical and conservative social Catholic voters, because they’re not nearly as convinced that the Republican Party is right when it comes to some economic justice issues. They’re not nearly as convinced that the Republican Party is right when it comes to some environmental issues and they’re not nearly as convinced that the Republicans are right when it comes to some of the racial reconciliation issues.
An absolutely fascinating analysis; I just hadn’t thought of it that way. If you remove abortion from the equation, Baptists may align more with Democrats on race, the environment and economic issues. Wow!
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
A word from Sister Merry Peter, SPI
It amazes me how far the story of sisters taking communion from the Archbishop travels and how, after so much media attention, a basic lie about this story continues to be repeated- most often unintentionally.
I want to share with you and your friends, that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence did NOT make that video (seen on YouTube and run in ceaseless loops on Fox News and Bill O’Reilly). If you knew us well, you would have realized that, since the lighting is atrocious and the angle very unflattering!
The video was actually shot by a right-wing, very homophobic group based in San Jose, CA called Quo Domine. They filmed in secret and then sent the tape to other right wing blogs like “Americans for Truth” and to Fox News.
Their intention was to create a controversy that would perpetuate the right-wing attack on “San Francisco values.”
The group has attacked Most Holy Redeemer parish in the past, because they vehemently oppose the church’s open ministry to queer people, whom they believe are living in sin and should repent. The group holds a fundamentalist inspired vision of the Church that does not welcome diversity.
The sisters who attended that day did so because they, like others in the Castro-neighbourhood parish, genuinely wanted to welcome the bishop on his first pastoral visit and because they wanted to remind him that this was a gay-affirming parish.
They were dressed in formal habits not because they sought to mock nuns, but because they ARE nuns, and this is the way we dress.
Neither the sisters in presenting themselves for communion, or the archbishop in giving it to them, did anything wrong. Catholic teaching is clear in its guidelines to eucharistic ministers who must give communion to anyone presenting for it unless they know that person to be in a state of unrepented mortal sin.
You may disagree with our politics and think our make up less than flattering, but last time I checked, being a drag nun was not a mortal sin!
Many of those angered by the sisters’ presence are angry because they think WE shot that video or because they feel we MOCK nuns.
As you can read on the official statement at the Sisters Website (http://www.thesisters.org) we celebrate the traditional vocations of religious women and choose to live them outside the convent walls. Like countless nuns before us, we dress in attire that identifies us with our particular community, and, in our case, enables us to reach people who would never be touched by organized religion.
Our vows, which we profess for life, call us to raise joy and remove guilt and shame. Living these vows often puts us at odds with church hierarchy, as it does with politicians and even queer community leaders, whenever any of them use their power or exposure to reinforce shameful stereotypes or hateful and divisive ideology.
We’re well aware that our “look” can be shocking for those not accustomed to us. But it most often leaves people lauging, and we see laughter as the open space between expectation and judgement where we have an opportunity to reach through stereotypes and bigotry directly into another’s heart. Many healing and life-changing blessings have come out of these spontaneous encounters.
It has saddened us that the archbishop, who knew exactly who these two nuns were, has first pretended not to know us and now, caved in to the pressure of the right-wing media. He missed a great teaching moment in which to remind the faithful of the gospel values of compassion and honesty and to oppose the right-wing attack on truth and the freedom of worship and expresssion.
I appreciate all you do as a blogger to keep the community aware of what’s going on. It’s an important service!
So, I just want to take a moment to share the facts behind the story and hope it helps you and your readers get a better sense of how this all started.
After 30 years of Indulgent Service, we’re not afraid of a bit of controversy and know how to spin a story as well as anyone! But we also know that the truth matters and that it’s a better starting place for honest and fruitful dialogue.
Thanks for all your great writing and for letting me have a chance to share my thoughts with you.
With indulgent gratitude,
Sr. Merry Peter, SPI, Mistress of Missions
* Her note is in response to my post, Assimilate or agitate?
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
A model priest
Andrew Sullivan, to the best of my knowledge a practicing Catholic, points to:
James Alison, a man of the Gospels in every sense and an English gay Catholic priest, is always worth listening to. This lecture, “Love Your Enemy: Within A Divided Self,” is particularly sharp.
Andrew’s money quote:
For people like me, Senator Craig is, in a very obvious sense, an enemy: he has been a solid functionary of the system of hatred which has used people like me as a wedge issue to frighten people into acquiescence with other, and far more serious forms of evildoing. A system of hatred which is, thank heavens, far less strong in this country now than it is in the United States, and far less strong than it was in this country as recently as fifteen years ago. I say this, since there is an obvious sense in which I, as a child of my culture, am tempted to rejoice in the discomfiture of my enemy, to depict Senator Craig as the “not me” which gives me a tidy little identity. It was in this context that I was very moved to read a piece by one of the gay-bloggers in the US, fairly shortly after the Craig story broke, which helped remind me of the truth of the Gospel.
This blogger, whose name I cannot now remember, showed me something which enabled me to see sameness rather than difference.
He pointed out that Senator Craig was born in 1945, in rural Idaho. When he was ten years old, in 1955, there was a scandal in Boise, the Idaho State Capital, not too far from where young Larry lived. It was the big tabloid gay scandal of the 1950’s, coming just as America was in the grip of the McCarthy witch hunts, themselves helped along nicely by at least two self-hating gay men, “killer fruits” as Truman Capote wrily called them: Roy Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover. It was revealed that in Boise, of all unlikely places, there was a network of public officials and influential citizens employing the services of a group of rent boys. Well, you can imagine what sort of impact the news of all this, the sensation of it, the hatred it revealed, might have had on a ten year old boy. It might well have taught him that if he wanted to grow up being good, then the one thing, above all else, that he was not, was gay (or whatever approximation to that word existed in his milieu at that time). A boy like that might well have been taught by his culture, just as he came close to puberty, simultaneously who he was, and who he was not; and faced with any little boy’s desire to grow up to be good, he may have been locked into a form of denial and self-hatred which could then perpetuate itself for many years thereafter.
Now you will notice that I have used the subjunctive form, “may”, and “mightÃ¢â‚¬Â�, throughout this description, because I don’t know Senator Craig personally, nor, I suspect, did the blogger who pointed out these background dates and events. But as I read the blog, I did remember a ten year old boy whom I knew in this country, fifteen or so years later, and so already in a much easier cultural climate, who found himself impossibly riven between the growing knowledge of who he was and the absolute cultural imperative that he not be that thing. Even in the much easier cultural climate of Britain in the early seventies that little boy came as close as dammit to opting for public “goodness” and success, denial and dishonesty, instead of the long route through the mystery of forgiveness and integration which was later offered to him by the Catholic Faith.
That little boy is of course myself, and what the blogger did for me was open up the possibility of my seeing Senator Craig not as an enemy, but as someone like me, riven by the same things I am riven, driven by the same things as those by which I am driven - “mon semblable, mon frÃƒÂ¨re”.
Born in 1954, I was riven too. I got lucky.
A priest comes out
I should say that I was raised catholic. And that I’ve known a fair number of actively gay Catholic priests in my day. I have never been friendly or close to one. I do not understand the moral gymnastics it takes to reconcile their lifestyle. If they’re going to be gay they should be out about it, an admonition one priest apparently took to heart this weekend:
Before a packed church of some 400 on the campus of the famed St. Joseph’s University, Father Thomas J. Brennan announced that he is homosexual. During the Mass he spoke of his homosexuality as one of “the worst kept secrets” on campus. He failed however to mention that homosexual acts are considered intrinsically evil by the Catholic Church.
Fr. Brennan, S.J., is an Assistant Professor of English at the University, who on his website lists “lesbian and gay studies” under “general fields of professional interest”.
The announcement came at the 10pm Mass to a congregation of mostly students and a smattering of alumni.
With that announcement comes a certainty that he won’t be coming on to Catholic school children. And no comment from the university. About those suspicions (aren’t there always some?) but not for the reasons one might expect:
Archbold, an alumnus of St. Joseph’s, suggested that suspicions on campus related to Fr. Brennan’s homosexuality may have been due to his having written a chapter in the book “Jesuit Postmodern” which was entitled “A Tale of Two Comings Out: Priest and Gay on a Catholic Campus.”
Right on, sisters!
Let’s start off with this rest stop bust of 20 men for gay sex off Interstate 684:
Among those arrested was the Rev. Gary Mead, a Catholic priest from Millwood assigned to St. Gregory Barbarigo parish in Garnerville. Police said he fondled an undercover officer and was charged with forcible touching.
Mead, 44, was previously assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Wappingers Falls and, in the late 1990s, was parochial vicar at Holy Family parish in New Rochelle. A message left yesterday with the Archdiocese of New York was not immediately returned.
The clincher to this particularly sorry story is this: The priest was the only one out of the 20 who was NOT married!
[I]n 2003, a grand jury concluded that Placa was at the center of a diocese-wide effort to cover up nearly 60 allegations of sexual abuse by its priests. Here’s the grand jury report -- you can read it for yourself. Placa is “Priest F,” according to numerous published reports.
Going back a bit, there’s George Bush’s Catholic outreach coordinator, 54-year-old Deal Hudson, who was outed as a sexual predator for taking advantage of a drunken 18-year old while he was a professor.
From Rome we have Monsignor Tommaso Stenico who was suspended from the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, which oversees the conduct of priests. He claims to have a list of others that he drew up because he was miffed at how long it took for him to be named bishop:
Father Tommaso Stenico, 60, had “a detailed dossier” of all the homosexual clerics at Vatican “with a list of names and circumstances implicating a certain number of priests and even bishops working at the Curia,” Ignazio Ingrao, reporter for the conservative news weekly said.[...]
A hidden camera in his office showed the priest, who worked in a Vatican department managing the 400,000 Roman Catholic priests around the world, declaring himself an “active homosexual” and making sexual advances to a young man.
On October 1, Italian television station La7 aired footage from the encounter showing the two men with their faces blurred.
Stenico argued he had been trapped and had falsely stated he was homosexual “in order to unmask those who really are.”
In Southern California, where the Roman Catholic Church has agreed to pay victims of pedophile priests $660 million, the archdiocese is ordering nuns out of convents so the buildings can be sold to fund the out-of-court settlement.
And finally there’s the Catholic school principal facing a prostitution charge after Louisville, KY police found him dressed like a woman and loitering in an alley.
That’s just the stuff I’m willing to post. The church has its challenges. Denial is no way to address them.
* In case you missed it, this is the story that got me so angry that I started on this tear.
Assimilate or agitate?
In a recent post I praised the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and pointed to a protest in which two Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence receiving communion from Archbishop George Niederauer in San Francisco.
In comments, a new friend objects:
I know the Sisters do charitable work, but I have a problem with this stunt. I’m considering the people who went there to celebrate Sunday mass, and found themselves cast into an unwilling role in a videotaped political drama. I don’t think that is fair.
My suspicion is that the Sisters did it because they wanted to provoke a bigoted reaction. I’m sure Catholics could go to gay bars, order a few beers, and start saying the rosary, and that might provoke a similar reaction. In general, I think if we want tolerant society, it is best to refrain from things like this, and allow different types of people some space to be themselves.
You know, comfortable in middle age, I whole-heartedly agree. Though I’m not as sure I want a “tolerant” society, I think I may prefer a society that values “equality and justice.”
I’m not old enough to remember those first gay rights demonstrations. I was, however, lucky enough to sit with one who organized then and understand their belief that the only way their belief that the best way to get their message heard was to dress in jackets and ties and skirts.
I was equally lucky to have heard Sylvia Rivera - whose story may prevail among others more through the sheer volume of her telling than for the fact of it - talk about the night of the Stonewall riots, in which a standard issue bar raid became the violent birth of the modern gay rights movement.
Then yesterday I was disgusted to read this:
A prominent Jesuit priest accused of sexually victimizing teenage boys who were his valets as he traveled the world leading Roman Catholic spiritual retreats was taken into federal custody yesterday in Chicago. [...]
Victims’ lawyers released documents this week that showed that as far back as 1969 parents had contacted Jesuit officials to report that Father McGuire was behaving in sexually incorrect ways with their sons.
The order also received complaint letters from parents in 1993, 1994, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003.
In that time, Father McGuire traveled alone with teenagers as young as 13, usually sharing a room and often a bed, according to the affidavit unsealed yesterday.
The actions continued despite orders from his Jesuit superiors in the Chicago Province in 1991 instructing Father McGuire not to travel on overnight trips “with any boy or girl under the age of 18 and, preferably, even under the age of 21.Ã¢â‚¬Â�
In 2001, Father McGuire was ordered not to travel or share a room with anyone younger than 30.
Investigators in the United States attorney’s office in Chicago interviewed three men who said that as teenagers they traveled with Father McGuire to dozens of states and overseas, often cleaning his laundry, cooking, helping him shower and giving him massages and shots for diabetes.
They said Father McGuire repeatedly showed them pornographic magazines and movies, sexually abused them and intimidated them into remaining silent.
Sometimes after the abuse, he would perform the rite of absolution. One of the reported victims said the first time Father McGuire molested him was at confession, when he was 9. The parents had considered it an honor when the prominent priest mentored their sons.
If you believe, as I do, that the institution of the church is perpetuating these behaviors through its denial and its outdated and oppressive practices; if you believe that those praying in the pews must be made uncomfortable because we’ve seen decades of this damage and there is no end in sight; then you may understand what the Sisters’ protest is about.
You won’t find me receiving communion in a nun’s habit (and I’m as supportive as can be of those who are working within the church to change things) but I believe we need both the agitators and the assimilationists. And I affirm here again my support for those who are willing to do the hard work of peaceful protest.
Monday, November 05, 2007
The turning of an atheist
Antony Flew wrote a short paper in 1950 arguing that “God” is too vague a concept to be meaningful. It became a heroic tract for committed atheists, and converting Flew became the mission of a determined few Christians.
The fruits of their labor, “There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind,” has just been released. In the NYTimes Magazine Mark Oppenheimer finds things are a good bit murkier for the long retired eighty-four year old philosopher:
As he himself conceded, he had not written his book.
“This is really Roy’s doing,” he said, before I had even figured out a polite way to ask. “He showed it to me, and I said O.K. I’m too old for this kind of work!”
When I asked Varghese, he freely admitted that the book was his idea and that he had done all the original writing for it. But he made the book sound like more of a joint effort - slightly more, anyway. “There was stuff he had written before, and some of that was adapted to this,” Varghese said. “There is stuff he’d written to me in correspondence, and I organized a lot of it. And I had interviews with him. So those three elements went into it. Oh, and I exposed him to certain authors and got his views on them. We pulled it together. And then to make it more reader-friendly, HarperCollins had a more popular author go through it.”
So even the ghostwriter had a ghostwriter: Bob Hostetler, an evangelical pastor and author from Ohio, rewrote many passages, especially in the section that narrates Flew’s childhood. With three authors, how much Flew was left in the book? “He went through everything, was happy with everything,” Varghese said.
In the end, neither side gets a clear win, though each can use the man to buttress their unwinable argument. And Flew himself:
From the start, the believers’ affection for Antony Flew was not unrequited. When Flew met Christians who claimed to have new, scientific proof of the existence of God, he quickly became again the young graduate student who embarked on a study of the paranormal when all his colleagues were committed to strict rationalism. He may, too, have connected with the child who was raised in his parents’ warm, faithful Methodism. Flew’s colleagues will wonder how he could sign a petition to the prime minister in favor of intelligent design, but it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least. At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses, Antony Flew has quietly switched sides, just following the evidence as it has been explained to him, blissfully unaware of what others have at stake.
SEE ALSO: On atheists in foxholes.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The Religious Right: the salt is losing its flavor; it’s sand
The headline is a quote from Mike Huckabee in today’s Sunday Magazine cover story.
For the piece, David D. Kirkpatrick goes to Wichita, Kansas - “as close as any place to the heart of conservative Christian America” - to see “how the world was looking from the pulpits and pews.”
He finds a leadership split along generational and theological lines. He calls it The Evangelical Crackup:
Wondering how those theological and political debates were unfolding in conservative Wichita, I sought out the Rev. Gene Carlson, another prominent conservative Christian pastor who left his church last year. He spent four decades as the senior pastor of the Westlink Christian Church, expanding it to 7,000 members. He was one of the most important local leaders of the Summer of Mercy abortion protests. He tapped Westlink’s collection plate to help finance its operations and even led a battalion of about 40 clergy members and hundreds of lay people to jail in an act of civil disobedience.
Sitting with his wife in a quiet living room with teddy bears on the bookshelves, Carlson, who is 70, told me he is one member of the movement’s founding generation who has had second thoughts. He said he still considers abortion evil. He called the anti-abortion protests “prophetic,” in the sense of the Old Testament prophets who warned of God’s wrath. But Carlson was blunt about the results. “It didn’t really change abortion,” he said.
“I thought in my enthusiasm,” he told me with a smile, “that somehow we could band together and change things politically and everything will be fine.” But the closing of Dr. Tiller’s clinic was fleeting. Electing Christian politicians never seemed to change much. “When you mix politics and religion,” Carlson said, “you get politics.”
In more recent battles, Carlson has hung back. On the Sunday before the referendum on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Carlson reminded his congregation that homosexuality was hardly the only form of sex the Bible condemned. Any extramarital sex is a sin, he told his congregation, so they should not point fingers.
“We wouldn’t want to exclude some group because we thought their sin was worse than ours,” Carlson told me with a laugh.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
More Free Speech Follies
Fox explains censoring Emmy comments:
When a federal appeals court ruled last summer that broadcast networks were not responsible for censoring “fleeting expletives” uttered on television, Fox hailed it as a victory for viewers, saying they could decide themselves “what is appropriate viewing for their home.”
But when some performers and award winners blurted out expletives on Sunday night on Fox’s broadcast of the 59th Primetime Emmys Ã¢â‚¬” including one that came during antiwar comments - Fox censors hit the delete button, leaving viewers with confusing seconds of dead air and wondering whether the censorship was of language or of political views. Fox said it was only language.
Off the record a Fox executive said the network believed that the “fleeting expletives” ruling did not take away its responsibility to keep objectionable language off broadcast television. Howard Kurtz said said yesterday, “Fox was censoring the news.” Here’s Sally uncensored
Even more entertaining is Kathy Griffin who said in her speech (the night before), “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus. This award is my God now.”
*Sigh* Oh, how the outrage now flows from the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue and other annointed keepers of “the faith”. How dare someone use slurs to defame so many people’s personal choice of self-expression! (Remember how loudly Donohue and other Christian leaders leaped to defend John Edwards when Ann Coulter was calling him “faggot”? Oh, right, they didn’t.)
Weren’t these the same people who cried “censorship” and derided the capitulation to Muslim fanatics when US newspapers wouldn’t reprint Danish cartoons deemed offensive to Muhammad?
Russ goes on at some length to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the Christianists are wrong; we’re not a Christian Nation. Unfortunately, the folks who need convincing won’t be reading. And if they did, they’d be unconvinced.
Me, I find that most of us believe the First Amendment means “I get to say what I want to say… but you have gone too far!” Meanwhile, the folks who own the megaphones that drown you and me out have bought and paid for their free speech. They really do get to say, “I get to say what I want to say. You don’t.”
I still aspire to the Sunsteinian notion that the First Amendment right to say whatever I want to say is rooted in the small ‘d’ democratic desire for a polity informed through exposure to a multiplicity of viewpoints.
We need to move toward that “multiplicity of viewpoints” standard - and just slightly away from the “I get to say what I want to say” standard - to take just some of those megaphones away from the few de facto censors who own them.
SEE ALSO: Joe Gandelman’s “They hated her, they really, really hated her” roundup.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Mother Teresa’s doubt
A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever - or, as the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”
It only makes her more of a saint to me. I imagine my mother is, on the other hand, having a conniption.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Atheists, foxholes and the final blow
ELLEN JOHNSON: We’re all familiar with phrases, like - you know, I have to say it - Jews are cheap, Italians are in the Mafia, Blacks are on welfare, gays are promiscuous, and atheists are immoral.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ellen Johnson is the president of American Atheists. But the phrase she hates most of all goes a little something like this.
KATIE COURIC: Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
BOB SCHIEFFER: Wartime, there are no atheists in foxholes.
JOHN BURNETT: To amend the old saying about foxholes, there are no atheists driving trucks in Iraq.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That was CBS’s Katie Couric and Bob Schieffer, and NPR’s John Burnett. Those were just the three we got tape of. News people say it all the time. Ellen Johnson.
ELLEN JOHNSON: It’s demeaning to atheists. It’s saying that under very dire circumstances or frightening situations, atheists will stop being atheists. They will start believing. And this is really just a wish on the part of the religious, because it’s not based in fact.
JOHN BURNETT: I thought it was a good line for the tape.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: NPR’s John Burnett.
JOHN BURNETT: And I didn’t realize that it was so offensive to atheists. And I learned that in spades after this story came out. They spammed me for weeks with e-mail, saying, we’re outraged. So now I know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And did you sort of see their point?
JOHN BURNETT: I do see their point. I literally hadn’t thought about it before. And, frankly, I will think twice about using the phrase again.
Also on the program, L.A. Times reporter Bill Lobdell, who was in the news again because his personal account of losing his born-again Christian faith after eight years on the religion beat was reprinted in The Week (evidently magazines turn to reruns in August, too).
The final blow came in a Portland courtroom. It was a hearing for a mother whose child was sick. She was trying to get more child support from the child’s dad, who happened to be a Catholic priest. And she really lived a miserable life. She lived in a friend’s basement for free. They got food from the food bank.
And the priest was on the stand. He had a great lawyer - just the sharpest attorney. She couldn’t afford one, and so it was this mom, basically, against this high-priced lawyer. And his defense was, I took a vow of poverty and I don’t have any money to give.
You know, I sat there and watched the Catholic Church pay for these high-priced lawyers so their priest could get out of paying child support. I saw the mom being crushed by this machine. And I sat there in the courtroom and I wasn’t surprised. I kind of lost that sense of outrage, even.
And at that point, I realized I just don’t believe any of this stuff anymore, and called my wife on the cell phone and just said, you know, I needed to get off this religion beat. It’s over.
I’m off to bed now. There I’ll be reading The Politics of God from yesterday’s NYTimes Sunday Magazine.
Gay Unions and Black Chruches
The The WaPo looks at Covenant Baptist, a DC area church where co-pastors Dennis and Christine Wiley have begun to conduct same-sex union ceremonies:
For years, disputes over homosexuality have convulsed predominantly white Protestant denominations—Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian and Presbyterian—but they have only recently hit black churches.
“It’s going to be a real challenge,” said the Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, minister at Fellowship Baptist Church in the District and founder of the annual National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality. “We’re just beginning to really deal with it.”
Most major historically black denominations have taken strong stances against homosexuality. [...]
[E]mbracing gays can come at a cost. Victory Church, a black megachurch near Atlanta, lost 2,500 members—half of its congregation—after its pastor, the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, started preaching acceptance of gays several years ago.
“I did not know that my theological view would be so negatively reacted to,” Samuel said. Even now, he said, “we are ostracized and criticized throughout the city by pastors and religious people of all types, certainly within the black community.”
A problem that would go away immediately if only more congregations - black, white or whatever - would embrace the lesbian and gay people among them:
The gays flocking to Covenant say the church’s deep Baptist roots link them with the rituals and traditions of their childhood. [...]
And that was fine with church member Martha Battle, who said she didn’t mind Covenant’s outreach to gays at first, because “everybody needs to be saved.”
But now, “straight people are leaving and gay people are coming in,” said Battle, who left the church with her 13-year-old grandson after the Wileys began performing same-sex union ceremonies. “They’re taking over. I’m sick to my stomach over this mess. It’s not right. Why should we have to leave and let them come in and take over the church?”
Friday, August 17, 2007
Lutherans in the news today
On Saturday of last week, delegates at a Lutheran Churchwide Assembly in Chicago approved a statement asking bishops to wait until 2009 to discipline gay pastors who are in relationships (they already allow gay ministers, but requires them to be celibate). For some reason I’m at a loss to ascertain, this is news today.
The vote was too late to prevent the defrocking of Bradley Schmeling as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Atlanta, who had told his congregation and his bishop that he was in a long-term same-sex relationship.
But Mr. Schmeling’s congregation intends to keep him as its pastor. The resolution permits his bishop, the Rev. Ronald Warren, to forgo disciplining the congregation for retaining him.
“I’m disappointed that they couldn’t fully change the policy,” Mr. Schmeling said. “But I think it’s a big step forward for us. For the first time, the church is saying that there are partnered gay and lesbian pastors who are serving faithfully and well in our church, and they should stay in place for sake of the mission of the church.”
The Rev. Bradley Schmeling of Atlanta believes he and about 20 supporters made a difference in how one Lutheran denomination will deal with gay members and ministers in coming years.
Schmeling and members of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta lobbied representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America this month to stop removing gay pastors from pulpits. And church representatives did just that, at least for two years.
“There is a little more space for [gay] pastors to serve without fear,” said Schmeling, who is gay and has felt the sting of church discipline.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Lutherans vote not to punish gay ministers
A national assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America urged its bishops Saturday to refrain from defrocking gay and lesbian ministers who violate a celibacy rule, but it rejected measures that would have permitted ordaining gays churchwide.
Still, advocates for full inclusion of gays were encouraged, calling the resolution a powerful statement in support of clergy with same-sex partners. The conservative group Lutheran CORE was critical of the vote, saying bishops would now feel more secure in ignoring denomination policy.
The 538-431 vote came on the final day of a weeklong meeting in Chicago—and after emotional debate over how the denomination should interpret the Bible on homosexuality. [...]
“This is huge,” said Phil Soucy of Lutherans Concerned/North America, which lobbies on behalf of gays and lesbians. “More than half of the people in the Churchwide Assembly have said don’t punish anyone for what is a simple violation of the policy, where the offense is simply that they have a partner.”
LATER - Rejoicing at home in Atlanta:
With hugs and cheers Sunday, members of Atlanta’s oldest Lutheran church celebrated the pastor at the center of a battle over the treatment of gay clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. [...]
After Saturday’s vote, he will continue to be pastor at St. John’s at the request of the congregation, although his name will stay off the clergy list.
Schmeling said the removal of his name from the clergy roster will only present problems if he seeks a job with another congregation - and he said he has no plans to leave St. John’s.
“On a day-to-day basis, nothing changes here,” he said.
Friday, August 10, 2007
TX megachurch refuses funeral for gay man
A Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm helping rescuers find downed pilots died from an infection, a side effect of surgery for a heart condition. His brother was an employee and member of a Dallas megachurch where the funeral was planned:
An Arlington church volunteered to host a funeral Thursday, then reneged on the invitation when it became clear the dead man’s homosexuality would be identified in the service.
The event placed High Point Church in the cross hairs of an issue many conservative Christian organizations are discussing: how to take a hard-line theological position on homosexuality while showing compassion toward gay people and their families.
Via John Aravosis, “Someone is going to hell, and it isn’t the guy who died.”
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Lutheran clergy COME OUT in support of LGBT rights
More than 80 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered Lutheran clergy and seminarians have declared their sexuality in an effort to signal to church members that the exclusion of gay clergy in committed relationships alienates dozens of faithful serving the church.
Today, more than 1,000 voting members of the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting at Navy Pier this week for their biennial churchwide assembly, received a devotional booklet titled “A Place Within My Walls.” The booklet features testimonials by gay ministers, including Atlanta’s Rev. Bradley Schmeling, who was removed last month after revealing he was in a committed relationship. [...]
The booklet distributed today features a list of ministers currently serving, awaiting a call from a congregation or removed from the roster since the churchwide assembly in Orlando in 2005, including three ministers in the Chicago area where gay and lesbian clergy are allowed to serve in consultation with Chicago Bishop Paul Landahl.
Via Gay News Blog.
RELATED CHUCKLE: The story quoted is from the Chicago Tribune. How hip’n’with-it is the Tribune’s editorial page? They discovered Daily Kos only last week! Steve Rhodes comments, “Next: the Trib editorial board discovers The Daily Show.”
Friday, August 03, 2007
Gay Lutherans countdown to Chicago
There they’ll be debating celibacy next week:
Prompted by the sudden dismissal of a popular Atlanta pastor in a committed same-sex relationship, impatient supporters of gay clergy will push an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America assembly in Chicago next week to stop its navel-gazing and lift the celibacy requirement imposed on gay and lesbian pastors.
Almost a third of the church’s synods, or regional governing bodies, have endorsed a proposal that would permit gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve congregations and would reinstate those who have been removed because of a same-sex relationship.
The resolution before 1,071 voting members at the biennial national assembly convening Monday comes two years before the church is scheduled to release a broader social statement on human sexuality.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The Times Magazine today
The NYTimes Sunday Magazine is a trove of interesting articles today. On vacation, I’ve had no time to read them. When I’m home I’ll catch up....
Mary Bucholtz, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been working on the question for the last 12 years. She has gone to high schools and colleges, mainly in California, and asked students from different crowds to think about the idea of nerdiness and who among their peers should be considered a nerd; students have also “reported” themselves. Nerdiness, she has concluded, is largely a matter of racially tinged behavior. People who are considered nerds tend to act in ways that are, as she puts it, “hyperwhite.”
If God is dead, does that mean we cannot survive our own deaths? Recent best-selling books against religion agree that immortality is a myth we ought to outgrow. But there are a few thinkers with unimpeachable scientific credentials who have been waving their arms and shouting: not so fast. Even without God, they say, we have reason to hope for - or possibly fear - an afterlife.
Last but far fro least, the Magazine cover story, The Real Transformers:
I was introduced to my first sociable robot on a sunny afternoon in June. The robot, developed by graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was named Mertz. It had camera sensors behind its eyes, which were programmed to detect faces; when it found mine, the robot was supposed to gaze at me directly to initiate a kind of conversation. But Mertz was on the fritz that day, and one of its designers, a dark-haired young woman named Lijin Aryananda, was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Mertz was getting fidgety, Aryananda was getting frustrated and I was starting to feel as if I were peeking behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Tammy Faye Bakker was a co-host of ‘’The Jim and Tammy Show,’’ but she also produced her own programs, including the daily ‘’Tammy Faye’s House Party,’’ where she entertained guests, offered advice on homemaking and shopping, staged fashion shows, danced, sang and made fudge.
Speaking by telephone, the Rev. Mel White, a gay Christian advocate who (before coming out as gay) worked closely with many of the major televangelists, explained her appeal: ‘’For the evangelical community she was Dr. Joyce Brothers, Martha Stewart and Carol Burnett, all rolled into one.’’
But ‘’The Eyes of Tammy Faye’’ also reveals a more radical Tammy, who was the host of shows on controversial topics like penile implants, interviewed a gay minister with AIDS in the earliest days of public debate about the illness and reached out to drug addicts and others excluded by the broader evangelical community.
Mr. White is convinced that, for PTL’s largely rural, female and older audience, Tammy Faye Bakker provided an image of empowerment.
‘’Her fans were people who grew up in a very fundamentalist tradition,’’ he said, ‘’not being able to wear makeup, or dance, or go out in public. So here comes Tammy, with her dyed hair and makeup, her ebullient spirit and outspoken ways with both men and women. She talked about sex, and flirted with Jimmy. She took on the caricature of an obedient wife, and blasted it. You have never seen Pat Robertson’s wife, or Jerry Falwell’s wife. They stay at home, doing what those wives do.’’
Tammy Faye dead at 65
Tammy Faye Messner, the former televangelist and Christian singer who battled drug addiction and later inoperable cancer, died Friday morning, CNN’s Larry King said Saturday night. He said the family had asked him to make the delayed announcement.
She was 65.
“She died peacefully,” King said.
Messner was a guest on “Larry King Live” on Thursday. She said she couldn’t swallow food, and weighed only 65 pounds. [...]
The Bakkers’ 30-year-old son, Jay, is a pastor who co-founded the Revolution Church in Brooklyn, New York—a church aimed at those who feel rejected by traditional approaches to Christianity, stating on the church’s Web site that he wrestled with religion after seeing the “excommunicative” treatment his parents experienced from the church after the scandal.
Tammy Faye Messner has also been known as one of the few evangelical Christians who had the support of the gay community. She was one of the first televangelists to reach out to those with AIDS when it was a little-known and much-feared disease. In return, she told King in July, “When I went—when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.”
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Porn star to preacher
In the Style Section, of all places, the NYTimes looks at a semiretired hetero porn star who is bringing spiritual comfort to those marginalized by the sex industry:
From his work in the rented villas of the San Fernando Valley, where hard-core sex films are shot, he has moved just a short distance west, to the Church of the Epiphany, which is guiding his transformation from pornography star to preacher.
The psychic distance, however, has been vast. In January, the lumbering 6-foot-3 performer was greeting fans on the red carpet of the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, along with the superstars of pornography like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy.
In June, he was carrying the Holy Bible and a text titled “Gospel Light” to a live Internet show where he preached on the relative evils of pornography. “Is pornography a sin?” he asked on the show, which is aimed at people in the sex industry. “Probably. Definitely,” he answered, a response that reflected his own ambivalence as much as a desire not to alienate his audience. “So is eating carrot cake until you’re sick to your stomach,” he continued. “And so is punching somebody in the face. That’s a sin.”
He grew up a Southern Baptist in South Carolina (surprised?) and quit making hard-core movies because “I don’t enjoy it anymore” (though he had sex at an adult video convention in January).
A Viet Nam vet and former NYC cop, he renewed his private investigator’s license to make money as he pursues his religious avocation. About his years in the sex trade he says, “Not one time did Jesus refer to pornography, or homosexuality.”
Oh swell. I wish him luck - it’s a hard process - and he makes a valid point, but with friends like that we’ll never get the global Anglicans to accept gay clergy or gay marriage! I can only thank God he’s straight!
Monday, July 09, 2007
What would Luther do?
So asks Mary Zeiss Stange, a professor of women’s studies and religion at Skidmore College, in USA Today:
In Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female," the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians nearly 2,000 years ago. Upon further reflection, might he have added, "neither straight nor gay?"
The question is nonsensical, of course, because in his time the concept of "sexual orientation" had yet to be invented. And yet modern-day anti-gay church activists love to quote the handful of his statements about "unnatural" sexual acts as definitive - indeed, divinely inspired - condemnations of same-sex love.
The same goes for Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation. Lutheran anti-gay activists routinely, and correctly, point out that Luther had plenty of bad things to say about the scourge of "Sodomites" in 16th century Germany. Like his role model Paul, Luther was a product of the social prejudices of his time and culture: a time when the concepts of homosexuality as an "orientation" or a "lifestyle" were still unheard of. But would the man whose break from Roman Catholicism involved a revolutionary rethinking of the role of sexuality in human relationships take such a negative view of homosexuality today? Most probably, given the way his theological mind worked, he would not. READ ON
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Let’s start thinking with our head again
David P. Barash, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, reminds us that gut instinct isn’t science:
HERE’S A PARADOX: Science is our best way of deciphering the complexities of the natural world. It is useful, consistent and, despite the claims of fundamentalists - religious or postmodern - true. Yet the insights of science are often counterintuitive, frequently lacking what Stephen Colbert called “truthiness.” [...]
After all, the sun moves through our sky, but it is the Earth that is going around the sun. Our planet is round, even though it sure feels flat under our feet as we walk. The microbial theory of disease only prevailed because Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch and other scientists finally marshaled enough irrefutable evidence to overwhelm the alternative perspective: that things too small to be seen with the naked eye couldn’t possibly exist or have any effect on us. [...]
The good news is that over time, actual truth wins out. Only scientifically illiterate troglodytes deny the microbial theory of disease, or the reality of atoms, or of evolution. Still, scientists face a constant struggle, a kind of Red Queen dilemma. Recall the scene in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” in which Alice and the Queen run vigorously but get nowhere. The Queen explains, “Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
Science, bless its innovative soul, constantly reveals new realities. Many of them - global warming, nuclear weapons, overpopulation, threats to biodiversity - are pregnant with immense risk. Others, like genomics or stem cell research, offer great opportunity. But nearly all are freighted with a lack of truthiness.
And so our intellectual race with the Red Queen continues. Evolution did not equip Homo sapiens with ready access to insights that transcend our personal experience. But somehow, we’d better get over our stubborn bias toward “thinking” with our gut, which is to say, not thinking at all. And that’s the truth.