Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why are they so cruel?

After the debacle of the AHCA collapse, one thing seems crystal clear:  the Republican party is a party of heartless cruelty.  The AHCA would have essentially destroyed the insurance market.  In their attempts to court the far-right, they even got rid of a requirement that minimal plans cover "outpatient care, emergency room visits, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and addiction treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, lab services, preventive care and pediatric services."  So, what's the point of having insurance if it doesn't cover everything?

Exactly.  The point is that "those people" don't deserve any help.

This comes on top of efforts to de-fund social programs including those that support Meals on Wheels.

Paul Waldman:
Beneath proposals like that is a particular view of poor people, one that drips with contempt. It sees them not as those who have had hard lives or encountered some bad luck or who could use help, but people who are fundamentally lazy and trying to scam the system. What they need is a lecture on bootstrap-pulling and maybe some humiliation, and then through that suffering they might improve their moral character enough to be worthy of the government benefits those with higher incomes enjoy. 
And the White House is eager to help; its proposed budget would slash nearly every program in sight that actually helps people, from Meals on Wheels to afterschool programs to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food assistance program to affordable housing to libraries. 
All this is accompanied, of course, by the Republicans' eternal desire to cut taxes on the wealthy. So pay attention, because this is what Republicans do when they get the chance: They work like dogs to make the lives of those at the bottom and middle more difficult, while trying equally hard to ease the burdens so unjustly suffered by those at the top.  

Chauncey DeVega:
It is normal to feel aghast at and disgusted by the Republican Party’s war on the poor. The more challenging and perhaps even more disturbing task is to ask why today’s conservatives feel such antipathy, disregard and hostility toward poor and other vulnerable Americans. Certainly greed and a slavish devotion to a revanchist right-wing ideology are part of the answer. But they may not be sufficient 
....American political elites often use language that robs poor and other marginalized people of their individuality, humanity and dignity. This language also creates a type of social distance between “middle class” or “normal” Americans and those with economic disadvantages. ...conservatives are more likely than liberals or progressives to believe in what’s known as the “just world fallacy,” whereby people who suffer a misfortune are viewed as somehow deserving their fate....
and like so much else, it is deeply tied to racial dynamics.
As such, poor people are incorrectly stereotyped as being overwhelmingly black and brown. In the United States, the intersections of race and class also affect the media narratives and cultural scripts that have dictated who has historically been considered “deserving” (widows of war veterans, people with disabilities, single white mothers, children, elderly folks) and “undeserving” (adult men and people of color) poor. 
Of course, you'll know they are "Christians" by their love:
Among evangelical Christians, what is called the “prosperity gospel” has become increasingly influential. This grotesque interpretation of Christian doctrine assures its adherents that poor people deserve their circumstances because God has chosen not to bless them with money. Conversely, rich people have more money because God has deemed them worthy. Christian evangelicals — especially those who believe in the prosperity gospel — were a key constituency in Donald Trump’s winning coalition.
As Gandhi said, your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The fallacy at the heart of the "Benedict Option"

As we have discussed before, conservative columnist Rod Dreher has proposed "The Benedict Option", whereby conservative Christians withdraw as they can from society, mainly because of LGBT people. Indeed, Dreher refers to LGBT rights (and same sex marriage) as “LGBT activism [as] the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war.”

Which apart from its appalling hyperbole, will be news to the many faithful gay Christians I know.  Further, I have got news for Rod Dreher.  When it comes to marriage and the integrity thereof, let alone sexual morals, I am pretty darned conservative.  The difference is that I recognize that others may not share my particular view of morality.  My morality does not depend upon theirs, nor do I seek to impose mine upon them.

But I digress. Dresser has now written a book about this, called The Benedict Option which is getting some attention.

Over at the NY Times, David Brooks comments,
Maybe if I shared Rod’s views on L.G.B.T. issues, I would see the level of threat and darkness he does. But I don’t see it. Over the course of history, American culture has tolerated slavery, sexual brutalism and the genocide of the Native Americans, and now we’re supposed to see 2017 as the year the Dark Ages descended?
But Dreher thinks that Brooks has missed his point.
the thrust of the book is not about persecution, but about the loss of Christianity. It’s not a book about how to resist Robespierre as much as it is a book about how to keep your kids and your church from turning into Rachel Held Evans, which would be a precursor to losing the faith entirely.
Ouch. Rachel Held Evans is a prominent former-evangelical-now-Episcopalian liberal Christian. Don't you just hear the love in Dreher's snark?  He doesn't consider liberal Christians to be Christians at all.

The site Women in Theology brings up a certain...shall we say, inconsistency in Dreher's end-times views. 
...in attempting to prove that orthodox Christians are not obsessed with LGBT people, Dreher ends up admitting that orthodox Christians are in fact obsessed with LGBT people. Dreher’s analogy would exonerate orthodox Christianity of any special anti-gay bias if it conformed to the facts. In truth, however, the legalization and cultural acceptance of divorce long preceded any substantive gains made by the LGBT rights movement. Following the logic of Dreher’s analogy, LGBT rights would seem to be the caboose on the freight train steam-rolling orthodox Christian liberty, not its engine.
Yet as Dreher’s own writing attests, orthodox Christians only recently began fearing a future in which they were treated like racists. 
To Progressives, this seems like an unfair double-standard. One wonders why orthodox Christian entrepreneurs yearn for the right to fire only LGBT employees and not also divorced and re-married ones? Why do orthodox Christians assert the right to decline service to LGBT customers but not divorced and remarried ones? Why do orthodox Christians fear that priests will be forced to preside over marriages between LGBT people but not divorced ones? ... 
This discrepancy does not reflect LGBT people’s status as the first line of attack. If traditional marriage refers to a union that is not just heterosexual, but lifelong, then orthodox Christians should have been sounding the retreat eighty years ago. But they did not."
And isn't that the crux of the issue?  The conservatives want the right to deny LGBT people not only wedding cakes, but public services, in the name of religious freedom.  Yet, somehow, these denials are uniquely applied to LGBT people, and not to others of whom the faith might disapprove.

Let us (again) consider the issue of divorce in the Roman Catholic church.  The church is opposed to remarriage following divorce in church.  It denies Holy Matrimony to second marriages of this sort if they lack an annulment (as most do).  Pope Francis is in hot water with conservatives for even suggesting some mercy in offering Communion to the remarried.  But Catholics in the civil polis do not attempt to deny civil marriage to the previously married.  They do not deny them goods and services, ranging from baking cakes to renting them hotel rooms.

Somehow, then, the LGBT folks are particularly tainted.  And therein lies their hypocrisy of religious freedom, for if it were about that, they would be consistent about all sins.  No, this is about the "ick" factor-- the revulsion against LGBT people.

Women in Theology also writes,
LGBT people perhaps understand orthodox Christians’ fears even better than they do: the reality that LGBT people have already lived in fact proves much worse than the future Dreher fears. In addition to being fired, ridiculed, and hunted by state agents, LGBT people continue to endure evils that do not appear even in Dreher’s worst nightmares such as being beaten and killed, ostracized from and even kicked out of their families of origin, denied housing, unable to visit sick partners in hospitals, and disinherited. ....

I want this same protection and acceptance for orthodox Christians like Dreher, should they become an endangered minority. I do not want orthodox Christians to experience any of the injustices inflicted upon LGBT people. ....

Will orthodox Christians like Dreher pledge to do for LGBT people of all religious backgrounds what I have pledged to do for orthodox Christians?

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Trump Tribe

A post by a pastor in Florida has gone viral.  In it, he describes the experience of taking his daughter to see President Trump in Florida. 
I felt like people were here to worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the song per se – it was this inexplicable movement that was happening in the room. It was a religious zeal....
and of course, the crowd responded appropriately. But then, some people held up signs of protest....and the True Believers became outraged.
The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, "F*#% YOU!" Repeatedly..... 
My daughter was shaking in fear as she clung to me. The one man behind the protesters shoved himself forward, grabbed the lady by the arm and screamed with multiple expletives, "I'm going to take you out! This is my president and nobody has the right to disrespect him and nobody has the right to keep me from hearing him!"....
There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.
I am sure I am not the only one who called up memories of these images:

And then, a man in Kansas decided to shoot two men because they were dark-skinned and he thought they were Muslim. (They were actually from India). One died.

This racism and white tribalism may be Trump's country, but it is not my America.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The knowledge divide

Shortly after the election, Nate Silver and the gang at FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers to see what demographic characteristics separated the Trump supporter from the Clinton supporter, and they found that it wasn't income, or social class that correlated best.  Rather, the level of education was " the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016."

Why would this be?  They posit several reasons
  • Education levels may be a proxy for cultural hegemony....Trump’s campaign may have represented a backlash against these cultural elites.
  • Educational attainment may be a better indicator of long-term economic well-being than household incomes. ...
  • Education levels have strong relationships with media-consumption habits,...
  • Trump’s approach to the campaign — relying on emotional appeals while glossing over policy details — may have resonated more among people with lower education levels as compared with Clinton’s wonkier and more cerebral approach.
They conclude:
The education gap is carving up the American electorate and toppling political coalitions that had been in place for many years.
So, what has happened with the election of Trump to the White House?  Over at Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf invokes "The Shallow State" of ignorance that this uneducated, anti-intellectualism engenders.
Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy....
Trump & Co. are allergic to demonstrable, proven facts whether they be of the scientific, political, social, cultural, or economic variety. With leaders like these, the shallow state exists only on the surface, propelled only by emotion and reflex. Therefore, anything of factual weight or substance disturbs, disrupts, or obliterates it much as a rock does when dropped onto an image reflected in a pond. 
He highlights the antipathy to science and the arts expressed by the Trump administration as a further manifestation of this dumbing down of our institutions.

 This is the culmination of a long decline, that writer Thomas Nichols has highlighted as "The Death of Expertise".   He's written a book about this, but before that he wrote an article:
To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.

Worse, it’s dangerous. The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself....

This isn’t just about politics, which would be bad enough. No, it’s worse than that: the perverse effect of the death of expertise is that without real experts, everyone is an expert on everything. To take but one horrifying example, we live today in an advanced post-industrial country that is now fighting a resurgence of whooping cough — a scourge nearly eliminated a century ago — merely because otherwise intelligent people have been second-guessing their doctors and refusing to vaccinate their kids after reading stuff written by people who know exactly zip about medicine.
 So the real divide we see is those who are less educated and to some degree proud of their ignorance, and those who live in an empirical, fact-based world.

Is this related to Trump's immense support amongst the conservative Evangelicals?  We know they are wont to educate their children in home-schools, or religious colleges to keep them from Dangerous Ideas.   At Religion News Service, John Fea calls out his fellow evangelicals   for their deliberate anti-intellectualism.
Fear can easily be exacerbated by false information. And good information can often alleviate fear....These are facts. They are backed by statistics, data and evidence.

It is time for my fellow evangelicals to take seriously what the Founding Fathers of this nation called an “informed citizenry.” Better yet, it is time to counter fear with facts — a necessary starting point for worshiping God with our minds.
I don't know how to bridge this divide, because I live in the world of facts, science, art, and reality, and I am at a loss to explain these values to those who refuse to hear.   And meanwhile, the White House destroys data and makes up "alternative facts".

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Views on religion

Pew has published a new report showing that Americans' views on different religious groups have become warmer.  Strikingly, Muslims and Atheists are now viewed almost neutrally, rather than negatively.  (Wow, only 50% of Americans dislike people like me!  Score!)

Opinions on all religious groups moved higher with one spectacular exception.

The views of Evangelical Christians remained exactly the same.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Who should we fear?

The danger isn't from Islamic refugees.  No refugee from any of the recently targeted countries has committed any crime.

Indeed, more Americans have died at the hands of other Americans than at the hands of Islamic terrorists, since 2002. Yet One Republican Congressman explicitly says that attacks by whites are "different".
Left unmentioned during that speech and during any other public comment Trump has made is a January 29 mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that left six dead and was reportedly perpetrated by a white nationalist, anti-immigrant Trump fan. And Trump’s list of underreported attacks omits recent mass shootings in the U.S. like the murder of nine African American worshippers at the historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston in June 2015 and the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs a few months later that were committed by white non-Muslim men linked to extremist ideologies.  Think PRogres

 Newsweek reports,
These Americans thrive on hate and conspiracy theories, many fed to them by politicians and commentators who blithely blather about government concentration camps and impending martial law and plans to seize guns and other dystopian gibberish, apparently unaware there are people listening who don’t know it’s all lies. These extremists turn to violence—against minorities, non-Christians, abortion providers, government officials—in what they believe is a fight to save America. And that potential for violence is escalating every day.
Especially because the GOP has deliberately stoked the fire, supporting hysterical suggestions about martial law in TX and lawlessness of Obama.
Republicans continued their drumbeat of conspiracy theories to bring out the base, capturing the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2012. And imagine what these right-wing extremists thought. Where were the impeachment proceedings? Why wasn’t Obama under arrest? The man was a murderer, a tyrant spitting on the Constitution, a fraud holding the presidency unlawfully. There were only two possible answers for the extremists: accepting that the Republicans had been lying to them, or deciding that these politicians had sold out the minute they won control.

And so, the far-right wing—including the violent militants—has turned on the Republican Party. The establishment Republicans now fumble about, trying to understand why their preferred candidates are being kicked aside in favor of Donald Trump, who rages about sellout politicians and makes promises to do things that radicals adore. Forums like Stormfront fulminate with praise and devotion to Trump, while all but spitting on the more traditional candidates.

The Republicans played a dangerous game by giving credence to all those conspiracy theories about Obama, a game that made them a target of the right-wing rage they engendered. They have been the author of the rise of the radicals, peaceful and violent, that in turn is tearing the party apart.  
The GOP is in danger of succumbing entirely to become a white nationalist party.   I hope that most Americans are revolted by that, but I'm not sure that's true.

There have been numerous attacks against Muslims--and others who are different including a Sikh Temple.  Dylan Roof killed nine in Charleston.  Alexandre Bissonnette killed six in Québec.  Jewish organizations are getting bomb threats. And despite the clear and present danger that white supremacist groups offer to our safety, the Trumpians have removed them from a list of potential terrorist organizations. 
 The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters.
The program, "Countering Violent Extremism," or CVE, would be changed to "Countering Islamic Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism," the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.
Nothing makes their white nationalist goal clearer.   Which is why the neo-Nazis are gloating.

I know who frightens me most, and it's not a refugee family from Sudan.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The separation of us

It's the vitriol I find chilling-- the vituperative name-calling and threats against those who disagree.   When did we lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together?  I disagree vehemently with Trump voters, but I am horrified at threatening people online, doxxing or swatting them.  This is particularly favored by a brand of right-winger (often alt-right winger) but there are some on the left as well.

We must stop this.

A favorite blogger Paul Kowaleswki at the Desert Retreat House writes,

I almost can’t bear looking at Facebook posts or Twitter feeds nowadays because the vitriol is so strong and the attacks against one another are so strident.

Buddhists teach that a primary cause of our human suffering is the false illusion that we are separated from one another. I embrace this wisdom as a basic truth about our human condition. Regardless of how many walls we may build or how tall we may build them, our borders are always artificial because as human beings we “are” a web of dynamic interdependent relationship.

Priest and author, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:

The problem is that we think we are separated from one another

Exactly—this is exactly what the problem is.
But we cannot re-join one another when one person refuses to listen.

How do we bridge the divide?  First, we stop namecalling, and of course threats of violence and online attacks have no place.  Those who engage in that level of behavior must be ostracized by all.

Next, we frame our discussion in each other's values. BP had me watch this effective  TED Talk, "How to have better political conversations" and I commend it to you highly.   Conservatives don't share my values.  How do I express my values in their framework so they "get" what I mean?

How do we reunite our fracture polis?


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
--WB Yeats

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A peculiar American Christianity

An article from a few years ago considers the glaring absence of the majority of white Southern Evangelicals from the Civil Rights movement, in contrast to mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and others.
What is it about southern evangelicalism that prevented those churches historically from seeing the plight of blacks as connected to the Gospel and the command to love God and neighbor? Maybe there is a real deep theological flaw in what is known as “evangelical theology?” Maybe the evangelicalism of the 1940s, 50s and 60s did not really understand the Gospel as clearly as many are lead to believe. I honestly do not have the answers to these questions but if evangelicals were so blinded by these issues during the Civil Rights Movement it makes me wonder what evangelicals might be missing today.

The Rev. Giles Fraser, writing today:   (Emphasis mine)
For his inauguration, Trump has chosen two proponents of what is called the prosperity gospel to say the prayers. Paula White – once investigated by the Senate finance committee for her business dealings – is a TV evangelist, noted for her belief that faith makes you rich. And Detroit bishop Wayne T Jackson, who holds that “Donald Trump is an example of someone who has been blessed by God. Look at his homes, businesses, his wife and his jet. You don’t get those things unless you have the favour of God.” Being “blessed” has become a moral alibi for America’s greed. It is a nauseating smile of faux-gratitude that says: God gave this to me so it’s not about me having too much. 
Even traditional evangelicals are angry about Trump’s prayer picks. But American popular religion has been sailing in these dangerous waters ever since it borrowed from the late 19th century New Thought philosophy, developing ideas about the power of the mind and its importance to success. Bringing together Christianity, capitalism and cod psychology, and transforming preachers into motivational speakers delivering their sales pitches, evangelicals such as Peale re-imagined the life of an itinerant Jew who thought you couldn’t serve God and money, to be that of a poster boy for the super-rich. And at Trump’s inauguration it is this false Jesus, this king of Mammon, that is to be worshiped and showered with gold.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

An old cat's dying soliloquy

Years saw me still Acasto’s mansion grace,
The gentlest, fondest of the tabby race;
Before him frisking through the garden glade,
Or at his feet in quiet slumber laid;
Praised for my glossy back of zebra streak,
And wreaths of jet encircling round my neck;
Soft paws that ne’er extend the clawing nail,
The snowy whisker and the sinuous tail;
Now feeble age each glazing eyeball dims,
And pain has stiffened these once supple limbs;
Fate of eight lives the forfeit gasp obtains,
And e’en the ninth creeps languid through my veins.
Much sure of good the future has in store,
When on my master’s hearth I bask no more,
In those blest climes, where fishes oft forsake
The winding river and the glassy lake;
There, as our silent-footed race behold
The crimson spots and fins of lucid gold,
Venturing without the shielding waves to play,
They gasp on shelving banks, our easy prey:
While birds unwinged hop careless o’er the ground,
And the plump mouse incessant trots around,
Near wells of cream that mortals never skim,
Warm marum creeping round their shallow brim;
Where green valerian tufts, luxuriant spread,
Cleanse the sleek hide and form the fragrant bed.
Yet, stern dispenser of the final blow,
Before thou lay’st an aged grimalkin low,
Bend to her last request a gracious ear,
Some days, some few short days, to linger here;
So to the guardian of his tabby’s weal
Shall softest purrs these tender truths reveal:
‘Ne’er shall thy now expiring puss forget
To thy kind care her long-enduring debt,
Nor shall the joys that painless realms decree
Efface the comforts once bestowed by thee;
To countless mice thy chicken-bones preferred,
Thy toast to golden fish and wingless bird;
O’er marum borders and valerian bed
Thy Selima shall bend her moping head,
Sigh that no more she climbs, with grateful glee,
Thy downy sofa and thy cradling knee;
Nay, e’en at founts of cream shall sullen swear,
Since thou, her more loved master, art not there.’

Anna Seward, 1792