Tuesday, January 4, 2022

"Oh, Didn't You Know I'd Been Cancelled?" Said She

Corey Robin linked to and praised this recent New York Times piece.  While it sounds interesting, it's behind a paywall, so I don't know if I'll read it.  It's evidently an attack on what the author calls Diet Culture and its harmful effects.  I'm sympathetic to that stance, but what concerns me right now is a symptomatic exchange in the comments under the author's tweet about the essay.

Someone called Satori posted a comment occupying what they presumably thought was a middle ground: "The key is to slowly, gently change your lifestyle, forever. No need to be chronically hungry, cranky & write soppy op-eds," followed by specific recommendations. Someone appropriately called Smartipants, retorted, "what part of her essay made you think she wanted your advice on weight loss? Keep it to yourself."

I have no interest in weighing in on the moisture content of an op-ed I haven't read, or on Satori's intervention. (I bet Satori hasn't read it either.)  I just want to make a general point: If you publish something in the New York Times (!) or other elite media, if you promote it on Twitter or other social media, then you are inviting comment and even advice.  You don't have to follow it, you don't have to like it, you can certainly ignore it, but if you don't want it, don't publish or post in the first place.  Publication, to say nothing of posting on Twitter, amounts to throwing red meat into a pit of starving feral dogs.

If you're lucky.  As someone once said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about; and following Sturgeon's Law, ninety percent of all public discourse is crap.  (That includes Smartipants's comment.)  Then it occurred to me that Smartipants's remark is related to the ongoing performances of those who, from the well-lit vantage point of an elite media platform, wail that they're being silenced and nobody can say anything in public anymore because they'll be cancelled by the Woke Mob.

How many times I've encountered people like Smartipants on Facebook!  They believe that what they or their friends post publicly there is private, and that any disagreement or criticism of what they've written violates their freedom of speech. As I tell them, if you don't want your posts to be public, change your security settings so that only your bubble of friends will see them.  Once it turns up in my feed, it's my business, as well as the business of anyone else who can see it. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

What's Sauce for the Right Is Sauce for the Left

I found this tweet in Alan MacLeod's Twitter feed, and while I'm trying to be fair, I can't see any excuse for it.  By juxtaposing two images and an older tweet from another source, it aims for plausible deniability, but I think it misses the mark.

At first blush it's bluntly racist: the claims of the Wall Street Journal commentator (behind a paywall, sorry) can be evaluated by his name and ancestry.  Ditto for the person referenced in "Jane's" tweet below the images, though I confess her mockery of her target's name is mildly witty.  Remember when an American right-winger could say that you could tell that Obama is a terrorist because of his name, and we all jeered?  Remember American right-wingers' giggling that FDR's real name was Rosenfeld, nudge nudge wink wink?  But that was different.

Some of the commenters showed that Barents-Von Hohenhagen is a thoroughgoing right-winger, but he could be that while possessing black hair, olive skin, brown eyes, and a name like Guaidó or Bolsonaro or Fujimori.  What counts is his stance and his arguments, which appear to be standard corporate-media alarmism.  It also appears that he and his family have longstanding ties to right-wing circles in Germany.  I believe the local library carries the Journal, I might take a look at the piece when the library re-opens after its holiday break.

The same goes for Blanca von Buren Green, the other blond whom Jane mocked.  It's true that the great majority of Venezuelans are poor, usually brown people, and that many of the right-wing Venezuelan opposition are blond and blue-eyed.  But as the example of Juan Guaidó shows, many of them aren't.  What counts is their politics, which are determined by history, not by their "race."  So yeah, at second blush, this stuff is bluntly racist.

It's the accompanying photo of Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric that threw me a bit off-balance.  I wondered if "Ewan" meant to contrast his dark, even swarthy appearance with Barents-Von Hohenhagen's name, as a badge of Chilean authenticity.  I remembered reading that he's Croatian by ancestry, and I was right.  According to his Wikipedia entry, his forebears arrived in Chile in the late 1800s, but they and he retain ties to relatives in Croatia to this day. He's leftish enough to give the far right conniptions (no great accomplishment), but he's no Chavez or Morales.  But y'know, he looks like he could be Chilean, as indeed he is. I doubt that Ewan or Jane or their granfalloon would defend him if he couldn't pass as non-white, at least to their eyes.  I can't say for sure, though, because the matter didn't turn up in the comments.

What Boric will actually do as President will have to be seen.  Maybe if he disappoints foreign leftists like Jane and Ewan, they'll start dragging up his Croatian ancestry to explain it.  They knew all along he wasn't really Third World.

What generally is overlooked in discourse at this low level is that colonialism in the Americas didn't begin with the US.  It began with Spain and to a lesser extent Portugal.  It's entertaining when Spanish-speaking creoles complain that they're colonized by the Yankees, but it must never be forgotten that they are colonizers themselves. (They're like colonial North American slaveholders who complained that the British Crown was enslaving them!)  The rise of indigenous movements in Latin America, exemplified by Chavez, Morales, and Castillo among others, are a reminder of this, and I'm a bit mystified by how often the US left forgets it.  But then, we have a rather limited range of attention; I'm not sure I'll ever get over how US progressives ignored the South Korean candlelight marches of a dozen years ago, even though that movement should have been on their radar.  The massive grassroots movement that led to the fall of then-President Park Geun-hye in 2017 got somewhat more attention here, but the US left still seemed not to recognize its significance.

I'm most concerned right now with the left's racialization of these issues.  People who freely deplore Trumpian deplorables still make inadvertently hilarious assumptions about religion and culture -- that the Bible was written by "white guys," for example; that there's something funny about a white female Zen master in the US; that a toxic-masculine Afro-Caribbean god is a model that white Christians should learn from; or that Muslims aren't white.  The specifics of the racism differ, but the errors that drive it stay the same.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Vagabond Scholar's Jon Swift Memorial Best of 2021

Once again, Batocchio has posted his annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup, carrying on the good work of the late Al Weisel, alias Jon Swift.  Bloggers choose their own favorite post of the year, and Batocchio posts them.  I'm in there, of course, but so are a good many other writers you might not have heard of.  Take a look and see what you think.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Beat Me, Torture Me, Make Me Become a Nurse

One downside to living in a small town -- this one, anyway -- is that Christian religiosity is turned up to 11.  Though it's a small paper, copy must be hard to find, so the local newspaper fills out its columns with devotional writing, prose and verse, by local writers.  This becomes a bit hard to take after awhile, but I'm a big boy and I don't mind diversity - I just wish for more of it.

Another irritant is the convention of beginning obituaries with the claim that the deceased went to Heaven to be with his or her Heavenly Father.  It's a convention, not to be taken seriously of course.  I know some of these people, and I wouldn't be so sure of their posthumous destination, very much the opposite -- but then, what do I know?  Racism and general hatefulness may be qualifications for Heaven.  I'm afraid I upset one young librarian recently when, checking out a book after a surfeit of obituaries, I remarked on this trope and said that when I go, I want my obituary to begin by kvelling that on such and such a day, I descended into the welcoming fires of Hell to be with my Lord and Master Satan for eternity.  I'm not really going to require such a thing, because I don't believe in Hell any more than I believe in Heaven, and since I won't be around to observe people's reactions, it would be a pointless gesture.  But I'd settle for something like this (via).

If people are comforted by these fantasies, it's not for me to pick on them I suppose, and for that reason I feel bad about upsetting the young librarian.  (For all I know, though, she's a hateful Trumpian in her personal life - it's all too likely anywhere in Indiana -- and if so, I'd happily upset her more, but not while she's on duty.)

NPR's Morning Edition has been worse than usual this week, with some fatuous academics distorting history and generally dishonoring their professions.  On Fridays there's always a segment from Story Corps, the oral history organization, and they're usually inoffensive enough.  Today's featured a man who, as a 7-year-old boy, was hit by a van while riding his bike.  He spent some time in a hospital in an induced coma, but eventually recovered and is now a chef.  Most of the conversation was between his mother and one of the EMTs who brought him to the hospital.  They formed a bond and became friends for several years, then lost touch.  They met again when the EMT heard a familiar voice at a nurse's station, and lo! it was the boy's mother, who'd become a nurse.

The mother reflected:

It's interesting because when I was a little girl, my dad used to tell me, you're going to be a nurse. But when this accident happened, I said, maybe this is God's way of saying, you know, your father was right. I enrolled in nursing school ....

At that point, I exclaimed "You people are sick!"  So God sent that van to nearly kill her little boy in order to "tell" her she should be a nurse?  The amorality of popular religion, the kind of theology ordinary laypeople invent (often to the horror of clergy and academic theologians) always appalls me, and this bit was a sort of booster shot.  It's harmless enough, compared to much faith, but I'm amazed that this woman could calmly say something so heartless with a straight face.  And not about distant strangers, but about an event that directly affected her and her son.

This brings to mind what someone said, that they'd prefer a universe without gods to one with a god who sits above, watching people suffering, and does nothing about it.  This feels obviously right to me; but I especially find no comfort in a god who causes suffering to achieve some obscure and uncertain aim.  Yet many (most?) people do find comfort in that belief, and are horrified at the idea that no Supreme Being is out there, and things just happen.  This can't be something that evil priests forced on them; if there were no priests or churches, they'd invent it on their own.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Hope You'll Read All the Way to the End

Right after I finished the last post, the author of this article linked to her article on Twitter, urging us "to read all the way to the end."  I did, expecting something interesting to appear; it didn't.

The article describes a new church, combined with a coffeehouse, that is going to open in an existing building in Durham, North Carolina.  It attracted attention from liberal Christians in the area because it's affiliated with a "non-LGBTQ+ affirming" organization "that helps fund and plant churches."  Questions directed to the founder/pastor were met with the standard warm-fuzzies evasiveness that's standard in antigay churches these days. The pastor, Sherei [sic] Lopez Jackson, offered to meet virtually with the objectors, but blocked some of them on social media, and then got into an auto accident before the meeting could take place.  Could God have been trying to tell her something?

Lopez Jackson told her critics that "I, personally, hold an interpretation of scripture that Christian marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman and believe that sexual intimacy has the potential to be at its healthiest in that context."  It's noteworthy, then, that she ignores the Christian scriptural prohibition of women clergy, and has complained about the "sexist pushback she had received from people who did not believe women should have church leadership positions." According to the article, the organization supporting the implantation of her church, Association of Related Churches, also opposes the ordination of women.

I wasn't at all surprised to learn that "Numerous churches in Durham also do not doctrinally affirm LGBTQ+ rights, including the [United Methodist Church] denomination that is planting the church. Still, a conservative church in such a prominent location has caused waves."  The "waves" included "a pair of women [who] were seen pouring a thick perimeter of salt around the church storefront—a rite traditionally performed to cleanse a space of negative spiritual energy. The salt lingered for several days afterward."  Countering superstition with superstition is amusing, but I wonder what the reaction would be if some antigay Christians had performed an analogous rite outside an LGBTQ+-affirming church.  No, I don't wonder: I'm sure it would be a holy freakout.

As I've said before, I don't understand why liberals who oppose bigotry always seem to be taken by surprise when they encounter even its mildest manifestations, and are unable to imagine constructive countermeasures.  The article goes on to quote Krista Nordgren, a lesbian and a co-founder of The Mothership, an arts space in the neighborhood that was "shuttered" in 2020 during the COVID pandemic.

“I’m opposed to homophobia wherever it lives, but I’m especially concerned about the presence of Pioneers in this particular neighborhood because safe spaces are so rare and important to queer people,” Nordgren, who ran The Mothership space alongside Katie DeConto and Megan Bowser, said over the phone. “This neighborhood has traditionally been so welcoming. Because of the community-facing business aspect, I fear that people will unwittingly stumble into Pioneers, not knowing that it’s not a place where they’re celebrated or embraced.”...

“My expression of love is the most dignified part of my life, and you can’t understand my humanity, let alone respect it, if you feel like my love is undeserving or outside of your paradigm of godliness and health,” Nordgren says. “It’s a surprise that one year, there’s a place that is so affirming it can actively draw out this really tender part of me that was kept hidden and let me step into this really beautiful new life—and then a year later and like 10 feet away, there’s a place that is purposefully opposed to me living that life.”

I suppose I sympathize with Nordgren, but not too much.  We live in a pluralistic and diverse society, and once again I can't credit her (no doubt theatrical) "surprise" that there are still antigay churches in Durham and that one is moving into this neighborhood of Durham.  Whining is protected speech, and she's entitled to dislike antigay Christianity and to speak against it, but not to be surprised by it. There's a familiar authoritarianism lurking behind her words: there should not be any place in Durham where her loving is not respected.  The antigay churches would agree, only in reverse.  The same goes her for her fear that "people will unwittingly stumble into Pioneers, not knowing that it's not a place where they're celebrated or embraced."  It's the mirror image of antigay bigots throwing tantrums about seemingly "innocent" pastimes like face-painting at Pride celebrations, or Drag Queen Story Hour -- little children will think that being gay is innocent and normal and fun, and next thing you know they'll be recruited to the gay lifestyle!

As a much older gay man who came out in 1971, I've long been baffled by the way that some gay people vacillate between cowering in fear because they live in a homophobic society and being shocked! shocked! that there's still homophobia out there, even among people that they know.  The Culture of Therapy mindset, which is heavily authoritarian, responds by insisting that we must be protected by certified professionals, our hands held, wherever we go, because we couldn't possibly learn to defend ourselves.  It's quite hostile to the idea that gay people or any other minority might not need those professionals to shield them all our lives.  We must not learn how to deal with outsiders on our own.  All of this reminds me of the corresponding attitudes I've noted against reactionary evangelicals, whose faith is evidently so weak that any interaction with non-evangelicals (let alone gay ones) terrifies them, so they avoid it as much as possible.

A lot of people I've known, both gay and straight, have assumed that being openly gay is born of a wish to live in a hermetically sealed gay-only world.  No, that is the closet.  For me and for other openly gay people I've known, it means the exact opposite: I move among straights and gays as myself, without wearing the mask or living a double life.  It has allowed me, or should I say us, to confront and challenge antigay bigotry when we encounter it, instead of fussing at it from a distance.  I should add that I began doing this almost at once, when I was still isolated from any gay community.  Maybe Krista Nordgren isn't ready for that yet, hasn't been out long enough, and all the social changes that have happened in the past half-century have not made her feel less alone; so be it. 

What would I propose as a way of dealing with Pioneers?  It's apparently going to be a space for arts and crafts vendors as well as a coffeehouse and a church.  (I was surprised by Pioneers's pastor saying "I get really cringy about church spaces that are open for like an hour on Sunday for service and then take up massive real estate and sit empty."  I don't spend a lot of time in churches, but from what I've observed, most them make some effort to use their "real estate" during the rest of the week: for Bible study, fellowship groups, and services on other days than Sunday, among other things.  Lopez Jackson, for a Christian working towards the ministry, seems about as ignorant about practical religion as many atheists.)  One could visit, look at the vendors' wares, talk to people, all without spending any money there.  Some of the vendors might well be unaware of Lopez Jackson's theology, given everyone's assumptions about the neighborhood.  Certainly word of mouth and education should be used to inform stray passersby about the church's position.  All this could be done without getting self-righteous or confrontational, though of course there are circumstances where confrontation is appropriate.  But that should come after other less glamorous approaches are used.

Frankly, I don't see that Pioneers is likely to have a great future.  From the article it appears that the church will be "planted," and that Lopez Jackson and her already-ordained husband haven't bothered to do the hard work on the ground of building a congregation to use the space on Sundays.  Do they have any pastoral experience?  Lopez Jackson is good at evading hard questions; what will she do at the pulpit?  She seems lukewarm to me. They've done some market research, and see a niche. They've gotten monetary support from their relatives and a boost from the landlord, who's kept the space vacant for a long time for unknown reasons. This doesn't look to me like a recipe for success, either for a church or for a business.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Exchanging the Truth for a Lie

The October 2021 issue of the evangelical monthly Christianity Today contains an article on fundamentalists' struggle to come to terms with the homosexuals in their midst.  The author, one Greg Johnson, is gay, which makes the article seem a bit different from similar writings I've seen on the subject; but I think it only seems so.  As usual in such cases, the open-minded stance is really just a facade for the same old crap.

Johnson begins with a reminiscence from 1997:

"You know, Mike, I used to be gay," I said.  Mike stopped moving as the words fell clumsily from my mouth...

He'd asked me about my schooling, and we got to talking about faith.  Mike had explained to me how he felt he could never go to church because he was gay.

"I know they say that's not supposed to happen," I went on, after dropping the bombshell.  "But that's my story."  Mike stared at me with interest as he set the paint can down, gently balancing his brush on its edge.

Johnson doesn't tell us what happened next; I picture some hot gay-to-ex-gay action myself.  (It just occurred to me that it would be fun to rewrite my account of my conversation with a local bartender in the manner of Christian testimonies like Johnson's.  But as in other evangelical writings I've seen, the intention is to tout the missionary's supposed courage in speaking to an unbeliever.)

But here Johnson surprised me.

To be clear, my sexual attractions at the moment were drawn as exclusively to other men as ever.  I was still at the top of the Kinsey scale that researchers since the 1940s have used to classify sexual orientation.  What made me ex-gay was that I used the ex-gay script. I was trying to convince myself that I was a straight man with a disease -- a curable one -- called homosexuality.  A condition that was being healed.

My terminological maneuver was an integral component of conversion therapy.  Alan Medinger, the first executive director of Exodus International, described it as "a change in self-perception in which the individual no longer identifies him- or herself as homosexual."  It was all about identity.  The testimony made the man.  And, within my ex-gay framework, I wasn't lying; I was claiming my new reality.

I was ex-gay.

The emergence of Exodus International in 1976 had set evangelicals on a hopeful path toward curing homosexuality.  Founder Frank Worthen explained, "When we started Exodus, the premise was that God could change you from gay to straight."  What followed was a decades-long experiment on hundreds of thousands of human test subjects.  The movement collapsed after Exodus president Alan Chambers's 2012 statement that more than 99 percent of Exodus clients had not experienced a change in their sexual orientation.

These might seem bold statements to make in a conservative evangelical publication, but they still drip with bad faith.  Johnson denies it, but his tortuous rhetoric can't conceal the fact that he was lying.  He was still gay, even if he managed to abstain from overt sexual activity with other males; and that's doubtful.  The ex-gay movement was wracked by scandal from the beginning, with its "clients" relapsing, with each other or with movement leaders. Those relapses, naturally, were blamed on the subjects' lack of faith, never on God's failure to cure them.

It was always strange that an ostensibly religious movement should have relied so heavily on secular psychiatry.  Christians from Jesus onward have used medical metaphors for sin, but the ex-gay movement didn't bother with metaphors.  Sin took a back seat to sickness in the ex-gay imaginary, and movement leaders adopted discredited psychiatric theories about "confused" gender identity caused by overbearing mothers and absent fathers.  The ex-gay movement took off just as secular psychiatry officially stopped regarding homosexuality as a sickness, and there was probably a connection.  But even clearly physical illnesses, up to and including death, were subject to Jesus' healing power; if God had wanted to change sexual orientation, it shouldn't have been beyond him.  As gay Christians have liked to say, maybe he didn't want to - though that's not necessarily a sign of divine approval, as we'll see.

Even more intriguing to me is Johnson's adoption of relativist identity language: if you adopt an "ex-gay script," if you identify as straight while continuing to burn with lust for persons of your own sex, then that's reality.  Of course this was never the rationale of the movement at its beginnings; at most it has been promoted after it collapsed.  Conservative Christian theology always claims, however falsely, to be about reality, and that it's only unbelievers who live in a fantasy world of their own making.  I'll be interested to see if CT publishes any letters from readers on this theme.  At a time when reactionaries are furiously denouncing airy-fairy postmodernist denial of reality by unbelievers, it's funny to see that Billy Graham's flagship journal has let the devil into its pages.

But speaking of Graham, Johnson goes on to shake the dust of the ex-gay movement from his feet and try to raise "an older orthodoxy that included a paradigm of caring for believers who aren't straight."  (The homosexual-movement rhetoric of gay/straight is still in there, you can see.  And seriously, are we not all -- gay and straight alike -- twisted and broken by sin?)

What follows is a lot more interesting and informative to me.  Johnson tells how numerous 20th-century Christian celebrities taught that "a homosexual orientation was part of the believer's identity -- a fallen part, but one that the gospel doesn't erase so much as it humbles."  He discusses Henri Nouwen, John R. W. Stott, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Billy Graham, all of whom exemplify this supposed "paradigm of caring."  They regarded homosexual orientation as something inborn, not sinful (though still "broken") so long as it isn't acted on.

Two points about this: one, it confirms my claim that belief in inborn homosexuality is not the get-out-of-jail-free most LGBTQ+ Americans assume it to be.  It's perfectly compatible with the demand for total sexual abstinence that antigay Christians like to make of gay people, though not of straight ones.  Johnson laments what he and fellow gay Christian Eve Tushnet call "a vocation of No": "No sex. No dating. No relationships. Often, no leadership roles."  Spoiler: Johnson never specifies what his paradigm of caring offers as an alternative; he's carefully vague on the matter, though he refers to "celibacy" as part of his prescription.

Second, almost none of the comforting pastoral counsel Johnson reports was made in public during these celebrities' lifetimes.  It comes mostly from private letters and conversations that most of their audiences were unaware of at the time.  In public they took uncompromising positions against homosexual "sin" and the "born this way" claims of the gay movement.  That includes gay Christians, who seem not to have been aware of this concession any more than I was.  (I was aware that the Roman Catholic church regards homosexual orientation as inborn, and of course that concession has never stopped it from practicing antigay bigotry.)  I'd be more impressed by these posthumous revelations if Johnson's heroes had spoken out boldly and publicly while they were alive, instead of jumping on the culture-war bandwagons, to say nothing of endorsing the ex-gay movement.  Johnson shows them privately rejecting vulgar bigotry of the Jerry Falwell variety, but not taking a positive stance in public.

Most of the rest of the four-page article is hot air about caring for the homosexual with specifics left out, but towards the end Johnson quotes a 1978 book, Homosexuality and the Church, by the Christian historian Richard Lovelace,

There is another approach to  homosexuality which would be healthier both for the church and gay believers, and which could be a very significant witness to the world.  This approach requires a double repentance, a repentance both for the church and for its gay membership.  First, it would require professing Christians who are gay to have the courage both to avow [acknowledge] their orientation openly and to obey the Bible's clear injunction to turn away from the active homosexual life-style. ... Second, it would require the church to accept, honor, and nurture nonpracticing gay believers in its membership, and ordain these to positions of leadership for ministry.

(The interpolation of "acknowledge" and the ellipsis before the last quoted sentence are Johnson's.  "Avow" and "acknowledge" have different connotations, it seems to me, with "avow" being a lot firmer.  Or did he think CT's readers wouldn't know what "avow" means?  By the way, Lovelace published another book on this topic in 2003; I don't know if his position changed in a quarter century, but it's fair to doubt it.)

"Tragically," Johnson says, "I write this as a lament for a road not traveled on this side of the Atlantic."  I've seen other American evangelical writers take the same tack in the past several years, though they don't assert the innateness of homosexual orientation, and they're no more impressive than Lovelace or Johnson.  Except for leadership roles, Lovelace offered the same vocation of No -- "No sex. No dating. No relationships" -- that Johnson had seemed to declare unacceptable a couple of pages earlier.

Lovelace also played a little game that nowadays is known as "both-sidesing."  The church must accept, honor, and nurture celibate gays (I don't really see any "repentance" there), and gays must declare themselves openly while embracing a vocation of No (I presume this includes "repentance" for any sodomitical acts they've already committed). This is lopsided, to put it nicely.  It's as if white evangelicals were to "repent" showily for their historical support for slavery and Jim Crow, while demanding that black evangelicals repent for their resistance to and criticism of white Christian racism.  Or as if Christians repented for historical anti-Semitism, while demanding that Jews reciprocate by repenting for killing Christ.

Lovelace continued: 

The church's sponsorship of openly avowed but repentant homosexuals in leadership positions would be a profound witness to the world concerning the power of the Gospel to free the church from homophobia and the homosexual from guilt and bondage.

Except that, as Johnson has acknowledged, the Gospel has no such power.  Lovelace's church is still homophobic, and a vocation of No is not freedom from bondage.

It's not for me to tell Christians what to do, only to criticize their mealy-mouthed paradigm of caring.  I agree that the Bible forbids sexual acts between persons of the same sex, but I don't see that's an obstacle for the church, which cheerfully ignores a great deal of explicit biblical teaching on any number of matters, from slavery to divorce and remarriage.  American evangelicals' embrace of divorced and remarried politicians from Ronald Reagan through Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump shows that the Bible is only as authoritative as they want it to be, which isn't very. I wouldn't criticize the churches for imposing the same official sexual ethic of monogamous marriage on gay believers that they impose on heterosexuals, though gays who slip into adultery and fornication should be extended the same latitude and indulgence straying heterosexual Christians, including clergy, enjoy.

Demanding total sexual abstinence of gays, but not of straights, is not going to witness the saving power of the Gospel to the world -- very much the opposite.  Gay believers will go on doing what they've always done: abstaining and feeling guilty for their desires until they finally give in to temptation, which will set in motion a new cycle of guilt and repentance.  Or alternatively, screwing around as much as they like but neglecting to mention it in church. In other words, exactly what the ex-gay movement produced.

Straights at least have a licit outlet, but there's no such thing for gays in traditional Christianity.  It's not the only reason Christianity has a bad reputation, but it's certainly part of it.  And Johnson's article is merely one more dishonest example of Christians being asked for bread, but offering a stone.  Its only novelty, that it was written by a gay man, is witness to the doublethink that religious belief fosters in all its adherents.  As the philosopher Walter Kaufmann put it, there but for the lack of grace of God go I.

By the way, the CT website has two new articles about denominations splitting over LGBT issues, the Brethren and the Reformed Church in America.  As the RCA article points out, other denominations verge on similar splits.  A book review is also relevant.  And the Southern Baptist Convention -- remember them? -- has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into an investigation of sexual abuse by clergy of their flocks.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Twelve Percent Majority

This tweet:

... set off a predictable and depressing thread in comments.

You can harbor all sorts of doubts about opinion polls, and I do.  The way the questions are worded can skew results in predictable ways.  People will say they want something but reject it when they're faced with its implications; for example, people who support a government-run universal healthcare program may change their minds when they learn that they'd have to give up their private healthcare insurance.  People will tell pollsters what they think they should say.  And so on.

But the comments on this tweet took a different tack.  For example: "Yes, but once it’s framed perniciously as a 'socialist plot against America,' that support evaporates. We are not a nation divided so much on policy as we are polarized due to false perceptions created by the proliferation of political disinformation."  This is absurd: the person seems not to have bothered to read the poll results.  But when you're so much smarter than the Sheeple, when you alone have 'scaped the media brainwashing, who needs to read?

Yes, Medicare has been been demonized as socialism, like just about everything else that benefits most Americans, but despite decades of propaganda against it, most Americans like Medicare and want to keep it and expand it.  There is, of course, intense corporate pressure against these expansions, but they don't seem to rely on ranting about socialism, and it's a bit late for that anyway.  And to repeat: despite the corporate media campaign against it, 88% of those polled favor lowering Medicare prescription drug prices, 84% support expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing care; and so on.

This person agreed with the previous tweet: "absolutely. Facts don't matter, what those who you trust say, matter. It doesn't matter what they say since your trust is depending on what you are scared of.
Enough scare will overturn any kind of fact. So you lose."  It makes no sense either, because scare tactics have failed to dent people's approval of these policies.  As Molly Jong-Fast remarked, it's hard to get 88 percent of Americans to agree on anything, and you can't claim that they do so because of a media blitz pushing them to want paid family leave, universal pre-K for children, and the like, because the push has gone in exactly the opposite direction.  It appears that media brainwashing has failed to produce its intended results, except among a select group of liberals and leftists who know that people are stupid and don't want programs that would be good for them.  How they can believe this I don't know, except that they seem to believe the very media that they claim are brainwashing everybody else.

True, some responses went in another direction, such as "I’ll bet 88% would agree that raw cookie dough is delicious," which I presume is meant to imply that just because the Sheeple want something, it doesn't mean it's good for them, they're like children.  This poster claims to be ex-CIA, so of course it bothers him that the masses aren't responding to his firm but brutal guidance.  A reporter for Bloomberg chimed in: "Both raw cookie dough and icing are disgusting," and others agreed.  I don't know; it may not be good for you (it's what we're told), but a lot of people like raw cookie dough, and if icing were disgusting, why would it turn up on cakes and other goodies?

Another genius weighed in: "'Make murder legal' probably polls at 85% against 14% for 1% unsure."  Sure, making medicine more affordable is objectively morally equivalent to murder.  If only the rabble would listen to their betters!

And so on.  I've come up against this before, when I got into a fight on Facebook with my nephew's boyfriend over the same point.  If this poll were telling us something new, the incomprehension wouldn't be as surprising.  But it's just repeating what polls have shown us for decades, and outside the usual suspects (corporations and their bought elites) most people resist the propaganda we've been subjected to all that time.  It seems that the media brainwashing I hear so much about doesn't work, but it's kinda fascinating to see who does succumb to it: the portion of liberals and leftists who fondly believe they're immune. 

I'm reminded of Edward Herman's and Noam Chomsky's notion of manufactured consent, though they didn't invent the idea that a government that doesn't want to control the population by force must rely on subtle persuasion and manipulation: it goes back at least to the American founders.  At this point that manipulation seems less effective than ever before. While that is in many ways a good thing, it gives me forebodings about the future.  Deranged conspiracy theories about elite media lies aren't all on the Trumpian right, they're bipartisan, just like support for these supposedly socialist policies: Republicans like them too.  The trouble isn't so much that people are being lied to and they know it: it's that they know their government is unresponsive to their needs and wishes.  That knowledge makes them cynical and fatalistic, which will make them tolerant of movement towards authoritarianism and ultimately fascism.  

The genuinely populist, people-driven movements represented by Bernie Sanders are a hopeful sign, but they are fiercely resisted and attacked by the Democratic Party leadership as much as by the GOP.  The trouble is less ordinary Americans than it is rich ones and their hangers-on, yet many on the left prefer to blame the majority rather than the few.  I almost called the majority "left-of-center," but by definition the center is where most people are; the few who oppose, e.g., lowering Medicare prescription drug prices, are by definition extremists.  It's telling that the corporate media insist on calling Democrats like Kristen Sinema and Joe Manchin "moderates" instead.