Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fanning the flames of the new sexism

Somehow, the election of Barack Obama allowed all the racists to crawl out from under their rocks and expose their blatant bigotry. I’m not sure why opinions that in my youth would have been repressed as shameful, are somehow now acceptable in the light of day. The resurgence seems to be promoted by the anonymity of social media, its ability to unite people with unpopular opinions, and to pile on in twitter storms with hashtags.   This appears to have risen just as we have loosened community social norms and personal expectations, as people become more isolated from real life interactions.

Similarly, we seem to be under a rebirth of sexism,  with a vile new internet component. This has exposed a scary undercurrent of angry men and made our advances as women seem far more vulnerable than they felt 10-15 years ago..

Three on line articles that I saw today make this point.

Item 1: 
A female comedian posts a comment on Twitter about guns, and is subject to vigorous disagreement by men. Disturbingly, this degenerates into threats of rape and sexual violence, and internet stalkers spread the threats to friends and colleagues.
What’s upsetting is that so many men took that statement as a springboard to making me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. And they felt fine doing this because I’m a woman. Two male friends of mine with much larger followings had tweeted similar jokes and didn’t see a fraction of the hateful responses that I did. And I’m sure they saw none of the same threats.

This isn’t the first time that a woman has been harassed online. It’s definitely not the last time, either. That’s really the problem. This is one small instance in an unending series of events. We need to stop accepting this behavior as an unavoidable consequence to writing on the Internet. Harassment doesn’t need to be just the cost of doing business.

My point is for men: Stop doing this. The only thing gained from you saying disgusting, aggressive, sexual, violent, and threatening things on the internet is that we now know that you’re part of the problem.
This woman’s experience is a dishearteningly common. See, for example, “Gamer Gate”,  in which some male video gamers are angry that women and gays are part of the community and changing the sorts of games it produces, and reacting violently and angrily against inclusive gaming. It is deeply disturbing and ongoing online harassment including techniques such as “doxing” (publishing personal information online) and “Swatting” (telling the police there’s a shooter at your address) which are hugely frightening.

It is only a small step from this to

Item 2 
Apparently, there’s a figure named “Roosh” who advocates for legal rape of women, and is trying to arrange world wide gatherings in major cities of men who agree. These are men who assume that a woman’s body belongs to them by virtue of their sex. Roosh is part of the internet “manosphere”, the sort of online misogynists who inspired shooter Elliot Rodgers who complained he couldn’t get a girlfriend.  Rodgers went on a violent stabbing and shooting spree targeting women at the university of California, Santa Barbara, and killed six people.

This objectification, although contributes to the less scary but still disturbing

Item 3 
Seems that Susan Sarandon showed some cleavage in her dress for the recent SAG awards. Whereas this and more is apparently acceptable for the young things, the fact that Sarandon is 69 brought out ridicule and body-shaming.
To be clear, Susan Sarandon is a grown-ass woman who can wear what she wants. The suit was tailored, the bra was barely visible, and her breasts were only a “distraction” to those who would make them a focal point of conversation in the first place. You don’t want to be distracted by a woman’s breasts? Here’s a thought – LOOK AT HER FACE WHEN SHE’S TALKING. THAT’S WHERE THE WORDS ARE COMING FROM.
Another commenter writes,
it’s strikingly awful that Sarandon alone was the target of the social media bigots.

Sarandon is 69 and therefore it’s apparently not OK for her to remind us all that she’s still a living, breathing, sexual being.
Just saying, I thought she looked great.

Again, it seems to me that somehow the internet has empowered people (men, mostly) to express opinions that social pressure would normally?  at least, previously,  repress. And the speed of reaction and ability to connect across distance magnifies this.  

Indeed, we see violent reactions to political disagreements or other counter opinions on line, many of which are overtly sexual in their threats (to both men and women).  What is it about those who are angry and threatened that makes them think of sex as a weapon?

So instead of making steady progress toward a rational, equality driven future, we seem to be regressing into a violent, tribal past where the biggest man bangs his chest, and drags the woman away by her hair.


So now what?

The Republican blogger GOPlifer looks in his crystal ball.
There remains a significant possibility that the party exercises its own revolt at the convention; a revenge of the establishment. This ‘Red Wedding’ scenario could see the party purge the insurgents entirely, putting someone like Rubio at the top of the ticket and giving the far right the finger. There is only one reason to do this – because Bernie Sanders is winning the Democratic nomination.
If Clinton is sailing away with the Democratic nomination, the Republicans have no reason to risk the damage of a purge. No Republican is going to beat Clinton and Republican insiders generally understand this. If Clinton is the nominee then they have every reason to let Cruz (but not Trump) take the nomination and lose in a landslide.
A Sanders nomination changes the logic. That race becomes not only winnable, but a near-lock for any Republican who isn’t a raving idiot. Republican insiders will be alienate Cruz’s supporters, daring them to sit out the race and elect a socialist. Sanders is just what Republicans need to restore a little pragmatism to their electorate.
Look, I get that Bernie appeals to idealists.  But here's the problem.  He has no practical sense of how to implement the change he advocates, except somehow touchy feely stuff that the voters will rebel and everything will change.  Well, the voters DID rebel and we got the Tea-party.  Plus Dems never come out in the midterm elections.

Moreover, he has some policy proposals that do not make sense.  He has no clear road map on his single payer health care plan, he proposes across-the-board tax increases.  And frankly I don't see him winning in South Carolina or other states.

So, what?  If he's the nominee I'll vote for him, but he's just not going to pull in the disaffected and sensible Rs, and there aren't enough progressives to win the presidency.

If Bernie loses the nomination, he can take his marbles and go home, and his supporters can be spoiled children and do likewise, and we get another republican.  Oh, that worked SO WELL with Nader and Gore, didn't it?

Or, he can throw his weight behind Hilary and they can work together to make sure a D is in the White House.  He's already pulled her leftward, which is good.

And, the same thing vice versa.

The Dems have to come together--no circular firing squads.  Goal number 1:  a Dem in the white house.  Goal number 2:  as many Dems down-ticket as possible.

Alas, the Dems have a proven record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Get out the vote!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Iowa Stubborn

There is some solace in the fact that Iowa usually gets it wrong.  But Ted Cruz is one frightening guy-- razor smart , nihilistic, and God-obsessed, and supported by the majority of Evangelicals in Iowa including men of sizable influence like Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats.

Iowa Republican politics makes it clear that Evangelical Christians hate gay people, they hate women's rights, they hate science, and they hate atheists. They hate me.  And they are scary, scary people, because they are organized, they are concentrated, and they punch above their weight.

 Here's one theory: 
When you’re told by your pastor that all the people outside of your ideological tribe are utterly wicked and deserving of eternal torture, that’s how it becomes a sin to compromise with your opponents politically and work together for the common good. Because the point is not to find common ground with your opponents. It would be “unloving” to condone anything about their ideology since they’re going to hell. They need to be utterly defeated and brought into submission so that they can be saved. 
Everything about secular liberalism must be utterly antithetical to the Christian gospel and profoundly offensive to God. It has to be, or else secular liberals wouldn’t be worthy of damnation. So everything about liberalism is put into binary opposition with “God’s truth.” To believe in climate change is to believe that God is not in control of the environment. To believe that the government should provide for the poor is an emulation of atheist communism and a usurpation of God’s sovereignty. To promote “political correctness” is to silence the courageous proclamation of “Biblical truth."
Of course, if a more representative state like, oh, I don't know, CALIFORNIA? was able to vote early in the primary season, things would look different.  1 out of 12 Americans lives in California, which is not a majority-white state.  But instead, we give IA and NH, small states unrepresentative of the US at large, the first bite at the apple and the winner is....

Ted Cruz.

We'll see what happens next.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Canterbury kerfuffle and the collapse of the Church of England

Well, I have been watching the fall out from the debacle in Canterbury, where the primates of the Anglican Communion (the leaders of each of the individual churches in this loose federation) , plus the leader of a schismatic American group met and an effort of dubious legality was made to censure the Episcopal Church because of Teh Gayz. (There is less to this than the headlines imply, however.)  This intended to placate the strident anti-gay voices of some of the African churches that advocate criminalization of homosexuality, or at least, homosexual acts.  A three year "punishment" is presumably intended to allow General Convention to come to its senses (not gonna happen.....)

Archbishop Justin Welby of the Church of England, the symbolic leader of the Communion, wrung his hands and apologized for hurting those poor LGBT people but really it came across as an abusive parent who apologises to his child as he beats her. There was no effort to scold the African primates for their anti-gay language.  By all accounts the only person to come out of this well is TEC Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Here's a good summary of the whole thing.

Coincidentally, at the same time, a new survey was published about the collapse of the Church of England in the UK:
A POST-CHRISTIAN era has dawned in Britain, with most white Britons now saying they have no religion, according to a new survey. The increase is most pronounced among those aged under 40 and comes amid claims that they feel alienated from the church’s conservative social values.
There's a tendency here in the US to think of the C of E as a fellow traveller, but although many British Anglicans are very gay-friendly, the C of E institutionally is not.  The bishops argued in the House of Lords to prevent legalization of same sex marriage last year, and when that was inevitable, they put in place multiple legislative bits that actually prevent the C of E from marrying gay people (the so-called quadruple lock, which can only be undone with further parliamentary action).  And, gay priests who marry have lost their ability to officiate.

Andrew Brown (who has a new book coming out, That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People) surveys the collapse  in the Guardian:
But at the same time as people have been growing less religious, the Church of England has been growing more religious: more exclusive, more of a club for self-conscious believers, prouder of being out of step with the people it once served. 
Only last week, Justin Welby was boasting to the other leaders of Anglican churches that the Church of England had secured exemptions from equalities legislation – and then complaining that he operated in an “anti-Christian culture”. What does he expect, when the church he leads systematically violates the moral intuitions of most of its own natural constituency?
How can the C of E continue as an established church (with, one might add, guaranteed seats in the House of Lords), when it has lost the British people?

In any case, I prefer to focus on the exemplary leadership and grace of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who truly is the right face and the right voice for this time.  And of course, all these Anglican shenanigans have exactly no effect on the average Episcopalian, who is far more concerned with getting on with doing what needs doing, than with hot air blowing in Canterbury.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Persecution Complex and the Benedict Option (3)

So, is there another way for the Conservative Christians besides culture wars and withdrawal into themselves?  Nate Pyle thinks so.  Speaking of the Evangelicals and starting (again) with Wheaton College trying to purge itself of an inconvenient theology professor, he writes,
....Crossing evangelicals' traditional boundaries are perceived as a threat and met with animosity and conflict.
And he bemoans
It seems like, with recent actions, that a diversity of thought is a threat. Which makes me wonder if we could sit down with the Samaritan woman at the well and have the conversation Jesus did. Because our current actions show us more interested in making sure people know that we worship God on the right hill than understanding who they are. 
But he calls for something quite different:
As the church continues to figure out how to exist in a post-Christian society the question before us is, will our efforts to be distinct from culture come through ritual observance and strict boundary keeping, or will it come through radical concern for the other? Do we cut off relationship with those who think differently than us and make it harder for people to come into community with us, or do we change how we approach our differences? Are we willing to start with a new garment?
I believe the time has come for Christian communities to practice hospitality. Not niceness, but the radical welcoming of the other. Inviting the stranger to the table because we believe that, as human beings, they have a right to belong. The time has come to understand that the Spirit of the Living Christ, the one who touches the unclean and does not become unclean, lives in us. Jesus did not call his followers to remain within the boundaries of an ideology, but to break from and help those in need.  
Engagement, or isolation.  Which will it be?
Click here for the whole series. (once it's published) 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Persecution Complex and the Benedict Option (2)

So, what is going to happen as the conservative Christians circle the wagons, establishing a purity cult of right belief? This persecution complex has played out before, over and over.  It is in the bones of conservative Christianity.  Randall Stephans: 
The language of victimization convinced those who were fighting under the conservative banner that they were the true champions of liberty. Other causes paled by comparison. In 1960 Hargis mocked the “social crises” of racism and segregation. It was “one of the most artificial of all such crises, instigated by Communists within America to add racial hatred to class hatred, and thus betray America into communist hands through the betrayal of the American Negro.”** Several years later, as the black freedom struggle grew in strength and momentum, he would tell a reporter, “The persecuted minority in America is not the Negro, but the white folks of the South.”
Sound familiar?

What about those bastions of right thought, the evangelical colleges? Richard Flory  writes,
In reality, theology functions to set evangelicals apart from any sort of belief, ideology, cultural expression, political movement, etc., that doesn’t fit into the way that evangelical leaders and their constituents want the world to work. 
Through their many rules and guidelines, evangelical schools embody the codification of all of the fundamental fears and desires of the evangelical world. Tracking schools’ responses to what they perceive as threats—not only to their evangelical beliefs, but to their understanding of what American culture should be—reveals the history of how evangelicals view themselves and American culture.
He goes on to predict,
1) Evangelical schools will continue to find threats that provide a foil against which they can define themselves and their view of Christianity and America. .... 
2) Owing to a shrinking pool of “true believers” who can support and attend these schools, many will go out of business over the next 20 years. 
3) The reduced number of evangelical colleges and seminaries will retrench and become more aware of policing their cultural/theological boundaries, doubling down on their more restrictive impulses. 
4) Because of a general lack of hospitality and care and concern for “the other”— whether theological, gender, class or ethnic—evangelicalism overall will become even more white, straight and politically and religiously reactionary… 
5) …which will result, in turn, in even greater numbers of young people defecting from the religion they grew up in. Most will then claim no religious identity (even though they may still believe in God), while a few will move on to other Christian traditions, and fewer still will seek out other religious expressions.
Rinse and repeat.

But is there another way?  More tomorrow. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Persecution complex and the Benedict Option (1)

Columnist Rod Dreher is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy who is particularly known for his call for conservative Christians to explore "The Benedict Option":  essentially cutting themselves off from the mainstream culture as much as possible into  intentional, inward looking religious communities embedded within modern life.   This is a reaction to cultural changes he disapproves of, like gays marrying.

He's not alone amongst conservative Christians, who feel threatened by changes, and frightened by the thought that they are no longer the "moral majority" but rather, a minority.  Just when we thought that having won marriage equality might mean we could move past LGBT issues, it appears that the right wingers are even more deeply entrenched in their reaction against us.  Teh Gayz are the final straw.

We see the reaction in the demands of the right that they be allowed to discriminate against LGBT people, in ways that we would never countenance for any other demographic, or any other sinner.

And no question, this is a persecution complex. The very fact of same sex people being allowed to marry is seen as some sort of cultural Armageddon. A gay couple marching down the aisle is viewed as shock troops destroying Christianity.  David Sessions writes, 
Persecution is historically and politically imagined; what is conceived in 2015 to be an intolerable violation of conscience may not have been considered such 20 years ago and may not in another 20 years. Even in the unlikely event non-discrimination were mandated for every bakery in America, conservative Christianity will be just fine; maybe people will discover making a wedding cake for a gay couple is not really that big a deal, not actually a violation of conscience after all. .... 
Perhaps the more interesting question is why the rhetoric from conservative Christians has become so overheated and apocalyptic, so fixated on anecdotes and worst-case scenarios, when there are plenty of alternate ways of reading the situation.  
He predicts,

Conservative Christians have very recently made sexual morality the index of the vitality of religion, and equated challenges to it with challenges to Christianity itself. As that challenge becomes legal and political, they will feel persecuted and violated for a while, and then many of them will probably get on with their lives much as before. It seems to me that certain people in their ranks greeting gay rights as apocalyptic persecution is really a measure of their own turn toward a robustly metaphysical Christianity that has never had much purchase in the United States. Religion has and will continue to persist in America precisely on account of its pragmatic adaptability, but it is this progressive character that conservative intellectuals have begun to reject. The erosion of the Puritan cultural residue has pushed them to think bigger and longer, back to a kind of religion that came before the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the kind that French liberals were still struggling with in the nineteenth century. It’s hard to call it conservatism when what it ostensibly wants to conserve in fact never existed, at least in our cultural context. It is rather, a purification movement, a return to imagined roots, that is perhaps better described by a French word: intégrisme.
We can see this purity cult in the proposals for the Benedict Option.  We see it in the wagon-circling of the Evangelicals, where Wheaton College now wants to fire a tenured professor for saying there is one God worshipped by Jew, Christian, and Muslim.  We see it in the Mormon Church, which has now doubled down on the gays, saying that gays are apostates,  the children of gays are unworthy of baptism and now claims that this is actually a revelation from God. We see it in the denial of anti-gay activists, who insist that polls are mistaken and a majority of Americans still opposes marriage equality.

Damon Linker considers this reaction and puts it in perspective,
[T]his may be the first time in American history that devout Christians have been forced by events to accept without doubt that they are a minority in a majority secular nation. 
We have entered uncharted territory.
More tomorrow.  

Click here for the whole series. (once it's published)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Allies and assumptions: I'm not, but....

The rise of rights for LGBT including the right to marry, and in some places, non-discrimination protections, has depended upon two important phenomena:  first, the willingness of LGBT people to come out and identify themselves (often at great risk), and second, the willingness of straight allies to stand up for the gay minority.

Indeed, those non-gay allies, the people who are members of the majority, are an important and vital voice for the community. A gay person advocating for their rights is different than a  straight person  arguing for  gay rights. The straight person is assuming not to have a dog in the fight, so to speak:  it's as though they are legitimized because of their dis-interest.

Still, there's a difference between people who can say "I'm not gay, but I support the community", and allowing someone to assume you are gay yourself, even if you aren't.  It's joining the marginalized where they are.  Less effective in some ways, more effective in others.  It's also what happened with the twitter tag earlier this year, #jesuischarliehebdo.

As many of you know, I'm a non-believer who regularly attends an Episcopal church;  a secular Christian, as I call myself.  I'm active in many ways in our church and I am not in the closet about my lack of belief.  Outside of that community,  I'm gay, an academic and a scientist,  identities that are  widely assumed to be non-religious, if not actively hostile.

Recently, I have had several instances of identifying myself in my professional community as church-friendly, and I have decided to let those people assume that I am a practicing Christian.  It shakes them up:  it breaks the mold about me and challenges easy assumptions both about religion and who believes. 

These are little things.  I asked vendors at a local convention exhibition for donations of spare t-shirts for the homeless program run by our church (the vendors, who are generally not scientists, were quite friendly about it.)  This amused my wife, who  had wondered if I would bring church into the request.  

More strikingly, though, was pointing out to my university that a major committee meeting currently slated for Good Friday and Holy Saturday was occurring on a significant religious holiday and personally quite inconvenient to me, which seems to have left them nonplussed.  

Here's the thing:  I am fairly confident  that they would never schedule a meeting on, say, Rosh Hashanah.  It seems odd to me  that they would not have the same awareness of Easter as one of the two major annual Christian holidays in the country, thus making the assumption that none of us on the committee would be celebrating.

I will be interested to see whether the assumption that I am a Christian has any further consequences.   However, I should add that I was careful to identify myself as participating in the Episcopal church.  The fundamentalists can find their own advocate!

And all this is turning around in my head as I look at the dangerous rhetoric surrounding Muslims in this country.  

What is the most effective way to be allies to our Muslim brothers and sister? Is it to use our position of privilege as non-Muslims to speak out?  Or is it to allow the assumption to be made that we are ourselves Muslim?  I think in particular of the Christian professor at evangelical Christian Wheaton College who was suspended for donning hijab in solidarity with the Islamic community  (though they now  claim it's because she said God is the same God for Muslims and Christians.  But so much for tenure....).

How do we most effectively advocate for justice? 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ugly Americans

Yesterday during the San Bernardino shootings, I was following Twitter trying to figure out what was going on.  Under the tag #SanBernardino, people were posting their horror, news updates, and what they could learn about police activity on the scanner.

When the suspect's name came out (which it did quite early on), there was a pile-on by the right wing about Muslims and terrorists.

Never mind that this man was a born US citizen.  His foreign name and presumed Muslim religion was enough for them to come out, the Islamophobes.

Never mind that mass shooters are disproportionately white males, most of them probably Christian.  Those aren't terrorism.  They aren't brown.

It's more than enough to make you sick.

This morning, we all react in horror and confusion about why this man and his wife went to shoot up his co-workers at a holiday party. His family is stunned.  CAIR, the Council for American-Islamic Relations, immediately deplored the shooting.

Expect Trump the demagogue to call for mosques to close and a registry of Muslims.

But we've seen that before.  Do we really forget that this is how the Holocaust started, "othering" the Jews in Germany?

Do we really forget so easily the "othering" of our own Japanese American citizens, expropriating their property and putting them in concentration camps?

Be watchful.  Speak out. Build bridges to our Muslim brothers and sisters.  Wearing hijab in this climate is a brave move for any Muslim woman;  be supportive.

We must stand up to the ugly Americans.