The Chronicle of Higher Education featured an editorial by (Eastern) religious apologist Stephen Asma, who was all too eager to trot out the same old baseless arguments against atheism and primal arguments for preserving, if not enshrining, religion for decades to come.
The manifest destiny of a Christian American theocracy took a bold step towards the light this week with the inauguration of Alabama’s new governor, Robert Bentley. The day before taking office, Bentley, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, spoke at Dexter Street King Memorial Baptist Church, once led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther […]
A UK judge ordered the owners of a B&B to pay damages to the gay couple they refused to offer a double bed to. What gets priority: religious beliefs or freedom from discrimination? It’s a question we cannot escape.
Peterson is back with stories to tell about South Africa! But Zack has been monitoring the pulse back in the United States, and their juxtaposed observations about gender and sexuality bring Queer and Queerer back in 2011 with a bang! This week we discuss the public perception of LGBT people nationally and globally and particularly […]
Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens had a grand debate about whether religion is good. But I really struggled to understand how Mr. Blair’s arguments were actually supporting the claim that it was good! Read my brief thoughts and then listen for yourself!
It’s been a tough week here in central PA. Peterson and Zack commit this episode to discussing the loss of Brandon Bitner, a local 14-year-old who committed suicide on November 5 after suffering bullying about his perceived gender and sexuality. We talk about learning about his death, attending his funeral, and community reactions afterward. While […]
Last week, I was going to write about this story, where a woman at Benedictine University lost her job, but not for being gay or getting married. She lost it because she had the gall to publish a wedding announcement. Change.org followed up with a statement from the university defending the decision, running the appropriate […]
Earlier today, I wrote about the way that HRC and other organizations have a certain amount of proprietary strategic control over our movement. I invite you to peruse that post before reading this addendum. The Human Rights Campaign issued a response to the Congress.org article I referenced numerous times in my post. Fred Sainz makes […]
What has amazed me most about the celebration this week is the complete exoneration of President Obama.
I will admit this much: President Obama said he wanted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be repealed. But Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (“after, therefore because”) is one of the most classic logical fallacies (so much so Aaron Sorkin introduced it to The West Wing in episode 2), and it’s clearly what’s at play here.
The championing of our President as a gay rights hero still seems unearned and undeserved. When I look at how we got from the State of the Union to this week, there isn’t much I like. First, there was the big, expensive, redundant, time-wasting study of our troops’ prejudice to see if they could tolerate their homophobia being challenged. Then there was the President’s opposition to Congress taking any legislative approach to repeal (at least not before the study was done!). Then there was the awful compromise that we’re now realizing, the fact that repeal doesn’t mean repeal; it means months more of discharges.
Did President Obama have a big secret plan for advancing gay rights? Or did he have a big secret plan for maintaining the loyalty of the gay community while lots of other people got the work done?
I’m sorry, but I think the only reason this is Obama’s victory is because he called dibs.
The President continued the gay PR tour this week by giving an interview with Kerry Eleveld of The Advocate. He offered a lot of stark reminders of how far behind he is on being a fierce advocate. Read how smarmy he gets about his ambivalence on marriage equality, as if to channel Sarah Palin saying, “Stop asking me GOTCHA questions.” (Note: They weren’t.)
Well, no doubt I think a pivotal moment. And I know that so many people who voted for you, LGBT folks who voted for you, did so because they believe that you were a fierce supporter of equality. Given what you’ve just said, Mr. President, do you think it’s time that gays and lesbians should be entitled to full marriage rights?
Well, I spoke about this recently with some bloggers who were here…
Mr. Joe Sudbay.
Yes, and Joe asked me the same question. And since I’ve been making a lot of news over the last several weeks, I’m not going to make more news today. The sentiment I expressed then is still where I am—which is, like a lot of people, I’m wrestling with this. My attitudes are evolving on this. I have always firmly believed in having a robust civil union that provides the rights and benefits under the law that marriage does. I’ve wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.
And squaring that circle is something that I have not done yet, but I’m continually asking myself this question and I do think that—I will make this observation, that I notice there is a big generational difference. When you talk to people who are in their 20s, they don’t understand what the holdup is on this, regardless of their own sexual orientation. And obviously when you talk to older folks, then there’s greater resistance.
And so this is an issue that I’m still wrestling with, others are still wrestling with. What I know is that at minimum, a baseline is that there has to be a strong, robust civil union available to all gay and lesbian couples.
Can you imagine a time when you would get there? I mean, you say “evolving,” and that sort of assumes that you get somewhere. Can you imagine a time of getting there?
I’m going to stick with my answer. [Laughter.]
OK. So, looking forward, I know that there are—many of your LGBT supporters would have wished for more in the first two years. And it’s never enough, of course…
I’ve found that. [Laughter.]
And especially like passing employment nondiscrimination…
And, in fairness, by the way, that is true of every single group of supporters that I have. I mean, there’s not a single constituency that doesn’t think we could be doing more.
And true of every civil rights movement.
If anything, President Obama’s lack of fortitude patience regarding LGBT issues continues to enable our detractors to feel content not fully supporting us. If the President is unsure about marriage equality, then it’s okay if I am too. I am bothered even more by the sense that a steadied approach is a good one for equality. It’s good spin for denying delaying equality, but it’s not good for the people who are still unequal. It’s certainly not good for the troops who have to continue lying or even avoiding contact with their loved ones while away at war.
And as Shannon Cuttle pointed out yesterday, there are still a lot of issues to be addressed just with DADT. The policy change does nothing for transgender or gender-nonconforming servicemembers, nor does it do anything to make military academies more welcoming places.
So, what’s the deal folks? Why does our fierce advocate deserve all the credit this week? Was he really such a mover and shaker in this effort?
Or does this speak to the continued desperation of our movement? We got a victory, so we have to be so gracious to anyone and everyone who played a part, even if they weren’t the most helpful, even if they held us back, and even if they continue to make harmful mistakes. It doesn’t matter that we’ve got years and years to go in which we will continue to experience government-sanctioned discrimination; this week, none of our allies can do wrong.
It’s been quite a while since “Religious Right” didn’t sound redundant, and while plenty of folks can articulate differences between “social conservative” and “fiscal conservative,” it seems rare that anyone has to take exception to their conflation. While they might mean different things, they arguably have the same motivation.
Consider the belief in an afterlife. This single, simple, commonplace belief can easily define the context for a person’s entire life. Juxtapose 80 years with eternity and priority number one becomes getting into that afterlife, according to the prescriptive guidelines. Priority two might be a compassionate attempt to get others to abide by the same guidelines so they can get there too. And once all the ducks are in a row for the afterlife, all that’s left to do is sit back and tolerate life.
Yes, yes, this is a simplistic generalization that doesn’t recognize the nuance of belief—I hear ya. But at a basic level, it is still fair to say that believing in an afterlife can impact every single decision a person makes as the very motivation that leads them through life. This dubiously simple factor provides an important context for understanding the concept of “conservative,” particularly in the malicious way it is being employed by Congressional Republicans during this lame-duck session.
Fundamentally, there is a “me” factor: I want to go to Heaven, I want you to go to Heaven the same way, and I want God to be pleased with what we did in the meantime. Social conservatism is wanting society to abide by God’s laws… or at least not stray from them any further. (Just ignore that shifting Zeitgeist.) Fiscal conservatism is just a way to make that happen. It’s the same philosophy of unchange; let the people with money keep it. And while Jesus may have said to let go of all your possessions, having money in a capitalist society is great leverage for enforcing a social agenda. It also makes the ride incredibly more comfortable until that Rapture comes along.
So consider this “hostage situation” regarding tax cuts for the rich. Hoarding money is clearly not Christian (a memo many Christian leaders have missed), and Reaganomics (or as Rachel Maddow calls them, “Riganomics”) clearly fail. So why are they “all in”? It could be greed, which itself could be reflective of subservience to the afterlife. But it could also be for leverage. Leverage against the DREAM act. Leverage against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. Leverage against support for 9/11 first-responders. Remember, the one budget Republicans will never cut is defense; we are, after all, engaged in two wars on behalf of Christianity.
The will to impose the proper afterlife on others is not benign. Just today, a story on good old OneNewsNow complains that Liam Neeson suggested that Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia (whom he voices) represents non-Christian spiritual leaders. Because, damn it, Aslan is Christ and that’s what C. S. Lewis intended! Don’t worry, “Dr.” Marc T. Newman (whoever he is) comes to the rescue with ideas for how Narnia can be an effective evangelism tool.
And while critics of my post will argue that believing in the afterlife is not a reasonable reduction of Republican motives, I think it’s hard to find a better one. Sure, there is an obsession with power (and ascension thereof) as well as the gluttony of being lobbied, but while there might be incredible focus on their own lives, I’m not sure that conservatives are motivated by the lives, per say, of anybody else. Who cares if people have money, or food, or a job, or a house, or healthcare, or citizenship, or integrity? As long as everyone is abiding by the Bible, they’re going to Heaven, and they should be thankful for that.
It’s not a surprise that the Christian myth of an afterlife (social conservatism) and the myth of the American dream (fiscal “bootstraps” conservatism) have become so intertwined. They both are founded on self-determination. They both assume that the individual is responsible and that no other context plays a role in an individual’s success. And both ultimately help a very small group prosper while creating false hope for all the rest.
The opposite of all this, after all, would be true for progressives. Not believing in an afterlife (or at least not abiding so stringently by such a belief) makes it much easier to recognize the needs of others now, in life. Rather than a focus on “me” until everybody goes to Heaven, it’s a focus on everybody because right now is all we have. Being a social progressive means recognizing that the human species is capable of learning more about its own nature and adapting to accommodate that new information. Being a fiscal progressive means trying to help the most number of people, even if it means asking those who have to make sacrifice for those who have not, because it’s life that matters. Life is all that we have control over while we’re living.
Imagine, though, a completely different universe, altered in just the way that no one believed in an afterlife. Would these political hijinks be par for the course? Maybe. But at the very least, they wouldn’t be based on complete irrationality.
So, Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens had a debate recently about whether religion is a force for good in the world.
I’ve created a playlist for all the clips below. It’s pretty good, and Hitchens is still right on his game, despite his health. I particularly appreciated Hitchens’ argument that the way to end poverty is to empower women. It’s worth a listen.
Tony Blair continued making two arguments throughout the debate that I just do not understand. I mean, I don’t think either of them actually help support his point that religion is a good thing to have.
The first was the idea that faith is good because lots of people already have faith. Since we can’t convince everyone to suddenly not have faith, we should encourage people who have faith to apply that faith in good ways.
Is this really an argument for anything? This is the same argument people make to support smoking. They say, Oh, well lots of people are smokers (i.e. addicted to smoking), so we should just let them keep smoking. Umm, no! Sorry smokers. Your habit is gross and makes me sneeze. Go outside, keep your tar clouds away, and yes, keep trying to quit!
Just because people have faith doesn’t mean faith is good! Like Tim Minchin says in his song White Wine in the Sun, “I don’t believe just because ideas are tenacious that they’re worthy.” This argument is really a concession. It doesn’t demonstrate anything at all about the difference faith makes, just that we’re stuck with it, so we ought to try to make the most of it. If anything, it sounds more like a strategy for coping with the persistence of faith.
The other argument he made a lot is that though some people use religion for bad things, some people also use religion for good things. This is not a good argument in favor of religion. It actually demonstrates how pointless religion is. If it can be used for both good and bad, then it doesn’t make a difference at all! It just is.
My argument has long been that there are no unique benefits to religion/faith. None of Mr. Blair’s arguments challenge that claim at all. Sure, some people do good things inspired by their faith, but so what? Plenty of people do good things without faith, and honestly, they’re often better things in the absence of proselytization.
If you are supporting the claim that religion is a force for good, you have to be able to demonstrate that there is something we get from faith that we could not get without it. Given that there are plenty of bad things that are unique to religion—the very suspension of critical thinking that faith requires is itself a detractor—I really don’t think Mr. Blair had much to offer. Admittedly, my expectations were not high given that his opening statement included mention of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, hackneyed jabs at atheism that don’t hold up (and which Hitchens didn’t even bother addressing). It’s not surprising that Mr. Hitchens successfully swayed a much larger percentage of the audience than did Mr. Blair.
The debate is not short, but throw the playlist on and listen while you’re at work. Share your own thoughts about these arguments or other things that are said in the discussion.
It’s been a tough week here in central PA. Peterson and Zack commit this episode to discussing the loss of Brandon Bitner, a local 14-year-old who committed suicide on November 5 after suffering bullying about his perceived gender and sexuality. We talk about learning about his death, attending his funeral, and community reactions afterward. While we’ve talked about bullying and suicide on previous episodes, we now take a first-hand look at how our own communities are struggling to cope and make meaning of this tragic loss. Our hearts go out to all the friends, family, and loved ones struggling not only with Brandon’s death, but all young people who leave us too soon.
But as you might recall, when I last wrote about Catholicism two weeks ago, I pointed out that people complain I “bash” Catholicism too much. So rather than just add one to the pile, I thought I’d compile the posts I’d written here about Catholicism. I want to really put it to all my Catholic readers out there… is there ever enough evidence of Church shenanigans that will make you question your loyalty? And more importantly, do you recognize that by putting money in the offering at Mass, you are endorsing all of the following behavior?
Take a look and just the few examples I’ve written about, a list that is hardly exhaustive.
November 1 – Cardinal-Designate Raymond L. Burke said that discrimination against gays is okay, because they “suffer” and are “wrong.”
October 28 – Materials I was handed at a summer street fair show that Catholics guilt teenage girls out of abortion with twisted facts, gender police dating rituals, and condemn homosexuals as “disordered” using bunk Paul Cameron research.
September 17 – The Pope told the Queen of England that “atheist extremism” was responsible for the holocaust, ignoring the fact Hitler had been Catholic.
August 24 – The group Catholics for Equality creates an opportunity for LGBT advocates to defend their Church at the same time (thus maintaining the very cognitive dissonance this post is meant to challenge).
July 13 – Chicago’s Reverend Robert Barron used atheist Christopher Hitchens’ terminal illness as a petty opportunity to promote prayer.
June 7 – The New York Times celebrated “A Gay Catholic Voice Against Same-Sex Marriage,” a profile of Eve Tushnet, who promotes harmful ex-gay therapies or condemns gay people to chastity.
April 12 – The Pope’s #2, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, promoted the (completely wrong) idea that homosexuality and pedophilia are related.
April 3 – A senior Vatican priest speaking before the Pope compared the backlash against the Church for sexual abuse scandals to the persecution of the Jews.
March 16 – A lesbian couple cared enough about their children being Catholic that they didn’t care if their kids learned that they were actually going to Hell for their relationship.
March 12 – Bill O’Reilly actually defended the aforementioned lesbian couple when their kids were kicked out of their Catholic preschool; Father Jonathan Morris, not so much.
March 5 – A number of highlights! The DC Archdiocese ended their foster care program and all spousal benefits rather than subscribe to marriage equality. An Italian cardinal made it clear that if you support same-sex marriage, you can’t be Catholic. Distributing condoms to help fight AIDS in the Philippines is also anti-Catholic, according to bishops there. That was also the week we heard about the gay prostitution scandal inside the Vatican.
November 20 – Many Catholic leaders signed the very anti-gay Manhattan Declaration, just a week after threatening to pull out of DC charity serves should marriage pass there (as we saw above the ended up doing).
So there are my posts about Catholicism from the past year (aside from reminders here or there about Catholic positions on LGBT issues). That completely ignores the huge sums of money they gave both in 2009 (Maine) and 2008 (California and elsewhere) to fight marriage equality, as well as all scandals of sexual abuse, which continue to come to light.
So… you all okay with all of that? How many cracks will it take to break your diplomacy dike and cause you to raise some concern about your Church? If you disagree with the above actions and statements, why do you still support them both financially and in name? And if all of these things are so wrong, how is it that your beliefs are still so right?
Are you still proud to be Catholic? How did Catholicism get to be so important in your life? Can the values Catholicism represents for you ever be separated out from support of the Church?
Earlier today, I wrote about the way that HRC and other organizations have a certain amount of proprietary strategic control over our movement. I invite you to peruse that post before reading this addendum.
The Human Rights Campaign issued a response to the Congress.org article I referenced numerous times in my post. Fred Sainz makes four points in his response, each of which confirms an aspect of the various concerns that were raised. Pam Spaulding also points out that absent from the response was “any dispute regarding what those who were on the inside said.”
Let’s take a look at the response:
Your recent piece failed to give any perspective of the political or legislative climate in which the repeal of DADT is being considered.
A few points that were missing:
1. Completely absent from your analysis is how far this legislation has come this year. The White House brokered compromise language with the Pentagon and Congress. Following that, the bill successfully cleared the House and a key Senate committee with the language now part of the underlying bill. The Senate Majority Leader has said that it will be scheduled for a vote after the November elections. There are plenty of progressive movements that would like to have this problem.
Note that in a few short sentences, Sainz claims two different setbacks as victories. First, the compromise language was just that: a compromise on our equality. It created more doubt about when discharges would end and was the consequence of President Obama not standing firm on his commitment to repeal. Secondly, as Kerry Eleveld points out today, it’s unlikely we’ll see DADT repeal during the lame-duck session. Yet, it seems that HRC thinks it’s a good thing that the last chance we have for passage will be in an environment that will be politically more toxic than the one in which it already failed.
Apologetics at its finest.
2. No piece of legislation is an island considered solely on its own merits. Bills are considered by our legislators as part of a bigger political picture with a lot of outside factors impacting the legislation. Your piece falsely gives the impression that getting repeal done should have been an easy lift. Nothing in Washington is easy – nothing. Folks thought the passage of hate crimes legislation was going to be easy; it wasn’t. The unfortunate reality is that the repeal of DADT remains a hard lift for many. Washington is hardly ever a leading indicator of social change. Most often, it is a lagging indicator. Forty-five days before an election, and with a procedural skirt to hind behind, Senate Republicans made it impossible. I refer you to the release we issued last Friday regarding Senator McConnell’s motives.
If Republicans were going to make it impossible, they were going to make it impossible whenever it was put up for a vote. It was put off for months such that we only got one chance before the election. Republicans aren’t the only ones to blame. If HRC can’t successfully push a vote that has support from a hefty majority of Americans, then there’s something wrong with the tens of thousands of dollars being spent on its campaigns. President Obama spoke of repeal in the State of the Union, and nine months later we couldn’t get a lousy compromise passed. Either HRC doesn’t have all the political influence they claim to have or they care more about keeping it than using it.
Either way, their proprietary control of lobbying efforts bears an awful lot of responsibility for this setback.
3. Senate Democrats don’t have 60 votes. If Senator McConnell decides to hold together his caucus for political reasons, there is little anyone can do.
Again, just placing the blame elsewhere. In fact, it’s a fairly patronizing response, as if nobody should have even bothered trying. Sainz might as well have said, “It was never going to pass, but at least we tried.” This defeatist attitude speaks to the bias toward incrementalism embedded in the movement. If HRC isn’t optimistic about the equality they claim to work towards (and spend millions of our dollars “working” towards), then they don’t deserve the equals sign as their logo.
4. It certainly won’t get done in the lame duck unless all activists push like hell to get it done. This is no time for circular firing squads that are wholly unproductive especially when many of the allegations are warrantless and uninformed. There’s no doubt that this will be an uphill climb and that’s why we need to be solely focused on the goal.
Actually, it sounds like they were very well-informed criticisms, unless of course Jarrod Chlapowski and all the other insiders are just liars. Given that HRC seems completely unconcerned about hearing any criticism from the community at large, which is more likely? Besides, Jarrod is just as ready to push like hell as HRC seems to be.
This is a cheap dismissal we should not tolerate. It’s just another version of the “Victim” meme our opponents use against us all the time. It’s retaliatory, an attempt to reassert control: We know what’s best. Fall in line.
Apologetics, lack of accountability, incrementalism-inspired pessimism, and trying to play the victim and shut down dissenters? Sorry HRC, you might have the might, but you definitely don’t have it right. Until you see that, you’re essentially holding all of our rights hostage to your whims.
Is that really the kind of movement we want to be a part of?