October 29, 2012

Sarah Sentilles schools Richard Mourdock

Sarah Sentilles speaks to something that has driven me batty over the past few years--the definitions of who God is and who he (always "he") is not.  I still remember church members assuring me that God was so much bigger than all of us that we could not comprehend him, but then diving into a discussion of things that God either hated or loved.  As I have pointed out to a few conservatives, that reading turns God into "everything and nothing" all at the same time.  He is simply a reflection of that individual's own fears, biases, beliefs, and not some external or objective being.

Sentilles uses the bizarro world of Richard Mourdock's views on pregnancy via rape to explore those disconnects (Rape and Richard Mourdock’s Semi-Omnipotent God | Sexuality/Gender | Religion Dispatches).  One of my FB friends read some of my early "what the fuck?" posts on Mourdock and accused me of misreading and misquoting the Senatorial candidate.  He wasn't saying God caused the rape, she said, but rather that God creates all life and that fetus should not be punished for the sins of the father (though the woman clearly should).
In Mourdock’s attempts to clear up his statement by arguing that it’s the pregnancy that results from the rape and not the rape itself that is a “gift from God” he’s making even less sense than he did the first time. If it’s only the pregnancy that’s the gift, then, as Amy Davidson points out in the New Yorker, Mourdock’s God is “an absent-minded God,” who must be looking in the other direction when the rape is occurring before “rush[ing] in to make the best of it.” Mourdock can’t eat his cake and have it, too. If the pregnancy is a gift from God and God is in control of everything, then the rape is also God’s work—for that’s how the woman got pregnant. 
Mourdock’s rape-and-pregnancy theology is clearly absurd, but the trickier part is that many who critiqued Mourdock’s statements also employed a variant of this logic when they insisted (as Mourdock later did) God is against rape.
 The whole thing is well worth reading.  My favorite, I think, was this near the end of the piece.
Mourdock’s appeal to God’s intention is used to shield him and his policies from critique. Hey, it’s not my fault I won’t let a rape victim get an abortion, I imagine him saying, choking back the tears. It’s God’s will! But whose God is Mourdock talking about? And why? And who benefits from his version of God? And who loses? I certainly haven’t heard Mourdock championing anti-poverty programs much, and God certainly says a lot more about poverty in the Bible than about abortion.
Ultimately, Mourdock’s statements reveal less about his beliefs than about his views of women. Would Mourdock call erectile dysfunction part of God’s plan? If a man can’t get it up is that God’s way of telling him not to reproduce? Not to have sex? And if it is, shouldn’t we make Viagra illegal?
Perhaps Mourdock would argue that God enabled the invention of Viagra. But then couldn’t you also argue that God helped invent abortions? That their existence is proof of God’s favor? Just how, exactly, are we to determine which medical interventions God intends and which ones God doesn’t?

October 27, 2012

A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote to deny care to the sick

As usual, Slacktivist says it better than I could.
If you plan to vote for Mitt Romney, you should look at their faces and learn their names. Maybe you can recite them to yourself as a reminder of how “pro-life” you are.
When you cast your vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and for their promise to repeal the law that eases the pain or saves the lives of all these people, at least have the decency to own up to it.
I have said something similar, but not quite as clearly.  

October 19, 2012

Why Torture Still Matters

Steve questioned the importance of torture in this election in our last thread.  I agree.  It is not on the radar screen, even though the Republicans have pledged to reverse Obama's ban on certain tortures.  And as several polls have shown, Bush's torture regime has succeeded in making torture more acceptable to American society.

But for me, torture is more than a policy debate.  It revealed the lack of core belief or morality in the conservative church--the very same church in which I was raised.

It is the "canary in the mineshaft," because unlike abortion, or wealth or slavery, or whatever other issue, torture has not been historically debated among Christians. Perhaps because Christians were often the target of torture in the ancient world, but there is no established Christian orthodoxy (that I know of) that finds torture acceptable. And I would suggest, that if we move back in time just a few decades, the people who shrug or defend torture now would not if the enemies looked different. As I have noted before, Ronald Reagan signed us into a treaty banning torture and no one denounced him when he did so. That was assumed to be basic American values. 

But Christianity has changed, and not for the better. This is not unique with me, but many have noted that the introduction of the so-called "moral voters" has politicized faith in a way that we hadn't seen in this country. Republicans, in my view, saw a group of people who were largely apolitical or disconnected from politics, but believed firmly, and decided to target them with social issues. 

In the beginning, those social issues fit within the religious framework of the conservative Christians (though you might be surprised to find out that protestants didn't mind abortion and even defended it strongly until around 1979). But feminism, gay rights, etc., proved a good way to make conservative Christian citizens into good and steady Republican voters. There was (and is) nothing inherently Christian about lower taxes or less government, but those have been combined into the moral values tent. 

Ok, so that worked for a while (even though I found it problematic at the time). But torture reveals something bigger than just a litmus test. It showed that conservative Christians were tribally conservative in a way that I didn't see. After all, had Clinton authorized torture, I suspect those same Christians would have seen that as proof of his immorality. But when one of their "tribe" authorized it, they backed it without even really thinking about it.  One of my Facebook friends defended torture almost explicitly because somehow Bush was on God's side.  The stupidity of that still stuns me.  As I told him, that is exactly how every goddamned tyrant justified torture.  

It is that tribal connection that bothers me the most. It has changed the way these Bible-believing, Church-attending Christians process moral issues.  If the issue is a conservative issue (abortion, gays, dependency) my friends view it through a (supposedly) Christian lens.  But if the issue is labeled "liberal" they view it through Republican lens.   How did torture become a liberal issue? When it was Soviet agents torturing downed pilots, or Chinese communists torturing Christians, it certainly wasn't a liberal issue. It was a clear violation of human rights and of basic human morality.  But torture, the environment, poverty, science, death penalty, etc., are now "liberal" issues and so are discussed in the political context rather than the moral.  

And given the problematic reading of scripture in those deemed religious, even the readings of abortion and gays become Republican talking points more than theologically informed discussions.  Even lying has become a politically framed issue, where Mitt's constant lies are seen only as political issues, not religious.  The irony of these same people pushing the Ten Commandments would be funny if it didn't have such consequence.  

Torture may have faded from the news, but for me, it will always be the issue that revealed, at least for me, the conservative church's transformation from religious institution to political tribe.

October 18, 2012

The GOP’s Secularism Problem

Several people have posted about the recent polling showing a decline in religious identification.  This post highlights the problem for the GOP, but it also, of course, poses a problem for the American church.

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

As Sessions notes in the above link, many of the studies suggest that the disaffection with the church began during the Bush years, when the conservative church so closely aligned themselves with the Republican party.  Of course, we have not seen much separation since then--not over torture, not over attacks on the poor or women.

But as Fred Clark notes, the problem may be, in part, the fact that racism and hatred are not deal breakers for the conservative church.  As long as you oppose abortion and gays, you can do just about anything.  In fact, thinking about this recent campaign, many of the most racist Republican moments came in an appeal to evangelical voters.  And how did evangelicals respond?

Remember all the principled evangelical push-back against those efforts? No? Me neither, because that never happened. Here are some things you never heard during the GOP primaries: “Newt Gingrich drew criticism from evangelical voters for his racially charged attacks on ‘welfare queens.’” Or “Michele Bachmann lost evangelical support due to her comments about immigrants.” Or “Ron Paul’s newsletters flirting with white supremacists alienated the GOP’s evangelical bloc.” Or “Mitt Romney’s use of ‘illegal’ as a noun angers evangelical voters.”
That right there is a big part of why I have lost respect for the conservative evangelical church.  They said nothing about torture, and they have been lured by racism, not repelled by it.

It's Funny Because We're White

Ta-Nehisi Coates notes the white privilege issue behind Tagg Romney's anger at Obama.  This reminds me so very much of the 2008 election when whites usually saw McCain's anger as a good thing.  It revealed his passion and his dedication.  But when people used the words "anger" and "Obama" in any context, with either of them, it was a negative.  Most of my white friends didn't even acknowledge this, because I really don't think they could see it.

The same thing applied to Sarah Palin and her knocked up daughter.  Put that in the Obama family, and add the "local thug father" to the picture, and the right wing would have exploded with righteous anger.  This, they would have said, revealed a lack of morality in the Obamas.  But with Sarah, it was just fine.  And in fact, was a good thing.

Now, the spoiled rich white kid of a spoiled and racist liar Mitt Romney can get away with threatening to punch Obama in the face, because, as Coates says it, "Yes because a good whippin' would teach that Obama boy to mind his place."

I don't know that Tagg Romney is a racist.  I suspect he isn't any more than the rest of us.  But that is the point of white privilege.  It doesn't even dawn on him, or any one around him how that would not work the other way around.

October 17, 2012

Brewing for Democracy

I have been in a brewing frenzy this last month.  I had always planned on another double IPA and wanted to get a Winter beer brewed with room for some extended secondary time.  But when Obama released his two beer recipes, SOF put in her request for one.  So, three weeks ago, I brewed the Honey Porter.  

I used to love porters, but have not really had one I loved for sometime.  My tastes have changed, perhaps, and I have been drinking a lot of IPAs of various hop strength.  Speaking of that, I also brewed another version of Face Puncher--a super hopped beer that I only tried last spring because of the name.  But it is pretty good.  My hop-head friends love it.  And last, I brewed a Winter Warmer beer that I hope will be ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

Last week's festival put me behind a bit, so yesterday, SOF helped me bottle both the Face Puncher and Obama White House Honey Porter.  It was an exhausting evening of sanitizing bottles and cleaning, but well worth it.  (Yes, I still bottle and kind of prefer it to the keg, because I can hand my friends a couple or take them to dinner parties with ease.) Oh, and because I discovered this cool site on the Interwebs where you can get custom bottle caps.  Oh yes. 

 Here you can see the reason Obama did well in the debate, as I chose to Obamasize my cap for the porter. And while I am wrestling with how to format the pictures in this version of Blogger, you can also see a close up below.  

October 16, 2012

On morality, tribalism, and this infernal election cycle

Hi everyone.  Assuming anyone is still out there.  I apologize for not writing lately.  We just returned from a music festival in Arkansas where we had a fabulous time with amazing friends.  To be fair, we also dealt with ridiculous porta potties, mud and an unbelievable amount of stoned hippies.  But we heard some amazing music (HoneyHoney, Rose's Pawn Shop, The Gourds, Sam Bush, Brown Bird) and further realized how many amazing people we have in our circle.  Our new friend Misti wrote about it here, and I am not sure I can come close to her great description of the magic that happened in the Arkansas mountains.


But back to the real world we came.  This election cycle has been an amazing assault on my belief in humanity.  I honestly didn't think that was possible after watching people of faith defend and support torture.  I seriously didn't.  I thought that was the bottom.

This time, I have spoken to more conservative evangelicals who still defend torture, or at the very best, had to be walked through it.  You know the drill.  "Sure, torture is bad, but you have to remember, it was a scary time and these are some bad people who behead people."  Blah blah blah.  One guy from my college BSU who now runs it told me just last month that he still wanted to see Obama's birth certificate.  I told him it had been released.  Twice.

I have yet to hear back from him. I am hoping some of that is shame, but I kind of doubt it.  The same guy told me that Romney (and this guy is, remember, a minister) was absolutely right about the bottom half not working hard enough and being dependent on government.  I sent him stats that showed that to be wrong, and heard nothing back.

I now believe that most of these people of faith are so tribally Republican that they have no idea.  They honestly can't tell where the Bible ends and the GOP platform starts.  They have no idea that the Bible says nothing about abortion or capitalism, and completely ignore any of it that challenges wealth, greed, or, goddamnit, justice.

Speaking of torture, I read this today (Death row inmate walks free due to DNA evidence | The Raw Story) and am just reminded that most of these same people know that our death penalty system is deeply flawed.  Or they would if they thought about it.  They distrust government when it comes to feeding the poor, but have no problem with that same government killing people for them.  Or torturing them.  Or, they simply don't give a shit.

I am reading a story in MoJo (not online yet) on the growing use of solitary confinement in our prisons for the most specious of reasons. We are placing people in solitary (the prisons don't call it that, btw) for years.  Fucking years.  The UN's people who study torture suggest that more than 15 days in solitary should be considered torture.  That kind of solitude messes with people's brains and internal systems.   The writer was in solitary in Iran as a political prisoner for 26 months, so he had an idea of how this worked.

But in our prison system, he notes, it is actually worse than fucking Iran.  One prisoner was in solitary for 42 YEARS and many have been in for more than 20. 20 years in solitary?  The guards in Iran told the author the very same justification for solitary that he heard in Pelican Bay.

I am really glad to see this story get some investigation, and hope that more than progressives read about this but one of the things I have learned over the last decade is that Americans--especially those who talk about morality the most--simply don't care if we are torturing people. Not people accused vaguely of terrorism, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. And certainly not people in our massive prison system.

For a former Baptist to realize that so many conservative, bible-reading, Church going, Christian-talking people don't care about anyone who is not in their own circle or tribe--that is something I still can't quite grasp.