God sometimes you just don’t come through

2 12 2013

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

So says Rod Dreher:

Turmarion says:

With each passing day, we come closer to Cardinal George’s prophecy being fulfilled. — RD

You mean that bishops will be imprisoned or executed? Do you really think that?

[NFR: Imprisoned, yes, I really believe that. -- RD]

Dreher has long expressed concern about life in a “post-Christian culture”—defined as one in which the organizing principles of his version of Christianity (traditional, orthodox) are no long the central organizing principles of society—but this is the first time I can recall him stating so explicitly his belief that Christians will be hunted by the government.

Makes sense, in its own nonsensical way: If one believes that Christians must remain in charge in order not to be persecuted, then when they are no longer in charge, they will of course be put to the cross. So to speak.

I have my doubts about whether we in the US do, in fact, live in a post-Christian culture, or whether Europeans, with many fewer believers, are post-Christian, either. To put it another way, we are post-Christian in the way we are post-modern: not at all.

That’s another argument for another time, however. I want instead to focus on the profound bad faith of Dreher’s statement. I don’t doubt that he does, truly, believe this, but the statement itself betrays a cynicism about government, society, and human beings which sets off even my bitter little heart.

To repeat: Christians must be in charge or be persecuted. Let us consider what is contained in such a Manichaean axiom:

  1. Christians must be in charge, always.
  2. Non-Christians cannot be trusted not to persecute Christians.
  3. The only persecution which matters is that of Christians.

Most excellent, that belief, that people who do not share you views have it in for you.

We, the heretics and infidels and apostates and agnostics and atheists and Morally Therapeutic Deists (a favorite Trojan horse of Dreher’s) must by the very fact that we are not Certifiable Christians want to imprison the faithful, and are only prevented from doing so by the (benevolent) power of Christianity.

Once that power fades, we, the heretofore-necessarily-second-classed, shall be unleashed to lay waste to the land.

The persecution complex runs strong in American mythos—Puritans, anyone?—as is what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics“; the belief that bishops will be soon be hauled off to jail is simply another brick in the great wall of reaction.

Still pisses me off, though, that I am to trust, but cannot be trusted.





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





Get back to where you once belonged

13 03 2013

One law to rule them all.

It ought come as no surprise that I give a Hard Look* to claims for religious exemptions to laws of general applicability: for all to be equal before the law, we must all be equally under the law.  To exempt someone from the obligations of law while simultaneously granting her the protection of  that same law is a form of favoritism which must be defended, not merely assumed.

Two points. One, this does not mean exemptions may never be granted. Exemptions are granted to religious institutions, for example, based on the freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment  (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”). There are political and juridical tussles over the interpretation of these two clauses, but in the main there is a general sense that it is right and proper that the government not tell people how to practice their religion in terms of their religious ceremonies and their relationship to their fellow congregants.

Thus, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and sundry other religious institutions are exempted from laws regarding discrimination in hiring and firing of clergy and, for the most part, on working conditions. I may roll my eyes at arguments regarding the necessity of all-male clergy, for example, but I nonetheless agree that allowing the exemption to religious institutions is of no great concern to those outside of those institutions.

This, of course, is the case only insofar as the obligations of the religion apply only to the adherents of that religion. The free-exercise clause applies not only to congregants, but also to non-congregants, that is, you may voluntarily choose to align your behavior with your favored religious strictures, but you cannot force me to align my behavior to your religious strictures.

Point two: Certain religious institutions in the US are fighting for exemptions based on non-reciprocal understandings of religious freedom. What is new(ish) is not the non-reciprocal understanding—it wasn’t until the 20th century that the courts began to extend the protections of the First Amendment to (numerically) marginal religions, a process which continues, bumpily, today—but the fact that these institutions do, in fact, have to fight.

They can no longer wave the cross or the crucifix over every last act and expect dissidents, challengers, and the state to stop transfixed before them. There cannot presume exemption; they must defend it.

Rod Dreher, among others, bemoans the loss of status-entitlement of what he calls orthodox Christianity, a loss he sees as an erosion of religious freedom. That most Americans favor the use of contraception and increasingly favor same-sex marriage and equality for queer folk means that they are less willing to grant authority to those orthodox religious leaders—which means that they are less willing to grant legal leeway to those same leaders.

In this sense, I agree with Dreher that these churches and traditions are losing, but while he sees a loss of freedom, I see a loss of entitlement. John Holbo notes, correctly, that those who argue that religion deserves its entitlement rely on a notion of “an extra epistemic concession”, that is, that an argument ought to be granted respect or extra points because: Religion. It is in no way clear why this should be so.

And that’s the nub: in the past it rarely had to be made clear why this should be so; it just was. But now, for any number of reasons, that extra epistemic concession is no longer granted, with the result that the authority of those relying upon that concession has been degraded. “Because (God) says so” is no longer enough.

This hardly stops folks from trying to protect their entitlement. Since Americans do tend to respond to appeals to individual rights, the ground has shifted from authority to freedom. That a private business run by religious people might  be required to provide benefits (read: contraception) to their employees which they, the employers, find religiously offensive, is seen as an infringement upon their (the employers’) freedom.

Call it the Taco Bell defense.

Some nations do, in fact, have different laws for different religions. In India, for example, Muslim men may take multiple wives, but Hindu men may not. Martha Nussbaum offered a limited defense of such variation in Women and Human Development, but even this was more a practical concession to the historical and political realities of India than a ringing defense of the idea of This law for thee and That law for thou.

In the US, however, we had the opposite: throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, there was a default Protestantism, and it was only through decades of court fights that recourse to that default was diminished. The Catholic Church, often victimized by this default, was nonetheless able to take advantage of the authority offered to Christianity in general in order to assume its share of privileges in spaces beyond the church steps. Unsurprisingly, they seek to maintain that authority-based privilege.

Dreher, in recognizing the loss of authority, has argued that orthodox Christians make their stand on the ground of religious freedom instead, but absent the status granted by that extra epistemic concession, it is difficult to see why one individual ought to prevail over another in competing claims of the exercise of that freedom.

As so many have already pointed, why should the religious beliefs of the employers ought to matter more than that of the employee, the doctor over the patient, the pharmacist over the customer, or the taxi driver over the passenger?

Those who seek to protect themselves from offense have every right to do so: they get to make the argument in the political and cultural realms and in the courts.

They just don’t get to presume a win.

*h/t Robyn Anderson, who uses this term to great effect on Love & Hisses





19 05 2011

JUDGMENT DAY

THE END OF THE WORLD IS ALMOST HERE!
HOLY GOD WILL BRING JUDGMENT DAY ON
MAY 21, 2011

      Thus Holy God is showing us by the words of 2 Peter 3:8 that He wants us to know that exactly 7,000 years after He destroyed the world with water in Noah’s day, He plans to destroy the entire world forever. Because the year 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. when the flood began, the Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment.

      Amazingly, May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day. Remember, the flood waters also began on the 17th day of the 2nd month, in the year 4990 B.C.

~~~~~~~

Huh. Guess I can stop worrying about my student loan debt.

(h/t: Jaweed Kaleem, HuffPo)





The expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the beginning of life as I know it

19 09 2010

I’m a little fuzzy on the whole sin thing.

Yes, something about disobeying God, with apples, snakes, naked people, banishment, knowledge. . . really, if I were religious, I’d surely find this all fascinating, but as I’m not, well, it just seems curious to me.

But one thing I do like about the insistence on the sinfulness of humans is that those propounding on this corruption tend to see it as all-inclusive: Everyone is a sinner, everyone needs grace.

Handy to remember that.

I’d circled this issue in the last two posts, in terms of Christians and TeePers behaving badly, but one of the things I was too angry (!) to deal with in the Wars-of-Religion post and too politically-minded to deal with in confronting Howard Beale is my basic belief that almost all of us carry almost all of the possible characteristics any human being can demonstrate. The proportions may vary, sure, but outside of the exceptional few, I think we’re all capable of the same basic range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

This doesn’t make us all the same: there are clearly differences in the mix, as well as what each of us brings to that mix in terms of conscious effort and habituation.

Oh, crap, I’m getting too windy.

Lemme put it this way: I didn’t post the extensive quote about rampaging Christians (in response to Peretz’s claim that ‘Muslim life is cheap, especially to Muslims’) as a way of saying See! It’s not just Muslims! Christians are bad, too! Boos, all around! No, the point—which I didn’t explicitly make—is that people behaving violently in the name of religion is unsurprising, given that people are capable of behaving violently.

Yes, there are belief systems which explicitly forbid violence, but the existence of pacifist belief systems proves the point: If the adherents weren’t themselves capable of violence and aggression, there’d be little need for a system to discipline them.

Again, another capacity of humans: to restrain ourselves from doing all that we can possibly do.

But why restrain or indulge? What leads Christians in one period to slaughter one another and non-Christians and in another to tolerate and even respect them? What leads Muslims to laud or condemn conquest? What makes rightists or leftists righteously angry and what will they do with that righteousness and anger?

Ask the question instead of assuming the answer.

It’s too easy to say Christians are peaceful and Muslims aggressive (or vice versa), or rightists are patriotic and leftists traitors (or vice versa), especially when the historical evidence indicates otherwise. Nor is it enough to say that x-behavior isn’t representative of true belief, especially when—again—evidence indicates that x-behavior in another time or place was treated as the sine qua non of true belief.

Do you feel the breeze? Sorry, getting windy again.

I just don’t think we humans are better or worse than we were before, nor that we can even define better or worse outside of a particular historical context. Best simply to try to understand what we  mean by these terms, and to recognize what we are capable of.

For better and for worse.

***

Addendum: Perhaps this also the case for other creatures, and how we act towards and respond to them.





Are we not men?

13 09 2010

This is cheap, I know, but Martin Peretz doesn’t deserve the cost of real thought:

On a spring day in May 1631, Count von Tilly celebrated a mass to thank God for his conquest of Magdeburg, the chief city of the Protestant Reformation, boasting that no such victory had occurred since the destruction of Jerusalem. He was only slightly exaggerating—the cathedral in which the mass was held was one of three buildings that had not been burned to the ground. His Catholic League troops had besieged the city since November, living in muddy trenches through the winter snows, enduring the daily jeers and abuse of the Protestant inhabitants of the city. Once they stormed through the gates their zeal, rapacity, and greed knew no bounds. The slaughter was unstoppable. Fires were set throughout the city, children were thrown into the flames, and women were raped before being butchered. Fifty-three women were beheaded in a church where they sought refuge. No one was spared—twenty-five thousand Protestants were massacred or incinerated, and of the five thousand survivors some few were noblemen held for ransom, but all the rest were women who had been carried off to the imperial camp to be raped and sold from soldier to soldier. News of this atrocity quickly spread throughout Europe, hardening the sectarian lines of a conflict that had begun thirteen years before and that would rage on for another seventeen

. . . The slaughter at Magdeburg, for all its horror, was not the first nor the last such event. During the Peasants’ Rebellion in the 1520s, over one hundred thousand German peasants and impoverished townspeople were slaughtered, many of them when they rushed headlong into battle against heavily armed troops, convinced by their leader Thomas Müntzer that true believers were immune to musket balls. In 1572, seventy thousand French Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The Franciscan monks who had preached that killing heretics was the surest way to salvation were pleased, but apparently not as pleased as Pope Gregory XIII, who was so delighted to receive the head of the slain Huguenot leader Coligny in a box that he had a special medal struck commemorating the event. And finally, lest anyone imagine that the barbarity was one-sided, Cromwell’s model army sacked the Irish town of Drogheda in 1649, killing virtually everyone. They burned alive all those who had taken refuge in the St. Mary’s Cathedral, butchered the women hiding in the vaults beneath it, used Irish children as human shields, hunted down and killed every priest, and sold the thirty surviving defenders into slavery. Cromwell, without the least sense of irony, thanked God for giving him the opportunity to destroy such barbarous heretics.

Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity, pp. 129-130.





Everything! Everything! Everything!

25 05 2010

Blows my mind how little I know. That is most excellent.

I’m not kidding: However much I wish I knew, mm, everything, that there is so much more out there to discover keeps me keepin’ on.

Consider my medieval Euro-history project: I recently finished Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind (which is about the transition from the pagan to the Christian era), and man! what a jumble early Christian history is!

I did know that it took awhile for Christianity to gel as an institutional movement, but thought that after the Council of Nicaea in 325 everything was all sewn up until the Great Schism of 1054, and even then, it wasn’t until Luther and Calvin that the [western] Christian fabric was truly rent.

Only I didn’t know what the Council of Nicaea actually accomplished (something to do with the Trinity, maybe? And that Nicene Creed, right?), didn’t know that very little was settled at Nicaea, that the splits between the Eastern and Western churches were evident within a century of Christ’s death, and never knew, frankly, how the Copts fit into all this.

Well.

I still don’t know, frankly, but slowly, slowly, this is all seeping in.

This is how I learn something new.

My approach  is to read promiscuously, trusting that with enough exposure I’ll be able to piece together a particular phenomenon. And I don’t need to dive into deep scholarship at the outset either; solid popular books (like Freeman’s) give me the chance to train my sights, as well as offer a decent bib I can crib. I do prefer that what I read be, you know, good, but even the junk can sometimes be useful, if only as a kind of astringent for my thoughts.

Anyway, that’s how this political theorist began her work with genetics: Snatching every book with the word ‘gene’ in the title and gulping them down, then more slowly working my way toward what, for my purposes, were the most important (or delectable, to continue the metaphor) platters on the table.

I’m still in the gorge phase of my research, slurping up commentary on how orthodoxy was invented and how intertwined it all was with empire; how faith, political power, and obedience to god and man never quite fit together; how misogyny was built into early belief; how anti-Judaism became anti-semitism; and how time itself was changed.

And that’s just the beginning.

A colleague asked where I was going with all of this. I don’t know, I told him. I know there’s something there, but I don’t yet know what it is.

Now that, my friends, is one of the best feelings in the world.





Waiting for Armageddon

19 05 2010

I do loves me some apocalypse—fictionally.

But actual death and destruction does not make my heart go pitter-pat, unless by ‘pitter-pat’ one means racing-with-anxiety-and-despair-not-joy.

Yeah, I have my moments of ‘fuck ‘em all’ and ‘people suck’, but I have no real sense that all humans should perish, or that by large numbers of us perishing the survivors will be redeemed. I don’t think we can be made clean or whole or without all the crap that led us to the apocalypse in the first place. Maybe the survivors would  chomp on one another, a la Cormac McCarthy, or maybe they’d*separate themselves into chosen communities and live-and-let-live; either way, it’s not at all clear to me how this is in any way ‘better’.

(‘*They’, not ‘we': I have a chronic disease which requires daily treatment; absent that treatment, I die. It’s possible that I could manage to stockpile the thousands of pills necessary to keep me going for years, but I doubt it. The apocalypse will have to go on without me.)

C. and I had a conversation about this the other night, and while I’ll desist saying much about her position beyond noting that she’s more optimistic about post-apoc possibilities than I, I will admit that I was a bit startled by her, mm, cheer.

I am not cheerful about humans, pre- or post-apocalypse. We’re greedy and self-centered and violent and far too willing to use one another for our ends. Sure, we have our good qualities—I happen to like that we figured out how to make wine, chocolate, and a comfy pair of slippers—but we’re not all that.

We are, however, all that we have.

Now, the godly among us might disagree, but except for the  world-hating of the god-believers, most of  the faithful admit there can be joy in the world.

In any case, this is our world: beat-up and weird and so, so complicated and ours. This world is ours, and we are who we are in this world. If this world ends, so do we.

And I think that would be a damned shame—again, not because we’re so great, but because we’re not, because we don’t have to be, because we can be beat-up and weird and so, so complicated. I’m pissed that we’re fucking our world over because in so doing we’re making it increasingly difficult to find out just how we can be human in the world. The possibilities we’re foreclosing. . . .

There are some among us, of course, who do revel in the foreclosure. Some may be secular (extremist environmentalists, for example), but it’s that minority of the godly who look forward to the end-times who grab the bulk of the attention.

Which brings us, belatedly, to Waiting for Armageddon. This short documentary, now streaming on Netflix, follows a group of dispensationalists who are straining at the confines of the world and looking forward to its end—an end which begins in Jerusalem.

It’s basic Bible-prophecy stuff: The in-gathering of the Jews in Israel is foretold in scripture, as is the rebuilding of the Temple, one-world government headed by the anti-Christ (and, for some pre-tribulationists, the early return of Christ), the rapture of the faithful, the tribulation (think ‘great wailing and gnashing of teeth’, ‘four horsemen’, etc.), and the millennial reign of Christ on earth. One hundred forty-four thousand Jews will convert and be saved, while the rest will perish, (along with almost everyone else), all as a prelude to the great cleansing and the springing forth of heaven on earth.

Great, huh? One guy said it was going to be a lot of ‘fun’. Well, y’know, he said, maybe not fun-fun, seeing as how so many will suffer and die horrible, horrible, deaths, but fun in that I was-right-and-I-get-to-watch kind of way.

Whoo-hoo! Totally not at all like the crowds cheering the lions ripping apart the Christians in the Coliseum.

Some of the folks at least managed to be chagrined at the thought of so much death, and most preferred not to dwell on how exactly the Al-Aqsa mosque and al-Haram ash-Sharif complex will be removed without utterly destroying the site of the putative third Temple—but hey, God will take care of all that.

What matters most of all of that these people are right, and if it takes the destruction of the world to prove them in their right[eous]ness, so be it.

Of course, they’d say it’s not about them, it’s about God, that they’re just following the Word. But they’re so God-damned happy about all of this, so God-damned sure that this is The Way, that it’s difficult not to conclude that this is less about God and more about them.

They don’t like the world, and they want to see it end.

Not coincidentally, those who are younger are less avid for The End. They want to marry and have kids and then maybe the end could come, as one young woman said, ‘When I’m 85,’ i.e., when she would end anyway. She doesn’t despise the world quite enough for it to end before she’s had a chance to enjoy it.

These dispensationalists are a minority even among evangelicals, who are themselves not representative of all of Christianity. The film was too short fully to engage cross-Christian talk on The End, nor even those who believe that we are in End Times and are pained by the prospect of the extermination of billions of people.

Instead, we are left with the smiling faces of those who want to see us all end.





No comment

10 04 2010

From Brian Fisher at the American Family Association’s Focal Point blog:

First, the most compassionate thing we can do for Americans is to bring a halt to the immigration of Muslims into the U.S. This will protect our national security and preserve our national identity, culture, ideals and values. Muslims, by custom and religion, are simply unwilling to integrate into cultures with Western values and it is folly to pretend otherwise. In fact, they remain dedicated to subjecting all of America to sharia law and are working ceaselessly until that day of Islamic imposition comes.

The most compassionate thing we can do for Muslims who have already immigrated here is to help repatriate them back to Muslim countries, where they can live in a culture which shares their values, a place where they can once again be at home, surrounded by people who cherish their deeply held ideals. Why force them to chafe against the freedom, liberty and civil rights we cherish in the West?

In other words, simple Judeo-Christian compassion dictates a restriction and repatriation policy with regard to Muslim immigration into the U.S.

I may need something stronger than ‘No comment’. . . .

h/t: ChristianityToday





Friday poem: Second Space

25 12 2009

I don’t want to cast aspersions, but:

Viruses are evil.

Do I exaggerate? Is it possible that not all viruses, are, in fact, evil? Do I moralize on a subject which has little to do with morality? Could I be taking this cold just a mite too personally?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes again.

Thus the cause (proximate and otherwise) for the lacunae in posting, tho’ there is always, head befogged by cold or not, more to be said.

Saved, then, by the Friday poem: sayings on another’s words.

Today is Christmas, and while I doubt that Jesus was born 2009 years ago on this date—I’m among those who think the early Church bogarted the pagan celebration of solstice for its own purposes—I’m not much bothered by the bad timekeeping.

After all, I’m neither pagan nor Christian, and tend to think of time as a useful construct rather than a moral force: that we may be wrong about times and dates  may cause chagrin scientifically, historically, but philosophically? A mere oops will suffice.

In any case, if Jesus of Nazareth was born, he had to have been born some time, so why not late December or early January (for all you Orthodox readers)?  Jesus-the-Capricorn: why not?

This is all a long prelude to a poem by a poet who is rather more unsettled by God than I am. Blake? Auden? Ah: Czeslaw Milosz.

Milosz, the Polish poet tormented by Polish history, by all the blood and ashes so recently spilled in his land. He struggled with God, with his fellow Poles, with his fellow humans, with himself, breaking beauty against the hard and tumbling facts of existence.

In his early poems Milosz is easier with God, with his nearness and apart-ness; then again, in his early poems Auschwitz had not yet been called forth by the Germans,  was still Oœwiêcim, a small town southwest of Krakow.

This is one of his later poems, overtly yearning for God, in mourning for his absence. If he had been a sign or symbol early on, by the end of the century God was, for Milosz, a bruising reality—one  necessary for mortal life.

So I the unbeliever in search of something more give this space to a believer in the something more. Peace, in all things.

Second Space

How spacious the heavenly halls are!
Approach them on aerial stairs.
Above white clouds, there are the hanging gardens of paradise.

A soul tears itself from the body and soars.
It remembers there is an up.
And there is a down.

Have we really lost faith in that other space?
Have they vanished forever, both Heaven and Hell?

Without unearthly meadows how to meet salvation?
And where will the damned find suitable quarters?

Let us weep, lament the enormity of the loss.
Let us smear our faces with coal, loosen our hair.

Let us implore that it be returned to us,
That second space.








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