The Personal and the Political

We live in strange, exciting, and unstable times. Perhaps most people do, or at least they feel that they do when they’re stuck in the middle of it, but it’s not unreasonable to say that things like the culture wars are coming to a head, reaching a zenith that began it’s arc a little over 30 years ago.

And that’s why I get a bit frustrated when I see so much attention given to articles like Brian Ambrosino’s piece for the Atlantic about coming out as gay while attending Liberty University.

It’s not that I have a problem with Ambrosino or with his story. While I find it somewhat unbelivable, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was luckier than people like Marc Adams, who was forced to go to reparative therapy at Liberty because of his homosexuality.

That being said, Ambrosino’s article focuses on the people he encountered and entirely ignores the message being sent.

What do I mean? Let’s look at some examples.

She got up from her chair, and rushed over to me. I braced myself for the lecture I was going to receive, for the insults she would hurl, for the ridicule I would endure. I knew how Christians were, and how they clung to their beliefs about homosexuals and Sodom and Gomorrah, and how disgusted they were by gay people. The tears fell more freely now because I really liked this teacher, and now I ruined our relationship.

“I love you,” she said. I stopped crying for a second and looked up at her. Here was this conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage woman who taught lectures like “The Biblical Basis for Studying Literature,” and here she was kneeling down on the floor next me, rubbing my back, and going against every stereotype I’d held about Bible-believing, right-leaning, gun-slinging Christians.

When I heard her sniffle, I looked up at her. “It’s going to be ok,” she said. “You’re ok.” She nodded her head, squeezed my shoulder, and repeated, “I love you.”

She sounds like a really nice person, and I think that’s great, but it doesn’t change that the university officially prohibits any non-marital sexual relations which, by its nature, includes same-sex sex until such time as the law changes (and even then I suspect they won’t count the marriages as valid). This is the school that employs Matt Barber. He goes on to talk about the people who didn’t immediately start hissing and throwing holy water at him and seems to think that this is somehow remarkable or unique. But here’s where I really lose it.

Well, what about Jerry Falwell himself? After all, he did blame 9/11 on the gays. He did make that remark during service about “even barnyard animals knowing better than that.” He also did make certain to ban Soul Force, a gay-affirming Christian ministry, from stepping foot on our campus.

Yes. Yes, he did. He did all of those things and so much more. I agree with Chris Hitchens who said, “If you gave Falwell an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox”. He spent the majority of his adult life calling homosexuality a “perversion”, viciously attacking anybody who spoke positively of LGBT people, and violently abusing the English language in the process. He is in many respects the father of the organized anti-gay movement. Yes, he was a terrible person and should be remembered as such.

But what about when he opened the Liberty Godparent Home to take in unwanted children? Or when he hosted a forum on campus about homosexuality, and invited 100 prominent gay leaders to take part in the discussion? Or when he would drive around campus every night at lights-out to blow his horn and wave goodnight to all of us students?

What about those things? Seriously, what about them? Are we saying that it’s ok to hurt people as long as you help a comparable number of other people? It does not matter what else he’d done if he remained an unapologetic bigot the rest of his life. The animus that he has inspired in the religious right against LGBT people is still a driving force in today’s politics, and I’m supposed to give a shit that he drove around campus at grown-up bedtime every night re-enacting his personal version of the Waltons?

When I think of Jerry Falwell, I don’t think about him the way Bill Maher does. I think about the man who would wear a huge Blue Afro wig to our school games, or the man who slid down a waterslide in his suit, or the man who would allow himself to be mocked during our coffeehouse shows. I think about the man who reminded us every time he addressed our student body that God loved us, that he loved us, and that he was always available if ever we needed him.

Again, we have this attempt to humanize Falwell, but it falls a little flat. He slid down a water slide in his suit? He wore a blue afro wig? So? I wonder if Ambrosino is under the impression that in order to be a horrible bigot, you have to be one all the time to every person?

As to the rest of that paragraph, first of all, what does he mean “allowed”? I’ve mocked Jerry Falwell at many a coffeehouse, and my house, and now on this blog, all without his express or even implied permission. This is not a sign of goodness or humility. The very fact that the rules of Liberty University make it so that a student can be awarded “demerits” and subsequently fined (more on that later) for mocking Falwell or anybody else that they want to protect makes his forbearance in this regard pretty dastardly. “I will punish you for speaking your mind about people who we approve of, but I won’t enforce that if you light-heartedly rib me a bit at this one spot on campus.”

Finally, we get his proclamations of love. I really, really hate hearing shit like this from Falwell, because it reads as obligation, not actual feeling. He didn’t “love” those students. He didn’t even know most of them! Had never met them in person. But because his faith tells him he has to love everybody, he throws around the word and the concept to mean “not feel active, constant animosity.” I am much more inclined to believe Roberto Benigni than I am to believe these people who claim to love everybody without reservation, especially when they behave like Falwell.

I never told Dr. Falwell that I was gay; but I wouldn’t have been afraid of his response. Would he have thought homosexuality was an abomination? Yes. Would he have thought it was God’s intention for me to be straight? Yes. But would he have wanted to stone me? No. And if there were some that would’ve wanted to stone me, I can imagine Jerry Falwell, with his fat smile, telling all of my accusers to go home and pray because they were wicked people.

Again, we have an example of where he seems to think the perfectly mundane is somehow extraordinary. You mean Jerry Falwell wouldn’t have either actively attempted to or idly allowed other people to violently murder you with rocks? Shocker! No, even Falwell would have realized that calling for stoning of gay people was a political non-starter, a public advocacy that gets you nothing but a job writing curriculum for Ron Paul’s homeschool program.

Not endorsing murder while trying to make the lives of LGBT people as miserable as possible is not some sort of praiseworthy act. Ambrosino discusses part of Falwell’s strategy earlier in the article when he says that the big fear wasn’t that gay students would be kicked out, it’s that their fellow students would spend time publicly and conspicuously “praying for” them, which indicates to me that when he says that most of the students weren’t bigots, what he means is that most of them weren’t actively calling for his murder, but certainly had no problem harassing queer students with their “prayers.”

And let’s not forget that not automatically expelling students even suspected of being gay like at BYU or BJU is not some act of altruism, it’s an act of greed. You see, at Liberty University when you break any of their ridiculous rules, you are given demerits. In order to remain in good academic standing, you have to clear those off the books, and the way to do that is by paying fines to the university. So instead of just kicking them out, they bleed gay kids (and kids who curse, watch R-rated movies, or hug for more than three seconds) dry of their cash first, then kick them out for not clearing the demerits off the books. That’s not tolerance, it’s a scam to bilk more money out of their students on top of the tuition they pay for a sub-standard education.

The thing is, I have absolutely no doubt that one on one Jerry Falwell was a gracious and kind person. He wouldn’t actively spit in my face, at the very least. Similarly, I think the “dinner table debate” between Dan Savage and Brian Brown showed that Brown doesn’t carry lighter fluid to set all gay people on fire wherever he goes. I have no doubt that Antonin Scalia is a wonderful host despite being one of the most corrupt and statutorily challenged Justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court, and would treat me as an honored guest if I were to go to his home. Just as I wouldn’t call him a homophobic, misogynistic, wingnut who’s approach to jurisprudence is “whatever I don’t like is illegal.”

We often will treat people in front of us differently than we treat them in the abstract. That’s why dehumanizing tactics like the ones that Falwell perfected are so useful: it’s harder to show animosity to people who you know as people than it is to show it to a vaguely defined group that you can make embody everything that people will fear the most. It’s why I know several people who think that queer people are perverts bent on the destruction of America and banishment of god from all corners of life, but also think I’m a good guy.

What Ambrosino seems to be arguing is that a person’s personal behavior should be used to counterbalance their public behavior, and I can’t buy into that. Unrelated good works don’t cancel out terrible actions, no matter how good they are. No amount of personal kindness makes up for political viciousness.

When you’re involved in activism on any level, the ability to maintain healthy relationships depends on your ability to recognize that people are complex, and sometimes it is necessary to attack a person’s position, even if they are close to you. It’s not always easy, but pretending that personal graciousness gives somebody a public free pass does nothing but enforce that bad behavior has no social consequences. This doesn’t mean that you have to jump down everybody’s throat about everything, but it does mean that reminding them not to use “gay” as a slur, or that something being a “sincerely held belief” doesn’t make it any less bigoted, are entirely appropriate, even to your friends.

We can’t pretend that the political and the personal are separate realms that never intersect. Even my pro-LGBT friends who vote Republican are still voting for policies that will negatively affect me, and they need to know that I adore their personal support, but I can still be fired in my state for who I am and they are facilitating that. Sorry, but that’s the case.

The way that we approach those closest to us is different than the way we debate in public, but a realization that our friends can and should be better people should always be present. We, too, can and should be better people, so hopefully our friends will be there to help us leave bad ideas behind and embrace better ones.

Straight Dude Mildly Inconvenienced By Gay Marriage Case Coverage

It seems that Joe Concha, writing for Mediaite, is getting sick and tired of hearing about gay marriage. And who can blame him? I mean, he’s straight, but he can hardly turn on the TV or read Facebook without hearing about homosexuals attempting to secure equal rights. Can you believe how annoying that must be? It’s almost like television, Facebook, and the entire human communication network wasn’t designed to exclusively cater to his entertainment!

Now, I know, this is pure troll bait, but a lot of Concha’s work is and this one can be instructive to people who actually don’t get this.

But when you’re just a small percent of the population (Gallup says 3.4 percent, while the Williams Institute, a think-tank devoted to LGBT research at UCLA, says four percent), why should the issue get such a lopsided amount of news coverage? After all, there are 30 million fantasy sports players who make up nearly ten percent of the country…you don’t see them inundating television and social media with our passion, demanding more attention (and that’s just a benign analogy, but it does make a point).

I am really glad he brought this up, because we are absolutely ignoring the plight of fantasy football players. After all, fantasy football players are currently being barred from full legal marriage rights in most states and federally. In fact, they are prevented from visiting one another in hospitals as well.

Last time I checked, they weren’t considered to have surviving spouses and often had to pay thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes that non fantasy football players don’t have to. But it’s more than that.

As we know, kids that play fantasy football make up forty percent of the homeless population, mostly because they were kicked out of their homes due to their hobby.

In fact, ultra religious people spend much of their time railing against fantasy football players, how immoral they are, often comparing them to pedophiles.

And, of course, it would be a huge moment in history if fantasy football players might actually have one of these many problems addressed by the highest court in the land when, less than a decade ago, nobody could have imagined it possible.

The only “point” Concha makes is that he can’t seem to tell the difference between people who are at risk of being set on fire and people at the risk of boring their friends with their macho alternative to real RPGs.

Ladies and gentlemen : privilege.

Do I even need to explain how minimizing the struggle for LGBT civil rights works directly against them? Concha points out at the beginning that he supports SSM, but in a sort of “it’s not my problem” way. It’s less support than just being too lazy to make an effort, so he’s drawn along by inertia. There are also a couple of other points Concha seems to think he made, but absolutely miss the mark.

Mrs. Clinton just changed her mind about five minutes ago (KN: five minutes, two years, same thing) with an eye on 2016. The flip-flopping is all the rage on both sides of the aisle: For every Joe Biden and Bill Clinton, there’s a Dick Cheney or Rob Portman. On the media side, for every Rachel Maddow and Don Lemon, there’s a Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly. They’re all for same-sex marriage. Even Karl Rove, a big voice in the Republican Party via his megaphone on FOX, also believes the GOP nominee will be an advocate of gay marriage regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the matter.

“For every”? Really? Every Democratic senator except for eight have explicitly come out in favor of SSM. On the Republican side, we have Rob Portman and…maybe Lisa Murkowski soon? So it’s more like “for every 47 Democratic senators, there is one Rob Portman”. In the House, there is “almost every Democrat” to “Justin Amash, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Richard Hanna”. Amash just happened yesterday. Yea, that’s “all the rage” on the right.

O’Reilly isn’t for same-sex marriage, he recognizes that it’s legally a lost cause to fight. Stephen Colbert points out that his “support” comes after years of dire warnings and terrible predictions.

Cheney and Portman also aren’t a great comparison to Biden and Clinton, considering the former two had to actually be related to gay people in order to find it in their hearts to try and extend rights to them, whereas the latter two support it out of a sense of justice.

And seriously, Karl Rove? The guy who came up with running on a platform that involved a marriage amendment in 2004? I mean, yes, Democrats also flipped on this, but the people Concha mentions have not gone out of their way to oppose and demonize the gay community. There is a huge difference there.

Here are some bigger stories from this week you may not be hearing much about: North Korea Cuts Military Hotline with South Korea, Warns of Simmering Nuclear War
Kathleen Sebelius (Health & Human Services Secretary) Warns Some May See Rise in (Health) Insurance Premiums
This Year Food Centers Shelled, Daily Attacks: UN Pulls Half of Staff from Syria (death toll now over 70,000)

I can’t help but wonder by what measure these stories are “bigger”. Do they have more “newsies”? I am sure for a guy who’s life doesn’t hinge on the result of these cases, these other stories probably do seem like they matter more, but they are no more objectively “bigger” than any other story.

Overall, Concha is basically just annoyed that for the first time in his life something isn’t entirely about him and his interests. That must be such a terrible hardship, having to look at all of those articles that he has no interest in and may even actively irritate him!

Maybe the poor lamb should consider stepping away from communication with the outside world for a while, just in case.

Bryan Fischer Plays Make Believe

OK, this is no big surprise. The man plays make believe about everything. He is a one-man fantasy factory, if the only fantasies you want are blood-soaked epics where minorities persecute majorities until an angel shows up and sickles people into stadia of blood. But what I always find adorable is when he plays make-believe by pretending to know how the law works, and setting up dialogues that read like a five-year-old’s idea of what a court case looks like.

In his latest piece for Instant Analysis, what used to be called One News Now and is the American Family Institute pretending it has a news service (see? They all like to play these sorts of games there), Fischer tries to make the point that even the DOMA and Prop 8 cases going to trail, especially to the highest court in the land, is a loss for his side of the culture wars. I’m inclined to agree on that point, but then he lays out a hilarious fantasy conversation between a judge, as played by Craig T. Nelson (or Jesus, or him. I’m not sure Fischer knows the difference), and a bumbling lawyer who apparently got his law degree yesterday and is played by Jim Carrey on barbiturates.

But let’s begin with his introduction to this greatest court scene since To Kill a Mockingbird.

We are faced once again with the dreary, dismal prospect that one black-robed tyrant, Anthony Kennedy by name, will decide marriage policy for 315 million Americans.

Our Founders must be rolling over in their muskets and powder, aghast at the servile submission of a once-free people.

I bolded the above sentence because I’m somewhat angry at Fischer. Not because of his backward and horrible beliefs, which do sicken me, but because he makes this way too easy. I mean, Ceiling Cat be praised, this is what we expect a parody of a wingnut to say! “Rolling over in their muskets and powder”? Is this because the Founders were famously all shot out of canons upon their death? Is this an allusion that, like the hymn Jerusalem, the Founders slept with dangerous loaded weapons and were buried the way they lived?

Anyway, we continue.

When Prop 8 was first challenged in federal court, this is how that initial court appearance should have gone.

Judge: “The people of California have amended their own state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Mr. Attorney, I’m looking in vain for that article of the federal Constitution that explicitly grants me any authority whatsoever to disenfranchise 7 million voters and set aside a state constitution I do not like. I have read the Constitution forward, backward, sideways, and from right to left and I still can’t find it. Can you?”

Ohhh! Ohhh! Me! I can!

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority

That’s actually the entire purpose of the Supreme Court. That’s why it was ruled in Marbury v Madison  that “an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void.” There is a reason why the vast majority of cases that the Court takes up they end up overturning at least part of the law in question, because if the law is valid, they have no need to grant cert in it in the first place. Only in cases where they are actively seeking to establish precedent on contentious legal matters do they take up laws that they then proceed to uphold.

But in Fischer’s world, courts are only good when they support god’s law, as read by Bryan Fischer.

Anyway, back to Fischer’s Fantasies.

“Well, your honor, it’s implied in there somewhere. Like in the 14th Amendment.”

“Mr. Attorney, I have read the 14th Amendment repeatedly, and I find no mention of the phrase ‘state constitution’ and in particular I find no mention of the word ‘marriage.’”

First of all, see what I mean about our fictional lawyer getting his law degree yesterday? It’s part of this right-wing fantasy that they are automatically smarter than everybody else, but since their reasoning often makes no sense, they have to design their straw men to be so dumb as to no longer be believable. Listen to the recordings from the trial yesterday and tell me if you can imagine Ted Olson (who is a conservative, but arguing for marriage equality) ever saying, “it’s implied in there somewhere”. Also, if you can imagine any judge in the country who hasn’t heard of the ninth amendment and the avalanche of court precedent that a professional reading of any part of the Constitution requires.

“Uh, well, they’re not in there, your honor. But, you know, the Constitution is a living document, so I’m sure it’s grown by now to include all that.”

“Mr. Attorney, I am not interested in some penumbra or emanation, I want chapter and verse. Where does this Constitution explicitly grant the federal judiciary the authority to overturn state Constitutions?”

Well, the above bit where the judicial branch is designed to do just that, and the idea that the federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land, so violations of it, even in state constitutions, are illegal. That one is fish in a barrel.

The funny thing is the line about penumbras and emanations. Conservatives love to rail against this idea, as given name in Griswold v Connecticut that the rights established in the Constitution cover more than just the exact things mentioned in it. However, I think that Fischer would be very upset if, for example, the government said that there is no Constitutional right to attend private schools because Pierce v. Society of Sisters [268 U.S. 510 (1925) was decided by penumbral reasoning. Or that there is no place in the Constitution that says that a court can dismiss a case based on “standing,” which is an entirely penumbral reading of the above quotation from Article III, section 1. How about Sovereign Immunity, which prevents foreign nationals from suing states? All totally penumbral.

He goes on to set out two more entirely hilarious parodies of a court case from his warped imagination, all ending with “get out of my courtroom” Because that’s how the American justice system works. To borrow a phrase, “black-robed tyrants” get to decide on a whim what does and does not get heard at trial. It’s amazing how Fischer promotes capricious decisions by single, unelected people when they’re part of his perverted puppet theater.

We have become so accustomed to the dictatorial actions of unelected fascists on the federal bench that we have failed to see that we are no longer citizens but serfs. We now wait meekly and submissively for nine mini-gods swinging gavels like scimitars to tell us what marriage policy must be, long after we and our elected representatives have settled matters in precisely the manner outlined by our governing documents.
Except for that whole part about the judicial deciding what is and is not Constitutional. Those are also within “the manner outlined by our governing documents.” But, again, that only counts when courts make decisions that Bryan Fischer likes.
Listen, the SCOTUS has made a lot of decisions I dislike. Their abject loyalty to corporate interests really does make my stomach turn, for example, but they are the arbiters of law, not Bryan Fischer and his twisted imagination. I know it’s fun to play make believe, but at one point you really have to step out of your head and deal in the real world where “get out of my courtroom” is not a legal argument and people aren’t nearly as stupid as you wish they were.
Expect to hear a lot of this nonsense in the coming months, especially when the ruling on these two cases comes down, and don’t fall for it. Constitutional literalists are a lot like Biblical literalists: they are absolutely certain that they are reading plain language and, in an effort to make things as simple as possible, just read the parts that give them pantsfeelings about their pre-conceived notions.
Whatever happens in these cases, there is still a lot of work to do. Sometimes, it helps to laugh at Bryan Fischer, just to get a break.

NASA Can No Longer Afford Public Outreach

One of the most poignant and lasting memories of my childhood self was my obsession with space. This is nothing new, really. Lots of kids like space. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The thing is, it may be common, but a love of space never feels common. On the contrary, it feels special and grand. Sure, there are millions of other people who share that love, maybe billions, but compared to the universe, that’s still a pretty exclusive club.

So is just being from Earth.

While I may have found out that space is one of the most fascinating things (or combination of things) ever on my own, the catalyst for this revelation in me was when my school was visited by an astronaut. I don’t even remember his name, but I remember him talking about going up on the shuttle, doing experiments you can’t do on Earth, how we can one day start exploring again.

Unfortunately, more kids will not have the same opportunity I did. Due to the Sequester, NASA is having to cut all of their public outreach. No more school visits and informational websites, no more videos, no more attempts to promote work in STEM fields. All gone in an instant.

I cannot describe how much rage that inspires in me. Remember, the Sequester is dumb on purpose. It’s supposed to hurt. But it doesn’t have to happen at all.

Congress can repeal the Sequester and put in cuts that make sense. It would require that the troglodytes that are cheering it on because, you know, cuts, be worked around and shamed within an inch of their careers, but it can be done.

So call your representatives and senators. Let them know that science outreach means something. If we are to continue to advance our knowledge and remain competitive with the rest of the world, we need to embrace and promote STEM education, not feed it to the relatively small mass of ignorant trolls and their huckster leaders who have convinced them that science is a waste of money, a collection of opinions based on faith, rather than our best hope of building a better humanity that will one day spread to the stars.

What I Missed

CN: Rape, Catholicism

Been gone for over a week now. If I have the time, I might also post about my trip, which was amazing, and will interest almost three of you.

The world stopped spinning in the interim, right? No noteworthy events I need to worry about? No? Some things did happen? Guess we should talk about those, then.

Steubenville rape convictions

The two football players who raped a girl, then posted all of the evidence online, have been convicted of rape.Which means that we now have a bunch of rape apologia to wade through, from Candy Crowley’s bemoaning the loss of such promising lives that the rapists could have had if they weren’t busy assaulting passed out girls, to Breitbart.com’s predictable “blame the media” gambit.

The worst responses, I think, are coming from Ma’lik Richmond’s family members, though, who are understandably trying to blame anybody other than their family member. One has been arrested for threatening Jane Doe online for “[ripping her] family apart.” I kinda feel sad on this one, since she really is incapable of recognizing that her rapist cousin is the one at fault, not the person who turned in her rapist cousin.

The saddest, though, is Richmond’s father who has sad, “I told Ma’lik to put all his trust in God. God will see him through this.” It’s a shame that God didn’t decide to see Ma’lik through to not raping somebody. I can’t understand this reliance on an all-powerful super being that wants the best for us only after dropping the ball on making sure the worst doesn’t happen in the first place. I would much rather that Richmond and Mays learn the value of other human beings, especially women, than put their trust in a man in the sky that isn’t historically known for treating women with respect or dignity.

I will admit that my first reaction to all of this was to revel in the schadenfreude. I didn’t much care that the defendants broke into tears after the verdict was read. They’re rapists, they deserve that sort of misery at least. However, I will also admit that my enjoyment of their sorrow was tamped down by Ashley Miller’s post calling for a middle ground that does recognize that rapists are still people without also requiring that they be forgiven or let off the hook.

Dehumanizing rapists has the effect of distancing ourselves from the chilling reality that people who have raped aren’t uncommon, making them just monsters makes it that much harder for us to accept that “normal” people who are accused may well be guilty.

Thanks for the perspective, Ashley. Trying to make them “monsters” contributes to the idea that “regular, nice” people can’t be rapists, and that makes it more difficult to combat rape.

New pope

We now have a new Pope, and already people are praising him for his “humility” and how he’s a “reformer.” The fact is, he’s almost as much of an asshole as the last one (thanks to Aoife at the Tea Cozy for collecting that research), he just doesn’t like to remind people of it. That he lives in an apartment doesn’t mean that the Church didn’t spend millions maintaining the opulent residence that he eschewed back in Buenos Aries, it just meant he wasted all of that money that could have been used to help real people.

Also, he still considers me to be basically a tool of the Boogeyman…er, Satan, and my (as well as your) female friends to be incubators, even when they were raped. Also, while he feels that people who support bodily autonomy for women and same-sex marriage should be denied communion, he has no problem personally administering the sacrament to brutal dictators that kidnap political opponents and, much like the Church itself, steal babies to place in more acceptable households.

Let’s be fair to Pope Frankie, though. In order to get to that level of power within the Vatican, you kind of have to be an asshole. It’s very rare that you get real reformers in the Holy See because a) they were appointed by their predecessor, usually, and b) this is the party line. John XXIII was an aberration, and even then the reforms he made were mostly about making the same old stuff more accessible. The really radical stuff from Vatican II has been ignored by conservative popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI who have been clear that they consider it all meaningless and heretical. So it’s not like Frances can walk into office and say that the Church is now pro-gay.

There are things he can do, however. He can demand that the order of nuns that ran the Magdaline Laundries stop working with the Irish government to run similar social welfare programs today. He can actually do something about people who covered up child abuse in the Church. He can go to Africa and say that condoms don’t spread AIDS, they reduce it.

But he won’t. And you’ll have people like commenter Emmet at WWJTD who wax on about the “depth and richness of the faith“, as if pomp and circumstance make up for the cruelty and victimization. Much like there are not enough soup kitchens in the world that somebody can start to make up for a single raped child, there is no amount of gold brocade dresses and gem-encrusted slippers that can do the same.

Growth and Opportunity Project

The GOP has unveiled their “Growth and Opportunity Project,” the plan on how to start winning elections without mucking with voting laws again. And, unsurprisingly, it’s basically just the same thing they’ve always believed, but not shouted as loudly.

The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.

That, according to RNC chair Reince Priebus. The problem, of course, is that there is nothing to be proud of with those principles. It’s a stunted ideology that prizes nothing but the desire to slit the throats of anybody standing in the way of everything you want. The GOP won’t be able to get young people on board so long as they are still the party of homophobia, racism, and misogyny, even if they are quieter about it.

That’s why I have trouble giving full credit to Rob Portman, a conservative Senator who has come out in favor of same-sex marriage because he has a gay son. First, I wonder how often in the past two years Portman has tried to convince his son to get help, that he’s not really gay, but that’s speculation. Secondly, while I appreciate his new stance, he didn’t come to it out of a sense of justice, but because it affected him personally. Matt Yglesias calls it “the politics of narcissism.”

Rob Portman doesn’t have a son with a pre-existing medical condition who’s locked out of the health insurance market. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son engaged in peasant agriculture whose livelihood is likely to be wiped out by climate change. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son who’ll be malnourished if SNAP benefits are cut. So Rob Portman doesn’t care.

Those of us in the atheosphere often talk about the problem with doing good things for bad reasons, usually in response to “Well, if that person’s belief in Jesus/Ahura Mazda/Whatever gets them to be kinder and more charitable, then what’s the big deal if they’re right or not?” And this issue with Portman is a great example. Without a solid, foundational basis in material reality, then a person’s goodness and empathy become highly specialized, and they stop pursuing justice because it’s just, and rather do so because specific action items benefit them.

Also, faith-based goodness is too easy to turn on its head, a phenomenon best illustrated by Greta Christina’s (really Brownian’s) Hair Dryer analogy. Whether you’re shooting redheads or volunteering at soup kitchens because your hair dryer is telling you doesn’t matter because you’re still listening to your hair dryer which could presumably change its mind at any point. If Rob Portman’s son decides he doesn’t want to get married, Portman’s newfound love of SSM will evaporate as quickly as it materialized and he will quietly start following the Growth and Opportunity Project plan of opposing equality, but in a way that doesn’t turn off young straight voters.

The Amazing Atheist again demonstrates that he’s an entitled jackwagon

Before I left, I posted Anita Sarkeesian’s first Tropes vs Women video (which was awesome). Unsurprisingly, she turned off comments on it because she’s capable of learning and that it would just be a place where mouth breathing MRAs masturbate themselves into a frenzy complaining about how the video doesn’t meet whatever standard they’ve suddenly decided was the most important thing in the world ever.

And one stands out. The Amazing Atheist hasn’t figured out that making a ten minute video about how someone isn’t letting you critique them is hilarious for those of us possessed of self-awareness. More “not being able to abuse people wherever I feel like violates my rights” bullshit. No need to dwell further.

“Sincerely Held Beliefs” rears its ugly head again

Miri points out that if your beliefs keep you from doing a job, find another one. Tennessee has started the process of passing a law (just got voted out of committee) that allows bigots who want to be counselors to be able to express their bigotry.

Personally, I find this sort of thing highly ironic coming from the Christian Right, for whom it is literally an element of faith that they will be persecuted and discriminated against. However, they go to incredible lengths to make sure that they never have to suffer the most minor inconvenience for their faith. I suppose the way they get the third nail in is to just claim that it’s there.

The thing is, I don’t want people to suffer, for their faith or for any reason. Suffering sucks. But if you’re going to tell me over and over again that my pointing out your bigotry means I’m oppressing you, then stop making yourself a liar and actually be oppressed. You can’t have it both ways.

Also, I really hate the phrase “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The fact that you really, really believe something awful doesn’t make it less awful. The strength of your faith in cruelty makes it no less cruel. The weight you place on your commitment to stupidity makes it no less stupid.

Malala goes back to school!

Going to wrap up with some positive notes. I Facebooked about this on the road yesterday because I was so excited, but Malala Yousafzai has started going back to school again in Birmingham. She is safe in England where she can attend classes without having to worry as much about being shot in the head for it. She’s, without a question, my favorite for the Nobel Peace Prize this year and somebody I truly admire. I hope she continues to do amazing things with her life.

Finally, some videos
A dad altered his daughter’s Donkey Kong game so that Pauline is the playable character rescuing Jumpman

Via Emma Wolf

Somebody wrote a musical interpretation of Pi based on numbering the notes in the scale and using the numbers for chords. In the mood for interesting musical things. Heard an original piece last week that did something really clever with the Cantus Firma (will only go into detail on request here), so playing with theory is my current mood. Either way, this sounds good.

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Elective Bible Studies

Via the Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn that North Carolina has just had a bill proposed that would allow for an elective Bible class (or, more accurately, potentially three, one in each Testament and one that combines them) in public schools. Let’s take a look at some of the stuff being proposed.

(g4) Bible Study Elective. – Local boards of education may offer to students in grades 7 nine through 12 elective courses for crediton the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) , the New Testament, or a combination of the two subject matters. A student shall not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament and may use as the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament approved by the local board of education or the principal of the student’s school.

OK, so it’s an elective course, which is a step in the right direction. That a specific translation isn’t used helps as well, though it could pose a problem in that translations can be vastly different, not include the same verses, and often say drastically different things. When I was in college and taking a Chaucer class, we studied Troilus and Criseyde which was, of course, written in Middle English. Thinking I was clever (I wasn’t), instead of buying the book with the translation that the teacher assigned, I got it online for free. And I was so damn lost! That’s Middle English, which is still pretty close to modern English (though nothing like Modern English), not Greek and Hebrew.

The problem is, of course, that the law is too narrowly defined. In order to pass First Amendment muster, it cannot just allow for Bible classes. It has to offer the option of a full Talmudic survey, an in depth look at the Bhagavad Gita, a hard hitting examination of the Tripitakas, and even, FSM protect me in your saucy embrace, a deep study of the Quran! In order to not show favoritism to any one faith in public schools, not only must a school allow the possibility of elective classes in all religions and no religion, they must also demonstrate that the law will not favor any particular religion in practice. I don’t see that happening in North Carolina.

This bit of the law is what really jumped out at me, though. Emphasis by the Curmudgeon.

(1) Knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratories, and public policies.

Actually…that’s kind of true. Over Christmas when I had a problem with one of our guests, a family friend who is a fundamentalist with all that entails, said friend was trying to feel me out about possibly being a True Believer because of my knowledge of the Bible. I didn’t mention that atheists tend to know his holy book better than most Christians, but I did mention that when I got my English degree, it came with an unofficial certification in Biblical scholarship, since Biblical allusion is among the most common literary techniques in Western literature. If you don’t know your Bible, you’re missing out on a lot of the subtext in the vast, vast majority of the literary canon. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m really glad I have that background since it makes literature much more rich for me, adding dimensions to the texts that aren’t clear on the surface and regularly improve them greatly.

For example, without knowing the parallels that he’s trying to make, Steinbeck is depressing and largely unreadable. Sorry, but he comes from the “everybody suffers in the end or it’s not art” school of writing. However, knowing and understanding the Biblical references he’s making in most of his work gives the story scope and context, transforming his works from singular sad tales to a larger, more human commentary. They’re still depressing, and I still don’t really like them, but they are significantly improved.

That being said, that’s what literature class is for. Understanding the religious underpinnings to war should be covered in history class. I’m not sure where we would address religion in math courses, and it has no place in science courses, but the point is that another elective class is not necessary to create a sense of the impact of the Bible on our culture.

The biggest problem with this is that it’s very, very difficult to teach about a specific religion without running into First Amendment issues. It’s one thing in English class to point out the parallels with between John Casey and Jesus, quite another to have to avoid every passage in the Bible that proclaims its absolute and uncontested truth. Plus, there is the high likelihood that teachers who instruct these classes will use the opportunity to preach.

So, yea, I see what Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, is trying to do, giving him the most charitable interpretation of his actions, but it’s not going to work. It’s a waste of time and resources that will inevitably be brought to court and lose. If his concern is actually teaching about the religious underpinnings of Western art and culture, then there are ways to accomplish that. The first is the pay teachers better so you can get better teachers with advanced degrees who know this stuff. The next is to encourage school boards to discuss these things as they relate to specific areas of study, not as a stand alone project.

In other words, there are eight churches in downtown Davidson, NC alone. Surely one of them offers a Bible study on the weekends. Let them handle the Biblical instruction and don’t waste time and money on a law that will ultimately fail.

Hit Parade of Stupid

It’s not always easy to keep up with every idiotic thing that gets said these days, but sometimes it’s important to take a moment and reflect on what passes for dialogue this day and age. I want to remind everybody that the people I am quoting are either elected officials, or wield enormous influence.

Shall we begin?

The first on our list is Indiana Right to Life legislative director Sue Swayze who, responding to the Indiana bill that would have legally forced doctors to rape their patients with machines at the behest of the state (it has since been reduced to only one state-mandated rape), sees no problem with sticking ultrasound wands into unwilling women because they’ve clearly had something up there before.

I got pregnant vaginally.  Something else could come in my vagina for a medical test that wouldn’t be that intrusive to me.  So I find that argument a little ridiculous.

Wow. Where to start, where to start…? Well, first of all, Swayze has basically decided that anything that doesn’t bother her shouldn’t bother anyone else. Ok, two can play at that game. I have had a number of medical procedures that weren’t strictly necessary over the years, so I don’t see why somebody else getting one should bother Sue Swayze. Well, since I have no problem with it, guess Sue Swayze can’t either.

Secondly, it’s kind of subtle, but did you catch the slut shaming? Since women have had something up their vagina previously, then that means that they have no right to later say they don’t want something else up their vagina. I mean, what’s the big deal? They’ll have a penis up there, but not an ultrasound wand? Why not? Doesn’t having something up there once, consensual or not, grant communal consent for all of time?

Next on our list is the American Family Association, hate group and purveyors of some of the dumbest and most consistently offensive opinions currently available on the internet. In this case, it’s all about conspiracy theories and spiritual corn storage. (emphasis mine)

The thing that prompted me Bryan is the four groups that are actively working to secularize and destroy America: humanists; atheists; militant homosexuals; and Muslims. All four of these groups got major momentum beginning in the ’60s and ’70s but they dug in their heels and they said: ‘we’re going to work forty years and we’re going to mainstream atheism; we’re going to mainstream militant homosexuality; dare we say it we’re going to see gay marriage legitimized.’ Why can’t God’s people dig in their heels and say: ‘we’re in it for the duration and America will not die on our watch.’
That was AFA radio host Alex McFarland discussing his Project 2026. Just take a look at those four groups, though: humanists, atheists, militant homosexuals, and Muslims. I have two responses to that.
1. Hey! I’m, like two and a half out of four of those! Uh….go me?
2. You forgot feminists, Alex. You’re seriously slipping, man.
This one is endlessly amusing to me since basically he’s saying that in order to combat the shift in culture that’s been happening when people realized how awful the views of people like the AFA are, the AFA needs to be more vocally awful for the next 15 years.
Go ahead and dig in your heels, Alex. That totes won’t turn even more people away.
Oh, spiritual corn, almost forgot. Turns out that earlier generations who were more religious built up good will for us with god, and we’ve been blowing through that by not listening to the mad raving of Bryan Fischer and Alex McFarland. So says Fischer:
So succeeding generations, without even realizing that they are consuming the spiritual seed corn that was accumulated by generations that came before them, have been consuming that moral and spiritual capital and it looks to me Alex like we’re at a place where virtually all of that seed corn is gone and if we don’t once again begin to rebuild that moral and spiritual capital America could be finished.
But it gets worse from there. New Hampshire rep Mark Warden voted yesterday to reduce the punishment for domestic assault in certain cases. Here’s his reasoning:
Some people could make the argument that a lot of people like being in abusive relationships. It’s a love-hate relationship. It’s very, very common for people to stick around with somebody they love who also abuses him or her. … Is the solution to those kind of dysfunctional relationships going to be more government, another law? I’d say no. People are always free to leave.
Yes, because they always have someplace to go and no children to worry about and no fear that their partner will hurt or kill them before they can leave. Mark Warner has no idea what an abuse victim goes through, nor has he ever taken the time to try and imagine it. The world is a simple place to him, and the complex factors that prevent people from leaving abusive relationships are too much brain work for a human defective like him.
Pro-tip: if somebody calls the police about a situation, they are likely displeased by the situation.
Today he apologized, but made it worse.
It was never my intention to minimize the trauma of domestic abuse or in any way demean the victims…how the state gets involved in people’s personal lives is a topic that requires thoughtful debate and should not be reduced to sound bites.
No. No. Fuck you. There is no room for “debate” over whether we should make efforts to stop people from being abused. This kind of libertarian bullshit pisses me off to no end. Another example was Rand Paul who was in favor of blowing up our gas line workers until he realized he was surrounded by moochers who see actual value in human life for some reason, even though it’s not backed by gold or anything.
The problem with people like Paul and Warner is that they have the same view of principle: standing up for what you believe in means letting other people suffer and die for your beliefs.
Finally, in our roundup of stupid, we have Alabama Federation of Republican Women president Elois Zeanah. I saved the best for last. Thanks to Friendly Atheist for transcribing this beauty. Emphasis theirs, but perfect.

Your child or grandchildren won’t be able to escape Common Core materials that are anti-Christian, anti-capitalism, and anti-America. Or that are pro-homosexuality, illegal immigration, unions, environmentalism, gun control, feminism and social justice.

 

Do you see what’s happening? The Obama administration and progressives have found a way to take away choices from parents and to get rid of competition in education. And to add insult to injury, they’re gonna force us to pay to indoctrinate our own kids.

 

This is not a novel like 1994. It’s Common Core.

I’m really not sure where to begin? That she addresses what she considers to be a problem by going through the entire right-wing checklist (she didn’t forget feminism, Alex)? Or that she is arguing against education standards by demonstrating that she doesn’t know what the novel 1984 is?

I think I can leave this one on its own. Sort of stands pretty well without me getting in the way.

The thing I need to remind people of at this point is that each of these people, maybe with the exception of Zeanah, holds an incredible amount of power. The only way we can stop people who clearly know nothing about what they’re talking about is to point out when they’re full of shit, don’t let them off the hook, and make sure that they know that what they said and did was wrong. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and all that.