Saturday, January 03, 2009


Feodor is lecturing me on what I should be doing and saying. I respond as follows:
I don't believe the word "should" applies to anyone, least of all me.

There is something fortuitous about this exchange. My wife and I were having a discussion about our faiths a couple days ago, and I said that I find myself drifting more and more toward a kind of mystical faith. I no longer believe there is any "must", "should", or any kind of imperative with God. When St. Paul writes that we are freed for freedom's sake, I take him at his word.

Before anyone starts huffing and puffing about anti-nomianism, though, I think it is important to say a couple things. First, my position does not entail any lack of moral clarity, or a refusal to take an ethical stance. Rather, I refuse to draw any necessary conclusions between certain factual matters and any particular moral position an individual, of necessity, must or should hold. To take an example from recent controversy, Rick Warren sees no moral difference between being a gay man and being a pedophile. I happen to think this belief is wrong, and that by expressing his belief, Rick Warren is nothing more or less than a garden variety bigot. I do not think that Rick Warren will be damned to hell for all eternity for his assertions; I do not believe that I am a far more moral and ethically upstanding individual than Rick Warren because I do not believe the way he does. I acknowledge our differences, and find his lacking. I would and will argue to my dying day that I believe mine is a far more acceptable moral position, because it recognizes the fundamental humanity and dignity of sexual minorities. What I would never do, however, is insist that everyone else hold the exact same position I do, or claim that my own position is reflective of some inner necessity stemming from God's law or anything else. I do not think it necessary to insist one's moral reasoning is based in anything transcendent for it to be any less worthy of consideration, or worth fighting for.

When someone insists that there is a necessity in argumentation, either logical (Neil) or moral (Feodor), I have to wonder. Are they so unsure of their own beliefs, do they think God so fundamentally weak, they insist that others are either theologically confused or morally degenerate because these others do not believe and act as they do?

God's freedom, granted in grace, is the freedom to be who we are before God and the rest of creation. It is a challenge lived out in faith and humility. I wouldn't surrender this freedom to any necessity whatsoever, including the necessity of human reason or moral clarity.

God offers us a more abundant life. I guess I just take God's Word on this issue.

Saturday Rock Show

My friend Jim Bush-Resko sent me a wonderful music care package, including Blue Oyster Cult's Extra-Terrestrial Live, some MP3s from "The Garage Files", a Chinese animated film for my daughters, and a recording of a Living Colour concert. It was from a show Jim attended at the Ritz in NYC in 1989. All I can say, after hearing this show was, "Wow". It is nonstop, and reminds me what potential they had before, like many groups, they went down the road of acrimony and petty infighting. Vernon Reid is one of the great guitarists of all time. Their rhythm section just rocked it. This is "Open Letter To A Landlord"

Friday, January 02, 2009

My Favorite

Cause I feel like it, I'm going to put up a video of my all-time, favorite love song. Could someone, preferably Alan, because he is in to this stuff, tell me what Sci Fi Network show the video clips are from, and who is that actress? Anyway, if you want to know the song and artist, ask. Otherwise, I'm figuring you should know.

Where Angels Fear

I am always reticent to write about the state of Israel. No matter what one says, one runs the risk of (a) attracting spam commenters who insist that Israel is behind every sinister plot to destroy the United States, even 9/11; (b) that my evident anti-Semitism leaks out of every syllable I have typed, even if I have written something positive; (c) getting in to stupid side arguments that have nothing to do with the issue at hand (usually involving (a) and (b)). Yet, it seems Israel is intent on doing the same stupid thing it had done repeatedly over the past twenty years, viz., when it realizes there is a serious power vacuum in the United States and that it will thus face no serious consequences, it goes about killing Palestinians indiscriminately. Not only is such action immoral on its face, it is counter-productive to the stated aims of Israeli governments since the mid-1970's, which is a peaceful resolution to the conflict with the original inhabitants of the land now known as the State of Israel.

Every time Israel does this, someone somewhere starts yakking about "the peace process", as if there actually were such a thing. The last time there was a chance was the tail-end of Bill Clinton's Presidency. There have been conflicting reports on what happened at the talks among Clinton, Arafat, and Ehud Barak, but the usual suspects ended any chance: the right of return and the status of Jerusalem in particular. I can understand the question of the right of return; Israel kicked all these people out of their homes, confiscated the property, and allowed Israeli citizens to move in. The process of "return" would end up with a mess of civil law suits, if nothing else. As far as the status of the city of Jerusalem is concerned, it seems to me the international community could deal with that rather easily. Legally, the city is divided between the State of Israel, and the occupied West Bank which was originally Jordanian territory. It seems to me that making Jerusalem a Free City - existing outside any State boundaries, administered via the UN through a mayor drawn from the international community, with rules regarding the rights of all religious inhabitants access to their Holy sites - might do quite well, even if it did upset just about everyone at first.

In any event, the latest Israeli stupidity and atrocity will have the same result as all the rest of them. A whole lot of Palestinians will die; Israel will be roundly, and justifiably, condemned by most of the rest of the world, while defended by the United States; the Palestinians will become even more defiant, starting yet another round of mutual killing; the Israelis will whine about how stubborn and recalcitrant the Palestinian people are; yadda-yadda-yadda.

There is no military resolution to the conflict. There is no reason for the Israeli action, as it will only result in further reducing the possibility of an achievable settlement in the near future. American encouragement, usually couched in terms at once ignorant and strident, only aids and abets the basic criminality and futility of Israeli military action, which is always - ALWAYS ALWAYS - counter-productive.

I think I've said enough now.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Beginnings And Endings

Happy 2009, to all and each!

ER got me thinking about the plethora of apocalyptic warnings in Christian garb out there, which takes me back to my youth, and the presence of a single and singular "book" that ushered in an entire "new way" of looking at the world. Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth is without a doubt one of the biggest bits of garbage spewed out of "Christian book stores", and it certainly has set back an understanding of the last book of the New Testament by about 1400 years. None of this is to say that dire predictions of the end of the planet at the hands of an angry, blood-lusting God and warrior Jesus are new; historian Norman Cohn has written several works on the variety of apocalyptic cults in the late medieval and early modern eras. Even Martin Luther, who was not keen on the Book of Revelation, nevertheless keenly anticipated the imminent return of Jesus, and was eager to participate in battle with his personal nemesis, Satan. Apparently, tossing shit at the Prince of Light (it wasn't an inkwell, folks; Luther was a crude individual) only whetted his appetite for battle.

Of course, Lindsey's rueful consideration on the destruction of God's creation was popular because it was a "religious" version of many of the kinds of scenarios we were living with. Nuclear destruction, environmental degradation, the breakdown of the social contract over women's rights, civil rights for African-Americans, a birthing gay right's movement, the ubiquitous presence of urban unrest and an exploding crime rate - they all seemed to be signs of an unraveling. Lindsey merely provided one possible context for understanding this unraveling.

Fast forward, and these same ideas are still with us. They always will be (I think Cohn is correct that as long as there are marginalized populations with the ability to misinterpret the Bible, there will always be a projected hope of Divine revenge upon those who thwart the hopes and destroy the lives of society's cast-offs). Yet, I think we are sitting, not on the brink of The Battle for Megiddo (a cross roads of sorts where various trading roads met; this was the place where the final Epic Battle was to take place, allegedly), but perhaps moving towards some moments, if not of the Final Peace, certainly a measure of reconciliation and a renewed sense of national unity. We are 19 days away from the first Obama Administration. The new Congress will be seated, I believe, next week. Within a few days, a huge influx of public works projects, all sorts of money and opportunities for turning the country around will be passed and passed out. Even though we are facing dire economic times, there is the possibility that, having people in positions of authority who actually know what they are doing, and understand that policy is the end of politics, not an adjunct to it, we might actually weather this storm pretty well.

Yes, Israel is once again in the business of killing Palestinians for no real political, strategic, or even tactical purpose or gain. The Russians are awaking, which might just be a good thing. We are emerging from our national dream of being the world's only juggernaut to face the reality that we are not trusted, not listened to, and other nations once considered risible on the international stage - India in particular - have both the ability and flexibility to insist on being heard. The world is always a far more complicated place than the dreams of imperial conquerors, and that's all to the good. Much better to relinquish the desire to lead the world than to ruin it out of a combination of hubris and incompetence.

I believe with all my heart that 2009, despite all the rumblings of bad economic news and the desire among the vast majority of Americans for George W. Bush and his gang of idiots to just go away and disappear in to the dustbin of history, will be a great year. I believe we will surprise ourselves as a nation, as a people, as those who can tough it out, and make ourselves better by, perhaps, learning our greatness does not come from our military might, or our industrial prowess. Rather, my hope for 2009 is that we learn that we are great because of our Constitution. I hope we no longer see enemies in dark faces and strange names and different beliefs.

The past year was historic. It may have been, as the saying goes, prologue for what is to come. May we face it together in real hope, without fear, and always ready to have a laugh at our own absurdity.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"You Have Heard It Said . . ."

Refusing to leave well-enough alone, I want to take a look a bit further down Chapter 5 of the Gospel of St. Matthew. After the Beatitudes, with a short interlude on salt and light, we have a long list of sayings, using the formula "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . ." This series of sayings is prefaced by Jesus' insistence that he is not abolishing the Law, but fulfilling the Law. I think it important to keep that in mind as we consider this whole series.

One thing it is important to remember is that Jesus is saying all this on his own authority. Pronouncing upon the law was the role of learned teachers; Jesus is insisting he is one. Further, this authority of the Teacher was considered to be something granted by God alone; Jesus is insisting that he has Divine imprimatur for these teachings.

The "You have heard it said . . ." sayings deal with specific commandments: murder, adultery, and issues surrounding the legal practices of the people, including civil complaints, divorce, the rule of vengeance, and creating distinctions of "friend" and "enemy". All of them deal with how we are to live together as a people who proclaim the God of creation and redemption as their sole King. The King in his Court was the sole arbiter of true justice; here, Jesus is telling us that justice is not confined to a simple-minded literal understanding of words like "murder", "adultery", and that Divine favor is not limited to arbitrary distinctions like "friend" and "enemy". As the ekklesia, those called out to be a people different than others, we are a people whose life together is determined by a God of bounteous love and prodigal grace. Murder is not just taking a life; it is destruction of the communal bonds that hold us all together. Adultery is not just marital infidelity, but a surrender to physical desire that breaks the bonds of family that keep the community growing. Divorce might seem like a necessary evil, but it perpetuates the breaking of communal ties that bind us together. Enmity is an artificial category; we are all the recipients of God's grace and forbearance, and therefore entitled to all the love we can share with one another. The false distinctions between friend and enemy are just another way of destroying the communal bonds, a way we divide what God has not only called together, but called to be apart together.

One caveat, I think is necessary. Once again, while it might seem on a cursory reading that Jesus is here setting out all sorts of rules we are obliged to follow, otherwise facing eternal condemnation, I think that the context in which Jesus is offering this set of sayings belies such an interpretation. Remember, Jesus is heightening and tightening the demands placed upon the people who desire to be called God's people. These are not simple rules of personal moral virtue, but a set of understandings within a body of people. They are not rules for living; they are rules for living together. Jesus is insisting that, if we going to be the people of God, we have to live that way. Not just ensuring our adherence to the letter of the Law, but living in the Spirit of the law.

Again, I just don't know how someone could imagine that we liberals would find something not to like about this. Unless, of course, there are liberal Christians who think murder, hatred, enmity, sexual promiscuity, and the general destruction of communal ties is OK.

Marital Advice From An Imbecile

I was directed to this piece at Townhall via Sadly, No!, and all I can say is . . . well, just read it, and I do hope you aren't holding anything because before the first sentence is over you'll want to throw things at the computer.
In Part I, I made the argument that any woman who is married to a good man and who wants a happy marriage ought to consent to at least some form of sexual relations as much as possible. (Men need to understand that intercourse should not necessarily be the goal of every sexual encounter.)

In Part II, I advance the argument that a wife should do so even when she is not in the mood for sexual relations. I am talking about mood, not about times of emotional distress or illness.

I've already read this, and I still want to throw things at my computer.

I will let you read the whole thing, if you dare, but I want to highlight a few things so someone less brave can get an idea of the kind of thing you would find if you read the whole thing.
2. Why would a loving, wise woman allow mood to determine whether or not she will give her husband one of the most important expressions of love she can show him? What else in life, of such significance, do we allow to be governed by mood?


3. The baby boom generation elevated feelings to a status higher than codes of behavior. In determining how one ought to act, feelings, not some code higher than one’s feelings, became decisive: “No shoulds, no oughts.” In the case of sex, therefore, the only right time for a wife to have sex with her husband is when she feels like having it. She never “should” have it. But marriage and life are filled with “shoulds.”


7. Many contemporary women have an almost exclusively romantic notion of sex: It should always be mutually desired and equally satisfying or one should not engage in it. Therefore, if a couple engages in sexual relations when he wants it and she does not, the act is “dehumanizing” and “mechanical.” Now, ideally, every time a husband and wife have sex, they would equally desire it and equally enjoy it. But, given the different sexual natures of men and women, this cannot always be the case. If it is romance a woman seeks -- and she has every reason to seek it -- it would help her to realize how much more romantic her husband and her marriage are likely to be if he is not regularly denied sex, even of the non-romantic variety.

There is much I could say, even more I so want to say, but I will reign in my desire to rant and rave at this nonsense.

Since many of these "reasons" legitimate - I cannot think of any other term to describe it - marital rape, I hope Mrs. Prager has a good attorney, because she could send her hubby to the clink for a long, long time. As Robin Williams said in Mrs. Doubtfire, Dennis Prager's idea of romance apparently can be reduced to three words: "Brace yourself, Effie".

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Different Description Of Progress In Iraq

On the one hand, there's the insistence that, because Christmas can be celebrated in Iraq, that means the entire project there is worth it.

On the other hand, there's the following story, highlighted by digby (be warned, the following is disturbing, graphic, and not for the squeamish):
Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor's house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan's genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan's mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq --and one of the few places in the world--where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament's refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women.

"When the Kurdish people were fighting for our independence, women participated as full members in the underground resistance," said Pakshan Zangana, who heads the women's committee in the Kurdish parliament. "But now that we have won our freedom, the position of women has been pushed backwards and crimes against us are minimized."

Kurds who support circumcising girls say the practice has two goals: It controls a woman's sexual desires, and it makes her spiritually clean so that others can eat the meals she prepares.

I will only add some thoughts from digby:
Women are dirty and their urges have to be controlled because they're always tempting men to do things they shouldn't do. Same as it ever was. The good news is that this practice helps preserve the ancient definition of marriage, so that's good. Maybe we can start practicing it here at those purity balls. If the men in pulpits told them it was required, have no doubt that the social conservative women would run with this one without a second thought.

The Kurds are free to torture their girl-children. Yee-ha! Thanks, George, Dick, Don, Colin, Condi. The future husband of this tortured and mutilated little girl will be able to eat a ritually clean meal thanks to you all.

The Beatitudes

Sometimes, even though I know I am being baited, I can't help myself. I need the address of Fundie Readers Anonymous or something to help me steer clear of it. "Liberals" are accused of "not understanding" the Sermon on the Mount at the top of one of the worst exegetical exercises I have ever read.
It portrays Jesus as being very intolerant. He tells the Pharisees how they are doing everything wrong - worship, giving, praying, fasting, behaving, etc.

He upholds every letter and pen stroke of the Old Testament, something they typically abandon first.

He spoke of judgment. He emphatically shows that there are false religions - the very thing that the liberal theologians teach the opposite of. He warns strongly against false teachers - people like them!

It sets an impossibly high standard and demonstrates that we need a Savior to reach God. He raises the bar or shows the real intent behind prohibitions against adultery, murder, etc. and sums up that section by saying, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

The problem is that the liberal theologians view it as a checklist, just as they do with Matthew 22:37-40 (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.”). He didn’t mean for us to respond, “Thanks for the summary, I’ll get right on that!” The proper response is to be convicted that we can never be good enough on our own. You have to be pretty self-righteous not to realize what a joke it would be to claim you followed those passages well enough to merit God’s eternal favor.

In order to show that at least one liberal Christian has at least some inkling of how to read the Bible, let's stick with just the opening of Chapter 5, commonly known as the Beatitudes.

Before we even try to unpack all that, however, we need to take a step back and consider the Gospel of St. Matthew as a whole, and what purpose this passage serves in the author's overall narrative scheme. The writer of the Gospel sees the Christ-event as a recapitulation of the entire history of the people of Israel; every narrative moment, every event, each significant move is mirrored not only by analogy to events in the history of the people, but is accompanied by the writer's insistence that such-and-such an event is the fulfillment of this or that prophecy. On the one hand, this has led far too many people to think of "prophecy" as a kind of Divine divination, God predicting the future as it were. Another way of looking at this particular narrative device is to consider that it might just be a revolutionary rewriting of the entire Hebrew canon, centering it no longer on the people chosen by the LORD, called out of slavery; the center is now Jesus, the Son of Man (which embraces a later formulation, in the rebellious writings of Daniel, which were composed under the tyranny of Antiochus IV, about 150 years before Jesus was born), who embraces and transcends both the older history and tradition, as well as more recent yearning for freedom, independence, and the Kingdom of God.

This summary hardly does the subtlety of the Gospel justice, but we shall move now to the entire passage of Chapters 5-7. Simply put, this is, to use the terminology above, both an echo of and transcendence beyond the giving of the Law in Exodus. The Beatitudes echo the Ten Commandments to the extent that they offer a general view of the possibilities of a life lived in faith. They aren't rules. They aren't a new law. They aren't commandments. They are a description of God's gracious descent toward us, markers of the Kingdom of God, and the possibilities open to human beings who live in faith. We who mourn will be comforted. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. Those who work for peace will be called children of God. These are not demands, laws, decrees, or limits upon human action. They are a vision of life lived under the grace of God.

Speaking as one liberal United Methodist Christian, I just have to ask: What's not to like here?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Public, Private, And Other Distinctions

After writing yesterday about the way the press is hounding President-elect Obama as he attempts to have some last few fatherly moments with his children before beginning the wild ride as our next President, I've been thinking a lot about the utter destruction of the line between public life and private life. I don't think this applies only to Presidents-elect, or Presidents. It is a phenomenon far larger than simple celebrity journalism, the hyping of all sorts of private pain in to public delectation. There seems to be some kind of general feeling that one's public persona should exist in continuity with one's private person. Where this particular bit of nonsense comes from, I really don't know, but it covers the gamut, not just in politics and religion (remember Ted Haggard? All those anti-gay gay Republicans?), but in the way we little people discuss issues on the internet. Even we peons face the demand that the way we frame our discussions of issues of public import exist as a mere extension of our private lives.

I guess I had always assumed that people understood that there was a real difference between the way one comports oneself in public, including how one argues in favor or opposition to this or that issue or controversy, and one's private goings-on. Yet, the line between private and public, between the contents of public argument and the day-to-day happenings of life is increasingly difficult to distinguish. Having faced the ire of those who seem to believe that, because I argue for or against this or that position my private beliefs and acts conform to my rhetoric. Is it at all possible to have a discussion without someone questioning how one lives one's private life? Is it at all possible to take an argument on its merits, rather than read in to an argument something either noble or nefarious about the person making the argument?

This distinction, I believe, should hold whether one is President of the United States or a small-time blogger trying to make this or that point in an argument. At one time, there was a kind of wall that surrounded the private lives of at least some public persons; Franklin Roosevelt could carry on a years-long affair with the White House press both knowing and respecting the fact that this private business had nothing at all to do with how he dealt with the nation's business. Except in the rare instance - Nixon's almost constant drunkenness his last year or so in office being the most recent example for which there is ample evidence - how a person, big or small, important or of little consequence, comports himself or herself in private is really no one's business.

For the purposes of our little blog argument thingy, I think that includes questioning the integrity or virtue of those who take a position with which one disagrees. Calling an individual who is pro-choice a "murderer" erases that private-public distinction pretty clearly, and as far as I'm concerned, is no longer "in-bounds". Insisting that, because someone supports this or that candidate, or does not support this or that policy, the individual in question "hates America", is "unChristian", or some other personal epithet, is also out of bounds. The simplest way to stick to the issues at hand is to do just that.

Others at other blogs and other places can formulate their own rules, and I am quite sure some may protest my own new and improved guidelines. I really don't care, because the point of all this is not to figure out who's a good guy and who's a bad guy. The point is to reach some kind of clarity about our life together. People who disagree, well, those disagreements don't reflect on the virtue or viciousness of those involved. We're all just people, trying to figure it out as we go along. We are, all of us, as right as we are wrong, most of the time.

This doesn't mean that we can't dismiss something that is clearly frivolous, or silly, or ignorant, or just plain stupid, in those terms, as long as we are clear it is the argument of which we speak, not the person making the argument.

This is my new policy for 2009. We are going to operate on the assumption that all of us are pretty good people with all the variety that entails. Any attempt to make either a personal compliment or insult, even some attempt to decipher the person behind the comment being made (and I will confess to having done so myself, so I don't exempt myself from the new "rule"), that comment will be removed. No one will be banned - I'm not Neil! - but I will remove any personal attacks, either upon me or any of my commenters. We need to do something to introduce, once again, the distinction between public and private, and it seems the best way to do it is, well, to do it.

Monday Music

Is it post-Christmas Depression? Nah. I just prefer songs with really dark themes. I suppose it's because some part of me figures this is the way life is; all the happiness and joy and love are the comforting illusions we tell ourselves to hide the terrifying reality that it's all a short, horrid ride from womb to tomb. Except, I don't really believe that, either. Happiness, love, peace are also real. The reality is that these songs put in to words and sounds my own sense of the limits of even these most desirous of emotive states. If you're feeling down, you might want to listen to these with the razors or pill bottles well out of reach.

"Heart Attack In a Lay By" by Porcupine Tree (a "lay by" is a rest area on British highways; the song is about a man dying in his car)

The following set of lyrics, from the end of the next song, sum up the sorrow that comes when a relationship ends. Pretty rough stuff, but, hey, life is pretty rough: "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life,
I know you'll be a sun in somebody else's sky, but why
Why, why can't it be, can't it be mine"
"Black" by Pearl Jam

From the Austrian progressive metal band Dead Soul Tribe (not too many happy songs with a band name like that, huh?) comes their song "Flies". It is a picture of the world as Hell, pure and simple. Not exactly cheery stuff, but hey, get out and take a look at the way most of the world looks to most people who actually live in it, and you might come to the same conclusion. "Sometimes it seems a laughing god has played his joke on me," indeed:

If you want happy songs, send me some requests for next week.

Promises Not Kept

By way of preface, let me just say that I think (a) we as a nation are as confused about human sexuality as can possibly be; (b) the Christian Churches do not help; (c) specifically my own denomination starts out well - by insisting the sexuality is a good gift from a good God - but ends up in the same confused morass as the rest of them, refusing to explain how it is a "good gift" apart from marriage.

Having said that, I have discovered, looking through my 1800 or so blog posts (!!) that I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two and a half years writing about sexual ethics, usually in a reactive way, i.e., reacting to something stupid I've read. I have yet to construct something positive as far as a healthy sexual ethic is concerned. I do think I have made some headway by clearing away what I believe not only does not work, but is actually counterproductive, including the whole "Purity Ball" thing, simple renunciation, and the current status quo. As far as reuninciation is concerned, atrios notes an item at Think Progress I was going to pass over without comment, but having said something, forced me to take up the subject yet again. First, the item itself:
A cornerstone of many abstinence-only programs is the concept of virginity pledges, which encourages “children as young as 9 to promise to wait until marriage to have sex.” But a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds that “teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do”. . .

Now, Duncan's commentary, which is spot on:
While the fact that virginity pledges and abstinence-only sex "ed" don't stop teens from having sex is unsurprising, I doubt that even proponents are particularly surprised. They aren't interested in abstinence, really, they're interested in making sure "bad girls" get punished for having sex by being subject to the appropriate consequences. So it actually works as designed.

So much of what calls itself "Christianity" these days can be reduced to insisting that much of life is a snare, a trap waiting the unsuspecting. It is hardly new; for centuries the Roman Catholic Church viewed women as a sink of sin designed by Satan to snatch good men away from a life of purity. One great Christian saint, whose name escapes me for the nonce, referred to women as "ordure and vomit". It is hardly surprising, then, that the onus of chastity is placed upon women, who are the source of boys' and mens' weakness when it comes to sexual temptation. After all, if it weren't for women and their wiles, men wouldn't give their sexual urges even a cursory glance, right?

It should surprise no one that those who pledge their virginity for marriage are no more likely to refrain from sexual activity, and when they do have sex do so in ways that are far riskier, than those who make no such promises. This is not to say there is nothing noble about such a pledge, or that, given the right support network, such promises are a complete waste of time. It is only to say the entire system of sexual renunciation is based upon the false premise that there is something of intrinsic worth about sexual abstinence, and that marriage is the sole place for sexual activity. It would be nice if this were true; it might even be nice if we could escape the weight of time and history and develop a healthy ethic of sexuality that recognized its goodness and was open to the possibility that, by reducing it from a necessary evil to just another part of life, we could demystify it, the Church would go a long way toward a healthy sexual ethic.

We have a lot of heavy lifting to do first, however. Part of that includes ridding ourselves of the idea that if we only say a few magic words and think good, pure thoughts, we can avoid the temptations of the flesh, especially when said temptations are clothed in the tresses of the first temptress, Eve. Removing all the onus from women and girls would go a long way toward that goal. Until that time, I don't think there is anything to be gained by making promises disconnected from the rest of life.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Personal Isn't Political

I marvel at the self-importance of some journalists. Politico has an article on the way Obama is reacting to the constant presence of the press corps, even as he spends the Christmas holidays at home in Hawaii. There are moments of absurd self-importance verging on parody, if only the author of this piece were aware enough of them. In fact, the following paragraph borders on the kind of thing The Onion would write.
Obama even took the unusual step Friday morning of leaving behind the pool of reporters assigned to follow him, taking his daughters to a nearby water park without them. It was a breach of longstanding protocol between presidents (or presidents-elect) and the media, that a gaggle of reporters representing television, print and wire services is with his motorcade at all times.

It is against a longstanding protocol for the President to decide to take his children to a waterpark without dragging along a bunch of reporters? Said reporters believe such calumny not only worth reporting, but assuming the President-elect did something wrong in doing so?

Here's a thought, even in this 24-hour, internet era of constant scrutiny and over-exegesis of every word and gesture. Dial it down a bit. Show not only restraint and respect, but recognize there might just be nothing newsworthy in a man taking his children to a waterpark. Even if that man is the next President of the United States. Especially since Barack Obama's children are so small, it might be considered not only respectful, but just plain good form to leave him alone in his private moments, to allow him to take his children to a waterpark without a pack of vultures, protocol or no protocol, waiting in the wings.

He has his Secret Service detail to protect him. He doesn't need you to record his private life. An individual's private life is, for the most part, pretty banal. Even the President of the United States just might wish not to be photographed scratching between his legs, or whatever. Since we are returning to the days of the New Deal in economic policy, we might just consider moving to those same days in terms of the way we cover a President's private life.

Leave them all alone. Especially as President-elect Obama wishes nothing more than to be "Dad" to his two girls. Those moments are going to be few and far between over the next eight years as it is.

Do Things Happen For A Reason?

I do not want to step on any toes. Seriously. Reading this at Unglued, however, got me thinking about a common enough assertion - "things happen for a reason". As we near the end of 2008, I have been given many chances to revisit this particular phrase. Someone I work with uses it quite frequently. I guess I have to say that I think it's a way people cope with events that seem out of their control. Recession cause you to lose your job/home/relationship/marriage? Things don't just happen, or are the result of forces beyond your control, but they happen for a reason. A random set of events set in motion another series of events that lead you to meet the person you spend your life with? It isn't all random chance, but happened for a reason. The most extreme case I have encountered in my life of this was the biography of a prominent local personage from my hometown area, who spoke of his mother's early death, the ensuing family dysfunction - alcoholism, serial marital break-ups, estrangement - as all leading to his embracing the Christian faith, meeting his wife, and landing a position that allowed him to do work that he loved and . . . become a prominent person in our local area.

Untangling that web of reasoning, a kind of Gordian Knot of self-justification to my not-quite sixteen-year-old mind, led me to conclude that things don't happen for "a reason". Things happen, and after the fact we insist there were "reasons" for them happening. Whether to justify our own actions (or inactions), to make sense out of the senselessness of it all, or to find that silver-lining amongst the clouds of life, or perhaps to marvel at the way events sometimes disparate, sometimes unconnected, can lead to profound changes or surprising moments of joy in our lives, the effort to make sense of the myriad and panoply of our lives can lead us to toss up our hands and say, "Must have happened for a reason."

There was a television program that The History Channel used to broadcast (perhaps it still does) called "Connections", in which the odd correlations and interactions among various historical events were traced from some random point in the past to some seemingly unrelated event in the near-present/past. What I liked about that show was not only the way it displayed the futility of any direct cause/effect link (most of the links in the program were links of passing historical interest at some particular time, having consequences only in retrospect, and certainly little meaning), but the wide variety of ways human beings have of drawing meaning and importance out of one event and attempt to apply it to another.

I do not believe "things happen for a reason". I believe that, sometimes, we human beings become the passive recipients of the result either of the actions of others or social/historical forces beyond our control; or we act in ways that may surprise us or others, sometimes in our own interest, sometimes not, and the results are not what was intended, or even perhaps contemplated as possible when the action was first undertaken, but nevertheless can be traced loosely enough to some initial decision on our part. While this latter may under some general understanding come under the heading "reason", I do not believe one can do so unless one stretches the meaning of the word beyond recognition. We may be able to find solace in the idea that "things happen for a reason"; I do not believe such solace, however necessary for a few moments or even a few days, can stand up against the terrifying weight of the reality that things just happen. Sometimes good things. Sometimes terrible things. Sometimes, if we are resourceful enough, emotionally and intellectually strong enough, or just lucky and clever enough, we can draw something beautiful out of the morass. While I would never insist that human beings are passive recipients of events, the interactions of many different individuals, collectives, social and historical events make tracing any "reason" for anything beyond our abilities.

I guess I just prefer to face the fact that sometimes, as the bumper sticker says, "Shit happens". If you can clean it up and through the weird alchemy of life transform that shit in to something sublime and wonderful, that's great. I would hardly insist, however, that the latter result of much emotional effort was the reason for being shat upon in the first place.

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