Friday, November 21, 2014

We need more republicans like this

I have recently started reading a blog called "GOPlifer".  The  writer is a sensible old-style republican, the sort that we used to have back in the day.  While I am more leftist than he is, and not as enamored of markets, I have been enjoying his writing.  A Republican party that came back to its rational roots (or should we say, sensible cloth coats) would be a welcome change and a force for good.  

Indeed, I'm often not comfortable with the extreme left, particularly its political correctness and identity politics, and very much opposed to the current fashion of shutting down unpopular speech or speakers.  There's a real streak of old-style Republican in me, though I still identify as more liberal than GOPlifer.  And I bet a lot of people who are uncomfortable in the middle would vote for some of his policies.Which would not necessarily be bad ones.

On immigration, GOPlifer writes,
We will achieve real border security when we start making intelligent policy choices. Republicans should be well positioned to lead the way on border security since many of the best solutions are based on market mechanisms rather than big government. Unfortunately, the GOP is not only the party of markets and commerce; it has become the central political expression of aging whites terrified of losing their cultural dominance.

That’s where Republican border security rhetoric confronts border security politics. The policies that will make America more powerful, wealthier, and more secure will also make America increasingly more diverse. Too many core Republican voters are willing to live in a weaker, poorer country so long as people who speak English and look like me remain securely dominant. As long as Republicans are more interested in cultural security than border security, Republicans will not regain leadership on immigration reform.
He has an excellent diagnosis of what the GOP is, and what it could be, from the view of a market-oriented capitalist.
Markets do not survive under weak or inept government. The Republican Party was originally organized to thwart powerful interests who, unhindered by a government too weak and ineffectual to provide justice, violently stole the labor and resources of an enslaved people. It took the force of a muscular, determined central government to end slavery. A century later it took a muscular, determined central government to enforce the rights of the formerly enslaved to participate freely in markets.

That battle for justice has not ended and may never end. Republicans will not regain our balance until we recognize one essential reality – government is not our enemy and it not the enemy of markets.
The South?  He recognizes the same neo-Confederate problem that we talked about earlier,  but sees the potential:
Southern men in their fifties launched their lives in an atmosphere of near-total protection from competition. God had made them racially supreme, the benevolent protectors of the weaker sex and even weaker neighboring races. Law and culture made that supremacy feel like a reality until the Federal government and global economic competition began to strip it away.....

For that formerly insulated generation, accelerating technological dynamism has undermined much of their economic value just at the moment when global capitalism has broadened the range of competition. They have lost privileges and protections they barely realized they had and the terror is palpable. Southern Republican politics in this moment is pure, distilled fear; rhetorical moonshine that rushes straight to the heart before dimming the eyes.
But, he sees much promise:
Reconstruction 2.0 is a relentless juggernaut bringing a brighter, freer, more prosperous future to the South. The aging Neo-Confederates that have seized control of the GOP are tilting at windmills. Cooler heads might regain political control before the party goes the way of the Whigs, but the country at large is already moving on. When the dust settles and the dead-enders have given up, the Southern states may be positioned to breathe vibrant new life into the American Dream.
And, today, he diagnoses the Republican party:
The miserable state of the Republican Party can perhaps be understood through its response to four simple truths. Each item on this list is measurable, provable and broadly regarded as obvious. Failure to acknowledge these four truths means being as clearly, empirically wrong as it’s possible to be in the otherwise mushy, gray realm of politics:

1) Climate change is real and it is caused primarily by human activity.

2) Human beings evolved from simpler life forms, and the same evolutionary process shapes all living systems.

3) Abortion is a complex issue because it involves two legitimate liberty interests in conflict with one another.

4) Race still skews economic outcomes in the United States.

...

Unfortunately, there is almost no corner of America in which a Republican can survive a primary election while openly acknowledging all four of these truths....

Mediation begins by reaching some agreement on a defined, provable set of facts. The truth is slow, but relentless. Over time it becomes irresistible. Anyone who is looking for a first step, a template for building a newly relevant Republican establishment should look first to those four truths. If we can ever generate a core of Republican strategists, activists and officeholders willing to acknowledge these simple, demonstrable truths without evasion or flinching, we’ll be on our way to a far brighter future for the party, the country, and our world.

So, Republicans, how do you take your party back?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Separating marriage rights from marriage rites

It's been a dizzying advance in the marriage equality business over the last 6 weeks.  TOday, the Supremes refused to grant a stay to South Carolina, which is covered by the recent decision in the 4th circuit and is grudgingly now an equality state.  Montana is covered by the 9th.

Kansas continues to throw roadblocks at equality and refuses to recognize what are in all technical respects, legal marriages. Eventually that will work out.  And eventually  SCOTUS will take it up (given the split in the circuits) and sort it out.

Meanwhile, a  group of right-wing Christian pastors has called upon their brethren to refuse to sign legal marriage licenses because they contaminate "real" marriage.  So people who want to be married, get married twice:  once by a judge, and once in church.

You know what?  Fine.  That's the system that works in many countries in the world, in which civil marriage is explicitly separated from religious matrimony.  Many liberal clergy have found it equally uncomfortable to be both an agent of the state, and a person of the cloth. At some level, separation of church and state almost requires it.

And I think it's a good idea. Indeed, we were married civilly, and only later (2.5 years later, actually) had a religious service to bless our marriage. 

Our civil marriage was a free-form set of vows and a wonderful celebration, with the dresses and the food and the party.

Our blessing was small, intimate, with only a small reception afterwards.   Instead of focusing on caterers and wedding planners, the preparation was filled with liturgical discussions and the required "counselling" although for an already-married couple, it was more like a review of the state of the union.  And so our faith community claimed us as their own, quite apart from how we claimed each other.

Separating the two made the religious component very intentional, without distraction.

So, to the separatist ministers, I say, fine.  No one wants you to be forced to do something against your faith. 

I actually think it's better for the couple, too. 

But they might want to be worried.  Once they are legally married , some couples might choose to forgo the church and just have the party.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pope Francis is no friend

I admit to being bemused at the response of LGBT people to Pope Francis.  Yes, he has attempted to reduce the focus on "pelvic issues" in the Roman Catholic church, with a renewed and welcome focus on the poor.  He has challenged the deeply political Vatican culture.  But he has NOT changed, nor is he likely to change, anything about how the Church views women or LGBT people.

There was a brief moment in the recent Synod on the Family where we all thought there might be at least a smidgeon of recognition that LGBT people are not unremittingly evil.  But that was hastily walked back in the final documents, amidst a conservative uproar.

And now, as if to polish his anti-equality bona fides, the Vatican is sponsoring an ecumenical conference on men and women, where the invitation list is straight out of the US culture wars, with a seasoning of African advocates for criminalizing LGBT people.

And rather than being about men and women, it's all about Teh Gayz. Jeremy Hooper (a married gay man) tells us that the Pope's full-throated speech about straight marriage uber alles thrilled the anti-gay activists. They also loved the speech of the Nigerian Archbishop (Anglican) who advocates for criminalization.

He concludes,
All will tell you that the aim is to "strengthen" marriage and families, yet every speaker pushes an ideal, from softer-toned to Archbishop Okoh, that tells the world my marriage and my family are a threat. There is no room for discussion. There is no consideration that perhaps my own monogamous union of twelve-years-going on-life, with one beloved child for whom and I my husband would instinctively lay down our own lives, is actually part of the strength that they seek. The preconceived thesis is that my marriage, no matter how productively and peacefully lived, is at war with what they are trying to do. And by inviting the types of activists that they have invited, it's clear that the Vatican is eager to disseminate this view into the public policy arena
As Fr Geoff Farrow warns, this is well-choreographed theatre.
The long term goal is to reverse gains made by LGBT people and subordinate them once again. It is to reestablish the Catholic Church as the final authority in morality, with power to translate those morals into legislation in civil governments.
And they slowly, inexorably move to that goal.  See, for example, a recent lawsuit with the claim that religious freedom means that Roman Catholics are exempt from even being sued in court. No court has jurisdiction.  Because religious freedom  means they make their own law.

No, the Catholic church has not changed.    Pope Francis is just a kinder, gentler face on the same views and doctrine that consider us "objectively disordered", and oriented toward "intrinsic moral evil".   They are playing a very long game.  And their goal is to disenfranchise, even criminalize LGBT people, eliminate our legal rights, and destroy our relationships.

Fortunately, the institutional Roman Catholic Church does not speak for the Catholic laity, who remain strongly supportive. Maybe because they know and love their gay children, parents, family, and co-workers well enough to ignore the hot air from the culture warriors.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why is the church in decline? Ask the middle class.

Fascinating article:
In America, church has always been a free market commodity primarily oriented toward the middle class. In class conflicts, the church has generally sided with management. Church congregants have not been working poor, but rather business owners and managers. Even the noble response of the initial social justice movement of a century ago was bourgeois. Its purpose was not to find solidarity with the poor, but to lend a hand to the poor to hoist them into the middle class 
....the long decay of the church over the past generation coincides perfectly with the long decay of the middle class. 
....
Even more haunting is Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Murray explains that for the past several decades, church participation within the middle class has hardly changed, but it has disappeared almost entirely within the working class. His observation is easily confirmed by attending worship services. The working class is poorly represented in our congregations; people in lower classes have little means to support a congregation with time, talent, or treasure, and they perceive little value in the institution. 
Christians around the country are wondering why churches are in decline. The reason is not Darwin or Marx, science or atheism, culture wars, or competition. It’s economics. As goes the middle class, so goes the church.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

More maps: social mobility (Updated)

We've talked a lot about the characteristics of the nation, particularly in the South that controls much of our discourse. We've looked at a lot of maps.

Here's a map from a New Yorker article showing that the South is particularly lacking social mobility.
In these low mobility areas, it isn’t just black residents who tend to get stuck. Whites, too, exhibit low levels of social mobility. In states like Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, poor white children tend to grow up into poor white adults. Secondly, regardless of race, the level of income inequality itself seems to play an important role in determining levels of social mobility. In places where income is divided very unequally, and poorer groups get only a small slice of the pie, very few people manage to start at the bottom and end up at the top. 
But they still vote against their (economic) interests.

Update  8thday has some excellent remarks in the comments below, chastising me for a certain elitism.  (Go read!)   To which I plead guilty.  But I still think it's irrational to vote consistently against one's own economic interests.




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Conservatives secede, liberals endure

I recently came across a very interesting piece that argues that although they lost the war, the Confederates actually won the peace:  not a Tea party, but a Confederate Party.   First, a little history:
After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877.
By the time it was all over, the planter aristocrats were back in control, and the three constitutional amendments that supposedly had codified the U.S.A’s victory over the C.S.A.– the 13th, 14th, and 15th — had been effectively nullified in every Confederate state. The Civil Rights Acts had been gutted by the Supreme Court, and were all but forgotten by the time similar proposals resurfaced in the 1960s. Blacks were once again forced into hard labor for subsistence wages, denied the right to vote, and denied the equal protection of the laws.
In other words, the South did rise again!  And its culture endures, entrenched in the Old South but also  other parts of the country, particularly Appalachia and parts of the rural west.  Not in great shape in many respects, and a net taker, but in control of our political process.  The author draws specific comparisons to the Tea Party-inspired threats of secession and nullification.
The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries.
That worldview is alive and well. During last fall’s government shutdown and threatened debt-ceiling crisis, historian Garry Wills wrote about our present-day Tea Partiers: “The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.”
Here's the thing:
When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.
Violence.  Guns.  Bombing abortion clinics.  And the attempt to render the president illegitimate (birther conspiracies, etc) because he challenges the social order.  A black man dares to be president.
This is not a universal, both-sides-do-it phenomenon. Compare, for example, the responses to the elections of our last two presidents. Like many liberals, I will go to my grave believing that if every person who went to the polls in 2000 had succeeded in casting the vote s/he intended, George W. Bush would never have been president. I supported Gore in taking his case to the Supreme Court. And, like Gore, once the Court ruled in Bush’s favor — incorrectly, in my opinion — I dropped the issue. 
For liberals, the Supreme Court was the end of the line. Any further effort to replace Bush would have been even less legitimate than his victory. ....I don’t recall anyone suggesting that military officers refuse his orders on the grounds that he was not a legitimate president. 
Barack Obama, by contrast, won a huge landslide in 2008, getting more votes than any president in history. And yet, his legitimacy has been questioned ever since. The Birther movement was created out of whole cloth, there never having been any reason to doubt the circumstances of Obama’s birth. Outrageous conspiracy theories of voter fraud — millions and millions of votes worth — have been entertained on no basis whatsoever. Immediately after Obama took office, the Oath Keeper movement prepared itself to refuse his orders
A black president calling for change, who owes most of his margin to black voters — he himself is a violation of the established order. His legitimacy cannot be conceded.
Fascinating concept.

This isn't limited to the Old Confederacy, of course.  It seems to be a particular type of conservatism that trends towards nullification and threats.   Consider the recent ire of conservatives in the Roman Catholic church, outraged that Pope Francis is calling for a more merciful face on doctrine.  We can't have that.  Note the hysteria, manifest in columnist Ross Douthat's recent piece threatening a schism 
 over the possibility that divorcés could be readmitted to Commuion, or gays accepted.

No change can be allowed, and if it comes, then there will be schism.  No dynamic tension is possible.  We will walk, back to the former Pope.  

Here's an interesting article in the National Catholic Reporter on the small numbers of  vocal, angry conservatives and their leader Cardinal Burke.

Well, the Episcopal Church saw this too.  The conservatives were very clearly "my way or the highway", especially over the issues of sexuality.   Democratic polity be damned.  You can't do this, or we will walk, and deny your validity.  And so there was ACNA, and attempts to replace TEC in the Anglican Communion with a band of angry conservatives defined by what they are against.

So I would put it to you that there is a disturbing trend amongst a certain type of conservative that sees a defense of a particular social order as a high calling, even if it requires the destruction of an institution.

Shut down the government.  Repeal Obamacare.  Drown the government in the bathtub.  Unpave the streets, dismiss the police.  Every man for himself, with a gun at the window.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

No good news in politics

The Republicans took over the Senate far more easily than polls suggested they would. I do blame the Democrats for running away from the record and from the President, and I blame the President, for being too cool and distant.

The idea that this was a wave of some sort is clearly not true;  this was a typical realignment of the Congress in a mid-term election.  It is also clearly not true that the Republicans have repudiated the tea-partiers and put the adults back in charge;  as Charles Pierce writes,
Let us dispense with some conventional wisdom before it petrifies. First of all, the president's basic unpopularity was unquestionably a factor, but not anywhere near as much of a factor as was the reluctance of the Democratic party -- from the president on down -- to embrace the actual successes that the administration has achieved. The economy is, in fact, improving. It is the responsibility of the president and his party that we have the paradoxical polling that indicates that the elements of the Affordable Care Act are popular, while "Obamacare" is not.....The senatorial candidates who lost were senators who ran away from the administration.... 
Second, it was a great night for voter-suppression, which has been central to the Republican response to the fact that the president has been elected twice....It's going to take days to sort out the overall effect of these laws on the general electorate, even if anyone cares to do so, which I've come to doubt, because the Supreme Court created a new normal when John Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act and declared the day of jubilee, and the people in the country who are not those inconvenienced by these laws, and who are not those against whose franchise these laws were directly aimed, seem perfectly content with this situation. 
Last, and I hate to break this to Tom Brokaw, and to Kasie Hunt, who talked about how the Republicans know they have to "govern," but this election couldn't have been less of a repudiation of the Tea Party. As the cable shows signed off last night, it was dawning even on the most conventional pundits that the Republicans had not elected an escadrille of Republican archangels to descend upon Capitol Hill. It was more like a murder of angry crows. .....Several of these people -- most notably, Sasse and Ernst -- won Republican primaries specifically as Tea Partiers, defeating establishment candidates. The Republicans did not defeat the Tea Party. The Tea Party's ideas animated what happened on Tuesday night. What the Republicans managed to do was to teach the Tea Party to wear shoes, mind its language, and use the proper knife while amputating the social safety net. They did nothing except send the Tea Party to finishing school.
The really depressing thing is that it's not clear how any of this will change in 2016.  And it is also clear that the Dems seem out of ideas, unable to compelling speak a compelling vision.  And Hilary sure as heck doesn't have one--because a vision requires a debate and discussion, not a coronation of someone representing the Corporate Wing of the Democratic party.

It's going to be a long few years.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Quote of the day: Darwin on chance

From a letter to the Harvard botanist Asa Gray in 1860:
With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.—I am bewildered.—I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd. wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand, I cannot be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.—Let each man hope and believe what he can.
QUoted in an article, The Truth about Darwin and God. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Welcoming non-believers to church

An Episcopal priest writing in the HuffPo catches on that there are people in the pews who are not believers. He is struck by
the astonishing notion that non-believers can actually enjoy and appreciate being part of a congregation. That they can take pleasure in participating in a family of faith, even without the faith.
I guess he's not read the discussion here at FoJ, where I have nattered on at length on being a "secular Christian" and a church-going atheist.   I was even quoted by Andrew Sullivan.  There are a lot of us who identify as culturally Christian but of course not all of us find a place where we are welcomed.

He goes on,
I believe there is something about experiencing the ancient liturgy that can take us to another part of our being, deep into our spiritual selves -- whether one can recite the Nicene Creed in good conscience or not. Participating in the taking, breaking, blessing, and giving of the bread and wine of the Eucharist can move us into an invigorating place in the spiritual stream of human history from the early church on.
Yesssss.... the rhythm of the liturgy is an important part of it, so deeply ingrained by my Catholic childhood that it is almost atavistic. Although for myself, I don't recite the Creed, and I do not partake of Communion.  Since I am not a believer, that (to me) would be disrespectful of those who are, those for whom there is true meaning (even substance!) in the host.  Although I'm technically "legal" having been baptised and confirmed in the Roman Catholic church.  (I've argued before that my example makes a good case for open table--why should I, a non-believer, be welcomed to partake of something that means nothing to me, when a newcomer for whom it feels life-giving may be denied?)

There's also this:
Worship services provide a place not only to experience sublime peace, but to be challenged to serve. Getting involved in an active community of faith, even without faith, can help us build mutually beneficial relationships, and can also offer opportunities to meet the needs around us --to get out of ourselves and our own concerns, see the hurting world around us, and do something constructive and meaningful about it together.
YES! A big part of the attraction to me is the community. It helps enormously that the community is educated, thoughtful, and active.  Since moving to the Episcopal Church, my wife BP and I have realized that nearly all our friends are fellow Episcopalians.

But the concept of church-going atheists is clearly new to the writer.
This is a phenomenon I'm not sure many church leaders and members are even aware is happening, or can happen. Perhaps we should find a way to open our doors wider to welcome more of these folks who may be "religious but not spiritual" -- the "Friendly Non-theists" -- without seeking to convince or coerce or convert them into belief. That is a matter between them and God, after all, whether the God they don't believe in exists or not.
Well, actually, you already are. We're here.   Because, as the saying goes, you don't have to check your brain at the red door.  We get this:
The Episcopal Church is among those denominations considered to be more open to doubt, questioning, and unsettledness regarding aspects of faith than some other traditions. That sort of faith seems stronger and more authentic to me than an unquestioning, doubt-free faith. It requires work and thought and struggle and prayer. Work that I and many others find pays off in deep meaning and purpose in life. 
So there is room in the church for doubters. Is there room in the church for non-believers?
Depends on the church.  Certainly I'm "out" as an atheist, and in our very educated community, it's not a problem.  I am technically a member, even though I don't identify as Christian:  I was baptised.  I give time and treasure to the church.  I serve in various capacities. I attend services regularly.   Indeed, I'm married to a verger, comment on church politics, maintain an extensive collection of classical polyphony  recordings, and almost certainly qualify as a "church geek".

The Episcopal church welcomes me.  How radical is that?

Update:
Some of my previous musings on the subject:
Living with Church
Secular Christians 
Secular Christians:  who is welcome?