Thursday, November 30, 2017

Values, Accountability, and women

The world is all topsy-turvy, with serial sexual harassers who assault young girls elected to high office, while gropers grimly hang on. Politics is a mess and there are no values left in its practitioners. At least the media has been cleaning house, with the latest being NBC news host Matt Lauer.

I do not watch television, so I am only dimly aware of who he is. Apparently, he liked to sleep with women not his wife, and exposed himself to his staff, gave them inappropriate gifts, and tried to have sex with them. And like Charlie Rose before him, he had power and authority and he got away with it. (What is it with talk show hosts and sex?)

But one thing that struck me was that the guy earns $25 MILLION for a combination of fluff interviews and reading the news. One twitter account I saw suggested that $25m is enough to put 5 reporters in each of our statehouses and pay them and give them benefits. I am a fairly well paid professional and there's no way in an entire lifetime of work that I would come anywhere near $25M.

And what does it say about our culture that we pay a sex-mad newsreader $25M while people who do the actual job of journalism, or cancer research, or teaching, struggle to stay in the middle class. (And they won't, if the GOP tax plan passes).

Meanwhile, today there was an article published in the Federalist arguing that it doesn't matter what Moore did, because ABORTION.

Really, it all cycles back to abortion, which is an outcome of female sexuality and that is why it must be controlled.  Because women should be shamed if they are pregnant out of wedlock, because women's bodies must be policed.  Because men feel they have the right to power over women.  Because a woman's job is babies. It's not surprising that ThinkProgress found evidence that Roy Moore co-authored a law course that included arguments against women holding elected office.

 From Salon, a few weeks ago:
And make no mistake: It's patriarchy, not morality, that is the animating force behind the Christian right that has elevated Moore. Evangelicals may talk a big game about chastity, but their overwhelming support for Donald Trump is a reminder that "chastity" is just the cover story for the true agenda, which is bringing women firmly under the control of men. Men's unchaste behavior isn't really considered a problem, even when it's criminal. It's female bodies and female sexuality the Christian right is interested in controlling — and dating young girls in no way conflicts with that goal. If anything, as the above examples show, locking them down young is considered a handy way to achieve these patriarchal objectives.
I salute the women who have come forward against these powerful men, but nothing's going to change.  The Democrats lost a moment when Franken and Conyers refused to resign (Franken's seat in MN would remain safely D), so the GOP can point at them and say "everyone does it".  Alabama evangelicals are even more likely to vote for Moore after these allegations.  The President remains in office, and get prepared to say hello to Senator Moore.  The darkness is upon us.
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.

The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats.

Monday, November 13, 2017

An Evangelical Culture of abuse?

The US is currently being rent with claims of sexual harassment and assault.  The powerful #metoo meme has gone around social media, and men as well as women have been brave enough to come out as survivors of abuse.  The fall of media mogul Harvey Weinstein led to widespread denunciation, and return of his donations from politicians and universities.  Academe is jolted by revelations and is grappling with how to deal with claims old and new.

Spectacularly at odds with this, in the state of Alabama, archconservative Christian judge Roy Moore (who was removed from office twice for contempt of court) has been accused of inappropriate activity with teenage girls years ago, including sexually fondling a 14 year old.  In a relentlessly sourced report, the Washington Post has found evidence for his predilection for girls in their early teens, and this has been confirmed by the Wall Street Journal.  A former colleague remembers him hanging out with teens at malls, when he was in his 30s.

Astonishingly, the right wing has circled the wagons, and a number of evangelicals say they are MORE likely to vote for Moore given these accusations (that sound is my mind, boggling).

What's going on here?

In an op-ed in the LA Times, Kathryn Brightbill (a survivor of hard-core home school Evangelicalism) reports on a culture that blames the girls for the fall of men.
WWe need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage. That segment is evangelicalism. In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.
I use the phrase “14-year-old girls courting adult men,” rather than “adult men courting 14-year-old girls,” for a reason: Evangelicals routinely frame these relationships in those terms.
She goes on,
As a teenager, I attended a lecture on courtship by a home-school speaker who was popular at the time. He praised the idea of “early courtship” so the girl could be molded into the best possible helpmeet for her future husband. The girl’s father was expected to direct her education after the courtship began so she could help her future husband in his work. 
In retrospect, I understand what the speaker was really describing: Adult men selecting and grooming girls who were too young to have life experience. Another word for that is “predation.”
David Atkins explains,
In their world, young women are a burden to their families, a constant temptation to sin, their bodies a Devil’s playground. For them, the goal of an upstanding parent is to raise sons who will defend their honor and their heritage by any means necessary, and to raise daughters who will keep their own honor pure via chastity until they can be transferred to the “care” of an approved man in an arrangement sanctioned by both sides and by their God. From this perspective, age of consent laws are an inconvenience merely allowing more time for young women to develop rebellious habits and engage in unbecoming conduct.
The man is not at fault here, because she wickedly tempted him.  Nancy LeTourneau:

What actually shocks me is that many of Roy Moore’s defenders aren’t even bothering to defend him by denying the charges that he preyed on a 14 year-old girl. Instead, they’re saying that “there’s nothing illegal or immoral here,” or that somehow it was consensual. Just to be clear, there is no such thing as “consensual” when it comes to a sexual encounter between a 32-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.
And this is the take-home:
Has the tribalism of our politics gone so far that people are now willing to excuse the behavior of sexual predators because they’re on “our team?” Or is there more to it than that? Frankly, this wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve heard people dismiss the sexual assault of a teenager because they are old enough to consent. This story is a reminder that there is still a lot of denial in this country about what it means to be a sexual predator.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

You're not from around here, are you?

Do you live near your hometown?  I grew up in California's greater Bay Area, which is now a tech mecca but in those days wasn't yet.   I left for grad school Back East, and then lived for a while in the UK.  I was lucky that I eventually got a position the same time zone as my parents.  But I live hundreds of miles away from the town I grew up in, in another major metro center full of people like me, who are mostly white and Asian professionals from somewhere else.

I'm not unusual;  Americans are very mobile, particularly those in technical fields.  And this feeds in to our current political state.  Vox reports that this has an effect that is magnified in smaller, less metro communities.
Those who stayed in their hometown tend to be less educated, less wealthy, and less hopeful. 
They tend to be less open to other cultures and less open to immigrants. 
Ultimately, they tend to be more likely to support Donald Trump.
The article drills down into the data, and finds that stayers were typically those who had fewer opportunities.  The high flying, academically inclined kid was encouraged to leave.  The football player who was tracked into trades, not so much.
In a very literal sense, this is a split between people who have seen the broad and eclectic world with their own two eyes and taken advantage of diverse geographies — and those who have not. These experiences, or lack thereof, shape our outlooks, outcomes, and attitudes. 
For some, that's a choice. For others, it's the product of the way we sort people in this country.
Chris Ladd runs with these data to identify another outcome of transience.
Winning in this economy means shedding attachment to place, community, and older notions of rootedness and becoming instead a global consumer. Citizenship is expensive, time-consuming, and frankly boring. People with any prospect of success in this economy can seldom afford to waste time and energy on local politics or local institutions. ...
He warns,
Democracy in the American model cannot survive this kind of transient, consumer-driven engagement. An electorate that knows every move of presidential politics while unable to identify a single city councilman is living in the upside down. A citizenry disengaged from and disinterested in local politics cannot possibly create competent political outcomes at the most distant level.
What are the alternatives?  The pseudo democracies of Singapore and China, ruled by technocrats and corporations, where votes are largely symbolic, but the institutions run the trains on time.

He concludes,
No practical remedy is apparent. You cannot merely goad people into caring about things that lack any relevance to their lives. A transient population cannot be inspired to care about the boring minutia of local government. If people don’t feel a stake, they aren’t going to be competent decision-makers. But, what if your ability to vote in a presidential election was conditional on showing that you voted in the last city or county election?

Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Meanwhile, Down Under

Australia is one of the last of the major Western nations to grapple with marriage equality. After endless to-ing and fro-ing, they settled on have a non-binding postal referendum, asking the people yes or no. Only then will Parliament bring marriage equality up for discussion.

As you might imagine, there has been a lot of the usual stuff, with conservative religious figures barking for a "No" vote and a diverse and apparent majority going for "Yes". This isn't going to be as tear-jerking as the Irish referendum, but the pundits are predicting "Yes" will win.

But as with Prop 8 here in California, there has been a substantial amount of abuse from those of faith, including a A$1 million donation from the conservative Anglican Diocese of Sydney.  More on the fight  detailed here:
Sin and damnation have figured little in the arguments of the last months. The deliberate strategy of the no campaigners has been to muffle their profound hostility to the LGBTQI whose lives are in question here.

It’s only a gambit. Nothing has changed. In the eyes of these warriors, my lot are still bound for hell. They just don’t want to say so right now.
Fortunately, they don't seem to be winning.
The polls in Australia are unequivocal: Christians strongly support equal marriage.

But in August, Shelton brought a dozen faiths and factions of faiths together in the Coalition for Marriage to fight reform. They were an odd bunch from very different traditions with not much in common but this: a deep commitment to the old hatred of homosexuality.

It’s always been a great ecumenical cause.
The real question is, of course, what role to these rump Christian conservatives see for faithful LGBT people?  Considering the Anglicans, the author submits
Forget marriage. Sydney Anglicans are talking no sex for life. “For many, this is a struggle and a frustration. It is one of the many painful consequences of living in a broken and fallen world … ”

Is that bigotry, hatred or simply cruel?

It’s certainly the most fundamental argument of the clerical opponents of equal marriage. All of them come to the same point: no sex ever for gays and lesbians. In a truthful contest that demand should have been a prime focus of debate.
As for the Roman Catholics, the author ponders,
Catholics are directed to accept homosexuals “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” 
So what just discrimination does the church wants to exercise? We asked the archbishop for a brief list. Again we were disappointed. No reply. Surely they have a list somewhere? It seems Australians will be told what freedoms the rest of us are expected to give up for the church only when the votes have been counted.
The referendum concludes on Nov 7. Let us hope for a resounding "YES!"

Thursday, November 2, 2017

What would Mother say?

The news is depressing, the country spiraling towards disaster.  I find it difficult to focus on work, obsessively reading the news.  Each day brings a new insult.  A disturbed man kills in the name of ISIS, and in a day there are calls to suspend the rule of law, and one Senator cites a religious war.  A disturbed man kills five times as many, but we are told not to "politicize" his crime.  What's different?

But as we watch the Mueller investigation lurch forward, nd we hear of money laundering and greed, and while the Press Secretary spins and spins, and the lies accumulate even more.

 I don't know about you, but I am a late-boomer generationally, and my parents  believed that everyone should have a fair chance, and that we all were in this together.  They identified as Republicans in those days, because Dad was a small businessman and that's what the GOP was.  They weren't anti-government social conservatives. And their dinner parties featured people from across the political spectrum, even if they were largely socially the same (educated, white, professional class). Dad would give up part of his salary to be sure that the business stayed afloat.  Most significantly, they  raised me to tell the truth, to consider others, to behave with decency, not to take more than my share.

It's this last bit I don't understand.  The demonization of others, the lies, the snark, and the greed, the driving, vile greed.....none of this was in how I was raised.  Were Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mike Pence, Lindsay Graham, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Paul Manafort raised so differently?  Because they lie with abandon, and their driving force appears to be greed seasoned with white supremacy.

And this is not how I grew up.

John Pavlovitz writes:
My kids are scared right now. They’re not sure the world makes any sense. They’re wondering why it seems as though the bullies and the bad people have the run of the house. They’re feeling like honest, compassionate, loving people are now an endangered species. 
I don’t lie to them. I tell then I see it all and that it frightens me too—but I let them know that I do still believe the story we’ve told them. I still believe that goodness is the best path, regardless of how many take the path or the hazards we face along the way. I still believe that the treasure of the bully and the braggart is a fool’s gold that will not endure and will eventually prove worthless.... 
Most of all I remind them of the undeniable, indescribable goodness I see in them, and let them know that as long as I have breath I’ll walk with them, and that together we’ll keep writing the best story we can and trust that is enough.

May you who wonder if goodness matters—be greatly encouraged that it does.

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 Civiltà 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!