Friday, November 28, 2008

Imagine No Religion

Group plans to sue city over removal of controversial billboard - San Bernardino County Sun

RANCHO CUCAMONGA - A Wisconsin group advocating the separation of church and state plans to sue the city for playing a role in the demise of a billboard on Archibald Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. A billboard with the message 'Imagine No Religion' by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was taken down by sign company General Outdoor less than a week after it went up. The move came after the city told the sign company it received 90 calls of complaint against the sign. Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the organization that bills itself as an association of atheists and agnostics, said a complaint might be filed today.

I don't have to imagine no-religion: I was brought up with it so it's hard for me to understand why the New Atheists and their followers are so keen to promote it. What do they imagine a No-Religion world would look, and feel, like?

I can easily imagine it--a world of unrelieved sterility and vulgarity, where quack therapies and secular sentimentalities occupy the role of religion, shopping malls replace cathedrals, commercial festivals from Super Bowl Sunday to a religiously detoxified Christmas Shopping Season mark the liturgical year and centuries of sacred art that were once accessible to the general public are relegated to museums and concert halls. Why on earth do they want this?

We're more than half way there so you'd think they'd know better. One of my more enterprising neighbors has already put up his Christmas display, featuring illuminated candy canes and reindeer, including Rudolph with his glowing red nose. The centerpiece is a six-foot-tall inflatable snowman. I can't understand why this is preferable to a creche with shepherds and angels. Maybe in a century or two the myths of Santa and his helpers, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph will mellow out and inspire high art. Somehow I rather doubt it.

I suppose I'm being unfair to atheists here. Most have no problems with religious art and support the preservation of church buildings as museums of culture and secular temples to civic virtue--like the Paris Pantheon (above), which operated briefly as the Church of St. Genvieve before it was reconstituted as a patriotic monument and mausoleum.

I had great hopes for France before my first visit to the Continent last winter. I could, after all, conjugate the verbs and had a wonderful time brushing up on my French at our local branch of the Alliance Francaise. And the Pantheon was an interesting piece of architecture--in a frigid, self-conscious, monomaniacal way. After seeing it though I never wanted to go anywhere near France again.

The Pantheon reminded me of my mother, who admired Napoleon, was a great fan of the metric system, and thought it would be a good idea to number the days of the week instead of naming them. She detested what she regarded as impractical, childish nonsense, including holidays, presents, family meals, vacations, ceremonies of any sort and every kind of religion. We were organisms and that was that. This may be true, but I don't see why believing it should make us better off.

In the Pantheon there was a Foucault Pendulum swinging from the dome. There were video machines with educational tape loops in French and English about Foucault's life and work explaining how Foucault, "whose only faith was in Science," had used his Pendulum to demonstrate that the earth rotated on its axis--presumably refuting benighted Christians who thought otherwise. They showed the Pendulum being hung and described how it was attached to beams above the interior dome through a hole made by poking out the eye of God represented on it. Mother, and I suspect the New Atheists, would have loved it.

It's a losing battle, and I realize that. The churchy world I always fantacized, with churches and shrines, where people stopped to light candles and mumble the quick prayer, processions in the streets and a thousand lovely legends, ceremonies and customs current, never really existed. The little bit of that fantasy that we've got is almost gone. I still don't understand why people don't want it, why they think poking out the eye of God in the name of Science contributes to human wellbeing or why they imagine that the frigid sterility of the Pantheon should be a source of joy and liberation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Family Values

Why churches fear gay marriage | Salon News

While conservative churches are busy trying to whip up another round of culture wars over same-sex marriage, Rodriquez says the real reason for their panic lies elsewhere: the breakdown of the traditional heterosexual family and the shifting role of women in society and the church itself. As the American family fractures and the majority of women choose to live without men, churches are losing their grip on power and scapegoating gays and lesbians for their failures.

Churches have a vested interest in supporting sex roles and the "traditional family." Traditional women are the backbone of the church and historically, in the US especially, people go to church "for the sake of the children."

Working women don't have the time to work for the church or the motivation. In the past, churches provided educated, energetic women with a venue in which they could do jobs in which they could organize, manage, play with significant sums of money and exercise authority--work that was not available to women in the secular world. Now that women get responsible, interesting positions outside the church, they have little reason to make alternative careers in church volunteer work.

Churches serve the interests of traditional women. For men, and working women, church-going is a hassle: after the work week they want to sleep in, lounge around in grotty old clothes and relax. For stay-at-home moms churchgoing is a break in their routine: a chance to dress up, get out of the house, and socialize with other adults. For older women, who have made careers of "doing for" their families, the church affirms the worth of the caring work and gives them opportunities to do more caring work once their husbands and children are no longer around to do for.

Churches not only provide opportunities for "caring work"--they valorize traditional femininity. Playing to their "base," they flatter traditional women who have invested their lives in doing for their families by identifying caring work as the epitome of Christian virtue. But the more they promote traditional femininity, the business of caring, the more they turn off women who are not invested in doing for their husbands, children or others and want no part of caring work or traditional femininity.

Rodriguez has not got it quite right. He suggests that Christianity needs to be feminized:

The desert religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- are male religions. Their perception is that God is a male god and Allah is a male god. If the male is allowed to hold onto the power of God, then I think we are in terrible shape. I think what's coming out of Colorado Springs right now, with people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, is either the last or continuing gasp of a male hierarchy in religion. That's what's at stake. And women have a determining role to play.

I don't know about Judaism and Islam, but Christianity is already too feminized, and is becoming even more so as non-traditional women, and men, drop out leaving the church to traditional women and and churches cater increasingly to their smarmy sentimentalities and taste for caring work.

Churches have evolved to satisfy the interests of traditional families: they provide activities for traditional women and sell themselves as socializing agencies for the young. When young adults postpone marriage and child-rearing or forgo it altogether church membership declines. When women enter the labor force and, more particularly, when they enter as full-time careerists, churches lose support. Perhaps most importantly, when the traditional family ceases to be the norm and loses prestige, the Church, whose fate is inextricably linked with the traditional family, loses prestige.

Gay marriage is a symbolic blow to the ideal of the traditional family as a cultural norm and that undermines the prestige of the Church. Materially, if fewer individuals form traditional families, churches lose membership and support. They have every reason to be worried.

Raised on the Dick and Jane readers, I yearned for what I thought of as a "real Dick and Jane Family." By the time I got married, at 22, I was desperate. I wanted a suburban house furnished with a husband, three kids, a dog and a cat. I wanted to get into what I thought of as the World of Sunshine, the 1950s sitcom world, where Young Families went on picnics, had family meals, and went to church. I wanted to be a soccer mom.

I got it, and loved every minute of it. During summer vacation, when I would drive my kids around in my van and people thought I was a real soccer mom--a housewife--I was tremendously proud: I had made it, I felt, into the Dick and Jane world.

Everyone I knew thought I was nuts. If there was one thing they wanted to avoid, or at least postpone, it was the suburban family life that I was desperate to get. Most people I knew never got married, and most who got married never had children. They wanted to live in Manhattan or San Francisco, work in publishing, journalism or the arts, live in lofts, go to concerts and to the theater, try out restaurants and engage in various urban entertainments. They regarded life in the 'burbs as boring, declasse and certainly not the thing for people like us.

I could easily understand the resentment of red-state, church-going Nascar Dads and Soccer Moms. They recognized that there was an urban coastal elite who thought the Dick and Jane life they chose to live was ridiculous and were contemptuous of them. And they believed that the progressive policies this elite promoted, including gay marriage, would make it difficult to get or maintain the Dick and Jane life, and squeeze them out. So, in California, they voted for Prop 8, which was represented not as anti-gay but as pro-family.

Most had nothing against gays and opposed anti-sodomy laws as invasions of privacy; most supported civil unions. They simply wanted affirmation that the Dick and Jane sitcom life was the good life, that it was the norm, and that it wouldn't be taken away from them. And churches supported Prop 8 de jure because they regarded homosexuality as a sin but de facto because Dick and Jane families were their bread and butter.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A New Deal

Op-Ed Columnist - The Obama Agenda -

Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can. Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform. Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice...[A] serious progressive agenda — call it a new New Deal — isn’t just economically possible, it’s exactly what the economy needs. The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn’t listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.

Truth is, I don't like Obama one bit. I didn't watch his speech on Tuesday because it would have undermined my elation at the Democratic win. What matters to me is the progressive economic agenda that I hope he'll pursue.

Working class conservatives distrust the progressive agenda because they believe it will make them worse off--by slapping them with taxes that drive them to near-destitution and taking away the minimal freedom they enjoy. Liberal pundits and other purveyors of 5-minute ideas repeat the conventional wisdom that the dispute between liberals and conservatives cashes out as a difference between those who regard equality of paramount importance and those who would trade off equality for freedom.

This is false. The whole agenda of progressivism is to increase freedom. Apart from the privileged few, people have their backs to the wall with little room to maneuver. There are few options to better oneself and hard work doesn't pay off. That isn't the way it looks on paper, but it's the way it is on the ground.

I was talking to a (semi-)mature student who'd gotten in on a scholarship after kicking around in the World and taking courses at a local community college. She had the clarity and decency to recognize that she got this chance in part by luck. She knew someone who was working at a $10/hour job and couldn't get out. She defaulted on a student loan and so couldn't go back to school unless she made good on that, but couldn't raise the $400.00 she needed to do that. Long ago, when Bill Clinton abolished "welfare as we have known it" I had another student who was getting through on a patchwork of loans, grants and novennas. She had a baby and was on welfare. But with the end of welfare as we have known it, in her senior year, she got the ultimatum: quit school and get a job or there would be no more benefits of any kind.

These aren't just anecdotal tear-jerkers. The absence of safety-nets makes it too costly to assume risk. Without public services and financial support it's difficult or impossible to get further education or training. The issue is not equality but freedom--the assurance that no one will be trapped like this, that anyone who is willing to work hard can better himself, can avoid getting stuck for life in boring, dead-end work. I got that chance by pure dumb luck, and a ran with it. So, I believe, would most people--it's just that without social safety nets and government intervention most people don't have that chance.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We won!

We won! We won! All of us won!

At last this 40 year nightmare is over. McCain is making his concession speach. McCain mentions Obama and his audience is boo-ing but McCain hushes them. honorable and a good sport. But making a big deal about the fact the Obama is black. I don't care for that.

I suppose I can understand myself though because today I got my country back.

But to me what's most important is the defeat of a poisonous ideology that's caused untold suffering. Keep the red flag flying!!!

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Great Reductio

Sidney Blumenthal: McCain is on the verge of a defeat that marks the end of the Republican era | Comment is free | The Guardian

Now, certain factors that have dominated US politics for 40 years seem destined to recede to the far corners. In economics, supply-side panaceas and deregulation created the worst crisis since the Great Depression, requiring a conservative Republican administration to part-nationalise banks, something unimaginable under any Democratic administration. In foreign policy, neoconservatism led to the morass in Iraq and Afghanistan while undermining the western alliance. In social policy, the evangelical right battered science, the separation of church and state, and the right to privacy. Finally, the conservative principle of limited government has become a watchword for incompetence, cronyism, corruption, hypocrisy, and contempt for the rule of law.

Pray, brethren, that in 24 hours this nightmare will be over.

Americans put their faith in what Bush senior in an unguarded moment called Voodoo Economics. The Market would work--in the short run before we were all dead. We would go deeper and deeper into debt but grow our way out. We even managed to persuade policy-makers in other countries to follow our lead--at least gingerly. And now we've pulled down the world economy. Reductio.

But it wasn't simply recondite economics that that drove us, and the world, into this pit. It was the American Dream--the vision of the Good Life as one of endless drudgery and unlimited consumption. When a woman at a Republican rally prior to Election 2004 complained that she was working at 3 jobs, Dubya didn't even get it. His response was, "Good for you!" That's the American way: spend all your waking hours during the week working and your weekend shopping until you drop. After that drudgery you're brain-dead and don't have the ability to enjoy anything but buying more and more and more crap.

Of course some people still don't recognize a reductio when they see one. So McCain is still chanting the mantra of "Wealth creation, not wealth redistribution." Pump more money in at the top and it will, eventually, trickle down. When? Cut taxes on businesses and they'll create more jobs--so that more people can spend more of their time in mind-numbing drudgery, and buy more and more stuff to create more rotten service sector jobs where more people can spend even more of their time doing miserable shit work.

Of course it hasn't worked. Unemployment is up, people are losing their houses and can't afford more stuff. But even if, per impossibile, it had this is surely a vision of hell--days of drudgery and constraint, buried alive until the magical moment on Saturday when you go to the mall for a brief ecstasy of consumption.

There was bit on the Animal Channel about a species of frog that spends most of its lifecycle buried alive. They hatch, swim around for a bit as tadpoles and then burrow into the mud where they stay for months until the rains come. Then they dig themselves out, copulate, and die, within the course of a day. That is exactly the American Dream--the work ethic. Spend most of your life buried alive, at work, and then, for a brief moment in the sun, eat, copulate and shop. Of course you don't die right away after that--you just burrow back into the mud for another week of work, buried alive. Arbeit macht frei: "Good for you!"

I suppose it's a vicious circle. Here were people locked into the Wheel--didn't the Buddha have something to say about this? But the only thing that got them out was that the Wheel stopped so that they couldn't consume any more--and some couldn't work any more. Seems like a more interventionist deity trumped the Buddha there.

Let us pray.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

People are Rational (But Misinformed)

A scary Halloween with Sarah Palin | Salon News

Supporters of the Republican candidate for president believe they are looking down the barrel of a gun loaded by Karl Marx, held by Barack Obama. The McCain-Palin fear-mongering tour is exposing -- or exploiting -- unrest and anxiety wherever it goes...84-year-old World War II veteran John H. Gay...was tormented by images of a fantastical Stalinoid world to come. According to Gay, Obama believes the communist "mantra" "from each according to his abilities, and to each according to his needs"; that "if we go the socialist way, you young people will lose all your freedoms -- mentally, physically and religiously." As he envisioned a possible future under Obama, he spoke of scarce hot water and hulking Soviet-era high-rises of the sort that ring Moscow. And he was not alone in his concern that if the Democrats win on Tuesday, it'll only be a matter or time before Americans are getting in bread lines. "I'm afraid of the slippery slope to socialism," said 51-year-old Mike Brecht, whose 21-year-old son is fighting in Mosul, Iraq, and was adopted from Russia when he was 7. Brecht claims that his son, who was 2 when the Berlin Wall fell, still remembers life behind the Iron Curtain. "He can tell you all about his one turnip a day that he ate," said Brecht of his son. "Everybody got the same turnip."

Hello? Is that so hard to understand? This has nothing to do with "values," racism, the Strict Father vs. the Nurturing Parent, or, as one article a while back put it, "cracking the working class code." People are rational. They don't want to live in poverty and misery.

When they've had a good enough look at the forthcoming "socialist" Obama administration, they'll change their politics. Why is this so hard to understand?