Permission to Vent

Did you know that in the 1960’s, while all of the mainstream media devoted their sports sections to professional baseball, football, basketball, stockcar racing, and hockey, the sport that attracted the most actual fans– in person, in stadiums– was…. ready for it?  Demolition derbies.

In politics, the whacky far right is the demolition derby of ideologies.  Until recently, relegated to the back pages of history.

In spite of all the think-pieces about polarization in American politics, I really think the issue comes down to something much simpler.

Firstly, there has not been a massive change in attitudes or beliefs over the past 70 or 80 years.  A large segment of the U.S. population has always held stupid ideas about culture, education, leadership, the military, and the police.  And, of course, race.  They love guns, hate affirmative action, can’t bear the thought of giving up their massive V-8 powered pick-up trucks, fear black people even if they don’t see themselves as racist (and some aren’t), and hate the idea of foreigners coming into the country and taking away their jobs while they themselves are unwilling to work hard for long hours to get ahead and there is a labour shortage in most areas of the country.  They believe that good manufacturing jobs have been shipped over-seas even though 85% of them were lost to automation.  They believe Republicans when they say they intend to reduce the deficit even though, when in office, they never have and never will.  They seem to think that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit them, because, fuck it, some day I might win the lottery.

Until recently, people with toxic beliefs about society have intuited that they shouldn’t openly express those views because the consensus among politicians, the media, and other leaders is that those views are, in fact, untrue, toxic, and counter-productive, and ignorant.

They always believe crime is on the increase.  Always.   Try to explain to them that if crime was always increasing it would eventually reach 100%, so there must be times when it is actually decreasing (in fact, the crime rate is up only in year-over-year statistics.  Over a longer period of time, it is down, by a clear margin).

They think that somehow making the bail system rational increases crime: no study has shown this.  Not one.

Newt Gingrich came along, and Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, and they all publicly expressed massive approval of these toxic beliefs.  The internet broke the consensus among major media outlets to not give play to ill-founded, idiotic conspiracy theories.  Now every ignorant, ill-informed jack-ass in the country can search online to find that the cause of the wild-fires in California is Jewish space lasers or sun spots.

Try to explain to these people that international trade agreements, on the whole, benefit them.  (Essentially, the lower cost of imported goods frees capital within the local market to pay for more goods, services, and other items which you otherwise could not afford.  Free trade is a net benefit to the average American worker and consumer.  Tariffs take money out of your pocket and give it to the government which in turn subsidizes corporations to the benefit of wealthy shareholders.)

People haven’t changed.  They are just louder and more outspoken and more than happy to enlighten you as to their brilliant insights into the nature of reality and the truth about Biden and the international child porn conspiracy and Hollywood’s Jewish cabal and they way young school-children in small towns all across Iowa are being provided with litter boxes so they can “identify” as a transgender kitten.

Perhaps the most bizarre characteristic of these people is their close identification with Christianity.  Do any of them actually read the Bible?  Do they really see something in Jesus reflected in Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity?  Do they really think God blesses them as they storm the capitol building and threaten to hang Mike Pence?

 

To the “Christians” who Voted for Donald Trump

Millions of people who claim– like you– that Jesus Chris is their model, their leader, their hero— voted for and embraced Donald Trump.

Your religion obviously means absolutely nothing. Not a thing. It’s the badge of a private club you belong to that only seeks to further the material interests of its members. Nothing you ever proclaimed about virtue or sin or spirituality or loving your neighbor or blessing the meek or not casting stones– nothing!– can be even remotely connected to this crass, self-serving, pussy-grabbing, materialistic, manipulative, liar.

Say no more. Your actions have proclaimed the truth about your church and your religion. It is an empty shell.

The Coming Convergence and the Blessings of Being a 10-year-old Mom

I am surprised by the views expressed by “pro-life” individuals in this survey and interviews in the New York Times.

What is striking is how flexible these individuals are about when abortion should be legal and when not.  Years ago, Right to Live declared that the minute a sperm fertilizes an egg, you have a human life that is entitled to the full protection of the law, even in cases of rape or incest.   They still declare that, but real people– real Republicans– don’t believe it.  They seem to be open to the idea that there should be “reasonable” limits– even up to 12 weeks.  And they believe that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape.

They are also under the mistaken belief that a mother’s life is more at risk of death or serious injury in an abortion than she is in child birth.  That is flatly not true.  Stunningly, even the pro-choice panel the New York Times convened for the same purpose believed it.  That messaging from Right to Life has taken hold.

How stupid are the Republicans?  Well, I bet Mitch McConnell understands that the Republicans need to embrace a “safety-valve” on the issue: tolerate some flexibility and some exceptions so they can say they haven’t banned all abortions.  But other hot-heads in the party seem determined to take a hard line, even when it comes to that 10-year-old girl (perhaps, one commentator asserted, she doesn’t appreciate the blessings of being a mother).

What remains to be determined is just how much of a factor this might be in the coming mid-term elections.  Probably, the economy will matter more, even when the perception that the economy is in a mess is wrong.  Inflation is a problem, but employment, consumer spending and confidence, hiring, and productivity are all favorable.  Nobody cares: they want to believe that Biden is a feeble old man who is out of his depth, so they insist that the economy is a disaster.

The Saint

Is there anything that speaks as directly and conclusively to the credibility of the church as the fact that the wife of Nicholas II, Alexandra, has been made a “saint” by the Russian Orthodox Church?

In 1981 Alexandra and her family were acknowledged by The Russian Orthodox Church as martyrs, and in 2000, Empress Alexandra was made a saint by the church. She was canonized as both a saint and as a passion bearer.  From Here.  Don’t click on it: it’s one of those awful click-bait Facebook links.

Seriously?

Can we, in the future, expect to see “Saint” Diana?  Why not? Let’s see: she was famous.  She was rich.  She was vain and self-serving.  She was  a consummate narcissist.   Do we even have to wait for a miracle?

I will concede that she appears to have been faithful to her husband, and she volunteered for nursing duty during the war, along with her daughters.  She didn’t commit any mass slaughters like Olga of Kiev.  But she also may have been at least partly responsible for bringing on the Russian Revolution with her irrational attachment to Rasputin and her belief that he could heal Alexey’s hemophilia– at least, temporarily.  When it was apparent to all of the Czar’s advisers and ministers that Rasputin was widely hated among the populace, she and Nicholas refused to disassociate themselves from him.  When Prime-Minister Stolypin reported in more detail on Rasputin’s lecherous behaviour, he had him exiled but Alexandra persuaded him to allow back.  With the survival of the entire government at stake, it was left to the husband of one of Nicholas’ nephews,  Prince Feliks Yusopov, to try to save the Czar from himself by assassinating him.  As it turns out, it was too late.

Can you imagine some sequence of thought or imagination in which a genuinely spiritual person in a Church based on the gospel of Jesus Christ has an authentic experience of encountering qualities in  the story of Alexandra that would inspire you to exclaim, “what a saint!  What a model and paragon of Christian virtue and humility!  What an inspiration to all of mankind!  Think of all the suffering she alleviated!  Think of her purity and modesty!  Think of how constantly she placed others ahead of herself!”

But then, we are talking about a movement–I do mean broadly, Christianity itself– that bloviated constantly about purity and humility and spirituality and service to mankind and truth and dignity… and then voted– overwhelmingly– for Donald Trump in a real election.

How can anything said by its adherents be taken seriously anymore?

And to those who rejected Donald Trump but insist they are Christians, I cannot imagine how you rationalize a faith that itself proclaims that you can and should judge people by their fruits.

 

Justin Alexander’s Bid for Authenticity

In the first post on his travel blog, Adventures of Justin, he wrote: “I am running from a life that isn’t authentic…I’m running away from monotony and towards novelty; towards wonder, awe, and the things that make me feel vibrantly alive.”  Outside Online

I am always deeply impressed and disturbed by men like Justin Alexander who embark on quests for “authenticity”, and always disappointed in their inability to relate the “authentic” to me in comprehensible English.

They try, and they are often quite eloquent, but not about what matters most.  This is partly because what matters to them is something that is very hard to describe or explain.  But, like Christopher McCandless, they often scrap and scrape and flourish phrases and ideas and images before you without connecting all the dots.  McCandless ended up dying, stupidly, alone, in an abandoned bus in Alaska, just a short trek from help because he didn’t really know the terrain or the challenges of living in the wild.  He thought he was on to some incredibly valuable insight into the purpose of life but didn’t even take good hiking boots with him (a truck-driver who gave him a ride gave him his boots, out of pity).

He starved to death.

Countless others have died on mountains or in obscure, remote regions.  Justin Alexander is another.  No one knows what happened to him.

There’s not point pitying these men: they took responsibility for themselves and made choices that mattered to them and probably accepted that they might pay a price for it.  In a way, I do admire them, because they are largely right about the predictability and mediocrity of life in the modern suburbs.

The one thing these people don’t seem to really consider is that, just as they might have some secret insight that sets them apart from mainstream society, mainstream society might have some secret insight that keeps them from wandering into the bush or the wild mountains and starving to death.

And yet some of them might have lives that are rich and rewarding and meaningful.

Lonely Wooden Tower

The CBC discovers that Leonard Cohen used religious imagery in his songs.

Interesting.

I did a presentation on Leonard Cohen in grade 12 at Beacon Christian High School.  I played several songs, including “Suzanne” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” and even “Diamonds in the Mine” and read some of his poems and some passages from “Beautiful Losers”, his novel.  And one of my key points was this:  we have been taught since we were little that to be “good” means denying the flesh and living a spiritual life of self-denial, and to shun sins of the flesh because it blinds us to the gospel truth.    But “Suzanne” brings the two together, Jesus the sailor in his lonely wooden tower, and Suzanne with her tea and oranges, and the two belong together because they both address the same essential spiritual longing in the individual. They are not at war, but in harmony, because the longing for Suzanne is a response to the fact that we are all sailors, all “drowning”, and that’s how we see Christ on “his lonely wooden tower”.  And we are made perfect not in self-denial but in desire.

Not sure I phrased it quite that elegantly in Grade 12 but I remember that I expected the teacher, John Vriend, to object to that part of my presentation and was surprised when he did not.  He kind of nodded and thanked me (it wasn’t an assignment– I had offered to do it and Vriend, tacitly acknowledging that he knew very little about Cohen, except that he was a respected poet, accepted my offer).

I have never forgotten the strangeness of the ending of my presentation.  At that time, nobody was listening to Cohen– nobody.  I’m not sure what I expected– a round of applause?  Disapproval?  Argument?  But it was very quiet.  I had thought I might get some ridicule from my class-mates who were more into top-40 music, and some disapproval from the puritans, but it was just quiet, as if I was in a large cave and there was no echo.  I wondered where the “hello” went.

Note: I’m more than happy to admit that my memories are never 100% accurate.  That’s the best I can do about this particular moment.  I am most certain about the quiet at the end because that is something have never not remembered about it.

Divine Incest

The Vatican announced on Wednesday that Pope John Paul I, the Italian pontiff who reigned for only 33 days before his death in 1978, will be beatified after a miracle was attributed to him, bringing him one step closer to sainthood.   Ny Times – The Vatican announced …

What is this bullshit?  Did anyone tell the Roman Catholic Church that it is 2021 now?  The witches are gone, the Inquisition is gone, the miracles are gone, the magic is not afoot.

Pope Francis has authorized this step, adding to my disappointment with his appointment.

A sick young girl in Argentina was allegedly healed mysteriously by an “invocation of the Venerable John Paul I” according to the chief miracle detectors and busters office of the Vatican, the “Congregation for the Causes of the Saints”.   Any hospital could point you to dozens of similar “miracles”– unexplained sudden recoveries.

Make sure, Pope Francis, that you appoint your friends to this august body: that’s how it works.  That’s how you ensure that you too will reach the pinnacle.

And popes are not saints.  Saints are not saints.  Olga of Kiev, who brutally murdered thousands of Drevlians (a tribe living in what is now the Ukraine) is not a saint.  But the Catholic Church thinks she is.

What we have is this: each pope for the last 50 years has come to realize that his own canonization depends on establishing a precedent or model that will provide the framework for his own beatification.   I predict that every single pope from now to eternity will be Canonized.  It’s like sports halls of fame: every chief executive in the league offices has arranged it so that his own induction will seem inevitable, by establishing the kind of vague, loosely defined criteria that can be buffed and customized to suit any succeeding executive even if he is as mediocre a person as Gary Bettman.

It’s almost as bad as Franklin Graham inheriting his father’s divine mandate to lecture us all on how Donald Trump is really Jesus.

 

And Then the Angels Came

Kristy Money, a psychologist who works with sex offenders and is a Mormon in good standing, applauded church authorities for their transparency in coming clean on Smith. But she criticized the men who guide the faith for not condemning the founder’s behavior. At the very least, she wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune, the church should make it clear that religious leaders cannot have sex with young girls just because an angel told them it was O.K. to do so. NY Times, 2014-11-30

This comment perplexed me. If an angel told you to do something, wouldn’t you do it, the earthly authorities be damned? This is God speaking, after all. No earthy ruler outranks him. If you really believed that you were looking at or hearing an emissary of God (that’s what an angel is, after all), and he or she told you to marry a 13-year-old, I would think you would believe you must obey. That’s what Joseph Smith did. His earthy reward was lavish.

So, instead of telling church authorities to make it clear that even the angels must obey the law, perhaps it would make more sense to hold that the church should make it clear to these religious leaders that there are no angels.

Ah– but then, you see the problem.

Is the real problem here that Kristy Money– amazing name, especially for a psychologist– is “a Mormon in good standing” and, therefore, cannot just come out and deny that any of these leaders ever spoke to an angel at all? Because then you might be implying that Joseph Smith was a sex abuser?

Ah– but then you see the problem.

Surely, as a psychologist, Money understands that religion is a delusion. Belief in a literal god or a literal devil or literal angels is the result of childhood conditioning, not empirical knowledge. But as a Mormon, of course, she does believe. So how does she manage to practice a profession that is deeply and fundamentally founded upon assumptions about human nature that she cannot possibly subscribe to, as a member of the Mormon church, in good standing?

Without writing a book about it, in my opinion, the claims that the field of psychology makes about the human mind cannot ever be reconciled with religious belief. You can’t just pick the fruit and deny that the tree exists.

Well, you cherry pick. And why not? That’s what many people do about many intellectual conundrums: you pick the solutions you like and discard the ones you don’t like, which means, you are essentially making it up as you go along and creating an elegant mask of intellectual consistency and respectability to hold in front of your face as you make pronouncements.

I find this issue troubling only when I hear about “court-ordered psychiatric assessments” or any other application of force to apply an intellectual framework that I believe to be as magical and arbitrary as Mormonism and angels.

If I was a criminal and the judge started leaning towards ordering a psychiatric assessment, I would demand that any psychiatrist chosen for this task should first have to prove his competence by performing a miracle.

The Unfaithful NIV

N. T. Wright has written of previous NIV editions:

When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses…. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said…. [I]f a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.[18]
(From Wikipedia, on the NIV

And that’s that. I don’t have too much to add, except that, now that I am older, I wonder just how responsible we should hold parents and church leaders for the deception. It’s not as if this is an accident. And it’s not as if they don’t think they have a higher calling than to ensure that the cornerstone of their faith is translated without deceit. It’s this casual, thoughtless adherence to the principles of propaganda. And how can you not wonder in what other localities of faith and sacrament and ritual they are lying?

Is There Some Confusion Out There?

I just realized that a lot of Americans seem to believe that Mormonism is, like Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism, a variation of Christianity, and, therefore, we don’t need to worry about Mitt Romney’s ultimate loyalties, the way we needed to worry about an Islamic Barack Obama. Or Tom Cruise or John Travolta.

Never assume anything. Here’s the hilarious part– liberals, who never felt it was right to raise questions about Obama’s religion anyway– don’t want to raise the issue of Mormonism against Romney.

Why not? Mormonism is not a religion: it is a demented cult. I define a cult as a set of beliefs that deliberately tries to exclude rational examination of it’s preconceptions and assumptions. Like Scientology. And the Tea Party. And I define “demented cult” as the same thing as “cult” but with silly narratives.

I have no problem with a Roman Catholic president: Catholicism is a deeply sophisticated, well-developed, and fearless set of beliefs which I disagree with, respectfully. Well, all right, the Catholics have moments of silliness too– check out Lourdes, or the pope-mobile. But I have a problem with someone who believes in the words of a man (Joseph Smith) described accurately, in my opinion, as “a fraud and conjurer” by Slate.

This is a man capable of rational analysis? Of weighing the facts and the issues and coming to wise decision? More importantly, can this man choose smart, rational people to head departments and offer sound advice?

I don’t think so.