Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How we got here and how we get out

A sobering article in the new Atlantic, How America Lost its Mind, traces the journey from optimistic intellectual freedom to rank ignorance and fantasy.  Where will we go from here?
The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief. However, it’s really an article of faith, the Christian fantasy about history’s happy ending reconfigured during and after the Enlightenment as a set of modern secular fantasies. It reflects our blithe conviction that America’s visions of freedom and democracy and justice and prosperity must prevail in the end. I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland. I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way. Or maybe we’re just early adopters, the canaries in the global mine, and Canada and Denmark and Japan and China and all the rest will eventually follow us down our tunnel. Why should modern civilization’s great principles—democracy, freedom, tolerance—guarantee great outcomes?
So, what's the solution?
If we’re splitting into two different cultures, we in reality-based America—whether the blue part or the smaller red part—must try to keep our zone as large and robust and attractive as possible for ourselves and for future generations. We need to firmly commit to Moynihan’s aphorism about opinions versus facts. We must call out the dangerously untrue and unreal. ...

It will require a struggle to make America reality-based again. Fight the good fight in your private life. You needn’t get into an argument with the stranger at Chipotle who claims that George Soros and Uber are plotting to make his muscle car illegal—but do not give acquaintances and friends and family members free passes. If you have children or grandchildren, teach them to distinguish between true and untrue as fiercely as you do between right and wrong and between wise and foolish.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Why now?

In the relentless onslaught of bad news, North Korean Nukes, assaults on DACA children, one hurricane come ashore and another on its way, now is the time a group of Evangelicals (who claim that they are "Christian") have chosen to release a statement to affirm that LGBT people are icky, and to add that anyone who supports LGBT people's rights can't be "Christian".  Because apparently, this small group of Evangelicals are gatekeepers to Christianity.  And hatin' on the homos is raised to the level of doctrine in this "Nashville Statement".

There have been robust pushbacks from a variety of geographical locations, as more liberal Christians stand up to this.  OF course, the media mostly ignores them, because we all know that the <20% of Americans who identify as Evangelical Christians get to define Christianity for everyone else.  It's a bit like letting ISIS choose who is Muslim.

Writer and pastor John Pavlovitz has had enough.  He translates what the Nashville Statement is really saying.
Evangelical Christians are at the precipice of extinction—and we know it. We are a profoundly endangered species coming to grips with the urgency of the moment, of our impending disappearance, of the whole thing going sideways here in the Bible Belt—and we’re in a bit of a panic. ... we forgot that people aren’t stupid, and they see the disconnect between the President and the Jesus we’re trying to simultaneously claiming allegiance to—and we desperately need a distraction to muddy the waters; we need an easy battle to regain the credibility we’ve forfeited as we’ve sold off our souls and built our personal empires.   
...We’ve chosen to wage cheap war on innocent and vulnerable people in order to feel mighty again. We’ve done this because regardless of all our lip service about love and Grace and compassion—we really just like to pick fights that give us that intoxicating rush of superiority and a small dose of the control that we’ve grown addicted to.  ...   
We’ve made this “statement”, because those still listening to our message, aren’t interested in loving their neighbors as themselves, or caring for the least, or being the merciful Samaritan, or welcoming the outsider or washing people’s feet (or any of that annoying Jesus stuff). They just want an enemy to wage war with. 
Remember, there are pathways to roll back the hard-won progress of LGBT community.  And these people will be cheering all the way, and claim it is CHRISTIAN.  You'll know they are Christians, by their love.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Enforcing Norms

We're in a strange place now, where the norms of good behavior, decency, and mercy seem to be broken. Our president lies with abandon, the GOP doesn't pretend to be interested in anything but tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, and the internet is full of trolling, flamewars, and promises of violence.

How does a group enforce its norms and values?  The clearest way is by shunning those who break the norms.  The Republican party is particularly good at this, which is why it's striking when their members don't all vote in lockstep.  (Democratic votes, in contrast, are more like herding cats).

The Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianists are also quite good at this.  As I described in the previous post, the latest example of this was the attack on the elderly writer Eugene Peterson who dared mention that he just might support LGBT people and equal marriage.  Peterson has backtracked and apologized.

Fred Clark writes,
The thing about such apologies is they never work. And also that they’re not really apologies. An apology involves the admission of wrongdoing, along with the offer to correct the wrong, thereby rehabilitating the status of the wrongdoer. But these apologies are not about rehabilitating the “wrongdoer,” only about reaffirming the authority of the gatekeepers. That is their function.
... Battering them into an apology made examples out of them, and that is what they become, henceforth — living examples of what happens when you dare to buck the Powers That Be.
 And he says something interesting, about some former Evangelicals who didn't retract, pointing out Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans. 
It’s no coincidence that the clearest examples of “those who won’t be beaten into submission” turn out to be women. As women, Hatmaker and Evans were never permitted access to the kind of influence or power or livelihood that the patriarchal white evangelical establishment controls. To their great credit, neither of them ever really sought that kind of role. There’s a sense in which the levers of power the evangelical establishment uses to keep others in line don’t work quite the same way when they’re employed against those who were never allowed to get in line to begin with. ... 
Such resisters also demonstrate a fundamental weakness in the scorched-earth ultimatums employed by the gatekeepers. “Apologize and get back in line,” the gatekeepers demand, “or be cast outside the gates.” That’s not a bluff, exactly, but it turns out there’s a big, beautiful world outside of those gates.  
Sadly, Eugene Petereson wasn't brave enough to stand up to the bullies and venture into that new world.

And the members of the GOP who are decent and thoughtful aren't brave enough to stand up to their bullies, either.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Flip-flopping evangelicals

So apparently Eugene Peterson is a Big Thing in Evangelical Circles.  He's an older man, and while he is Presbyterian minister, he definitely swings on the Evangelical side.

Last week, in an interview, he allowed as how he has come to appreciate gay people as (gasp!) actual people with solid values and spiritual lives.  And, when asked by the interviewer, he said that he might actually marry a gay couple should they request it.

Apostate!  All hell broke loose upon his head, and within a day or two he backtracked.  Seems that his books would be dumped by a major publisher, etc etc.

Similar responses have befallen other major figures who have come to admit the humanity of gay people.  Some of them reverse themselves, but others (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren) stick to the values of inclusion.

Fred Clark at Slactivist theorizes that this wasn't so much about gays marrying, as it was about something else in the interview:

The pretext for him getting Ciziked is his belated, lukewarm “change of mind” on marriage equality. That is what the gatekeepers and their toadies are seizing on and elevating as the cause for their pearl-clutching and their threats of banishment from the tribe and from the shelves of LifeWay. 
Granted, I’m sure the gatekeepers didn’t like those comments from Peterson, but that’s not what really infuriated — and terrified — them. What has them truly shaken is another bit from his interview with Merritt, in which Peterson directly challenges the bedrock core of their faith and doctrine:
I think we’re in a bad situation. I really do. Donald Trump is the enemy as far as I’m concerned. He has no morals. He has no integrity.
It doesn’t matter that Peterson’s criticism was directed only at Trump and not at the entire Republican Party. (Ask Russell Moore whether that distinction matters.) Nor does it matter that his statements about Trump’s lack of integrity and morals are demonstrably true. All that matters to the Righteous Defenders and to the traumatized followers kept within their gates are these five words: “Donald Trump is the enemy.”
That’s intolerable to them. It’s a direct challenge to their identity, to their faith, to everything they believe about what it means to be faithful to the Word of God. It’s an existential threat, and it must be destroyed.
The "gay thing" is a proxy for the Republican orthodoxy of Christianist belief, which is Pres. Trump as One of Theirs.  Somewhere, someone weeps.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Bombshell from the Vatican

So, big news is that two associates of Pope Francis have written an article in  La CiviltĂ  Cattolica, an organ that is approved by the Vatican before publishing, and it takes down the unholy alliance between evangelical fundamentalism and conservative Catholics. THis is viewed as a slap at NearPresident Bannon--and more than a few American Catholic Bishops.  For example,
The erosion of religious liberty is clearly a grave threat within a spreading secularism. But we must avoid its defense coming in the fundamentalist terms of a “religion in total freedom,” perceived as a direct virtual challenge to the secularity of the state.
Then on the union of the Christian Right and certain Roman Catholics:
Some who profess themselves to be Catholic express themselves in ways that until recently were unknown in their tradition and using tones much closer to Evangelicals. .... the most dangerous prospect for this strange ecumenism is attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations. The word “ecumenism” transforms into a paradox, into an “ecumenism of hate.” Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism. Reductionism is the exegetical methodology. Ultra-literalism is its hermeneutical key.
Which feeling underlies the persuasive temptation for a spurious alliance between politics and religious fundamentalism? It is fear of the breakup of a constructed order and the fear of chaos. Indeed, it functions that way thanks to the chaos perceived. The political strategy for success becomes that of raising the tones of the conflictual, exaggerating disorder, agitating the souls of the people by painting worrying scenarios beyond any realism. 
Religion at this point becomes a guarantor of order and a political part would incarnate its needs. The appeal to the apocalypse justifies the power desired by a god or colluded in with a god. And fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it. 
This is why Francis is carrying forward a systematic counter-narration with respect to the narrative of fear. There is a need to fight against the manipulation of this season of anxiety and insecurity. Again, Francis is courageous here and gives no theological-political legitimacy to terrorists, avoiding any reduction of Islam to Islamic terrorism. Nor does he give it to those who postulate and want a “holy war” or to build barrier-fences crowned with barbed wire. The only crown that counts for the Christian is the one with thorns that Christ wore on high.
Social justice Roman Catholicism-- yes!

Monday, July 3, 2017


Well, enough of politics for a while, right?

Let's turn our attention back to something positive and happy.

  Many of you have been with part of this community for a long time, since the days of  Fr Jake's blog, and  you followed us over here when Fr Jake stepped back from blogging.   You have attended the journey of your friendly atheist (me) and her wife BP, as I worked for years to convince BP to re-orient from cradle Roman Catholicism to a better home for her faith. And after the viciousness of the Prop 8 fight here in California, BP finally put her toes into the Thames.

You were all warm and supportive when we married, and have accompanied our journey as we joined  (each in our own way) the Episcopal church. Both certifiable church geeks, we keep an Almy catalog as coffee table reading.  đŸ˜„  BP found her calling in liturgy: acolyte, thurifer, verger, Head Verger.

And in the latest culmination of this journey, at Evensong on Sunday next , BP will be installed as Canon Verger of St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego.  Canons of a Cathedral are those who have a formal or honorary affiliation voted on by the chapter and approved by the Bishop. They can be clergy, or lay people.  In BP's case, this recognizes the responsibility and experience she has displayed as head verger for the last 4 years.

Should you want to join in, the service will be live-streamed here.  (5pm PDT)

As I've said before, the greatest of thanks to the Rev Terry Martin, for Fr Jake started us on this journey.  My dear BP has truly found home.

Okay, you can tell all the "loose canon" jokes in the comments now!

(Yes, that's one of my photographs)

St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, San Diego

Friday, June 30, 2017

Marriage under attack

Unfathomably, the Texas Supreme Court has decided that just because obergefell finds that gay people can marry each other, they aren't necessarily entitled to the same BENEFITS as straight people.
"The Supreme Court held in Obergefell that the Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent that they license and recognize opposite-sex marriages,” according to Justice Jeffrey Boyd’s opinion, “but it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.”
The case comes from whether or not Houston should give its employees equal benefits regardless of whether they are in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.  But two men claim that as taxpayers, they shouldn't have to "subsidize" marriages they view as obscene.

Honestly, it's no wonder the fastest growing religious group in this country is the "nones", with this sort of bile being spewed by so-called "Christians".

To be fair, the court just turfed the issue back down to a lower court.   They didn't elminate benefits.  But it shouldn't remain a question, surely, and seems clear that they should have trounced it once and for all.

Of course, now that we have Neil Gorsuch on the SCOTUS, the federal appeal to this may not be a slam dunk.  Lots of people claimed he was a good guy, that he wasn't opposed to LGBT rights.

On Monday, Gorsuch indicated that he opposes equal rights for same-sex couples, dissenting from a ruling that requires states to list same-sex parents on birth certificates. (Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined his dissent.) That, alone, is startling: In Obergefell v. Hodges, the court held that the Constitution compels states to grant same-sex couples “the constellation” of “rights, benefits, and responsibilities” that “the states have linked to marriage,” including “birth and death certificates.” Obergefell, then, already settled this issue. Gorsuch’s dissent suggests he may not accept Obergefell as settled law and may instead seek to undermine or reverse it.
Apparently, the FACT that over 60% of Americans support marriage equality means nothing, when there's a vile group of so called Christians able to attack our rights.  Funny, first they attacked us because we were a minority, and now that support is in the majority, they attack us because of that.
How is it that a minority of Christians who identify with this stuff are still winning legal battles in their intent to do me harm?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hopelessness, drugs, and salesmanship

Excellent article on the opioid epidemic,  which is crushing rural America.

Several take-home quotes:

First, this eye-opening statistic.
Drug companies were pouring opioids into West Virginia, delivering 780m painkillers into a state of just 1.8m people over a five year period to 2012, according to an investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
As one recovering addict says,
“Addiction brings out the worst in people. Pure souls turn black. Even with the nicest person, the happiest person. They end up robbing and stealing. Hurting people.”
The person turning dark may not be the addict, but the one benefiting from him.  Read that first statistic again, and then this from a former doctor:
Salesmen were threatening to back legal action against doctors who resisted patients’ demands for OxyContin

“I got the bulk of my education about opioid narcotics from drug reps. They’d come in with a glossy brochure and tell us, you need to be writing this now,” he said. “It was aggressive.”

Among Purdue’s tactics, state investigators later found, were salesmen threatening to back legal action against doctors who resisted patients’ demands for OxyContin.
What was that about a black soul?  It's symptomatic of the US now:  profits over people, profits from the misery of people.

And what's to be done?
“I never could get the word out. It seems like there’s more hopelessness than any one person can do anything about. I try,” she said.
And that is how Trump happens.

Monday, June 19, 2017

When Muslims are under threat: "Is it safe to pray?"

Religious freedom at its most fundamental is when people are threatened for peaceably practicing their faith.  And religious freedom is indeed under attack in the US and the UK....but the victims are not CHristians.

Two news stories today expose western Islamophobia in heartbreaking fashion.

In Virginia, a 17 year old girls was killed on her way home from evening prayer
Nabra was reportedly among four or five teenagers who had left the mosque in the early hours of Sunday. It was not unusual for worshippers to walk after nightfall in what is usually a safe neighbourhood.

A Fairfax county police statement said: “An investigation determined she was walking outside with a group of friends when they got into a dispute with a man in a car. It appears the suspect, Darwin A Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, got out of his car and assaulted the victim. Her friends could not find her and police were called to help.”
Her body was found, reportedly beaten to death.

In London, another case of a van driving on a sidewalk to mow people down--but this time, the targets were Muslim worshipers leaving their mosque.  The crowd caught the driver and the local imam reportedly protected him until the police arrived. 
SITE, the terrorism-monitoring group, said Monday white-supremacist organizations were celebrating the attack in Finsbury Park, while pro-ISIS groups used it to incite Muslims.
The Guardian adds,
A report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that anti-Muslim hate crime incidents rose sharply in 2015 and increased a further 44%, from 180 to 260, in 2016. Human rights groups have called on Donald Trump to be more forceful in speaking out against acts of violent intolerance.
An article in the Atlantic looks at the consequences for the community.
"It’s a really scary question to have to think about, to be honest—to even have to be in the state of mind where you have to ask the question, ‘Is it safe for me to go pray?'"
That, friends, is what religious persecution is.

Friday, June 16, 2017

When Christians are under threat

Apparently, awareness of religious freedom and support for Christians under threat only applies to American Evangelicals offended by red Starbucks cups, same sex marriage, and "Happy Holidays". and not those literally at risk of death for their faith.

Honestly, wouldn't you expect the Christian Right to be loudly protesting this?
A large roundup of Iraqi Christians by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been met with widespread criticism toward President Donald Trump, who previously pledged to protect such communities from persecution in the Middle East. 
Dozens of Iraqi Christians and other immigrants were seized over the weekend in a series of ICE raids, many of which took place in Michigan, a state known for its large Middle Eastern population. Those arrested face risk of deportation back to their home countries, some of which Trump had previously criticized as being hostile toward Christians. 
.... Local lawyer Wisam Naoum said Sunday that ICE officers deliberately waited to take action when the local Chaldean Catholic Assyrian community gathered for mass....some final orders had been received to deport individuals back to Mosul, the former Iraqi stronghold of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) that now serves as the venue for a violent showdown between the jihadists and an Iraqi government-led offensive. "
I guess not.