It’s a bit ironic that the people who are demanding “religious liberty” are insisting that other people surrender their own liberties to conform to theirs.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Sunday, June 21, 2015
The Act of Forgiveness — Matt Schiavenza in The Atlantic on how an act of grace leads to healing.
Given the heinous nature of the crime, the willingness of Charleston’s survivors to forgive was remarkable—and earned particular praise from President Obama. But the act of forgiving is more than just an expression of grace toward a wrongdoer. It’s also an effective tool in helping individuals and communities touched by tragedy accelerate the healing process.
In March, the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan profiled Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University whose mother was brutally murdered in a 1995 burglary. As it happened, Worthington’s own research examined the effects of forgiveness. So in the days after his mother’s death, he decided to employ a five-step process he had previously devised:
First, you “recall” the incident, including all the hurt. “Empathize” with the person who wronged you. Then, you give them the “altruistic gift” of forgiveness, maybe by recalling how good it felt to be forgiven by someone you yourself have wronged. Next, “commit” yourself to forgive publicly by telling a friend or the person you’re forgiving. Finally, “hold” onto forgiveness. Even when feelings of anger surface, remind yourself that you’ve already forgiven.
Worthington found that his approach worked—and that other examples confirmed his intuition. Studies have shown that forgiveness aids mental and physical health, while the opposite reaction—holding a grudge and harboring resentment—has the opposite effect. This can also be applied to entire communities touched by mass tragedy. In 2006, 32-year-old Charles Roberts stormed into a one-room schoolhouse in an Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shot ten girls, killing five before turning the gun on himself. Despite enormous shock and grief, several of the victims’ family members appeared at the killer’s funeral just days later. When Roberts’ aggrieved mother then announced plans to leave the community, relatives of the dead persuaded her to stay. Seven years later, CBS News reported that the elder Roberts had become the primary caregiver for a girl her son had wounded in the attack.
“Is there anything in this life that we should not forgive?” said Roberts.
An individual or community’s gift of forgiveness, however, does not obviate a society’s demand for justice. In a 2014 case described by the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, a Colorado prosecutor seeking the death penalty for a prison inmate charged with murdering a corrections officer engaged in a contentious dispute with the victim’s parents, who opposed capital punishment. After months of back and forth, the prosecutor finally agreed to forgo the death penalty. The defendant, whose attorneys believed him to suffer from mental illness, ultimately pled guilty and is now serving a life sentence.
In the wake of the Charleston murder, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said that the state would “absolutely want” the death penalty for Dylann Roof. Even Roof’s own uncle said he would support his nephew’s execution, telling reporters that he’d volunteer to “be the one to push the button.”
Several months—at the very least—will pass before a judge determines Roof’s fate. But the decision of the victims’ relatives to forgive may ease some measure of their pain.
It’s Not About Mental Illness — Arthur Chu in Salon on copping out on the real problem behind mass killings by white men.
Dylann Roof is a fanboy of the South African and Rhodesian governments. As horrific as Roof’s crime was, the crimes that occurred over decades of apartheid rule were far, far worse, and committed by thousands of statesmen, bureaucrats and law enforcement officials. Were all of them also “mentally ill”? At the risk of Godwinning myself, John Nash wasn’t the only person to think the Jews were a global demonic conspiracy out to get him–at one point in history a large portion of the Western world bought into that and killed six million people because of it. Were they all “mentally ill”?
Even when violence stems purely from delusion in the mind of someone who’s genuinely totally detached from reality–which is extremely rare–that violence seems to have a way of finding its way to culturally approved targets. Yeah, most white supremacists aren’t “crazy” enough to go on a shooting spree, most misogynists aren’t “crazy” enough to murder women who turn them down, most anti-government zealots aren’t “crazy” enough to shoot up or blow up government buildings.
But the “crazy” ones always seem to have a respectable counterpart who makes a respectable living pumping out the rhetoric that ends up in the “crazy” one’s manifesto–drawing crosshairs on liberals and calling abortion doctors mass murderers–who, once an atrocity happens, then immediately throws the “crazy” person under the bus for taking their words too seriously, too literally.
And the big splashy headliner atrocities tend to distract us from the ones that don’t make headline news. People are willing to call one white man emptying five magazines and murdering nine black people in a church and openly saying it was because of race a hate crime, even if they have to then cover it up with the fig leaf of individual “mental illness”–but a white man wearing a uniform who fires two magazines at two people in a car in a “bad neighborhood” in Cleveland? That just ends up a statistic in a DoJ report on systemic bias.
And hundreds of years of history in which an entire country’s economy was set up around chaining up millions of black people, forcing them to work and shooting them if they get out of line? That’s just history.
The reason a certain kind of person loves talking about “mental illness” is to draw attention to the big bold scary exceptional crimes and treat them as exceptions. It’s to distract from the fact that the worst crimes in history were committed by people just doing their jobs–cops enforcing the law, soldiers following orders, bureaucrats signing paperwork. That if we define “sanity” as going along to get along with what’s “normal” in the society around you, then for most of history the sane thing has been to aid and abet monstrous evil.
We love to talk about individuals’ mental illness so we can avoid talking about the biggest, scariest problem of all–societal illness. That the danger isn’t any one person’s madness, but that the world we live in is mad.
After all, there’s no pill for that.
Nice Work — Christine Porath in The New York Times on how civility — and the lack of it — is damaging the American workplace.
Why is respect — or lack of it — so potent? Charles Horton Cooley’s 1902 notion of the “looking glass self” explains that we use others’ expressions (smiles), behaviors (acknowledging us) and reactions (listening to us or insulting us) to define ourselves. How we believe others see us shapes who we are. We ride a wave of pride or get swallowed in a sea of embarrassment based on brief interactions that signal respect or disrespect. Individuals feel valued and powerful when respected. Civility lifts people. Incivility holds people down. It makes people feel small.
Even though a growing number of people are disturbed by incivility, I’ve found that it has continued to climb over the last two decades. A quarter of those I surveyed in 1998 reported that they were treated rudely at work at least once a week. That figure rose to nearly half in 2005, then to just over half in 2011.
Incivility often grows out of ignorance, not malice. A surgeon told me that until he received some harsh feedback, he was clueless that so many people thought he was a jerk. He was simply treating residents the way he had been trained.
Civility elicits perceptions of warmth and competence. Susan T. Fiske, a professor at Princeton, and Amy J. C. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard, with their colleagues have conducted research that suggests that these two traits drive our impressions of others, accounting for more than 90 percent of the variation in the positive or negative impressions we form of those around us. These impressions dictate whether people will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you and support you.
The catch: There can be a perceived inverse relationship between warmth and competence. A strength in one can suggest a weakness of the other. Some people are seen as competent but cold — he’s very smart, but people will hate working for him. Or they’re seen as warm but incompetent — she’s really friendly, but probably not very smart.
Leaders can use simple rules to win the hearts and minds of their people — with huge returns. Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact. In one unpublished experiment I conducted, a smile and simple thanks (as compared with not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27 percent warmer, 13 percent more competent and 22 percent more civil.
Civility pays dividends. J. Gary Hastings, a retired judge in Los Angeles, told me that when he informally polled juries about what determined their favor, he found that respect — and how attorneys behaved — was crucial. Juries were swayed based on thin slices of civil or arrogant behavior.
Across many decisions — whom to hire, who will be most effective in teams, who will be able to be influential — civility affects judgments and may shift the balance toward those who are respectful.
Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury. In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?
Doonesbury — She’s not a scientist.
Monday, June 15, 2015
ThinkProgress has an inside look at the Southern Baptist Convention’s plans to immunize themselves against claims of discrimination for firing women, minorities, or those suspected of LGBT tendencies or sympathies.
Based on a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that ministerial employees are exempt from discrimination laws, the solution is simple: anyone who works for a religious organization is encouraged to exercise ministerial duties and therefore is exempt from civil rights laws… and protections.
According to the manual, “[e]mployees with some duties usually performed by (or associated with) clergy are more likely to be viewed as ‘minister-like’ by the courts. Consequently, courts are more likely to apply the ministerial exception to employment law claims based on alleged discrimination” against these employees. In essence, the manual advises that an employer can take a janitor, require them to lead the staff in prayer every so often, and POOF! the janitor is now a “minister” and the employer is free to fire that janitor because they are black, because they are gay, or because they are a woman.
If the Court rules in favor of marriage equality, then you will see a bumper crop of Southern Baptist preachers doing everything from sweeping the floor to answering the phone, bringing their ministry — and their civil rights — to the fore and to the floor.
No one expects the Religious Reich to go quietly if the Court rules in favor. History has shown us that they have been the last bastions of bigotry, fighting school desegregation with every loophole and perverted interpretation of the bible that they can winnow out. Fifty years from now there will still be ways that they will be trying to repress the rights of others, and there will still be those who are coming up with ways to do it.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Monday, June 8, 2015
When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, a number of people were concerned that since he was a Roman Catholic, he would be taking orders on policy from the Vatican.
Fifty-five years later, we have Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic, running for the presidency, and now it seems like the Vatican should start worrying about taking orders on church policy from the White House if he wins.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Per Marco Rubio, the hunters will be the hunted.
“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” Rubio said in an interview with CBN News published on Tuesday. “Because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.”
Rubio added that eventually the teachings of the Catholic Church will be under attack.
“After they are done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church is hate speech and there’s a real and present danger,” Rubio continued.
Aside from the fact that throughout history the Roman Catholic Church systematized the persecution and conversion — willingly or not — of millions of people in hundreds of countries and pretty much invented the idea of “enhanced interrogation,” the current leader of the faith seems less concerned about the acceptance of gays and lesbians than Mr. Rubio. Granted, he’s not wild about it, but he isn’t making it sound like it’s the end of the world.
It also seems rather chauvinistic to think that the Catholic Church is the sole representative of mainstream Christianity. There are plenty of denominations who qualify under that rubric who not only accept marriage equality but ordain gay clergy and perform same-sex weddings.
The only real and present danger is letting Mr. Rubio convince voters that he’s the one who should be speaking for mainstream Christianity.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
This doesn’t surprise me.
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.
There are a lot of reasons for this trend, but based solely on observing the way the loudest Christians are behaving, it’s because they’re turning religion into an overt political movement here in America, some even going so far to express a desire for a theocratic state. The irony is that they’re calling for that to fight the threat they are seeing from a for-real theocratic state.
Religion has been political since before the Romans carried out the execution of a Jewish dissident in Jerusalem a while back, and countless people have died fighting because they were trying to force their superstitions on other people. Here at home we’ve used faith as a political litmus test since the founding; why else would the writers of the Constitution insisted on the First Amendment? But it’s gotten worse in the last few decades thanks to politicians who knew a good wedge issue when they saw it, and that’s how you win elections: pit one group of people against another in the name of a god and watch what happens.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Holy Crap — Jeffrey Tayler in Salon defends Bill Maher’s mocking of religion.
Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time,” is a shining beacon of the New American Enlightenment, radiant with goodness and hope.
But first, a bit of background.
No matter what anyone says, religion is a deeply, if darkly, hilarious topic, and the sundry tomes of the sacred canon read more like joke books than anything else, albeit sick joke books. How can we, in the 21st century, having mapped (and even edited) the human genome, engineered pluripotent stem cells, and discovered the Higgs Boson, be expected to revere the dusty old Bible, for example, with its quarreling goatherds and idolatrous tribesmen, and its golden calves and talking snakes, to say nothing of its revenge-porn (against unbelievers) finale? How can we not laugh aloud when Genesis declares that Almighty God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, yet had to pilfer a rib from Adam to produce Eve? What are we to make of Numbers 22:28-30, wherein the Lord intervenes, not to part the sea or still the sun, but to set Balaam’s donkey a-jabbering? How are we supposed to accept Jesus as an up-to-snuff savior when, in Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14, he loses his temper and cusses out a fig tree, condemning it to death, for not bearing fruit out of season? Any second-grade science-class student would have known better, and possibly even exercised more self-control.
“Properly read,” declared the science-fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov, “the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” He was right. The same may be said of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, which the late, dearly missed Christopher Hitchens called “not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require.”
The proper response to religion, riddled as it is with absurdities, is, thus, laughter, either of the belly-slapping, table-pounding kind or the pitying, head-shaking sort. Laughter, but also outrage. After all, those who take such absurdities as manifestations of the Godhead have, especially since the Reagan years, hogged the moral high ground and commandeered American politics, polluting public discourse with their reactionary cant and halting progress in reproductive rights, science (think the Bush-era ban on stem cell research) and education (to wit: stubborn attempts to have oxymoronic “Intelligent Design” rubbish taught in schools). Look abroad, and the panorama of savagery religion must answer for curdles the blood. No rationalist could contemplate all this entirely unnecessary faith-driven regress and backsliding with anything but anger, tempered with despair. If we want to do true and lasting good in this world, we are morally obligated to fight faith in the open, and root it out from every nook and cranny in which it hides.
Facing such a task, a desire for comic relief is only natural. Bill Maher is where anger, outrage and religion meet – in humor. (This essay will address only his stance on religion.) There is nothing un-American about his faith-bashing – far from it. Thomas Jefferson, who denied the divinity of Jesus, wrote that, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions” – and what is religion but a jumble of unintelligible propositions about our cosmos and its origins? Yet Maher has incited no small amount of ire among both the faith-addled masses (fully two-thirds of Americans believe Jesus actually rose from the dead, and almost half expect him to return in the coming decades) and their muddleheaded sympathizers for his brutal broadsides against religion, and Islam in particular. Bigot!Racist!Islamophobe! they cry, at times bemoaning the “offense” they purport to have suffered from his words, and illustrating how far the cognitive capacities of so many of us have deteriorated since Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority began meddling in politics. (This can be no coincidence.) Their real message to Maher: Shut up!
Name-calling is the last resort of losers — in this case, losers waging an unwinnable war against the spread of godlessness. And “shut up!” is the last command of which the Greats of the Enlightenment and their heirs would have approved. The 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, put it best, referring to suppressed speech: “If the opinion is right, [the shutter-uppers] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” If Maher is really so wrong, why not let him hoist himself by his own petard?
Fashionable Bashing — Joe Conason on Jonathan Chait’s attempt to dissect the Clintons.
Jonathan Chait of New York magazine has done no small damage to his own reputation as a liberal intellectual over the past year or so, but apparently feels he can rehabilitate himself by attacking the reputation of the Clintons — always a fashionable media pastime, especially during an election cycle.
So today, Chait describes the Clinton post-presidency as “disastrous.”
Certainly the work of the former president hasn’t been “disastrous” for the millions of people across the world aided by the work of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, including vast numbers whose lives have been saved over the past dozen years or so thanks to the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (which Chait doesn’t deem worth mentioning). Nor has the Clinton post-presidency proved disastrous for President Barack Obama, a former adversary whom the Clintons have served very well indeed.
Nevertheless, parroting a series of recent accusations against the Clintons, Chait condemns the couple as “disorganized and greedy.” Much of what he repeats in his column is so easily debunked, however, that what he reveals is not their lack of character but his own weak journalism.
“The New York Times has a report about the State Department’s decision to approve the sale of uranium mines to a Russian company that donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Global Initiative,” intones Chait. But that is such an inaccurate, misleading way to characterize what happened as to indicate that the columnist may need remedial reading instruction.
Tendentious and biased as it was, even the Times report noted that the decision to approve the Russian uranium sale was made not by the State Department alone, but by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — a powerful interagency committee chaired by the Treasury Department that includes the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Energy Department, and a host of other cabinet-level government agencies.
Nowhere did the Times prove or even suggest that the State Department drove the Russian uranium decision, because that isn’t how CFIUS works. And nowhere did the Times report show that Hillary Clinton personally influenced the decision. Indeed, the record indicates that she played no role whatsoever. Knowledgeable observers of CFIUS believe that its operations are dominated by Treasury and Defense, not State.
To learn what really happened, though, Chait would have needed to read carefully, then maybe ask an intelligent question or two — but he couldn’t be bothered.
Accounts Receivable — Susanna Wolff bills her dog.
Dear Valued Pet,
You have an outstanding balance on your account. An itemized list of billable goods and services is as follows:
25-lb. bag of organic, grain-free, mega-expensive dog food
25-lb. bag of different food because you decided you didn’t like the fancy other food even though you’ve always gobbled it down like a monster in the past
1 of the best, most humane, pressure-point-free harnesses on the market
1 new, regular harness because I got sick of explaining to smug busybodies in the park that the humane harness just looked inhumane because you insisted on strangling yourself with it anyway
¼-lb. of Taleggio you ate off the coffee table during a dinner party
1 salami on which you tentatively placed your tongue before party guests arrived and that I served anyway
4-16 dog hairs in every single cup of coffee I’ve had since you came into my home
1 accidental “like” of a former classmate/current stranger’s Birthright-trip Instagram when I tried to brush one of your hairs off my phone
62 weeks, that’s how deep into that Instagram feed I was, just F.Y.I.
1 discovery that your hair wasn’t just on my phone screen, but actually embedded under the glass
3 pairs of headphones eaten in their entirety
1 pair of headphones merely shredded beyond repair, which allowed me to figure out what happened to the other 3 pairs
1 lifetime’s worth of feces picked up with only a flimsy Citarella produce bag protecting my hand
8 attempts at subtly studying said feces in public for any sign of those headphones
2 trips to the vet
45 minutes trying to get you to pee into a little plastic dish thing only to have the whole mess tip over onto my shoe
624 dollars to find out that you’re fine
Another ¼-lb. of Taleggio, somehow
Total amount due: $6,346
Payment due: 4/24/2015
If payment is not received by 4/24/2015, I will have no choice but to keep providing for you and loving you anyway because you are my dog.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you.
Your Indentured Owner
Doonesbury — Dead end.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Teaching tolerance and understanding in Cincinnati goes terribly wrong when wingnuts get a whiff of it.
What started out as a cultural awareness effort by Mason High School Muslim students this week morphed into a fierce 48-hour debate about prejudice, freedom and religion in public schools.
By the end, Mason High School canceled the “Covered Girl Challenge,” and principal Mindy McCarty-Stewart sent an apology to district families. The challenge was student-sponsored and voluntary, meant to combat stereotypes students may face when wearing head coverings, McCarty-Stewart wrote.
“As word spread beyond our school community … we received many strong messages that made me reconsider the event’s ability to meet its objectives,” she wrote. “I now realize that as adults we should have given our students better guidance.”
Even afterward, though, the episode and arguments illustrate the fault lines in Greater Cincinnati – and the U.S. – over where cultural awareness ends and promoting a religion begins. And where avoiding controversy ends and turns into bigotry.
“This is ridiculous!!” read one email sent to Mason that the Enquirer obtained under a public records request. “You’re spending our money to support Sharia and Islam…”
“There is absolutely no reason to do this,” read another. “Stop trying to down play the horrible thing (SIC) that have occurred in this nation at the hands of Muslims.”
But for Shakila Ahmad, her first reaction when she heard about the response to the hijab challenge was disappointment.
“You know what? I really thought we were a better community than this,” said Ahmad, a Mason resident and president and board chair for the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. “To let ourselves be bullied and intimidated, to cancel something whose whole objective was to build understanding is extremely disappointing.”
Well, come on; everyone knows that “religious liberty” only applies to Christians.
HT to FC.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Steve M asks a good question: If Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his inflammatory rhetoric was fair game when Barack Obama ran for president, shouldn’t Marco Rubio be held accountable for his favorite church’s claim that homosexuality is an addiction and evolution is Satanic?
The difference is that Mr. Rubio probably agrees with them.
By the way, the megachurch that Mr. Rubio attends is about a mile from my house. And although I try to be a good neighbor and a good Quaker, every time I drive by the place I flip them off. After all, if they’re going to incite intolerance and put meaningless symbols in the air, I might as well return the favor.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee knows how to scare up a crowd.
He’s almost right. Gay-rights activists won’t be satisfied until there are no more churches or Christians in America who treat the LGBT community as pariahs or who exploit their fear and loathing of them for money and political power. As it is, there are plenty of churches and Christians who welcome the LGBT community.
Actually, most gay-rights activists don’t give a shit what the churches or Christians do as long as they leave the rest of us in peace.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Not all people who call themselves Christians are sniveling bigots.
As Gov. Mike Pence prepares Thursday to sign controversial religious freedom legislation into law, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is raising concerns that the measure could hurt the city’s lucrative convention business and tarnish the state’s image as a welcoming place.
Ballard, a Republican, said the measure sends the “wrong signal” about the city and state. Opponents fear it could allow business owners to refuse services to same-sex couples.
“Indianapolis strives to be a welcoming place that attracts businesses, conventions, visitors and residents,” Ballard said Wednesday in a statement. “We are a diverse city, and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here.”
In Indianapolis, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) sent a letter to Pence on Wednesday threatening to cancel its 2017 convention in Indy if he signs the measure into law.
“Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry,” Todd Adams, the associate general minister and vice president of the Indianapolis-based denomination, told The Indianapolis Star.
Adams said the Disciples of Christ would instead seek a host city that is “hospitable and welcome to all of our attendees.”
The Disciples of Christ has held its annual convention in Indianapolis three times since 1989. Adams expected about 8,000 to attend in 2017. VisitIndy estimated the economic impact at $5.9 million.
In fact, I would say that the majority of people who call themselves Christians are as open-minded and as welcoming as this example. It’s the bigots with the big mouths and a roving eye for money and a gullible crowd that have hijacked the label, much the same way the Taliban and ISIS have poisoned Islam.
I am not a fan of boycotts; they rarely work and harm innocent people who depend on the boycotted industry or place. However, it would be very un-Quakerly to embarrass the good religious people of Indiana by giving them my gay business or my gay money, so I will not put them in the awkward position of having to accept it as long as this legalized gay-bashing is in place. I’m sure they will understand that I’m doing them a big favor.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Via the New York Times:
After three decades of debate over its stance on homosexuality, members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted on Tuesday to change the definition of marriage in the church’s constitution to include same-sex marriage.
The final approval by a majority of the church’s 171 regional bodies, known as presbyteries, enshrines a change recommended last year by the church’s General Assembly. The vote amends the church’s constitution to broaden marriage from being between “a man and a woman” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”
The Presbytery of the Palisades, meeting in Fair Lawn, N.J., put the ratification count over the top on Tuesday on a voice vote. With many presbyteries still left to vote, the tally late Tuesday stood at 87 presbyteries in favor, 41 against and one tied.
Monday, March 2, 2015
Ana Marie Cox, the columnist for the Daily Beast and known for her liberal punditry, has come out as a Christian.
Not that it’s any of my business — or anyone else’s, for that matter — to render judgment on her personal beliefs, but I think it says something about our discourse today that people feel they either have to hide their faith or their lack of it for fear of being held up to someone else’s standard of just how holy they are.
My hesitancy to flaunt my faith has nothing to do with fear of judgment by non-believers. My mother was an angry, agnostic ex-Baptist; my father is a casual atheist. (I asked him once why he didn’t believe in God, and he replied easily, “Because He doesn’t exist.”)
I am not smart enough to argue with those that cling to disbelief. Centuries of philosophers have made better arguments than I could, and I am comfortable with just pointing in their direction if an acquaintance insists, “If there is a God, then why [insert atrocity]?” For me, belief didn’t come after I had the answer to that question. Belief came when I stopped needing the answer.
No, I’m nervous to come out as a Christian because I worry I’m not good enough of one. I’m not scared that non-believers will make me feel an outcast. I’m scared that Christians will.
That’s because a large segment of our political world has decided that being “Christian” is different than being a Christian. Barack Obama says he’s a Christian, but he’s not “Christian” enough for those who need another reason to hate him because of, oh, some other reason. Those are the professional “Christians” who have trouble with those Christians who accept marriage equality in their churches or meeting houses, who believe women have the right to control their bodies, who welcome strangers to a strange land, and who believe that taking care of the planet is part of the life we have going here.
I have a feeling Ms. Cox will be welcomed in liberal circles a lot more than she will in the ones that demand she prove she’s really a “Christian.”
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The poll by the Democratic-leaning firm found that 57 percent of Republicans “support establishing Christianity as the national religion” while 30 percent are opposed. Another 13 percent said they were not sure.
It almost goes without saying that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits establishing of a national religion.
The poll was conducted among 316 Republicans from Feb. 20-22. The margin of error was plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that somehow the GOP is able to wiggle around the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and get Christianity designated as the “national religion.” What exactly would it mean? Would Christians be favored over people of other faiths to run for office, say for president? Well, so far we’ve already had forty-four presidents and they have all been, in some fashion, Christians. So that’s covered. Would Christians get special dispensation from paying taxes on their religious sites and places of worship? Seems we’ve got that covered already; churches don’t pay taxes. But then again, neither do mosques, synagogues, or Quaker meeting houses, so maybe the Christians want those other faiths to cough up. Would Christians get their holidays designated as federal holidays? Okay, but try getting a passport or buying a stamp at the Post Office on December 25. Easter, which is a Christian holiday, is always on a Sunday, but a lot of states and municipalities still have blue laws that prohibit doing business on the Christian Sabbath, holiday or not. Friday and Saturday, which are the Muslim and Jewish days of rest respectively, don’t get that special treatment. So it looks like the Christians already have their faith in place as the national religion, official or otherwise.
There’s an even more fundamental question, so to speak: which version of Christianity would get the designation as the “national religion”? There’s an endless number of varieties within the faith, and varieties within the varieties: Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptic, Episcopal, Anglican, Baptist, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Quaker, Unitarian, Brethren, and so on and so forth. Each claims to be the true Christian church. What would set one as the official one? Or would they all be? Who would decide? Would there be a Department of Christianity that would oversee the functions of the national religion? Would it oversee the implementation of laws that meet Christian standards much in the way that other theocracies like Iran or ISIS have a ministry that oversees sharia law? Now there’s a good example to follow.
Or would the designation of Christianity as the national religion be something done just to go through the motions, a resolution passed by Congress with as much intent and enforcement as the designation of National Pickle Week? That would be a slap to the faith; Christians expect something more from their government than just a scroll and a shout-out from the well of Congress.
It’s an interesting experiment to think what this country would be like if Christianity was the national religion, but in many ways it already is. What’s a bit more ridiculous is that people who belong to the party that claims to be for freedom and smaller government think that it would be a good idea if we were to impose upon the country the one thing that has proved over time to be the very antithesis of both freedom and democracy: the Christian faith. They really don’t seem to think these things through.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
If we have gotten to the stage in this country where people are actually being paid to write articles telling us that it’s President Obama’s fault that people question his religion, then we might as well bring on the meteor to wipe us out like the dinosaurs because there’s no hope left.
This is the dumbest shit ever. The idea that the President Obama is partly to blame for the confusion over his religious faith is ridiculous. While Andrew Jackson was our first Trinitarian president, and he only converted after leaving the White House, we have never had any president who professed to believe in any religion other than Christianity or its unitarian offshoots. If we elected a Buddhist or a Jew or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Mormon, everyone would know about it.
By the way, we’ve had two Quaker presidents — Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon — so chew on that while you wait for the firestorm.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
If we are to prevail over ISIS, then we should understand them. This article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood goes a long way towards that education.
Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.
As Mr. Wood says, the closest comparison for Westerners is to the hardcore apocalyptic cults with a charismatic leader who takes a faith, perverts it to his own psychosis, gathers a group of followers, and proceeds to immolation. It’s not limited to Christians; there are such examples in nearly every faith, and in some cases religion or the bastardization of it is merely a cover for a cult of personality centered around someone with a smooth tongue and refuge for the lost and hopeless.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
The Truth Hurts — Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why the president’s speech at the prayer breakfast touched so many right-wing nerves.
People who wonder why the president does not talk more about race would do well to examine the recent blow-up over his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Inveighing against the barbarism of ISIS, the president pointed out that it would be foolish to blame Islam, at large, for its atrocities. To make this point he noted that using religion to brutalize other people is neither a Muslim invention nor, in America, a foreign one:
Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
The “all too often” could just as well be “almost always.” There were a fair number of pretexts given for slavery and Jim Crow, but Christianity provided the moral justification. On the cusp of plunging his country into a war that would cost some 750,000 lives, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens paused to offer some explanation. His justification was not secular. The Confederacy was to be:
[T]he first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society … With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so.
It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws.
Stephens went on to argue that the “Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa” could only be accomplished through enslavement. And enslavement was not made possible through Robert’s Rules of Order, but through a 250-year reign of mass torture, industrialized murder, and normalized rape—tactics which ISIS would find familiar. Its moral justification was not “because I said so,” it was “Providence,” “the curse against Canaan,” “the Creator,” “and Christianization.” In just five years, 750,000 Americans died because of this peculiar mission of “Christianization.” Many more died before, and many more died after. In his “Segregation Now” speech, George Wallace invokes God 27 times and calls the federal government opposing him “a system that is the very opposite of Christ.”
Now, Christianity did not “cause” slavery, anymore than Christianity “caused” the civil-rights movement. The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power. That is what the Muslims terrorists in ISIS are seeking to do today, and that is what Christian enslavers and Christian terrorists did for the lion’s share of American history.
That this relatively mild, and correct, point cannot be made without the comments being dubbed, “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” by a former Virginia governor gives you some sense of the limited tolerance for any honest conversation around racism in our politics. And it gives you something much more. My colleague Jim Fallows recently wrote about the need to, at once, infantilize and deify our military. Perhaps related to that is the need to infantilize and deify our history. Pointing out that Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now does not make ISIS any less barbaric, or any more correct. That is unless you view the entire discussion as a kind of religious one-upmanship, in which the goal is to prove that Christianity is “the awesomest.”
Obama seemed to be going for something more—faith leavened by “some doubt.” If you are truly appalled by the brutality of ISIS, then a wise and essential step is understanding the lure of brutality, and recalling how easily your own society can be, and how often it has been, pulled over the brink.
The Pain is Exquisite — John McQuaid at Salon explains why chili makes the taste buds dance.
Chili heat is painful, yet enjoyable; fiery, with no rise in temperature. In 1953, T. S. Lee, a biologist at the National University of Singapore, tried to unravel the physiology behind this reaction. He asked a group of forty-six young men to eat chilies, and monitored their sweating. Perspiration is a physiological reaction to heat. Rising body temperature, whether from the surroundings or from muscles warming during exercise, triggers a reaction in the hypothalamus. Via a series of feedbacks between the brain and the body, sweat glands go to work. Sweat evaporating off the skin cools the body; when its temperature drops back to normal, it stops.
Lee had the volunteers dress in cotton trousers only, then painted their faces, ears, necks, and upper bodies with a solution of iodine and dusted them with dry cornstarch—a combination that makes sweat turn blue. Lee used peppers common in Asian cuisine, from the species Capsicum annuum. Their tapered red fruits are about ten to twenty times hotter than jalapenos. For the sake of comparison, at a different time Lee’s subjects also taste-tested solutions of cane sugar, bitter quinine, acetic acid, potassium alum (an astringent that makes the lips pucker), ground black pepper, mustard paste, and hot oatmeal. Some also gargled with hot water, chewed rubber, or swallowed feeding tubes.
In one experimental run, after eating chilies for five minutes straight, the subjects flushed red in the face, then all but one began to sweat. The areas around their noses and mouths turned blue, followed by their cheeks. Lee did another trial with seven participants, feeding them one pepper, then another: five continued to sweat, two profusely. Among the controls, only the acid and ground pepper made the volunteers sweat.
Eating chilies doesn’t raise body temperature, so there is no physical need for cooling. Yet in Lee’s experiment, the subjects sweated as if they had run a mile on a hot afternoon. To verify that the reactions to chili heat and genuine heat were equivalent, Lee had some volunteers put their legs in hot water. As their temperatures rose, the patterns of sweating on their faces were identical to those produced by eating peppers. Lee had already deduced that chili heat could not be a taste, because people felt its burn on their lips, where there are no taste receptors. His experimental results indicated another body system was at work: the one that registers discomfort from burning. The chili burn was a form of pain. But it differs in one important respect: touch boiling water, and the pain intensifies until the hand is withdrawn. Start eating a Carolina Reaper, and the heat builds for several minutes, becoming overwhelming. But continue, and the heat recedes, leaving the mouth numb to chili’s effects. Capsaicin causes pain, then blocks it.
The chili culture is all about pushing limits. Ed Currie believed embracing it had helped him overcome his own weaknesses. He had organized his life around a single, powerful sensation, and it had worked: Guinness named Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper the world’s hottest pepper in 2013. But success depended on staying ahead of the competition; the race would eventually take chili heat higher and higher, past two million Scoville units, into realms of pungency never tasted before. How far could he go, and who would follow?
Pleasure is never very far from aversion; this is a feature of our anatomy and behavior. In the brain, the two closely overlap. They both rely on nerves in the brainstem, indicating their ancient origins as reflexes. They both tap into the brain’s system of dopamine neurons, which shapes motivation. They activate similar higher-level cortical areas that influence perceptions and consciousness. Anatomy suggests these two systems interact closely: in several brain structures, neurons responding to pain and pleasure lie close together, forming gradients from positive to negative. A lot of this cross talk takes place in the vicinity of the hedonic hotspots—areas that bridge basic reflexes and consciousness.
He’s Back — Andy Borowitz reports on the return of Jonas Salk. And boy is he pissed.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The reanimated corpse of Dr. Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, rose from the grave Friday morning on what authorities believe is a mission to hunt down idiots.
The zombie version of Salk, wearing a tattered white lab coat and looking “incredibly angry” according to one eyewitness, was seen advancing on the U.S. Capitol building at approximately 11 A.M.
While Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, hid in the Senate cloakroom, armed security forces repelled the zombie virologist, who, seemingly unharmed, moved on in search of new prey.
According to law enforcement, the reanimated Salk then stole a car and headed off in the direction of Trenton, New Jersey.
“We have reason to believe he’s coming for Governor Christie,” said a staff member from Chris Christie’s office. “Fortunately, the Governor is never here.”
With both Disneyland and Marin County on high alert, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security warned that, as long as the rampaging vaccine pioneer was at large, law enforcement would be stretched thin.
“Unfortunately, we do not possess the resources to protect every idiot in this country,” the spokesman said.
Doonesbury — Office gossip.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder, Except… Valerie Tarico in AlterNet on the violence inherent in religion.
The year 2015 has opened to slaughter in the name of gods. In Paris, two Islamist brothers executed Charlie Hebdo cartoonists “in defense of the Prophet,” while an associate killed shoppers in a kosher grocery. In Nigeria, Islamist members of Boko Haram massacred a town to cries of Allahu Akbar—Allah is the greatest! Simultaneously, the United Nations released a report detailing the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militias, sometimes reciting Bible verses. On a more civilized note, Saudi Arabia began inflicting 1000 lashes on a jailed blasphemous blogger—to be doled out over 20 weeks so that he may survive to the end. In media outlets around the world, fierce debate has erupted over who or what is responsible. Is monotheism inherently violent? Is religion an excuse or cover for other kinds of conflict? Are Western colonialism and warmongering in the root of the problem? Do blasphemers make themselves targets? Is the very concept of blasphemy a form of coercion or violence that demands resistance? Is killing in the name of gods a distortion of religion? Alternately, is it the real thing?
Each of these questions is best answered “yes, and” rather than “yes/no.”
With the possible exception of Buddhism, the world’s most powerful religions give wildly contradictory messages about violence. The Christian Bible is full of exhortations to kindness, compassion, humility, mercy and justice. It is also full of exhortations to stoning, burning, slavery, torture, and slaughter. If the Bible were law, most people you know would qualify for the death penalty. The same can be said of the Quran. The same can be said of the Torah. Believers who claim that Islam or Christianity or Judaism is a religion of peace are speaking a half-truth—and a naive falsehood.
The human inclination toward peacemaking or violence exists on a continuum. Happy, healthy people who are inherently inclined toward peacemaking focus on sacred texts and spiritual practices that encourage peace. Those who are bitter, angry, fearful or prone to self-righteousness are attracted to texts that sanction violence and teachers who encourage the same. People along the middle of this continuum can be drawn in either direction by charismatic religious leaders who selectively focus on one or the other.
Each person’s individual violence risk is shaped by a host of factors: genetics, early learning, health, culture, social networks, life circumstances, and acute triggers. To blame any act of violence on religion alone is as silly as blaming an act of violence on guns or alcohol. But to deny that religion plays a role is as silly as denying that alcohol and guns play a role. It is to pretend that religions are inert, that our deepest values and beliefs about reality and morality have no impact on our behavior.
From a psychological standpoint, religions often put a god’s name on impulses that have subconscious, pre-verbal roots. They elicit peak experiences like mystic euphoria, dominance, submission, love and joy. They claim credit for the moral emotions (e.g. shame, guilt, disgust and empathy) that incline us toward fair play and altruism, and they direct these emotions toward specific persons or activities. In a similar way, religions elicit and channel protective reactions like anger and fear, the emotions most likely to underlie violence.
The Odds of Marriage Equality — Garrett Epps in The Atlantic on the Supreme Court’s capacity to surprise.
I have many vices. I have been known to wager a dollar on those poker-hand coffee cups, and to go all in with deuces in the pocket. But I also once drew five aces and still lost; since then, prediction is not one of my bad habits. I’m not going to predict, then, what the Supreme Court will do with the same-sex marriage cases now that it has put them on this year’s docket. But if I were a bookie, I’d make marriage equality an odds-on favorite. It has been less than two years since Windsor v. United States, but it seems like a decade. Court after court has struck down bans on same-sex marriage; the “traditional marriage” camp has begun to seem like the enemy in Sun Tzu’s Art of War—exhausted, bewildered, devoid of hope or spirit. Take the decision under review in today’s grant of cert. The Sixth Circuit upheld the ban. But Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s opinion might generously be called listless. A famously bright and resourceful conservative was unable to muster a single serious argument why marriage equality was actually a bad thing; he was reduced to feebly protesting that it would be better for gay people themselves if they were to gain their rights through politics rather than law.
There’s not much there from which to fashion a last-ditch defense of “one man, one woman.” Prodded by the federal courts, the nation has already decided. For the Court to affirm Sutton’s opinion would seem almost akin to reversing Brown v. Board of Education.
But even if Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote seems foreordained, he must choose between the rights of gays and lesbians—an issue on which he has fashioned a historic legacy—and the prerogatives of the states, about whose “dignity” and honor he has often rhapsodized. He might be tempted to split the baby by holding for the states on the “celebration” issue but for the challengers on “recognition.” (The Court’s grant of review was careful to split the two questions.) That is, he might say, a state could refuse to perform marriages itself, but could not refuse those legally married out of state the benefits of marriage under state law.
But the temptation will be fleeting because that dog won’t hunt. In Kennedy’s Windsor opinion, he wrote that the federal government’s refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages “humiliated” not only gay couples but their children. The children of couples who seek legal marriage in-state would be no less humiliated by their parents’ inability to marry than those of couples who married out of state. Once the issue becomes “the children,” we have probably entered the endgame.
That’s still not a prediction. This Court has shown a tremendous capacity to surprise. But if anybody wants to put down money on the states in the new case of Obergefell v. Hodges, please look me up. I will be the guy with the coffee cup and the careful poker face.
A President and a King — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on how Barack Obama wrestles with the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
…Yet six years in the White House have vastly complicated Obama’s relationship to King. They are two of the three African-Americans who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. (The first, Ralph Bunche, was awarded the prize in 1950, for negotiating a truce between Jews and Arabs in 1949.) When King accepted his award, in 1964, he began his speech by questioning his worthiness as a recipient, since the movement he led had not yet achieved interracial peace:
I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.
Obama opened his acceptance speech, in 2009, on a similarly self-effacing note, stating that he had barely begun his Presidency and his achievements were few. But then he departed from King’s reasoning. There is such a thing as just war, he said, under circumstances in which force is used in self-defense, is proportional to the threat, and, “whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.” He continued:
I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world.
A moral crusader and a Commander-in-Chief grapple with different prerogatives. King was never tasked with national defense; Obama’s election was contingent on a belief that he could keep Americans safe. Some observers nevertheless find it difficult to square elements of Obama’s foreign policy—drone warfare and its civilian casualties—not only with King’s concept of civilization but with the President’s own criteria for just warfare. Cornel West railed against the decision to use King’s Bible at Obama’s second swearing-in. “The righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King,” he said, “becomes a moment in political calculation.” Still, the King who denounced the triple evils of militarism, racism, and materialism would likely hail next week’s address, in which the President is expected to touch upon normalizing relations with Cuba, immigration reform, and providing free education for students at community colleges—along with the Administration’s efforts to prevent voter suppression, the cause that animated the Selma campaign, fifty years ago.
Beneath all this lies the irony that, nearly six years after the Cairo speech, Obama is less able to deploy the moral capital of civil rights, at least in the Middle East, not only because he is now established as the face of American authority but also because many of the battles that King fought have still not been resolved. Racism remains an Achilles’ heel. The protests in Ferguson, New York, and beyond were watched by a global audience, and, as during the Cold War, America’s domestic troubles become fodder for a morally compromised foreign power to deflect attention from its own failings. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei took to Twitter to highlight the seeming contradiction that such actions were taking place under a black President. He tweeted, “Racial discrimination’s still a dilemma in US. Still ppl are unsecure for having dark skins. The way police treat them confirms it.” In spite of Obama’s debt to the civil-rights movement, the ideal of American exceptionalism is only as valid as the standing of people who have just as often been seen as exceptions to America.
Doonesbury — Hear that?