Friday, August 29, 2014

Judge Posner's smackdown

By now you may have heard that the appeals from WI and IN, defending their marriage bans  to the 7th circuit didn't go so well.  And the star of the hearing was Reagan appointee Judge Richard Posner.  The Advocate pulls some of the highlights from the transcript.
Fisher: The issue here is to deal with what may be a fleeting moment of passion that leads to a child that nobody contemplated…
Judge Posner: Do you criminalize fornication?No, no longer.
Would you like to?No, it's not at issue here.
It sounds like a way of dealing with this unintended child problem.It's one thing to criminalize—
You don't seem to like adoption as a way of dealing with it.That is not true. …
So why do you prefer heterosexual adoption to homosexual adoption?We don't.
Of course you do. You give all kinds of benefits to the heterosexual adoptive parents. ...
The benefits that you're talking about are not triggered based on sexual orientation, they're based on marital status.
Come on now, you're going in circles. The question is, why do you want the children who are adopted by same sex couples … to be worse off? … 
Judge Hamilton got in some zingers too
Judge Hamilton: Both you and Indiana have argued that what you really want to do is promote child births in marriage, right?Samuelson: Correct.
And encourage parents to stick together and raise those children, right?Correct.
I assume you're familiar with how that's been working out in practice over the last 25 or 30 years? … The proportion of births to unmarried mothers have increased by 53 percent in Wisconsin. … It's sort of like trying to focus on the mote in someone else's eye while ignoring the beam in one's own. … 
Go to the Advocate to read more.  Court watchers think this one goes our way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The contraceptive mandate redux

The Obama administration has proposed a work around for private employers who object to contraceptive coverage.  Now, instead of telling their insurer that they object, they are supposed to tell the government.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a response that was somewhere between tepid and picky. In a statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said, “On initial review of the government’s summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the ‘religious employer’ exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate. Instead, the regulations would only modify the “accommodation,” under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage. Also, by proposing to extend the ‘accommodation’ to the closely held for-profit employers that were wholly exempted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hobby Lobby, the proposed regulations would effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”
Thus nothing is good enough.

As Charles Pierce writes,
After all, the opposition to birth control is not based on the opposition to a government mandate. It's based on the opposition to the medicine, and the purpose that medicine serves. The question being litigated -- in public and, sadly, in the courts -- is not constitutional. It's theological. The essential text is not the Constitution. It's Humanae Vitae.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Vatican still doesn't get it

The Roman Catholic Papal Nuncio in the Dominican Republic, basically the Vatican's Ambassador, was discovered to be a child abuser. He was whisked back to Vatican City and laicized. From the NY Times:
But far from settling the matter, the Vatican has stirred an outcry because it helped Mr. Wesolowski avoid criminal prosecution and a possible jail sentence in the Dominican Republic. Acting against its own guidelines for handling abuse cases, the church failed to inform the local authorities of the evidence against him, secretly recalled him to Rome last year before he could be investigated, and then invoked diplomatic immunity for Mr. Wesolowski so that he could not face trial in the Dominican Republic.

The Vatican’s handling of the case shows both the changes the church has made in dealing with sexual abuse, and what many critics call its failures. When it comes to removing pedophiles from the priesthood, the Vatican is moving more assertively and swiftly than before. But as Mr. Wesolowski’s case suggests, the church continues to be reluctant to report people suspected of abuse to the local authorities and allow them to face justice in secular courts.
Meanwhile,  the Bishop in Kansas City remains in office, despite being convicted of a crime of failing to report child abuse.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

There is finally starting to be some pushback against the "'elp, 'elp, I'm bein' repressed!" meme of the religious right.  Well, for one thing, we have a vivid picture of what actual religious persecution means, as we see Christian and other minority religious communities essentially wiped out in the middle east. Whereas here, in the US, we take national holidays on Christian holy days.

From the Guardian.
In much of the rest of the world, religious persecution involves forced conversion, mob attacks and genocide by violence or by neglect. In America, your employee might be able to use the health insurance for which you pay a part of the premium to get an IUD..... 
These Christians equate not getting their own way in the political sphere – not being able to impose their idiosyncratic religious views on others with the force of law – with brutal and unjust persecution. As America becomes more diverse and less religious than ever, white conservative Christian men are losing their disproportionate influence on politics and, because they think of themselves as the natural and deserving custodians of that power, having to share it feels like a shocking injustice. ...
Yes, that's it.  And this frames it well:
Most of the time, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean "privilege." Typically, they do not recognize this, because they view their preferred power structure as the natural order. Theocrats and other religious authoritarians will raise a great hue and cry about their religious freedoms being violated. Most will honestly believe this, but they do not truly seek freedom of religion, which they already possess. What they seek is power and preferential status, the ability to impose their religious beliefs on others. 
So the argument for religious freedom is an argument for religious privilege.  And needs to be called as such.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Searching for answers: more maps

There was a study done that rated counties across the US as being easier or harder places to live, based on income, education, life expectancy, etc. I think it's interesting that while the liberal left coast is easy, it's a narrow stretch of ease adjacent to much harder places.  And who knew the heartland of the country was so easy, relatively speaking?

What is different about the people in these easier and harder places?  One way to tell is to see what they search for on Google.  And what they search for is very different.
In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10.

To be clear, these aren’t the most common searches in our list of hardest places. They’re the searches with the highest correlation to our index. Searches on some topics, like Oprah Winfrey or the Super Bowl, are popular almost everywhere. The terms on these lists are relatively common subjects for web searches in one kind of place — and rarely a subject in the other.

In the easiest places to live, the Canon Elph and other digital cameras dominate the top of the correlation list. Apparently, people in places where life seems good, including Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast, want to record their lives in images.
When President Obama caught flack for saying that people suffering economic challenges turn to guns and religion.... well, he wasn't that far off.

Oh, and all those numbers on the easy list?   They are probably camera models.  Who knew?

(And DOG benedryl is in the top 10 in the harder places?)

Here at FoJ we are fond of maps.  See more of our map posts here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How the culture wars function in opposition to the common good

From an interview with Vince Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, in the National Catholic Reporter:

What are the culture wars?
Culture war politics focuses on what can divide groups, polarize them and then mobilize them against each other. Part of what defines the culture wars is rhetoric: using language that portrays the opponent as not simply wrong, but morally depraved. Politically, it seeks policies and legislation that do not appeal to the majority. It aims to mobilize the base, but not broad coalitions. It's always about getting 51 percent.....
And igniting these battles was a deliberate political decision.
the culture wars developed out of a political strategy intended to mobilize conservative evangelicals and other conservative Christians in opposition to the cultural changes of the 1960s -- the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and the women's movement. It wasn't just a grassroots backlash; it was a political strategy designed to mobilize a backlash. It turned those moral issues into political issues, and in so doing, it dissolved complex constituencies and communities. It sorted America out along the lines of the culture war.
While politically this has been successful, in the sense of empowering certain political viewpoints, it has been deeply harmful to a functioning government or any concept of the common good.  He explains that the consequences to Christianity are severe, losing an entire generation
For people whose access to Christianity is largely what they see on television or in the news or in the paper, they got to define the public face of Christianity. And study after study has shown that the millennial generation has gotten that message loud and clear, and they don't find it interesting at all. They find it repugnant.
Remember, the "nones"are a large and growing group, and ex-Catholics are also a large and growing group in the spectrum of American religious identity. The Christian right has tried to force their brand on us and damaged it perhaps irreparably.

What's lost in all this warfare is any sense of community or shared values.  "My way or the highway" is not the way to govern or get anything done, as we see in the gridlock in Congress. Compromise is not a dirty word.
I think it could turn around if we understand the dead end that this style of politics is. And that's the work of journalists, that's the work of politicians, to say how fruitless it's been and to point out what's been taken off the table in the process -- to point out that this kind of politics has not led to a more just and flourishing society, but to a society where people are more vulnerable and more on their own.
And if we don't?
My greatest fear is that the next step will reject the culture war morality but simply slide into a complete libertarianism, where there's no moral obligation of society to anybody, where government shouldn't be involved in any kind of moral question. And we'll just continue on with Republican economic politics. My fear is that we've really been set up for that move. What we have to do to avoid it is argue clearly that what we've been ignoring is the common good itself.

Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

His manic brilliance, as is often the case, came at a cost, as he was found dead today, an apparent suicide. He had been suffering severe depression.

But he left us so many wonderful memories.

Here's one of my favorites.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Politics, not science, makes atheiss

Interesting article in Politico makes the case that the loss of religious belief in Europe is directly linked to a history of corrupt churches as part of the political power structure,  not a conflict between science and religion.
In reality, the growth of atheism in Europe and America has much more to do with politics and, in particular, ecclesiastically backed politics, than it has with science, something that is clear even from its earliest days. The first person we can unequivocally call an atheist in modern Europe was a French Catholic priest who died in 1729. Jean Meslier led an unremarkable life at Étrépigny, in Champagne. On his death, however, friends discovered a manuscript, his “Testament,” which denounced all belief, all God and all religion with a frenzied anger that makes Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion seem like a work of reasoned scholarship.

But then, Meslier did have a great deal to be angry about.... The monarch ruled with absolute power that was justified by a fabulously wealthy and notoriously intolerant church. People were still being publically tortured and executed for ‘religious’ crimes as late as the 1760s. ... Europe’s first public atheists were driven from mere scepticism and anti-clericalism to full-blown unbelief not by reason or scientific progress but primarily by a venal and violent theo-political settlement.
The author contrasts this situation with Britain, which was much more tolerant, religiously and initellectually, and with the US, in which the separation of church from temporal state power also paradoxically helped it survive.

He then moves into the 20th century and points out that the violence of the explicitly atheist communist regimes also provided a pro-religion backlash that strengthened religious expression in the US.

He concludes
In the last decades of the 20th century, history veered off script. The world stopped secularising, and some religious groups, most famously evangelicals in America and Shias in Iran—two groups not usually bracketed together—found a political voice that had heretofore been muted. The results were often troubling and sometimes grotesque, and all of a sudden the wells of moral indignation were overflowing once more. Today, atheism is resurgent, in America and elsewhere, confidently predicting God’s imminent death and uncritically retelling the creation myth of atheism’s progress on science’s back.

The irony of the truth was sadly lost in the shouting: Atheism is indeed rejuvenating—but only because God is back. 
 And not in a good way.  All you have to do is read the comments following any religiously themed article in the mainstream press to see an upwelling of anger against religion and the religious, which is very much linked to the political over-reach of the right wing. The irony in all this  is that the biggest driver against religious belief is  those who express it, because they are politicizing it.  The Founding Fathers were on to something.  Too bad we don't seem able to figure it out any more.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Christians" respond to Ebola

In today's installment of Christians behaving badly, I have several examples for you.

First, Christian radio host Rick Wiles, who tells his radio audience that Ebola is a good thing, since it will get rid of the gays and the atheists
“Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming. Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.” 
“If Ebola becomes a global plague, you better make sure the blood of Jesus is upon you, you better make sure you've been marked by the angels so that you're protected by God. If not, you may be a candidate to meet the Grim Reaper.” 
Right Wing Watch, which obtained and published the audio of Wiles' comments, notes that Pastor Wiles this week warned "that President Obama may intentionally spread Ebola using an ineffective vaccine, which would lead to Americans being forced into FEMA camps."
Next, it's the Catholic and Anglican bishops in Liberia who blame (who else) the gays for Ebola
That God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God's forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society.
And of course Harlem Hate Pastor  James Manning calls for all gay people to be infected with Ebola.

You'll know they are Christians....

Friday, August 1, 2014

Another day, another Catholic music leader purged

Meanwhile, from Chicago, we find that another musician purged from his Catholic church for getting married to his same-sex partner.
Collette, 52, was fired Monday after working for the Archdiocese of Chicago for 23 years, first at St. James Catholic Church in Bronzeville. ...
Collette said the church’s pastor knew he was gay, and had attended dinners with the couple. He also helped him walk down the aisle during his mother’s funeral two years ago.
Ah, sounds like a gracious priest.  But here we have another example of violating Roman Catholic "don't ask, don't tell."
Collette told the Chicago Sun-Times someone sent to Cardinal Francis George a Facebook image featuring the couple after their engagement. The cardinal then sent the church’s pastor an email calling for Collette’s resignation, he says. When he refused to resign, he was fired.
So, someone decided to denounce Mr Collette by forwarding his facebook picture to the Bishop.  Really?  What is it with conservative Catholics that they are so obsessed with denouncing their fellow Catholics?  It's quite shameful.

Mr Collette responds with grace.
“This voice inside of me said, ‘No, wait a minute. Well, no. I didn’t do anything wrong.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to resign. God brought me to this moment and God is saying this is why I created you. You are here to live and love.’”

“I’m not angry. The closest way to describe how I feel is if you’ve ever lost anyone that you loved, your mom or dad or grandmother,” Collette said. “That feeling you get in your stomach that your life is never going to be the same. That’s what I’m feeling. Only instead of losing one person, I just lost 3,000 people.” 
Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Fr Thomas Reese comments,
The bishops say they do not discriminate against gay employees but do not want to be seen as endorsing homosexual activity or gay marriage. As a result, we see employees who for years were known to be gay being fired from church-affiliated organizations after they got married. We also see bishops opposing the granting of spousal benefits to gay spouses. 
I am old enough to remember the days when church employees were fired for getting remarried after a divorce. In those days, the church used the same arguments that it is using today against gay employees. 
I have never understood how the bishops with a straight face can impose their sexual ethics on gay employees if they are not willing to do the same with their heterosexual employees.
Today, divorced and remarried employees are no longer fired. Nor are employees fired for extramarital activity. Spouses of divorced and remarried employees get spousal benefits. Why can't gay spouses be treated the same? 
The bishops are losing the battle against gay marriage in the court of law and the court of public opinion. How the bishops deal with defeat will be telling. Can they accept the defeat over gay marriage as an earlier generation of bishops accepted their defeat over the legalization of divorce and move on? Or are they willing to ghettoize Catholic charities and other institutions by forbidding them from accepting federal contracts and following the law? 
Previous coverage of Roman Catholic anti-gay purges here.