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, June 29, 2015

We seem to have lost our signal.....


Elsewhere in Texas, sanity rears its head:

"I have serious concerns about the far-reaching implications of this blanket protection for officials who may chose to ignore the law based on their personal religious beliefs," [Texas state Sen. Rodney] Ellis wrote to [U.S. Attorney General Loretta] Lynch. "Will judges be able to argue that they should not recognize or authorize divorces if it offends their religious sensibilities? Could a judge refuse to send a defendant to the death penalty under his or her belief that 'thou shalt not kill' means just that?"

No word yet on whether or not Sen. Ted Cruz thinks there's any "religious backing" for that.

Stay tuned.....

Mississippi Goshdarn!


So, in Texas (I'm sure this doesn't hold in Mississippi, but for illustrative purposes, let's stick with Texas), my wife and I each have an 1/2 undivided interest in all property acquired during the marriage.  Inherited property is the property of the party inheriting, but any proceeds from that property (like stocks or monetary investments, to keep it simple) are community property.  If one of us dies intestate, the other inherits according to probate laws that regard our marriage as establishing property rights.  If we own a home, the survivor has a life-time possessory interest in the home, despite who gets title under intestacy laws (because 1/2 of the property would go to the children of the marriage).

Note that:  children of the marriage.  Any children I might have who are not children of this marriage (or whom my wife might have, let's not be sexist now) inherit under intestacy laws because of the marriage.  Otherwise intestacy is a fight in probate court for who gets what, whoever you are, which is something the state has no real interest in encouraging.

And what about the children?  So long as they are minors, parents are responsible for the care of the children, and remain so even after divorce.  Death is whole 'nother matter, so let's not go off the deep end, here.  Suffice to say that the law is concerned with children of the marriage; establishing paternity for any other children is, again, a court case.  One other reason for marriage is so the state can hold someone responsible for the kids, in divorce or in death (or, sometimes, just in child protection!) without the need for paternity tests in call cases.

Getting the picture?  Marriage is woven into the laws as tightly and deeply as can be imagined.  Who can be married to whom is one question.  What marriage establishes, under law, is another.

So now, thanks to the Supreme Court, some geniuses in Mississippi want to think the "unthinkable," and just do away with marriage altogether, the better to keep pure Christian hands (well, some; mine are as Christian as anybody's, and you know where I stand on this) away from the unspeakable evil of same-sex marriages.

Just how much social order are these clowns willing to undo in order to defend social order?

Even with no-fault divorce, the court gets engaged in a marriage in order to divide up property (the law abhors the vacuum of not knowing who the owner is, especially in the case of real property or registered property, like cars) and determine who will be responsible for the welfare of the minor children.  These are serious state concerns.  Undo marriage, and suddenly everybody is either common-law married (which means you haven't really removed the state from anything, except that now judges have to recognize same-sex relationships as "marriages" under whatever rules for common-law marriages the state establishes), or nobody is married.

And now who is the father of those children?  The law presumes the husband of the woman giving birth is the father (it's a rebuttable presumption).  But with no marriage?  Now who's the daddy?  And who does all this property belong to?

We accept this state of affairs for the poor because, well, this is America:  we don't care about the poor.  But for the middle class?  Even as it disappears, it has a great deal of political clout in these "family values" issues.

What is it about Mississippi that it always makes Texas look just a little smarter?

Dr. Freud to the white courtesy telephone, puh-leeze

I think we used to call this a "Freudian slip":

"Is there something about the left — and I am going to put the media in this category — that is obsessed with sex?" [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz responded.
Alito and Roberts were concerned with being called bigots; but their animus to gay marriage was actually fairly clear:  marriage means sex, and gay sex is icky!

Is allowing people to marry somehow condoning their sex lives?  I mean, I know I grew up with that paradigm, and I understand it still prevails in the culture, despite the fact marriage is hardly a gateway to sexual intercourse anymore.  It's more of a entry to presumed monogamy, in practice, than it is to finally "gettin' it on!"

Have any of the discussions of the Supreme Court decision, before or after it was handed down (it was awaited with breathless anticipation) mentioned sex?  Has there been any speculation about how many couples will now have sex inside a legally authorized relationship?  All I recall was the discussion of next of kin, survivor rights, spousal rights; you know, legal stuff about property interests.  On a personal note I knew a lesbian couple who couldn't marry.  Had one of them not died of cancer, I should hope they'd have been at the courthouse getting a marriage license over the weekend.  They had to jump through many hoops to arrange their legal affairs, especially with one partner dying, and even then they couldn't get everything that comes automatically to a married couple.

But the question of sex was not the overriding question of their legal status as two persons who loved each other but could not marry.

So who is it who's obsessed with sex?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Going on into the night....


Here's the problem with what the Texas Attorney General has announced:

Sec. 2.001. MARRIAGE LICENSE. (a) A man and a woman desiring to enter into a ceremonial marriage must obtain a marriage license from the county clerk of any county of this state.
(b) A license may not be issued for the marriage of persons of the same sex.

But, of course, Paxton recognizes that.  It's the basis of his opinion that county clerks and justices of the peace cannot be forced to carry out their governmental duties under the Court ruling handed down on Friday, because (as the 5th Circuit held in the Texas law closing abortion clinics), residents of one county can just drive to another county; or another J.P., as the case may be.

So what he's actually said is, it's not a substantial burden on someone living in East Texas if they have to drive down to Houston or over to Austin or even Dallas to get a marriage license issued; or to find  J.P. who'll conduct the service.  And if you live in Erath County, or Presidio in the Trans-Pecos region, you can drive to El Paso or Amarillo or. well, Austin or Dallas.

Even if it is more than 500 miles away (Texas is a BIG state).

Because that's what religious freedom is all about; the freedom to tell you to stuff it if you aren't a member of a legally protected class.  You can't do that to blacks and Muslims and Jews because of the  Civil Rights Act.  But gays and lesbians are not a protected class under federal law, nor under Texas law, so discriminate against them freely, even if you are a government official.

And yes, he knows that, too:

The only statutory restriction on their authority is that they are "prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, or national origin against an applicant who is otherwise competent to be married." Id.§ 2.205(a) (West 2006).

The citation is to the Texas Family Code, which is following the Civil Rights Act in that language. The Family Code is silent on whether state employees must conduct a wedding ceremony.  But then, the Code lists all the non-government employees in Texas who are authorized to conduct a wedding ceremony, and not being government employees, the others listed can't be compelled by the government to provide a service the government also provides, and which is part of the duties of certain government employees.

We'll continue to protect your right to be a bigot in Texas, especially if you work for the state.

Told ya this was gonna get ugly.

Interestingly, the only case law the AG can summon for his opinion is Federal trial court opinions (none from Texas) and one opinion from a state court in Vermont (take that, Bernie Sanders!).  Which means, legally, he's really got nothin' except the backing of the neanderthals in Texas politics, and a real hatred of gay and lesbian couples.  I wish I were more surprised, so I could be more disgusted.  We are strangling our school districts and just waiting for the next decision on school finance by the Texas Supreme Court (which has ruled on the misbegotten mess that is school financing in Texas before), and when that decision comes the State will once again find ways to not fund Texas schools in a manner befitting the 21st century in any country not named "Somalia."

But Ken Paxton assures the county clerks of Texas that lawyers will be provided for those counties that get sued because they followed this AG's opinion which is tissue thin on legal grounds and endorses with no basis in law or sense pointless bigotry against other persons.

What harm is done to a county clerk issuing marriage licenses to strangers neither the clerk nor any of the offices's employees is likely to see ever again, is not explained.  But it must be fierce to provoke such a baseless and futile argument for bigotry disguised as a legal opinion.  Then again, isn't that what Justices Alito and Roberts feared?


Sunday Afternoon goin' down....

I promise to stop soon; but Mike Huckabee was on the TeeVee Machine while I was in the kitchen canning up peaches (salsa, chutney, brandied, and the rest will be just canned), so I didn't hear him say this:

"I don't think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice" but to resist, Huckabee said on ABC's "This Week." "They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law."
A:  as a Christian pastor, I don't have to conduct any wedding I don't want to.  I've known many a pastor all but brag about threatening not to officiate at a wedding if the couple didn't accede to his pre-marital counseling; never knew one who actually went through on the threat.

Most churches don't like the reputation of turning away weddings.  Gay weddings might be a different matter, though; for awhile, at least.  But no couple is going to sue the pastor to make him stand up and lead the vows.  There is, quite literally, a 13th Amendment to consider here.  You can't force someone to work for you, be that person a pastor for a wedding, or an employee for your business.*

B:  I guess those of us who think we've been following God and our conscience and what we truly believe scripture teaches us on this subject since at least 1969 are not Christians?  Or pastors?  Because the UCC has authorized a same-sex wedding since I can remember, and yet we followed civil law and never considered the service in our Book of Worship a wedding with all the privileges attendant thereunto (legal beagle talk, very posh!).  Well, until Friday, anyway.

Get over yourself Mr. Huckabee.  Nobody is going to make a martyr out of you over this issue.  In fact, you're a Baptist, you don't believe in the sanctity of the saints or the blessedness of the martyrs.




*Please note this is to be distinguished from opening your business to all comers, and then deciding certain customers are not worthy of your expertise and abilities.  Pastors can refuse to wed couples because pastors do not offer their custom to all and sundry on the sidewalk.  Bakeries and florists, on the other hand, do, and should no more be able to refuse a same-sex couple than they would refuse Jews, blacks, Asians, Catholics, Muslims, Sikhs....

You get the idea.

Up too early on Sunday Morning....


The more I read about the Supreme Court's decision, the more I realize the talking points are coming from the four dissenters.

For example:

Underlying all of this seemed to be an anxiety, one expressed in Justice Alito’s dissent, that the decision would get anyone who didn’t agree with it labeled a bigot. “Forty percent of Americans still oppose it. We need to treat those people with respect and not just fall into liberal groupthink that they’re all just bigots,” Kurtz said. “If someone doesn’t wholeheartedly agree, they are going to be called bigots, or that they’re anti-constitution,” Lee said.

And this:

It was no surprise that the Supreme Court held Friday that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. It is very difficult to distinguish the case from Loving v. Virginia, which in 1967 invalidated state laws forbidding miscegenation. There was, as an economist would say, a “demand” (though rather limited) for biracial marriage, and it was difficult, to say the least, to comprehend why such marriages should be prohibited. In fact the only “ground” for the prohibition was bigotry. The same is true with respect to same-sex marriage. No more than biracial marriage does gay marriage harm people who don’t have or want to have such a marriage. The prohibition of same-sex marriage harms a nontrivial number of American citizens because other Americans disapprove of it though unaffected by it.

I have to demur that more than ever I'm surprised when this Court feels itself bound by precedent, although I am also gratified.  Still, I agree; the case before the Court was virtually indistinguishable from Loving.  Unless the Court was going to repudiate that decision (which the dissents do, at least sotto voce), what other outcome was possible?  And perhaps this is why Justice Alito is so concerned with the effects of bigotry.  Because the guilty dog barks loudest.  Because they can't really justify their feelings (which is all they seem to muster) against same-sex marriage, and they know it.  And i tis their feelings, their delicate sensitivity to personal criticism, that seems to matter most to the dissents.

I wondered why Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott had their Hobby Lobby talking points down so quickly on Friday.  Obviously it's because they had staff reading the dissents and picking up the clues, stale and tasteless as those bread crumbs are, leading down a trail to a dead end.  Maybe I should read these dissents for more information.

Or maybe I should just ignore them.  I think they've lowered the quality of Supreme Court opinions to  a new basement.  Better if someone just takes their shovels away; that hole's deep enough.*

*Because I have to say, to me, this is damning with faint praise:


“The two best opinions Roberts has written on the court are his opinion in the Obamacare and gay marriage cases,” said Walter Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration. “While I don’t agree with his bottom line in the same-sex marriage case, he wrote the most respectful and best-reasoned argument for allowing the democratic process to run its course. None of the advocates defending bans on same-sex marriage at the court came close to articulating as good an argument as Chief Justice Roberts.” 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Chief Justice is not amused....


I know Scalia is supposed to be the Court scold, but I think Roberts is just trolling us all here:

Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same-sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.

Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage – when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”
For one thing, Rick Scarbrough and Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott need to take three deep breaths:  the reference to the candid acknowledgement of the Solicitor General was to whether an institution like Bob Jones University could lose its tax exempt status.  It was not a reference to taking away the tax exempt status of the Roman Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Convention, either wholesale or one congregation at a time.

But the almost dog-whistle code in the Chief Justice's comment (or am I just hearing things because of the reaction in Texas?) is to Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, especially about the "exercise" of religion.  Because while the rest of us have always held with the doctrine that your freedom stops at the end of my nose (although threatening gestures can be an assault, or just knocking a tray with a plate of food out of someone's hand, which is a long way from the end of one's nose; so the aphorism is, like most, more apophatic than true), the Supreme Court dissent (and others) seem to think Hobby Lobby weighed in on the side of "exercising" religion against someone else.  In matters of religion, the Chief Justice seems to imply, you don't have a nose at all; at least, not one the Court need consider.

Which is pretty much what Hobby Lobby said; even if Kennedy didn't mean it that way.  It's not just Scalia who gets his opinions used against him, you see.  And it is more and more clear that we once had giants on the Supreme Court; and now we have minions and middle-brow thinkers.

Pity us.

But people of faith are not free to discriminate against mixed-race marriages in college campus housing, and haven't been since 1967, if not since 1964.  The arguments now really aren't any different than they were then.  So, again, I fail to see the relevance of the argument here; except for the handle Hobby Lobby v. Burwell gives to a club that is sure to soon be wielded; and at that point someone will have to learn the difference between a Constitutional right, and one granted by statute.

And then we'll see if the Supreme Court really understands what it did yesterday.

A time for praise and education....

I'm a poor hand at linking to praiseworthy sentiments on blogs I read daily.  And if ever I do, I tend to talk too much and obscure the excellence of what I came to praise, not bury.

Herein, pray silence, and attend!

In praise of the UCC, an unknown soldier in the culture wars that still doesn't need a tomb.

and

In recognition of the true sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and a lesson to people like Louie Gohmert who think the problem with America is "socialism."

There.  I did that almost entirely without comment.  Now you have no excuse not to follow the links.


Enjoying the day of Jubilee


I was in the car much of the day yesterday (road trip for peaches; it's a long story) and had to listen for almost an hour before I could confirm the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday; then I spent the rest of the day hearing more and more and more about it.

The funniest part was when Texas AG Ken Paxton told county clerks across Texas (all 256 of them, or so) not to issue any marriage licenses to same-sex couples except on his directive.  On Friday morning, after the opinion was announced, county clerks across Texas reminded Paxton "You're not the boss of me."  The Travis County clerk (Austin), said both that the AG had lots of lawyers, and he had lots of lawyers, and his lawyers could read the Kennedy opinion as well as the AG's lawyers could.  He also pointed out an AG opinion is not binding on a state agency in the face of a court ruling.

By late afternoon Travis County had issued 80 licenses, and was going to take anybody still in line at 6:00 p.m.

Harris County had originally said they'd wait; but they didn't.  Neither did Dallas County or Bexar County (San Antonio).  At this point I'd guess the clerks who didn't issue licenses weren't asked to.

"To be clear — the law in the state of Texas is that marriage is one man and one woman, and the position of this office is that the United States Constitution clearly does not speak to any right to marriage other than one man and one woman and that the First Amendment clearly protects religious liberty and the right to believe in traditional marriage without facing discrimination," Paxton wrote.
But I don't think anybody in Texas is paying attention.  That reference to the First Amendment is Paxton's real point:  he wants to go Hobby Lobby on this decision, and overrule it with RFRA*:

“Our guiding principle should be to protect people who want to live, work and raise their families in accordance with their religious faith. We should ensure that people and businesses are not discriminated against by state and local governments based on a person’s religious beliefs, including discrimination against people of faith in the distribution of grants, licenses, certification or accreditation; we should prevent harassing lawsuits against people of faith, their businesses and religious organizations; we should protect non-profits and churches from state and local taxes if the federal government penalizes them by removing their 501(c)(3) status; and we should protect religious adoption and foster care organizations and the children and families they serve. Shortly, my office will be addressing questions about the religious liberties of clerks of court and justices of the peace.

“Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith should be denounced by all people of good will and spark concern among anyone who believes in religious liberty and freedom for all.
Although that last statement puts us through the looking glass, and into the land of Rick Scarborough (no, not that one; this one is a nutcase from Nacogdoches, Texas).  I heard him on NPR yesterday, and wept for the infamy he is bringing to a small town that deserves better.

Actually what I heard was a man who desperately wants to be arrested.  When asked the perfectly reasonable question about what he would do to engage in "civil disobedience" against this ruling, he said he'd do what he'd been doing:  preach against homosexuals as sinners.  Following this ruling he now expects the full force of the law to descend upon him for such opinions, and his church (and those pastors who agree with him) to lose their tax exempt status.

They want, in other words, to be that important.

It's sadly misguided, actually; and I feel sorry for him.  His legal analysis is equal parts paranoia and ignorance.  Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn't penalize discrimination with criminal charges, unless there is an underlying crime that can be linked to the discrimination.  Sermons against homosexuals are not criminal acts, and the Supreme Court did not just make them so.  Churches that choose not to conduct same sex marriages will suffer no more penalty than churches that decline to conduct marriages of people who are not members of that church.  But oh, Rick Scarborough wishes they would.

The irony here is that, in Texas, Mr. Scarborough is quite free to discriminate against gays and lesbians.  Any business in Nacogdoches, upon learning an employee has just married her same-sex partner (and in a small town like Nacogdoches, how could you hide that?), would be entirely free to fire said employee.  Is that oppressing someone's religious beliefs?  I think it is wrong, but to say a law banning such decisions traduces one's religious principles is to turn the Hobby Lobby decision into a club.

Wait; it is already.  On this the Supremes have made their bed; let them lie down in it.

That's where the fight is going, anyway:  RFRA and Hobby Lobby, and a perversion of the 1st Amendment it is going to be, too.  The Supremes will either have to accept this expansion of that bad decision, or immediately start whittling away at it.  Either way, bad decisions make bad law, and that will keep the courts busy for decades.

Jeffrey Toobin thinks this, too, shall pass:

We should be clear about the “liberty” interest being asserted here. Abbott, Jindal, and their allies are positing a right to discriminate—for local officials to refuse to conduct same-sex weddings, for photographers and bakers to refuse to do business with gay people, for wedding planners to advertise that no gay couples need apply. Their actions are the linear descendants of the Virginia officials who claimed divine guidance for their prohibition on interracial marriage. The First Amendment allows individuals to believe anything they want, but it does not allow them to use their beliefs as a license to discriminate in ways that would otherwise be limited by law. No one, at this late date, would claim a religious inspiration for a florist to refuse to sell flowers to an interracial wedding or for a magistrate to perform one; they should not have the right to refuse to do business for a same-sex wedding, either.**
And Scarbrough clearly thinks state laws barring discrimination against sexual preference means the jackbooted thugs will be smashing down his door any day.  But the legal argument is going to be on Hobby Lobby and RFRA, and it's not going to be fun to watch, nor is it going to be so obviously cast in terms of white people screaming at little black girls surrounded by soldiers as she enters a school building.

That's the right image to evoke, but we won't get off that easily.  In the meantime we should follow the advice of the Chief Justice, and celebrate.  President Obama is right:  today our union is made just a little more perfect.  And really, the Greg Abbotts and Ken Paxtons and Rick Scarbroughs are not gonna take that away from us.

*Or, on sounder legal footing, with the 1st Amendment.  But really, the legal argument here comes from Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, and that argument is based on RFRA.

**This is part of what Toobin is referring to.  And he's right:  these objections are exactly equal to the objections to Loving v. Virginia.  I haven't been as ashamed of Texas since Kennedy was killed here.  At the very local level, it's likely to get very ugly.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"For Self Examination"

It is easier to examine ideas than to examine yourself.

Hussein Rashid makes an excellent point here:

The hard conversations are not just about who gets to be called a “terrorist,” or about racism in America. It’s also about the way in which accept and institutionalize violence as part of an Enlightenment story that both liberals and conservatives look to in defining their vision of the nation.
A very hard conversation, indeed, because every comment responding to this essay distinguishes between Enlightenment ideas (good, universally and wholly good for all) and their implementation (bad, because, you know, people).  The Big Idea cannot fail, it can only be failed.  Or, in other words:

People don't matter.  Things don't matter.  Ideas matter. 

The Idea must be served, kept sacrosanct, remain heilige, unscathed, pure.  It is people who fail the Idea, not the Idea that fails people.  For example:

Just as important, the Enlightenment and Reformation were about moving authority away from the Church to the nation-state. One of the defining aspects of a nation is determining who belongs to it. Anti-Semitism, for example, which has continued to exist since the Enlightenment, is no longer based on theology, but on the notion of the foreign invader threatening the nation. Some aspects of the Enlightenment, in other words, certainly didn’t stand in the way of the Holocaust.
Luther's famous anti-semitism was part and parcel of his theology.  It was as much a part of his thinking as his love of beer.  But the rest of us didn't universally recognize the horror of his anti-Jewish pronouncements until after the Holocaust taught us what logical conclusions people could take ideas to.  Were the people to blame for the Holocaust, or the ideas?  Or both?  And now we shift our ideas from being anti-Jewish to being anti-Palestinian.  When the Pope urges recognition of Palestinian sovereignty, is he being anti-semitic?  Or is he favoring Enlightenment ideas of equality?

The difficult conversation we need to be having concerns our true ideals. We can keep declaring that it’s about the Enlightenment, but what part of that do we actually manifest? Our domestic and foreign policy have always been aligned around the issue of conformity and maintaining privilege. We cannot see the two as separate. As long as we have official policies that see parts of our population as less than civilized, thus less than citizens, and thus less than human, we will always see the world outside our borders in the same way.

Which is the crux of the issue.  Ideas are one thing; their manifestation quite another.  Equal justice, equal treatment, equal care and concern; these are touted as Enlightenment ideals.

But if they exist only on our lips....?  Do we just blame somebody else for failing them, and continue to worship the ideas as if that makes us pure?

Our ideas mean nothing if we don't engage them.  And they mean even less if we treat them as conveniences that leave us to live as we please, but feeling comforted that at least our ideas are good, our intentions noble and pure.

Ideas don't matter.  Things don't matter.  People matter.  Ideas of equality include ideas about race.  Race itself is an idea.  It is not people; it is our idea about people.  It was a challenge for me, in seminary, to look at my ideas about race, and realize my own unexamined ideas were racist.  Not knuckle-dragging white supremacist racist, but racist nonetheless.  My ideas mattered more to me than people.  We all have prejudices and preferences we'd rather live by than eliminate.  And we all find it easier to see those ideas should be eliminated from the Bill O'Reilly's who insist the problem is with someone else.  But we're all Bill O'Reilly; and at the same time, we're all everyone else.

It's only words


This is the problem with the thinking of David Brooks on Laudate Si:

Where Francis denounced ‘an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy,’ Wuerl talked about his gentle ‘invitation to everyone to join him in conversation.’ Where Francis demanded a a swift reduction in carbon emissions, Wuerl talked about the beginning of a long process of absorbing what he had to say. ‘He is not saying to individuals, you must do this,’ said the cardinal. ‘That doesn’t appear in the document. He is saying, here is the moral frame of reference.’
The "moral frame of reference" means the boundaries of the discussion, not the starting point of action.  Words without action are, of course, mere words.

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can that faith save him?  Supposes a fellow-Christian, whether man or woman, is in rags with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, "Goodbye, keep warm, and have a good meal," but does nothing to supply their bodily needs, what good is that?  So with faith; it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.  James 2:14-17 (REB)

But the purpose of inaction is to remain in control, to remain wedded to power:

The real concern, says [Jon] O’Brien [head of Catholics for Choice], is that both politicial parties take the bishops seriously when they complain about religious discrimination and bend over backwards to offer exemptions that are eroding the seperation of church and state.

 “The bishops are manufacturing their own truth so they can sell it to the political establishment,” he said. The bigger question in the long run is whose truth will win out: the pope’s or the bishops?

Which is the other side of entanglement of religion and politics:  whose God is served, and how? Political power recognizes the power of the people behind it.  But as O'Brien says:

“It’s more to be pitied than to be laughed at, it’s not as if they actually have this legion of Catholics behind them,” he said. “Catholics don’t want the persecution of gay teachers at Catholic schools or women who are victims of sex trafficking to be denied emergency contraception.”
But then we're up against the question:  is it right because the people approve of it?  Or is it right because God says so?

Who, then, decides that God says so, if not the people?  If nobody goes into the wilderness to listen to John the Baptist, does John still speak for God?  But if John tells everybody what they want to hear, does John still speak for God?  "Why did you go into the wilderness?  To see a reed bending in the wind?"  The wind (pneuma) of God?  Or the wind (pneuma) of John's voice? Which is it?  And who decides?  The group?  Or only one person?

Or rather, in this case:  which group?

On the other hand, it's being noticed that American Catholics aren't flocking to follow the teachings of Pope Francis on this issue.  This, Patricia Miller argues, will be the point where conservative Catholics get their own Humanae Vitae that, like liberal Catholics, they will ignore.  However, Pope Francis' encyclical is in line with Catholic teachings, not an abrupt departure from them.  If Catholics stopped listening to the Pope, they stopped listening a long time ago.

There was never a time when Catholics were monolithic in their thought about church teachings, anymore than Christians have ever been monolithic about their Christianity.  "Catholic" means, not a church, but "universal," and it has embraced many teachings on Christianity, from the Jesuits to the Franciscans (traditionally antagonists, though no one seems to notice the Jesuit priest taking on the Franciscan name as being of any real significance).  There have been disagreements about the teachings since Peter and Paul; even the four gospels represent four distinct points of view.  And Pilate's question remains, a question, interestingly, put in John's gospel, the gospel most aware of the problem of perception and ambiguity, of understanding and misunderstanding:

"What is truth?"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

And speaking (still) about how the shootings at Emanuel AME church were not about racism; now apparently Dylann Roof isn't even white:


"I don't know how you can sit with somebody for an hour in a church and pray with them and get up and shoot them," [Sen. Lindsay Graham] said. "That's Mideast hate. That's something I didn't think we had here but apparently we do."

Because, you know, evil like that is so unAmerican it has to be imported, right?

"A tree is best measured when it is lying down...."

The thing about a tree is, it looks tall and sturdy and enduring and immovable, until it topples over.

A windstorm can do it; or heavy rain; and suddenly the tree you thought so small against the sky is huge along the ground.  The tree you thought so powerful it was rooted to the spot, is uprooted and you can't say whether it was the force against it, or some decay you couldn't see until it toppled.  But it doesn't come down like a ruin, in bits and pieces, leaving a skeletal structure as a reminder of its former glory.  It comes down all at once, completely, catastrophically.  It falls, and on the ground you get the measure of it, even as it's now gone forever, and its decay or destruction truly begins.

Adding to what I said below, word now comes that The Citadel wants to remove it's Confederate Battle Flag (or Naval Jack, to add to the confusion about what to call it) from it's chapel.

But the South Carolina legislature will have to change state law, since the flag hangs at the Citadel for the same reason it is on permanent display on the state capitol grounds.

To put this in context, The Citadel was established close to Emanuel AME church because of the links between that church and the abolitionist movement.  It was established rather like Pilate's Palace, built to look down over the wall into the Temple at Jerusalem.  To the Romans, that Temple was a hotbed of political activity (in an age when religion and politics were not separated, and Rome exploited the combination); the Governor's Palace was both a symbol of Rome's power, and a practical reminder to the children of Abraham that Rome was watching (guards could literally look down from the Palace into the grounds of the Temple).

And now the Citadel wants to remove a symbol of why it was built in the first place.

To reiterate:  the Naval Jack returned to prominence in the South in the 1960's, a response to the civil rights movement which would shortly achieve, under a Texan president, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and which would culminate, sadly, in the death of Dr. King.  In 2000 that response was revived with the Heritage Act in South Carolina, the law that required the Naval Jack to fly on Capitol grounds (and apparently be displayed in The Citadel's chapel).

And now, 15 years later, it is being forced to disappear, even from South Carolina (though what the S.C. legislature will do remains to be seen).

When the support goes, it goes all at once.

And of course, the tree is still there, even if it's one the ground.  But that's why God gave us chainsaws.....

Unnecessary N.B.:  Josh Marshall continues to be amazed at the speed with which reverence for the "Old South" and the Naval Jack (I like that label, now) are disappearing.  But it isn't like that reverence was unbroken from 1865 to 2015.  It pretty much got started again in the 1950's, as Brown v. Board proved the power of the civil rights movement, which carried the day a decade later.  The response especially to Brown (which affected people with children in school) was a resurgence of the idea the war was about "state's rights" and "sovereignty."

The high school I attended was "Robert E. Lee."  The name hasn't changed, but with integration, the rebel flag and confederate symbols (the football team was the "Rebels") had to, and that prompted a huge interest in all things CSA for the time I was there.  Now all that remains, almost 45 years later, is the name of the school.  That could stand to change, too; it would upset some people, I'm sure, but it wouldn't bother me (actually the school's physical plant needs to be replaced.  Re-naming a new school would be an easy switch; easier than getting approval for a whole new facility).  Aside from a few of us who were around for the change, I doubt anyone much cares about that anymore (and probably the alumni don't, either).

The response to the civil rights movement that caught the rest of us up 50 years ago, that resurgence, is finally crumbling into dust.  In that context, it's hardly surprising that, 50 years later, the devotion to the Noble Cause is dissolving like a newspaper in the rain.  It was already yesterday's fish wrap, after all....

Adding:  when you can't even get a model of the "General Lee" from "The Dukes of Hazzard," you know it's lights out, America.

Because some good times don't come as slow, and old times are sometimes quickly forgotten


Racism is deeply, deeply entrenched in American culture.  And it isn't a matter of distinguishing between "true racists" and everybody else (the distinction lies, if anywhere, between racists and white supremacists), it's a matter of recognizing how tainted we all are by racism:  either as victims of it, or as beneficiaries.

Change, I thought, had come in the 90's, or maybe by the beginning of the new century.  My daughter grew up in a world where racism was not as institutionalized as it was in my childhood:  no segregated schools, bathrooms, water fountains, swimming pools, hotels, restaurants, etc.  (The basis for denying bakers the "right" to refuse to sell a cake to a same-sex couple for their wedding, is the same basis for laws denying hotel owners and restaurant owners the right to deny service to people based on their race.)  I was truly optimistic the worst of racism was behind us because generational racism was rapidly receding from the scene, thanks to the long, hard work of the Civil Rights movement of the '50's and '60's, and then to efforts of Baby Boomers to truly eradicate racism from American public life (rather than leave it at the "I just don't want my daughter to marry one" stage).

What's interesting is how sudden change can be.  Before my daughter was born I was just beginning to accept the idea that homosexuals should be treated as human beings.  I hadn't even come to the idea that they deserved the same legal protection as race and religion (two of the categories of the Civil Rights Act).  25 years later, even my parents accept that lesbian couples should be allowed to marry.  The opposition to such marriage is reduced to something of an absurdity.

And now the state of Virginia (bolstered, no doubt, by the recent Supreme Court ruling, because apparently they lost in the lower courts on the issue) is moving to rescind its license plates commemorating the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  South Carolina may finally relegate the Confederate battle flag to a museum, rather than a permanent display on the State Capitol grounds.  Mississippi may remove the flag from its state flag.

Mississippi!  Goddamn.

This is head spinningly fast.  Over the weekend GOP candidates were falling over themselves not to offend the tender sensibilities of the few rednecks and white supremacists still as wed to the battle flag as the NRA is to the 2nd Amendment.  Now they line up to praise Nikki Haley.  Already articles posted two days ago seem dated, so rapidly has support for symbols of racism melted away.  I awake to find Mitch McConnell is calling for the removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol.  Maryland, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington, D.C.:  all taking actions to remove the Confederate battle flag or statues of Confederate leaders from public display.  Retailers don't want to sell it.  Manufacturers don't want to make it.   Why do these things happen so quickly?

Josh Marshall thinks its generational, that the old is dying off and the new is not interested.  Where does that place Dylan Roof?  A marginal white man, is where.  Presumably he has no political power. But then where did the long defense of the flag in South Carolina, where the law practically makes it a holy object, come from?  That law is at best 25 years old.  Where the main proponents of it all in their 50's and 60's when it was passed?

I don't think it's age; I think it's a paradigm shift.  Not in the strictly Kuhnian sense, but in the sense that support for the old has been undermined for some time, and when it starts to go completely, it goes rapidly.  Support for gays, especially in marriage, turned suddenly from opposition to approval.  It practically flipped overnight.  The same has happened for the Confederate battle flag; even in the deepest of the old South (and South Carolina is truly the birthplace of the Confederacy), it has finally been flown too long.

Sometimes change happens like that:  what was seen as unimaginable is suddenly overthrown so rapidly everyone wonders why it didn't happen sooner, and who was ever in support of the old?  Especially when the old is so graphically connected to slaughter, to the deaths of innocents praying with their assailant before he pulled his gun; an assailant bent on producing a race war but who, instead, prompted a new war on racism.

There is something sadly human about this:  violence prompts us to heed the angels of our better nature.  But the violence comes in a context.  The context here goes back to Trayvon Martin, if only because that event may have radicalized Dylann Roof.  But the cumulative effect of so much violence against blacks:  Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ferguson, Baltimore, the pool party in a Dallas suburb, finally the shooting in a black church of black people simply because they were black.  Dylann Roof wanted to start a race war.

He started another kind of revolution entirely.  Like most revolutions, it is an expression of culture, not a repudiation of it.  But that's alright; it's about time American culture expressed itself clearly on this racist symbol, one revived in the '60's in response to the burgeoning civil rights movement.  The times, they are still a-changin'.  Some changes are on the very long throw; and the longer you are alive, the more you realize the "long run" isn't really that long, after all.  Especially when it bends toward justice; at least of a sort.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

David Brooks is going to suffer for our sins


Because at least he's honest:

Hardest to accept, though, is the moral premise implied throughout the [papal] encyclical [Laudato Si]: that the only legitimate human relationships are based on compassion, harmony and love, and that arrangements based on self-interest and competition are inherently destructive.

The pope has a section on work in the encyclical. The section’s heroes are St. Francis of Assisi and monks — emblems of selfless love who seek to return, the pope says, to a state of “original innocence.”

He is relentlessly negative, on the other hand, when describing institutions in which people compete for political power or economic gain. At one point he links self-interest with violence. He comes out against technological advances that will improve productivity by replacing human work. He specifically condemns market-based mechanisms to solve environmental problems, even though these cap-and-trade programs are up and running in places like California.

Moral realists, including Catholic ones, should be able to worship and emulate a God of perfect love and still appreciate systems, like democracy and capitalism, that harness self-interest. But Francis doesn’t seem to have practical strategies for a fallen world. He neglects the obvious truth that the qualities that do harm can often, when carefully directed, do enormous good. Within marriage, lust can lead to childbearing. Within a regulated market, greed can lead to entrepreneurship and economic innovation. Within a constitution, the desire for fame can lead to political greatness.

You would never know from the encyclical that we are living through the greatest reduction in poverty in human history. A raw and rugged capitalism in Asia has led, ironically, to a great expansion of the middle class and great gains in human dignity.

Who needs God when you have the market, and human ingenuity?  And besides, is not the market a great green god, put here to save as many of us as it can?  And the ones who can't be saved?

Well, the market is cruel; but it is just.  The perfect god for a fallen world.

"Yesterday all the past...."


You know, the "thing" about fundamentalism is that it isn't medieval.  It's as modern as the "New Atheism."  It isn't a return to Gone Away or Never Was, which is a peculiarly American affliction.  We are a nation of immigrants, which means we have memorialized the "Old Country" even as we fled it because of its "history."  Charles Dickens has a wonderful passage in Martin Chuzzelwit where the eponymous hero comes to America only to be told what's wrong with Europe (England in particular) and what precisely is happening there at the very moment he's set foo in America after the sea voyage.  The Americans he encounters can't possibly know, of course, and their "view" of England is distorted by their ideology, but the contrast with "pure" America, shorn of history and its entanglements, is too compelling a mythos to set aside.  We are obsessed with it even as we denounce it to announce our superiority.

Just as we imagine America a shining city on a hill set apart from all that foofaraw that is European history (and so complicated, too!  Italy and Germany weren't countries as we know them until the 19th century!  Principalities!  Border wars!  An entire monarchy of cousins from England to Russia!  Dukes, earls, viscounts, vicomtes, regents, barons, kaisers!  Who can keep it straight?), we idealize the Europe our ancestors left behind, and preserve in amber the culture we want to remember:  cuckoo clocks and lederhosen and snails in garlic butter and Christmas trees and snow (most of Europe is north of the northernmost parts of America), and oh how happy the peasants were in their quaint cottages of yore!

We have always swaddled ourselves in nostalgia, so much so we idealize the "Founding Fathers" as men of one voice, one heart, one mind, one purity of vision and purpose.  The South has it's glorious "traditions" which were mostly nasty and brutish and best indicated by scenes in "Django Unchained" than by "Birth of a Nation."  All the traditions of the South were borrowed from some imagined England and fed on French ideals of chivalry that came to England by way of stories of King Arthur, a king England cared not a bean for until the French did.  Any lingering nostalgia for the "Old South" is for a place that never existed except in memory, but America is all about the memory of what we used to be, and will be again one day, once we recover the true vision of our "Founding Fathers," and run government (which means our lives) the way they meant for us to.

And so fundamentalism arises in the early 20th century, a reasoned response to an Age of Reason; a rational rebuttal to modern rationalism, a rationalism itself doomed to go smash in the violence of World War I, the ashes and ruins to be battered into rubble and dust and forged into a new and even more rational age in the industrial forge of World War II (the U.S. won that war with industrial might no country in the Axis could match; the Germans created the Holocaust with a nightmare use of industry no other country in the world could imagine).  Fundamentalism took modern reason as its standard, insisting interpretation was a lie, that everything was just what it said it was and was meant to be.  To this day "freedom" is as America defines it; as are the words "justice" and "Democracy" and even "Good" and "bad."  Any attempt to interpret those words according to context or culture or history, is an act of treason against the Holy American Empire.  Such talk is barely countenanced and usually roundly denounced.  Try speaking of Muslims as human beings who have the right to their own definitions of those words and see how many people react with cries of what the Koran "says" or how not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are clearly Muslims.

Muslims do not get to define themselves; we alone have the power of definition, and we will not give it up.  Definition, after all, is interpretation; and the Enlightenment has taught us there can be but one interpretation of every event, and that interpretation must be the right one.

We are all fundamentalists, now; or at least, we want to be.

If we don't like someone else's fundamentalism, we denounce them as "medieval."  But read a medieval work, like Chaucer's or Dante's.  Read "The Pearl" or "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" or  "Piers Plowman" and marvel at the complexity of the world they reflect, the subtly of understanding of the human condition.  Study the visions of Julian of Norwich, where God is father and mother, where Jesus assures Julian that sin is small rather than insurmountable, that God's mercy indeed means "all things shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well," that even sinners will be redeemed.  There is no simplicity of interpretation in these works, no "fundamentalism" that is to be taken as the final and authoritative word against which not questions can be put.  The rigid certainty of fundamentalism is modern.  It is post-Enlightenment.  It is today.

The desire to distinguish religion from reason; to denounce religion and expunge it from the earth; to drive religion into a "private" enclave from whence it can never escape and where it can bother no one?  Modern.  Post-enlightenment.  Western.  Today.

Yesterday all the past....and we still insist we can learn nothing from it.  Yet if the "Bronze Age shepherds" could walk among us now, they would wonder at how blinkered and ignorant and sad we were, for all our hooting about our "progress."  We insist we no longer have souls that need any care, but we equally insist we have "minds" which can be "downloaded," through some inexplicable process we are sure is coming, into computers, granting us immortality.  "Soul" is a chimerical medieval fantasy, but "mind" is....reasonable?  Why?

We can pile up the examples of how much more we are than they were, our imaginary time-traveling shepherds, but they would look at us and ask:  "How?"  What do we know that they didn't know, about getting through each day; about doing the job in front of us; about being a small player in a very large social order; about staying alive until it ends for you?  We have made it possible for so many of us not to do any hard labor; but so many of us still do.  And like those shepherds in their Bronze Age, or in the 1st century, our laborers are just as invisible; our society tells them they are just as unimportant.

So why is it we still remember those shepherds?  We still point at them, and laugh, and say "They knew nothing!"  How much progress is that?  They knew nothing, because they didn't know what we know.

And there is nothing more defining than that.  You can't be more certain of the boundaries of the acceptable, of the fence place around the heilige, the pure, the holy, the wall that keeps the unscathed unscathed, and the rabble out, that defines "good" and "bad," "us" instead of "them," than with a definition, than with control of the concepts and the power to be sure you maintain control of the concepts.

Indeed, it's fundamental to modern discourse.

The Angels of our Better Nature are Weeping

A staggering 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced around the world in 2014, according to the latest report from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, setting a record. That’s 8.3 million more than last year, for the largest one-year jump since the UNHCR began recording. This means that one out of every 122 people in the world is displaced. If that population were a country, would be the 24th-largest in the world. That number includes refugees, internally displaced people, and those seeking asylum.

But, you know, that's okay, because the angels of our better nature have prevailed, and violence is down worldwide from what it once was, according to linguist Stephen Pinker.

Teaching at Harvard and being a scientist (of language) means he's right.  Or something.  Anyway, I'm sure there's a way this statistic means things are just getting better and better in this best of all possible worlds.

Jon Stewart is figuring out satire won't change the world.  Voltaire could have told him that a few centuries ago.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Standing in the wrong place at the wrong time....

Because I can't draw political cartoons and it's not Photoshopped....

You can throw Ted Cruz into the mix, but here's a brief roundup of the public policy conversations going on over the weekend, conducted in the agora of the permanent Presidential political campaign. (Side note:  I've been catching up on "The West Wing" on Netflix; curiously I had no interest in it when it was broadcast, mostly because I don't like starting a TV series I have to watch once a week at a certain time for only a few weeks a year.  Anyway, in one season, just as Martin Sheen is re-elected President, the staff learns the V.P. is already lining up hard support for his campaign, four years later.  Watching this show and paying attention to what happens on the news now, I see how Pollyannaish Aaron Sorkin's show was, but now much he was trying to make us pay attention.  His version of something of a parable for the rest of us, but, of course, we don't really like parables.  Getting back to my thesis now....)

Rick Perry explained that the shooting in Charleston was an "accident" (he later had his staff explain he meant "incident."  As Charlie Pierce used to say:  "This close to English....").  But Perry also blamed the shooting on prescription drugs, which nobody tried to explain away.

Jeb! (and is anybody going to notice that's an acronym, not a name?) wants to recall he stood up for Terri Schiavo.

And if you don't remember that particular circus:

At the time Jeb (!) stepped in, the people in Ms. Schiavo's hospice were already under constant siege. A nearby elementary school had been vacated for almost a month due to bomb scares. An $10,000 bounty had been placed on the head of Michael Schiavo, and one guy already had been busted by the FBI for allegedly trying to collect it. Judges had been terrorized. Jeb (!) didn't care about any of this. (This is not to mention the fact that almost the entire country was begging people like Jeb -!- to butt out.) His dim sibling was president and he was governor of Florida and they believed there was political hay to be made out of keeping a brain-dead woman alive, and that was all that ever mattered.
It was particularly grotesque.

Lindsey Graham, Jeb!, and Rick Santorum, are all sticking to their line that the shootings in Charleston were about Christians, not about black people.

And Chuck Todd on Sunday, Father's Day, the Sunday after a brutal massacre of black Americans by a young white supremacist who stopped to reload four times, because one bullet for each victim was not enough(?), ran a video clip about black convicts and firearms in black America.  But it's okay, he asked us to watch it and remain "colorblind".  Don't assume he was trying to channel Stephen Colbert's "Stephen Colbert," because Todd's not that good. (Charlie Pierce has a better response to that "accident,"....er, incident; but the first link gives you a bit more of the story.)

There are, of course, calls for yet another "national discussion" of the topic of race in America.  And yes, it is long past time for such a discussion.  But we'll have to muzzle little Howie Kurtz, for his own safety:

“After a psychopath opened fire at a black church in Charleston, some people could not resist the urge to score political points,” Kurtz wrote, apparently oblivious to the fact that that’s exactly what he’s doing. “This is becoming a disgusting spectacle after these increasingly common mass shootings. And it is reprehensible.”

Little Howie's umbrage was over someone using the words "Dylann Roof" and "FoxNews" in the same sentence.

It's not the shootings that are the problem; it's the politics.  Let's cue up that discussion, shall we?  Chuck Todd and Howie Kurtz will moderate because, why not?  They're famous white men on TeeVee, right?  What could go wrong?

That whole withdrawal from society thing is looking better and better....

"Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition."

"You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I'm pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas -- hitting what you aim at," Cruz said at a town hall meeting Friday in Red Oak.

Ted Cruz makes a funny.

News reports are that Dylan Roof reloaded at least four times, in order to shoot 9 people.  Where did the rest of the bullets go? Or did he want to make sure everyone he shot was "really dead"? Is this, or is this not, "gun control"?

The gun battle which ended with Tamerlan Tsarnaev being run over by his brother, lasted 8 minutes.   Tamerlan drove away from the battle. Did the police not have "gun control"?  The boat Dzokar was captured in, had "at least 108 bullet holes."  Lack of gun control?

Guns in movies don't fire bullets, and the only people "hit" are the ones the camera aims at; the people prepared with squibs and special effects explosives, and probably they "die" over and over again before the director is satisfied.  The "good guys" never get shot to death.

"Gun control," I guess.