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.