Why the Recent Spate of “Religious Freedom” Bills May Be a Good Thing

Anybody who has been paying attention to politics recently has probably heard about the “religious freedom” bills that have been hitting a number of states recently. It’s a little mind boggling that all of them have been making it to state legislatures all at the same time, with similar language, but so far it’s been very difficult to actually track where they are coming from. Usually when bills like this are all proposed simultaneously, there is somebody not only writing the model legislation but willing to claim it. So far it’s been difficult at best to track down the origin.

Regardless, what started in Kansas has grown to a number of other states including Georgia, South Dakota, Tennessee, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Idaho, Alabama, Michigan, Maine, West Virginia, and is being considered in Utah. Most famous has been the recent veto of a bill that passed both houses of the Arizona legislature.

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Go see why this might be a positive thing in a couple of ways in the full post over at Queereka.

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Lowered Expectations + Vague Statements = Person of the Year

fckh8-pope-meme

By now you’ve heard that the Advocate has named Pope Francis its person of the year. In perhaps one of the most cringingly apologetic and sycophantic pieces published about the Supreme Pontiff, Lucas Grindley reaches to draw the barest scraps of meaning out of the most innocuous of statements. In fact, reading this piece, you’ll notice that most of the article is Grindley doing little more than repeating himself or explaining why other people deserve the praise more. I almost feel as if the editorial board made the decision, and poor Lucas was tasked with writing it up. But let’s examine this article to see if we can divine the thinking that makes what appears to be pandering to pop culture lionization into a legitimate choice.

As I mentioned, the first six paragraphs are about how other people should have been given this honor. Grindley focuses especially on Edie Windsor, the brave woman whose case got a part of DOMA thrown out in court. It’s followed by this remarkably cop out

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Thus begins my new piece for Queereka. Read the whole article on that site.

Comics Leading Society

I know this is a little late, so please excuse me, but I just couldn’t let this go without saying something.

You might have heard that some serious heavyweights in the comics industry dismissed accusations of sexism, while also saying that comics are usually following, not leading, social change, so that makes it totes ok if they were sexist, which they aren’t. Their arguments read like a greatest hits of privilege apologetics (e.g. “We objectify men, too!”, “Why don’t they make their own comics?”, and the suggestion that superhero comics, like skepticism, are more of a guy thing), and include a digression that touches on race by arguing that actively pursuing diversity automatically means not creating a stand-alone good character.

The people in question are Len Wein, most famous for creating Wolverine, Gerry Conway, who invented The Punisher (and gave what was to me the most baffling and infuriating quote, that “…the comics follow society. They don’t lead society.”), and Todd McFarlane, who developed a comic book as an excuse to sell toys.

Before we get too into this, I think it’s important that we have some context for these guys’ careers, because they are not lightweights in the industry, and all of them have had significant impacts on the way we experience comics to this day, for good and for ill. But by examining where they came from, we might be able to understand why they are so horrendously wrong.

Let’s start with Wein. While Len Wein is best known for his creation of Wolverine, he actually created a number of the X-men that are incredibly popular, including Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus.  He revived the book from five years of hiatus in 1975 and his tenure on the title set the stage for the team most non-comic readers would become familiar with: the 90’s animated series composition. Wolverine was introduced to the team in this book, but the fuzzball was introduced to the universe over a year before in Incredible Hulk 181, touted as “The World’s First and Greatest Canadian Super Hero”. However, unlike his predecessors and, to an extent, his successors, X-men under his direction wasn’t as socially conscious, preferring to focus less on the place of mutants in the world and more on super-powered people beating up on one another. Wein eventually became Editor-in-Chief at Marvel.

It was under his leadership that a man named Gerry Conway would be writing The Amazing Spider-man. Conway started at Marvel around the same time as Wein. In fact, 1970’s Daredevil #71 was Wein’s first comic at Marvel, and Daredevil #72 was Conway’s. Conway took over Spider-man at the tender age of 19, after a couple of years of writing duties being passed between Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. Again, we saw a move away from making any statements (ironic, only a year after Amazing Spider-man #96-98, which was not given a Comics Code Authority label because Lee wouldn’t abandon a plot thread about the dangers of drug use), and the eventual introduction of Punisher in issue 129. He would also script “The Night Gwen Stacy Died“. Punisher wasn’t given his own book until the early 80s, but stood out for his willingness to kill, a function largely of his antagonists being the mob and it being easier to mow down scores of faceless goombas than to have to create a new Doctor Octopus or The Vulture every couple of issues because you keep killing off unique villains.

Finally you have McFarlane. It’s hard to count him among the other two since he didn’t make his money or his fame from comic books directly. Rather, he created a comic, then marketed the hell out of toys for the comic. Yes, he did work on Spider-man as well, but really his success came from his founding of Image comics, an exercise in remembering why artists don’t just write their own stuff, and the creation of Spawn, who has limped along in comic fandom with some hard core followers but no lasting impression. I’m sure there are some Spawn fans out there, maybe even a couple that can name a Spawn villain off the top of their head that isn’t Clown, Satan, or Martin Sheen, but when your supporting characters are so incidental (BTW: Spawn had a supporting cast) that they can be cannibalized by your former company in an ill-advised continuity-merging event, you haven’t created a lasting property. Ultimately, McFarlane’s influence would probably be felt less as a creator and more as one of the people most fueling the Speculation Bubble that was one of the main reasons 90s comics were so awful.

The reason why I go into this digression is two-fold. The first is to point out that asking Todd McFarlane his opinion on comic books is a lot like asking Uwe Boll his opinion on movies. Sure, he’s made a few, but they’re not very good and usually a means to an end. McFarlane is much better equipped to answer questions about character design, much like Boll is better equipped to answer questions about just barely avoiding committing fraud.

The second point is that while McFarlane, who drove the Liefeldian testosterone-fueled 90s overeaction to body shape and human behavior (hello Youngblood, Cable, Doom’s IV, and Hardcore Station, to name a few), could be excused for thinking that comics never did anything he wasn’t interested in doing, Wein and Conway know better.

As I mentioned above, Conway, who gave the damn quote, took over Amazing about a year after Stan Lee specifically bucked the industry trade group in order to publish an incredibly timely comment on drug abuse and its dangers. Wein revived a book that had a really respectable seven year run as a metaphor to the Civil Rights movement while it was going on. Both of them started at DC and worked there during Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams’ incredibly well done and successful Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossovers, which were specifically designed to address social issues because those were the books that were popular at the time (as a side note, they were also astounding and dealt with issues from a really balanced, but hard-hitting way).

Conway and Wein were executives at Marvel when X-men: God Loves, Man Kills was published in 1982. They were part of the industry and even could have grown up reading Archie Comics, which has always presented Riverdale as progressively accepting of other people, being one of the first comics to have regular appearances by characters of color, fairly recently introducing gay teen Kevin Keller, depicting Keller’s future marriage to a same-sex partner (after coming home a war hero), and this month showing him kissing his boyfriend on the cover of his title book.

Wein and Conway both should be aware of William Marston’s opinion that women should be in charge of the world, and how his feminism guided the creation of Wonder Woman. They might have even heard of Truth: Red, White, and Black, X-men: Magneto Testament, or Pride of Baghdad. You’d think they would have been familiar with Iron Man’s continuing battle with alcoholism or the decades of thoughtful fallout from Hank Pym’s abuse of his wife. Or with the importance of the introduction of characters like Black Panther, Luke Cage, and White Tiger. It’s possible they haven’t seen how well Batgirl has been doing since the launch of the New 52 under Gail Simone’s leadership.They almost certainly have heard of the Marvel Civil War, which is my favorite crossover event of all time because it dealt with the question of how much liberty we can sacrifice for security at the height of the War on Terror.

Even if all of those things escaped their notice, they might be peripherally aware of this comic about an immigrant boy who comes to be raised in middle America and becomes a hero. In fact, the popularity of this comic is attributed as one of the reasons why many immigrants joined the war effort in the early 1940s, despite immigration being a very sore subject during the time of that comic’s popularity.

Comics have consistently been ahead of or right in the middle of social change. They are often overlooked as a significant mover of social progress, mostly by people like Wein, Conway, and McFarlane who have never and will never have to worry about whether a character is like them at all: most characters are in a number of ways. They will never care about seeing people dealing with the problems that affect their lives, because the problems that affect their lives are not the kind of problems that need heroes.

But to suggest that comics are behind the curve is to project their own apathy onto a medium that has spoken directly about issues that have had to be tiptoed around in other places. It has been in front of so many social movements, and that we see it lagging behind on women’s issues in many significant ways is more disappointing because they have been a positive voice on so many other things.

Comics can be a catalyst for change, especially super hero comics, even from the Big Two publishers. That’s why it’s important that we push back against these types of attitudes, and demonstrate that the books that we want are the ones that are not only well written, but make a point to be inclusive and allow characters to be something other than wish fantasy fulfillment for straight white cis teenage boys.

Judge: Hiding Money From Rape Victims A-OK

Regular readers will know that I consider Timmy Cardinal Dolan to be an example of the worst that humanity has to offer. A fetid pustule bloated by self-righteous ego-mania, Timmy is more than homophobic, more than just a defender of child rapists, he is also a fraud and a thief. Except, not according to one Wisconsin judge.

I wrote in my Human Excommunication of Timmy about how, when faced with lawsuits for those priests he allowed to continue to rape children for years when he couldn’t pay them to do it as a hobby instead of professionally, the sanguine coward moved money around into another fund to make it immune from being seized and given to the victims he tried to silence.

Unfortunately, to Judge Rudolph Randa, compensating rape victims is a secondary concern to making sure that men in Milwaukee can continue telling people stories every Sunday because having to pay for their crimes would, “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Basically, because it was moved into a cemetery fund, and the upkeep of cemeteries is important to the Catholic faith, then taking away that money prevents them from practicing their religion. And, as we also see with the Magdalene Laundries, it‘s pretty clear that accepting responsibility for and making amends when you do awful, inhuman things is not a part of the Catholic faith, ergo Timmy’s accounting trick is legal.

Do I really need to go into the problems with this? I recently got a traffic ticket, so does that mean that I can simply insist that the Flying Spaghetti Monster disapproves of tolls but demands that the fastest available route be taken, therefore trying to make me pay to use roads hampers my free religious exercise? What we’re seeing with Randa is another example of people who seem to think that believing in fairy tales with enough conviction is reasonable justification for any action. Usually it’s trying to force other people to live by the strictures of your religion (e.g. abortion, abstinence only sex education, same-sex marriage, etc), but it’s becoming quite in vogue for prominent religious people in this country to say that their faith should exempt them from the law or even criticism of their ridiculous ideas.

The good news is that Randa is usually overturned on appeal. The bad news is that there is at least one person who is so monumentally screwed up that he thinks that denying compensation to rape victims is entirely ok if an invisible sky pixie wants to make sure the things we use to mark where we keep decomposing flesh are well polished.

Hey, instead of just saying that he won’t actively be mean to gay people as long as they’re sufficiently closeted, maybe this is a place where the Pope can step in and do some real good for a change!

Confronting the “Best Arguments”

Most people are pretty sure they’re right. Not necessarily about everything, but there are a few things they feel absolutely confident about. I know that I feel free damn confident about most of the stuff that goes up here, and when I’m not I will say so. However, there are two implications to this confidence: either I am really, truly amazing and right about everything I believe, or I am wrong about some things and haven’t heard the right argument yet.

It’s the latter that I find people banking more more and more. Let’s look at some examples:

What are marriage advocates to do? How can marriage—a thorough defense of which requires deep theological reflection or the complex natural law web of anthropological, historical, social, and scientific ideas contained in [Robert George’s] What is Marriage—compete with “all you need is love”? – Eric Teetsel, “On Winning the Marriage Debate

 

Not for Hitchens the rich cross-cultural fertilization of the Levant by Helenistic, Jewish, and Manichaean thought. Not for Hitchens the transformation of a Jewish heretic into a religion that Nietzsche called “Platonism for the masses.” Not for Hitchens the fascinating theological fissures in the New Testament between Jewish, Gnostic, and Pauline doctrines. – Curtis White, “Christopher Hitchens’ lies do atheism no favors

 

“Either this group is completely ignorant of arguments for and against God’s existence or they’re ignorant of the best theistic scholarship.” – Anugrah Kumar, quoting William Lane Craig, “Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig Calls Atheist Hotline a ‘Wrong Number’” (warning that the Christian Post is particularly annoying with its ads, with video ads that keep restarting if you pause or mute them)

We often see this regarding religious or theistic arguments, but it’s becoming quite popular among people who continue to put forward bad arguments: simply claim that the person who doesn’t buy into them hasn’t heard all the really good reasons why we should buy into what they’re saying. I think it’s a variation on The Courtier’s Reply.

I’ve encountered this before with theists and when I ask them to actually present those really good arguments, I will generally get a form of Pascal’s Wager. Occasionally I will get the Kalam Cosmological Argument and very rarely anything different. Unfortunately, both Pascal and Kalam are very easily debunked. In fact, I took a look at Craig’s ReasonableFaith.org (which is not as cool as a reasonable conversation, let me tell you) and it’s almost all Pascal and Kalam. You don’t have to believe me, go check it out yourself. I fact, if you check out his “The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God,” (for example) you can see that he brings up Kalam, but also the Thomstic Cosmological argument, the Moral Argument, the Teleological Argument (which is by far the most ridiculous and easy to argue against, as far as I’m concerned), and the ever absurd Ontological Argument, which is really just such a joke on the face of it that I’m going to assume it was developed by Dr. Frank-n-furter. Though I will point out that he forgot the Argument from Tigers.

I’ve looked at that site for a while now and see very little that isn’t a variation on these five, so I can’t help but ask Dr. Craig…where are you hiding these “best arguments”? Because the ones you presented are all childishly simple and only really convincing to people who want to agree with the premise.

Oh, and there’s the very popular “it’s a mystery“. That works for a lot of things.

Going to the Teetsel piece, we see basically the same argument being made for conservative principles. The problem is that people just don’t understand the wealth of thought and philosophy that goes into being a conservative, and are instead distracted by pop culture and celebrities. Liberalism, according to Teetsel, is the result of an abandonment of thought to shiny entertainment.

This is even more absurd than the Ontological argument. Teetsel is trying to tell us that the ideology that aligns itself with people who think somebody rose from the dead (several people, actually), the ideology that consistently denies the findings of science, the ideology that has never been right about a social issue since the founding of this country (and not too often before), is the thinking person’s option?

As David Sessions points out in this article for Patrol,

So Teetsel can’t pretend that the gay rights movement won simply by circumventing an intellectual debate. They had the intellectual debate when the religious right so took its own position for granted that it thought it didn’t need to argue; when the right finally started playing catch-up, even the most sophisticated versions of its ideas were too far outside the mainstream for a secular democracy. The right didn’t lose because of the “packaging” of its ideas, it lost because those ideas themselves were defeated in battle. (Similarly, Romney lost the election not because he didn’t get the conservative message across, but precisely because he did.)

This is also a lot like Penny Nance’s preposterous assertion on Mike Huckabee’s show that conservatives on college campuses are being “bullied” because they can’t explain their opposition to things like same-sex marriage. The sad truth is that they are able to articulate their positions just fine.

So, here’s the deal: we’ve heard your arguments, and they suck. I’m sorry, I don’t know if you’re just really invested in these things being true that you miss the obvious flaws in what you’re saying or what, but these arguments are truly awful. Fortunately, you don’t have to feel awful for having had them: you can change your mind. In fact, that would be great.

But if there are arguments that you’re hiding from me, ones that suddenly make it plausible that a wizard who lives on a cloud is up there mucking about with our lives, or that magically makes welfare queens a reality, or that convinces me that I’m a bad person for a propensity to not only be attracted to men but also act on it, now’s the time to break them out. Seriously, I don’t know what you guys are waiting for. Isn’t it time, after all this joking around, to break out the real “best arguments”? These are the gag arguments, right?

Right?

Confounding Quotations

Well, I am home sick this weekend rather then spending my time hanging out with friends, snuggling my girlfriend, fencing, and singing folk songs well into the night. I actually have a new one I wrote and wanted to premiere when it wasn’t 1:30 in the morning!

But so long as I am here getting over whatever the fuck has ruined my SCA event plans, I have at least gotten a chance to start catching up on the news I’ve been missing because of work deadlines. And I have to admit, while there has been plenty to make me angry, I find that I’ve just been confused by a whole lot of what’s being said. And today we’re going to work out some of my confusion on a number of quotes.

So here we go!

1. Divine Protection Racket

It’s often joked among atheists that what Christians call “salvation” (and other religions call other things) basically sounds like a Mafioso extorting people. “Hey, nice soul ya got there. Be a shame if something happened to it, like it burned in a lake of fire for all eternity.” It’s a bit of hyperbole to highlight that God is often trying to save us from itself. And that’s why this quote from Rep. Randy Weber is so hilariously confused and confusing.

It’s a good thing that he’s a holy, just non-vengeful God. It’s a good thing we’re not vengueful [sic], because he [sic] might ask him to bring an untimely demise to those in the abortion industry who are killing our babies. But we’re not that way. He’s a God of second chances.

Anyone else get the impression that the only thing keeping Randy Weber from murdering every abortion provider he can get his hands on is mortal law and disapprobation rather than divine grace? I mean, this quote is so all over the map. “It’s a good thing God doesn’t kill people, because we might wish God would kill people and God would do it, but he wouldn’t and we wouldn’t wish that on those goddamn BABY KILLERS that we totally wouldn’t wish harm on.” He really, really wants to be able to call for violence (and I would want to as well if I believed that people were actually killing babies), but he knows that that tends to look bad, so he keeps walking up to that line and backing away again.

It doesn’t help that he’s backing up world class idiot Paul Broun, which makes it difficult to be coherent. That being said, this was so out there that I’m not sure that it can be covered merely by being the Lou Costello to Broun’s Bud Abbott.

2. Getting What You Pay For

I really, really hate to bring up Ron Lindsay again, but the man keeps making these strange, nonsensical statements. First it was his introduction at Women in Secularism, then his absurd comparison of pushback to North Korean propagandists, and now this tweet.

Free inquiry. Free expression. Not only are these indispensable in our quest for the truth but they’re necessary conditions 4 human dignity

Where is this coming from? Ceiling Cat be praised, this is as ridiculous as The Thaw! Who has told Ron Lindsay that he can’t inquire or speak? Seriously, who? Is this just a general statement that coincidently sounds like a defense of his increasingly ridiculous and paranoid assertions? Again, we seem to have a person who is under the impression that in order to be free, they must be free from any criticism. Criticism is only something that Ron Lindsay and the people he agrees with are afforded the right to, you see. Anybody who questions that, even in the mildest of terms, is an enemy of freedom, I suppose.

Also, it’s taking a stand on some pretty nasty stuff. How do people’s heads Photoshopped on porn advance human dignity? How does publishing a person’s home address in front of a bunch of people who hate that person advance human dignity? As PZ pointed out in the link above

When they photoshop our faces onto porn, when they call us “manginas” and “cunts”, when they flood CFI conference streams with denigrating insults to the speakers, they are not making “free inquiry”, they are not using “free speech” in a “quest for truth” or to advance “human dignity”.

Not all expression is some noble gesture in favor of free expression. Listening to it is more a testament to the greatness of free expression than just saying whatever stupid thing comes to your brain. As per usual, I go to MovieBob’s The Big Picture on political correctness, which he defines pretty well as “being nice” and the enemies of political correctness as people who simply feel that some people don’t deserve their niceness. That doesn’t make you a samurai sworn in fealty to the First Amendment, ready to slit open your own belly if it’s necessary. It makes you a jerk who doesn’t want to be called a jerk while still predicating your behavior toward others on whatever impulses you have at the moment rather than anything they happen to do.

3. The Best Kept Secret

This is one that confuses me more on the practice than on the actual thing said. So, a couple of days ago, Pope Francis said a kind of nice thing about atheists and non-Catholics in general.

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

It’s not much, but it’s something, at least. And it’s something I can get behind, too, since I’m more than happy to work with believers of any kind in making a positive change in the world. I do it fairly often, in fact.

But this is the Vatican, and they really can’t let stuff like this go without swooping in to ruin the fuck out of it. Emphasis mine.

On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

Look at that highlighted part right there and really think about it. It’s Catholic doctrine that people who are unaware of the Church get a free pass on the whole Jesus thing, so why the fuck would you tell anybody about it? No, seriously, if you care about the state of people’s souls after death, and you know that if you simply don’t tell them that there’s an option to sell your soul to a tiny nation-state in the middle of Italy instead of just doing whatever it is you do already, why wouldn’t you just not tell them about it? Wouldn’t that get more people into Heaven? Wouldn’t that just starve hell of people because nobody knew they had the chance to give 10% of their income to men in fabulous, if poorly cut, dresses? Catholicism should be two guys who live in secret and make sure the other one is always following the catechism and nobody learns of their arcane practices.

This also suggests the other question: what if the one true religion involves two brother gods fighting over the last doughnut eternally, one guy in Luxembourg knew about it in 1751 and died without telling anybody, and because of the loophole that you don’t have to believe if you’ve never heard of it, any person who is decently good and generous gets to spend eternity in the Divine Krispy Kreme, where the red light is always on? It’s no less plausible than any other myth base.

4. Designed Economics

The Sensuous Curmudgeon is hilarious. I love reading their take on creationists and their mockery of evolution deniers. It’s really something to read every time. However, they also are a fiscal conservative, so occasionally will write a post discussing economics that inevitably misses a point someplace. This was, however, exceptionally weird.

This post is based on their support of a quote from Ronald Bailey, which goes, “Intelligent design is to evolutionary biology what socialism is to free-market economics.” There is then a lot of writing about how shopping malls are like evolution in that stores change and the mall you knew growing up is probably almost nothing like the mall you know today. I think this may be the crux of their argument.

Aside from the mall itself, who planned the assembly of all the individual stores, with all the wares they display? No mall developer could possibly design all that. Even if he started out with a few chain stores in mind as tenants, the roster of retailers currently at the mall is probably quite different from the original tenants, many of whom may have gone out of business and were replaced by new retailers. Not only do the stores gradually change over time, but the goods being sold are probably different from those that were originally on display. In the space of a decade or two, virtually everything is different.

I’m not sure if the Curmudgeon thinks that developers create malls, take on original tenants, then just let them go and develop as they will or what, but developers have constant say in what can go on in stores in a mall. When one store fails, the developer finds another store to replace it. Stores have very strict limits on what they can display and how they can display it. A mall quite literally is intelligently designed constantly.

Down here in Orlando we have the Mall at Millenia, which is supposed to be high end stores. Take a look at the directory. I see a Crate & Barrel, Monteblanc, Louis Vuitton, every Gap brand except for Old Navy, an Apple store, Prada, Rolex, and several other places that cater to the wealthy. Know what I don’t see? Spencer Gifts. Or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Or Target. Why? Because there is a developer who has complete control over this mall and decides who can and can’t open a store there. That’s nothing like evolution, which would allow any store that set up shop and made money to thrive, whether it was Tiffany & Co. or Dollar Tree.

The original quote makes no sense, either. As I pointed out, most businesses are, in fact, intelligently designed. The original person just took two things he liked and two things he didn’t like and made a syllogism that only stands as true if the comparison is something that Ronald Bailey approves of to something that Ronald Bailey doesn’t approve of.

The other problem with this quote and the whole perception is that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. I mean, think about it: two common atheist complaints about religion are that a) evolution is an endlessly cruel process and it’s hard to imagine an all-good creator putting entire species through that, and b) if we are intelligently designed, then the designer isn’t that good at their job since there are so many ways things could be better. We reject ID because it’s in all likelihood not true, not because there’s something inherently bad about the idea of a designer. Hell, if there were a genuinely omni-benevolent creator who knew what the fuck they were doing, that would actually be a lot better! We would have redundancies built into our bodies, we wouldn’t have pointless organs, we wouldn’t run down with age, there would be no part of us that didn’t heal or grow back, we wouldn’t be so fragile, we wouldn’t be susceptible to disease…the possibilities for improvement are endless. Why wouldn’t we prefer it if species were just gotten right the first time and didn’t have to go through the gruesome machine that is natural selection?

To apply that to economics, why would we prefer a system that is manifestly more brutal and apathetic to human suffering than one that actually tries to alleviate human suffering? No, I’m not talking about pure socialism, which doesn’t work, but surely we can socialize aspects of things to increase the happiness and well-being of as many people as possible instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying that that’s just the price of free markets. Again, atheists are constantly saying that given omnipotence we could do better than any of the perceived gods thus invented, so why would we embrace apathy instead of empathy when we have the chance?

5. Timmy and the Washing Well

Regular Conversationalists know that I consider Timmy Dolan one of the most horrendous humanoid creatures to walk the face of the Earth. I mean, the slimy trail he leaves through the media is toxic in the most nauseating sense of the word. I’m pretty sure he can’t order breakfast without a back handed compliment to queer people or atheists, and his excessive pride in what he thinks is incredible subtlety reads like a child who can see up a girl’s skirt and can’t stop giggling at their own naughtiness.

Which brings us to this bizarre piece of tripe that he wrote titled “All Are Welcome!” in which he describes how the Church loves people to show up and wants them to know Jesus and blah blah blah. Then we get to this.

This balance can cause some tensions.  Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!

He’s, of course, talking about gay people, people who live together before marriage, and people who have been involved in abortion in some respect. To his credit, he also calls out businesmen (and only men) who don’t pay their workers a fair wage, but it feels tacked on considering he rarely seems to discuss it otherwise and the Church doesn’t throw their weight behind living wage laws as much as they do behind fighting marriage equality or contraception.

But what is bizarre and infuriating about this particular extended analogy, is that he really didn’t think that anybody would question his comparison of being gay or cohabitating to being dirty.

It gets worse in that when several Catholics showed up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where Cardinal Timmy preaches) with dirty hands for a silent protest, they were not only told they weren’t welcome inside, but Timmy of the Imposing Jowls called the NYPD to have them removed! And, what’s worse, the NYPD enforced it! Because, as we all know, it’s imperative that an organ of the state enforce religious rules like the one that was broken here (i.e. “Do what I fucking tell you because I have a fancy hat!”).

I admit, this one pisses me off, but the idea that protestors don’t plague him like the Furies did Orestes also pisses me off. What baffles me is the repeated failure of people to stop and think in this whole debacle. First Timmy having a secretary translate his crayon scribble into a blog, then him calling the cops to prove that “all are welcome”, then the NYPD showing up and enforcing religious dictates. It’s just failure after failure after failure here, and nobody was able to figure out that this might not look very good, even if they weren’t sure if it was right or not? I know that the Catholic church doesn’t much care about bad PR at this point, but I thought the NYPD still did. Maybe too many loving handjobs on network television that convinces people they’re all saints in blue suits?

(h/t to Slacktivist for that last one)

So, yes, things have gotten really confusing while I’ve been away. Am I being unreasonable, here? Do these things really make perfect sense and I’m just being dense? Because I really can’t figure out how any of these things have gotten said or done.

More Words that Mean Other Things

During the 70s and 80s, a cottage industry of old white evangelical con artists rose up. People who had been involved in the conservative movement but were unhappy with the lefty capitulation of Bill Buckley decided that they had one hell of a product: fear for one’s immortal soul with a righteous superiority chaser. Why not market the hell out of that?

So as a result we saw the rise of luminaries like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Francis Schaeffer…and Pat Buchanan. Buchanan was involved in the Nixon administration early in his career, where he fought for affirmative action based on religion while spending the rest of his career to date fighting against it for race. He is a writer for VDARE, a white supremacist group, and still believes that the Southern Strategy was a good idea.

Also, he wants you to know that he’s totes not racist.

And now he’s worried that the same people who noticed racism exsisted will now discriminate against poor, helpless, politically bereft Christians just because they will speak against gay marriage and queer people more broadly.

“Imagine the situation in America today if priests and pastors were telling congregations they need not obey civil rights laws. They would be denounced as racists. Church tax exemptions would be in peril,” he said. “Something akin to this could be in the cards if the homosexual rights movement is victorious – a public rejection of the new laws by millions and a refusal by many to respect or obey them.”

I really love this quote, not for the content, but rather because you can see his disappointment that he lost the race issue. I’m not saying that racism is solved, but rather that you should look at how he says that if you encourage people to disobey civil rights laws, you might be considered a racist today! Because in Buchanan’s mind, it wasn’t racist before, but now that we have this idea that segregation is bad, for example, suddenly it’s racist to suggest Whites Only drinking fountains in public accommodations.

And, of course, he’s afraid that people will now have to “reject” the “new laws” or someday, vocal and open homophobes might be treated the way we treat open and vocal racists today. Generally by giving them a column on WorldNetDaily.

But that’s not the real amusing part. This is:

He concluded by darkly warning, “The culture war in America today may be seen as squabbles in a day-care center compared to what is coming. A new era of civil disobedience may be at hand.”

By all means, take a  moment to laugh. I’ll wait.

Better?

Buchanan, in this case, is using the words “civil disobedience” because he’s pretty sure that it sounds good. At least it seemed to work when he was fighting the people employing it in the 50s tooth and nail, so clearly they were on to something. Obviously there’s something magical about those words, that phrase of phrases, that makes whatever you’re doing seem good and right and noble and true.

The problem is, however, that it’s not generally applicable. Fred Clark does an excellent job of explaining how civil disobedience should work (and gives several followup posts on how the evangelical right is trying to co-opt the words to hilarious effect), but the basic premise is that in order to civilly disobey a law, it has to be one that you have to option to civilly obey in the first place.

But Jesse’s defiance can’t be as easily channeled against this new law. Unlike the litter law, this one doesn’t directly compel him to do anything or forbid him from doing anything. And since it does not directly require his civil obedience, it does not lend itself to his civil disobedience.

I’m not exactly sure what Buchanan wants people to do. He talks about preachers and pastors using the pulpit to rail against homosexuality, but that’s not civil disobedience. That’s exercising your right to be a vocal asshole. They can do that now and there will never be a law that will prevent that, let alone there being one in the works now, so I’m not sure how this qualifies as “civil disobedience”. They can be civilly disobedient against gay marriage laws by…not getting a same-sex marriage, I suppose? Not performing them? No, the latter doesn’t apply because nobody wants churches and the like to be forced to perform same-sex marriages.

I suppose that they can be civilly disobedient against anti-discrimination laws, such as the Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding because she’s in a relationship with Jesus. The thing is, this is nothing new. Buchanan has been fighting anti-discrimination laws since they were passed. He’s spent his life standing up for the privilege of white straight cis Christian males like himself to be able to discriminate against anyone they please because white folks built this country all by themselves.

So really, we’re not seeing much new here, expect Buchanan jumping on the bandwagon with his racist colleagues and trying to use the language of civil rights (that were once so effectively used against him) to fight LGBT equality.

What’s going on here is that the old formula of fear+superiority isn’t quite enough these days. Buchanan and his ilk are having a harder time doing anything other than keeping the already-converted in line by telling them that there are two types of people: those who are like them and perfect in their flaws (or flawed in their perfection), and everybody else who will suffer for all eternity at the hands of a merciful god. That works great on people who currently think they’re in the first category, but is a really bad argument for anybody not already drinking the purely symbolic grape juice.

So they are adding in another component: nobility. It’s no longer just about being super Jesus-y awesome and avoiding infinite torture for finite infractions, now he has to sell the fantasy that standing up for the status quo is actually an act of defiance. Like Recall in the film Total Recall, they offer the feeling of excitement to people who otherwise live boring, average lives, without the mess of actually having to do anything exciting. Any straight white cis male Christian can live the thrill of fighting battles that were won 1700 years ago and not have to worry for a moment that he will lose anything of substance should he not prevail.