Thursday, April 10, 2014

On visions and mystical experience

Barbara Ehrenreich, atheist and scientist writes of a striking vision she experienced at 17, when the world seemed suddenly ablaze.
There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it. This was not the passive beatific merger with “the All,” as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of. It seemed to me that whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed, but also shattered.
And naturally, her most likely explanation was a breakdown of some sort.  Hypoglycemic.  Hallucinating. 
An alternative to the insanity explanation would be that such experiences do represent some sort of encounter. It was my scientific training, oddly enough, that eventually nudged me to consider this possibility. Sometime in middle age, when I had become a writer and amateur historian, I decided that the insanity explanation may have been a cop-out, that I could have seen something that morning in Lone Pine. 
If mystical experiences represent some sort of an encounter, as they have commonly been described, is it possible to find out what they are encounters with? Science could continue to dismiss mystical experiences as mental phenomena, internal to ourselves, but the merest chance that they may represent some sort of contact or encounter justifies investigation. We need more data and more subjective accounts. But we also need a neuroscience bold enough to go beyond the observation that we are “wired” for transcendent experience; the real challenge is to figure out what happens when those wires connect. Is science ready to take on the search for the source of our most uncanny experiences? 
Fortunately, science itself has been changing. It was simply overwhelmed by the empirical evidence, starting with quantum mechanics and the realization that even the most austere vacuum is a happening place, bursting with possibility and giving birth to bits of something, even if they’re only fleeting particles of matter and antimatter. Without invoking anything supernatural, we may be ready to acknowledge that we are not, after all, alone in the universe. There is no evidence for a God or gods, least of all caring ones, but our mystical experiences give us tantalizing glimpses of other forms of consciousness, which may be beings of some kind, ordinarily invisible to us and our instruments. Or it could be that the universe is itself pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame.

Monday, April 7, 2014

On loving the Episcopal Church

Here's a great blog by a former Roman Catholic, now an Episcopal priest, on why he is Episcopalian.  One short excerpt:
I had been a fairly aggressive atheist after years of wrestling with losses from my childhood and I needed a place to be angry, to question, and to hear the constant, loving voice of God calling me home. All my discomforts and hopes in the Episcopal Church now are rooted in my fervent hope that we can hold onto its essential character so it can continue to be a place for so many others to call home. 
I came to the Episcopal Church not because I wanted something easy or something light but because I found something heavy – something dense with promise and potential. I love the Episcopal Church because it offers a place to be a disciple. It is a place to be grounded yet given the freedom to hope for more. It is a place to be whole and a place to gather the broken. It is a place to be fed and a place to feed. It is a place to be faithful and to wrestle with doubt. It is a place for those who long for a home and those who yearn to search and seek. It is a place that is home and a place that I hope to welcome many more to in the coming years and decades.
BP sang out, "yes exactly!"  when she read this.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Complementarity and marriage: a phiilosophical view.

From the Church Times .  Do go read the whole thing.
COMPLEMENTARITY is central to any marriage. The Church, however, holds that sexual difference is the foundation of that complementarity. 
What sort of claim is being made, here? Are we saying that sexual difference is enough, by itself, for us to know that two people complement each other, just as having a pulse is enough, by itself, for us to know that someone is alive?... 
Writers of church documents cannot mean that. Or, if they do, then they are wrong. ...A collapse of difference into male-female difference, which so undergirds current Church of England formulations, reduces our vision of sexual relationships to the level of a budget brothel: you ask for a woman, you ask for a man, and you take the first one who's free: sexual difference is what matters, not particularity.
...
In a relationship that lives up to what Christians might most value, however, it is that how two people are similar or different is understood within the call for each to change, and to grow into the likeness of Christ. ... 
We might put it like this: there has always been more than one species within the genus we call marriage; and admitting a new species to a genus does not change the definition of the other species. Species Y can differ from species X, in the same genus, without changing the definition of species X.
...
Remembering this, any claim that different forms of marriage are related analogically need not subordinate one to another. We are not necessarily saying that one is an imitation of the other. A distinctively Christian vision of marriage - whatever it is, whatever form it takes (and that is clearly under debate) - sees marriage as an imitation of something about Christ and his relationship with the Church, and as a participation in the life and love of the Trinity. 
That is ultimately where we must look for the source and meaning of complementarity.

Friday, April 4, 2014

ABC Justin explains that marriage equality = dead Christians

As if the tired old C of E didn't have enough trouble with things, now Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has compared gay people to adulterers,
Although he continued to uphold what he called the historic position of the church, of "sex only within marriage and marriage only between a man and a woman", he agreed with the presenter, James O'Brien, that it was "completely unacceptable" for the church to condemn homosexual people more than adulterous heterosexual people.
and claimed that marriage equality in the US is the cause of Muslims murdering Christians in Africa.
African Christians will be killed if the Church of England accepts gay marriage, the archbishop of Canterbury has suggested.
 And not a peep did he make about the Anglican Church in Africa supporting criminalization of homosexuality.

IT's OUR FAULT, people!  Us gay folks!  If we would just go back in the closet, and live inauthentic lives of fear and hiding, then none of this would happen!  It's our cross to bear!  We're in too much of a hurry!

Oh, my.  The Rev Martin Luther King, a modern prophet, had words for Justin Welby, written in a Birmingham Jail  (paragraphs broken for ease of reading).  Perhaps someone should send the Abp the link.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? 
We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. 
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. 
More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.    

After WorldVisions debacle, young Evangelicals seek a new way

For many of us, the World Visions USA debacle  ("married gay couples are ok to employ…. wait, no they aren't") was just one more example of the Evangelical right wing throwing its collective weight around over The Gayz.  Too bad, but we've moved on.

But it turns out that many Evangelicals themselves were deeply injured by this.  Especially the spectacle of people withdrawing support from "their children" (World Vision does sponsorship of foreign kids) over the hiring practices of the US affiliate.  It exposed something about the knee-jerk response of the Evangelical movement that dismays these younger Christians.

And many are seeing that it is time to move on to something new.

Zack Hunt: 
The zeal with which so many Christians abandoned their sponsored children in the name of theological purity wasn't just embarrassing; it was repugnant and exposed the hate of so many that for so long has been hidden under the guise of "a difference of opinion."... 
Broadly speaking, the problem with evangelicalism is that it has become a culture unto itself with central values and concerns that are not actually central to the gospel, despite claims to the contrary. These central commitments are not to the way of Jesus, but to a fetishized list of beliefs. 
But this is not a call for simple rebranding. 
The church needs real change.…. 
We have become a people paralyzed by the fear of impurity, of having sinners in our midst or being seen in their company. And so we've become like the Pharisees, old wineskins rigid and inflexible, unable to accommodate the moving of the Spirit. 
What we need is resurrection. We need to have our eyes opened to the radically changing world around us, so that we can start to see where and how people are hurting and begin to speak to their needs.

Rachel Held Evans uses the same imagery
[R]ather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion, those who have, for whatever reason, been “farewelled.”  
Instead of fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome and where we can go on discussing (and debating!) the Bible, science, sexuality, gender, racial reconciliation, justice, church, and faith, but without labels, without wars.
….
Evangelicalism has been and always will be home. I suspect a part of me will always miss it.  
But there’s something strangely liberating about standing in the middle of this scorched earth terrain with the resolution to stop fighting, the resolution to give up. I am reminded of the one thing all we Christians have in common, whether we’re Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventist, Anabaptist, Quaker, or something in between: We are Resurrection people. 
 I view this as a tremendously positive step.  Yes, the rump they leave behind will continue to snarl--just as the (largely overlapping) rump of anti-gay people continues to snarl.  But these young Evangelicals may recreate and reclaim their type of Christianity from the Christianists to be truly Christian, which would be a wonderful thing.

Do go read the full articles at the links.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Money and Power

“The abuse of buying and selling votes crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread to the law courts. And then to the army, and finally the Republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”  Plutarch

In the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court decision:
Big donors, leaders of political parties and candidates with access to wealthy supporters will be the biggest beneficiaries of the Supreme Court decision issued on Wednesday, a ruling that could fundamentally reshape the political terrain in the 2014 elections and beyond. Election experts predicted a surge of new money into congressional campaigns and political parties, expanding the world of high-dollar fund-raising now dominated by 'super PACs' and big-spending political nonprofit groups. The decision effectively eradicates a significant campaign finance restriction brought about in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the cap on the total amount any one person can give to federal candidates and parties in any two-year election cycle. Two groups in particular stand to be most empowered by Wednesday’s decision: Those with the wherewithal to spend millions of dollars on campaign contributions and those with access to them, including party leaders, senior lawmakers and presidents.  New York Times
 Just wait till they decide that corporations have religions.

I despair.

Maybe we have to beat them by joining them. Is this the solution?
 If the burgeoning gray market in political money is to be countered, a few things need to happen. First, political money needs to be made easier, not harder, for politicians to raise. Second, the money needs to be encouraged to flow through channels that are ultimately accountable to voters and the national interest. Third, candidate and party donations need to flow in straightforward, observable ways rather than being routed circuitously, so that everyone can see what’s going on and vote or campaign accordingly. Fourth, disclosure needs to be improved for the nonprofits and other black holes. 
Greatly raising contribution limits and simultaneously improving disclosure would achieve those goals. High limits would affect only the most stratospheric contributions, the ones that raise the most serious questions about corruption; other donors could bring their money back into the mainstream system in an above-board way. Voters might not like it, but at least they could see it and, if they chose, vote against it. With money inside the political system, candidates and parties would have more control over their own campaigns and destinies. 
Yes, big donations buy access and influence. Yes, high limits tempt politicians to squeeze donors mercilessly for money. But if you think the existing system puts a stop to that, I refer you to the Adelson Primary the other day in Las Vegas, where Republican hopefuls lined up to curry favor with the gambling magnate. And in today’s era of presidential races that cost more than $1 billion and Senate races that top $20 million, even quite large contributions, short of the eye-popping level, are too small to make a candidate kiss the donor’s ring. With so much money out there in federal politics now (more than $6 billion in 2012), big is the new small.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Friend, lover, partner, spouse.... the power of words

Joyful couplesare  marrying in England and Wales now.  Just not in the increasingly-irrelevant C of E.

British actor Simon Callow plans to marry his partner, now that same sex marriage is legal in England.  He writes, 
[W]e shall, by the very act of marrying become different people: we shall be husbands to each other. 
And every time I introduce him to people as my husband, the word will echo with the extraordinary force of novelty. Every time I say the word it will mean something, taking even me by surprise. And everything that is contained in that word — all the promise of care, of protection, of obligation, of responsibility, of strength, of growth — all that will inform our lives. Words matter profoundly. Partner, lover, boyfriend are all perfectly good words, denoting very particular relationships. But husband eclipses them all; husband sinks roots, husband brings forth life. And marriage — that’s another of those big words you grow into. Giving gay men and women their birthright — the right to participate fully in this great human invention — will change all our lives. All that remains is the elimination of envy, resentment, hatred, which still, day in and day out, plague gay people everywhere, especially young people, bullied and humiliated. But gay marriage, the formation of enduring and openly celebrated, correctly named, relationships will change the world as surely as love transforms everything.
Words have meaning. When I use the word "wife" to refer to my beloved*, there is no doubt what I mean.  It means we are married, committed, tied together as strongly as we can be. It is the greatest joy of my life.


*(Of course, some people get confused about what that makes me....leading to the question "if she's your wife, are you her husband?"  which I've explained elsewhere) 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Politically correct purges: JUST STOP IT

Does anyone remember Richard Grenell? He went to work for the Romney campaign and was hounded out when Evangelicals became outraged to discover he was gay. His being gay had nothing to do with the Romney campaign (after all, the anti-gay message is pretty strong in  Republican presidential campaigns) and nothing to do with his job. He was essentially not allowed to continue simply for being gay.

Cue the outrage: the man was hounded out of his job because he is gay!

Well, it's happening again.

Mozilla/Firefox has appointed Brendan Eich as its CEO: a man who supported Prop8 by giving a donation to the campaign. The company itself has a good diversity profile; there's no evidence that he's going to change that. In fact, he specifically that there won't be changes. But, based on a personal donation he made 6 years ago, some developers have called for a boycott of the browser. Simply because they disagree with the personal politics of the CEO.

Now, readers of this blog know that I was an ardent opponent of Prop8. As a gay, married Californian, I have a strong interest in this fight.

And I will tell you that boycotting Mozilla over the personal opinion of Brendan Eich against gay marriage is outrageous.

Look, we promote the idea that people who oppose marriage equality should live in peace in the secular sphere. It's the price of having a socially diverse civil polis. We promote tolerance. WE say we can live together even if we disagree.

Not if we're doing this sort of politically correct thought-policing, we can't.

This is no different than the firing of Richard Grenell. Or, to use another example from the news today, no different from the reversal of the World Vision charity which now says it will never, ever, hired a married gay person.

Indeed, it ties into the Hobby Lobby case currently before the Supreme Court, by saying a company has the right to control the personal behavior of its employees.

Their thoughts, if you will.

You will be assimilated, or you will be fired.

From the American Conservative: (my emphases!), an excellent piece on why we have to stop these purges:
Balkanized businesses, which only hire employees or leaders that are politically palatable to their donors and customers aren’t economically or socially efficient. Instead of creating weak-tie relationships across ideological divides, they segregate people who disagree, fostering a fear of contamination by association. This exclusionary approach raises the stakes of political conflict dangerously high. When the losing side of a debate is blacklisted, all disputes become wars of annihilation. 

When Eich donated to Proposition 8, his state was split on the issue; the measure passed by a 4.5 percent margin. If, less than a decade later, the losers of that fight are unemployable, the next group on the losing side of a historical shift has every reason to fight dirtier, while time is still on their side….

But neither side benefits from policing orthodoxy as tightly as these boycotts would do. World Vision made its policy shift in the service of this kind of neutrality; since some of the churches it worked with and the states it operated in recognize gay marriage, World Vision would respect, but not praise, their policies. That turned out to be unacceptable to its donors, who saw anything less than exclusion as tacit endorsement.

A healthy body politic requires that there be room to be wrong and still belong to normal society and commerce. A society that won’t live together can’t learn from each other.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hobby Lobby, Contraception, and the threat to LGBT rights

By now you know that a company called Hobby Lobby wants to opt out of the provision of contraception to its employees, on the grounds that contraception is abortion (medically incorrect), and because Hobby Lobby's owners are devout Christians of a certain type.

This breathtaking expansion of the concept of "religious liberty" to allow companies to discriminate, could also allow a Muslim to demand women to wear a headscarf, or a Catholic to refuse to hire a man who remarried following divorce.

make no mistake this is linked to LGBT rights, because if you expand "religious liberty" to such a degree, you empower discrimination against gay people as well.  After all, if Hobby Lobby wins, then the bookstore down the street can refuse to hire a gay guy--or refuse to cover his husband under their health care that they offer straight spouses.

Harry Knox lays it out:
The plaintiffs in this case may say that they are fighting for religious freedom, but really they are fighting to avail themselves of all the legal and economic benefits that accrue to corporations while simultaneously availing themselves of the protections granted to individual citizens by the First Amendment. Wrapping this attempt to create a privileged legal category for corporate entities in the cloak of religious freedom demeans that freedom and those who cherish it. 
.... What court is wise enough to determine whether a corporation claiming to operate according to religious scruples is resisting a law for economic or ideological reasons? What conviction, no matter how baseless, cannot be wrapped in the protective cloak of faith?
....
The attempt to exclude contraceptive care from the Affordable Care Act is another step in asserting that entities -- not even individuals but entities -- have rights that trump those of women and their families. 
Bishop Gene Robinson draws the link between this, and the attempt to deny recognition to LGBT people.
I am watching a remarkable phenomenon: Followers of Jesus pleading with the government to allow them to shun those they regard as "sinners."Arizona's recent attempt to make it a religious right to discriminate, and similar efforts in other states, would give businesses the right not to serve almost anyone, for almost any reason, as long as it involved a seriously held religious belief. Services of all kinds could be denied to anyone whom the provider judged to be living an immoral life, according to their brand of religion.
Christians are not refusing to cater weddings of adulterers or gossips (condemned by name in Scripture), nor are they claiming that their religious beliefs are offended by photographing the wedding of someone who is greedy or a legislator who cuts food stamp funding. But bake a wedding cake for two people of the same gender, who love each other and are willing to take on the life-long commitment of marriage? This kind of Christian is not only offended but also claims to be a victim.
What it comes down to is this:
The Greens claim that corporations, through their owners, have freedom of religion — a very slippery slope. But should the entire company and its14,000 employees be held hostage by the beliefs of its owners?
Bishop Gene concludes,
Sometimes, even for a bishop, it's embarrassing to be a Christian. Not that I'm embarrassed by Jesus, whose life was spent caring and advocating for the marginalized, and whom I believe to be the perfect revelation of God. I'm just sometimes embarrassed to be associated with others who claim to follow him.

Friday, March 21, 2014

CoE Bishops start interrogating gay clergy

You will recall, church geeks, that the Church of England Bishops released a report recently (so called "pastoral guidance")  in which they unwillingly admitted that some gay people will be married, but this WILL NOT happen in church.  And while blessings might be provided, grudgingly, they should be private, preferably in a closet.  And under no circumstances should gay clergy (who are supposed to be celibate anyway, wink wink) even CONSIDER marrying their partners.  (And lets not even mention those closeted gay bishops).

Yeah, how do you think that's going to work?  There are gay clergy in the CoE and some of them are planning weddings.

And the Bishops are looking into it.

From the Church Times:
GAY clergy have this week been describing the ramifications of the pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage, issued by the House of Bishops last month. Bishops have begun meeting gay clergy, at least five of whom are reported to be planning to marry. 
The Vicar of St Mary with All Souls', Kilburn, and St James's, West Hampstead, the Revd Andrew Cain, said on Tuesday that speaking publicly about his plans to marry his partner of 14 years ( News, 21 February) had resulted in an "uncomfortable" meeting with his bishop, the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley, on Wednesday last week. 
"It was very uncomfortable for both of us," he said. "He was with HR, and I was with a union rep. That would not be normal for a meeting between a bishop and a priest. I could not honestly say it was particularly pastoral. It was awkward."
Ya think?  Wow.  Apparently the Bishop is trying to get them to change their mind.
He suggested that perhaps I would consider having a civil partnership, and I said my partner and I had deliberately not done that because we believe in marriage, and now it is possible for us to marry, we will marry."
Of course.  BP and I deliberately did not get a Domestic Partnership because, d'uh, IT'S NOT MARRIAGE.  We held out for the real thing (coming up on 6 years married, in October).

And the other feature of this is that the CoE Bishops were generally against civil unions, before they were for them.

Reminds me of that recent case in Washington where the vice principal was fired by a Catholic school for marrying his partner, and they offered him a blessing if he would just get a divorce.    You cannot make up this stuff.  

Meanwhile, back to the Church Times article:
On Monday, the Chaplain at Portsmouth University, the Revd Andy Marshall, confirmed that he plans to marry his partner of six years, despite the House of Bishops' statement.... 
Since the publication of the guidance, he has had conversations with people who have been told by their diocesan director of ordinands to sign a document stating that they are single or celibate. 
They had asked him "whether I feel they should end a relationship of several years, in order to sign the document and pursue ordination. 
"What was intended as a discussion document was used to oppress and bully people."
And really, CoE, how do you think that's going to go down in a country where same sex marriage is legal, starting next week? Not only is this greasing the skids to irrelevance, it's giving a large push towards the death of the church.  Anti-women, anti-gay, and placating a bunch of southern bishops whose countries want to imprison and punish LGBT people.

Can you spell "Disestablishment"?  Because, by George (or should that be, by Justin?), I think it's coming.