Friday, November 30, 2012

"Religionless Christianity"

As I get older, Dietrich Bonheffer means more and more to me.  In a prison cell on death row, guilty of conspiring to murder Hitler, he dared to imagine a post-religious Christianity.

There must be some way forward to engage the world, especially the modern world, without illusion and without cynicism.  There must be some way to engage honestly with its mysteries, its terrors, its tangled complexities, its departures from all precedents, and its paradoxes without the anodyne comforts of easy religious doctrinalism, or an equally facile secularism.  Bonhoeffer didn't know the answers, and neither do I, but he did a brilliant job of framing the issue, and out of the most desperate of circumstances.

To Eberhard Bethge, April, 1944:

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience--and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by "religious."

Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. "Christianity" has always been a form--perhaps the true form--of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless--and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?)--what does that mean for "Christianity"? It means that the foundation is taken away from the whole of what has up to now been our "Christianity," and that there remain only a few "last survivors of the age of chivalry," or a few intellectually dishonest people that we are to pounce in fervor, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them? If we don't want to do all that, if our final judgment must be that the Western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity--and even this garment has looked very different at different times--then what is a religionless Christianity?

The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God--without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even "speak" as we used to) in a "secular" way about God? In what way are we "religionless-secular" Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?

The Pauline question of whether [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from [circumcision] is also freedom from religion. I often ask myself why a "Christian instinct" often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, but which I don't in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, "in brotherhood." While I'm often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people--because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it's particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable)--to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.

The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village...How this religionless Christianity looks, what form it takes, is something that I'm thinking about a great deal, and I shall be writing to you again about it soon. It may be that on us in particular, midway between East and West, there will fall a heavy responsibility.


Our own dear Episcopal atheist, IT, ponders these issues on her blog here, here, and here.

A Very Dark Cloud ... With Maybe A Silver Lining

 The Russian Duma

While the cause of same-sex and sexual minority rights continues to make exponential gains in the USA in less than 5 years (though after 40 years of blood, sweat, and tears after the Stonewall Riots; and after over 100 years worth of advocacy), in Eastern Europe, much of Africa, and in the Muslim world, dark clouds of repression and worse gather on the horizon.

The Ugandan parliament is set to pass probably the most draconian anti-gay law anywhere outside of the Muslim world (and more draconian than most such legislation inside the Muslim world; possibly only Saudi Arabia and Iran are comparable).  Much of the rest of central Africa has sweeping and very repressive laws criminalizing both homosexual acts and persons.

The Russian Duma or parliament, with the active backing of the Russian Orthodox Church, is about to pass laws federalizing local legislation in Moscow and Saint Petersburg prohibiting any "advocacy" of homosexuality, disturbingly broad and vague pieces of legislation intended to give a figleaf of legitimacy to atavistic brutal acts of persecution, and legal sanction to animal terror of the unknown and different.
The harsh prison sentences handed down to the Pussy Riot girls for their dramatic protest in Redeemer Cathedral in Moscow is a glimpse of what the Russian Establishment has in mind for all who dare to defy or even differ from it.

And yet, these harsh measures make me ask what all these folks are so afraid of.  Gay rights movements in these countries are tiny and broadly unpopular.  Gays and lesbians in Africa and Russia are made to be the focus of centuries of resentment and xenophobia over colonialism and foreign aggression (a resentment eagerly exploited by American religious fanatics with wealthy and powerful backers).  Never mind that these minorities are all native sons and daughters who had nothing ever to do with any foreign occupation. The legal repression unleashed against them seems remarkably disproportionate.  Like the homophobic murderer who almost always stabs or shoots his victim multiple times, far more than is necessary to kill her, these legislative reactions are over-kill designed to appease passionate hatred and deep fear.

And again I ask, what are they afraid of?

Expectation, said de Tocqueville, is the spark of revolution, and expectations among sexual minorities are beginning to rise around the world.  Africa, Russia, and even the Muslim world, all have gay activist presences.  These groups are tiny and deep underground, but that they exist at all is miraculous and a testament to their tenacious hope and courage.


One of many such headlines in Ugandan papers inciting hatred and violence

The funeral of murdered activist David Kato; Anglican bishop Christopher Ssenyojo, one of the very few Christian clergy to publicly oppose African anti-gay laws, presides.   The Ugandan Anglican Church removed Bishop Ssenyojo from his post and death threats force him to spend most of his time abroad.   Ugandan police continue to insist that David Kato's murder was the result of a botched robbery.  Sounds to me like the old time NYPD pistol drop after a police shooting.  David Kato was the most outspoken and fearless of Uganda's gay activists.  His name was at the top of the list of all the "homo menace" special editions of Ugandan papers.  If you believe the word of the Ugandan police, then have I got a bridge for you here in Brooklyn!

A Ugandan gay rights parade; that something like this happens at all is a real act of hope and courage.


Right wing thugs trying to break up a small gay rights demonstration in St. Petersburg.

A small gay rights parade at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg; the sign on the right reads "Homophobia, shame of the nation!"

And in the Muslim world:

Most remarkable of all, there is a gay rights movement in the Muslim world.  It is tiny and deep underground, but it is there, and shows itself at times and in places where it feels safe to do so.

A rally for gay Muslims in London

And I continue to insist that as far as I'm concerned. the only meaningful difference between Christian fundamentalists and Muslim ones is a shave.

Let's face it, the bearded guys who fly planes into buildings and the clean shaven guys who bomb clinics and murder doctors both hate the same thing, Western liberalism and its two worst subversions of the Normal Order of the World As Powerful Men Have Always Known It; feminism and gay rights.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Protest Tomorrow at Uganda House

For any and all of my readers in the New York area, there will be a rally at noon tomorrow at Uganda House, 336 East 45th Street, to protest the imminent passage of the "Kill-the-Gays" bill that would criminalize all homosexual acts, harboring homosexuals, failing to report homosexuals to the authorities, and any and all positive literature about or advocacy of homosexuality.  Some repeat offenses would be considered capital crimes under the new bill.

This bill has been condemned as a gross offense against human rights by the United Nations, the European Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the State Department of the United States under both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

I will not be able to make it, but for those of you who can, I urge you to go make your voice heard.

Here is the Facebook page for the group organizing the protest, Uganda: The World Is Watching.

Our enemies would love to see legislation like this here.  From the Family Research Council:

Ugandan President Leads Nation in Repentance - Longtime President Yoweri Museveni observed Uganda's 50th anniversary of independence by publicly repenting of personal and national sin. "I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. "We ask for your forgiveness... We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation. We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft...shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal..." After confessing many more sins, Museveni dedicated Uganda to the Lord. Bloodshed, violence and political unrest persisted for years after Idi Amin's demise. But Uganda began to recover after pastors began to unite in desperate prayer for their nation. FRC has joined in prayer with pastors and leaders from across Africa, including Ugandan Pastor Laban Jumba, a prayer pioneer during the Amin regime who birthed Intercessors for Uganda in the 70s. Believers across Africa are praying for America, that God will send revival and awakening, our nation's only real hope (read Michael Carl).
  • Thank God for leaders who stand boldly for Jesus, understand the curse of sin, and know God and His blessing are a nation's greatest possession. May God raise up such leaders in America and every nation! (Ex 18:21; 1 Sam 16:1, 7, 11-16; Ps 75:6; Jer 23:5-6; Lk 22:25-27; 1 Tim 2:1-8)

Remember David Kato and Fanny Ann Eddy and don't let Africa become the ideological laboratory of the American far right!

From Fanny Ann Eddy's address to the UN Human Rights Commission in 2004 (she was murdered soon after returning to her native Sierra Leone):

My focus of interest is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which most African leaders do not like to address. In fact, many African leaders do not want to even acknowledge that we exist. Their denial has many disastrous results for our community.
We do exist. But because of the denial of our existence, we live in constant fear: fear of the police and officials with the power to arrest and detain us simply because of our sexual orientation. For instance, recently a young gay man was arrested in Freetown for being dressed as a woman. He was held in detention for a full week without any charge being brought. Though I personally was able to argue with the authorities to release him, most people like him would have been held indefinitely because there are very few of us who are able to speak up.
We live in fear that our families will disown us, as it is not unusual for lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender people to be forced out of their family homes when their identity becomes known. Many people who are forced from their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are young with nowhere else to go, and thus become homeless, have no food, and resort to sex work in order to survive.
We live in fear within our communities, where we face constant harassment and violence from neighbors and others. Their homophobic attacks go unpunished by authorities, further encouraging their discriminatory and violent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
When African leaders use culture, tradition, religion and societal norms to deny our existence they send a message that tolerates discrimination, violence and overall indignity.
This denial has especially disastrous results in the context of HIV/AIDS. According to a recent research study published in December 2003 by the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association in collaboration with Health Way Sierra Leone, 90% of men who have sex with men also have sex with women, either their wives or girlfriends. Of that group, 85% said that they do not use condoms. Clearly the message of sexual education and transmission of HIV is not delivered to these men in Sierra Leone. It is clear that many men get married not because that is what their inner being desires, but because that is what society demands—because they live in a society which forces them to fear for their freedom or their lives because of their sexual orientation. The silence surrounding them—the refusal to acknowledge their existence or address their health care needs—endangers not only them but their wives and girlfriends.
Yet, despite all of the difficulties we face, I have faith that the acknowledgement by the Commission of the inherent dignity and respect due to lesbian, gay people can lead to greater respect for our human rights. As evidenced by the liberation struggle in South Africa, where the constitution bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, respect for human rights can transform society. It can lead people to understand that in the end, we are all human and all entitled to respect and dignity.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Walmart Walk Out

I did time in retail so I have plenty of sympathy for the Walmart employees who want to organize.  I remember well the erratic and unpredictable schedules which made having other employment or school very difficult if not impossible.  I remember the hours just barely short of full time so they could get the maximum profitability out of you without the cost of full time benefits.  I remember the very low pay that made monthly bill time a drama of anxiety, together with abject begging and borrowing to make ends meet, even with full time employment.  I remember having to spend many a Christmas Eve with panicked and angry shoppers.  I remember the thousands of little assaults on one's dignity daily, enough to try the patience of Job.

I never worked for Walmart.  I worked for both heads of the 2 headed monster of book retail back in the 1990s, Barnes & Noble and Borders, 2 years each.

I consider myself fairly lucky.  I was just down on my luck (although that flat stretch lasted almost 6 years).  I worked with lots of others down on their luck or just starting out; actors, writers, musicians, artists, teachers, academics, even a few scientists.  I can't imagine retail as a career, even in management (especially in management).

Walmart is the largest single employer in the USA, larger than the Federal government including all 3 branches of the military.

Robert Reich points out that 50 years ago, the nation's largest employer was General Motors whose average hourly wages and benefits for workers totaled $50 per hour in today's money.
Today Walmart pays an average wage of about $8.81 with no benefits.
Reich points out a study and a proposal by the think tank Demos to raise the average pay of retail employees to $25000 per year, a move that would lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty, and raise prices only minimally.  Demos argues that the extra money in more pockets could actually boost retail sales, perhaps by as much as 4 to 5 billion dollars.

I think it's a great proposal.  I agree with Demos and Robert Reich that it would be a great humane and self interested thing to do, and a huge service to our country.

It will never happen.

Reich and Demos hope that those in power to make these changes happen will see the reasonableness and benefit of these proposals and will act on them.  I think they do and they don't care.  They are doing quite well off the present arrangement.  The Waltons who own Walmart are the wealthiest family in the USA.  They are expected to receive 2.7 billion dollars in dividend payments this year alone.  Walmart received 2.1 billion dollars in tax breaks from federal, state, and local governments.  Meanwhile, Walmart employees and their families cost taxpayers the most of any employees of any business in public funding for health care.  Why should the Waltons or their other shareholders care about changing this arrangement?

Because Walmart is so big, it sets the payscales for most other large retailers (the only possible exception might be Costco).  Ever so hip and quasi-upscale Target pays its employees less than Walmart.

The only way the retail industry will change its ways will be for its workers to demand it. 

I don't know how big the Walmart Walk Out on Black Friday was (I suspect it was tiny), but even one employee walking out is a start.  I'm amazed that the effort to organize Walmart workers survives at all.  The company spent a lot of time and money trying to squash it, and the Reagan era labor laws make effective organizing almost impossible by privileging management over employees in law.

I wish some other union than the UFCW was involved.  My own personal experience with them was not a good one.  I'd prefer to see the United Auto Workers in charge of this.  But I wish the union and Walmart employees every success in their struggle.

I try never to shop at Walmart, but that's easy here in New York.  Such a stand is much harder in thousands of small towns across the country where Walmart is the local economy; the main employer and sometimes the only retailer in town, or in the county.

Here a company man tries to intimidate the photographer who took this picture.


This post is a great excuse to run an encore of this.  First protesting on Black Friday, and now dancing in Walmart.  Is nothing sacred?  What would Jeezus say?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Something to Remember

The Church failed its mission.

For the last 2000 years, the Church piled injury and pain on top of an already bleeding world, a world it was trusted to heal.  The Church made itself the willing handmaid of power and ambition, responsible for a long list of crime; conquests, massacres, sectarian warfare, executions, persecutions, corruption, abuse, etc.  The Church is as flawed and as mortal as the human beings who make it up.  The mystical Body of Christ on earth is hardly that of a perfect athlete, but is diseased, injured, handicapped, paunchy, emaciated, constipated, incontinent, clumsy, elderly, immature, cancerous, cold, hot, foolhardy, and cowardly.  That the Church is now, and always has been, a sanctuary of bigotry and superstition is hardly news.  There is racism, misogyny, homophobia, greed, and ambition for power in the Church as there is in all human tribes and institutions.   The Church, just like all human tribes, is made up of frightened people who believe that we must conquer or be conquered.  The Church's claims to sanctity put a lens of hypocrisy on those flaws which magnify their ugliness and their threat. And thus it will be always so long as we frail prisoners of one moment in time and one place in space with the lifespan of gnats keep demanding God's own absolute certainty when God never promised us any such thing.  The Church will someday pass away as indeed must we all, and all the world around us.

I don't believe Our Lord had in mind any global empire of souls when He commanded us to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
The world is over 200 nations and an uncountable number of tribes who all fear and hate each other, whose rulers are all more or less corrupt, and who use our fear of the Other to legitimize their power over us.  Why should the Church add another empire to that?

 In the wake of the failure to admit women into the episcopacy in the Church of England, and in the light of the ongoing (and perhaps ultimately fatal) debacle over same sexuality and sexual minorities, it is useful to remind ourselves of this.  We must remember that we have only the hope and the promise that God will be there at the end of all our journeys, alone and together.  Even more, we have the assurance that Our Lord is far larger and greater than the Church He entrusted with His gifts of the Sacraments and the Gospel.  Our Lord will endure where we perish, will love where we hate, will succeed where we fail, will remain faithful even when we are faithless.  Earth and Heaven, Creator and Creation, Flesh and Spirit will find each other in the end and be reconciled.

Our task as the Church is to be Christ to the world, and we will always fail in that task one way or another.  What matters is that we try our best.

Something to remember for Christ the King Sunday.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Do The Puritanical Really Want? Revenge!

Giles Fraser has a very insightful essay in the Guardian about the right wing evangelical faction of the Church of England that successfully scuttled a vote on women bishops in the church's General Synod.  Here's a sample:

For the essence of the puritan mindset is revenge – as Nietzsche accurately described it, the revenge of the bullied who are subconsciously getting back at those who once made their life a misery. As the comedy puritan Malvolio rages at the end of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you."
So what can be done? Argument is pretty useless. Conservative religious people are generally locked in a self-referencing worldview where truth is about strict internal coherence rather than any reaching out to reality. That's why they treat the Bible like some vast jigsaw – its truth residing in a complex process of making the pieces fit together and not with the picture it creates.
So rather than laugh at them or argue with them, the best thing is probably ignore them.

I've been making this point for years.  What these apocalyptic legalists want most is not universal love and peace, but the reward of seeing their enemies bound in chains and thrown into the unquenchable fire.  That is the essence of everything from angry subway preachers to fire and brimstone mega-church sermons on teevee.  "Our God will vindicate us and revenge us upon all of our enemies!"
I agree with Fraser that these folk are largely insulated from reality by a self referencing world view where it matters more that all the syllogisms fit like cogwheels than what the larger picture describes.  To me that larger picture describes a desolation.

In largely secular and religiously liberal England, I would imagine that all this appears simply marginal and freakish.  In the USA, this is a much more serious matter.  The USA is one of the few countries in the world (along with Saudi Arabia and Iran) to have a politically powerful religious fundamentalist movement.  Its power and influence may be waning after more than 30 years of hegemony over the political and cultural debates, but it is still formidable, especially on the state and local levels.  The USA is secularizing despite that movement's best efforts (you could argue that right wing religious influence accelerated that secularization and spawned a serious backlash against all religious life from Sufis and Quakers to Southern Baptists and Wahabists).

I've long argued, and continue to argue, that fundamentalist religious movements are ultimately secular.  They are not about religion or spirituality at all.  In fact, fundamentalists of all types rarely discuss religion, and certainly do not speculate about it.  Religion for them is a settled issue.  There's nothing to discuss.  Fundamentalist movements are about identity, about drawing a clear bright line between who's in and who's out.  Sorting out who's in the tribe and who is not is a very worldly political issue and not a religious one.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

St. Cecilia's Day

Happy St. Cecilia's Day to all you musicians out there!

Raphael, St. Cecilia, c1514

Soul of the World! Inspir'd by thee,
The jarring Seeds of Matter did agree,
Thou didst the scatter'd Atoms bind,
Which, by thy Laws of true proportion join'd,
Made up of various Parts one perfect Harmony.

Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!
Who, whilst among the Choir above
Thou dost thy former Skill improve,
With Rapture of Delight dost see
Thy Favourite Art
Make up a Part
Of infinite Felicity.
Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No Lady Bishops in the Church of England

The General Synod of the Church of England held what was billed as a "final" vote on whether or not to consecrate women as bishops.  The vote failed to get the necessary two thirds majority to pass in all three houses.  It passed in Bishops, passed in Clergy, and failed by just 6 votes to pass in the Laity.  The measure will not be considered for a vote again for another 5 years.  This is a devastating blow to all those who have been working since 1960 for full equality in the Church of England, and I suspect a Pyrrhic victory for those who opposed it.

I would imagine that those who opposed women bishops (and women's ordination in general) would rejoice in a possible exodus of progressives from the church, but there is no guarantee that would happen.  What they might get instead is an even more militant and determined effort for women's full equality, and one that is willing to act precipitously since it no longer has anything to lose.

As always, Simon Sarmiento over at Thinking Anglicans has all the reports, statements, and commentary in exhaustive detail here, here, here, here, and here.  I think the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was right in his comments that however the vote went, there was bound to be rancor, but that the clear will of the majority of the Church of England in all of its houses was thwarted by so narrow a vote by a determined minority must be especially rancorous and galling.  I cannot see any good coming from this.  I see an even more conflicted Church of England in an even steeper decline, seen by an increasingly secular England as still more hopelessly archaic and out of step with the increasingly egalitarian social morality shared by a large and growing majority of its citizens, and out of step with their experiences.  What is worst of all, those same citizens see the Church's determined resistance to equality as out of step with its own Gospel proclamation.

This is a huge blow to those of us who take seriously the message that men and women were created in God's image, and that in Christ there is no male or female. 

The Episcopal Church was always famous/notorious for acting precipitously in matters of social change.  The ordination of women in the Episcopal Church came about not through parliamentary debate and legislation, but because some members acted and forced the church to take a stand.  In 1974, three bishops ordained 11 women to the priesthood in Philadelphia, the "Philadelphia Eleven."  Those involved faced disciplinary actions and not only refused to back down, but attracted others to their cause who also were not deterred by disciplinary threats.  By 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church decided to ordain women into all 3 orders of the clergy, deacons, priests, and bishops.  The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire was also a precipitous act on the part of the Diocese of New Hampshire, forcing the church to consider the ordination of openly gay and partnered clergy.

That legacy of precipitous action arguably came back to bite the Episcopal Church when some diocesan bishops began leaving the church and taking their dioceses with them (or trying to anyway), though the mass exodus of laity and clergy darkly predicted by the detractors of the Episcopal Church has so far failed to materialize.  On the other hand, those precipitous actions did force the church to confront and deal with very real issues that people outside the church door must face daily.

For all of its internal warfare and constant problems, the Episcopal Church seems a model of institutional health compared to the Church of England.
Archbishop Williams leaves the Church of England in the impossible position of trying to advance equality while maintaining consensus.  This leaves the Church as an institution paralyzed in stalemate unable to move forward or back.

My friend David Kaplan is a member of a Conservative Jewish congregation.  He likens the Conservative movement in American Judaism to the Episcopal Church.  They are both compromise religious movements trying hold on to tradition while seeking to comprehend and adapt to modern experience.  As he says, such a position is intellectually indefensible, and yet only fanatics could thrive in a world where religion and modernity are completely segregated from each other.

Piero della Francesca, Mary Magdalene

One thing David Kaplan points out is that all of the religious fundamentalist movements around the world, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu, are militantly opposed to feminism and seem to be deeply threatened by the very idea of female equality and female sexuality.
I wonder what that is all about.


The comment threads over on Thinking Anglicans are crackling with anger this morning.


Parliament gets involved in the issue, and expresses its exasperation.  You can watch the discussion in Commons here.  Something which is hard for us Yanks to understand and appreciate is that The Church of England is part of the historic constitutional settlement of Britain.  The C of E is a state church, and an integral part of the unwritten constitution, and so the decisions it makes have consequences beyond the parish councils and cathedral chapters.
Do I think we have the better system here in the USA where governments and churches stay out of each others' business (for the most part)?
Of course.


There may be precedents.  For example, here is the very controversial 9th century mosaic from the Chapel of Zeno in the Church of San Prasaede in Rome showing Theodora, the mother of Pope Paschal I with the title "Episcopa."

And here is a detail of an anonymous 15th century French painting showing the Virgin Mary as a priest.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Earth At Night

Here is a time lapse film by NASA showing Earth at night. You can see the glow of cities, flashes of lightning, and the aurora borealis, and all set to Beethoven.

Our conflicted little planet is a busy eventful place even at night,

Sent in by my cousin in Austin.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Twinkies RIP

The Hostess Company is committing hara kiri rather than come to any agreement with its striking bakers.  The right is cheering this corporate suicide while the unions (including the Teamsters) are crying foul.
Hostess has been around in one form or another since 1930.  For many years, their HQ stood on Armour Boulevard in Kansas City, MO.  They made Twinkies, Cupcakes, Ho hos, Ding Dongs, Snowballs, and Wonder Bread.

Hostess fell on hard times a long time ago as the national taste for junk food either waned, or became more discriminating and sophisticated.  Hostess over the last 30 years went through a series of mergers and acquisitions.  I can remember when they were owned by AT&T for awhile.

I know a lot of us over 50 are once again keening over the demise of yet one more part of our childhoods, but before we rend our garments and tear our hair, let's ask ourselves, how good were these cream filled cakes after all?  Being the life long connoisseur of white trash food that I am, I think the junk cakes went way down hill in quality over the past 30 years.  Let's not be too hasty to judge our vegan offspring when they greet the Twinkie's demise with a shrug of indifference.

There's enough preservatives in a Twinkie to embalm a Pharaoh.  It used to be a common joke that the 2 survivors of all out nuclear war would be roaches and Twinkies.  I think I can speculate safely that the chemical preservatives, and the flavor in these cakes were manufactured in refineries in New Jersey.

Those of us with an excessive taste for flour, butter, and sugar can console ourselves by going back to classics tried and proven by the passage of time.  For me, the ultimate comfort food feast is the lowly Boston Cream Pie.  You can go all out and make it from scratch spending hours in the kitchen making the custard filling.  Or, you can throw it together from mixes: 2 boxes of cheap yellow cake mix plus Jell-O vanilla pudding mix for the filling, plus a dark chocolate frosting mix with a little extra water mixed in.  Either way, you get a feast for the soul and an ordeal for the arteries.

And of course there is another consolation as we grieve over the death of the Ding Dong, the chocolate meringue pie made with Hershey's Cocoa in true Texas fashion.

I should point out that I haven't had either of these desserts in years, and in the case of the chocolate meringue pie, it's been decades.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


 Rally for Texas Secession on March 2 (Texas Independence Day), 2011 
in Austin

 Since the election last week, there are now petitions for secession flying around the internet with petitions and letters and new movements, etc.  To no one's surprise, Texas leads the effort with the most successful petition drives.

Texas is a special case, though I think some states could make a stronger argument for secession.  Texas was an independent republic for about 9 years from 1836 to 1845, recognized only by the French who had imperial designs on Mexico.  The only other state with a similar history is Vermont.  On the other hand, Hawaii was an independent kingdom, centuries old, recognized as a sovereign state by nearly everyone, and came into the United States through subversion and military conquest.  It seems to me that they have the strongest case for secession.

Texas seceded once before in 1861 to join the Confederacy.  The legislature and a special convention to consider secession put the issue up for a popular vote.  Secession won by a landslide.  The only other Confederate state where secession won with a higher margin was South Carolina.  Sam Houston refused to swear allegiance to the Confederacy, and was deposed as governor.  And the rest is history.  There were large parts of the state population that opposed secession and resisted Confederate rule, especially among the German towns of the Texas Hill Country, and in North Texas (where my Unionist ancestors lived in Waxahachie and Midlothian).

Since the early 1990s, there has been a small vociferous independence movement in Texas.  They are now bitterly divided into factions with many of their founders in prison for minor acts of terrorism.  They have almost no popular support in the state, at least until last Tuesday.

I don't think secession will happen.  Texas is not the same place it was in 1861, and has far more to lose by leaving the USA than by staying.  There are enormous military facilities in Texas: Fort Hood, Fort Sam Houston, Fort Bliss, Lackland Air Force Base, Corpus Christi NAB, etc.  They certainly wouldn't fold like Fort Sumter after a night of bombardment by artillery.  And if they close down and leave, that would devastate the state's economy.
A big part of the Texas economy depends on defense contracting.  Just ask Ross Perot who got rich off government contracts, or big defense contractors like Texas Instruments.

Also, if Texas voted to secede, it would split apart.  The very Latino southernmost part of the state (San Antonio south to the Rio Grande) voted overwhelmingly for Obama and has always been reliably Democratic.  They would not go along with any secession, and certainly would not return the territory to Mexico.  Most of urban Texas would not go along with secession.  A new Republic of Texas would not have the same borders as the State of Texas.

There's no guarantee that the petroleum industry would stay in Texas.  Multinational corporations have no national loyalties and they don't like political instability.  They could and probably would leave Houston rather than take their chances with an independent, and divided, Texas.

If we go back and read the original 1861 Declaration of the Causes of Secession in Texas, we can find plainly stated what drives all of this nationalism:
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

The aim of Texas Secessionists was and is to found their own little Orange Free State for a separate white tribe.

The left frequently is accused of sedition and treason, but in practice, only the right can bring it off.  The far-right monarchist generals who commanded the French military decided in 1940 that they would rather live under German occupation than under the French Third Republic.


For awhile now, some people in this very polarized country have talked darkly about a second civil war.  I've heard this from both the right and the left.  The right sees it as an opportunity for independence and revenge against enemies real and imagined.  The left sees this as a kind of purgative apocalypse in which the scales fall from the eyes of the oppressed and they see the true nature of their condition for the first time, a very fond wish.
In both cases, I would say, "Be careful what you wish for."

The first Civil War was bad enough.  Anyone remember that the total number of deaths from that war was around 625,000?  The Civil War remains the deadliest conflict in American history.

What would a second Civil War be like?  I think it would be nothing like the first one.  The USA would split, not into 2, but into 4 or more warring factions.  The splits would not be along state lines as in the first.  States themselves would split up.  This second Civil War I think would look a lot like the civil war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  Instead of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, we'd have a series of civilian massacres and counter-massacres.  It would be war by terrorism.   Instead of Billy Yank versus Johnny Reb, there would be no clear armies of blue and grey.  There would be a host of separate paramilitaries with their own political ambitions. This second Civil War would end with no clear winner, but with foreign intervention and a peace settlement imposed by foreign powers that would keep the USA permanently divided.

Detail of the Lincoln Memorial showing part of the list of states 

The sources of most of these secession petitions remain mysterious, but one of them has been identified, the former owner of a "topless carwash", Derrick Belcher of Chunchula, Alabama.
"Derrick B.,” the man who started a petition seeking Alabama’s withdrawal from the U.S., is a truck driving, knife collecting former owner of a topless car wash who describes himself as “an absolute Libertarian.”
Derrick Belcher, 45, of Chunchula, said in an interview late Monday that secession may be the only way to save working Americans from crushing debt, burdensome federal regulations and rising taxes.
“I don’t want to live in Russia. I don’t believe in socialism,” said Belcher, an operations manager for a Mobile trucking company. “America is supposed to be free."

Remarkable that after 20 years, so few people seem to have gotten the news that the Cold War is over, and that the Soviet Union is no more, that Russia is now an oligarchic state where capitalism in its rawest form runs wild, where a newly powerful Orthodox Church effectively uses the power of the state to enforce church teachings and advance its interests.

Also remarkable is the idea that patriotism ends at the business ledger.  God Bless America, until the profits turn to losses.

Hat tip to JoeMyGod.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Uganda continues to give us a look at what the Christian Taliban plans for all the rest of us.  The current speaker of the Ugandan Parliament vows to push through the "Kill the Gays" bill in time for Christmas.  JoeMyGod has all the details.

If the bill passes, any homosexual activity, the discussion of homosexuality, and failure to report known homosexuals to the government will become legal offenses punishable with prison time.  "Second offenses" of any and all of these infractions will merit the death penalty.  That includes straight people who speak favorably about gays, who knowingly shelter gays, or fail to report them.

The American right wing religious donors funding and organizing this campaign to persecute and exterminate LGBTs appeal to African resentment over colonialism (a bitter irony since the religious right are the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for American imperial adventures).  They've persuaded some Ugandans to persist on this course despite threats from the European Union and the USA to suspend economic aid and impose sanctions.

Scott Lively's finger prints are all over this.

As I've said before, the religious right lost big in the last election because they are such assholes.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Joe Jervis over on JoeMyGod spent the whole week just wallowing in schadenfreude since the election.  And why shouldn't he?  And why shouldn't we?  We've listened to our enemies cackle with glee every election that decided on a gay issue since 1977 and Anita Bryant.  This year, the tables are dramatically turned.
On his blog, Jervis quotes press releases and statements from all the professional homophobes caught off guard, the Catholic prince-bishops, the evangelical autocrats, the very far right agitators and pundits, etc.

To my mind, these are the sweetest of the sour grapes.

Here is part of a statement from Scott Lively, among the worst of the worst.  As far as I'm concerned, he's as bad as the Phelps clan, only smarter and with more money and influence, more ability to do harm (just ask the late David Kato).

It’s official, the 2012 presidential election is over and we Americans decided not to downshift into Republican. Instead its now full speed ahead toward the progressive’s Godless Utopian fantasy (aka “the cliff”) with Mr. Obama and the Evil Party. The good news is that we can all stop pretending that Mitt Romney is a conservative. The bad news is that the Stupid Party will, of course, interpret their loss as a sign they were too conservative and move further to the left. The better or worse news (depending on your theology) is that the age of apostasy is more clearly upon us, which means that the return of Christ is drawing near.

And I'm sure he wonders why more people don't just adore him.  Telling the electorate that they're stupid and evil is a sure-fire way to get votes I'm sure.  But then Lively and his kindred don't care much for all this democracy nonsense anyway.

And a spokesperson for NOM tells us all that his side lost because Obama and his supporters are all terrorists.

Apparently, there are more than a few disgruntled Americans who are toying with the idea of moving to Canada. CNN is calling it 'election season bluster'. I call it flat-out ignorance. You live in the freest country ever known to mankind. As the anthem states, America is the land of the free but freedom comes with bravery, not running and hiding. Your job is to stay. And fight. For the battle is still ongoing. You leave, the terrorists win. And heck, isn’t that what the Terrorist-in-Chief wants, anyway?

To all of our enemies, thank you so much for being your own reptilian hateful selves.  Your sour repulsiveness continues to deliver for us, and this year it delivered us votes and lots of them.

Thank you all so much!

To quote the late Senator Jesse Helms after he won a narrow and unexpected re-election victory:

"There's no joy in Mudville tonight!"


All of us good little boys and girls destroyed their beautiful wickedness:


And what do I want to see?  Do I want to see all of our enemies crushed and humiliated?
It looks to me like they've already done that to themselves, and are setting themselves up for more.

What I want to see is our enemies finally throw off that big heavy burden of spite and resentment, and to come in from the cold.  If you're out in the freezing weather pressing your nose to the window feeling left out of the circle around the warm fire indoors, then it's because you can't or won't see that the door is wide open.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thank You So Much!

 LGBTs won the lottery this week while our enemies came up snake-eyes.

We are not a very big group, maybe around 5% of the population.  We could not possibly have won these fights in Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota on our own.  No one's rights should ever be put up for a vote, but when our enemies did just that with our rights, our straight friends, families, neighbors, and colleagues came through for us and called their bluff.

 To all umpteen million of you who voted for us instead of the bad guys,


To all of our straight families and friends who worked so hard on our behalf, and kept working-- and working harder-- despite getting a taste of what we have to live with,


You're the best friends anyone could possibly have!

Let's celebrate!  Have a mimosa made with pure Florida orange juice from the Florida Sunshine Tree.

Here's a little glimpse of the new normal.  What's remarkably new about this clip from Australia is not the couple becoming engaged, but the enthusiastic embrace from everyone around them.

I never in a million years thought I'd ever see anything like this in my lifetime.

And there are so many many straight folk to thank for this!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Avalanche On Bull-Sh*t Mountain!"

The title of this post comes from Jon Stewart's brilliant skewering of the now famous Karl Rove meltdown on Fox News on election night.

Triumphal cognitive dissonance slammed right into the hard wall of hubris that night live on national teevee.

I saw it happen.  I stopped in a neighborhood diner on my way home from teaching evening classes late that night.  The owner had the teevee on Fox News covering the election returns.  When Fox News called Ohio for Obama, Rove wasn't the only one who couldn't believe it.  The diner owner was visibly upset and thought the news was incredible.

I have to admit that I was very worried about the Election.  I was hoping it wouldn't be a disaster.  I returned home at 11PM to find that it was all over, and that my side won the lottery.

Far be it from me, a proud liberal/progressive with ties to progressive politics that go back to my own 18th century ancestors who were Quakers or Abolitionist Baptists (along with later Texas Union Sympathizers, German Social Democrats, and a grandfather who tried to organize Western Union telegraph workers), to offer right-wingers advice, but shouldn't you folks be asking how well served are you and your cause by this kind of "news?"  Did insulating yourselves from contrary points of view and inconvenient facts really serve you at all?

No, there really isn't a parallel universe on the other side.  There are liberals like Robert Frank, Kevin Phillips, Frank Rich, and many others who've built careers trying to read the right wing id, trying to understand how one mind could hold contradictory ideas as if they agreed seamlessly; how some people could put Atlas Shrugged and the Bible on the same shelf and not see a problem.  Lots of liberals from Digby to Media Matters slog through right wing commentary trying to understand what makes the right tick.  I'm confident that there is no corresponding effort to understand the left by the right.  What few right wing books there are about the left are books like Anne Coulter's which mock and belittle the left, and couldn't care less about understanding it.

As for the right's relationship with unpleasant facts, what can I say?  Peggy Noonan and George Will were wrong, wronger, and deluded in their election predictions while the much derided Nate Silver was spot on.  Noonan and Wills relied on their "gut instincts" while Silver relied on arithmetic. What happened to that famous conservative "realism" that I heard so much about from 20 years ago?

As Digby points out, right wingers have another problem;  they can be such assholes.  Especially since 2010 and the advent of Teabaggers, right-wingers aggressively diss not only people who don't agree with them, but also those who don't look like them and don't share their culture.  The xenophobia, misogyny, and racism are barely concealed, while the homophobia is on parade.  Did the right really imagine that those whole populations that they dissed would stay home on Election Day?  It turns out that they came out in droves to vote against them, and so did their friends.

Dan Savage didn't get gays and lesbians along with their friends and families out to the polls to vote for Obama, this did:

And the gender gap, the right wing problem with women; the 'feminazis' didn't get them all out to vote for Obama.  The right can thank this guy who got not only young women to come out in droves to vote against right wing candidates, but also their mothers, aunts, grandmas, husbands, brothers, boyfriends, and  guys who just cared about basic human dignity:

And does the right really imagine that only white people can hear those racist dog whistles?

How can right wingers say they so super-love AMERICA when they hate their fellow Americans so bitterly?  The United States is not an abstraction or a revered old piece of paper.  It is the people who make it up, whose consent to live by its laws gives the Constitution its power and authority.  It is all kinds of different people who share a common history together, who are each and every one personally invested in this country's continuing success.

And then there is the future.  Which of these crowds has a future?

Romney voters

Obama voters

Aging white folk are just fine.  I plan to be among them soon.  They are living repositories of historical memory and experience.  But those things mean nothing for the future without young people who are the future.  If you are my age or older, think about that next time you complain about the kids.  And take a good hard look back at your own youth.  The way I hear some people my age talk, it sounds like we spent our youths listening to Mozart and joining the Peace Corps.  In reality, we spent our youths listening to Led Zepplin and getting high off the stuff under the kitchen sink.
No, this is not a predominantly white country anymore, but so what?  The ability to incorporate other peoples fully is a great strength of our country (as well as a great strength of the Americas in general).  We are in a much better position to face a new more cosmopolitan and interdependent world than the nation-states of Europe and the Middle East, or the very homogenous societies of East Asia.  Soon, many of our neighbors, and eventually members of our families, will look different from us and be from cultures that are not so familiar.  But they will become familiar, and we will become familiar to them.  One person's exotic meal is someone else's home cooking.

Take it from one of your lefty antagonists,  you folks on the right don't need this kind of tribalism.  And if you do, then you need to ask yourselves if those conservative beliefs that you so cherish can survive the demographic and cultural change that is already upon us.

And even after Obama became the first Democratic President since FDR to win both the Electoral College Vote and the popular vote twice without a third party spoiler, the right still doesn't get it:

It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want STUFF. They want THINGS. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. Whereby 20 years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them, and they want STUFF. People feel that they are entitled to things, and which candidate between the two is going to give them things.
        - Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly.
That means a lot coming from all those rugged individualists on Medicare and Social Security, and those über-patriots putting their money into over-seas tax shelters even in a time of war and crisis, and especially from all those financial industry roulette players bailed out with trillions of dollars in tax money with no strings attached.


 For Sid:

And since the election, there's still more:


Meghan McCain, a loyal young Republican, who agrees with me, that it's time to jettison the far right culture war stuff and move beyond the Southern White Male demographic.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Big Gay Night

Last night was a big night for LGBTs.  Same sex marriage rights WON in 2 states, Maine and Maryland.  The vote remains too close to call in Washington.  Voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. This is a tectonic shift of the continental plates on gay issues.  It is hard to overstate the magnitude of this change.
I'm a middle aged dude a month away from turning 55 and becoming eligible for some senior discounts.  I can remember Anita Bryant's resounding victory in 1977 when voters in Dade County, Florida repealed local civil rights protections for gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment and housing by a landslide.  Every time gay rights initiatives went on the ballot, they lost; though those of us paying attention noticed that these measures were losing by ever smaller margins each election cycle.  An election victory in one state would have been more than enough to break the logjam, but two? ... WOW!

Perhaps the biggest victory of all was Obama's re-election which now institutionalizes major changes like the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and making the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act more likely.  We were among those who had the most at stake in this election.

What's doubly satisfying is that our enemies started all of this.  They put all these initiatives on the ballot convinced that the voters would vindicate them.  Those same voters threw a bucket of ice water in their faces.

Tammy Baldwin defeated Tommy Thompson to become the first openly gay US Senator.

Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins easily prevailed against a determined effort to defeat him by NOM and the Family Research Council.

Sean Patrick Maloney, an openly gay former Clinton Administration staffer, unseated Teabagger Nan Hayworth from the US House.

Openly gay House Representative Jared Polis won a third term.

God, gods, and goddesses willing, we may be watching the beginning of the end of homophobia as a political force.


Have a mimosa...


AFER and Washington United are saying that marriage equality won in Washington State, but there is still no official word from the Secretary of State's office.


According to Molly Ball at The Atlantic, Election Night was a grand slam for gay rights.  The popular vote in all 4 states was a win, and by comfortable 4 to 6 point margins.

Mr. President!

Monday, November 5, 2012


Long line of people waiting to vote in South Africa's first free election in 1994

A reporter asked an old man waiting in line how he felt about standing for hours in the hot sun to vote.  The old man replied that the hours didn't matter since he had waited a lifetime for this moment.

Tomorrow we will vote our fears and resentments as much as our hopes and dreams.