Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thank G*d it's the InfoRmatiON Age Now!


Don't know anything about Gawker, don't wanna know.  But remember when the internet was gonna save us all?

"I hate to be hyperbolic, but want to understand ISIS or the Tea Party or Occupy or Charleston or Dylan?" Arkin wrote in the email. "Look no further than Gawker and its ilk, which means look no further than twitter or your own so-called smartphone: We are making the world a miserable place. I’m glad I can withdraw and think about it."

Yeah.  I think the best that can be said is that we seem determined to reinvent the wheel, over and over and over again.  Except there were benefits to the wheel.

Must have something to do with never, EVER learning from history.  Or a strangely modern obsession with being sure nobody could get it right until "we" came along.

Maybe we should all withdraw and think about it.

The Red Wheelbarrow

There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are men who struggle for a year and they are better.
There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who struggle all their lives:
These are the indispensable ones.

I took this from Thought Criminal, who says it comes from Bertolt Brecht (I'm neither arguing nor denying it; just saying I haven't verified that myself, and I try to be careful about these things).  It put me in mind of my trip through the East Texas countryside this weekend.

The Lovely Wife and I saw two Confederate battle flags flying brazenly in very rural settings (contrary to popular opinion there are still some rural parts of Texas.  After all, we have more major metropolitan areas than any state outside of California.  You could look it up).  They weren't flying because the owners wanted to recover the losses of the Lost Cause, or even declare their independence from Washington, D.C.  They were simply being flown in defiance, in proof that "You can't make me NOT do it!"

A childish and petulant gesture, in other words.

How do I know?  I've lived among these people for 60 years.  I know them.  To some degree, I admire them.  They are "good people," because I've learned that when you get to know people, most of them are good.  Not perfect, not ideal, not in complete conformity with your most cherished beliefs; but good.

May the same be said of you, and may you have the wisdom to be content with it.

Back to Brecht, then.  The sentiment sounds good:  ennobling, inspiring, uplifting.

But it all depends on what you struggle for, doesn't it?  Part of the defiance I saw this weekend, pitiful as it was, is because those people don't want to be thought of as the "dispensable ones."  It's not so simple as either/or, as dispensable or indispensable.

So much depends, indeed.....

Of the making of books there is no end....


I was going to say I misunderstood Ta-Nehisi Coates because I didn't look at his statement to Jon Stewart in context (a sin of omission I feel very keenly; I like to be careful about context, lest I turn into Alex Jones without the notoriety.  What fresh hell would that be!)

And then I read this:

It was somewhere around the middle of the first chapter of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, “Between the World and Me,” where I began to realize that the quintessential atheist and humanist text of my generation, if there could be such a thing, was neither “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins nor “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris, nor any number of other worthy contenders by astrophysicists or cognitive scientists or philosophers or by humanist chaplains like me, but this shit right here.

"This shit" being Coates' new book.  What struck me was that the bar for being a "humanist chaplain" at Harvard University is a very low one, as once again we have an atheist obsessed with religious practice ("Ten years ago I gladly signed a contract committing to never pray in public, not even as a metaphor.") and a worshipper at the altar of the dark god "Nollij:" "Yes, as a humanist I like to consider myself a person of knowledge and consciousness."

Gotta say, "consciousness" sounds pretty New Age-y religious-y to me, but then I'm an old guy, my memory stretches back a long way.

Still, the irony is that, while this "humanist chaplain" (chaplain is a religious word, right?) argues that:

Coates was writing of good intentions, at the point where I began to recognize. Americans have good intentions. Few of us see ourselves as wanting to oppress anyone. Most of us pride ourselves on not being racist. But in an era where we are trying to do better than simply not kill people like Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner, Coates writes, good intention “is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

He gives no evidence of having done the self-reflective work of any pastor (seminary is nothing if not a challenge to your assumptions, whatever they are.  A good seminary roots them out the way boot camp roots out your individuality and makes you think of your brothers in arms first and foremost.) or, for that matter, any laudable Christian.  Not that all Christians have to do such hard work, but it's the first step if you want to hold yourself out as a chaplain; which is still a religious word, right?

Funny, that.

He also gives no evidence of the slightest awareness of Neibuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society, which is not the only Christian work on society and morality, but it's probably the one most accessible to atheists (and one that has provided insights valuable to sociology, not a field notable for its religious foundations)*.  So I'm forced to ask:  what knowledge does this guy have, except an awareness of avoiding anything that appears to be religious (except his title/office at Harvard)?

I can think of any number of Christian writers, including black liberation theologians, writing about the ease with which we all overlook our ability to oppress others with a whitewash of how good our intentions are.  It's a standard Christian critique going back to 1st century Palestine (or at least to 4th century Augustine).  And frankly with a great deal more internal coherence.

Of course, if the "essential atheist text" of this generation is a work by Dawkins, Harris, or, frankly. Coates; this generation of atheists is in serious intellectual trouble.  The funny thing is, they don't seem to know enough to know that.

*That second quote just sounds to me like kinder, gentler Niebuhr.  And for the record, it was seminary that "woke me up."  I had an excellent professor, an African American, who was passionate about black liberation theology and his own personal stories of being shadowed in department stores and pulled over for DWB; and one of my peers was a black woman with a painful history of racism she made clear to the rest of us, who soon learned how much privilege we had as whites, and didn't even know it.  She learned from us (eventually) that not all whites were as hateful as she wanted to believe (she had her reasons, and her pains); we learned from her how much about being white we took for granted.  I didn't read it in a book; I experienced it.

Experience is a much better teacher of some things.

Where does one go to train as an atheist chaplain?  What educational experience is equivalent to what I learned from my professors and my student peers that wasn't in any book?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"Violence. Is there nothing it can't do?"

If you are still interested in the crying child in the Portland diner, Rebecca Schuman has absolutely the last word on it* (the comments are as twitter-pated as comments are anywhere on the web, an irony lost on the commenters).

I'm shocked to find out the pancakes at the diner are 14 inches across and 1 inch thick.  I agree with Schuman:  if you can't fix three small pancakes in 10 minutes for one crying (screaming?  Howling?  Again, everyone assumes their worst nightmare to accommodate their conclusion in this story, when nobody knows how obnoxious, or not, the child was) baby you need to get out of the business.  I mean, hell, this is a diner, not a 5 star Michelin restaurant known for its resplendent American breakfasts!  And even then, what kind of restaurant can't bend to serve its customers?

Anyway.....

Schuman sums up nicely (no, the parent shouldn't have ranted on Facebook because, yes, a nameless rabble is reading EVERYTHING on the Internet, and "going viral" has a connotation of "diseased and out of control" for a reason!):

Everyone in the interminable debate about children in public is right enough—everyone except the Internet. For every parent who lets the kid jump up and down on ketchup packets and shove recently-shorn fish skin into unsuspecting diners’ faces (this happened to me when I was seven months pregnant, and boy did I judge), there are 10 who are really and sincerely doing their goddamned best. But the Internet doesn’t care. The Internet, and everyone on it (myself included), wants to pounce on teeny-tiny tyrants and their torrents of terror, and then use those moments—arguably low points in the lives of everyone involved—to invoke yet another dumb conversation that has no détente and goes on for time immemorial.
Actually, the internet wants to pounce on anything to invoke not conversation but screaming, where detente isn't even an option and nothing ever dies because it is in a timeless present until the next viral thing comes along and becomes the present.

A cautionary tale for us all, I suppose.

*I think she sums up the known facts a bit too much in favor of the diner owner but call me Rumpole.

Friday, July 24, 2015

“I feel like [the arc of history] bends toward chaos"


Ta-Nehisi Coates, to Jon Stewart.

I don't agree with the sentiment, but I wanted to point out it's not just a clever variant on the phrase made famous by Dr. King (and not original to him).  It's also a fine summation of the ancient Greek view of existence.

Nothing wrong with that, either; but it points up a sharp difference between Mr. Coates and Dr. King, probably sharper than Mr. Coates meant.  That difference is Christianity, not to put too fine a point on it.  One of the confessions of Christianity is that the God of Abraham is active in history, and therefore we have hope for the future.

Remove that, and you get a view of history that tends only towards chaos.  It's not an illegitimate view; but it is one predicted by Nietzsche and Sartre, to name two atheists.  If you want to face it that way:  face it.  If you want to argue it that way:  argue it.  Mr. Coates supports it, at least in part, this way:  “And I think the record of history — and human history — is behind me.”

Well, history certainly doesn't show an inexorable movement toward perfection; but towards chaos?

I'm left wondering what history he's talking about; and glad I have at least a different lens through which I see that history.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The times they are a-changin'


Speaking of the importance of narrative, this intrigues me.

The newest "Fantastic Four" movie is due out soon.  Reed Richards has been transformed (it started in the comic books, apparently; movies are notoriously conservative, no matter what you've heard) from a wise elder to a precocious youngster.  In the comics Richards was always a bit of an outlier:  the graying at the temples scientific genius who was a steady anchor for the younger siblings of Sue and Johnny Storm, the calm and reflective opposite of the pugnacious and willing-to-punch Ben Grimm, a/k/a The Thing.

Many of Marvel's superheroes were adults:  Tony Stark, Thor (a/k/a Dr. Donald Blake), Captain America, etc.  Some were teenagers:  Peter Parker/Spiderman, Johnny Storm/The Human Torch.  It was a mixed bag, but it was anchored by adults.  Reed was the eldest of the adults, the guy with the graying temples and some accumulated wisdom; but mostly accumulated knowledge.

That's really the only way you get knowledge:  to accumulate it.  You can recover it, a la Plato; you can accumulate it, a la Locke; but nobody is just born with it.

Prodigies seem to be, but prodigies are always limited to highly systemized subjects:  music and math, for example.  Not too many prodigies writing great novels at the age of 5, or turning a scientific field on its head.  That requires knowledge no one can be born with.  Obviously people can be born with an ability to follow a system, like music or mathematics, more rapidly and easily than the rest of us.  But still, there's an exposure; a child old enough to sit at a keyboard and play (physical development) is also a child who has been exposed to music enough to have caught on (never doubt the learning capacity of children; they come out of the womb paying attention, of this I am convinced).

So a scientific prodigy is someone with a strong ability to engage a field of science; but not born knowing all that science knows now.

In the trailers for the "Fantastic Four" movie, Reed Richards is described as knowing "the answers to question we don't even know to ask yet."  Why?  Because he's young, and he's "disruptive."  No, that isn't part of the ad campaign; it's an assumed part of the premise.  The '60's cry of "never trust anyone over 30!" has become the working assumption of our age.  If Reed were the old man of the comic books, he'd be locked into old man thinking, and thus incapable of doing the disruptive, innovative work necessary to fuel a breakthrough that creates, well, four superheroes.

Reed, of course, was always on the cutting edge of science.  The Fantastic Four originally gained their powers by flying through "cosmic rays" in a space ship of Richards' design.  Now they need a new excuse; but what's most interesting is, they need a much younger Reed to get that excuse.

The latest trailer plays the Jobs/Wozniak card, to no surprise.  Reed as a child with friend Ben Grim is in Reed's garage, trying to build a device that will transport living things to other dimensions.  Despite the spitzensparken und blinkenlights in his garage (it's a movie, after all), he fails.  But the clear implication is:  he was born to do this, and just give him time and enough technology, and he will do it.

And, of course, he does.

Which draws a straight line to the heart of this origin story, making it oddly simplistic (Reed was always a genius in many scientific fields, not just obsessed with one goal; but anyway.....), but instructive.  Genius is now wholly born, not at all made; and it just needs a big enough garage to achieve fulfillment.  Never mind that it seems Richards' efforts create Ultron (in the form of Dr. Doom), and so the abilities of the Fantastic Four are needed to defeat what Reed Richards has unleashed (at least I think that's the way it's going to go), if you're gonna be disruptive you gotta break a few eggs, amirite?  Maybe even destroy the world in order to recreate a better one?  Hey, creative destruction, right?  That's disruptive!

The narrative shifts to meet our new assumptions.  The old story of the Fantastic Four's origins is too old:  "cosmic rays," pffft!  We need a new explanation, and we need new wineskins for this new wine.  Maybe knowledge was once something accumulated and useful (in the comics Richards did plenty to expose the world to dangers, that's not really new), but tempered with wisdom (we can build an atomic bomb, but we're wise enough to never use it.  Well, once; okay, twice; but not after that!).  Johnny was the hothead who ran to trouble rather than tried to figure out a strategy; Ben was the guy who relied on brute strength in all situations.  Both were useful, but without the reflective Reed to organize them, they seldom succeeded alone.  And now it's young people who "think outside the box" and aren't limited by "knowledge" or "experience," and who invent from whole cloth in their garages (not what Wozniak and Jobs did, by the way; not by a long shot).  And they only need old people for their money and their government connections, because the really good stuff only comes from using technology, and blinkenlights und spitzensparken don't come cheap.

But once we've used 'em for that, we leave 'em behind on the dustheap of history!

I'm catching a whiff of this just now, in the determination to see the internet and smart phones as harbingers of a break with a sordid past.  Racism, rape, poverty, war, economic turbulence:  all problems foisted on Millenials by lazy and selfish and greedy Boomers.  The only solution (as Boomers themselves thought, for a few minutes sometime in the '60's) is to make a clean break with the generation before, the one still old enough to be running things, or to be role models.*  After all, now we have smart phones!

I saw a PBS show just last night that discussed the pervasive nature of the internet and the smart phone, but then took the whole "revolution" back to Gutenberg's innovation of type cast from lead, rather than carved from wood.  He reduced printing time to one week for a book, where before it had taken nearly a year.  Now THAT'S revolutionary! That small change led to near universal literacy.  The internet and video seem to be leading us in the opposite direction.

I still think Andrew Carnegie had more impact on American intellectual life than the internet, which has only made cranks and crazies and yahoos more accessible to all.  As Bart Ehrman observed:

I am finding, now that I am becoming active on the Internet, that engaging in discussion here can mean entering into a black hole: there is no way out once you hit the event horizon. Many critics of my work have boundless energy and, seemingly, endless time. I myself have lots of energy, but not lots of time. I have had my say now, in an attempt to show my scholarly competence. I do not plan on pursuing the matter time and time again in this medium. My main energies – and my limited time – need to be devoted to the two ultimate goals of my career: to advance scholarship among scholars and to explain scholarship to popular audiences. That requires me to write books, and that takes massive amounts of time. That is where I will be putting the bulk of my energies, not to writing lengthy responses defending myself against unfounded charges of incompetence.
Of the making of books there is no end, and much study is a vexation, the Preacher observed.  But the internet has dissolved books in the acid of NOW, and abjures study in favor of strongly held (and held to) opinions.  The "Information Age" is more and more shaping up as the "Mis-Information Age."

And our vanguard seems to be in danger of becoming children who can't possibly know anything; which is where Reed Richards begins to look a lot like Donald Trump.

*as if on cue....

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Welcome to Jurassic World.....


Narrative is powerful, especially when it tells us what we want to hear.  Take this as an example:

“I had the worst experience at this establishment. The owner is an absolute lunatic and screamed in the face of my almost 2 year old child bc she was crying. Who in their right mind would behave like this unless you are deranged. You have a problem with a child crying then you are not suitable to run a business. If it bothered you so much you should have spoke to me and not traumatized my child by screaming in her face.”

But owner Darla Neugebauer fired back with a swift rebuttal. “Iit [sic] all started because YOUR PARTY NEEDED 3 full size pancakes for this 2 year old! 3 f__king pancakes at Marcy’s! I believe right here should have told me you were ignorant!… After your 4th attempt to shut her up I asked you to pack up either your rotten child or take the so important pancakes to go….. but NNNNOOOOOOO you just sit there & let your f__king screaming kid go! & piss off my staff & patrons! F__k you! And guess what? She shut the f__k up after I yelled from 5 feet away! I was in your stupid husband’s face I was in! the without any balls! I have a business to run & yes I am f__king crazy & you are lucky I didn’t get really f__king nuts because being physical is not something I cower from.” In another post, she added that the crying had gone on for 40 minutes and added, “Good luck lady with that monster! Good thing I thrive on hate!”
That's the full story as recounted in an article at Salon.  The comments to the article reflect what is probably the most common reaction to this set of facts:  the parents should have either controlled their child, or removed it from the premises.  This story probably engenders precious little sympathy for the parents.

Now you might also almost immediately say, with the author of the Salon article, that the diner owner had no cause to be so belligerent as to yell at a two year old.  Fair enough.  Examine the story as presented here and look at what the stories agree on:

1) There was a 2 year old child involved.
2) The diner owner yelled at the child.

Those are the facts not in dispute.

The parent says the child was "crying."  The diner owner says the child was "screaming" and "piss[ed] off my staff and patrons."  She goes on to insist "being physical is not something I cower from," a notoriously brave statement on the Internet, and even braver in the face of admitting she screamed at a 2 year old child.

Was the child having a temper tantrum ("screaming")?  Was the child "crying"?  One of those two things were happening, but we don't know which.  It makes a difference as to who was unreasonable here, who is at fault.  But we can't resolve it; we have two different narratives.  How do we reconcile them?

Well, screaming/crying children in public places are annoying, and we all wish the parents would either remove them from the building or yell back at them to shut up!  Or something.  So maybe the parents are to blame.

Still, how long did this go on?  The diner owner says it lasted 40 minutes.  Long enough to make her seem tolerant, not so precise as to make it look like she was watching a clock until some arbitrary time limit had been reached.  The mother says the diner owner "screamed in the face of my almost 2 year old child."  The diner owner says she she yelled at the child "from 5 feet away!"  She also says the parents made "40" attempts (she likes that number) to silence the child, and that she did speak to the parents first, although the mother denies that fact.

Again, who is right?  Was the owner in the child's face?  Or 5 feet away?

I'm really not interested in the answer to those questions; I'm interested in the questions.  How do we know who is right, here?  With whom should our sympathies legitimately lie?  Parents may sympathize with the parents; or may pride themselves in never having let their child behave that way in public.  Restaurant patrons may applaud the owner, thinking of the times a restaurant full of children (or seemingly so; a few children can seem to fill a lot of space) made their meal memorable for all the wrong reasons.  No, what interests me is the narrative, and who quickly we accept one.

Which do you accept?  The mother's?  Or the owner's?  And why?  The owner blames the problem on  the family ordering pancakes for the child.  Was that the problem?  In what world does it take 40 minutes to make pancakes?  I can crank out, from scratch, a stack of 8 or 10 pancakes in under 30 minutes, and that includes getting the bowls and griddle out.  I would expect a diner that serves pancakes to have the batter ready made, or nearly so, and in a "crisis" to spit them out quickly, in hopes of placating a hungry 2 year old.

Or was that not the problem?  I would also expect the parents not to subject a restaurant to the screams of their child for 40 minutes.  But was the child screaming?  And did it go on for 40 minutes?  It may have seemed like it; but 40 minutes by the clock is an epic meltdown, I think even the most determined child would exhaust themselves long before then.

So what happened?  Again, it's not what happened that's interesting.  It's our willingness to decide something must have happened, and this is what it was!, that's of interest here.  Almost every comment at Salon (taken merely as representative responses of the general public) has an opinion about what went wrong and what should have been done to make it right, from removing the child to never entering the diner (most sympathize with the owner, one way or another).  None stop to consider they don't know what happened, or what could have been done about a situation they have so little, and so much conflicting, information about.

The family was in the diner; the child was creating some kind of disturbance (who wants to even hear a child sobbing softly?).  That's what we know.  Oh, and the owner screamed at a 2 year old.  We know that, too.

But everyone who reads that story is convinced they KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!  And knowing what happened, they know who was RIGHT and, more importantly, who was WRONG!!

Narratives are powerful things.  They're like the imaginary dinosaurs of Jurassic Park:  we don't have enough information (DNA) to reproduce the whole story, so we fill in with what's available (our experience/opinions, or, in my analogy, frog DNA) to make a story that runs on two legs.

And then tries to devour us. Narratives are powerful things.  And it's not the content of them that matters; it's what we make of the content, that matters.

UPDATE:  I want to add this, from the comments at Salon, furthering my point about the power of narrative (especially in culture):

When my daughter was 8 months, we (my husband and I and my parents) took her to Ghana to meet her father's side of the family. As soon as we boarded the plane in Chicago, we were greeted with a wall of glares, like we'd brought a skunk on board or something. She was even smiling and laughing as we boarded. She did fuss for most of take-off (it was rough, I wanted to fuss too; and, yes, I did give her a bottle to help with her ears) and then again later in the flight for a minute or so. But for the rest of the seven hours, she was very quiet. As we deplaned, some of the people who had been glaring told us what a "beautiful baby" she was. Others still glared. One thanked us for ruining his flight (as if 10 minutes of crying is what ruined 7 hours in an airborne sardine can).

On the leg from Heathrow to Accra, when my daughter was a lot more tired and fussy and, in fact, screaming her head off as we boarded, the African people (especially the women) on board lit up like we'd brought a Christmas present. They were practically lining up to play with her, and they told us what a beautiful baby she was even as she screamed her head off.

In America when you're among friends and family with a baby everyone wants to hold the baby - until she poops or cries, then it's right back to mama. In Ghana they just wave you away - "No, no, mama, relax. It's fine. Sit. Have a drink." It's just understood that babies and little kids cry and no one goes into screaming rants about it, most especially not in the baby's face.
That comment came just before a comment pointing out that "evolution" had made us all respond negatively to a child's crying, so we really can't help ourselves when we find it annoying.  Science, right?  Culture, actually.

Culture is the story we tell ourselves about how we are supposed to behave.  We are supposed to react negatively to a crying child, so that's the way everybody does it.  Except, of course, culture is not that kind of universal.  Nor, it turns out, are stories.

But we want them to be.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"How long...before we get the fourth wall-TV put in?"

This makes me think I should re-investigate Ricouer on narrative:

It’s unfortunate that Black Cindy’s narrative is unique, but in the world of prestige dramas and comedies, religion or acts of worship are usually presented as things outside of intellectuality or artistic expression. “The Good Wife” has done an excellent job of critiquing the public perception of atheism with Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick. In Season 6, although she does not struggle with her beliefs, there are some interesting complications along the way (especially because she’s running for public office). Alicia’s atheism fits well with her character—she’s analytical, smart and a realist.
She believes in the law and is concerned primarily with its execution, as opposed to issues of faith.

Although religion was never a topic that became a major part of the series (which is telling in and of itself), we saw similar oppositions between faith and intellect (or faith and work) on “Mad Men.”

Peggy Olson’s character (played by Elisabeth Moss) was responsible for the few storylines concerned with religion, and she was set in direct opposition against her Catholic mother and sister. Her relationship with Father Gill in Season 2 seemed to work against these oppositions at times, but for the duration of the series they mostly stayed in place. In Season 3 “Mad Men” also gave us this memorable exchange between Sally Draper and Betty:

Sally: Why don’t we go to church?

Betty: We go to church.

Sally: On Christmas. Carla goes every Sunday.

Betty: We don’t need to go every week.

The issue of class not-so-subtly creeps into the dialogue here, as Sally is asking about their black nanny and maid. It’s implied that she’s someone who needs church, while the Draper family can afford to attend just once a year.

Perhaps the best “Mad Men” example might be the [failed] relationship between Don Draper and Rachel Menken. One of the most emotional scenes of the final season saw Draper attending her shiva. Her Jewish background was always a point of interest, but because the character was not a series regular, we saw her more as Don’s lover—the one who got away—rather than a character for whom religion was important.

If the thesis isn't clear there, it was stated explicitly a bit earlier:

Bob Dylan would say we’re all gonna have to serve somebody, but Black Cindy’s storyline suggests that how we worship and believe is as important as what or whom we worship. And when her Afro Puffs went kosher, so to speak, “OITNB” brought us the type of religious conversion narrative rarely, if ever, seen on television.

I suppose we could focus on the irony that Bob Dylan is a Jew who converted to Christianity (a long time back, if the stories are true), but for the article, the thesis is that "issues of religion" are matters of worship and belief.  Religion is about how you spend some portion of your week (in worship) and what you believe in.

Black Cindy: Honestly? I think I found my people. I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell. If I was good, I’d go to heaven. If I asked Jesus, he’d forgive me, and that was that. And here, y’all sayin’ it ain’t no hell. Ain’t sure about heaven. And if you do something wrong, you got to figure it out yourself. And as far as God is concerned, it’s yo’ job to keep askin’ questions, and to keep learnin’ and to keep arguing. It’s like a verb. It’s like—you do God. And it’s a lot of work, but I think I’m in.
There's something of Kathleen Norris in there, and of religious people taking their religion seriously enough to devote their lives to it, as nuns and monks and priests; but then again, not really.  The point of religious belief is not to center your life on arguing with God, either, even if you meditate deeply on the idea that "Israel" means "struggles with God."  If that's all you're doing, you're still a non-believer struggling with some very simplistic idea of the notion of "belief."  Which is not what the Drapers do; or Peggy Olson; or Alicia Florrick.

But it's the narrative of what believers are supposed to be doing.  On the other hand, does anybody have a narrative where they imagine Pope Francis doing this all day? Or Sr. Simone Campbell? Or should we better start with Ricouer?

On the other hand, the relation between these two hermenuetics begins to reverse itself once we begin to consider the other side of the narrative, namely, the confession of faith. But this other dimension remains inseperable from the structure of the story. Not just any theology whatsoever can be tied to the narrative form, but only a theology that proclaims Yahweh to be the grand actor of a history of deliverance. Without a doubt it is this point that forms the greatest contrast between the God of Israel and the God of Greek philosophy. The theology of traditions knows nothing of concepts of cause, foundation, or essence. It speaks of God in accord with the historical drama, instituted by the acts of deliverance reported in the story. This manner of speaking of God is no less meaningful than that of the Greeks. It is a theology homogenous with the narrative structure itself, a theology in the form of Heilsgeschicte.
Paul Ricouer, "Philosophy and Religion," Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, tr. David Pellauer, ed. Mark I. Wallace (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress 1995), 40.

The narrative of the confession of faith is not a narrative of how religious believers explain themselves to non-believers.  The frame of the narrative presumed in the Salon article is that all believers are deeply concerned with the question of belief, with the validity of belief, with even the facticity of God.  But that's a modern obsession, a non-believer's obsession, even an atheist's obsession (whose source of identity, as an atheist, is in being opposed to the belief of the theist, a curious attempt to be yang to their yin; the atheist thus needs the believer; the believer doesn't need the atheist.).  But the confession of faith is not a confession of a proof of God's existence, or a conclusion as to all the important questions of life (that much Black Cindy and I can already agree on).

To the world, the accepted narrative of faith is that only atheists are concerned with matters like the law and its execution; which surprises at least this Christian lawyer, and many other Christian and Jewish and Muslim lawyers I've known.  The stories Ricouer speaks of are the powerful stories often encountered in spirituals (Thought Criminal has run a series on spirituals; you should look at them), or in both the abolitionist movement and the Civil Rights movement.  Those stories are still the backbone of the "black church" experience in America.  They don't have a lot to do with the validity of worship or the existence of God; they have a lot more to do with issues related to the law and its execution.

Consult the writings of Dr. King, for more information.

This is the box popular culture wants to squeeze religion into; squeeze it in and declare it defined and relegated.  Not that evangelicalism and fundamentalism haven't worked hard to make that narrative the dominant narrative of religion in America.  In an excellent article at Religion Dispatches the reduction of Christianity to a never ending cycle of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption is discussed in terms of Billy Graham's grandson, who confessed to an extra-marital affair.  If you're old enough to remember Jimmy Swaggart sobbing out his confession, you know the routine.  If you grew up around the "revivalist" culture of the South, you know this is the backbone of southern Christianity in almost all it's varied forms.  And yes, it's pretty thin gruel and a pretty shallow pool, and the reason I saw, 20 years ago now, such pastors announcing to each other they'd discovered something new to revive worship in December:  Advent.

Maybe Christianity really is just all about worship.  One can be forgiven for thinking so when revivals are a central part of one's worship life; when altar calls are the central ceremony of public confession, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.  I didn't grow up in that church culture, even among my grandparents and their friends in the Primitive Baptist church, but I grew up amongst it and I know its contours fairly well.  The old joke was that we got all the Baptists sobered up enough of Sunday morning to get 'em to church to ask forgiveness for what they did on Saturday night; and that was pretty much what being a Southern Baptist meant.  My grandparents, on the other hand, were poor people among poor people who brought food every Sunday, sang from shaped-note hymnals because they wouldn't use even a piano, listened to lay preachers like my grandfather, shared a generous meal after every worship service, and called each other "Brother Madison" and Sister Lenore," and it meant they were family because they were one in the spirit and one in the Lord.  And if they struggled, they struggled with how to live up to what God meant to them, and what God's word meant.  They didn't go to church every Sunday because they needed to; they went because they wanted to.  They went because that's where the family would be, and they wanted to be among them.

I attended a black church once, in seminary.  It was an assignment, a push to expose us to as many forms of Christian worship as we could find.  It was the only church service I've ever attended where the pastor had to take the microphone and urge people to leave, so the next group of worshippers could get in, and the next service start on time.  Nobody watched the clock during worship, and nobody was anxious to leave the company of the others when it was done.

Neither of those narratives show up in the stories of the Drapers or the Catholic church of Peggy Olson, or even in the Judaism of Rachel Mencken or Black Cindy.  That's all right, of course, they don't have to.  But we take literary representations as either distillations of a hard-found truth (the initial comments at Salon disparage the author's opening linking a mere "TV show" to the literary efforts of James Joyce or John Milton, as if one can only sully the purity, the holiness, of the other), or as fair representations of how the world "really is."  And much as I enjoy "Mad Men" and admire Matthew Weiner's use of religion in his story-telling (especially the episode that focusses on Holy Week and Easter at Peggy's church), "Mad Men" doesn't represent anything beyond the stories of those characters.

There is a narrative we cannot, dare not, challenge.  Once it is settled upon (and it is settled upon quickly, in almost any new story that comes along), it is assumed as true and solid as the ground we walk on, as the houses we live in, and not even flood and fire and wind can destroy it fully.  But the narratives about faith don't even begin to consider the narrative of the confession of faith (except as a confession to never think again).  And that is, at the least, a disservice to the world we live in, even as we become more and more determined to live in it through the lens (!) of the narratives we see on screens, the constantly flickering screens that are making the future more and more like the one Ray Bradbury imagined in Fahrenheit 451 and "The Pedestrian," every day.

Friday, July 17, 2015

We interrupt this program to bring you the following information....


My discussions of biblical theology are obviously more interesting than politics, but I wanted to note this as an object lesson in why 14+ men and women are pursuing the GOP Presidential nomination.

Former Gov. Rick Perry has now spent more than $2 million in state campaign cash fighting the abuse-of-power indictment against him, according to finance records made public Thursday.
Rick Perry has never had a non-government job in his entire adult life.  There is no way he could amass savings of $2 million on a government employees salary, even as Governor of Texas.  He only has that kind of money to spend because he has rich friends who gave him a lot of money to run for Governor; or Secretary of Agriculture; or Lt. Governor.

Every candidate for the GOP nomination is going to raise and keep more money than they can make outside of the lecture/best-sellers circuit, and that circuit is open only to a few people.  If they can't grab that brass ring, they at least get the sure thing of the campaign donations.  It makes even people like Rick Perry very rich.

As Charlie Pierce likes to say:  "This is your democracy, America.  Cherish it."

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.....

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Separate the wheat...from the chaff...'cause I feel...that I owe....to someone!"


Too much time among the more demented critics of religion to be found on the intertoobs will warp your spirit.  Reading H. Richard Niebuhr's seminal study of faith, Faith on Earth, I find that Bertrand Russell was the last great proponent of faith being "believing what you know ain't so," to use William James' formulation.  For Russell such an assessment is part and parcel of his logical positivism, so it's little wonder he was so appalled by his most famous student (who far exceeded the master), Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Russell understood far less than he thought he did.  Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and (especially) Daniel Dennett are his intellectual grandchildren; and the gang of on-line atheists are his disciples and ignorant acolytes.  The further you go from the source, the more the knowledge becomes attenuated.

I do not use the term "ignorant" lightly, or merely pejoratively.  I went looking for something on Thomas Paine earlier, curious about how much of an atheist he truly was, since all the quotes from him favored by on-line atheists, all his language denouncing priests and the "church." sounded very true to form for most of the Founding Fathers and for the Puritans who immediately preceded them (and were still in full flower in late 18th century America).  My interest was piqued by Jeffrey Tayler's latest rant.  I quickly found out Paine wasn't an atheist; he was a Deist, with a rather decided interest in apophatic theology.

That took all of about five minutes on Google.

But never let information get in the way of a good rant; which is why the demented critics of religion will warp your spirit.  It isn't just at Salon you find such nonsense; Religion Dispatches is overcrowded with ignorant comments, too.  Most commenters at either site betray little or no knowledge of scripture, but a fundamentalist certainty that their understanding of it, however limited, is the only one possible.  That itself is not even surprising.  There is a basic understanding that we all read the same text in the same way, and a million readers can't be wrong.  So when someone challenges the standard interpretation of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book Tom Brokaw has foolishly said taught us all about race (maybe it taught an ignorant South Dakota boy, but I knew more about race from my childhood than Lee's book ever covered), it triggers outrage.  Brokaw's "interpretation" is not far off the standard one, yet point out that "standard" interpretation is a weak one that does a great disservice to both the idea of race in America, and a fine novel, and you release the howler monkeys who insist there is one right way to read a book, and lots of wrong ways, especially those invented by "scholars."

We are right because so many people agree with us.  And we know they agree, because we all reject those who disagree with us.  They are outcast; they are anathema; they are wrong.

Which is itself a hermeneutic, although a very weak one.  It really is all about hermeneutics; about what system of interpretation you employ.  But questioning the system of interpretation you rely on, is akin to challenging the earth-centered model of the cosmos, or the claim of science to reveal and know Truth.  It is done all the time by intelligent people; but those aren't the people you are likely to meet on the internet.

Take the standard interpretation of morality, for example, one that insists the "Bible says" that if you don't follow God's laws, God will smack you down like the little bug you are.  And that fear of retribution is the only value religion ever had, the only reason it ever had for legitimacy, and since we don't need that fear anymore, we don't need religion in order to be moral and ethical anymore, either.

I could point out this "reasoning" is bollocks dating back to the 19th century (the intelligentsia's fear that without the fear of God backing the British class system, society itself would crumble), or that it's a cruel misreading of scripture used by various Christian churches for millennia.  But if I start with scripture, try as I might, I can't find any justification for the sentiment that God is just looking for a transgression to smite in either the Hebrew scriptures or the Gospels and letters.

Where does Jesus say that those who don't follow his teachings will burn in hell forever?  Quote me the passage, please.  Where does Jesus say that every jot and tittle of the law must be followed more scrupulously than the Pharisees do (the favor bug-bear of the Gospels) or God will uncork a righteous wrath like you ain't never seen before?  Where, in fact, in the Hebrew scriptures, during one of the foundational events of Hebrew history (the first being the Exodus from Egypt, the second being the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.; the one in question now being the Babylonian Exile), does any verse describe God unleashing a storm of wrath and punishment on Israel?

Please; again:  chapter and verse.  Quote it for me.  You have the internet, it shouldn't be that hard to find.

I'll save you the trouble:  it isn't there.  The worst thing God does, and God does this explicitly in the visions of Ezekiel, the worst thing God does is to remove God's presence from the Temple.  The famous vision of the chariot-throne, with wheels within wheels, with four beasts for each corner of the throne and smoke and fire and all the theophany Ezekiel can describe, indicates God is on the loose, God is the God of Creation, not of a building, and God goes where God wills.  If that is not necessarily with God's people, that is not a punishment, that is not the "sinners in the hands of an angry God" of American Puritanism; it is God leaving the children of Abraham to what they have chosen.  God does not punish the children of Abraham for breaking a commandment or two.  God leaves them to the consequences of their actions, because God told them what was good, and how to live their lives in a way that would benefit them, just as any loving parent tells their child; and then when the child decided to make a different choice, what could God do but leave them to the consequences of their choices?

But even as God leaves Israel to the consequences of their actions, God promises to restore Israel, to bring them back, to be with them and comfort them and return them to the benefits of the covenant they enjoyed since the time of Abraham.  Where is the wrath and anger and vengeance of a punishing God, in that?*

If there is any lesson in the Hebrew Scriptures, in this truly seminal event of their history (the bulk of the Hebrew Scriptures concerns the Exile; not the Creation, not Abraham, not the Exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness, etc., etc., etc.  Most of that is taken up in parts of one book, or in one book that gets repeated and restated because of the Exile (Deuteronomy); the bulk of the scriptures that isn't history after the settling of the Promised Land, is the Prophets.  The prophets all write out of the experience of Exile; before, during, after.  You could look it up.

And the seminal lesson of that experience?  God will not save anyone from themselves.  Neither will God punish.  The Deuteronimsts thought that God was angry with them, that living precisely as God had said to live under the law, was salvation.  They weren't wrong, but they weren't right, if they though following the law was a way of appeasing God.  I have no expertise in Hebrew and Jewish readings of that book; but Christians eagerly took it was a punishment.  Then again, Christians eagerly invented the figure of Satan as a power co-equal (or nearly so) to God.  Christians appear to like punishment a bit more than the Hebrews; then again, Christianity was all but born in punishment, its founding figure punished by the state for his dangerous politics.s

The lesson of the Hebrew Scriptures is not that God punishes those who disobey God.  The lesson is that God's way is Wisdom; is Sophia.  Read it carefully, you'll find Sophia there.  It is no accident John's Gospel starts with a hymn to the Logos; that is the 1st century Greek version of the semitic idea of Sophia, who is also linked to creation in the Hebrew scriptures.  The hymn John uses doesn't invent a new idea, it restates it, much as Deuteronomy restates Exodus and Leviticus.  New wine for new wine skins, but made from much the same grapes.

Jesus continues that conversation in the Gospels.  Was man made for the Sabbath, or the Sabbath for man?  It's an especially trenchant question in a culture that says we don't work hard enough, we don't put in enough hours, that we should be accessible 24/7 and work from home because we can never leave our work behind because if we don't do it, someone in Asia will do it for us.  Jesus doesn't come to renounce the law; he comes to interpret it.  And again, the law is not meant to put humankind in a strait-jacket (well, for Jesus, the law only applies to the children of Abraham; universalizing the law was, again, what Christians did).  It was meant to give guidance, to provide an "ethos" in the way Aristotle meant it:  behavior that would lead to happiness and a fulfilled life, not picayune rules to dog your every step and leave you in fear of eternal punishment.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats at the end of Matthew, Jesus doesn't say the judgment will fall on those who didn't dot every "i" and cross every "t', who knew better but didn't act on their knowledge effectively enough.  The judgment, in fact, falls on the ignorant alike:  "Lord, when did we see you?" is the only question both groups ask.  And the answer isn't about the Ten Commandments or gay marriage or abortion, it's about caring for each other:  whenever you fed a hungry person, clothed a naked person, housed a homeless person, visited the imprisoned; you served God directly.  And again, is the judgment a punishment?  Or a consequence?  Even in the most materialistic view of the cosmos, do we doubt that actions have consequences, that causes create effects we might rather avoid?

Lord, when did we see you?  You don't know.  How can you know?  You can't.  Even as Jesus tells the parable, it implies we will forget it (and we have); that we will ignore it's most obvious lesson (and we have), that we will come to the Final Judgment and in all honesty ask the question anyway:  "Lord, when did we see you?"  And our knowledge of the Law or of Scripture or of doctrine or even our life-long fear of God's wrath, will count for nothing.  "Whatever you did/did not to, for the least of these, you did/did not do for me."  That's all that will matter.

If we insist it is still about fear, about getting right with God before the wrath descends, before the heavy hand smites us, we are not speaking for God:  we are only speaking for ourselves, for our desire for power, to be in charge, to make the call, to deal out the justice.  If we insist it is all about internals:  about how we think, or understand, or formulate a doctrine, a soteriology, a Christology, a theology:  we are still wrong.  What matters is what we do.

But those who deal in justice, face justice, too.  We forget that part.  We think justice is just about who has the power.  The parent who whips a child has the power; the child can't whip back.  The policeman who shoots someone to death has the power; that person can't shoot back.  The society that imprisons and condemns and executes, has the power.  Society cannot be defeated.  Justice is all about who has the power.

But that's not justice at all.  The frightening thing about God's justice is not God's righteous anger; it is that God's justice is just to us, too.

We can be frightened into this; but God is not trying to frighten us.  We can feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give water to the thirsty in a frantic attempt to keep the watchful eye of God/Sauron turned from us, but what life is that?  If we want an empty, pointless, fearful, desiccated life, we can have it.  God will not save us from ourselves.  But if we want a fulfilled, happy, meaningful, sound, sensible, and blessed life, we can have that, too.  And it won't involve the amount of money in the bank or the amount of food in our pantry or the type of car in our garage, or the number of clothes in our closets.  Society teaches us every day what the good life is, and God plays no part in it, and doesn't have to.  But is that life better than the life spent taking care of each other, instead of taking care of yourself alone?  If neither one winds you up in eternal damnation, still the question remains: which one would you rather live?

*Yes, I know as recently as Jack Miles' "biography" of God this schizophrenic interpretation of "Old Testament" God v. New Testament Jesus is still alive and kicking.  Miles' reading of the scriptures comes out of a very sloppy hermeneutic, one he undoubtedly never examined for consistencies.  He knew what he wanted to conclude, and he set out to make sure he concluded it.  It's little different from Jonathan Edwards famous rant on a few words from Deuteronomy.  Neither is a North Star nor a guiding principle all must follow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pray silence and attend....

Doncha just wanna shoot the breeze with this guy?

I only want to point out, in a forum that won't be filled with flying monkeys flinging poo, that this is not "papal moralism:"

“Then, on the middle class, there are some words that I’ve said — but a little in passing,” he said, musing. “But talking about the common people, the simple people, the workers, that is a great value, no? But I think you’re telling me about something I need to do. I need to delve further into this.”

It's papal pastoral care.

I know nothing about being Pope, except it's a job I never want only because I'm a terrible administrator (man got to know his limitations!).  But I know something about being a pastor.  Delving further into a subject is pastoral humility recognizing answers are hard, but necessary, and that things don't matter and ideas don't matter; only people matter.

Rich, poor, or middle class:  people matter.  Things and ideas follow from that; they don't precede it.

Whataburger causes me to break my silence

Sadly, they don't make 'em like this anymore....

When I moved back to Texas after living in Missouri and then Illinois for 5 years, my then 6 year old daughter was regaled with tales of "Whataburger," which, in my accent and speech patterns, sounded to her like "Waterburger."  She couldn't figure out why I would praise "Waterburger" over McDonalds, especially since "Waterburger" didn't have happy meals.

Oh, they had the equivalent, but I didn't praise it for that reason.

It's not a great hamburger, actually; it's just a really good chain hamburger.  When I was in Illinois, the best substitute was "Steak 'n' Shake," but there's one of those down here now, and I've only been once.  I live within walking distance of a Whataburger (really; the end of my block), and while I don't love it as much as I do Mexican food (which I just call "Food"), I do love it.  For irrational, nostalgic, Texas based reasons.

Even McDonalds, at one point, had to sell a "Texas" hamburger.  Never heard of a Missouri or Illinois hamburger.  Then again, no diner in Texas would serve a hamburger with a bowl of soup.  (if you don't know, don't ask.)

It's just something about 'em.  And now they gain national fame for refusing to allow patrons to carry guns into their restaurants.  For those of you who have never darkened a Whataburger, it's a fast food place much like McDonalds.  Most of them around me shut the "restaurant" down at 10:00 p.m., though the drive up window is open to midnight.  There have been shootings at one near me (not the closest one, but they're like mushrooms after a hard rain around here; they show up everywhere).  I don't blame the workers who want some security when the night drags on and the hour grows late.  I don't blame the customers, either, who don't really want any jackass with a gun to walk in and order a milk shake.  I mean, is that all he wants?

So if need be I will increase my patronage of Whataburger, just to counter any boycott that may ensue.  I don't think it will, really, because while we elect yahoos and ignorami who howl at the moon in D.C. and Austin, generally we do it to get 'em out of town for as long as legally possible.  In the mass, we're a placid bunch who just want to get on with our lives and enjoy our fast food burgers in peace.  And while UT Austin was once famous for students who rode horses to school and packed pistols in the classroom, and our Lege seems to think we want to race back to those days as fast as the laws will let us; by and large, we don't.

Which is why we let establishments decide if they want guns in their place of business.  And why we don't really mind when they say "Thanks all the same; but:  no."

Thanks, Whataburger.  And I'll get some fries with that.....

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sad News

Appropriate to the day:



And flights of angels sing thee....

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Knock, knock, knockin' on someone's door....


I want to think about the importance of hospitality to Christian practice; indeed, to Christianity itself.

I did; and then I quit. So I'm going to, again.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Not how I wanted to spend my post holiday time....


Because I've mentioned the allegations against Bill Cosby before, I should mention this now.  CBS Evening News (I think it was them; the wife had the TV on, she's off for a week, she never watches TV and she likes the news; I gave up TV news a long time ago, I don't recognize anybody who isn't Walter Cronkite.  Seriously.) opened breathlessly with new evidence Cosby was a serial rapist.  This is from the AP account at Salon:

Bill Cosby admitted in a 2005 deposition that he obtained Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with. He admitted giving the sedative to at least one woman.

The Associated Press went to court to compel the release of the documents, and they were made public Monday. Cosby’s lawyers had objected on the grounds that it would embarrass their client.

The 77-year-old comedian was testifying under oath in a lawsuit filed by a former Temple University employee. He testified he gave her three half-pills of Benadryl.
That's rather poor reporting:  I had to look it up, but Cosby was born in 1937, making him 67 or 68 at the time of the deposition.  He's 77 now.  Anyway, I dunno, maybe Mr. Cosby is as guilty as sin.  Slipping somebody a Quaalude so you can sleep with them sounds pretty damned sad to me.  Actually giving it to someone is very bad behavior.

I have to be a lawyer, though, and say he didn't admit he raped the person he gave the Quaalude.  Or even that he had sex with her.  Or maybe he did, and the AP didn't include that part of the deposition.  Seems unlikely, but without the deposition, how do we know?  (adding:  see note below, apparently AP did exclude that information, which does surprise me.  But whether the sex was consensual or not is not resolved, even in the material quoted by Deadspin.  There isn't necessarily a difference between  offering a woman a Qaalude and offering her a drink, if by either you intend to lower her inhibitions.)

The article also says he gave the plaintiff in the lawsuit the deposition was taken for, 3 half-pills of Benadryl.  Why, is the question?  That's one reason I pointed out the confusion about Mr. Cosby's age.  Did he give her Benadryl because she had a runny nose?  Did he imagine it was a sedative and would maker her more compliant to his libido?  Was the lawyer trying to prove Cosby used a "rape drug," and all Cosby would admit to was Benadryl?  Was there any evidence of other drugs in her system on the night (presumably night) of the alleged assault?

I dunno.

I ask because this is going to be used to "prove" Cosby is a rapist.  See, he said he gave women drugs!  Yeah, he did.  That can be a foul thing.  But he also admitted to giving one woman, who sued him, an antihistamine, which is a "drug."  And I used to watch TV shows where somebody got "slipped a Mickey Finn."  It was tame enough for prime time, and all it proved was somebody wanted somebody else to be unconscious.  It didn't prove they were a serial rapist.

Cosby admits he bought the Quaaludes.  How many times did he use them?  On whom?  To what result?  And this lawsuit he settled, what did the plaintiff prove in that case?  That Benadryl dried up her nose?

This is tawdry and ugly, but so was Bill Clinton getting blow jobs in the Oval Office and leaving his semen on Monica Lewinsky's dress.  Bill Clinton's actions didn't exactly justify the howling wolf-pack that hounded him through his presidency.  I'm not defending Bill Cosby to wonder if we shouldn't accuse him on the strength of being named "Bill."*

It's as much evidence of being a sex fiend and a liar about sex and even a serial rapist as we have so far.

*I'll be fair, Deadspin has more extensive quotes from a deposition that goes over cases already known in the public domain; cases where Cosby paid money to women he had sex with.  Ironically, better information strengthens my case that we don't know that Cosby is a rapist; we only know he used drugs when he had sex with some women.  Might as well say he used alcohol when he had sex,  to get both parties "in the mood."  You can't assume he used drugs to overpower them, you need evidence that he did, and there is no such evidence in the quotes in the Deadspin article.

All Cosby says in the deposition is that he gave some women Quaaludes and he and the women (on separate occasions) had sex.  This was in the '70's, Quaaludes were a popular drug, it may be he gave the drugs surreptitiously, it may be he gave the drugs because the women accepted them.  Frankly, the lawyer here does a poor job of clarifying that point, he/she could be shredded in court trying to use this deposition to impeach the witness (prove courtroom testimony varied from deposition testimony).  Cosby's lawyer could reasonably argue his client meant the sex and the drug usage were consensual.  Yes, it was illegal; so was (still is) smoking pot.  Doesn't mean people don't do that before they have sex.

You, like the Deadspin writer, may not like Cosby's lawyer's interjections; they are very reasonable to me, in a deposition setting.  Same thing would happen in court, but a judge would decide whether the witness had to answer the questions or not.  A lawyer who didn't object would be committing grave errors on behalf of his/her client.

So, again, who knows?  Was Cosby drugging women to rape them?  Or sharing drugs with them during sexual encounters?  One is criminal, the other was, for better or worse, not uncommon in the '70's (probably not today, either; I don't think alcohol improves libido any more than 'ludes did, but still people use it.)  Was Bill Cosby a sleaze who slept with women?  Well, yeah; but that doesn't prove it was all rape.

This is still a matter of prosecution in the court of public opinion and frankly, no one deserves that fate.  And if you're still wondering why this matters, well:  this is why.

Truth matters.  False reporting and bad reporting and misrepresentation is not to be countenanced.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Old times there are best forgotten....


So I heard on the radio yesterday the mention that, in Germany, they put up markers and plaques noting where Jews were killed, or hid, or were housed in ghettos.  The post-Nazi German government and people wish to "never forget," and the public honors go to the victims of the Holocaust, not those who fought and died to defend Nazi Germany.

In America?  Where are the statues to slaves and abolitionists?  Where are the public honors reminding us we have turned our backs on slavery and the horrors it produced for 300 years?  The Third Reich lasted only 12 years, yet Germany is determined to reject all that it stood for, and to honor the victims of that national nightmare.  Slavery in the Americas existed for 300 years, and we put up statutes to the traitors and seditionists who fought that war, claiming they fought for 'state's rights' and the "lost cause" and the "noble traditions" of the South.

Those would be the noble traditions limned in the stories of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor.  Or represented in "Django Unchained."  That's the South and the history our statues honor:  the men who thought owning other human beings was an economic necessity and a good worth fighting a war to preserve, worth destroying a nation and a Constitution to maintain.

Those are the people we honor with statues and schools and public parks named for them.  For the slaves, for the abolitionists?  As Charlie Pierce points out, we buried that history as quickly as we could.

The Electoral College controversy would drag on for months, not reaching resolution until almost the eve of the scheduled inauguration on March 5, 1877. To break the deadlock, Congress appointed an Electoral Commission, made up of five Senators, five members of the House of Representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. Congress originally hoped to have seven Republican members of the Commission, seven Democrats, and one independent. As it turned out, however, the actual membership turned out to consist of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The Commission voted along straight party lines 8 to 7 to accept all of Hayes' electoral votes and reject the Democrat's claims. The night before President Grant's term expired, the Senate announced Hayes had been elected President. The deadlock was broken behind closed doors when Southern Democrats agreed to support Hayes' claim for the Presidency if he would support increased funding for Southern internal improvements and agree to end Reconstruction, thus guaranteeing home rule -- meaning white control -- in the South. Hayes became President and the Southern Democrats could reverse with impunity the gains that blacks had made during Reconstruction.

As Mr. Pierce adds:  "Thus ended the American Civil War. With a victory for the white supremacy that had been crushed on the battlefield."

Look away, look away, look away from Dixie land....stare too long, and you could find it staring back at you.

Following up on the life and times of Ken Paxton, Texas AG


The criminal investigation against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken a more serious turn, with special prosecutors now planning to present a first-degree felony securities fraud case against him to a Collin County grand jury, News 8 has learned.

Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told News 8 Wednesday afternoon that the Texas Rangers uncovered new evidence during the investigation that led to the securities fraud allegations against the sitting attorney general.

"The Rangers went out to investigate one thing, and they came back with information on something else," Schaffer told News 8. "It's turned into something different than when they started."

Schaffer, a Houston criminal defense attorney, said the securities fraud allegations involve amounts well in excess of $100,000. He declined to comment specifics of the fraud allegations.

A first-degree felony conviction is punishable by up to life in prison.
In May Paxton was fined by the Texas Securities Board for steering clients to a friend's investment firm without registering as an investment advisor (word is both gays and straights can register under Texas law.  In fact, they have to.).  That led to an investigation which finally led to two private attorneys in Houston being appointed as special prosecutors.  They also plan to bring charges for failure to register, a third-degree felony.

I don't know what the standards are for removing a sitting Attorney General.  It's an elected position (we elect almost everyone but the Capitol janitor), so I presume he'd have to be impeached.  Considerable pressure would come down on him, however, if he is indicted.  A sitting AG facing felony charges is just not something you want to see.

I see a resignation in his future.

Onward through the fog


Esquire did its best to find out which of the 254 counties in Texas (I think I said there were 265 the other day; fact-checking is not my forte, and I regret the error.  I'm also not gonna chase it down and correct it) are not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Denton and Hood County have claimed national attention, largely because they are near big population areas (Denton is just north of the Dallas/Ft. Worth "metroplex," with a combined population larger than Houston's, Hood county just to the southwest of Ft. Worth/Tarrant County).

It turns out some 60 counties aren't issuing same-sex marriage licenses, most because they don't have forms suitable to the purpose.

Several conversations with county clerks and assistants also revealed that, while generic same-sex marriage application forms might have been sent to counties across the state (or not, as the case may be), marriage licenses, themselves, still used the gendered language of "Mr." and "Mrs." instead of "Applicant 1" and "Applicant 2."
And there's the ever popular "the computer program needs to be upgraded."   But whatever the excuse, only three counties refused to explain why they weren't issuing licenses; and interestingly, none of the counties have a population above 150,000 (Lubbock, at just under 300,000, is the exception that proves the rule).  Most of the counties, in fact, are under 50,000 in population.  I went to school with more students than that at UT-Austin.  I went to college in Nacogdoches with more students than in many of the smallest rural counties on the list.  The majority of the counties seem to be under 20,000.  This gives rise to a few thoughts.

One:  rural counties tend to be more conservative; not just politically, but in action generally.  They don't embrace social change rapidly, and they don't embrace bureaucratic change rapidly.  Change costs money, and most rural counties in Texas are operating on a shoestring, out of courthouses a century old that probably need to be torn down for all but historical reasons (don't get me started on some of the Texas courthouses that were torn down in the halcyon 50's to make way for modern monstrosities).

Two:  Texas doesn't have any laws banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.  Rural counties can be more forgiving than you might expect (people tend to be people in small towns, not categories like "gay" or "lesbian."  There was a documentary on PBS recently about a mayoral campaign in an East Texas town.  One candidate was gay, and his campaign manager, his nephew, had Down's Syndrome.  Nothing was made of any of this in the campaign.  The gay candidate lost because of conservatism, as in, keep the candidate we know (the incumbent mayor), not the one who promises to revitalize the town (by attracting tourists, which is what many small Texas towns are slowly learning to do).  Then again, they might prefer the "don't ask, don't tell" standard of living.   Same sex marriages in such places might be a bridge too far.  I mentioned my lesbian friend who died of cancer.  The church of her childhood shunned her, even in death, because she lived with (but couldn't marry) her partner.  Shunned her parents, too, lifelong members of the church.  It was ugly, but sadly it didn't surprise me.  That's not the whole story, because that county is one that is now issuing licenses to same-sex couples.  Not sure what the church is going to do with that, but I'm glad I don' have to find out.

You can see what a couple in a county of 1000 or even 20,000 might be up against.  They might not be anxious to marry, because social repercussions could easily become legal repercussions.

That saddens me, but I will note that Rick Scarbrough's home county, Nacogdoches, is issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.  So there's that.  And the change is gonna happen.  Maybe three counties will have to be forced to issue licenses; maybe not.  If someone is denied a license, that's undoubtedly bad.

But I don't think it will be that bad for that long, and in the end, that's good.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Onward, Christian Soldiers!

Because I wanted an excuse to link to NTodd's piece....

And whatever you can say about the county clerks of Texas, they're none of them as crazy as this:

Time for Public Officials to take their stand one way or the other

Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He came to save the world by His death and resurrection. That world includes you, me, the family, the civil government, all the institutions of life. He came to advance His Father's kingdom, not watch man run rampant upon the earth as if Christ had never come. As if it were the days of Noah!

Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous. If the public officials decide to officially approve of the acts of the wicked, they must logically not protect the righteous from the wicked. In fact, they must become protectors of the wicked. You cannot serve two masters; you must pick – God or Satan.

The criminal laws against homosexual sodomy are for the protection of the righteous, particularly the young, the weak, the vulnerable, who need the law to teach them right from wrong when in a vulnerable state. The U.S. Supreme Court, although it claims to have done so in 2003, cannot take something that God calls a crime and declare it not a crime.


We're facing something even worse now, the civil government taking a new step and actually requiring the approval and sanctifying by the state of an evil behavior. Five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have now opined that the States of this country and all of us must approve of so-called marriages of same sex couples.

Therefore, the civil government must now become a persecuting power; you cannot avoid it. The civil government must protect what it approves of. It must protect the advocates' employment, their business dealings, their lives in every way. Against whom? Against those who think their lifestyle is evil. That's you and me, bible-believing Christians, the Church, etc.

Public official, what will you do? Will you stand up for the law of Alabama, for the people, for the weak and vulnerable, for the law of God? Or will you capitulate? Will you become complicit in the takeover by the wicked?


"I must follow the law," you say. Law? What law? There is no law anymore, there's just opinion. One day this, one day that. When the law becomes merely the opinion of a handful of people on the courts, there is no longer any law. There is tyranny. There is chaos. But there is no law.

The young and the weak, those that are caused to stumble by courts that approve of what is evil, are those whom Jesus referred to when he said, "It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." Luke 17:2. You don't want to be complicit in allowing such stumbling blocks.

Don't use the Nazi war-crimes trial defense: "My superiors (or the courts) told me to do it." You're not standing for the rule of law when you capitulate to a law that defies God and exposes people to the wicked. You're just a coward making excuses!


Or will your conscience cause you to resign? Why would you leave the people of this State, their children, your children and grandchildren to the wolves, those who would rend the society apart with their denial of what's good and evil?

Your duty is to stand against the ravages of a superior authority that would go beyond its rightful power and force upon the people something evil. That's what the founders of our country did when Parliament exceeded its powers. That's what the Puritans in civil government in the 1600's did when the King exceeded his powers.

On Judgment Day, you won't stand in front of the media, the advocates of "Equality," or even the federal courts; you'll stand before the King of Kings, the Judge and Ruler over the Kings of the Earth, Jesus Christ. His law is not subject to the vote of man, and He, asthe good and loving author of that law, does not exempt any nation from it. The law's author, speaking of Himself as "the stone which the builders rejected," said, "Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder." Luke 20:18.

What can you do? You have authority as an elected official. You also are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution and Alabama Constitution. Find a way to do so. Don't acquiesce to the takeover (actually the takedown)! Use your authority and every legal angle to oppose the tyrants! If necessary, just say, "No." It is not rebellion for you to say, "Your interpretation of the Constitution is wrong, beyond your authority, and detrimental to this nation." In fact, it's your duty. You're not opposing the rule of law, you're upholding it by saying that.

I had to quote the whole thing to show how batshit crazy it truly is.  This is the work of the director of the legal staff of the Alabama Administration of Courts (hat tip to trex in comments below for putting me on to this), Mr. Wim Johnson.  He sent it to the legal counsel to the Governor of Alabama.

Soteriologically (which is to say, theologically, but specifically with regard to ideas about salvation) it's a quagmire.  You don't even have to get there, though (for some reason that always makes people uncomfortable, especially people who've grown up in Baptist saturated cultures), to note the problems of the 1st Amendment against this "analysis."  Exegetically (the Biblical references), it's a joke.  Historically, it's laughable.  This hits all the marks: Bible-thumping wannabe preacher of hellfire and damnation; Godwin's Law (which, let's face it, has it's applications), and "Just say no to tyranny!", always an American favorite, because "tyranny" always means replacing it with another kind of tyranny.

Anybody want to live under this guy's vision for government?  And, again, for those of us old enough to remember the '60's of the civil rights movement, does this screed sound any different because it's directed against sexual orientation, than it did when it was directed against race?

As for Mr. Johnson's challenge about the questions to be asked on judgment day, the Gospel of Matthew is quite clear on the matter, and the question that will come from Mr. Johnson's lips, be he a good man or one about to be cast into the outer darkness, will be:  "Lord, when did we see you?"

I don't know about Mr. Johnson, but that question always keeps me a bit humble.*

*Probably not a major concern for Mr. Johnson.  Religion Dispatches tells me this comes from "Christian Reconstruction," an arch-Calvinist school of theology.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

First, not all the county clerks in Texas are all that thrilled with the Texas AG (who is the state's civil lawyer, not the lawyer for the state's counties); viz:

“We were the first people to be affected and the last ones to be contacted,” wrote Deborah Rushing from Yoakum County. “No one had our back.”

After Attorney General Ken Paxton — the state’s civil lawyer, not a primary legal authority on county matters — advised clerks to defend religious freedom but expect lawsuits, Ellis County Clerk Cindy Polley wrote: “Does it seem to anyone else the AG is putting it back on us?”

“HELP!” Brewster County Clerk Berta Rios Martinez wrote. “I just had my first gay couple come in for a marriage license and I ran them off!! … Did I do right? HELP!!!”

Shelby County Clerk Jennifer Fountain wrote her “vent” after a resident told her that issuing the licenses was “taking Shelby County to the fires of hell”:

“Why didn’t [Abbott] say ‘The state of Texas WILL NOT ISSUE same sex marriage licenses. If you want to sue, sue the State.’ Instead, he hung us all out to dry, threw us under the bus.”

Fountain went on: “I’ve issued marriage licenses to couples that I’ve had in court for beating each other up. I’ve issued to people that have lived together for 20 years. … Did I get ugly phone calls and blasted on [Facebook] for issuing them? No!!”


Lang’s other emails declined interviews and quoted Paxton. When she wrote about “instilling my religious liberty,” Hood County Commissioner Butch Barton wrote telling her to “hang in.”
That last paragraph refers to the now infamous County Clerk of Hood County, who apparently has the backing of her county government.  Of course, so far no same sex couple in Hood County has come to the clerk asking for a marriage license,  so the county doesn't face the costs of a lawsuit, the clerk doesn't face the prospect of a fine.  (As the AG noted in his opinion letter, Texas law levies a $500 fine against any county clerk who refuses to issue a lawful marriage license.  Minors and cousins can't marry in Texas, so there are still some grounds for refusal.)

The way government is set up in Texas, county governments and clerks are elected offices.  I'm not even sure the clerk is subject to the rule of the County Commissioner's Court (local county governing body).  Which is to say, I'm not sure what that grounds are for removing a County Clerk, short of impeachment (which I'm just assuming is the method for removing an elected official before the term of office has expired).  I'm not going to look into the Texas Govt. Code (or Local Govt. Code, whichever) to find out.  But I do know neither the Governor nor the AG has any authority over County clerks, and telling them to violate the law as recently established is telling them to take a long walk off a short pier.

But it's just a suggestion, so that's okay, right?

And I'm really sympathetic with Shelby County Clerk Jennifer Fountain.  I don't think God will refuse the validity of these marriages, but she's right that such matters are up to God. Her concerns about her own job are really quite sensible,  And she makes an excellent point:  as a teetotaller (and so probably a Baptist), she doesn't drink or allow alcohol in her house, yet she's issued TABC licenses for the sale of liquor.  So why can't she issue marriage licenses now?

Why, indeed?

Texas AG Paxton says there is a group of lawyers read to pro bono defend any clerk who gets sued over this issue.  As someone noted on a Texas news radio program this week, that means you crawl out on the limb and saw it off after you, and don't worry, there's probably a private lawyer who will represent you free of cost.  Probably.

Court costs and fines and attorneys fees, if recoverable, will be up to the individual and the county to pay, however.  But hey, the Texas AG says “Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans.”  This ghost army of pro bono lawyers who will probably volunteer to defend you, have got your back.

Now don't you feel better?  If not, take three paragraphs of this opinion and call the Texas AG in the morning:

Factual situations may arise in which the county clerk seeks to delegate the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses due to a religious objection, but every employee also has a religious objection to participating in same-sex-marriage licensure. In that scenario, were a clerk to issue traditional marriage licenses while refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, it is conceivable that an applicant for a same-sex marriage license may claim a violation of the constitution.

If instead, a county clerk chooses to issue no marriage licenses at all, it raises at least two questions. First, a clerk opting to issue no licenses at all may find himself or herself in tension with the requirement under state law that a clerk "shall" issue marriage licenses to conforming applications. TEX. FAM. CODE ANN.§ 2.008(a) (West 2006). A court must balance this statutory duty against the clerk's constitutional rights as well as statutory rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. Second, a court must also weigh the constitutional right ofthe applicant to obtain a same-sex marriage license. Such a factually specific inquiry is beyond the scope of what this opinion can answer.

In short, county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may provide for certain accommodations of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses--or issuing licenses at all, but the strength of any particular accommodation claim depends upon the facts.
If you are wondering, that is legal weaselspeak for "HellifIknow, but you're probably screwed."  Everything in law does "depend upon the facts."  And a legal opinion that constantly refers to the facts without reaching a conclusion about the law, is a legal opinion that knows the facts are not on its side, which means the law is not going to swoop in and save the political position.

Walter Dellinger says that last sentence of the first paragraph is where "understatement morphs into error."  The Texas AG knows, of course, that the scenario described would be unconstitutional, a clear violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  He knows that, but he doesn't want to say it.

So instead, he says:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.   What the Texas AG told Texas county clerks was:  we don't know, maybe you could make a case, the law is probably against you, we can promise unnamed lawyers might be willing to represent you pro bono, but that won't cover anything except attorney's fees, and whether or not the suit is even worth the fight depends on so many factors we can't even give you an opinion about our opinion.

But all of Texas needs to speak with one voice about this, so:  you go first.

And now it turns out it was all a misunderstanding:

The religious doctrines to which I adhere compel me to personally refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Nonetheless, in addition to the county clerk offices in the several surrounding counties, as soon as the appropriate forms have been printed and supplied to my office, the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will have staff available and ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses.


Because some have misreported and misconstrued my prior statements, I want to make clear that the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will comply with the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.


I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me. That has not changed since last Friday. As Justice Kennedy stated, “it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”
I really don't think the hold-outs are going to hold out for very long.  It won't be long until Texas does speak with one voice on this issue.