Better stop sobbing now

11 02 2015

I have no sympathy for Christians who whine that President was unfair to Christianity at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Not just because I am not a Christian, nor because I disagree more generally with these folks’ politics.

No, the reason for my “get over it” response is their unwillingness to grapple with the violence woven into the history of the belief they hold dear. It’s as if they can only hold to Christianity if Christianity without [recent] flaws.

Oh, wait, that’s pretty much exactly what they mean, even if they didn’t mean to mean it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a couple of posts on the response to Obama’s remarks, as does Jamelle Bouie, and they do a fine job of tag-teaming the No-True-Christian phalanx: here is this example and this example and this example and, oh look, another example of how Christianity was used to justify violence and oppression.

Reference to the historical record is crucial (even if the tres or quinque solas types want to claim history’s got nothin’ on them) if want wants to make or rebut historical claims—that’s kinda the whole point of historical claim-making.

But I want to focus here on the bad faith of those who seek to wash Christianity of its sins: they cannot abide criticism of their faith, not because God will punish them if they don’t savage the critics—I’d think such a position bonkers at best and murderous (see: killers acting to uphold the honor of the Prophet Mohammaed) at worst, but it has its own kind of insane integrity—but because it is “offensive” to and displays “contempt” for Christians.

And, yes, I get why these folks don’t like having the unsavory bits of Christianity against the unsavory bits of Islam—We’re good and they’re bad so how dare you!—but honest to pete, is their faith so thin that it is bruised by mere mention of imperfection?

I’m a pinko, and there has been all sorts of nasty shit—war, oppression, mass murder—done in the name of pinkoism. I can say Oh, but I’m not a Bolshevik/Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist, that’s got nothing to do with me, and nothing to do with Real Socialism, but that would properly be understood as a bullshit response.

I am an adherent to a tradition which has all too often failed miserably, murderously, to uphold its promises of liberation and the creation of a truly human society, and it would not be in any way unreasonable for you say, Uhhh, so why do you hold to ideas which have been used to justify those miserable, murderous failures?

And whether or not your motives were bad in asking this, I’d still respond, with both acknowledgement of the flaws in various incarnations of the socialist politics and a defense of the socialism itself—because I am fucking serious about my belief in socialism. As long as I think it possible to avoid or overcome the problems of previous socialist regimes, I will continue to think socialism is a program worth pursuing.

In other words, even though socialism has been flawed six ways to Sunday, I still think there’s something there worth hanging on to. I take socialism as it is, and as it has been, and what I think it could be. It ain’t perfect, but it’s all right.

Now, I understand that it’s easier to hold to imperfection in political than in religious programs, and my general sense that, well, to quote Leonard Cohen, there is a crack in everything, means that I can still see that’s how the light gets in. I don’t require perfection because I don’t think it’s necessary (which is also handy, given that I don’t think it’s possible).

Still, even you do believe that Christ were perfect, and that Christianity is the only path to salvation, it’s not clear why you can’t accept the bountiful historical evidence that that belief in something perfect has nonetheless been used to justify war, oppression, and mass murder. It’s a hard acceptance, sure, but if you want to argue on behalf of the Christian movement within history, then you have to engage that history, not wave it away or scourge those who dare to refer to it.

Again, radical sola types may not bother with history one way or another—all that matters is God, and we can’t really expect much of humans, etc.—but those who are incensed at the mere suggestion that Christian history might fairly be compared to Islam’s history clearly do believe that this history—the actions of Christians in the world—matters.

So to those who think history matters but are unwilling to look closely at it, I can only ask, Why not?

Because if you cannot accept the imperfections of Christianity in this world and still have faith in it, then I question whether you can have any faith at all.





Let it go and so to fade away

24 03 2014

I’ve been circling around and around this post by TNC; still not thinking in straight lines.

Scattered bits: the bad faith of American triumphalism, of progressivism (as Whig history); the shock of my students when I speak plainly about white supremacy; how it is harder for me to speak plainly of male supremacy (/patriarchy?); how white supremacy doesn’t just hurt black people; how male supremacy doesn’t just hurt female people.

And then the posts on waning Christendom in the US, on the erosion of religious structures, what it all means. More circling.

But this: to look to God is to look away, that religious belief seems to me a form of alienation, a scrim between oneself and the world.

Of course, to the believer, it is I who am alienated.

How any of this relates to kenosis, I don’t know.

And through a side door: we carry our troubles with us. If I have a morality, it is that we should carry our troubles with us. We have to learn how to carry them, so they trouble us less, and when memory is enough.

This is one way to find out who we are.

The troubles are ours; they can’t be given up to God without giving up ourselves.

But then, that might be the point. To some.

I’ll try to think better, to gather these flyaway threads.





Free free, set them free

3 03 2014

I’ve banged on and on and on on the necessity of one law for all. Not this time.

In the interest of not repeating myself on purpose (I do enough of it by accident), I’m not going to outline yet again why broad religious exemptions from laws of general applicability are a bad idea, and simply jump to the conclusion: Religious institutions and their affiliates which hire and treat/educate/work with solely their fellow co-religionists? Fine: clear First Amendment exemption. Places of general accommodation? Nuh-uh.

Anyway, these proposed laws based on “sincerely-held religious beliefs” seem like a very bad idea for a very basic reason: who the hell is to determine what is a “sincerely held religious belief” and how is it to be determined?

Courts generally don’t want to have to deal with this, not least because they don’t want to be in the position of having a government body determining what is a religion, much less sincerely held beliefs about them. Yes, there are cases in which this occurs—conscientious objectors from the draft, IRS tax-exempt status, rights of prisoners—but beyond that, not so much.

More to the point, if I sue you for denial of service and you claim a s.h.r.b. defense, then my attorney is going to question you about your beliefs, how consistent you are in their application, your level of knowledge about your religion, and on an on. State legislators might think they’re handing you a get-out-of-court-free card, but if you get that card due solely to the sincerity of your belief, well then, that gives me incentive to challenge both the sincerity and the belief.

If you are in any way inconsistent—which is to say, human—it’s just possible that a jury of your peers will find that you don’t, in fact, believe what you say you believe. And even if you win, you and your beliefs will in the process have come under sustained official scrutiny.

It’s tough to see how that in any way advances the cause of religious liberty.





I want a pistol in my hand

23 04 2013

All day long a post fermenting, only to end up boiling away to nothing.

Is Islam uniquely violent? That Christ died on the cross and Muhammed took up the sword—does that matter in some fundamental way?*

It does, I suppose, if you want it to. If not, then not.

This isn’t a slam against Christianity or Islam or belief (in anything. . . ); it is an observation of the condition of belief.

We construct our beliefs, believe because we want to believe, have to believe, believe how we want to believe. Or not.

We deprecate this and emphasize that, as is our preference, driven by yet other preferences.

I don’t mean to be a lazy relativist, even as this reads as lazy relativism. That is not my preference. No, it is just that beliefs arise from narratives, and the more complicated the narrative, the more beliefs can arise, and the more complicated the beliefs about the beliefs, the greater the likelihood that the beliefs and the beliefs about the beliefs can and will justify anything.

Hitchens said “religion poisons everything.”

Perhaps. But it is not the only source of poison. It is not the primary source. For if, as Hitchens believed, there is no God, and religion a construct of humans, then would it not be more accurate to say that the source of the source is the problem?

I’m tired and my thoughts are fading, and I do not wish to excuse ideologies and religions that celebrate or even excuse violence, but it seems rather too convenient for those who profess belief in Narrative C (of which some streams has in the past celebrated or excused violence) to claim that Narrative I (of which some streams currently celebrates or excuses violence) is inherently violent, while the former, only contingently or mistakenly so.

Shorter version: double-reverse No True Scotsman!

Be glad that my brain is flat, or else I’d ramble on trying to puzzle out if this means we are all Scotsmen or if there are no Scotsmen or how does one come to construct a Scotsman. . . .

*By way of Sullivan and Dreher





And it’s gone, gone, gone

23 02 2013

Stick a fork in it already.

Bones done gone jumped the shark.

Two cliched metaphors: too much? No, not really; quite apt, actually.

Dr. Temperance Brennan has held to her atheism throughout the entire run of Bones, even as the show’s creators have given space for Booth’s religious beliefs and various other supernatural phenomenon (i.e., the episodes with Cindy Lauper’s character Avalon).

I don’t particularly mind those flights into fancy, if only because they represent the beliefs of the flight-y characters. These representations can be done well (the first Avalon appearance) or not so well (the second Avalon appearance), and they can, as with Booth’s dead comrade’s appearance at the end of a Gravedigger episode, come off as both playful and poignant.

But the key has been that the show allows for both belief and unbelief. Even if Brennan is characterized as arrogantly rational, they’ve allowed her to score real points against supernaturalism, and to have some fun doing so. (See, for example, the episode “The He in the She” in which she comments on the fashion choices of the Pope.) The viewers are offered a menu without being prodded into picking a particular item.

That, along with everything else, has been slowly disintegrating in the past two seasons (again, season 6 isn’t worth mentioning), but last night [actually, last week’s episode, the latest one free on Hulu] it all fell apart.

First, there was the cliched Brennan-gets-shot-almost-dies bit. Yes, the show has put its characters in mortal danger before, but usually in service to some larger storyline. Last night, the reason why Brennan got shot was a sideline: the whole point was for Brennan to die so that—wait for it—she could experience an afterlife. With her dead mother.

Awww, shit, really?

At first, Brennan dismisses the experience as a neurochemical response to trauma, but by the end the game is given away: Brennan’s mother tells her something  no one else would know, a telling confirmed upon Brennan’s waking.

Superficially, this is akin to the dead soldier’s appearance at the end of that Gravedigger episode, but as the soldier was a manifestation of Booth’s consciousness—and that Brennan didn’t know who he was—it worked. Belief and unbelief bumped into one another, and both went on their way.

This time, however, we were pointed on the way, and whether or not Brennan tries to make sense of this latest experience—which, if handled intelligently (and which, given the writing of late, I doubt will be), could be intriguing as a character study, that tension between the natural and the supernatural went slack.

I’m one of those people who aren’t bothered by spoilers, and who like to re-watch old shows. I don’t know why I enjoy watching things I’ve seen before—there’s a kind of comfort in it, I guess—but having seen something three times in no way interferes with my desire, after some lapse of time, to see it a fourth.

Thus, I watch and re-watch old episodes of Bones. In fact, last night, after having watched the latest free episode on Hulu, I went back and watched a couple of old shows on Netflix. There were from the third season.

I don’t know that I’ve re-watched any episodes from season 7, and when season 8 hit Netflix, I might pass those by, as well. It’s not that the show is terrible, it’s just that it’s not what it was. It’s gone flat.

And last night? It pancaked after flipping over that shark.





Try to see it your way

1 12 2011

I am not, as you know, a particularly religious person.

An agnostic, I believe I have called myself on severaleventy occasions. A-gnostic, as in, I lack knowledge [about matters of God]; skeptic regarding claims of god/s would also work, as would unbeliever when it comes to the supernatural (such that if there is any kind of being who might be called a god, that being would exist within and not outside of nature, insofar as I don’t believe that anything exists outside of nature).

Hm, perhaps I should have included more brackets and/or parentheses.

Anyway, despite by a-skepti-gnosti-naturalism, I remain interested in many things religion, and for all kinds of reasons (none of which—look! more parentheses!—I’ll discuss here).

Which brings me to this little jewel of a thought, quoted by Kurt Frederickson, and re-quoted by Fred Clark:

Swedish Lutheran theologian Krister Stendhal offers us three guidelines for broader religious understanding. He says: (1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its critics. (2) Don’t compare the best of your faith to the worst of another’s. (3) Leave room for “holy envy.” Recognize elements in the other religious tradition that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own. These suggestions change the conversation. It enhances the dialogue and our lives.

A fine set of guidelines, easily adaptable for any kind of conversation in which anyone seeks to understand anything.

Now, if I didn’t have a cold and my brain wasn’t fooked by microbes, I’d use this as a take-off for a discussion of John Caputo, Gianni Vattimo, radical hermeneutics, weak theology, and just what the hell is meant by the “hard” versus the “soft” sciences and why that distinction is fucked up and bullshit, but, like I said, my own brain is fucked up and bullshit, so there you go.

Anyway, understanding. Yeah.





Question of the day: hate and love

25 09 2010

Consider the relatively ubiquitous phrase, oft deployed by religious folk to describe their approach to queer folk and their sexuality:

‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’

Yeah, it grits in my teeth, and not just for those who deploy it who clearly don’t mean it, but even for those who are sincere, it misses the point.

Consider: ‘Hate the belief, love the believer.’

Again, a variation of this is offered with regard to Christian outreach to/evangelization of Muslims and other heretics, apostates, and unbelievers. Again, too glib.

How would those who (sincerely) use this sentiment react if such a sentiment were deployed against expressed to them?

Seriously, I’m askin’.








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