aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Colbert on Florida’s Christian license plates
Says Stephen, “They’ll look great with your Shroud of Turin mud flaps.”
Monday, April 28, 2008
I have a post up at The Moderate Voice titled The Church of Atheism on the inclination of some atheists to ape religion. Check it out.
On a related note, one of my student workers (a biology major) pointed me to this fun video, Richard Dawkins - Beware the Believers:
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Wright last night
There’s been plenty of commentary on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright but if there’s been as much reporting on the man, his church, and his work, I’ve missed it.
Bill Moyers was a good choice for Wright’s first broadcast interview with a journalist since the eruption over his incendiary statements and his relationship with Barack Obama. Moyers wears the liberal label proudly but he can also fairly claim that he brings on his program opposing viewpoints. He’s a journalist who truly believes his arguments are strengthened, not weakened, by a full airing of all sides of an issue.
Moyers is himself a man of deep faith. In 2006 Moyers presented the public television series Faith and Reason, a series of conversations with renowned writers exploring the question, “In a world in which religion is poison to some and salvation to others, how do we live together?” And his church in New York belongs to the same fellowship of the United Church of Christ as does Wright’s church in Chicago.
In the very same way that I was truly moved and lifted by Barak Obama’s speech on race in the aftermath of the uproar over his relationship with Wright, I was moved by Moyers’ interview with Wright. Even as I tell you that the first time I watched, after a long week at work, I fell asleep. Moyers does not have a particularly large audience. This interview will not get the audience it deserves. It will be excerpted and characterized and commented on and that will not do it justice. Just as I do not do it justice when I do that to it now. But neither can I let it pass into the ether.
So here is the Rev. Wright explaining embracing Christianity without giving up Africanity. His is not a race-based theology:
BILL MOYERS: So, when Trinity Church says it is unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian, is it embracing a race-based theology?
REVEREND WRIGHT: No, it is not. It is embracing Christianity without giving up Africanity. A lotta the missionaries were going to other countries assuming that our culture is superior, that you have no culture. And to be a Christian, you must be like us. Right now, you can go to Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and see Christians in 140-degree weather. They have to have on a tie. Because that’s what it means to be a Christian. Well, it’s that kind of assuming that our culture, “We have the only sacred music. You must sing our music. You must use a pipe organ. You cannot use your instrument.” It’s that kind of assumption that in the field of missions, people say, “You know what? We’re doing this wrong. We need to take Christ and leave culture at home. We need to learn the culture of people into which we’re moving, and preach the methods of Jesus Christ using the culture that we are a part of.” Well, the same thing happened with Christians in this country when they said, “You know what? Because those same missionaries who went south, they didn’t let us sing gospel music.” That was not sacred--
BILL MOYERS: They were singin’ the great Anglican hymns.
REVEREND WRIGHT: Correct, correct. And make sure you use correct diction. Well, the-- Africans in the late-- African-Americans in the late ‘60s started saying, “You know, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Even-- I was in Virginia Union, I was soloist at Virginia Union in the college, in the concert choir. We were not allowed to sing anything but anthems and spirituals. The same thing with the Howard University concert choir. The same thing with all the historical black choirs until ‘68. When King got killed, black kids started saying wait a minute. We’re not givin’ up who we are as black people to become-- to show somebody else that we—in fact, the music majors at Howard when I was-- teaching assistant at La Vern they said to the choir director there, “We’re tired of singin’ German Lieder and Italian aria to prove to you that we-- you know, we can sing foreign songs. But we have our own music tradition.” Prior to ‘68, there was no gospel music at Howard University. Prior to ‘68, there was no jazz major. The white universities are giving Count Basie and Duke Ellington degrees. We don’t even the jazz course. We don’t have blues. We don’t have any of our music on this black college campus. Because the missionaries had not allowed us to teach our own music.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Generational cleavage (!) among evangelicals
Go to minute 36:45, where homosexuality comes up, and stay tuned for a striking contrast between Colson and the younger men.
Colson answers a question about homosexuality with a doctrinaire natural-law exegisis of Paul. The younger men warn against Colson’s hard-edged judgmentalism. Boyd agrees that homosexuality is wrong but can’t understand why evangelicals pick on this one moral failing as a “deal breaker” while downplaying so many sins of their own (divorce, e.g.). He argues that evangelicals’ reputation for “homophobia” (his word) is well earned and that Jesus ministered to prostitutes, rather than trying to pass laws against them. (Subtext here: the tension between the churches of Paul and Jesus.) Claiborne asks what sort of place the Church has become if it can’t minister lovingly to a young gay man who feels like he is one of “God’s mistakes” and wants to kill himself. “If that ‘mistake’ can’t find a home in the church, who have we become?” He goes on to condemn the “meanness” of evangelical political style and speaks intriguingly of “post-Religious Right America.”
I’ve yet to listen but I promise I will. Rauch sees it as evidence “that homosexuality has become a major point of generational cleavage among evangelicals.” I’m right there with you Jonathan—on the gay point. But I think that gay cleavage comes at the same time we’re seeing a depoliticization of evangelicals.
Evidence for that depoliticization comes from a speech Laurie Goodstein gave at Princeton back in October 2006, Backlash: Are Evangelicals Disillusioned with Politics? (podcast here) and, more recently, from Frank Schaeffer, author of the memoir, “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back” in his talk Crossroads of Religion and Politics (podcast here), and a myriad of other examples.
It’s the same old story: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Religious Right leaders had unchecked devotion and used it to fleece their flock. Gays were an easy, vulnerable target.
If, in fact, I am correct and there is a depoliticization taking place, I am not a liberal who will celebrate it. I find that here in the south we are not as politically engaged as back home in NYC. And my bias inclines me to suspect that is because government here has not worked well for the people so we are stuck in a self-reinforcing downward spiral of bad governance.
For government to succeed—for government to be good—it needs full participation. I’m ready to engage and debate my Christian neighbors on the topic of same sex love and any other topic of their choosing. Bravo Shane Claiborne. I look forward to hearing what you had to say.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Broun instructs House on ‘proprer’ pledge technique
"There should not be a comma between ‘one nation’ and ‘under God,’” conservative Republican congressman Paul Broun instructed his colleagues on the floor of the House before beginning his rendition of a pause-free pledge Monday. Raw Story has more:
It may seem a minor issue, but some have argued that saying the pledge as Broun prefers—and as it was written when “under God” was inserted in 1954—implies a fealty to religion that is inappropriate in the US.
“Without a comma, the phrase indicates that the central characteristic of the United States as a political community is its subordination to God,” wrote history professor Matthew Dennis, after the Supreme Court rejected an attempt to strike “under God” as unconstitutional. “In short, the political community is defined by its religious charge. A pledge that states this becomes, in the words of the 9th Circuit, ‘impermissible government endorsement of religion,’ functioning to ‘enforce a religious orthodoxy of mono- theism.’”
The pledge had no reference to a diety until 1954, when Cold War fever saw its inclusion to separate Americans from “godless Communists.” The Supreme Court dismissed a case arguing that the phrase violated the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of religion because the plaintiff had no standing to argue the case, not because of any inherent legal justification for the phrase.
A Broun spokesman even said there should be no pause to emphasize there is “no separation or implied separation between nation and God.” So his House floor lesson may be more than just a penchant for details.
“As a Marine, clearly, he’s had to face a lot more difficult challenges than instructing Members of Congress on the proper way of saying the Pledge of Allegiance,” spokesman John Kennedy told Roll Call‘s Heard on the Hill column. “There is, in fact, no comma in that section. So correctly, it’s said, â€˜One nation under [God],’ no separation or implied separation between nation and God.”
A first-term lawmaker from the northeastern corner of Georgia, Broun’s House floor admonition was not his only attempt to insert God further into American life. Last November, he supported a resolution honoring a group promoting the Ten Commandments.
“I commend the Ten Commandments Commission for their efforts to remind Americans that we are, in fact, ‘one nation under God,’” he said at the time.
Here’s theC-SPAN video:
Monday, April 07, 2008
Sir Ian McKellen becomes bishop for a day
Never one to shy away from controversy, Sir Ian McKellen is secretly plotting to launch a campaign to shame the Anglican Church over its refusal to give equal rights to homosexual clergy.
In an act of solidarity with the Rt Rev Gene Robinson, the Church’s first openly homosexual bishop, the celebrated actor intends to read out a sermon written by the prelate, who has been barred from the landmark Lambeth Conference this summer that is seeking to prevent a schism over the issue.
Standing alongside the bishop, who will remain silent throughout, the star of The Lord of the Rings will deliver a broadside against the Church’s attitude to homosexuals with the kind of passion and force normally reserved for his performances on the stage.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Religious acceptance is a two way street
A report in The Forward (bylined Atlanta, which I think is noteworthy) finds that traditionally gay synagogues are now so well accepted that they are grappling with the high percentage of straight people and their families who want to join:
That difficulty has become particularly acute at Bet Haverim, where more than half the 300 members are straight. After some confusion with Atlanta’s gay newspaper, Bet Haverim’s rabbi, Joshua Lesser, asked that Bet Haverim be described as a “gay-founded” synagogue. [...]
“I think that was a profound transformational moment where most of us realized: â€˜Oh, this is the value of opening up our synagogue. We have created a community of allies,’” Lesser said.
Ironically, it is the open, inclusive atmosphere that Bet Haverim and other synagogues worked so hard to create that has made them attractive to a whole range of underserved worshippers. Gay-founded synagogues across the country report that they have relatively large numbers of non-white Jews, Jewish converts and intermarried families, as well as Jews who’ve never felt like they fit in elsewhere.
Via Stephen H. Miller who comments:
I also hear that something similar has happened in larger MCC churches as well. And even the gay-focused gun-defending (and training) enthusiasts, the Pink Pistols, recount that straights who are uncomfortable with NRA-type groups are joining.
Other minorities have long confronted issues of assimilation vs. independent institutions, and the need to strike a balance that preserves what’s best in minority culture while helping to enrich (and being enriched by) the larger community to which we all belong.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Jeremiah Wright - in Macon; on Gays
Wright’s in the news in Macon for a planned October church* visit just days before the November election:
“I’m sort of echoing what Barack Obama said, I’m not going to disown him, no more than I would disown America,” [St. Paul AME Church Pastor Ronald] Slaughter said.
During Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s inauguration, he credited Wright for giving him vision for moving the city forward during an earlier visit to Macon.
Mayor Reichert is white:
“He may say some provocative and insensitive things,” Reichert said Thursday. “But overall his message is wonderful!”
Some accuse Wright of making racially inflammatory and unpatriotic remarks, but both these men will tell you people are missing the bigger message.
“I think we need to focus on the body of work that this man has accomplished, not on 30 second sound bites,” said Slaughter.
“It’s bad enough to take 30 seconds out of 1 sermon and concentrate on it,” Reichert said. “What do you mean? What did you say before that? What did you say after that? How does it all fit in? It’s even worse when you select this out of 20 years worth of sermons.”
As a leader, Wright defied convention at every turn. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last year, he recalled a time during the 1970s when the UCC decided to ordain gay and lesbian clergy. At its annual meeting, sensitive to the historic discomfort some blacks have with homosexuality, gay leaders reached out to black pastors.
At that session, Wright heard the testimony of a gay Christian and, he said, he had a conversion experience on gay rights. He started one of the first AIDS ministries on the South Side and a singles group for Trinity gays and lesbians-a subject that still rankles some of the more conservative Trinity members, says Dwight Hopkins, a theology professor at the University of Chicago and a church member.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Dawkins on God and Einstein
Last week Fresh Air repeated an interview with God Delusion author Richard Dawkins. I hadn’t heard it before and found him wonderfully eloquent, particularly in this explanation of why he believes that to credit all human achievement to God is an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer:
I think that the understanding of life, and indeed of science generally, the understanding of the universe generally that we now have at the beginning of the 21st century, is an astoundingly rich, poetically valuable, truly wonderful achievement of our species, something that we have every right to be proud of. You could spend a lifetime imbibing and learning and understanding and increasing understanding of this view that we now have. It is incomparably richer than anything that our ancestors in past centuries could have. It is an enormous privilege to have it. No one individual could possibly comprehend it. It’s a lifetime’s worth just to understand bits of it. And I think it is demeaning to retreat from that to a medieval worldview which simply says, `God done it,’ which is so trite, so cheap, so over simple, so parochial and so impotent in the face of the huge phenomena which need to be explained and which now are being explained.
I urge you to listen to the interview because I do not believe he is disrespectful of religious people (though they, of course, may think otherwise). Gross asks him to read from his book where he quotes Einstein on God. I’ll excerpt that here:
Mr. DAWKINS: Let me make a distinction between two versions of what you’ve just said. There’s what I would call the Einsteinian version, which pays homage to the mysteries that lie in the universe at the base of physics, the mysteries that physics has yet to solve and may never solve. Einstein had immense reverence for that, as do I. Einstein used the word “god” for the deep problems, for those fundamentals which we don’t understand and may never understand.
But I would want to make a distinction between that Einsteinian view and the one that says there is a spirit which has some sort of intelligence; there is a supernatural, intelligent, creative being who created the universe and made up its laws. I think that’s radically distinct from the Einsteinian view that the laws of physics are renamed God. And I have no quarrel with somebody who wants to use the word God for the fundamental laws of the universe. My only quarrel would be that it’s confusing to everybody else. But once we’ve set confusion on one side, then I have no quarrel with that.
What I do have a quarrel with is people who confuse that with God in the sense of some kind of supernatural intelligence or creator who worked it out, and I think there really is a big distinction there.
GROSS: Well, since you brought up Einstein, and since you quote Einstein several times in your book “The God Delusion,” let me ask you to read a few of the things that you quote by Einstein about religion.
Mr. DAWKINS: Right, well, from page 15 of “The God Delusion”:
(Reading) “It was, of course, a lie, what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
And further down the same page, I quoted Einstein as saying, “I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.’
GROSS: So do you consider yourself religious in the Einsteinian sense?
Mr. DAWKINS: Yes, I do consider myself religious in the Einsteinian sense, and obviously with great humility. Einstein was the greatest scientist of the 20th century and maybe ever, and so I humbly am happy to be classed as in his camp in this respect.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Conceptualizing closeted priests
Among those things the students asked this week, again and again, was about my faith. I told them that I had none, that I had been raised Catholic and that my rejection by the church had been so complete—and the teachings of the church so hurtful to me—that I would not, could not, go back there and find comfort or community.
I told them, too, that I am sad for that and think it too bad. That I applaud the gay fight for inclusion in the church and those other central institutions in our society: marriage and the military. I want us to keep up the fight and keep it the centerpiece of our campaign for equality.
I note that the Pope is making noises about abortion and gays prior to coming to America. Too bad he couldn’t have persuaded Georgia Republicans to support the life begins at fertilization amendment. It would have been the best news for Georgia Democrats in decades!
I’ll take this opportunity to quote Andrew Sullivan commenting earlier in the week on how he’s barely clinging to Catholicism:
Institutionally, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to overcome the feeling of disgust and despair at my church’s long-standing policy of allowing grown men, in the image of Christ, to rape, abuse, molest and traumatize boys and teens - and persistently cover it up. Seeing, as a gay man does, the depth of the hypocrisy and cant and sexual and psychological pathologies that drive the Vatican, it is very hard to regain trust in such a deeply corrupt and dishonest institution. Benedict cannot help symbolize this to me. He’s a brilliant, brilliant man; he has not been a new Torquemada. But he is so much a part of the reactionary regress of the Church that only his departure will allow a rebirth. I cling because such a future is always possible; and hope is not the same thing as optimism.
At different times in my life as an out gay man I’ve had occasion to come in contact with closeted priests; I’ve never been able to accept them. Even if/when such an individual doesn’t prey on young men, there remains an ethical violation—they break their vows and lie to their congregation.
[Episcopal Bishop Paul] Moore - who made the cover of Newsweek in 1972, when he took over the Archdiocese of New York - died in May 2003. His daughter, Honor Moore, the eldest of nine children he had with his first wife, Jenny McKean, writes that six months after his death, “the telephone rang. [The caller] had a confident voice. Andrew Verver (as I’ll call him) was the only person in my father’s will whose name was unfamiliar.” When Honor asked “Verver,” who had traveled with Moore to the Greek island of Patmos the summer before, about her father’s sexual life, he replied, “I was his sexual life,” and, “Of course, there were other men.” Then, Honor describes bringing “Verver” on a touching visit to Moore’s grave in Connecticut.
Now, I must hasten to add, that I don’t want to paint all gay priests with the same brush. If they’re going to be gay they should be out about it, an admonition one priest apparently took to heart last November:
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.”
*SEE ALSO: A note on language.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Andy at Towleroad brings us the first three:
A minister and former Christian college instructor in Canada was found guilty of sexually assaulting a young man who came to him for ‘therapy’: “In earlier testimony, the alleged victim, now 29, told court he started meeting Lewis for counselling sessions in early 2000 after his parents caught him viewing gay pornography on the family computer. Lewis â€” a family friend and minister - confided he had his own sexual identity issues and the two embarked on weekly counselling sessions designed to ‘assist me to be straight and to live a straight life,’ the man said. The man said Lewis started a program of ‘touch therapy,’ which included the two kissing and fondling each other and engaging in sexual roleplaying. ‘He said I was to tell no one about it because no one would understand,’ the man testified.”
And in Texas a Catholic priest accused of sexually molesting children in two states is HIV-positive, officials say: “Last week, a leader in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth heard someone mention that the Rev. Philip A. Magaldi has the virus that causes AIDS, said diocese spokesman Pat Svacina. The diocese leader then got verbal confirmation from Magaldi as well as a letter from his doctor who said he has HIV, Svacina said. Church officials said they believe he has been HIV positive since 2003. The diocese then alerted the alleged victims - at least five minors in two states - and the parishes where Magaldi served for nearly four decades, Svacina said.”
A Methodist Church in DC has been criticized for recognizing committed gay relationships: “If they’re not violating the letter, they’re certainly violating the spirit of United Methodist standards...Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
That Texas priest had also embezzled a couple hundred thousand bucks. Good Catholic!
This last is a twofer—Republican and an officer in his church:
Robert A. McKee, a long-serving Republican delegate from Western Maryland, announced his resignation yesterday after authorities, who say they are conducting a child pornography investigation, seized two computers, videotapes and printed materials from his Hagerstown home.
First elected to the House of Delegates in 1994, McKee was chairman of the Western Maryland delegation and sponsored legislation to protect minors from sexual predators. McKee, 58, also resigned yesterday from his post as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County, a child mentorship program where he has worked for 29 years.[...]
McKee, who is considered a political moderate, has sponsored bills this year dealing with minors, including the Child Protection From Predators Act and a proposal to collect DNA samples from sexual predators. McKee has sponsored several other sexual offender and child abduction bills in previous years.
For decades, McKee has been involved in youth athletics and children’s groups, according to his General Assembly biography. He has served in officer positions in two Little League groups and as secretary of a parent and child center advisory committee.
During the 1970s, McKee was a reservist in the U.S. Navy. He is a former chaplain for the Hagerstown Jaycees and is a trustee and community services chairman at First Christian Church.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Baptist Day not so fertile at the Capitol
Hundreds and hundreds of Southern Baptists descended on the state Capitol today. Political Insider explains why:
The top priority of Southern Baptist Day was to free a specific piece of legislation trapped in the House â€” H.R. 536, a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish the state’s interest in a human embryo at the moment of fertilization.
House Republican leadership has been hesitant to move the bill, which would require two-thirds approval for passage, because it would expose moderate GOP members in an election year.
Objections to the measure, intended to challenge Roe. v. Wade, include worries that it might threaten commonly used forms of contraception. And suburban women are a key ‘08 voting demographic.
The state’s largest Christian denomination got behind the proposed amendment last November - DVDs and literature were sent to every member church - and have quickly learned that campaign blandishments don’t always translate into results at the Capitol.
“You can’t treat us as a voting bloc during the campaign and ignore us when you get into office,” said a frustrated Bucky Kennedy, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vidalia and president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. “We’ve been used. We’d just like to see a little action.”
Yes and the kind of action they want could just bring about the kind of Democratic resurgence we want in Georgia.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Abortion, race and the roots of the Religious Right
Randall Balmer, “an evangelical Christian whose understanding of the teachings of Jesus point him toward the left,” is a visiting professor at Yale University Divinity School and Dartmouth College and editor-at-large for Christianity Today. He’s also an Episcopal priest who has a new book out, God in the White House.
In an interview with Terry Gross last week on Fresh Air, he had a number of interesting things to say. For example, “if Lincoln were running for president today, chances are he would be dismissed, at least by a large section of the voters, as being insufficiently religious.”
Then there’s this on what might reasonably have been asked of George Bush as follow-up to his claim that Jesus was his favorite philosopher:
`Gee, Governor Bush, your favorite philosopher says that we should turn the other cheek, that his followers should love thine enemies. How is that going to affect your foreign policy in the event of, say, a foreign attack on the United States? Or, `Governor Bush, your favorite philosopher expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow. Will that sentiment find any resonance in your environmental policies?’
Alas, the liberal media didn’t think of that.
But the part of the interview I found most interesting was about the emergence of the Religious Right:
[W]hat I try to expose in the book and I think I document copiously is that the religious right did not--did not--coalesce as a political movement in direct response to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973â€¦ In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is hardly a bastion of liberalism, had passed a resolution calling for the legalization of abortion, and this was a resolution that was reaffirmed in 1974, again in 1976. It was not the abortion issue. What galvanized evangelicals as a political block, as a political movement, was instead the actions of the Internal Revenue Service to go after the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, because of its racially discriminatory policies, and that Carter was unfairly blamed for this by the architects of the religious right, and they used that against him and mobilized to defeat him four years later in 1980. [...]
Bob Jones University did not allow African-Americans to be enrolled at the school until 1991 and did not allow unmarried African-Americans as students until 1995. The lower court ruling that really became the catalyst for the rise of the religious right was a ruling called Green v. Connelly, issued in 1971, by the district court of the District of Columbia; and it upheld the Internal Revenue Service in its ruling that any organization that engages in racial segregation or discrimination is not, by definition, a charitable organization and as such has no claim to tax-exempt status. And as the IRS began applying that ruling and enforcing it in various places, including Bob Jones University, that is what galvanized evangelical leaders into a political movement that we know today as the religious right.
According to one of the architects of the religious right, who told me this directly, after they had organized on the issue of Bob Jones University and more broadly the issue of government interference in these schools, as they understood it, there was a conference call among these various evangelical leaders and the political consultants who were trying to organize them into a political movement, and several people mentioned several issues. Finally the voice on the end of one of the lines said, `How about abortion?’ And that’s how abortion was cobbled into the agenda of the religious right, late in the 1970s in preparation for the 1980 presidential election.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Obama, Utopian Hope and Apocalyptic Religion
This morning I suggested that people who are over the top for Obama are subject to faith masquerading as reason. My suggestion was influenced by a fascinating October 18, 2007 talk by London School of Economics and Political Science professor John Gray:
Where does the utopian impulse in politics originate, and does it have a future? John Gray argues that though they often claimed to be rooted in a scientific analysis of history and society the revolutionary political movements of the past were informed by a utopian vision which derives from religion. Is the age of secular utopianism over, and if so how will religion interact with twenty-first century geopolitical conflicts? He discusses these questions in the context of his new book, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Penguin).
Gray, an ideological provocateur and controversial public intellectual in Britain, is not well known in the United States. His book argues that utopian politics from the French Revolution through America’s project of spreading democracy in the Middle East are “mutant version[s]” of an ancient, apocalyptic Christian belief that God will transform the world and evil will pass away. He says the “very idea of revolution as a transforming event in history is owed to religion.” [LATimes review]
He takes special aim at Francis Fukuyama, who in 1989 famously announced the end of history and the triumph of western, liberal, market-driven democracy. From The Guardian review:
The utopian right, as he calls it, led by America’s neoconservatives, is a modern millenarian movement, and its drive to impose western-style democracy upon the world, a drive towards utopia that came to a juddering halt in Iraq, was as deluded and foolhardy a project as any past scheme to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Likewise, the “war on terror” is a symptom of a mentality that anticipates an unprecedented change in human affairs - the end of history, the passing of the sovereign state, universal acceptance of democracy, and the defeat of evil. This is the central myth of apocalyptic religion framed in political terms, and the common factor underlying the failed utopian projects of the past decade.
Gray questions how secular a state America really is:
[@33:20 minutes] The point of the book is to really sort of uncover this religious inheritance of apocalyptic myth which underlies secular political thought. In one sense I don’t think secularization has occurred at all. Obviously in other commonsensical senses it has. Some countries are more secular than othersâ€¦ but if you look at it slightly more deeply and ask whether the patterns of thought - particularly about human history which were prominent in the Western religious tradition - whether they’ve altered despite the retreat of religious belief I think my answer is...no. In general we still think in ways which are shaped by religious categories. [...]
America, the society which in the world is seen by many people as being the most modern, certainly has a tremendous amount of scientific development going on in it, at least up until now has been rather rich, is also one which is today as religious if not more so than it was when Alexis de Tocqueville traveled there in the first part of the nineteenth century and commented on the intense religiosityâ€¦ Nothing has changed in the interval, some countries have become much less religiousâ€¦ But [religiosity] can be masked by the new types of ideology which emerge claiming to be anti-religious or non-religious. If you look deeper you find the forms of thought are very similar. In other words it’s not that I’m saying that secular movements have religious beliefs. They reject the beliefs of religion but the pattern and background frame of the thought is very similar in many respects and I think dangerously similar when applied in politics.
When Gray’s focus is the neocons, radical Islam and Soviet and Chinese communism, we on the left are likely to go right there with him. But what if that dynamic is at play in the election today?
As I watch Obama’s language of hope turned into a language of “transformation,” especially as espoused by Andrew Sullivan but also as hyped by reporters and pundits swept up in his winning aura, I’m seeing echoes of Gray.
If I reject it on the Right, and I certainly do, it doesn’t make it any more acceptable that it now leans left.
RELATED: James Wolcott on Too Many Loads on the Love Train.
Over the top for Obama: faith masquerading as reason
Watching Andrew Sullivan on The Colbert Report last night talking about the transformational power of Barack Obama I was reminded of the neocon argument for going into Iraq. We on the left made fun of that naive neocon notion that peace in the Middle East could be achieved lickety-split by toppling Hussein, setting up a quickie democracy and then sitting back and watching it spread.
But now we swallow hook line and sinker the ga-ga cable news anchor suggestion that our race problems are solved by Barack’s electability while John Edwards’ economic populism is judged divisive and dismissed, and Hillary’s inevitability - every bit as much a press narrative as a campaign strategy - is mocked with misogynistic resentment.
Andrew was probably the first and remains the most aggressive champion of the transformational Obama. From his December Atlantic profile of the candidate:
In politics, timing matters. And the most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting. The moment has been a long time coming, and it is the result of a confluence of events, from one traumatizing war in Southeast Asia to another in the most fractious country in the Middle East. The legacy is a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse.
Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America-finally-past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly-and uncomfortablyâ€”at you.
At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war-not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade-but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war-and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama-and Obama alone-offers the possibility of a truce.
This is a faith that the press is preaching to an adoring national choir. Noting it is not to take away from Obama’s talents and skills - hell, if I were him I’d whip up and ride that wave, too - but I think it should be seen for what it is: faith masquerading as reason.
LATER: see also Obama, Utopian Hope and Apocalyptic Religion.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
No glutton for punishment
Matt Hill Comer, 21, is an LGBT journalist, activist and youth advocate currently living and working in Charlotte, NC. He recently went back to his childhood church, Grapevine Baptist in Lewisville, N.C., - “where the stench of hatred, bigotry and oppression was, and still is, thick in the air” - to talk with the preacher there.
Matt was home for his 14-year-old brother’s birthday. He was motivated to go back and talk to the preacher by that brother’s telling of a Saturday night church youth rally. He took another brother along with him when he went.
Matt’s tale of that awkward homecoming was found on his blog by the Grapevine choir director. From his comment to Matt’s post we learn that he knew Matt as a child. And that he had been present for Matt’s conversation with the preacher.
The choir director’s love-the-sinner justification of the church’s rejection of Matt is one familiar to and experienced by most all gay people. Strong and vulnerable, thoughtful and sensitive, and brave and honest throughout, in Matt’s response to the choir director we see he can give as good as he gets:
Bro. Tarron, you are overweight correct? You are overweight to so much of an extent that you are, without a doubt, obese, correct? I’d dare say that your obesity is bordering on morbid obesity. There are also many other members of Grapevine guilty of the same sin of gluttony, far many more than those who are “guilty” of the “sin” of loving another person.
Gluttony causes more deaths than any the religious right attempts to pin on homosexuality. The entirety of American culture focuses on more, more, moreÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ eat, eat, eatÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ drink, drink, drinkÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ buy, buy, buyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s.
If Grapevine is so concerned about the total teaching of Scripture and denying “sin,” why isn’t there a bigger focus on gluttony - a sin discussed more in Scripture than any perceived passages of homosexuality, a plague affecting more Americans - and Grapevine members - than homosexuality and a death sentence facing more Americans - and Grapevine members - than homosexuality.
WaitÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Those words hurt you didn’t it? Welcome to my lifeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ every day of it.
For a deeper understanding of the kind of thinking Matt is up against in that church, see Russell Shorto’s important NYTimes piece from summer 2005, What’s Their Real Problem With Gay Marriage? It’s the Gay Part.
Not much has changed since Shorto wrote his article. What has changed is that people like Matt are standing up to it, and in the process being important role models for family, neighbors and the kids to come. Thanks Matt!
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Huckabee’s rise: God did it
Here’s an incredible video with Mike Huckabee saying that divine providence is responsible for his jump in the polls. I half thought it was a parody mashup (the video was put online not by Huckabee’s campaign). But, no, here’s a report from the Liberty paper confirming it. He’s addressing a convocation at conservative Bible school Liberty University and is asked why he’s rising in the polls, heavenward. His answer:
“There’s only one explanation for it and it’s not a human one. The same power that helped a little boy with two loaves and five fish feed a crowd of 5,000 people and that’s the only way that our campaign could be doing what it’s doing. And I’m not being facetious nor am I trying to be trite. There are literally thousands of people across this country who are praying
that a little will become much and it has, it defies all explanation. It has confounded the pundits and I’m enjoying every minute of their trying to figure it out. And until they look at it from a just experience beyond human they’ll never figure it out. And that’s probably just as well. That’s honestly why it’s happening.” [...]
Sunday, December 09, 2007
CA diocese votes to leave Episcopal Church
The Diocese of San Joaquin voted on Saturday to cut ties with the Episcopal Church, the first time in the church’s history a diocese has done so over theological issues and the biggest leap so far by dissident Episcopalians hoping to form a rival national church in the United States.
Fissures have moved through the Episcopal Church, the American arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, and through the Communion itself since the church ordained V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in a long-term relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
Traditionalists at home and abroad assert that the Bible describes homosexuality as an abomination, and they consider the Episcopal Church’s ordination of Bishop Robinson as the latest and most galling proof of its rejection of biblical authority.
In the last four years, the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest Christian body, has edged closer to fracture over the issue. In the United States, several dozen individual congregations out of nearly 7,700 have split with the Episcopal Church. But Saturday’s vote was the first time an entire diocese has chosen to secede.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Watch through to the end…
Sunday, November 25, 2007
FSM @ Academy of Religion confab (afterward)
Over the four-day meeting, in panel discussions and speeches that began at breakfast time and went well beyond dinner, men and women who teach and study belief systems debated and dissected the things that people hold sacred. [...]
But...what gives meaning to some is an anathema to others. Just ask the four young graduate students who gave a presentation at the American Academy of Religion on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster grew out of a backlash against biblical creationists in Kansas who wanted intelligent design taught in public schools as an alternative to evolution. The movement’s founder dashed off a letter to the state school board demanding his theory also be taught: that the world was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Fueled by the Internet, the craze became a pop culture hit. Its followers are known as “Pastafarians.” Its icon is a spoof of Michelangelo’s “Creation” portrait, with Adam reaching out to touch a noodle.
But the four graduate students in religion argue that this is a parody with a purpose.
“I think it’s a really serious issue because we’re raising a generation of kids who don’t believe in evolution and don’t know what science is for,” said Luke Johnston, a doctoral student at the University of Florida.
“Religion is a constructed term created by scholars,” said Sam Snyder, who also goes to the University of Florida. “Religion is also in the hands of the public to do what they will. ... So how do we study that?”
Snyder and Johnston teamed up with Gavin Van Horn, also from Florida, and Alyssa Beall, from Syracuse University, for the presentation. [...]
If you don’t understand each other’s belief systems, then how can you talk to each other? asks Snyder.
“If we want to leave the world a better place, then people have to think and ask questions,” Johnston adds.
[Yale Divinity School professor and the new president of the American Academy of Religion Emilie] Townes is more specific. “Bad understanding of religions can lead to bad public policy, and that to me can be very destructive,” she said.
Jurassic Ark (reprise)
They’re crowing in Kentucky today:
Each day near Petersburg, Ky., 1,500 to 4,000 visitors, including busloads from Christian schools and churches, stand in line for as long as an hour to wander 60,000 square feet of animatronic exhibits presenting the Bible’s creation story as fact.
It’s been six months since the Creation Museum opened to crowds and protests, and the controversial attraction has proven more popular than even organizers had predicted.
The Ark easily had room for the dinosaurs (as you can see in other articles in this issue). First, the Ark was the size of a huge cargo ship (at least 450 ft [137 m] long). Second, there weren’t many different kinds of dinosaurs (only about 50 “kinds"). Third, God most likely brought the smaller juvenile dinosaurs, not the aging adults, because they would be better suited for the voyage and the responsibilities of reproducing rapidly after the Flood.
That from the new Creationist Museum. Mike Riddle, who authored that this past February, has a masters in education. Ugh!
Via Echidne of the Snakes, who also reports that the actor playing Adam in a Creation Museum video recently had a graphic Web site called Bedroom Acrobat where users would post explicit photos and stories. More on that from Raw Story (where I got the photo).
REALATED - Ars Technica takes a field trip to the new Creationism Museum:
There was also an explanation as to why, with only one progenitor family, it wasn’t considered incest for Adam and Eve’s children to marry each other. Apparently there was less sin back then, and therefore fewer mutations in their DNA. Evidently sin, not two copies of the same recessive trait, gives rise to congenital birth defects.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Taking science on faith
When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance. The laws were treated as “given” - imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth - and fixed forevermore. Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.
Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are - they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality - the laws of physics - only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science. [...]
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith - namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence. [...]
It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.
In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
I was looking for this argument - and making my way vaguely in its direction - two years ago when I wrote my when being right is wrong post. Then I was grappling with some poll (the link is now dead) that found only 35% of Americans believe in evolution.
I happened to have had the opportunity to ask Eugenia Scott of the National Center for Science Education about America’s antipathy towards evolution. I wanted to know what we could do to change that fact and I was dissatisfied with her “we have the facts on our side” answer. We need something more than we’re right and they’re wrong!
My issue is that I believe in science (my scientist friends object to that terminology but in light of the title and tone of Davies’ piece I stand by it). Like any good believer I want others to believe along with me. Still, a majority of them don’t. We need a better argument. Understanding Davies’ point as a necessary precondition to finding it.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Tutu ashamed of Anglican homophobia
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has slammed the church for being “obsessed” with homosexuality, in a BBC radio programme to be broadcast Tuesday.
The South African 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, 76, said he felt ashamed of his church for its attitude towards gays. [...]
“Our world is facing problems—poverty, HIV and AIDS—a devastating pandemic, and conflict,” Tutu said.
“God must be weeping looking at some of the atrocities that we commit against one another.
“In the face of all of that, our Church, especially the Anglican Church, at this time is almost obsessed with questions of human sexuality.”
He said the Anglican church had appeared “extraordinarily homophobic” during the row over whether the openly gay priest Gene Robinson should be allowed to become the Bishop of New Hampshire.
Tutu said he was “saddened and “ashamed” of the church over the row.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Flyig spaghetti Monster at Academy of Religion confab
A panel on FSM-ism is on the agenda at a gathering of the world’s leading religious scholars in San Diego this weekend:
The title: “Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody.”
“For a lot of people they’re just sort of fun responses to religion, or fun responses to organized religion. But I think it raises real questions about how people approach religion in their lives,” said Samuel Snyder, one of the three Florida graduate students who will give talks at the meeting next Monday along with Alyssa Beall of Syracuse University.
The presenters’ titles seem almost a parody themselves of academic jargon. Snyder will speak about “Holy Pasta and Authentic Sauce: The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Messy Implications for Theorizing Religion,” while Gavin Van Horn’s presentation is titled “Noodling around with Religion: Carnival Play, Monstrous Humor, and the Noodly Master.”
Using a framework developed by literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, Van Horn promises in his abstract to explore how, “in a carnivalesque fashion, the Flying Spaghetti Monster elevates the low (the bodily, the material, the inorganic) to bring down the high (the sacred, the religiously dogmatic, the culturally authoritative).”
The authors recognize the topic is a little light by the standards of the American Academy of Religion… But they also insist it’s more than a joke.
Indeed, the tale of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its followers cuts to the heart of the one of the thorniest questions in religious studies: What defines a religion? Does it require a genuine theological belief? Or simply a set of rituals and a community joining together as a way of signaling their cultural alliances to others?
In short, is an anti-religion like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism actually a religion?
RELATED: The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website, the American Academy of Religion website and a Nova look at the 2005 Dover, PA battle over teaching evolution in public schools, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, which follows the federal case that resulted, Kitzmiller v. Dover School District. You can watch the full 2 hour program online. An outstanding documentary, here’s the trailer.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
I’ve been making my way through Nova’s look at the Dover, PA court case brought by parents after the school board voted to include a statement about Intelligent Design in the biology curriculum.
I’m watching with my nephew - a product of Dover schools - who now lives with me. He was there for the fourth through seventh grades (and yells at the screen, “I know him/her!"). His brother still lives in Dover.
The Nova piece is available for viewing online beginning tomorrow. My antipathy to reenactments aside, it’s an excellent portrayal of what happened. Here’s the preview: