Words Mean Things: “Out of Context”

We’re introducing a new feature on this blog called “Words Mean Things.” It’s where I explore various phrases that have come to be used in pop conversation as defensive or offensive rhetoric, but are completely divorced from any substantive meaning.

The inspiration for this feature and today’s entry comes in the comments for yesterday’s post about Dawkins. Quoted partially.

Way to take on [sic] paragraph out of context and write an essay condemning him. Do you have too much time on your hands?

I have since asked James for the context that makes his statements better and have received no reply, so I assume he’s merely been too busy.

However, there are many people far less scrupulous than James who don’t realize that “out of context” has a meaning and is not code for “thing that makes somebody sound bad.”

Let’s explore.

“Context” refers to the information surrounding something. Data is rarely clear in a vacuum, and is rather influenced by other data surrounding it that gives you, the observer, a sense of perspective by which you can accurately determine meaning from what you are seeing.

This is an aspect of science that particularly confuses Creationists. You see, when we discuss the mountains of evidence for evolution, we are talking about context. We understand how gravity and time work, for example, so we know that things on the bottom of piles got there first and are therefore older, so when we find a fossil that appears to be in an earlier stage of development for various traits buried deeper in the ground, we can draw a provisional conclusion that it may be a transitional fossil to something we found higher up from something that will be found lower. Keep in mind that this is a highly, highly simplified example.

Now, let us take that same fossil discovery and put it to a Creationist. Whether they want to admit it or not, for that discovery to not be consistent with evolution, either time or gravity would have to work differently in order to deposit fossils someplace in the ground that they wouldn’t otherwise be if they were consistent. So, Creationists often try to pick apart the validity of the find itself (often referring to Piltdown Man), rather than addressing that it was found exactly where we predicted it would be. That is taking out of context.

How about another example?

Out of context things are often used in the service of comedy. For example, one of my favorite Tumblrs is Archie Out of Context, which takes one or two panels from Archie comics and separates them from the rest of the comic, letting you draw your own, mostly sexual, conclusions. Here’s twenty that are absolutely hilarious, including a few of my favorites (“Oh! So Jesus is a giant Aspirin tablet!!!”).

One could also argue that the humor in comedies of errors results from taking things out of context. The Life of Brian is a great example, where we have poor Brian of Nazareth who is assumed to be the much hoped for messiah, despite nothing in his life indicating that this is the case. He’s a fairly unremarkable guy who has his every action re-written in order to fit the new context that others have developed for him, such as in this, one of my favorite scenes:

The “context” of the scene that we see is that Brian is running from a mob of fanatical devotees who want him to lead them, and he loses his shoe in the process. However, the zealots don’t understand that he is a normal guy with no wisdom to impart. They have taken the event out of the context of his life and inserted it into the context of a messiah giving them guidance. The shoe stops being a mistake caused by being in a hurry and is now The Sign.

Now that we know what “context” is, let us see how “out of context” is abused.

Remember this ad from the last presidential campaign that seems to have President Obama saying, “If we talk about the economy, we’re going to lose”?

It was the first Romney ad that came out for the general. But when we took at look at when and where that line was actually said, we see that Obama was actually referring to a quote from a John McCain staffer in the presidential election before that. He was trying to summarize the attitude of the McCain campaign at the time, which was suffering from its party identification with the president and Congress that helped put us in what we were just realizing would be one of the worst economic disasters in American history. In this case, context demonstrates that what is being implied is the exact opposite of what was said.

On the flip side of that, last June Rep. Trent Franks from Arizona commented that, “The incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” in order to justify having no rape exception in his 20 week national abortion ban. When he was hit from the left for the statement, he claimed he was “taken out of context.” In this case, that is nothing but a dodge, because nothing he said around that statement in any way changes that he was basically ignoring the 32,000 pregnancies that result from rape every year, nor would it make his statement any more relevant (i.e. even if only one woman got pregnant from rape, shouldn’t she not be forced to carry her rapist’s baby?).

It is in this second vein that I am taking claims about Dawkins being “taken out of context.” Maybe there is more to the article that I am missing, but so far it doesn’t look like anything that was said around those quotes changes that he appears to be speaking for his classmates regarding whether they were affected by their molestation, that he recognizes degrees of molestation, or that he thinks that you can’t judge people in earlier generations for their horrible behavior based on social expectations of the time. And taking in further context of previous statements he’s made, it’s directly in line with a demonstrable callous indifference to people who are not just like him or capable of serving his interests.

And that is what “out of context” means.

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David Brooks Recommends Submitting to Hostage Takers

I mean that entirely metaphorically.

I’m not sure what David Brooks is thinking, nor why he continues to have readers that think he’s in some way a moderate as opposed to simply incapable of grasping reality. His latest take on the presidential run is so far beyond laughable that it’s circled back around to be hilarious again.

Essentially, Brooks argues that since Romney is such an opportunist, he’ll see that the extreme partisanship of the last four years won’t work and tack to the middle as president, and since Republicans are less likely to eat their own than a Democrat, a GOP House would be willing to work with him and a Democratically controlled Senate would also be willing to. However, if there’s an Obama presidency for a second term, the GOP House won’t work with him and Republicans in the Senate will filibuster his stuff.

Therefore, suggests Brooks, we should vote Romney because he’ll get things done.

I think this is one of the most idiotic in a stream of intellect-free commentaries from Brooks. Let’s look at the many, many problems with this line of thinking.

1. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Romney will tack to the center. The GOP doesn’t stand division in the ranks well, and since it’s controlled entirely by the far right wing of the party with no room for moderates, Romney will be looking to avoiding a second term primary.

2. As many of the commenters pointed out, this doesn’t speak well of the Republican party. Brooks admits that if they don’t get they’re way, they’ll throw a tantrum and refuse to work with Democrats. The answer to that is not to reward that behavior, it’s to take away their seats in Congress until the party starts putting moderate voices forward again. Basically, he’s saying that when the GOP takes the country hostage, the solution is to give them what they want and hope they don’t ask for more. Because that always works so well. That’s poor policy and indicative of a Republican party more and more convinced that there’s no difference between “not getting everything we want” and “persecution.”

3. After four years of blanket filibusters, what’s to keep the Democratic party from either not bringing up legislation (if they retain control) or filibustering themselves (if they lose control) for four years as well? I’m sorry, but I’m not a fan of being the better person when we’re talking about the rights of millions of people, and if stopping the GOP from further limiting abortions and passing new anti-gay legislation means doing exactly what Republicans have done for four years, then this is the government we’ve created.

4. Brooks seems to think that a President Romney would actually bring down the debt and work on entitlement reform and the like. This is the most hysterically optimistic bit in the whole piece. A Romney presidency would be about a number of things: repealing health care reform (and replacing it with nothing), restricting reproductive rights, loading up the SCOTUS with more Scalias, killing Medicare, starting foreign wars with countries the president can’t locate on a map. None of these things would bring down the debt. History has shown us that nobody spends as much in office as “small government” conservatives. Brooks also assumes that conservatives actually care about those things instead of pretending to care about them so they don’t look like assholes.

I’m not exactly sure what Brooks was thinking. Perhaps he simply wasn’t. But for all the possible reasons you could say to vote to Romney, I think, “his party will make people’s lives worse to deny the opposing party a victory if you don’t” is probably the very worst. Though, I admit, it also might be the most honest.

Why Can’t You Just Be Who I Want You to Be?

I’ve spoken in the past about how much I can’t stand the notion that one can “hate the sin but love the sinner.” In fact, one of my earliest posts was about that same subject, and even though I’ve changed a little in this short period (you’ll see a few differences), I still don’t think it’s possible to do. And, since I like talking, here’s why.

So, this begins with my blogging. In an attempt to have things to talk about, I read a whole lot. I like other blogs, I enjoy other people’s ideas (or at least the ability to hear them), and I often run into ideas that absolutely confound or anger me beyond belief. And the more of these I see, the more I realize that my cynical belief that their motives are other than they say isn’t necessarily the case and they actually believe a lot of these things.

Let’s take, for example, Jeannie Notter, New Hampshire lawmaker with a logic train that apparently is missing a station.

Yes, an elected representative just suggested that oral birth control causes prostate cancer. You know, cancer in the organ that women don’t have. The organ that men, who don’t take oral contraception, have. That one. Oral contraception causes cancer in one sex via the actions of another.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m being a bit deceptive here. The article that Rep. Notter is referring to suggests that most of the hormonal ingredients go through a woman’s body, into the water supply, where they are drunk by men who then develop cancer, not that prostates attempt suicide rather than being associated with those loose, hormonally protected vaginae, even by a degree of separation or two. However, this is still a rather ludicrous claim that came out in November and has already been debunked in detail. I won’t go into it too much, but some of the problems is that the original researchers failed to take into account that more affluent countries where birth control is taken also have more regular prostate cancer screenings, as well as the debunking authors found a number of differences between the numbers reported in the studies and the numbers put on the charts and using the numbers from the actual data, there is no correlation between birth control pills and prostate cancer.

One should also note that the Dr. Brownstein she mentioned is an anti-vaxxer who seems to really believe that the flu shot has mercury in it when it doesn’t. Similarly, Rep. Notter has pointed out in the past that the Black Plague didn’t require any vaccines to disappear. Because the solution to a problem is to wait for it to end on its own whether we can do anything about it or not.

And the thing is: she really believes that. It’s similar to “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” and “Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.” The concept here is that there is a plan, there is a cycle, and if we let it happen, things will work out even if other people have to suffer. To Rep. Notter, if women have to die or carry unwanted pregnancies, that’s a small price to pay to save the people she’s chosen to champion: men with prostate cancer. She doesn’t see the women. If people have to be kicked out of their homes so the housing market will get back to normal, to Mitt Romney, then so be it. Sacrifices have to be made, and the idea that it’s real people doesn’t actually enter into the picture.

And this is where I come to loving sinners. The more I hear, the more I’m convinced that the people who say this most often don’t see real people, they see fallen souls waiting for salvation. I may be completely wrong on this score, so correct me if I am, but the whole attitude seems to be one of objectification and the person in question isn’t loving a human being, but is rather loving who they wish the human being could be.

The contraception debate (I shudder every time I realize that I’m typing that in 2012, or even on the internet which didn’t exist when this debate should have been over) is a great example of this. There was quite the kerfluffle over Foster Friess’s comments regarding contraception that boiled down to “don’t have sex”. It was criticized as everything from old-fashioned to misogynistic, and in a way it is, but I’m willing to say more functionally than intentionally.

You see, as Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism pointed out, there really is no cognitive dissonance between the opinion that abortion is murder and contraception/comprehensive birth control, which reduce abortion, are evil for exactly the reason Foster Friess just referenced: if people (specifically women, but sometimes more broadly people) would just refrain from sex before marriage or outside of it and accept whatever children happen, then there would be no abortion. If people lived by the standard set by Friess, Santorum, Dolan, whomever is calling for an end to legal contraception, then it would be unnecessary. It’s only because they engage in hot, dirty, filthy sex that this is an issue at all. It’s the behavior of sex, not the person who is God’s child that could give that up in order to be the person God wants them to be, who is deserving of love.

I’m sure by now you see what I mean. It sounds convoluted because it is convoluted. People are good, but they do things god doesn’t like, so the general attitude seems to be that the Christianist prays very hard and attempts to do what they consider loving by trying to prevent the person from engaging in what they think is harmful behavior. Opposition to marriage equality isn’t unequal because people can still marry opposite sex partners, just like god wants, even if that’s like telling a dehydrated person that they can’t have water but can drink as much olive oil as they like. Opposition to abortion is about saving innocent lives, which have been fetishized to the point where women aren’t even considered rather than actively hated.

The concept behind this behavior comes from a good place. I realize that now. But what is generally ignored by the “love the sinner” crowd is that they aren’t loving a person, they’re loving who they wish the person was. You can’t actually love a person while hating a part of them. This reduces the friendship to a mission, introducing the ulterior motive of wanting them to change their lives to better suit your ideas.

You can’t love a person on your terms, you have to love them on theirs. People can be wrong, and you’re allowed to think they’re wrong, but at one point you set limits on how close you can be with a person. I can’t “love” somebody while “hating” something about them, but I can “like” a person while “disliking” their opinions.

Fucking Religious Liberty, How Does it Work?

Let me start by saying that I can never properly express my joy and appreciation to the Insane Clown Posse for the ability to parody their “fucking magnets” line at every turn. It’s so succinct, even more so than Bill O’Reilly’s “tide goes in, tide goes out” routine, and makes the exact same point with exactly the same amount of intention: some people don’t know or don’t want to know how things work because they prefer their made up answers.

Which brings us to religious liberty, what it means, and why we really need to get our definitions straight. To be honest, I’d rather be writing about the return of the horrid Kill the Gays bill in Uganda and this laughable farce of a press release regarding it, especially considering the foreign aid that Uganda is going to give up to pass this thing is necessary to support the corruption sector of their economy.

With a key that large, no wonder they need $44,000. The car must be HUGE!

Instead, I will explore what religious liberty is & is not and, broader, what liberty is & is not.

We’ve heard a lot lately about the “war on religion,” a “secular vision for America,” and similar meaningless phrases. Newt Gingrich is particularly fond of linking secularists to Muslims (because both are, you know, super scary). Mitt Romney thinks that the government forcing religiously-affiliated institutions to cover contraception like everybody else is a violation of conscience. Rick Santorum, who’s religious views are so intertwined with his political ones that he thinks he can rule the country by God’s law and not be “pastor in chief,” agrees.

But those are just the GOP candidates (minus Ron Paul who thinks that state governments can do pretty much anything they want). Let’s instead look at other people. The Liar Tony Perkins recently threw a hissy fit about the Air Force Academy not promoting a sectarian charity. Archbishop Timmy “Apple Cheeks” Dolan has a little bit to say about everything, and it all proves how put upon his international, ludicrously wealthy tax free organization with billions of members is. Muslim students at the UK’s London School of Economics claimed religious discrimination because an atheist group posted a cartoon on their Facebook that portrays an imagine of the prophet Mohammed. Kind of. Sort of. In a way.

The question becomes, what is the common thread with all of theses? I’ll give you a minute to think of it.

If you said, “they all require other people to adhere to the religious doctrines of the speakers,” you’re correct. You get a prize!

It’s this jpg!

“Repsect” and “tolerance” are becoming code words from people like those mentioned above for the demand that others follow the dictates of their faith. It’s a problematic bug (feature?) that a lot of them have. Their faith demands that all people follow it, claims that it is the one true way and all others are false, and puts it upon its followers to wrangle everybody together under this set of beliefs. So, the easiest way for Apple Cheeks or the Liar Tony Perkins is to make it happen by default. If everybody is forced, legally, to act like a Catholic or an Evangelical, even if they don’t actually believe, then that’s good enough for God, right?

I somehow doubt it.

The pernicious way in which this is approached, however, is the real problem. I know that Rick Santorum wants everybody to believe what he believes. The voices in his head have made it very clear that that is the only way to tempt Jesus back to Earth. However, he likes to pretend that there’s some sort of reason that doesn’t stem from his holy book that would make people think that having a father in prison is better than having two gay fathers. It’s not so much that he denies that he thinks God wants things to be this way, but rather that he manufactures other reasons for those of us who think his mythology doesn’t count as an authority.

Listen, we as human beings are going to disagree on things. Disagreement, however, is not intolerance. We’re not saying that your opinions are invalid, we’re saying that they’re wrong, and there is a gigantic difference between those. For example, saying that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry is saying that their relationship is invalid, that it doesn’t count, since marriage is ultimately a validation of love, especially when done with no facts to support the assertion. Yes, people claim it’s also wrong, but the only evidence presented is provably false or from scripture, and I can point to thousands of works that make the opposite point.

Saying that somebody is a bigot for opposing equality is not intolerance because it doesn’t say that their opinion doesn’t count. Quite the opposite, it says that their opinion is so valid that it defines an essential part of their character. Their words matter, they exist, and they have meaning. The same can’t be said for their opinion of LGBT rights which don’t matter, don’t exist, and don’t have meaning.

This is where religious liberty comes back into the picture. This is an individual liberty, one that affords the exerciser the ability to believe and worship in whatever way they see fit. Liberty in general is an individual exercise, one which permits people to act in a fashion that suits them. This is the opposite of the “religious intolerance” crowd who see liberty as the ability for a group to exercise their preference on others. If it were the government telling them how they had to personally act, they would scream bloody murder, and in fact are screaming bloody murder pretending that’s what’s happening. But the fights being fought aren’t over the actions of the complainers, but rather over the actions of outside third parties that aren’t legally required to act in the fashion those complainers would have them act.

Religious liberty does not obligate the state or other people to believe and worship in the same way as you. Using the above example again, it is a violation of religious liberty to force an Evangelical minister to marry a same sex couple. It is not a violation of the religious liberty of that Evangelical minister to allow an Episcopalian minister to marry that couple.

Neither breaking the leg nor picking the pocket of any Christian anywhere.

The state is under no obligation to protect your sensibilities. It is a violation of religious liberty to force the Catholic Church to use their own money to adopt to same-sex couples. It is not a violation of religious liberty to refuse to pay them to discriminate against LGBT couples. And I’m tired of people who get this wrong (BTW: as of this writing, I’m top of the comments on that last link based on likes. Keep me there, my minions!)

What the behavior of those crying “religious intolerance” the loudest clearly demonstrates is that they have no faith. Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Dolan doesn’t have enough faith in his God to believe that God can prevent women from taking contraception given the option (he’s right, BTW), so the celibate, virgin man will instead cry like a celibate, virgin baby about how very unfair this is that he might have to give women the option to express their own religious liberty, including their right to reject his authority over them. Jesus apparently doesn’t have the power to keep people going to church (and it offers so many good reasons, let me tell you) if they don’t pick up the habit early, so Newt Gingrich is going to make sure kids get as much exposure as possible, before those anti-religious pagans can affect their opinions.

These people have “faith” in the same way that I’m “straight.” Sure, I’m attracted to women, but I fail to possess the crucial component of being “only or primarily” attracted to women. This is sort of the same way these people of “faith” are perfectly fine in the comfortable trappings of religion, but fail to have any real belief in the power of their divinity. It’s a sham and a farce and entirely unsurprising as they seem dedicated to making everybody else observe the window dressing of their religion and could care less if the home is equally empty inside.

So, when it comes to religious liberty, your freedom exists for your ability to act in the manner that you feel is correct and not to impose that on others. That means that your religious liberty allows you to decide not to marry a same sex partner, not the ability to refuse to do your job in issuing legal licenses. Your religious liberty allows you to decide not to use contraception, it does not allow you to accept public money while refusing to let others use it. Your religious liberty allows you to not portray Mohammed, it does not prevent others from doing so.

Click for larger version

The Liar Tony Perkins has claimed that the Obama administration has  “created an atmosphere that is hostile toward Christianity.” Quite frankly, if we’re talking about his idea of Christianity, I hope so. It’s a Christianity that demands obedience. It’s a Christianity that excludes people. It’s a Christianity designed for one purpose and one purpose alone: to give power to Tony Perkins.

Timothy Dolan’s Catholicism is designed to give power to Catholic bishops. Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum are all using their faith in order to leverage power for themselves. And if not allowing them to run rough shod over the rights of people who won’t live by their standards creates a hostile environment for that, I say bring it on and throw their outdated, stupid, and hateful ideas into the dustbin of history to make room for better ones.

All the Answers?

On my last post, it was requested that since I just wrote about government’s influence on religion, that I flip it and discuss religion’s influence in government. The thing is, a lot of people talk about this, so I’ve had to think about how to make it interesting. Especially since regular readers already can figure out how absolutely opposed I am to the idea of religion influencing government, but the question then becomes why? Not the obvious reasons, things like basing an system that actually affects real people on stories sets up a system that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Not because religions are complex ideas with thousands of possibile interpretations, many of which involve remarkably inhuman behavior.

No, the biggest and most important reason to keep religion as far away from government as possible is that they think they have answers. Moreover, all the answers.

What do I mean by that?

When the Gartrell and Bos study came out in the journal Pediatrics showing that children in lesbian households did as well in most areas and had better self-esteem than children raised by heterosexuals, the religious right freaked out. Peter Sprigg from what I can only consider the ironically named Family Research Council wrote, “The truth is that most research on ‘homosexual parents’ thus far has been marred by serious methodological problems.” The study he cites from Lerner and Negai supports this by advocating for unnecessarily rigorous scientific standards, ones they themselves continually fail to show.

American Family Association’s Chief Delusional Asshole Bryan Fischer went as far as to say,”This Pediatrics piece is clearly designed to promote homosexual adoption.” You see, the science doesn’t support his pre-conceived notion, therefore it’s part of a spooky agenda to get more kids out of the adoption system and into families that he doesn’t approve of.

Now, while these people and those like them hold incredible sway over politics and political figures, they are not technically politicians, which is why I saved the pièce de résistance for last. Our old friend Rick Santorum, who chooses to ignore studies that don’t support what he’s already decided and said earlier this month about why a father in prison is better than a same-sex couple, “You may rationalise that that isn’t true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it’s true.”

And there is the problem. This attitude of “science be damned, I feel.” Religion and faith by definition are feelings. They are things that cannot be empirically tested, they have to be accepted based on gut reactions. And what needs to be accepted?

That this is the Word of God. The premise for the vast majority of religions that they are somehow correct. That some being or beings take an active interest in them, either positive or negative, and suspend the laws of reality in their favor so long as they do these very specific things to satisfy the vast egos of these alleged supreme beings. Now, you have more individuals accepting that there are many ways to worship this or these god or gods, but doctrinally, odds are in favor that if you adhere to a specific religious creed, it claims to be the only way to appease their particular all-loving tyrant with self-esteem issues. I totally make exception for the few that are not that way, but when you look at the God of Abraham and the vast majority of interpretations of it, you’re talking about something that claims to love us while delighting in causing endless pain and suffering to anybody who doesn’t show appropriate deference. Yes, even in the New Testament.

So, you end up with a group of fanatics who are absolutely sure they’re right. Not just right, but right for no good reason. Right because they read it in a confusing book, or at least the parts they actually did read said this stuff. No basis in reality, actively willing to deny reality, in fact. And because they’re fanatics, they’re more likely to be active, so politicians cater to their demands and we end up with a political landscape littered with science-denial, homophobia, and social injustice. It’s why even though fundamentalists are a reasonably small part of the population and most Americans support gay marriage, for example, the GOP candidates are scrambling to out-anti-gay one another.

That is the crux, really. People who are sure that they are right will do everything they can to bring the world into alignment with their vision rather than altering their vision to fit the reality of the world. When you honestly believe you have a book with all of the answers, you search for ways to make it fit with rapidly changing circumstances rather than approaching those circumstances with a fresh perspective. It’s more important to preserve the idea that God is infallible and gave us a perfect and easy to understand instruction book than to make policy that addresses what is actually happening.

Rick Santorum won’t be president. Assuming reasonable people go out to the polls, none of the GOP field will be. But if he or any of the other ones who will say anything to appeal to god botherers all over the country were president, I cannot help but believe that their faith will trump the law or a sober, rational assessment of the situations they are likely to face. I really think Santorum believes wholeheartedly that for Jesus to return, Israel needs to be whole, and if that means going to war with Iran, so be it. It’s the best explanation for his confusing Israeli policies that keep stressing that all of Israel is one country under one people, as if wishing will make it true. Similarly, pronouncements by staffers like “gays make Jesus puke” should tip people off that this campaign is not working with the same facts as the rest of us.

I don’t doubt that Newt Gingrinch, Definer of Civilization, Hero of Marriage, is sure that same-sex unions are somehow pagan. That he thinks his anti-rhino rhetoric somehow proves God. That he’s sure that secularists are assaulting the ability of religious people to believe things.

Romney…well, he fervently believes whatever he thinks will get him elected, which again points to appeasing extremists, at least in the primary.

At this point I should address moderates as I normally do. I’m not worried about moderates. It doesn’t matter to me that Mary Margaret Haugen believes in “traditional marriage” or has religious convictions because when it comes to governing, she’s willing to put those aside to recognize the reality of same-sex unions. Jon Huntsman’s Mormon faith doesn’t bother me because he realizes that science is more true than his preferred origin story.

But as we saw with Huntsman and as we’re seeing after the pronouncement of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain in Washington that Catholic priests must inveigh against same-sex marriage, those people have much less of a chance to get any traction because the ones most motivated to vote are the ones who believe that God wants this, not the moderates who don’t think that God is taking a side.

Religion has had a huge cultural impact on America and the world. Lots of things have, though, and we’ve left a lot of them behind because they’re backward and unjust. If people want to believe, nothing should stop them, at least not legally. But when you try to apply those beliefs to the running of government, you’re trying to apply inviolable concepts to changeable situations, and ultimately that leads to a situation in which you have to either admit that something within your faith is wrong, or the world is wrong. And it’s a lot easier to let others be wrong than admit that you might be.

Hate the Sinner?

Recently, a 14-year-old in Iowa confronted Rick Perry on his DADT stance. She asked, quite pointedly, how he could defame gay people in the military who fought and died so that he would have the right to run for president. She revealed in interviews later that she is openly bi-sexual. At 14. In Iowa. This is not only a very smart and articulate young woman, but also an incredibly brave one.

Perry, who is not nearly as smart, articulate, or brave (though there are enough suspicions about whether he and Marcus Bachmann might attend meetings together for self-hating closet cases), fell back on a string of cliches and hid behind his faith.

“Here’s my issue. This is about my faith, and I happen to think, you know, there are a whole hosts of sins. Homosexuality being one of them, and I’m a sinner and so I’m not going to be the first one to throw a stone,” Perry said. “I don’t agree that openly gays [sic] should be serving in the military. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was working and my position is just like I told a guy yesterday, he said, ‘How would you feel if one of your children was [sic] gay?’ I said I’d feel the same way. I hate the sin, but I love the sinner, but having them openly serve in the military, I happen to think as a commander in chief of some 20,000 plus people in the military is not good public policy, and this president was forced by his base to change that policy and I don’t think it was good policy, and I don’t think people in the military thought it was good policy.”

Alright, so let’s forget for a second that there are 1,477,896 active duty members of the military and 1,458,500 reserve personnel. I mean, he’s technically correct in the same way that he would be correct had he said he would be in charge of “more than a dozen people in the military” or, as Douglas Adams so well put it, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Even given the remarkable gift of the Syrup Cuddler for understatement, there are two really worrisome things in this statement. And I think you, my handful of loyal readers, already know what they are.

The first, “This is about my faith…” Alright, stop right there. You’re telling me that if you are elected to the office of the president, your faith gets to trump all available evidence re:national security and military strength? Now, he does go on to say that DADT was working, but like his faith that there’s a God who thinks gay people are choosing to defy His otherwise perfect creation, he’s demonstrably wrong. Even more wrong, in fact, as the nature of God makes proof or disproof impossible and we have actual, tangible evidence that DADT was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea. Mr. Perry’s faith is his to have, and he can believe whatever idiotic thing he wants, but the sad thing here is two-fold: both that he wants to use that belief in defiance of reality and that he’s not entirely wrong in gambling that a whole lot of people will vote for him because of that.

It’s hard to really say if that’s a determining factor since the nature of GOP orthodoxy is such that every candidate is expected to measure themselves against a wall and there is very little daylight between them and the most extreme members of their party, providing a very flat baseline. In other words, if Rick Perry were the only candidate in this race that believed that, we could see if his idiotic beliefs were swaying voters, but since every candidate has to reach a certain quota of insane beliefs and ideals (100% of them, in fact), then there is no control sample. All of the candidates fall over one another to demonstrate how much they understand that God wants them to deny gay people rights, so primary voters don’t actually have to make a choice to still get their dose of homophobia (and magical thinking, Islamophobia, immigrant hatred, family values hypocrisy, etc.) and it throws off analysis of what messages are actually resonating.

The other objectionable part of his rambling dodge (side note: The Rambling Dodge would be a great name for a rock band) was his resurrection of the old “hate the sin, love the sinner” canard.

The question, of course, is “Is this possible?” Short answer: no.

Long Answer:

In order to understand this little bit of theological ju-jitsu, you must first understand that people want to consider themselves good. They also want other people to consider them good. This goes doubly for Christians and infinitely more than that in direct proportion to how loudly they proclaim that faith. So, the average person likes being good, the average Christian has the added inducement to be Christ-like on top of just normal good (pretty high standard, according to the story, I’ll grant), and you go all the way up to Tim Tebow who wants to be good so bad that he’s actually convinced himself that throwing less than half of his passes to completion is awesome and ostentatiously prays between bites at dinner.

The other thing to understand is that being good is hard. It is so much easier to claim to love everybody and continue to hate them to yourself than to actually love everybody. I would argue, in fact, that actually loving everybody is a bad idea, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

So, you have a bunch of Christianists like Perry who believe they must love every person, but also believe that they are squigged out by gays, afraid of Muslims, not happy that they have to study the science thing, and totally convinced that God Loves Them Best. That, my friends, is a recipe for trouble, and thus was born “love the sinner, hate the sin,” a piece of vile dishonesty and rank hypocrisy that allows people to convince themselves that they’re doing what Jesus wants while still doing what makes them comfortable.

In Perry’s (and every other GOP official other than Fred Karger and…there’s at least one more, I think) case, he claims to love the sinner (gays) and hate the sin, but what does that actually mean? We, as humans, experience love. It’s not a measurable thing, so we tend to describe love as a reflection of actions. The same way that we can tell a massive object is in space when we might not be able to see it by seeing the way gravity affects things around it, we can see love in the actions of people toward other people.

So, is it loving to deny rights to people? Categorically not. Unilateral denial of basic human rights afforded to others for no other reason than your particular invisible man said in his confusing and contradictory book that they weren’t in accord with his vision is not an act of love. The question must then be: in what way is the sinner being loved in this scenario?

This is similar to Jules Manson’s claim that he isn’t a racist. Just saying something doesn’t actually make it true, and actions are generally good indicators of emotional realities.

The fact of the matter is, you cannot both love the sinner and hate the sin. Love is something that has to be manifested, expressed, in order for it to have meaning and sincerity. Without that manifestation, it is nothing but potential, an empty promise with an implied, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” It changes love into a salve for those who are too cowardly to admit that there are some things they don’t like for no good reason. They want to be good and, failing that, be thought of as good when the truth is that they irrationally hate various people and don’t want to suffer the social backlash for it.

Moreover, the entire concept is astoundingly condescending. Anybody who “hates the sin but loves the sinner” is basically saying, “I know you don’t know what you’re doing is wrong, but it’s ok, I’m willing to overlook your stupidity.” What sort of self-righteous bullshit is that? You think I’m doing bad things, but you don’t hold them against me because you inexplicably “love” me? If you’re doing terrible things, especially if I don’t know you, I’m not going to love you like some mentally retarded younger cousin who doesn’t know any better. This idea that you somehow know better and barely tolerate my wicked ways severely degrades the very concept of “love,” and that is something up with which I will not put.

So, what’s the solution? The most obvious one is simply, “Don’t be a dick.” You can solve that second problem by attempting to be inclusive, getting over your idiot notions, and weighing things in a way that makes sense.

The issue still comes in with how one can love everybody and still not particularly like certain people or, often, “what they do.” However, the answer to that one is just as easy: stop claiming to love everybody. You can’t do it, you shouldn’t do it. Nobody should feel obligated to love Kim Jong Il, and the world should rejoice in his death. He’s a murderous, oppressive dictator, a monster who starved his people to maintain his bloated army and to glorify himself. We should hate that man. Nobody should feel obligated to love Rick Santorum, or Michelle Bachmann, or Mitt Romney, or Ron Paul, or even Mr. Perry. Especially not Newt Gingrinch. Hell, nobody should feel obligated to love me and while I’m fortunate that many people do, it’s because I give them a reason to.

But please, don’t tell me you love me despite my being queer. Or poly. Or kinky. Or anything else I am that composes the great and gorgeous tapestry that is me. I don’t want your prayers for me to somehow be more in line with your vision of things and I don’t want your condescending tolerance. I want you to be honest that you don’t like things about me, be honest about the reasons, and if there are none, be honest that you have no reasons and accept the consequences that come with disliking somebody irrationally.