April 28, 2014

Sarah Palin, the Christian Right, and the evil of Torture

I haven't posted much Andrew Sullivan lately.  His new site is less accessible for me, and I haven't decided whether to subscribe.  But this post on Palin is dead on accurate, and he suggests, rightly, that this represents a clear rejection of traditional Christian values (cheered on by the NRA, I might add).

A couple of great lines:
"It is the kind of statement you might expect from the Khmer Rouge, or from the Chinese Communists who perfected “stress positions”, or from the Nazis, whose Gestapo pioneered “enhanced interrogation”, i.e. brutal torture that would leave no physical traces. Except it’s worse than that. Even totalitarian regimes have publicly denied their torture. Their reticence and lies are some small concession of vice to the appearance of virtue. Not Palin – who wants to celebrate brutal torture as the American way."
And this after he notes that evangelicals still support torture at somewhere around 60%:

Support for torture is highest among those who attend church at least weekly and lowest for those who rarely or never go to church. In America, torture is a Christian value. And some people wonder why I prefer to term “Christianist” to describe these people.
This was my canary in the mineshaft.  I thought maybe I should be more generous and extend to people the right to be fearful in the aftermath of 9-11.  But after 13 years, I thought that would have ebbed, and the people who flocked to Mel Gibson's torture film on Jesus would at least find some relative consistency on something this heinous.  But Palin's remarks demonstrate how deeply the tribal affiliations run.  Opposing torture, in that circle, has become akin to liberalism and speaking about climate change or evolution.

As I told a friend in an email, this is another little test.  If evangelical Christianity cannot see this woman for the evil she is, then they can't see any evil in their midst, and still cling to the notion that premarital sex and gay marriage are the threats we face.  This is disheartening.

Palin: 'Waterboarding Is How We Baptize Terrorists' (VIDEO)

I know we aren't supposed to take her seriously.  After all, she is just a failed Governor, VP candidate and realty show star.  She loves the spotlight and has figured out that she can make a lot of money off the Republican base.  I get that.

But just as with the Duck Dynasty fiasco, I am not as concerned with Palin, but with those who supported her and the party that nearly put her in charge.  And for my Christian friends, this is one of those areas that makes me angry.  I have defended (as I noted here) people of faith from the the fundamentalist atheists, but then turn back to this howling caricature and remember all the people of faith who told me they admired her for her "values," and that she stood up for Christianity.

In all seriousness, many of you owe me and the rest of the country an apology.  I won't hold my breath.  I have already asked for any evidence that Palin acted in any manner that was consistent with Christian beliefs, only to hear crickets.

But this is just awful.  Hard to ignore the gun culture here too in that her speech was given to the NRA.

Palin: 'Waterboarding Is How We Baptize Terrorists' (VIDEO)

Gun culture. I have a gun and you can't stop me.

Man Legally Stalks Children's Baseball Game: 'I've Got A Gun & There's Nothing You Can Do About It'

April 20, 2014

On Atheism and belief

This week has been a good one, mostly because we just adopted a new puppy.  More on that later.  But as today is Easter, I am writing about religion and belief.  I saw a post on Hobby Lobby today where the company had a published ad about Jesus writing the "ultimate love story" or something to that effect.  All fine and good--they have the right to pay for their advertisement.  But the cynicism struck both of us.  For those in the Christian tribe, this is a strident and courageous defense of the faith.  For the rest of us, it is a way to play to the victimization of the Christian tribe and, oh, by the way, get a few of them to come buy Chinese-made crap at their stores.  Oh, and we won't mention that they are more than willing to do business with countries with forced abortion or horrible human rights violations, but they will run to the Supreme Court to deny women access to contraceptives.

Back to the title.  Recently I had a few arguments with some atheists on Facebook.  One, I know, came from a fundy background, and that might explain his stridency now.  He seems to have replaced the absolutism of Christian fundamentalism with fundamentalist atheism.  You know, it isn't just that he no longer believes that God exists, but he doesn't think you should either.

So (and I know Tony probably found this rather funny if he saw it) I became the vocal defender of the faith.  And I am ok with that.  As many questions as I have on this Easter, I have respect for those who believe (and know that is shared by my friends here on the blog).  I know there is a great tradition of believers asking important questions and working very hard to make the world a better place as they can.

Which leads to my current anger.  After defending religious belief to a couple of militant atheists, I return to look at the state of conservative religion in my country and the rage builds.  I defend faith, and read about tribal attacks on World Vision for daring to embrace their current gay employees.  I read about Billy Graham's son praising the criminal Vladimir Putin for his anti-gay stances.  I read about conservative Republicans wanting to cut $125 billion from food stamps for hungry people.  And I am still mindful that these same conservative evangelicals thought that torture was ok as long as it was done to Muslims and as long as we remembered how scared we were after 9-11.

It is wearying.  And while I am well aware that many, if not most atheists are motivated by their own understanding of the universe, I can't help but think that modern Christianity is not doing itself any favors. The days of worrying about witness seem long gone, and while they would find this vulgar, my current view of the Hobby Lobby defenders is of people with the Bible in one hand and the middle finger up on the other.  After all, Hobby Lobby has to be proud that it has annoyed liberals, and Obama supporters.  Isn't that the goal of Christianity, after all?


April 8, 2014


The Westboro people found themselves "run out" of Moore, Oklahoma the other day.  I hate the self-congratulatory response from so many conservatives.  "See, we aren't intolerant, these people are."

Westboro is the perfect foil for so many people.  They can take a stance against this small church and believe they have accomplished something.  They won't take a stand on torture, or poverty, but they will bravely stand up against a church that no one defends.  Wow.  How courageous.

April 7, 2014

The Conservative Evangelical ethos

Much like Rachel Held Evans, I continue to grapple with what appears to be the decline of the Evangelical mission.  Watching that World Vision battle was instructive, and clearly I was not the only one horrified that evangelicals would bully the organization by threatening to withhold assistance for poor children because the organization briefly embraced homosexual unions.

Brian Gee, at deconstructed molskine argues that the conservatives genuinely believe that homosexuality is a deal breaker:
No amount of personal, intellectual, or emotional appeal will move conservatives on this issue. To move is to put the soul of the gay person in eternal peril. It would be like smiling and waving as someone edges toward a cliff, making no effort to warn them before they go over. 
Gee and others (myself included) have framed this as a zero-sum game for conservatives between accepting the morality of homosexuality v. assisting the poor.  This is the "better of two evils" argument where conservatives continue to back conservative policy because the opposite might embrace homosexuality.

But I now think this misses that the rot is much deeper in the conservative evangelical ethos.  Say, for argument's sake, we accept that homosexuality is a sin, and that for conservative evangelicals wedded to the Bible, they have no choice but to stand up to the gay movement.  Say all of that is true.  What is missing in this above battle is that conservatives have decided to openly attack the poor--regardless of what is going on in the battle over gay rights and gay marriage.  And while there might be a bit of an argument for a literal Biblical rejection of gays, there is absolutely no defense of attacking the poor.

Why do I say that?  Because the conservative evangelical movement has done nothing to oppose the Republican attacks on the poor.  When Republicans called for a massive cut to food stamps, I just heard stammering about "waste" and "get a job" from the right.  Even when confronted with the numbers of the hungry in our country of wealth--the religious response is to shrug and talk about food stamp fraud and budgetary needs.

Then there is the man most of them voted for as VP last election--Paul Ryan.  The supposed Catholic who loves Ayn Rand, and is often praised as the "Republican budget wonk."  Ryan has attacked the poor often, and last month was caught talking about "inner city men" while claiming that he didn't realize that was code for "black."  But his budget released this past week is the worst attack on the "least of these" that you will find outside of Ayn Rand herself.  As Michael Tomasky notes, Ryan proposes massive cuts to the safety net, and goes far beyond the most recent Republican cuts:
Let’s stop here and mull this food stamp cut. As you probably know, in last year’s farm bill negotiations, House Republicans proposed a $40 billion cut to food stamps. By the time the House and Senate agreed to a farm bill last month, that was whittled down to $8.7 billion over 10 years. That’s a small cut in percentage terms (about 1 percent). But even it takes $90 a month away from 850,000 poor families. Ryan’s proposed food stamps cut? $125 billion. More than 14  times the size of the already controversial current cut. 
I understand the sleight of hand going on in evangelical circles.  They all contribute to charity in some way, and that continues.  But they don't seem to understand that why they help out those few hundred with their local charity, they vote to harm millions.  And opposing gay people doesn't really excuse that.  At some point, the conservative evangelical world needs to explain how opposing the poor is somehow acceptable in a Christian worldview.

April 4, 2014

Angle of Repose, Part II

After I wrote this post, I spent several hours shoveling from my pile of crushed limestone, and had time to think about the physics involved in that angle of repose.  As metaphor, it is certainly limited, in that I fully intend, and actually need to remove that entire pile (and probably sooner, if you ask my neighbors).  But as I shoveled, I saw the obvious point not made in my last post, that the angle is disrupted most from the base.

To follow this further with evangelical Christianity, the problem is the erosion from the supposed principles of the base, or the faith's raison d'etre.  To put it plain, if Christianity can so easily abandon the poor and the "least of these," then, to quote another truism, "there is no there there."  I also see the obvious problems with that assumption, given that this is certainly not the first time that Christianity has aligned itself with evil.  Slavery easily comes to mind, and I know that is far from the only example.  And I also realize that we have to be fair in acknowledging that Christianity is powered by flawed and human people.  People who would deny Galileo's observations, or the humanity of Native Americans, or who would see an obvious inferiority in blacks and women.  To that point, this is a continuity, not a conflict with the church's history.

To me, however, this current incarnation represents one of the worst conflicts--not because it wasn't horribly wrong to endorse slavery or native genocide--because this represents a clear and conscious rejection of the faith's own basic and known tenets.  Slavery existed because there was no real clear legacy of equality.  By contrast, Christians absolutely used to see poverty as one of their primary enemies.  And by "used to," I mean in the past 25 years.  It isn't as if Christians are going along with the rest of culture in accepting some kind of inequality.  They are actually moving backwards here.

Following the logic of the metaphor, when that base is completely eroded, there is absolutely no Christianity left.  That might be worth a conversation or two in evangelical circles.  But I am not sure that will happen.  Sadly.

April 1, 2014

Beyond the Angle of Repose?

If you don't know, the angle of repose refers to the " the maximum angle at which an object can rest on an inclined plane without sliding down."  Or, in general use, it is the principle that determines how steeply you can pile gravel or rock or dirt where it will stay in a conical shape.  Beyond that angle, the pile collapses as the material slides down.

Anyway.  I was thinking about that a lot of late as I have been moving flagstone and crushed limestone into my back yard.  And, more relevant to the rest of the world, I have been thinking about how some events over the past decade or so have clarified my views on the evangelical world.  My relationships with evangelicalism has not been great since my high school days, but for much of that time, it reminds me of a pile of gravel with the occasional trickle.  Tension, for sure, but the shape held.

But over the past fifteen years, I have watched evangelicals support torture, deny climate change, and attacks on the poor and hungry.  I have watched evangelicals join the GOP call for people not to be insured.  The evangelical shape, if you will, has become incompatible with Christianity's internal logic.
Torture and war reveal much of that, but all you have to do is look to the last few years to see the crumbling of the Evangelical mission.  As David Michael McFarlane noted, "Fundamentalists have banded behind a fast food chain, racist reality TV star and discriminatory legislation in their attempt to police LGBTQ persons."   They will defend a racist Paula Deen, and jump to attack recipients of food stamps.  This last week, we watched World Vision welcome gay couples and then reject them a few days later.  Why?  As Rachel Held Evans put it, "The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear," and proceeded to hostage aid to poor children in order to bully World Vision out of their tolerant stance.  As Evan Hurst noted, "When given an explicit choice to love children or hate gay people, they chose the latter, and they chose it loudly."

Rachel Held Evans believes that evangelicals are winning the culture war and losing an entire generation of young people.  I think the damage is even deeper, but agree with her that "When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong."  They are moving past the angle of repose and headed to destruction.  Add to that the tribal defense of Hobby Lobby's anti-contraceptive stance, and you have the real possibility of evangelicals and conservatives both losing young women for the foreseeable future.  After all, Hobby Lobby will gladly use Chinese labor (and tolerate forced abortions) to produce very cheap goods.  If a promiscuous woman with multiple abortions in her past wants to purchase those goods, Hobby Lobby will gladly cash that check.  They will even pay her marginal wages to move those cheap goods.  But they will not provide her with good healthcare.  Because that would be un-Christian.