Thursday, January 19, 2017

A peculiar American Christianity

An article from a few years ago considers the glaring absence of the majority of white Southern Evangelicals from the Civil Rights movement, in contrast to mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and others.
What is it about southern evangelicalism that prevented those churches historically from seeing the plight of blacks as connected to the Gospel and the command to love God and neighbor? Maybe there is a real deep theological flaw in what is known as “evangelical theology?” Maybe the evangelicalism of the 1940s, 50s and 60s did not really understand the Gospel as clearly as many are lead to believe. I honestly do not have the answers to these questions but if evangelicals were so blinded by these issues during the Civil Rights Movement it makes me wonder what evangelicals might be missing today.

The Rev. Giles Fraser, writing today:   (Emphasis mine)
For his inauguration, Trump has chosen two proponents of what is called the prosperity gospel to say the prayers. Paula White – once investigated by the Senate finance committee for her business dealings – is a TV evangelist, noted for her belief that faith makes you rich. And Detroit bishop Wayne T Jackson, who holds that “Donald Trump is an example of someone who has been blessed by God. Look at his homes, businesses, his wife and his jet. You don’t get those things unless you have the favour of God.” Being “blessed” has become a moral alibi for America’s greed. It is a nauseating smile of faux-gratitude that says: God gave this to me so it’s not about me having too much. 
Even traditional evangelicals are angry about Trump’s prayer picks. But American popular religion has been sailing in these dangerous waters ever since it borrowed from the late 19th century New Thought philosophy, developing ideas about the power of the mind and its importance to success. Bringing together Christianity, capitalism and cod psychology, and transforming preachers into motivational speakers delivering their sales pitches, evangelicals such as Peale re-imagined the life of an itinerant Jew who thought you couldn’t serve God and money, to be that of a poster boy for the super-rich. And at Trump’s inauguration it is this false Jesus, this king of Mammon, that is to be worshiped and showered with gold.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

An old cat's dying soliloquy


Years saw me still Acasto’s mansion grace,
The gentlest, fondest of the tabby race;
Before him frisking through the garden glade,
Or at his feet in quiet slumber laid;
Praised for my glossy back of zebra streak,
And wreaths of jet encircling round my neck;
Soft paws that ne’er extend the clawing nail,
The snowy whisker and the sinuous tail;
Now feeble age each glazing eyeball dims,
And pain has stiffened these once supple limbs;
Fate of eight lives the forfeit gasp obtains,
And e’en the ninth creeps languid through my veins.
Much sure of good the future has in store,
When on my master’s hearth I bask no more,
In those blest climes, where fishes oft forsake
The winding river and the glassy lake;
There, as our silent-footed race behold
The crimson spots and fins of lucid gold,
Venturing without the shielding waves to play,
They gasp on shelving banks, our easy prey:
While birds unwinged hop careless o’er the ground,
And the plump mouse incessant trots around,
Near wells of cream that mortals never skim,
Warm marum creeping round their shallow brim;
Where green valerian tufts, luxuriant spread,
Cleanse the sleek hide and form the fragrant bed.
Yet, stern dispenser of the final blow,
Before thou lay’st an aged grimalkin low,
Bend to her last request a gracious ear,
Some days, some few short days, to linger here;
So to the guardian of his tabby’s weal
Shall softest purrs these tender truths reveal:
‘Ne’er shall thy now expiring puss forget
To thy kind care her long-enduring debt,
Nor shall the joys that painless realms decree
Efface the comforts once bestowed by thee;
To countless mice thy chicken-bones preferred,
Thy toast to golden fish and wingless bird;
O’er marum borders and valerian bed
Thy Selima shall bend her moping head,
Sigh that no more she climbs, with grateful glee,
Thy downy sofa and thy cradling knee;
Nay, e’en at founts of cream shall sullen swear,
Since thou, her more loved master, art not there.’

Anna Seward, 1792

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dover Beach

Sums up my mood....

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in. 
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world. 
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Oh, the irony!

Dontcha love it that the stallwart white voters who put Trump into office to effect change, managed to give the whole government over to the establishment Republicans? 

If they voted for Trump because he was anti-establishment, boy have they been conned. 
What Trump tapped into was their sense of powerlessness, that unseen forces are pulling the strings and manipulating “the system” for their own benefit. That “system” encompasses everything from politics to the economy to their local schools to culture. The system made that factory leave town. The system lets immigrants come in and speak a language other than English. Everywhere you look you’re being held down by the system. 
Yeah, but turns out that the System is exactly who won.  
The wealthy and powerful will have more wealth and power when he’s done, not less. There’s a lot that Trump will upend, but if you’re a little guy who thinks Trump was going to upend things on your behalf or in order to serve your interests, guess what: you got suckered. 
I wonder how many of those voters use Medicare?  Because thanks to their vote, Paul Ryan is now on track to eliminate it.
Republicans hope to repeal Medicare — the single-payer system that most seniors rely on to cover their health costs — and replace it with a voucher. This voucher will cover some of the cost of inferior coverage that will leave seniors with higher out-of-pocket costs than they would have paid under traditional Medicare. As a bonus, the total cost of paying for an individual senior’s care — that is, the government’s share of the costs plus the individual’s share — could rise as much as 40 percent.

Inferior coverage at a higher price — that’s the Republican health plan. And it will become law unless three of the 52 Republican senators who will come to Washington in January decide to stop it.
Ironically, it sounds a lot like Obamacare.

Expecting tax breaks?  Don't. Trump's  "commitment is to be of service to that most oppressed and forgotten group of Americans, the wealthy. Trump’s tax plan would give 47 percent of its benefits to the richest one percent of taxpayers."

I wonder how many of them use Obamacare?  Because the Republicans campaigned on its repeal and that's likely to happen, at least in parts.  The mandate and subsidies will go away, insurance rates will skyrocket, and "the changes could lead to the end of the individual health insurance market."  Yeah, that'll be helpful.

How about improved jobs and economic outcomes?  Not gonna happen for the working class.
....there is very little reason to think that any set of policies could meaningfully reverse the long-term decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. That decline has been driven by a combination of globalization and automation — forces that aren’t likely to reverse any time soon. ...Trump had little to say about education, job training, entrepreneurship or other policy areas that might help workers in rural areas. And though Trump has said that lighter regulation will help the struggling coal industry, that will do nothing to change the low natural-gas prices that are coal’s biggest enemy. Indeed, Trump has also pledged to ease regulation of fracking, which will tend to boost oil and gas production, which will in turn tend to keep prices low. (Clinton, it is worth noting, had a detailed plan to help coal country, although many experts were skeptical about its effectiveness.)
 Yup, so all those things they supposedly cared about, aren't going to happen for them.

Perhaps its enough for them to think of registering Muslims   or reversing LGBT rights or deporting DACA children.

In the end, regardless of what they thought they were voting for, what they are going to get is a polarized, racist country that gives more tax breaks to the elites and puts the white working class further into the poorhouse. 

If we weren't all on the same sinking ship, I might enjoy a little schadenfreude at that.

Indeed, a further irony is that as a white latte-sipping coastal elitist with a decent job and income, I'm likely to do quite well under Trump, at least economically.  But I voted against him, and against the R's, because economically I'd rather pay more taxes and have a decent country that provides health insurance and free education, than one that's a game of  Survivor.  (That's not even considering the disaster he promises to be on social justice, or civil and reproductive  rights!)

Right now, it's all hands on deck to rescue the Republic from itself.  As David Frum tweets,
If you want to save the country, you have to work with people you disagree with on almost every ordinary political issue. 

SO let's get find the sensible Republicans and get to work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Now what?

The media, which was complicit in the rise of Trump, is now working hard to normalize him. 

But there is nothing normal about appointing a leader of the "Alt-Right" (which means, white supremacy) to a senior staff position.

As David Leonhardt writes,
His appointment is a violation of American values, period. As John Weaver, the Republican strategist, said on Twitter: “Just to be clear news media, the next president named a racist, anti-semite as the co-equal of the chief of staff. #NotNormal.”
But Leonhardt goes on to note that we have a balance to strike.  Because, like it or not, Trump is the duly elected president and we have a democracy to preserve.
But if official Washington should be tough enough to avoid normalizing the Bannons of the world, Trump’s opponents should be smart enough to avoid Bannonizing any sign of normalcy.

This will be hard, I realize. It will be hard because people are angry and worried. It will be hard because every shift by Trump away from his campaign rhetoric will seem hypocritical. In fact, it will often be hypocritical. But hypocrisy is better than authoritarianism.
So, we have to be strategic.  Get the anger out of the way, and be realistic.  And here's the real lesson. We cannot be pure. We must be Americans, first.
There are two kinds of issues now: those worthy of passionate, ideological debate, and those that must unite left, right and center at a dangerous moment. “If you want to save the country,” tweeted David Frum, the strongly anti-Trump conservative, “you have to work with people you disagree with on almost every ordinary political issue.”
Do you hear that, left wing?  No ideological purity here.  First, save the Republic.  (Unfortunately that's not something the left/progressives are very good at.  How many of them didn't vote, or voted for Stein, to keep their hands clean?  The blame for this disaster rests strongest on those.)

Leonhardt finishes up by putting this upon the GOP
Perhaps the most important figures now are the Republican leaders who voted for Trump. They are planning the legislative changes they will be making, as is their due. But they also have a patriotic duty — a duty to stand up for pluralism, equality, tolerance of dissent and the rule of law.

They have a duty to encourage Trump toward those values and, in the case of Republican senators, to block any nominees who violate them. Republicans often like to describe themselves as defenders of freedom. We need them to live up to that ideal.
I guess we'll see, won't we?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The First Steps

Michael Moore, whether you love him or hate him, nails the next steps:

Morning After To-Do List:
1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.  
2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn't let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must "heal the divide" and "come together." They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.  
3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn't wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that's about to begin.  
4. Everyone must stop saying they are "stunned" and "shocked". What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren't paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all "You're fired!" Trump's victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.  
5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: "HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!" The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don't. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he's president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we'll continue to have presidents we didn't elect and didn't want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there's climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don't want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the "liberal" position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above). 
Let's try to get this all done by noon today.
-- Michael Moore

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After the deluge

...what then?

Words fail to describe our horror this morning at finding that Trump has won the electoral college (but not the popular vote).  We clung to each other in tears and fear.

White identity politics won.  Racism won.  Sheer nihilism won.  The desire to throw something through a window won.  Democratic incompetence, bad planning and a flawed candidate handed the election to Trump.

And incalculably much has been lost.

The Guardian editorializes:
Four particular fears now stand out. The first is the unleashing of an unbridled conservative agenda in Washington, now that the Republicans control the White House and Capitol Hill together for the first time in 90 years. Mr Trump and the congressional Republicans have differences; he is more prepared to use the power of government than many of them are. But they have a clear path now towards reshaping the supreme court and dozens of lower-tier judicial benches in their own image. The effect on race, gender and sexual-equality issues is likely to outlast Mr Trump’s period in office. The culture wars will reopen. Abortion rights are threatened.  
 The second is the impact of this result on race in America more widely. Mr Trump campaigned against migrants and against Muslims, insulted black and Latino Americans, launched ads that some saw as covertly antisemitic, and was cheered to victory by every white racist in the land. His voters will want him to deliver. Every action he takes in this area threatens to divide and inflame. After a half century of uneven but undeniable racial progress in America, the consequences of every attempt to turn back the clock could be dire.  
 The third fear is whether Mr Trump has any economic plan that will deliver for some of the poor communities that gave him their votes so solidly. Mr Trump connected with the anger that many poor and white voters feel. But what can he do about it? What do most congressional Republicans care about it? He can try to put up all the protectionist walls he likes. But it seems difficult to see how he can bring old mines, mills and factories back to life. A lot of Americans feel left behind and let down. But Mr Trump is playing with fire if, in the end, it becomes clear that he has used their anxieties to advance himself and his own urban rich class yet again.  
 The final fear, though, is for the world. Mr Trump’s win means uncertainty about America’s future strategy in a world that has long relied on the United States for stability. But Mr Trump’s capacity to destabilise is almost limitless. His military, diplomatic, security, environmental and trade policies all have the capacity to change the world for the worse. Americans have done a very dangerous thing this week. Because of what they have done we all face dark, uncertain and fearful times.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Eight years

Eight years.  It's nearly how long President Obama has been in office.  It's nearly how long ago Prop 8 passed, banning marriage equality in California.

And today,  it's exactly how long I've been married to BP!

Like most LGBT couples, we have a variety of anniversaries.  The first kiss.  Falling in love. Moving in together.  We never thought we'd be REALLY married, it seemed impossible.  After all, Lawrence v. Texas , the SCOTUS decision that made homosexuality legal, was only in 2003.

And then, suddenly, we were married!  That blessed "summer of love", the few months when it was legal for same sex couples to marry in California. We married just a few weeks before Prop H8 passed, making us part of a lonely beachhead of married gay folk. We had a real anniversary--but it still had an asterisk, because our marriage evaporated outside of California.  We remained further off balance until May 2009 when the California court concluded that our marriages remained valid despite the proposition.

BP swam the Thames and in 2011, we had a church blessing.  Another anniversary to remember!

The marriage battles went on.  Windsor in 2013 made our marriage federally recognized, an anniversary of a sort!  And finally in 2015, Obergefell legalized marriage equality in all fifty states.

Throughout all this,  one thing remained and remains constant:  our love.  Is it possible to love more and more with each passing year?  I think it is.  We finish each other's thoughts.  We are never happier than when we are together.  Deeper and stronger every day.  She completes me.  I am so fortunate.





Friday, October 7, 2016

A secular Jesus-follower?

I often describe myself as a "cultural Christian" or a "secular Christian" as I hang out in church A Lot, even though i don't believe in God.

This recent article in the HuffPo puts a new spin on that idea.
Despite the fact I am a secular person, I find that there is something compelling and transformative about the figure of Jesus — that, indeed, this figure is someone worth following. Here are five important ways in which I continue to reshape my approach to life as part of a deepening commitment to being a secular Jesus follower.
He goes on,
Perhaps my most flagrant “transgression” in this regard is my engaging seriously with the figure of Jesus, who would seem off limits to a nonbeliever like me, who is deeply bound up with a Christendom that is not my world—but whose wisdom and way offer far too much to remain confined behind a culturally imposed boundary.
In my case, I don't think that I engage seriously with the figure of Jesus, who sometimes I admit I find annoying, but I do try to engage with his teachings. They are the teachings of MLK, of course, but Gandhi and the Dali Llama too.

The author describes them thus:
1. I have been inspired to hang out with the “wrong” people.
The poor, the marginalized, of course.  But for a scientist and an atheist, perhaps hanging out with the Christians is also the "wrong" people.  It challenges expectations and the barriers we put between us. :-)
 2. I have become cognizant of the futility of violence.
Didn't need church to see that.
3. I have been persuaded to worry less, trust more.
Yes, this has been a huge thing. But,  I ascribe it much more to the effect of being married to my beloved BP, as our relationship has had a huge influence on me and my sense of peace.  She has radically changed me, and it's not just because she drags me along to church.
4. I have come to see how Jesus can “save” us (and, no, it’s not what you think).

But I’ve come to see that the Jesus way indeed can “save” us, depending on what you mean — even if we are secular and find no motivation whatsoever in the promises and threats of a wondrous or hellish afterlife. Following Jesus, I suggest, can save us from trivial self-seeking, from consumerism and the never-satiated need for more, more, more, and from a life that misses the point. Jesus, I have found, can save us from the hell of a life lived only for ourselves.
Yeah, I don't buy this part.  I don't think you have to hang out around Jesus followers to learn to avoid consumerism and self-seeking.  I know a lot of engaged and thoughtful atheists who aren't part of that world.  There are a lot of non-believers who are social activists making a real difference in social justice and environmentalism.  This smacks to me of self-satisfaction and "us vs them"-ism.
5. The Jesus way has got me to see that we cannot cast off responsibility for the plights and problems of “other people.”
Again, I don't think that Christianity owns this.  See answer to 4.
This yearning for justice — justice for all — is something Jesus promoted and practiced. The Jesus way has got me to see that if we are going to live meaningful and ethical lives, we must reject the notion that we have to look out only for ourselves and our kind. Jesus taught that everyone counts, that the only “group” we’re part of is the human group, and that if one segment of our global neighborhood bears the weight of suffering and injustice, so do we all.
I suppose you can credit Christianity generally with some of this, just as a cultural force in what is a predominantly Christian culture.  Yet, you will find similar concepts in Judaism and Islam and Buddhism, and there are plenty of atheists who get this, so I think it's a straw man to claim this for Christ.

In sum, I find this author much more Christian than I am.  He may not "buy" son of God and Resurrection, but I think he is more than culturally attracted to the community, and definitely much more of a disciple than I am. I don't think you need to be a Christ-follower to practice these rules, at all.   But it's good if you are, too.  :-)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The next generation

In real life, I teach college students, a large fraction of whom are pre-med.  Sometimes, I have a talk with a student who is struggling with the expectation of family and friends that pre-med, or pre-grad, is the path for them.  These are generally very bright students who may be under-performing.

What comes out in our talk is that they feel they are "supposed" to be on this clear cut career track. Their friends are.  Their family may expect it.  It's the Obvious Next Step.  They are supposed to have everything planned out, you see, and get their graduate / professional degree and The Big Job. But it doesn't feel right.  "What else can I do?"  they ask, often plaintively.

I am a subversive.  I tell them, "whatever you want."  I tell them, they don't HAVE to be on the pre-MD/PhD Career Track.  We talk about practical things they can do with a degree in life sciences:  from working in a lab, to developing interest in business, policy, law, science writing, administration, public service.  Maybe they should consider a few years with Teach for America or the Peace Corps.   Or maybe having a job that is sufficient for 9-5 but allows them time to develop their interest in the arts, music, or other creative or meaningful endeavors outside of work.

The scary thing to my students is that there's no path to this:  no signposts.  They have to figure it out for themselves.  They've been so programmed that that's very disconcerting.  And, it feels a bit like failure.  They are around high-achievers who are going to get into every med school to which they apply.  Striking out on their own is hard.  We talk about how to look for people (particularly alumni) who may be an interesting area, to do informational interviews.  We talk about how there's much more to life than job titles and enjoying what you do and making a difference is important.

They generally react with relief to this.  It's OKAY not to be on that track.  College is not just a career vocational school.   Not all these kids want that high-level traditional career achievement.

So I read this with some interest:
[D]espite struggling with debt, recession, and the jobs crisis, millennials are not motivated by money. Rather, they are driven to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable. This isn’t a stereotype; it’s simply the truth. 
Deloitte’s 2015 milllennial survey found that 75% of millennials believe businesses are too focused on their own agendas, rather than improving society. Only 28% believe their current organization is making full use of their skills. A full 50% would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, and 90% of respondents said they wanted to use their skills for good....
Clearly, organizations are not responding fast enough to this generation’s desire to align their work with purpose. Millennials don’t want to move “up” on a career ladder. Overall, we are less concerned with traditional metrics of success, like savings and home ownership, and more concerned with creating lives defined by meaning, community, and shared value.
And, this: 
[M]illennials of color are significantly more optimistic about their future than white millennials. That is another way that they mirror the perspective of their parents and grandparents. But given the disparities in outcomes as well as the overt racism we’ve been witnessing lately, that might surprise a lot of people. It is certainly something that deserves a lot more attention.
Interestingly, white millennials  are less confident. Paralleling that, only 10% of white kids support Clinton, which is very depressing to me.  (Now that Bernie's out, many of them seem to be supporting the Libertarian ticket. I doubt they have actually read Johnson's platform!)

But still, the data suggest that these millennials are interested in seeking meaning and doing good.  And that's something hopeful.