Saturday, January 30, 2016

You say you want a revolution....

I have to admit, I kinda hope Nate Silver is right:  if Bernie loses Iowa, it's pretty much over for him.

I like Bernie.  I agree with most of what he stands for.  But he's not a "revolutionary" and he's not leading a revolution.  I like Bernie.  It's his most fervent supporters I can't stand.

Bernie's idea of a revolution seems to be pursuing the single-payer medical care most of the industrialized world has.  I'm not sure he even thinks that's revolutionary, but it's a concrete proposal so I assume his supporters think it will spark the revolution they desire.  It's a pipe dream, although it shouldn't be.  I remember when Clinton tried it; hell, I almost remember LBJ getting Medicare passed.  Ronald Reagan and the AMA inveighed against that one, to no avail.  But the dirty little secret of Medicare is:  it's for old people, which is why it finally passed.

We're very sentimental, we Americans.  We love our old people.  I remember when Medicare funding and SS funding were boosted, in the '80's.  There was a memorable scene on "Hill Street Blues," I think it was:  two officers on patrol go to the apartment of an elderly couple living in poverty, eating dog food.  It was the portrayal of the argument for expanding funding:  our elderly shouldn't live in poverty eating dog food because they have to choose between food and medicine, the rent and the doctor.

We love our old people.  Just like some of us fanatically love fetuses.  But once born, and not yet old, you're on your own, Bub.  Try not to get into trouble, it'd be a shame to lock you up.  Poverty is your fault; at least until you're old, and go from middle class comfort to poverty.  The middle class doesn't identify with the poor, but it fears poverty for itself.

We're sentimental that way.

So it would take a revolution to get single-payer in America.  I'd like to see it; but I don't see it now.  LBJ is our exemplar of what a progressive President can do if he puts his mind to it, and has formidable legislative skills.  Bernie Sanders is no LBJ.  Then again, Eisenhower got a Civil Rights Act passed in 1957, largely because of Brown v. Board and the boycott in Montgomery that led to the civil rights movement.  The civil rights movement continued, and JFK proposed a new Civil Rights Act.  He died, and LBJ made it JFK's memorial; but the most important part of that legislation was language to implement the 15th Amendment.

The Constitution is not active law; it doesn't dictate anything.  It says what can't be done ("Congress shall make no law....") but the courts decide what "no law" means.  The courts decide what due process and equal protection of the laws means, too.  The 15th Amendment says:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

But without that "appropriate legislation," it's just words on paper.  LBJ had to remove the voting rights language from the Civil Rights Act, and his greater accomplishment was coming back after the Civil Rights Act was passed, and getting the Voting Rights Act.

But now the Supreme Court has gutted it.

The Civil Rights Act has largely served its purpose.  It doesn't need to be repealed, but neither is the Court likely to gut it any time soon.    We've accepted the rules and regulation it imposed upon us, and learned to better subjugate our racism (which it could never eradicate anyway).  The Voting Rights Act proved more problematic, at least for those it regulated.  Thanks to the Supreme Court it is largely an empty promise now.  It was more important than the Civil Rights Act, and it's gone.

Who mourns for it?

A true revolutionary would champion a new Voting Rights Act, one that would pass Supreme Court scrutiny.  Who is calling for that?  What will Bernie Sanders do about that?  What could he do about it?  The Congress isn't interested in it now; does anyone expect they will be in 2017?

You say you want a revolution?  Well, you know:  we all want to change the world.  But change it where?  And for what?

I'm not tagging this on Bernie Sanders; I'm putting it on his most fervid supporters, the ones convinced any analysis of the Senator's electoral prospects which don't say "And then a miracle occurs!" is pro-Clinton propaganda trying once again to squelch the Vox Populi with the heavy hand of the evil "establishment."  (Honestly, I haven't heard that term tossed around so much in political discussions since I was a teenager.)

The criticism made of Obama is that he wasted his Democratic majority in Congress fighting for health care reform, when all he could get was the ACA (which has helped more people than it has hurt, but no matter; it wasn't perfect, it didn't transform us into the envy of Canada).  Would Sanders even have such a Congress, and would it be a waste if he couldn't get single-payer passed?  (And does anybody imagine Sanders would emerge from a chrysalis to become LBJ-redux once he took his hand off the Bible?).  LBJ had enormous public support for the changes in law he managed, most of that to do with movements which stretched back a decade or more before he stepped behind the desk of the Oval Office.  Where is the movement equivalent to the civil rights workers for single-payer?

Where, in fact, is the movement to recover the Voting Rights Act?  Where is the revolution that is going to lead to anything?

There was revolutionary fervor in the Sixties, which was supposed to end the Vietnam War and promote liberal politics, especially when 18 year olds got the vote.  The first national election after that amendment was added to the Constitution, Nixon defeated McGovern in the greatest landslide in American history.  Nixon was a despised (by the young) symbol of the war, McGovern was the "anti-war" candidate.

There has yet to be an electoral revolution, period.

That's not why we elect Presidents, in fact.  We elect them to be a steady hand and a firm protector and to represent our nation among the nations.  We don't elect a revolutionary to lead the government in turning itself inside out and changing from root to branch.  That's simply not the role of the office.  Many of us were told this in seminary: that you don't become a church's pastor in order to upend that church and remake it in your image (If a revolutionary president doesn't remake the government in his/her image, whose image would it be done in?).  I knew two pastors who tried that high ideal:  one entered the pulpit from a seminary career, the other from decades in the church's national office.    They returned to the pulpit to put their radical ideas into practice.  Both had stormy, brief-lived tenures.  All my seminary professors who warned us against such perils were themselves former pastors who found academic life far more suited to their talents.  No church picks a pastor to upset them; they pick a pastor to shepherd them.

Shepherds don't upset the flock, and don't try to change everything about it.  Shepherds are not revolutionaries.

The President is not the National Shepherd, but neither is the President elected to be the national firebrand, the vanguard of a revolution which will remake the American government in his supporters ideal image.  That's the goal of the Tea Party.  That's the cry of Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz and every oppositional Representative and Senator in Washington, D.C. today.

Why on earth would the country want someone like that in the White House?

Bernie Sanders isn't even running as that person; but his supporters act like he is.  And they are going to be very disappointed if Nate Silver is right and a failure to win in Iowa marks the beginning of the end of Sen. Sanders' campaign.

Then again, they'd be even more disappointed if he won in November.  Not in November; but not long after.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Recent readings

This was going to be three separate posts, but I didn't want to look for three different pictures.

I really can't imagine where people get these ideas:*

 This distrust of atheists is a long-standing and widely-supported research finding. On all sorts of measures of likeability, warmth, and trust, atheists come out at the bottom, although there are hints in the poll that as more Americans identify themselves as unaffiliated with any religious tradition, this non-belief liability may be declining, if only slightly.
What's not to like about Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins?  Why would you dislike people who tell you you're stupid and ignorant and foolish if you don't "reason" the way they do?  Don't you find such an approach warm and trustworthy?

What the hell is wrong with you people?  Are you stupid of something?

*It's an interesting article although I have to say:  it restates what should be obvious as if it were a newly unearthed truth:

As with being honest, trustworthy, and brave, being religious is in the catalogue of character traits we are looking for, but it’s as likely to be appended to our preferred candidate as to be the reason we like that candidate in the first place.

We decide people we like but don't really know share all our preferences and peculiarities?  Who knew?

And in political news:


First, [Cruz] proposed allowing people to buy insurance plans across state lines. 

Because what insurance needs is even less regulation at the state level than it has now.

Secondly, he promised expanded health savings accounts.

Because people who can't afford health insurance CAN afford to save money for hospitalization.

 Finally he said, "we should work to delink health insurance from employment."

"So if you lose your job, your health insurance goes with you, and it is personal, portable," Cruz said. "I think that's a much more attractive vision for health care than the Washington driven top down Obamacare that is causing so many millions to hurt."

Because everyone wants to bring back COBRA, since it worked so well the first time (if you're that young, ask your grandfather.)

Honestly, I think they're just trolling us.

Third time is the charm!

I should be surprised:

Trump has other qualities that many evangelicals admit they admire: wealth and success and — don’t let this surprise you — ruthlessness. Trump first addressed a Liberty University audience in September 2012, after his failed presidential bid. In his remarks, he suggested to students that they need to “get even” with adversaries in order to succeed, prompting an outcry over whether this advice was compatible with Christian values.

At the time, Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen — without pushback from Liberty — told ABC News that he conferred with a Liberty official, who confirmed, in Cohen’s words, that “the Bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead. God is portrayed as giving grace, but he is also portrayed as one tough character — just as Trump stated.”

But I'm not.

Christian "evangelicals," the ones in the news all the time, the ones on Sunday morning talk shows, the ones known by name, are not and have never been interested in making American a "Christian nation."

They are, and have always and only been, interested in power.  Ralph Reed is their exemplar.*

Now, to say that is to place myself in a position of judgment, and that's not a place for a Christian to be.  But I am not judging:  I am not asserting "good" or "bad" upon this approach, although I think it antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel and of Paul (but of course I could be wrong).  I am simply pointing out that their interest has never been in bringing the nation to Christ; their interest has only been in rule.  For them, that's what politics is all about.

Politics should be about how we function as a nation.  That is the standard of Scripture:  the oikonomos, the rules of the household.    But politics invariably involves power; it leads to rulers, to those with authority over others, to decisions being taken out of your hands; which is not to say the better alternative is the vision of Ammon Bundy.  It is only to say that politics invariably involves power, and the "evangelicals" who get the most attention from the media are those most interested in having power.

Like, as I said, Ralph Reed.  Or just Jerry Falwell, Jr.:

Falwell later told a Christian radio program that he took Trump's advice to mean that often succeeding in life requires "being tough."

Because although the meek will inherit the earth, God helps those who help themselves, amirite?  And you wanna get anywhere in God's world, you gotta be tough with other people, knowwudImean?  Because winning isn't everything, it's the only thing!  I know Vince Lombardi said that, but I'm pretty sure Jesus said it first.

Or it's in Two Corinthians.  Doesn't matter, either way, it's right!

*Reed was supposed to have lost his "Teflon" in 2006.  He not only escaped accountability for his crimes, his Teflon never really got scratched.

Added Extra-Bonusy Stuff!

A tweet from Laura Ingraham:

This got lost today—but this is huge. Drug prices skyrocketing…why shdnt Medicare be allowed to negotiate prices? 

Responding to an idea put forward by Donald Trump.  Oh, and by Democrats, who as we all know, never propose anything that isn't evil and won't take away or guns and mean the downfall of America!

You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Watch the do-nut

Not the hole....

There's already a lot of nonsense and misinformation and bad information on the intertoobs about what the grand jury in Harris County did and didn't do.  Some armchair lawyers are claiming David Daleiden has a 1st Amendment defense against the charge of seeking to buy baby parts, as he never really intended to buy them, he just wanted to get Planned Parenthood on tape agreeing to sell them:  no harm, no foul.


Try that the next time you solicit a cop you think is a prostitute, or you try to buy illicit drugs from a narc.  I'll send you a cake with a file baked into it, in jail.

The facts are fairly simple:  Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, from Houston his own self, asked the GOP District Attorney of Harris County to investigate Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (not the national organization; the distinction is important, and fundamental to any criminal investigation) for violations of state law, based on the videos.  A grand jury was convened, and the grand jury has indicted David Daleiden on the misdemeanor of seeking to buy fetal tissue, and Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on a felony charge of tampering with a government record.  The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of any criminal wrongdoing.

Daleiden issued a statement saying an attempted sale requires an attempted seller, but he's no lawyer. You don't have to sleep with the prostitute to be guilty of soliciting, or smoke the joint to be guilty of trying to buy marijuana, still a controlled substance in most states.  Will the two individuals be able to mount a credible defense?  Who knows?

The facts are: a grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, and indicted two people who tried to accuse Planned Parenthood of criminal acts.

Gov. Abbott and AG Ken Paxton say state investigations are continuing, but Texas is a bit weird in this respect.  Down here we elect everybody, and no elected official answers to any other elected official.  Dan Patrick asked the Houston DA to investigate Planned Parenthood; he didn't "direct" that investigation to happen.  He's sorry he did, now.  Patrick has major egg on his face with this one.  Abbott has the Health and Human Services Commission investigating PP, and Paxton is investigating the organization as well.

But neither HHS or Paxton can bring criminal charges.  If Paxton finds grounds for a criminal case, he'll have to get a DA in some county in Texas to convene a grand jury and investigate all over again.   Not just any county, however.  This investigation involved allegations that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast had sold fetal tissue.  That clinic admits to donating fetal tissue in 2010, but has not done so since.  Nationally, PP says only two clinics participate in fetal donation.  A Texas DA can't indict Planned Parenthood nationally without a clinic in his/her jurisdiction to accuse of a crime.

This is over.  Texas is already trying to cut off PP federal funding.  Oddly, though, while the State keeps making such noises, as of December it had yet to cut off any funding for Planned Parenthood.

Take that as the grain of salt to be consumed with the protestations of Abbot, Paxton, and Patrick.

I just want to add:  what Dahlia Lithwick said:

This, perhaps, is a point worth highlighting: A Republican district attorney was appointed [asked, actually, but that's splitting hairs] by a Republican lieutenant governor to unearth criminal dirt on Planned Parenthood and instead indicted the videographers. The law is—we forget—different from politics, and even as politics becomes ever more a fact-free enterprise, the law is not. The grand jury followed the facts. They determined that Daleiden is the lawbreaker. Don’t expect miracles. The same people who know what they know and saw what they saw in the Planned Parenthood videos that screen in their heads will remain unmoved by reality or truth. But score this one for fact-finding and fact-finders everywhere. Sometimes the truth really does win out.
Oh, and why Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in the first place?  Of about 12,000 people annually in Texas who use the services of Planned Parenthood, about 7000 of them use PP Gulf Coast.

Patrick went after a big target, and it bit off a big chunk of his backside.  Which is why Abbott and Paxton are still making empty threats.  What choice do they have?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Backpfeifengesicht.  Yes, this whole post is for the excuse to use that word.*

I really have nothing to say about Ted Cruz, but the idea that some people think he should be President presents a real quandary.  Here is a guy who can't get along with anyone:

"Ted thought he was an expert on everything," says this campaign veteran, who asked not to be named. "He was a smart and talented guy, but completely taken with himself and his own ideas. He would offer up opinions on everything, even matters outside his portfolio. He was a policy guy, but he would push his ideas on campaign strategy. He would send memos on everything to everyone. He would come to meetings where he wasn't invited—and wasn't wanted." In fact, this Bush alum recalls, "the quickest way for a meeting to end would be for Ted to come in. People would want out of that meeting. People wouldn't go to a meeting if they knew he would be there. It was his inability to be part of the team. That's exactly what he was: a big asshole."

The Bush vet goes on: "I don't know anyone who had a decent relationship with Cruz." And when Bush became president, his top campaign aides agreed Cruz should not be offered a job in the White House. "No one wanted to work with him," this source remembers. "George W. Bush couldn't stand the guy." This person adds, "It's a real quandary for Bush campaign people: Trump versus Cruz, who to vote for? And it would be a big quandary even if it's Cruz versus Hillary Clinton. That's how much they cannot stand him."

A guy who makes his reputation on not trying to get along with anyone, and yet he wants to be in charge of one of the world's largest bureaucracies, to be a leader of thousands and maybe millions of people (in government, I mean), a job where the only skill truly required of you is that you get along with people (How many pundits have denounced Obama because he won't invite Congressional leaders to lunch?), and the biggest selling point Cruz has is that nobody likes him?

How does that work, exactly?

I mean, I know people are supporting him precisely because he doesn't get along with "the right people," but in the end, how is that a selling point?  "I promise to piss everybody off for four years."  Really?

As a yellow-dog Democrat, I hope Cruz does win the nomination.

*Mother Jones says it translates to:  "face that should be slapped."

Saturday, January 23, 2016

We'll marry our fortunes together....

I should probably replace what I just posted with this:

Walter Brueggemann: As you know the prophets are largely focused on economic questions, but I suppose that the way I would transpose that is to say that the prophets are concerned with the way in which the powerful take advantage of the vulnerable. When you transpose that into these questions, then obviously gays and lesbians are the vulnerable and the very loud heterosexual community is as exploitative as any of the people that the prophets critiqued. Plus, on sexuality questions you have this tremendous claim of virtue and morality on the heterosexual side, which of course makes heterosexual ideology much more heavy-handed.

Thought Criminal has the link to the rest of the interview.  It's undoubtedly all worth reading.

Still shouting after all these years....

Just to wipe any bad taste of the Bernie Sanders' ad from everyone's palate

First, I have to say a title like "Refusing Religion, Claiming the Future" is a damned pretentious one, and not least because I heard much the same refrain about the Baby Boomers (remember us?  Remember how we were going to change the world?  What have the Millenials done that compares to the anti-war movement, Woodstock, the civil rights movement (which Boomers supported with their bodies), rock 'n' roll and the invention of the popular music industry, etc., etc,. etc.?  Studs Terkel was right, the Boomers were the "greatest generation" if only because they protested and argued over and fought, however briefly, for some of the right things.  Boomers changed America; Millenials have done....what, exactly?  Then again, what have Boomers done since the '70's except become Yuppies and then Reaganites and then old farts who don't want to pay taxes an who allowed all the gains of the civil rights and anti-war movements to be thoroughly retrenched?  Whatever happened to the radical political change that was gonna happen when 18 year olds got the vote?  Hmmmm?)  Boomers, after all, claimed the future 50 years ago; they also "refused religion" (well, except for the Beatles and the Maharishi, but that was mostly George so it doesn't really count); and absolutely nothing unexpected has happened since.*

The topic of the article is not just Millenials but "nones," the idea that 1/4 of Millenials don't pledge allegiance to any religious faith, and what does that mean for the future?  Well, first, I'd say (AGAIN!) that in 1906 only 41% of Americans declared affiliation with any religion, and yet the republic held and the number declaring a religion more than doubled by the end of the century, going on far too long to have anything to do with the post-war boom that was still being called the "cause" when I was in seminary in the '90's.  I also remember that we Boomers were supposedly leaving church in droves in the '60's, never to return.  Then came the "Jesus Freaks" at the end of that decade, and the rise in church affiliation continued to climb for the next several decades.  Unfortunately for the mainline Protestant denominations, that rise was in other Protestant denominations, not the ones who enjoyed the "boom" after the Second World War.

Any decline now needs to be put in perspective, not isolated so we can freak out about it even more.  But that's old news; this is (slightly) new and different:

Kaya Oakes: I would argue that these things have to be “fixed” on a continuum. Even the most beautiful liturgy is going to be hollow without a central message that is life-giving and inspiring. And even the most enlightened and progressive message at the heart of that liturgy is going to be lost if it doesn’t also get enacted outside of the walls of an institutional religion.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the social movements that have most lit a fire of passionate participation in the last few years have been leaderless. Occupy and Black Lives Matter both exist because people made them happen out of a sense of urgency. Institutions move slowly in comparison, but if any religious tradition were able to pick up on some of the energy and prophetic sensibility in those many-voiced choruses, it might actually be compelling. Can this happen in a loop? Change on the outside/change on the inside. Perhaps that very dichotomy of outside/inside is the problem.
I agree on the liturgy issue, but then again, that's old news:
Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.
As for the second paragraph:  for people who in living memory remember Dr. Martin Luther King, it's a bit rich to say that "leaderless" movements are the new wave of change in America.  Occupy, where is it?  And BLM, what legislative agenda does it have?  Dr. King worked for specific change in specific places and, as his movement grew, for change in Washington, D.C.  It was because of him Kennedy proposed a Civil Rights Act which LBJ got passed.  It was because of King that LBJ championed the Voting Rights Act.  What leader stood to defend that Act when the Supreme Court gutted it?  What leader pressed Congress to save the law?

When he died King was working for change for garbage collectors in Atlanta.  Yes, religious traditions could stand to pick up some of this energy and prophetic sensibility, but even the prophets didn't turn their world upside down or change the heart of the king.  Take the story of Jonah as instructive on that point.

Where is Occupy today?  What pressure for real change is BLM bringing to bear?

It is, in short, a lovely thing to say what someone else should do.  As a pastor (in heart if not in fact), I always have to ask:  and what are you doing, besides complaining?  It's powerful to say we must "pick up on some of the energy and prophetic sensibility in those many-voiced choruses."  It is also inchoate, since to say that you must stand apart from that energy and sensibility in order to so carefully identify it and delineate it.  That is, in fact, my primary and ongoing complaint with the United Church of Christ, which ordained me:  it is always talking about doing social justice, and seldom really doing anything about social justice except talking about what a great idea it is.  It is a frustrating failure to serve.

"And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

Not quite as strong a declaration, is it?  Not exactly the tool for telling people what they should do, eh?

Funny, that.  "Perhaps that very dichotomy of outside/inside is the problem."  Perhaps the problem is that you are looking for a solution, instead of enacting one.  It gets better, and even more vague and glittering:

 People just don’t trust authority or large-scale institutions in the same way they did 30 or 40 years ago.

“In the absence of truly democratic policies that provide equitable access to jobs, housing and education, the social and cultural institutions provided by some black churches, both alternative and traditional, represent an antidote to these inequities.”

The causes are likely many, including political corruption (Nixon most publicly), technology (everyone is an expert now, and if I don’t know something I can look it up on my phone), globalization (multiple claims to the same authority coming from incredibly diverse sources), and corporate corruption (you win if you cheat, the little guy gets screwed). This translates into religious and spiritual authority as well, what with sex scandals, health and wealth theologies, and various corrupt religious leaders all demonstrating why we shouldn’t take their religious claims with any sense of authoritative validity.This, coupled with the American cultural values of individual choice in all things, leads to a general dissatisfaction with the available options for religious/spiritual seekers.
Although the speaker says he doesn't know how to work his smartphone any better than I, I can only assume he is much younger than I am; or much more innocent.  People don't trust authority like they did 30 or 40 years ago?  I can only assume the speaker wasn't here 30 or 40 years ago.  Did the Civil Rights Movement arise out of a trust in authority?  Did the anti-war movement arise out of a trust in authority?  The left-wing violence of the '70's?  The right wing violence of the next two decades?  When, in American history at least, did people trust "authority" or "large-scale institutions" in ways they don't today?  Right before Pearl Harbor?  Right before the New Deal (which my father grew up learning to despise, even as it saved the country and, indirectly through the GI bill, sent him to college)?  What kind of blather is this that neatly divides the country into "before" (when everything was lovely) and "after" (i.e., when I became aware that the world is more complicated than I thought it was as a child)?

And when did the country ever have "truly democratic policies that provide equal access to jobs, housing and education," especially for blacks in this country?  Most of that came from LBJ, and most of it has been retrenched ever after.  Brown v. Board is a shell; we pay lip service to its ideal even as we kick the carcass into the gutter and ignore entirely the principle it meant to establish.  Or perhaps the point is that the black church has always tried to provide an antidote to these inequities, because no other institution would.

And the authoritative validity of religious leaders is a skepticism that reaches back to Jefferson and Madison.  We've never been Catholic Ireland where the priests reigned supreme.  There has been, since at least Jefferson took scissors to the New Testament and Franklin started his Poor Richard's Almanac and Roger Penn set up a colony for those who didn't want to be Puritans, a "general dissatisfaction with the available options for religious/spiritual seekers."

So if you take Kaya’s explanations and combine them with my claims, you have a situation where religious organizations—particularly older forms—are operating in a world that increasing numbers of people are not interested in, and are simply irrelevant to their lives.

In other words, we're moving back to 1906, although we've got a very long way to go before we get there.  In other, other words:  same as it ever was.  And yet we are still no closer to an answer that isn't encapsulated in that prayer, which predates 1906.**

But then it turns out this is back to the '60's, and back to that prayer:

Richard Flory: First I think we need to differentiate between those within the “nones” who are unaffiliated with any religious institution but still believe in something, and those who are either “unbelievers” or uninterested in the whole issue of religion, but may maintain some form(s) of belief, however vague that may be. Most of the people that Kaya writes about are those who do not fall in the latter two categories, but instead are on some form of a spiritual or religious quest. They actually believe that something “out there” exists, which they also believe (or hope) will help them find a purpose in their lives.

“I think this is the larger issue that many younger evangelicals are reacting to and against. They aren’t disinterested in Jesus or being a Christian, but they are completely disinterested in the corporate packaging and boundary patrolling that the evangelical industrial complex produces.”

This would all be true of evangelicals as well. There are many who have just left religion and have no interest in returning or pursuing a spiritual/religious quest. Most, I would think, for many of the same reasons that we hear in Kaya’s book. Others are still interested in being Christian, but are completely disinterested in being evangelical. This manifests itself in a small percentage heading for Mainline Protestant or Catholic churches, but most are either sticking it out or forming other kinds of churches
and communities that have a different focus than the churches they grew up in.

I think you’re right Peter, that for this group of evangelicals (mostly younger, but not exclusively so), the issue is less belief per se than their dissatisfaction with the existing church forms that dominate evangelicalism. And, this is related to issues like their greater acceptance of LGBT rights—even if they still may have some questions about that theologically—social issues and politics.
This all sounds painfully familiar to a Boomer.  History doesn't repeat itself, but the more things change, the more they remain the same.  Like this:

Plenty of ministers are scrambling to get their congregations on social media: is it making a difference? I have no idea—the church I attend lately has its own app, but that’s not why I picked that church. I picked it because the pastor actually started a conversation with me the first time I attended, and because it has a social justice message that it actually lives out in the local community through action. So technology might be a great set of tools, but it cannot replace encounter, and many churches are just terrible at that.
Church is really not about who is attending (i.e., how many) but about why they are attending.  And the usual reason is:  because they have a personal interest in it.  I know people in my congregation who came back every Sunday because I was there, and what I had to say, or what I was doing, was something they were interested in.  In the end, of course, churches are political, too, and there weren't enough people there who liked the fact I was there; so it goes.  But when I read about "ministers scrambling to get their congregation on social media" I have to wonder:  why?  To boost attendance?  Probably.   And why is that?

Usually, it's to please some group in the church, a group far less interested in social justice or even in having a conversation with the pastor than they are interested in keeping up with the Joneses.   The dirty little secret of church attendance numbers is that it's far more of a....well, let's call it a "Richard-measuring" contest, than it is anything else.  Which is probably one more reason younger people aren't that interested in attending.

It doesn't attract me, either.  Richard Flory can be read as supporting that point, here; and he makes another one, equally valid:

Richard Flory: I would broaden the point from the distraction caused by all of the technology we carry in our pockets, to how capitalism has colonized every part of our lives such that the requirements of “making it” in a hyper-capitalist society like the U.S. (and increasingly globally) is at odds with any sort of religious or spiritual life.

For example, on a practical level, in my interviews with younger people, many will say that they want to attend religious services more regularly, but they work when services are offered. On a more theoretical/theological level, capitalism tells us to maximize our own individual (or corporate) profit without regard to the consequences for others. This seems to go against what most religious traditions teach.
I encountered this problem with parents who had children playing soccer games on Sunday morning. One of the biggest and most overlooked changes in the culture is the move to "de-sanctify" Sunday.  Stores are open 7 days a week ("capitalism has colonized every part of our lives"), and people who work far more than 40 hours a week (where did that time go?) are busy on the weekends, as are their children.  "Friday Night Lights" may be the small-town football cliche, but outside the glare of those lights there are other activities for schoolchildren, and they don't take Sundays off.

But for Protestants, 11:00 on Sunday morning is so sacrosanct it might as well be somewhere in the gospels.  I suspect some don't want to change that simply because Catholics celebrate Mass at times other than 11:00 a.m. on Sunday.  Most don't want to change it because they are old, and still living on the weekly calendar they grew up with:  Sunday morning is when you go to "church."  Trying to offer that worship at other times for other people invites complaints that the congregation is going to "fragment," that people won't see each other, that the church community will die.

It's not an insubstantial complaint.  I'm not sure, though, the familiar model is a sustainable model.  But that's a far cry from saying the church institution is an unsustainable model.  Declaring that model "dead" is a bit like the "counter-culture" of the '60's enjoying the stability and comforts of American history while declaring itself above and beyond that history.  There is no "counter culture" without a culture to run counter to (not that the alternative to modern culture is a Mad Max apocalypse).  Still, to speak glibly of the decline of the church as if it had never faced any challenge to its hegemony since Constantine died is a bit much.  This isn't exactly the Reformation we're facing, or the Enlightenment, or even the challenge of the Romantic movement and the 19th century.  I'm not even convinced we aren't still riding the wave front of the explosion of the Romantic movement, and we still haven't really caught up with Kierkegaard's "end of 'Christendom'."

I end this, not where I began, but with what I found this morning.  I wanted to link to the original article, but that website kept throwing up a spam message (or whatever the kids call it these days) that I had to close my browser to clear.  So I go with the second hand source, but a direct quote that accurately captures what the original said:

Monthly church attendance by moderately educated whites – defined as those with high school diplomas and maybe some college – has declined to 37 percent from 50 percent, according to the study co-authored by sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University.Church attendance by the least educated whites – defined as those lacking high school diplomas – fell to 23 percent from 38 percent.

“My assumption going into this research was that Middle America was more religious and conservative than more educated America,” said Wilcox, in an interview with MSNBC. “But what is surprising about this is that, when it comes to religion as well as marriage, we find that the college-educated are more conventional in their lifestyle than Middle Americans.”
I read this as a return to an old status quo; or just the return swing of the pendulum, an historical inevitability.  It's dangerous to read too much into that final paragraph, but it's a '60's holdover that a college education maketh radicals of us all.  True, I became a "true radical" (well, as much as I ever will be) in seminary, exposed to people who thought as Brueggemann thinks.  But not all colleges are, or ever were, UC Berkeley in the '60's, and most people going to college, even in the '60's, went there to join the middle class (or to stay in it), not to "disrupt" it.  The Ivy League, after all, has never been interested in anything more than it is interested in being a finishing school for the upper class (it's a fine education, overall, but it's hardly an education in radical schema).

It's interesting that it's the "Middle Americans" who are truly dynamic. leading one to think that money and even education (which, after all, is more indoctrination than it is enlightenment, and that's no accident, either) are what enforce conformity, rather than the other way around (Virginia Woolf may have needed a room of her own, but what if you have no room at all?).  Brueggemann's vision is of a god who puts you truly at the margins of human society, out where the cold wind blows and shelter is scarce.  But is it God who puts you there, or society? And as long as you associate God with society, aren't you in the position of this guy?

A poor man had twelve children and had to work day and night in order just to feed them. Thus when the thirteenth came into the world, not knowing what to do in his need, he ran out into the highway, intending to ask the first person whom he met to be the godfather.

The first person who came his way was our dear God, who already knew what was in his heart, and God said to him, "Poor man, I pity you. I will hold your child at his baptism, and care for him, and make him happy on earth."

The man said, "Who are you?"

"I am God."

"Then I do not wish to have you for a godfather," said the man. "You give to the rich, and let the poor starve." 

Brueggemann's point is, that's not what God does, that's what humankind does; and then we confuse our society with God's will.  And we do this whether we decide churches are failing because we are more "mature" than that as a society, or whether we decide the poor will always be with us because that's what Jesus said (and so we don't really have to care about them).

"And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."  And who decides whether or not you're doing that?  You?  Me?

Or us?

*No, not even the internet, which has only made libraries full of books obsolete, but hasn't added even a groat's worth of wisdom to the world's supply.  Uninformed people are still uninformed, because information requires effort and keyword searches don't supplant the work of education and research and study, it just makes them seem inefficient and unnecessary.  Let be be finale of seem, except it won't be; seem will be the finale of seem, and 'round and 'round we'll go, chasing the assurance that we are all equal in our ignorance.  Which is where we would have been had the internet never been invented at all.

**And I still say the problem is not with the institutions per se, but with the people in the pews.  Sunday morning is not only still the most segregated hour in America by race; increasingly, it's segregated by age.  That's the trend the Boomers started which has continued without halt.  More and more churches are dominated by grey heads (like mine, now).  In my last church I was one of the youngest people in any church gathering (and even the people my age acted like they were of a generation older).  I had young family members with children of their own tell me they were going to another church because the people at the other church were younger, there were more children there, and young families like theirs.  This issue was treated by my denomination as a problem to be overcome ("make your church appeal to young people!") while at the same time you didn't dare antagonize the "old people."  After all, they gave more money than the young people did; and were the majority of your congregation.  It was something of Hobson's choice if you forced it, a Catch-22 if you didn't.

Friday, January 22, 2016

From where I sit


I'm bemused by the people falling over themselves to praise this Bernie Sanders ad.  Someone on NPR (Diane Rehm show?  I think so) mentioned as politely as possible how it would not be shown outside New Hampshire and Iowa.  Now that I've seen it, I know why.

I could throw a rock out my window and hit someone who could watch that ad and not see anyone in it who looks like them, or anyplace near them that looks like the places shown in that ad.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  The "Willie Horton" ad wasn't a national buy, either.

But for a guy who knows he needs to appeal to more than white New England voters.....

I mean, he doesn't even get the message of the song right.

I know; I'm being churlish.  Gonna go outside and shout at clouds now.....

(And when I get to the end, at least at YouTube, I get this message:  "Up Next:  Why African Americans are on FIRE for Bernie Sanders."  Well, okay then.)

Found Poem

Is the Chinese government now pursuing business and no longer pursuing ideology?, the BBC reporter was asked.

Business, came the reply.

And a bit later, a report was advertised, a news report that would examine the question of why so much of the world's money is in the hands of so few people.

Because business is an ideology, I thought to myself.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Inquiring minds want to know

Hasn't polling made this superfluous?

Reviewing the on-line commentary it seems clear that, while not one ballot has been cast, not one hand raised at a caucus, not one delegate pledged, Trump has already won the GOP nomination.  And the consensus is still that Hillary has won the Democratic nomination, if only because Bernie is a socialist.  Or he's unelectable.  Or something.

Which means we've already moved on beyond August to November, and only the true believers and the true fearers think Trump could beat Clinton, so we're actually past November and into at least next January.  So here's the question:

With this much prescience available. why isn't anybody writing the post-mortem already about Hillary's first 100 days and the reception of her first SOTU address?

Or are we not polling on that until February?

And just to put this in perspective:

This is not just a recent phenomenon; Trump’s favorability ratings have been consistently poor. It’s true that his favorability numbers improved quite a bit among Republicans once he began running for president. But those gains were almost exactly offset by declines among independents and Democrats. In fact, his overall favorability ratings have been just about unchanged since he began running for president in June...

It’s a perplexing that Republican elites have resigned to nominating either Trump or Cruz when nine other candidates are running and no one has voted yet.

It doesn't seem to be just Republican elites, from what I've been reading; but it is bizarre.

Just because he's my Senator

Not a photo of Ted Cruz.  Not even close.

Charlie Pierce says the story of Ted Cruz as a clerk to William Rehnquist makes Cruz look creepy.

To my mind, this is even worse:

Cruz’s Michigan state director Wendy Lynn Day announced this week that the campaign had coordinated with anti-abortion group Flint Right to Life to collect water bottles to be distributed only to crisis pregnancy centers in the area. The water is for “expecting moms and moms of little ones,” Day wrote in a Facebook post soliciting donations.

You know, there are people who deserve our charity, and people who don't.  Amirite?

Here, by the way, is the text of the Facebook post:

We have been working with Flint Right to Life since Friday to find out how best to help Flint.

This Wednesday volunteers from the Ted Cruz campaign and from Livingston county will be delivering water to Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Flint to give to expecting moms and moms of little ones. If you want to help, please let me know. ❤

They really do see this as the best way to "help Flint."

Mr. Pierce is right; these really are the mole people.

"That's how the light gets in"

Lord knows I can drum things right into the ground, turning the most gossamer of butterfly thoughts into lead weights and depleted uranium-heavy meditations which are toxic in their own right.  So I'm going to try to leave this one as untouched as the original consideration, and see what I can do with it later (probably nothing, given my track record and jackdaw mentality, i.e., the pursuit of shiny things).

The "God of the gaps" used to refer (and for some still does) to God squeezed into the gaps in our empirical (not necessarily scientific) knowledge of the world, as if relating God to the world was of critical importance to believers.

To some believers that relationship is critical; then again, there are many paths to God, and that phrase doesn't just mean many approaches through world religion.  The beliefs of a Mother Teresa aren't necessarily completely harmonious with those of a Jesuit Pope, and the theology of a poor mother in the barrio isn't necessarily the theology of a seminary professor at a Catholic seminary.

And which of these is right, and which is wrong?

So some need God to explain the rainfall, and some consider God to explain human existence.  Which gets us to the newer, more modern use of the "God of the gaps."  It's akin to what I've labeled "vulture theology."  God is supposed to fill the gaps in our personal lives.  God is supposed to answer why bad things happen to good people (the good people always being us, and those we cherish).  God is supposed to fill in the empty spaces; and it seems we have so many empty spaces.

There's been an outpouring of grief for famous people lately, to the point we can see it as narcissistic.

“Several factors are at work here: the cult of celebrity, a more emotionalized society and, indeed, a more fragmented and lonely society that uses public grief, however dubiously, to bond with strangers through collective tear shedding.”
The fragmented and lonely society is the touchstone.  "Bowling Alone" is how Robert Putnam described it.   If there is a "God of the gaps" in modern American society, it is mostly likely found there:  in the spaces between our social contacts; in the isolation we live in even as we connect on social media.

The isolation itself isn't new.  Annie Dillard describes it about her mother's life in the suburbs where Dillard grew up, the suburbs familiar to Baby Boomers who saw it reflected on their televisions every night.  These are the gaps we have made for ourselves, and now we want God to fill them.  Or we want something to fill them.  Which may explain both our grief when celebrities die, and our anger that religion no longer supports us.

And as if to oddly underscore my point, the Bernie Sanders campaign releases a wordless ad that plays "America" from the "Bookends" album, a Baby Boomer paean to lost innocence and the search for community:  "'Kathy, I'm lost," I said/Though I knew she was sleeping./"I'm empty and aching and I don't know why!/Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/They've all come to look for America."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Re-inventing the reinvention of the reinvention.....

Nothing against this kind of thing, but "Science"?  Really?  A study of 1200 people is a fact established beyond cavil?

Well, no, maybe not, except to internet trolls and the truly small minded.  But while this is as entertaining as any film strip I ever watched in elementary school (over 50 years ago.  See how much technology has changed our lives?), it's also no more informative nor better grounded in reasoning or data I couldn't conclude from a few years on the school playground.

I mean, if I didn't learn all this about human motivation by the time I was 10, I really wasn't paying attention to the bullies and other children who populated the world I lived in.

The primary difference between then and now, as the video points out at the end, is the anonymity provided by the internet.  But then, we had that one pegged 20 years ago, when I was arguing with people at Table Talk on Salon.

There really is nothing new under the sun; and technology really hasn't changed society, or people, at all.

Oh, to be a Millenial and young again, and think the world sprang into existence fully formed from the brow of Steve Jobs just before I was born......

Re-considering the lilies

Brueggeman has inspired my thinking.

Start with this, the concluding paragraph to an interesting (and old) article by Thomas Frank:

Consider, then, the narrative daisy chain that makes up the literature of creativity. It is the story of brilliant people, often in the arts or humanities, who are studied by other brilliant people, often in the sciences, finance, or marketing. The readership is made up of us — members of the professional-managerial class — each of whom harbors a powerful suspicion that he or she is pretty brilliant as well. What your correspondent realized, relaxing there in his tub one day, was that the real subject of this literature was the professional-managerial audience itself, whose members hear clear, sweet reason when they listen to NPR and think they’re in the presence of something profound when they watch some billionaire give a TED talk. And what this complacent literature purrs into their ears is that creativity is their property, their competitive advantage, their class virtue. Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.

Back up and get this, the preceding paragraph to that one:

And what was the true object of this superstitious stuff? A final clue came from “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” (1996), in which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi acknowledges that, far from being an act of individual inspiration, what we call creativity is simply an expression of professional consensus. Using Vincent van Gogh as an example, the author declares that the artist’s “creativity came into being when a sufficient number of art experts felt that his paintings had something important to contribute to the domain of art.” Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does. And “without such a response,” the author continues, “van Gogh would have remained what he was, a disturbed man who painted strange canvases.” What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.

Mihaly (I'm not going to try to even copy that last name) is right:  creativity is a matter of consensus. This applies to religious communities and their scriptures, as well.

How are the scriptures to be read?  Joel Osteen assures me the scriptures are to be read in a way that means God wants me to be rich.  Not spiritually rich (although that comes as a concomitant), but materially rich.  Fundamentalists assure me the scriptures must not only be taken literally, but soteriologically, in that only those who read scriptures as they do will escape damnation and eternity in a lake of fire.  There are other methods of interpretation, such as Brueggeman's.

And if you listened to that entire lecture, you got to the Q & A at the end, where Brueggeman ended with some harsh words for historical criticism of the very kind he did in his younger years (I have his books).  Well, his work was certainly informed by that 19th century scholarship; but his critique is not off-base, either.  His real target was the idol of historical criticism, probably including the Jesus Seminar, that seminaries and seminarians (i.e, pastors) tend to make of their education and their seminary experience.  Idols have always to be torn down and tossed aside.  Therein lies the perpetual problem of religious communities (and all communities), and the perpetual need to, as Brueggeman also says in that Q & A, to return to the scriptures.  He takes on there a campaign popular in the UCC in 2007, that "God is still speaking."  His reference to the comma is to a phrase the campaign attributed to Gracie Allen, of Burns & Allen fame:  "Never put a period where God has put a comma."  Brueggeman is right:  you can't treat that comma is if everything before it was now irrelevant and unnecessary.

So how are the scriptures to be read? On-line atheists proof-text them for stories of calamity and horror that disturb their delicate sensibilities, to "prove" something is wrong there; although what is wrong depends on who is looking and what they think they are finding.  Does such a search determine the utility of the scriptures?  Well, it does for the group doing the proof-texting; but for the rest of us?  Not so much.

Consider the matter of art.  It is only recently that Van Gogh has become one of the great artists.  I can still remember when he was more attempter than succeeder, more an effort than a goal achieved.  Now he is praised as one of the greatest ever.  Within my lifetime a sufficient number of experts have agreed that Van Gogh's work has "something important to contribute to the domain of art."  And we all agree because Van Gogh's work is at least representational.

I'm planning to go to a Rothko exhibit at the museum next week, before it closes.  I've been wanting to go because the only other place I can see Rothko's work whenever I want is the Rothko Chapel, and frankly, I find the experience there wanting.  I want to see more of his work and learn why I should appreciate it better.  Will I be convinced that Rothko has "something important to contribute to the domain of art"?  If so, will that mean that I finally understand Rothko's oeuvre?  Or will it just mean I finally accept the reasoning of the consensus of the community concerned?

The latter is not a failing.  Art is not objectively "good" or "bad."  Neither is science, though we act today (in some circles) as if it were.  Maybe we need to bring back the trope of the "mad scientist."  It might be a useful corrective again.

There is a Brueggemanian (at least!) challenge addressed to the people Thomas Frank is describing in his concluding paragraph quoted above.  The challenge is to the idea of "established expertise."  Brueggeman would personify that as "Solomon."

The interesting thing about Solomon is how little we know about him, yet how much we admire him for what he told us he was.  He was wise, was Solomon; and he had all the scholars in his employ to say so for him.  We think of him dividing the baby (when he never meant to); we don't think of him as an arms dealer, trading with other nations in order to create power for Israel, and shifting arms north and south between Judah and Israel in order to make money on these transfers for his coffers.  The only other time we think of him is the one Brueggeman mentioned; in connection with Jesus and the lilies.  As Brueggeman says, we miss the point of that one rather badly.

The consensus is virtually impenetrable, and the consensus is that Solomon was a Very Good Guy.

The consensus is wrong.  But consensus gets entrenched; it becomes difficult to dislodge.  Read the "featured comment" at that Frank article; it ends with a rejection of that paragraph on Van Gogh because, it argues, Van Gogh was clearly and objectively great, it just took time for the world to realize it.  Is art so clearly objective and true?  Are the great sculptures of Greece beautiful because we put them in museums?  Or do we put them in museums because they are beautiful?  What about primitive art, or the African art that inspired Picasso and early 20th century Paris?  Not beautiful because it is not Grecian?  Beautiful in spite of not being Western?  Beautiful because it is the work of human hands?  What is beauty, except what we agree on at any one time, in any one place?

As I say, when I was young Van Gogh was considered good; now he is considered one of the greatest ever.  What changed?  Van Gogh's work; or our consensus?

Consensus is not the parlous, weak thing it may appear to be.  Consensus is not the mere hardening of opinion into "common sense."  Consensus is powerful; consensus is determinative and definitional.  A dictionary definition, after all, is just the consensus of how a word is used, usage determining content and meaning, content and meaning determining definition.  When we decide definitions rule us, when we decide consensus is objective truth, we are shaping idols of stone and metal, and bowing down to them.

We should not sneer at the consensus; but neither should we worship it.  We can make an idol of consensus, just as fundamentalists (IMHO) make an idol of the scriptures, even as they make it over in their own image by doing so.  It's that kind of idolatry Brueggeman is warning the UCC General Synod against at the end of the Q & A following his remarks.  Consensus makes us think the historical school of Biblical criticism is the only exegetical approach pastors can offer their congregations.   Consensus makes us think Solomon was a Very Good Guy.  Consensus makes us miss the point of Jesus' statement to his disciples about the lilies and the raiment of Solomon.  Consensus can make us miss the whole point of the Scriptures, the entire reason why they are still important after so many millennia.

The consensus, after all, tells us what we are naked; and hungry; and we really should make that our ultimate concern.

He said to his disciples, "That's why I tell you:  don't fret about life-what you're going to eat--or about your body--what you're going to wear.  Remember, there is more to living than food and clothing.  Think about the crows:  they don't plant or harvest, they don't have storerooms or barns.  Yet God feeds them.  You're worth a lot more than the birds!  Can any of you add an hour to life by fretting about it?  So if you can't do a little thing like that, why worry about the rest?  Think about how the lilies grow:  they don't slave and they never spin.  Yet let me tell you, even Solomon at the height of his glory was never decked out like one of these."--Luke 12:22-27, SV.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Before the Law"

I'll be teaching Kafka's famous parable tomorrow morning.  Usually I have trouble trying to relate this parable to reality, at least in a form easily accessible to a group of very bright high school students.

Then I read about Mississippi, and think about how much power courts don't have over state programs (Texas has been caught up in a fight in its courts over public school funding for decades; there is no end in sight, and no solution, either.  Public school funding is as bad as it ever was, and no court order is going to make it better.  But what will?).  The logic of a nightmare is so akin to the logic of reality that we can only tell them apart by ignoring reality in some circumstances, by convincing ourselves the world doesn't work that way and, when it does, it's just an isolated instance, the exception that proves the rule.

Brueggeman is right:  we need a counter story, and we need an institution (!) that tells it, that keeps that story alive.

"Graded Holiness" for your Tuesday Morning

Since I'm on a roll with my outsourcing, let me recommend this video found by Thought Criminal (my Google-fu is weak, indeed).  It's similar to something I reported on in 2007 (as TC notes), but hearing Brueggeman is much better than reading someone telling you what he heard Brueggeman say.

So, again, I recommend it to you.  He may even leave out snacks. Or maybe casseroles; endless casseroles may well be the key.  :-)

(I especially like Brueggeman's reference to the "invisible God" that Israel is following out of Egypt. There are libraries of thought in that sentence alone.)

(And the video that follows after, from 2014, is worth listening to, as well.  Here it is on YouTube, if you prefer.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Christian Ethics

This one is rapidly disappearing down the Salon memory hole, and it deserves greater recognition and wider reading.

So I recommend it to you.  All 8 or so of you.  ;-)

The Children's Hour

When they tell you that faith is a chimera and belief in God is belief in an "invisible Sky Daddy" who will solve all your problems by and by....

Read them some of the comments at this article.  The article is absolutely right:  space travel is the chimera, the physical universe is the obstacle we cannot overcome, and "colonizing" a planet that doesn't now sustain life would require a journey of millennia (good luck with that) and "terraforming," an idea that's vague and amorphous in science fiction stories, much less being something we will someday do because "technology."  (Just recreating the ecosystem that sustains the bacteria that sustains us is literally beyond human comprehension.  But we'll do it!  Science will find a way!)

It's blind faith.   It's blind, simple, stupid, doo-dah faith, trust in science and engineering (i.e., technology) to solve all the problems we decide we have.

And since we have a problem living here, we'll solve that by finding another place to filth and foul.  Which is, to some degree, the summation of human history, especially of American history.  If it is our "Manifest Destiny" to go to "the stars," then who, pray, set that destiny for us?  The cosmos?  Life?  Intelligence?


The very discussion of the topic puts into context all the other discussions that heat up the internet.  We can't agree on whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton should be the Democratic candidate for president, but we'll all agree with the technology that solves all our problems so we can escape this planet and find another one where we can start over and make sure this time everyone lives the way we want to.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Where have all the flowers gone?

I came across a recipe I've had for over 20 years now.  The remarkable thing about it wasn't the age of it, or the recipe; it was where it came from.

It came from a thread on Salon, back when Salon aspired to replicate the salons of Paris in the early 20th century, and when comments weren't handled by Haloscan or livefyre, but were a separate place for conversations rather than comments on articles.  That part of Salon was called "Table Talk," and topics could be set up by commenters.  I frequented the Politics thread there, and the "White House" thread within it (probably something like reddit, though I've never been near reddit.  I'm old and grey and full of sleep.).  It was, as I described it there once, the neighborhood where you didn't stop at the red lights, unless you were a regular.  Other denizens of "Table Talk" considered "Politics" more or less the insane asylum.  It was the Clinton Administration, 8 years of impeachment and investigation and Monica Lewinsky and "I did not have sex with that woman!", and we were quite partisan.

Except at Christmas, when we'd retire to newly created threads to behave like friends at a bar, enjoying virtual drinks and swapping recipes and other convivial topics.  You can't produce a recipe like this in comments now, much less easily print it out; but the recipe reminded of the best times on the internet, before it became what it is today.

Maybe it's a sociological version of Gresham's Law I'm not familiar with:  the economic idea that bad money drives out good.  Certainly the other users of "Table Talk" were happy to keep those of us in Politics (and especially in "White House," where things got white hot with regularity) away from the more civilized discourse.  But those days are gone on the internet, as best I can tell (reddit has such a reputation I don't want to learn the ropes of the place; I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, and walk upon a beach, and maybe dare to eat a peach.).

That recipe reflects the true sense of community we had on "Table Talk."  Narrow and confined, but no more or less so than any social club, any gathering of friends, any happy church congregation.  Blogs came after "Table Talk," and were supposed to be the newer, better source for on-line community.  At any rate, "Table Talk" was left behind.  When Facebook opened up, everybody fled there, leaving the blogs behind.  Now I hear Facebook is a bit of a wasteland, a series of enclaves where ignorant armies clash by night.

Maybe it's not quite that bad, but I don't know of anyplace on the internet, aside from a foodie blog, where recipes would be swapped with such camaraderie; and even then, the center point of the discussion is the blogger's post.  "Table Talk" was almost purely democratic:  so long as the new thread was in keeping with the place it was created, it was allowed, and the conversation was monitored by the users.  It was also, as I said, printer friendly; or I wouldn't have that memento of what now seems a heady and happier time.

Dark, dark, dark, it all goes down into the dark.  Why, I am not sure.  The early Church Fathers had their answers, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with them anymore.  Or maybe I am, and I just hesitate to admit it, because it cuts off so much discussion or consideration to do so.  All I know is there was once a hope of such community on the intertoobs, and now that seems to be completely gone.  There are sparks of light on distant shores, but they are flashes only.  The worst of human nature takes over, again and again and again, and the vast wasteland that TV supposedly turned into is as nothing compared with the morass that has become the internet.  It's a place for shilling and shopping, for screaming and howling, and nowhere do I find a place that offered the satisfactions of conversation and possibilities of community that I remember from the days of "Table Talk."

It wasn't idyllic; it wasn't perfect; I remember well enough how foul the air could be in those threads. But it had possibility that seems to have drained out of the internet altogether.  We didn't even drain the swamp only to find ourselves up to our asses in alligators.  The internet turned into the lowest place on the planet, where everything drains in and nothing really drains away.  Even swamps serve to filter the water and promote life in abundance.

Maybe the better comparison is a sewer:  stagnant, rank, and reeking of failure, failed hope and failed possibility.

Looking at that recipe and the note attached to it, one from me to the person who posted the recipe, me thinking her for the information, I remember when meetings on the internet were like conversations, and virtual friendships seemed as real and substantial as those in the real world.  I find that less and less on-line, now.  That one concrete glimpse into the past made me realize how much has been lost, and will never be recovered.

When will they every learn?

"For self-examination!"

I was going to leave this alone.  It's a review of a book by David Silverman who apparently aspires to be the next Madalyn Murray O'Hair (he is President of the organization she founded), and it's all same song, second verse, blah blah blah.  A good review of a tendentious book, but a tendentious book and theme nonetheless.

Then this caught my eye:

There’s a philosopher at the UC Riverside I admire named Eric Schwitzgebel. One of his more popular theories is his theory of jerks, which he defines as follows: “the jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers.”

No offense to Mr. Schwitzgebel, but Christianity (at least) has been defining such persons for millennia.  We call them sinners. Or just humans, if you prefer.  Dealing with people as "moral and epistemic peers" is, at least in Christianity, generally regarded as a goal, not a given.  Once you start examining the failure "to appreciate the perspectives of others around" you, you start to realize just how great your failure is.  The idea of such an examination is the very basis of Christian humility.

And Christian humility doesn't teach you that the best way to deal with people is to first decide which ones are the "jerks."

T'he current "analyses" of Christianity and religion generally all run along the tracks that the issue is about power and control, right and wrong, authority and submission:  and self-examination is never allowed.  Not from David Silverman, not from Jerry Coyne, not from any prominent critic of religion (and it's easy to become prominent by being a critic!  Just ask the internet....).  There's something profoundly sad about that; and something profoundly dishonest, too.

Hey, religion has insights into that, too!  Too bad the critics don't want to consider them; then again, self-examination is hard.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Jus soli or just us?

Turns out this isn't all that complicated:

In his emails to the Guardian, [Harvard Law Professor Laurence] Tribe discussed Cruz’s own approach to constitutional issues, noting that under “the kind of judge Cruz says he admires and would appoint to the supreme court – an ‘originalist’ who claims to be bound by the historical meaning of the constitution’s terms at the time of their adoption – Cruz wouldn’t be eligible because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and 90s required that someone be born on US soil to be a ‘natural born’ citizen.”
It's that last sentence that brings up the argument of Mary Brigid McManamon.  First, let's let Tribe finish his discussion:

“On the other hand, to the kind of judge that I admire and Cruz abhors – a ‘living constitutionalist’ who believes that the constitution’s meaning evolves with the needs of the time – Cruz would ironically be eligible because it no longer makes sense to be bound by so narrow and strict a definition.”

Tribe said: “There is no single, settled answer. And our supreme court has never addressed the issue.”
McManamon strikes a middle course between Tribe's extremes of originalist and "living constitutionalist," and even admits that a strictly historical reading might be too narrow to serve as the basis for a sound judicial opinion.  But if we examine the historical record....

As McManamon points out, the Supreme Court has looked to the common law to define phrases used in the Constitution (ex post facto; bill of attainder; etc.) which are not defined in that document.  As Tribe points out, the Supreme Court has never addressed this particular issue, so it's reasonable to presume the Court would at least start there to understand what "natural born citizen" was supposed to mean in the late 18th century.

Much has been made of her reliance on Blackstone, but really her argument only uses his Commentary to set the baseline for citizenship by birth.  The first statutes making children of British subjects themselves subjects at birth, wherever birth occurred, were limited to Protestants.  The 1773 revision of the 1731 statute required the children to move back to England, take the required oaths, and receive communion in the Church of England or a Protestant or Reformed Congregation.

No Catholics or Quakers need apply, presumably.

And then her argument gets interesting.

In 1789, [James Madison] indicated that the United States followed the common law notion of citizenship. On May 22 of that year, in a speech to the House of Representatives, Congressman Madison declared: “It is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. Birth . . . derives its force sometimes from place, and sometimes from parentage; but . . . place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States . . . .”
And there's this, too:

William Rawlea member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Assembly and the first United States Attorney for the District of Pennsylvania agreed. He produced a scholarly treatise on the Constitution and released a second edition in 1829.  He stated that location dictated the meaning of the phrase and concluded that “[u]nder our Constitution the question is settled by its express language, and when we are informed that . . . no person is eligible to the office of president unless he is a natural born citizen, the principle that the place of birth creates the relative quality is established as to us.”

James Kentthe well-regarded chancellor of New York98also asserted that the United States distinguished between “natives” and “aliens” by using the “ancient English law” or the “common law.” In the first edition of his Commentaries on American Law, originally published in 1827, Kent averred: “Natives are all persons born within the jurisdiction of the United States.”  In the third edition, published in 1836, he added: “They are what the common law terms natural-born subjects.” He further explained that “[a]n alien is a person born out of the jurisdiction of the United States,” with the exception of “the children of public ministers abroad.”  

The odd numeral in there is a footnote I couldn't delete.

And as for the argument that the First Congress clarified the Constitution's language in 1790, not so fast:

The very existence of this provision demonstrates that the early American notion of “natural born citizen” adopted the English common law only and did not include the eighteenth-century statutes. If it had been otherwise, there would have been no need for the 1790 statute because the children covered would have been natural born under then-current English law. As one nineteenth-century senator stated: “[T]he founders of this Government made no provisionof course they made nonefor the naturalization of natural- born citizens.”

Moreover, the legislative history suggests that the first Congress intended to effectuate a change in the law, not merely to declare the status quo.  On February 3, 1790, Congress began debating a draft bill that provided for naturalization. The legislature acknowledged the common law principle that “[a]n alien has no right to hold lands in any country [but his own].”  However, there was no real opposition to “let[ting] foreigners, on easy terms, be admitted to hold lands” in America. One of Congress’ greatest concerns was the prospect of all those immigrants pushing their way into the budding nation’s new government.

 Did Congress [in the 1790 Act] mean to amend the requirements of the Clause statutorily? As aforementioned, the Framers constitutionalized the common law concept of natural born citizen. Under the common law, “[t]he first and most obvious division of the people is into aliens and natural-born [citizens].”  In other words, everyone is either an alien or a natural born citizen based on his or her place of birth; that status does not change. Article I grants Congress the power to naturalize, that is, “remove the disabilities of alienage.”  However, Congress does not possess the alchemical power to convert one’s status from alien to natural born citizen.  If truly Congress’ intent, such a result would expand the requirements of Article II without a constitutional amendment.
Lastly, regarding the issue of the 14th Amendment and how it expresses the ideas of citizenship and naturalization, there is this from the Supreme Court in 1898 (U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark):

The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution . . . contemplates two sources of citizenship, and two only: birth and naturalization. . . . Every person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, becomes at once a citizen of the United States, and needs no naturalization. A person born out of the jurisdiction of the United States can only become a citizen by being naturalized . . . by authority of Congress, exercised either by declaring certain classes of persons to be citizens, as in the enactments conferring citizenship upon foreign-born children of citizens, or by enabling foreigners individually to become citizens by proceedings in the judicial tribunals, as in the ordinary provisions of the naturalization acts.
Tribe argues that is doesn't make sense to be bound by so narrow and strict a definition; then again, the Ark decision notes that there are only two sources for citizenship in the U.S.  Shall we abandon the distinctions altogether?  Naturalized means made a citizen by law, not by birth.  Ted Cruz is a citizen by statute, not by the 14th Amendment.  Ambassadors and soldiers in hostile armies, McManamon points out, could have children who were citizens by birth even under the English common law.  That would apply to George Romney and John McCain; but it wouldn't apply to Ted Cruz.  But does that mean Cruz is ineligible to be President?

I don't know.  Josh Marshall assembles a set of lawyers who don't think the case is a simple one.  And all of this makes me agree with former Justice Scalia law clerk Michael Ramsey: “It’s a mystery to me why anyone thinks it’s an easy question.”