Saturday, October 09, 2010


In December, 1980, I was playing at my high school concert band's winter concert when word reached me that John Lennon had been shot and killed by a deranged fan. Bleeding his life away outside his building, I have to wonder if Lennon understood what had happened. At 15, I was only dimly aware that Lennon was anything other than a member of the Beatles, had a prickly personality, and had recently released an album of new work that was, to my young ears, kind of middle-of-the-road pop that wasn't all that exciting.

Ninety miles away, at my future University alma mater, a mournful fan took a marker and scrawled through the tunnel-like passages in the arts building, "Why was John Lennon shot?" A frustrated critic answered his question at one point, in a much larger hand - "Who the fuck cares?"

Today is Lennon's birthday. Had he lived, he would have been 70 years old. In some respects, dying relatively young at 40, and murdered to boot, have shielded Lennon from a more critical eye. His surviving band mates, in particular Paul McCartney, managed to turn Lennon's death in to a windfall (although George Harrison did pen a marvelous tribute song in the mid-1980's). I do not think it unfair to say that Lennon's cult of personality, created and sustained by his massive ego combined with frail self-image, makes it difficult to make clear some things about who Lennon was and what he did.

He was a singer in a rock band. He was far more intelligent and witty than the average British working-class youngster, and was surprised by his own intelligence and wit. Having some talent at writing and arranging songs, combing not just rock and roll and R&B, but also show tunes and even British dance-hall music ("When I'm 64" is the best example of this) to create a succession of sounds over time that would be hard to pin down as "The Beatles' sound". With the exception of Ringo's drum sound, brought out by producer George Martin, there is really little unifying the Beatles catalog, musically. Consider "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Revolution No. 9" - if someone did not know they were done by the same band, would you believe someone who told you they were?

Lennon's post-Beatles career, such as it was, was an archetype of narcissistic self-indulgence - from drug addiction to the nonsensical wallowing in self-pity encouraged by his participation in Primal Scream Therapy, to the promotion of Yoko's middlebrow "art" to a far-too-publicized "retirement" that managed to accommodate not only his drug use, but time spent with a mistress, and more self-indulgence.

The emergence of Double Fantasy was hailed at the time as a marvelous return to form, yet we hear in the lyrics the same tired refrain - the most interesting thing John Lennon can think about is . . . John Lennon. The music is spare, as was his wont after the Beatles, but the melodies and harmonies were hardly anything more than rearrangements of earlier tunes. Lennon even advertised his on-going sturm und drang over his relationship with his former bandmates, first before the release of the album with a full-page-ad in the New York Times that was a meandering bit of verbiage that included a reference to "three angels" that may, or may not, have been George, Paul, and Ringo. He indulged in guessing games over whether he would tour or not. He claimed to suffer from stage fright, talking endlessly about how sick he was flying from Europe to Toronto for the Live Peace concert. Yet, if playing live made him physically ill, why talk about it? Why make people guess? Because the most fascinating thing about John Lennon was, for him . . . everything about him.

No one deserves to die young. No one deserves to die, leaving behind a wife and young child. Lennon's death left his two families - his first wife Cynthia and son Julian along with Yoko and Sean - without his presence. The far-too-public ghost fans have created is not sustained by the meager remnants left behind. While I certainly acknowledge the influence the Beatles had upon popular music of all kinds, the creation of the legend of John Lennon is one I refuse to sustain, because its most ardent believer was . . . John Lennon.

Too Little Too Late

Dana Millbank continues exposing Glenn Beck for the ignorant fraud that he is. All the same, I am less than moved by the series. Even acknowledging, as Bob Somerby does, that this kind of thing should be rewarded with a certain level of praise as the proper role of functioning journalism, I am left frustrated because of one simple fact - anyone paying attention has known for quite some time that Beck is a crank, a kook, purveyor of conspiracy theories that don't even have the single virtue of some facts behind them, and an ignoramus miseducating two million people nightly.

After the Bolshevik Revolution was secure, Lenin and Trotsky turned their attention to the west. Lenin decided that it was necessary to coddle the socialist parties in western Europe, calling them "useful idiots". Hardly revolutionary, these participants in the democratic process (as it existed in Europe in the 20's) became lightning rods for capitalist rage. Lenin figured that, as long as the ruling class focused their ire on these parties, the real revolutionaries, the real threats to the capitalist order - the communists - could make their way to power unencumbered by official attention. Obviously, that isn't what happened, but the idea of using front groups to disguise the workings of very real threats to the social and political order became embedded in the practice of politics.

Funny enough, the group that aped this particular practice was the rabidly anti-communist group The John Birch Society. Encouraged to do whatever it took to fight the impending communist takeover, orchestrated from above by no less a communist sympathizer than Dwight Eisenhower, the Birchers included creating front groups with innocuous-sounding names and bland mission statements to encourage greater participation in the defense of "freedom".

Oligarchs are far better at this sort of thing than independent actors with neither power nor influence. While not orchestrated consciously, the emergence of various figures to distract and entertain people is a recurrent reality.

We are currently in the throes of our greatest social, political, and economic crisis in nearly a century. It has been made suddenly very much worse by the revelation that banks, continuing their fraudulent, illegal behavior when they should have rested, quietly chastened, may have expropriated thousands, maybe millions, of homes illegally. Now sold at bargain-basement prices, the ownership of these homes can now become a matter of legal wrangling that may never be untangled.

For all that, what dominates so much of our public discussion? Christine O'Donnell's casual relationship with the truth. Whether an aide to California Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown thought calling Republican candidate Meg Whitman a "whore" was a good campaign tactic. Finally, after last week's long piece and today's shorter one, we have Glenn Beck. Lachrymose, dramatic, Beck draws the attention of millions of people with his overwrought "discoveries" such as the American purchase of Alaska in the 1950's (it was purchased from the Russians in 1867) and the connivance of Barack Obama and George Soros to enrich the latter while empowering the former.

Hazarding a guess, I think this attention Beck is finally receiving, while a good thing, also indicates a certain wariness on the part of both his employers at News Corp. and the larger political class, regardless of party, at the attention and following he has. While not a member of the Tea Party, he certainly has his followers. His August rally at the Lincoln Memorial showed that, while not nearly as large as claimed by his dedicated fans, he does have disciples who are working to bring to office people who think and believe as he does. Rather than useful, the legions of Tea Partiers, encouraged by the notion that there really is someone who gives easy answers to the questions they face in the midst of strife, a name and a face to the enemy, now pose a threat to the real seats of power. The Establishment is waking up to the possibility that their creation will, New Prometheus-like, break its chains. Like Mary Shelley's fictional creature, who educated himself by stealing books by Goethe and others from a peasant (nice touch, that), Beck and his followers are armed with the auto-didact's wonder at worlds revealed through sources never dreamed. Except, alas, the sources upon which Beck and his followers rely are woefully bad.

It would have been far better had Beck's work been exposed two years ago or more. Not just Beck, however. Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Levin - the whole panoply of right-wing publicists who peddle fake notions and potions have certainly been exposed by Media Matters for America, among other websites. They preach to the choir, and there has been a real need to speak out to a far larger audience about the political snake oil on offer. It has been needed not for years, but decades.

While commendable, Millbank's piece is just too little, too late.

Friday, October 08, 2010

On The Limits Of Economic Determinism

I started reading Man On His Own, a collection of essays by the German Marxist Ernst Bloch. This was the first of his writings translated to English. It is unique in my experience of writings by a Marxist because it has a foreword and introduction by theologians. Harvey Cox, whose moment in the sun was already fading when the book was published, wrote the Foreword. The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, whose own work is, as was derisively noted by Karl Barth, a baptizing of Bloch's The Principle of Hope (I wonder to this day if Moltmann ever read anything other than the 53rd chapter of the three volumes), wrote the Introduction.

Born in 1885 in Ludwigshafen, a dirty, grimy industrial city, Bloch's young imagination was fired by, among other things, the horribly pulpy westerns of the German writer Karl May (Bloch's Austrian contemporary, Adolf Hitler, was also fond of May's books, which only proves, I think, that May's influence on the future of European history was far less than some might imagine) and the poetry of Goethe.

Young enough to celebrate the victories of the Bolsheviks in Russia, and to see promise in the failed revolutions in Hungary and Bavaria, Bloch carved out a niche by returning at least some of the romanticism to what had become, under Lenin and Stalin, the dry pedanticism of "scientific socialism". First with The Spirit of Utopia and later (written in exile during the Nazi era; Bloch sat in the New York Public Library writing furiously while his second wife worked menial jobs to pay the bills) The Principle of Hope, Bloch brought out the social-psychological roots of revolutionary consciousness, and saw in the utopian visions of everything from dreams to architecture the framework for a metaphysics in which the future became the only really Real thing, drawing the present toward its ineluctable, fully human realizations (a Platonizing that turns Plato's anti-humanism on its head).

The essays in the collection I am reading were written after Bloch was exiled from East Germany. He had returned to the Soviet-controlled area of Germany soon after the end of the Second World War, hoping to become part of the intellectual vanguard of the revolution in his homeland. Sad to say, his writings did not toe the far-too-narrow party line of Erich Honecker's small-minded Stalinism, and eventually - after being silenced, having his works smuggled to the West to be published, and serving some time under house arrest - he ended up in West Germany, where he took up a position that became meta-critical. Still insisting he was in line with Marxist tradition, he railed against the smallness of both East and West, against the shallow and violent triumphalism of Stalinist orthodoxy that brooked no dissent, and the equally shallow and no less violent triumphalism of western anti-communism.

Man On His Own is a very late work, not least because its overriding concern seems to be expanding revolutionary consciousness to include the not-yet of death and what happens after. The opening paragraphs of the first essay, "Karl Marx, Death, and the Apocalypse" deals a summary judgment upon the Leninist tradition, deriding it as a kind of Epicurean superficiality. Seeing in the satisfaction of that most basic need - filling the belly - the sum total of human happiness, this part of the Marxist tradition had little concern with culture in its many varieties. Religion most of all. Bloch, on the other hand, sees in the myths of apocalyptic the most powerful revolutionary critique of bourgeois society and of the "vulgar" Marxism that sees in the satisfaction of our immediate needs for continued biological survival the satisfaction of all our human wants and desires.

This is not to deny the necessity, for Bloch, of a very real political revolution. It is only to point out that, for Bloch, this political revolution, in which the entire structure of human relations is reenvisioned and restructured is the beginning of a more full, more human society.

Our current economic and political overlords - and there really isn't much difference between the two groups anymore - are no less insistent than Marx and his followers were that the sum total of human happiness, of human achievement, is reached when, through the workings of the market, the possibility of real human freedom through the accumulation of resources to stave off hunger has been achieved. The proponents of the the myth of the equation of our democratic Republic and unfettered capitalism, even now in its very real dotage, are no less enthusiastic economic determinists than their ideological foes (I think it is necessary to remember that the original neoconservatives, particularly Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz were either full-fledged members of the communist party or fellow-travlers; see Garry Dorrien's The Neo-Conservative Mind). The reduction of our civil life to economic consumerism, the false choices of our politics between two groups fully in hock to corporate interests, and the nihilism of a political class that sees power as an end to itself, rather than a calling to service is the end of any illusions any thoughtful observer should have on the ability of capitalism to serve the full needs of human beings.

Bloch's musings on the possibilities inherent in stories of life-after-death and the apocalyptic musings of Christian and Jewish millenarianism offer a far deeper vision of the possibilities of human life than any kind of "scientific" view of human happiness that asks that we only surrender that which is most important to us in order that we may eat.

Peace Prize

I think it is more than awesome that the folks in Stockholm gave the most prestigious award for the promotion of peace to an imprisoned Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. First, like the award given the Burmese democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi, it shines a light under the rocks of a tyrannical regime. The result - the Chinese are quite simply furious - is a wonder to behold. Every time we are told by some boob and yahoo that the promotion of a more open economic system can only result in a free, more open, eventually democratic China should shut up and consider the events surrounding this announcement. Liu is in prison because he wrote and circulated a document promoting peaceful, democratic change in the People's Republic. He is serving eleven years for doing what we on the internet do all the time - circulating a petition. For all those on the right who insist the Obama Administration is leading us on a path to communist oppression, we should remember what real totalitarianism looks like.

I remember well those fateful days in the early summer of 1989 when the young people of China were poised on the precipice of change. It was a year for political miracles, and it seemed history was on their side. There was a moment, just one brief shining moment, when it seemed the balance would tip in their favor. Pictures of soldiers joining the protesters in Tiananmen Square seemed to point to the steady erosion of support for the regime. It was not meant to be, and thousands died, thousands more ended up in prison or exile, and George H. W. Bush, within months, was kissing the ass of the bloody murderers in Beijing. Not a President since who hasn't written off the same young people who erected a monument to freedom that looked like the Statue of Liberty, betraying our most cherished values in the pursuit of filthy lucre.

Despite official Chinese rhetoric, Liu is a patriot. He loves his homeland, perhaps more than the average young Chinese. He loves his land so much he is willing to risk his freedom and his life to effect change in a place, historically, resistant to change other than the violent destruction of life, civil and human. Just as Aung San Suu Kyi's Nobel has done, Liu Xiaobo reminds us that there are millions around the globe who yearn for the freedom and opportunity offered, not by capitalism, but by the very structure of civil liberty and political openness embedded in our Constitution. The same freedoms far too many Americans are all too willing to set aside in the name of convenience, and the false hope that by doing so we might gain a measure of security.

Congratulations, Liu Xiaobo. I know that you will not receive word of the award where you are. I know you will not be able to travel to Stockholm to accept the Prize, and speak on the promise of a democratic China, over a billion people loose from the shackles of a government that gives them bread in exchange for their souls. My hope is that one day, you or another who follows in your footsteps will fulfill the real promise of China, and remind everyone that dissent is the highest love one can have for one's country.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Conversations Elsewhere

Joel Watts moderates a blog newly-retitled "Unsettled Christianity". In a discussion on a thread there concerning the AFA's opposition to a proposal before the Michigan legislature on bullying and sexual minority youth, Joel - who is a wonderful person extending a more than enough benefit of the doubt in order to open up space for discussion, offers up a link to the following:
On the one hand, many gay persons feel like Christians are attempting to bully them by passing laws against gay marriage or civil unions. On the other hand, Christians feel like many gay persons are attempting to bully them by passing laws to silence them so that they can no longer express their beliefs. The way forward is not to embrace the bully-victim cycle as the paradigm of choice but rather to realize that different views exist and that such views can be expressed without malevolent intent.

In the case of the teenagers who have recently killed themselves, bullying has been argued to be a factor. While no bully can ever be fully blamed for someone choosing to end their own life, there is certainly truth to the claim that they may have contributed to the stress that led to someone's choice to commit suicide. Again, however, it might benefit us all to ask whether or not the bully-victim cycle was at work in the background of such events. When we do this, it may move us away from merely defaming others and pointing fingers to getting closer to the heart of the matter. Once we to begin ending the cycle is to attempt to find its recent starting point(s).
If you clicked the link, the very first sentence, in my estimation, spells trouble:
From the start, I want folks to know that I write this post as a person who has had close family members and friends who have been and/or are gay. I know the pains and struggles that many of them have faced and still deal with, and I am more than familiar with the sense of rejection that they have experienced, especially from religious folks. I also write this post as a Christian and even more, as a Christian who lives in the midst of the tensions between two groups who often seem to be at loggerheads with one another: the gay community and the evangelical church.
Rather than see through the muddle created by any false equivalence, the author jumps in and celebrates that muddle. Rather than hear the cries of the suffering, we are called to understand a cycle in which poor Christian kids feel bullied by non-existent attempts to silence them and their "beliefs".

In response to this, I responded as follows:
While I appreciate the earnest desire behind this post, I disagree with it. At the heart of the (right-wing) anti-gay rhetoric of some who call themselves Christian is the explicit denial of their fundamental humanity. "You aren't 'gay', you are a sinner. You can and must choose to live your life differently than you do, or you are going to hell."

For me, this has to change. It denies the reality that a person does not "choose" to be gay. A person "is" gay. Denying that reality, as Deb does repeatedly, does not make it a fact. It makes it an ignorant statement of bigotry, a point that is quite clearly beyond her.

Furthermore, if there was a rash of Christian teens offing themselves because queer teens were bullying them, I would be up in arms. If there were Christians who refused to self-identify because of fear that their parental/spousal rights and privileges would be stripped from them, or that they would lose their jobs, I would be incensed. If there was a whole network of Queer websites telling Christians that religion, as a matter of choice, can be changed, and should be in order for the country to be better, I would be fighting against that.

This is an example, in other words, of false equivalence, masked as evenhandedness.
On this same thread, we have Deb, who wrote the following:
1st. Explain why a married man with a family after years decides to leave his family for another man if it is Not a choice?
2nd . He had a roommate watching? in a college dorm? and yes he is to blame somewhat,should have went to a motel...
3rd.I had to toughen up. lots do ....
4th, God did not create Men to sleep with men, and women to sleep with women,He created man and then created woman for his helpmate,not another man,He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for just you believe the Bible?
4th, Jesus rebuked the woman at the well, He told her to go and sin NO more... love is to be able to rebuke your brother, If you did not you would not care what he does,you would not want him to die in his sin... Love does not mean to just let everything slide like it is not wrong... to strive to be holy.. What would you think Yeshua would say to people today? I know he would love them and does, but do you think that he would go along with all the worlds sin? If my son was gay,or daughter, I would still love them but would not let them be together in my home, would I be wrong?
To which I responded:
You write: "Explain why a married man with a family after years decides to leave his family for another man if it is Not a choice?"

Because people like you deny the reality that being gay is about who they are. Because people like you insist they are evil, wrong, a threat to our faith and society.

Sorry if this is harsh and judgmental, but my patience is at an end. It is precisely people who insist that are "anti-gay" yet draw a line at violence that make me wonder - why draw the line? You are denying the humanity of sexual minorities. Why not do violence to them, since they are less than fully human, in your eyes?

i have no desire to listen to drivel glossed in a misreading of the Bible. I have even less than zero desire to have someone call themselves "anti-gay" and ask to be treated with respect. Had you written "anti-black", say, or "anti-Jew", I would treat you in much the same way.
She has since responded, in a way:
anti-gay? is so much different than being anti-black or anti-jew,,, sorry, you are born either black, not much you can do about that, or jewish, . lots of things you are born into that you can change.. it is a choice,,, sin is a choice, being holy is a choice, and not anyone , is a threat to my faith.... now society, that is a whole different ballgame,,, what our children are taught and what they learn makes them what they are when grown...and also, what do you think adultery is, it is not just a married couple cheating on each other, any fornication is Adultery... I think that would include men with men and women with women...
I refuse to respond to this last, for the same reason I don't argue with creationists, global-warming deniers, and Holocaust deniers. She is wrong, she will not be convinced she is wrong, and treating her position as if it had any merit whatsoever only reinforces the notion that her position is something other than bigotry cloaked in nonsense.

Just thought I'd point all this out.

The Party Of Food Stamps

Newt reminds me of those actors from the 1930's who, as late the late-1960's, continued to grab the spotlight in an attempt either to relive their glory days, or to make younger actors aware they are young and neither as important nor powerful as they believe. Yet, in so doing, they become objects of humor, even derision. They manage to make a mockery of themselves, belittle their previous accomplishments. We all remember Spencer Tracy as the father in Who's Coming To Dinner, but what about his turn in his last picture, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? Clarke Gable went out with a whimper, fading along with Marilyn Monroe (whose suicide may have been hastened by Gable's obstinate refusal to sleep with her), in The Misfits.

So we have Gingrich, yesterday, stealing headlines with his "party of foodstamps" nonsense. Does Gingrich not understand that it isn't 1980? Does he not get that, in the middle of a recession, there are millions more on public assistance than there might otherwise be? Does he not understand that the easiest, quickest retort is that the Republicans are "the party of the millionaires", particularly in a time of economic devastation?

The surest, simplest way to make short work of this is to own it. Apparently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi managed to do that very thing today, pointing out the beneficial multiplier effect from food stamps. CNN reporter John King did the entire universe a service when, in commenting on the alleged relevance of both the phrase and the larger story it has produced, he let the world know that he was the product of a home that needed, and used, food stamps.

Finally, Gingrich, touted for far too long as "an intellectual", made himself look not just ignorant, but silly, by insisting that the multiplier to which Pelosi pointed was nothing more than "liberal math". While I know that this will not silence him, at this point, it might be a good thing for the country that he receives unwarranted attention. My guess is Republican heads were shaking across the land as the story first broke yesterday. In all likelihood, there was probably a furious exchange of cell phone calls and Blackberry IMs attempting to put the genie back in the bottle. This close to an election that just a month ago seemed certain to be a Republican cake-walk, but now increasingly seems a toss-up (in an off-year cycle near the bottom of a bad business cycle), it is a stunt like this that can do nothing but good for the Democrats.

So, sure, the Democratic Party is the Party of Food Stamps. Far better to be known as a party that is willing to help those in need than the party that is willing to bail out our largest financial institutions while turning a deaf ear to the needs of millions of citizens losing their jobs, their savings, their homes, and their sense of equanimity. I'll take the epithet, and wear it with pride and distinction.

So, Newt, thanks. Now, go back to schtupping your third wife (acquired while still married to number 2, and spending most of your public hours railing against the horrors of Bill Clinton receiving oral sex from a woman not his wife; the future No. 3 didn't, I'm guessing?) and leaving the election to those who are running.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

We've Fallen A Long Way, Baby

There's been much rending of clothing over the publication that Glenn Beck puts out all sorts of crap. By "crap" I mean stuff that is either demonstrably false, or connections between events that exist only in his fevered imagination.

Once upon a time, there was another man who ruled via crap. He put the fear of God in to a former Army General and future President when he slimed the Chief of Staff during the Second World War and Secretary of State during the early post-war years. He lied about his service record. His name was Joseph McCarthy.

During hearings in 1954 concerning whether or not some dentists in the Army had been members of organizations that may or may not have ties to the Communist Party, McCarthy went too far. In the course of the proceedings, McCarthy broke a tacit agreement between the special counsel for his committee and the attorney representing those who were before the committee. A member of the law firm representing those before the committee had been, as a youth, a member of a left-wing organization for a couple years. This was well known, and it was agreed upon beforehand, between Roy Cohn and Joseph Welch that this young man would not assist Welch and that no one on the committee would mention either the young man's application to assist Welch, or anything about his past.

Joe, however, was having none of it. He not only brought it up; he went on and on and on about it. After having run out of steam, Welch asked a point of privilege, and destroyed McCarthy's career with one simple sentence: "Have you no decency, sir, at long last?"

It's been a long time since such a clear message of moral right was enough to rid us of a scourge. No, Beck has no decency, if he ever did. Yet, what is Beck than the offspring of Limbaugh and Hannity and Coulter and Schlesinger and the rest of the right-wing gabbers who earn buckets of money without a single virtue worthy of the name to their public careers? Like McCarthy, Beck is both reckless and cruel, but he gets paid a whole lot of money to be reckless and cruel and two million people watch him every single day because he is reckless and cruel.

Being right is no defense against success like Beck's. Being a better human being is no defense. There is, quite literally, nothing that can be done. Only Beck can destroy himself (in much the way McCarthy did, in some respects). At the point that he actually angers the folks who pay to keep him on the air, he's finished. Up until that point, we are stuck with him.

It would be nice if there were a Joseph Welch out there who could put an end to Beck. Or Hannity. Or News Corp. as a whole. There isn't.

From a better, vanished age . . .

Sharing A Link That Might Help Someone

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Author and good guy John Shore has a piece entitled "7 Reasons Women Say In Abusive Relationships", and he has asked that we make it more widely available via links on FB, our own sites, etc.

I am more than happy to do so. A few years back, I started researching the possibility of starting a rescue shelter for women trying to leave abusive relationships. In the course of checking out the need for such a facility, I discovered that in rural Boone County, IL, there was exactly one such facility and organization. There were thousands of reported cases of domestic violence, and exactly one place these women could turn to in order to help themselves.

We will never do enough to help completely, sad to say. At the very least, however, getting information to women trapped in this way can be a first step. Like alcoholism, domestic violence is one of those things that touches the lives of so many more people than we are willing to admit. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the phenomenon is, like alcoholism, getting people out from this kind of self-destructive hell is impossible from the outside. The first step always has to come from the individual who has reached rock bottom (usually in a hospital bed with bandages or a cast). If someone gets help because I passed on these marvelous straight-forward words, then I figure I've done more than my share.

So . . . LINK! Remember, the life you save may not just be your own, but yours, your kids, your grandkids, and all sorts of other people.

What's Left In The Church

At its most basic level, my vision of being the Church is simple enough - living out that love incarnate in Jesus crucified and risen. A love that knows nothing but compassion for all who suffer. For those excluded by a society who surround the word "value" with dollar signs. For those whose lives are ruled by fear of the yawning abyss beneath, above, and around them; an abyss of their own creation, but that has broken the shackles and now rules them.

My stumbling block, the rocks upon which my comfortable ship of faith always seems to break, is the existence of those who hate, exclude, divide, and deny in the name of Christ. More than contempt and frustration, they arouse a passionate rage within me. I find myself unable to move beyond it to the love and forgiveness to which we are all called. I find myself unwilling to grant to them the same dispensation that is granted me - unearned, prodigal grace in the midst of their sin.

What is most frustrating isn't the distortion, deliberate or otherwise, of the message of faith and hope and love that is the Gospel. It is the smallness of their vision. Their God, their Jesus, their Holy Spirit are small creatures, not seeing beyond the boundaries of their own fear and hatred to a world filled with all sorts of real people in need. Their God just cannot be reconciled with the testimony concerning who God is contained in the Bible. That God, the creator of all that is, is also the God who called Israel out of the land of bondage to be a light to the nations; this God called no people and made them The People.

This same God invested all of Divinity in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. In that life, God showed us who God is - a God who laughed and loved and raged at imbecility and reached out to those who had only seen hands raised in violence. In that death, God embraced the abyss and took it in and buried it. Then, on an early morning God left all that behind, never to have any power over us or the world ever again.

Maybe we have just become used to fear, used to being subject to the whims and fancies of arbitrary power, either natural of human, to really believe that in surrender we find the final, only truth. Maybe the lure of power, the seduction of all the trappings and gewgaws that accompany it blind us to the nothingness that surrounds them. Maybe the belief that, by declaring themselves the arbiter of who is within and who is outside the bounds of God's grace, they are only repeating the stale formula of days gone by gives them some kind of tenuous connection with the long history of the faith.

For whatever reason, these prosecutors, juries, and judges insist that deviation from their small set of principles results in exclusion. Not just from the kingdom of grace, but from society as a whole.

For me, what's left in the Church, after all this chaff is blown away, is simply this - grace lived out as openness to all.

Even those who would close the door behind them, lock it, toss the key down a sewer grate, board up the windows, and insist that anyone caught breaking in is a criminal to be dealt with dispatch.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Brilliance Also Means Shiny

With the departure of Lawrence Summers from Pres. Obama's team of economic advisers, we are privy to information that, had it been more widely publicized prior to his ascension to Obama's inner circle, might have prevented much damage.
As a rising economist at Harvard and at the World Bank, Summers argued for privatization and deregulation in many domains, including finance. Later, as deputy secretary of the treasury and then treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, he implemented those policies. Summers oversaw passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed Glass-Steagall, permitted the previously illegal merger that created Citigroup, and allowed further consolidation in the financial sector. He also successfully fought attempts by Brooksley Born, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the Clinton administration, to regulate the financial derivatives that would cause so much damage in the housing bubble and the 2008 economic crisis. He then oversaw passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which banned all regulation of derivatives, including exempting them from state antigambling laws.


When other economists began warning of abuses and systemic risk in the financial system deriving from the environment that Summers, Greenspan, and Rubin had created, Summers mocked and dismissed those warnings. In 2005, at the annual Jackson Hole, Wyo., conference of the world's leading central bankers, the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Raghuram Rajan, presented a brilliant paper that constituted the first prominent warning of the coming crisis. Rajan pointed out that the structure of financial-sector compensation, in combination with complex financial products, gave bankers huge cash incentives to take risks with other people's money, while imposing no penalties for any subsequent losses. Rajan warned that this bonus culture rewarded bankers for actions that could destroy their own institutions, or even the entire system, and that this could generate a "full-blown financial crisis" and a "catastrophic meltdown."

When Rajan finished speaking, Summers rose up from the audience and attacked him, calling him a "Luddite," dismissing his concerns, and warning that increased regulation would reduce the productivity of the financial sector.


Soon after that, Summers lost his job as president of Harvard after suggesting that women might be innately inferior to men at scientific work. In another part of the same speech, he had used laissez-faire economic theory to argue that discrimination was unlikely to be a major cause of women's underrepresentation in either science or business. After all, he argued, if discrimination existed, then others, seeking a competitive advantage, would have access to a superior work force, causing those who discriminate to fail in the marketplace. It appeared that Summers had denied even the possibility of decades, indeed centuries, of racial, gender, and other discrimination in America and other societies. After the resulting outcry forced him to resign, Summers remained at Harvard as a faculty member, and he accelerated his financial-sector activities, receiving $135,000 for one speech at Goldman Sachs.
All this follows after Summers is described by Charles Ferguson, author of this piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, as "unquestionably brilliant".

I have to wonder what Ferguson's standards for "brilliance" are. Not only does his public-life c. v. demonstrate a stunning lack of judgment and historical acumen (not to mention any sense of ethical insight or judgment), his tenure at Harvard not only included the aforementioned brouhaha over women in science. He also picked a fight with Cornel West over West's non-academic work, including his appearance on a couple rap albums.

As a commenter at Crooked Timber writes concerning Summers' alleged "brilliance":
And yet he seems to screw up everything he touches.
Robert McNamara was heralded as brilliant. He nearly destroyed the US military in the Vietnam fiasco. He went from there to the Presidency of the World Bank, advocating lending policies to Third World countries that impoverished them and nearly destroyed the Bank. My guess is that Summers, too, will suffer no consequences. Rather, people like Ferguson will continue to note the disaster that follows in his train even as they gaze in wonder at his brilliance.

Can't Decide Which Is Worse

Sen. Jim DeMint (Neanderthal-SC) says that gay folk and unmarried women having sex shouldn't be allowed to teach.

He also says that not allowing such discrimination is discrimination against Christians who hold that such people should be discriminated against.

It's amazing, really, that any quotes could be retrieved, considering how far up his ass his head is.

Abel's Blood Cries Out (UPDATE, UPDATE II)

The suicide of Tyler Clementi has shone a light upon the reality that, for all our vaunted progress in acceptance and tolerance, far too many young people face not bullying, but discriminatory violence because they exist as they are.

And the Christian Churches have just not done enough, said enough, moved far enough, to be a force for change.

Our Discipline states, unequivocally, that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." Until that phrase is struck, anything the United Methodist Church tries to do to help sexual minorities, including most especially sexual minority youth, is empty, hollow, hypocritical. Until we strike from our life the idea that some human beings, simply by living life as they were created, are outside the grace of God, how can we offer a hand up to those beaten down, heal the wounds inflicted by a society that only acts out the disregard embedded in that simple phrase?

Our excuses are as hollow as Cain's. If we cannot hear the cry from the graves of those who found in death the only possible respite from discrimination and violence, we are failing to live as the Church. Our self-aggrandizing claims of "inclusiveness", of "openness", ring hollow to those who hear that who they are does not go along with being a follower of the crucified one.

While individual churches can and should open themselves to all persons, and teach not just tolerance, but the acceptance that is inherent in the grace of Christ, we must also work to eradicate forever from our collective statements of belief that some human beings are less worthy of love and acceptance than others.

Unless we do so, we are implicated in the deaths of those who could not even turn to the Church of Jesus Christ, in whatever form it may have taken in their too-brief lives, for a place of refuge, a comfort, and a source of strength.

UPDATE: A real live Texas preacher takes on the haters.

UPDATE II: I feel like Glenn Greenwald here . . . Anyway, thanks to Alan, here is yet another voice. The chorus is growing, I think.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Today's Most Horrible Person - Bill Donohue

Bill Donohue is the head of something called The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He gets a lot of face time on television defending pretty much anything that spews from Vatican City, and its current Supreme Pontiff. In the midst of the on-going revelations that priests around the world - so far legal cases have arisen in the US, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and Belgium - saw boys in their congregation as fair game, and that there would be no repercussions from pursuing these boys, Donohoue actually crosses a line from which, in my opinion, there is no turning back.

The priests were gay, not pedophiles; the victims were post-pubescent, therefore not boys, and most of the allegations involve inappropriate touching, not rape. Therefore, the whole scandal is nothing more than a lie dreamed up by those who hate the Roman Catholic Church.
t's time to ask some tough questions. Why did this young man not object earlier? Why did he allow the "abuse" to continue until he was 18? The use of the quotes is deliberate: the charge against the former priest is not rape, but rubbing. While still objectionable, there is a glacial difference between being rubbed and raped.

Here's what we know. We know that this case, like most of them, was the work of a homosexual, not a pedophile. And like most of the cases of priestly sexual misconduct, there was no rape involved. Inappropriate touching is morally wrong, and the offenders should be punished, but the time has come to object to all those pundits who like to say that the scandal is all about child rape. Most of the cases did not involve children—they were post-pubescent males—and most weren't raped.
Rather than "critique" this particular bit of slime, let me just say that, had Donohue any courage whatsoever, any willingness to rescue his beloved Church from the criminal and moral sewer in which it currently festers, he would shut up.

Virtual Tin Cup

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