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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Traffic report.

February traffic kept a pretty good pace: an average of 65 visitors to the front page per day, with 3,499 visitors overall. Mel Gibson and his critics brought many readers to the site via Google — and if you're looking for my links regarding The Passion of the Christ, I'd suggest scanning the February archive for this site and for my Scrapbook.

Thanks to new links to this site from Ryan's Lair ("Adventures in Buddhology," from a fellow Cantabrigian), Jeffrey W. Davis (a John Edwards supporter!), The 11th Hour Catholic (featuring the occasional Saint of the Day!), Heather's Blogpile (aka The Web Gal — happy fiftieth!), Gay Spirituality & Culture (a group blog developed by Joe Perez of Soulful Blogger), and of course The Revealer (the NYU Center for Religion and Media superblog by Killing the Buddha's Jeff Sharlet, who lists me under Christianity). Did I forget anybody?

Posted by Philocrites, February 29, 2004, at 11:41 PM | 1 comments

What is marriage for?

An excellent op-ed in the Times on the disconnect between conservative cries that legalized same-sex marriage will destroy civilization as we know it and liberal appeals to one's civil right to do whatever one pleases, never mind the consequences. The solution?

For a productive dialogue, we should be asking the question this way: is giving gays the right to marry good for society? And to answer that, we must ask what larger social purpose marriage serves.

The main reason marriage is considered good for society is that committed relationships help settle individuals into stable homes and families. Marriage does this by establishing collective rules of conduct that strengthen obligations to a spouse and often to children.

This is why the word itself is so important. The power of "marriage" lies in its symbolic authority to reinforce monogamy and stability when temptation calls. The hope is that, having taken vows before family and friends, people will think twice before breaking them. It is this shared meaning of marriage that is central to the success of so many individual unions.

("Joining the debate but missing the point," Nathaniel Frank, New York Times 2.29.04, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, February 29, 2004, at 03:41 PM | 2 comments

Saturday, February 28, 2004

'Robot stories.'

Robot Stories
Now for a word about a film you do want to see: Greg Pak's Robot Stories, a charming independent science-fiction film with four separate stories about people and their high-tech companions. I found the third and fourth stories in this quartet especially good. (The director, who is taking the film around the country and who took questions from the audience at the screening in Cambridge I attended last night, plays a robot temp — an "iPerson"! — in the third.) Wesley Morris gave the film three stars in the Globe, comparing the movie to Ray Bradbury's stories: "Pak's collection of related shorts comes closer than any film I can think of to capturing Bradbury's mood of wariness and glee when science makes a breakthrough." Mrs Philocrites and I enjoyed it a lot.

If you're in New York or Boston, see the film while you can this week. It will be in Chicago and Los Angeles next. Check the film's Web site for details, and see what the critics have to say at Rotten Tomatoes.

Posted by Philocrites, February 28, 2004, at 09:48 PM | 2 comments

Prothero on Gibson. Again!

Stephen Prothero couldn't have written American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon at a better time [Amazon; Powells; Harvard]. He's everywhere on Mel Gibson's Passion: Dialoging with Biblical scholar Robert Alter for Slate, writing "Honest to Jesus" about the history of American images of Jesus for last Sunday's Boston Globe Ideas section, and now he has a fine essay in the New York Times Magazine"The Personal Jesus". Do read it. One of his key observations:

One puzzle of the reception of the film thus far is why born-again Christians have given such a big thumbs up to what is so unapologetically a Catholic movie. Why are they putting their grass-roots organizations at the beck and call of the producer formerly known as Mad Max, buying tickets by the thousands for an R-rated film? Why are they lauding an image of Jesus that owes as much to medieval passion plays and Hollywood action movies as it does to the Gospels, that runs so hard against the Protestant grain?

The culture wars no doubt have something to do with the evangelicals' decision to close ranks with Gibson, who must be commended for so adroitly spinning the debate over his depiction of Jews into a battle between secular humanists and true believers. The evangelicals' ''amen'' to the movie may demonstrate that conservative Protestants have bought more into Hollywood's culture of violence than they would like to admit. Or that, while anti-Semitism is still alive in the United States, anti-Catholicism is finished.

P.S. Down at the bottom of the page, there's a great text ad from an independent group called the Universalist Christians Association that says God is not a sadist — and adds, "Not all Christians believe that God torments sinners for all eternity." Indeed!

Posted by Philocrites, February 28, 2004, at 09:24 PM | 3 comments

Weekend reading.

I read a lot of magazines — occupational hazard — and frequently come across something so good I want to blog it right away, only to discover that most magazines don't rush their best material on-line. And then, by the time an article is on-line, it has dropped out of my immediate consciousness. As a result, the articles I've been thinking about the most over the last few months aren't ones you could have found out about by reading this blog. Seems kind of silly, all that reading gone to waste — but, since it's Lent, I'm mending my ways and I'm going to tell you what I wish I had told you about weeks and (in one case) months ago.

So here are a few of the articles I've found most stimulating recently:

  • "A democratic world" by George Packer, New Yorker 2.16.04. I'm a big fan of Packer's political writing, especially on foreign policy. Once again, Packer lays out the vision that liberals ought to be embracing.

  • "How serfdom saved the women's movement: Dispatches from the nanny wars" by Caitlin Flanagan, Atlantic Monthly 3.04. Extraordinary first-person reflection on the way that professional-class women have found their own liberation through employing low-wage women as nannies and domestic help. See also the follow-up Slate discussion with Flanagan, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Sara Mosle, especially about the moral complicity of upper-middle-class husbands.

  • "Just marriage" by Mary Lyndon Shanley, Boston Review Summer 2003. (I told you I've been sitting on some of these for a while.) This essay introduces a liberal justice-based argument for marriage and criticizes the contract-theory model of marriage that many liberals have tended to embrace. In other words, it tries to map out a liberal argument for promoting marriage as a civic good that deserves government protection. Since I don't think of marriage simply as a private contract — and think that efforts to broaden marriage to same-sex couples ought to be rooted in a vision of the public good that would result from legal rights for same-sex couples as well as male-female couples — I found this article extremely illuminating.

The magazine you ought to pick up at the newsstand this month is The American Prospect (March 2004). The 19-page section "Liberals and Values" is must-read stuff. Richard Parker, who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, taught a great class when I was at the Divinity School on the history of American religion and politics — and he has contributed a fine essay on the Democrats' problems with religious voters. (Alas, not on-line; see pages 38-41.) And Niclaus Mills writes about the ways that liberals have contributed to charges that they are elitists:

On the great wedge issues of the last 40 years — Vietnam, school busing, law and order — Democratic liberals, acting on the basis of deeply held convictions, have backed policies for which the highest costs have not been born by an educated middle class living in suburbs and safe city neighborhoods but by poor and working-class families, who have had to take whatever came their way. . . .

This is not to say that Democratic liberals were wrong in opposing the war in Vietnam, working to desegregate the public schools, or, in the case of the law-and-order issue, trying to curb the excesses of police departments. But it is to say that Democratic liberals never collectively dealt with how the privileged lives they led generally immunized them from the sacrifice and disruption that followed when their political principles were put into action.

That's from "The E-Word," pages 42-44, also not on-line. But — trumpet fanfare! — Margaret Morganroth Gullette's "The New Case for Marriage" is on-line.

Okay, my conscience is clear.

Posted by Philocrites, February 28, 2004, at 08:26 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Bush and the Fred Phelps clones.

I may be distracted by Mel Gibson, but let it not be said that I have abandoned the other pressing issues of the day. Nicholas Confessore writes that President Bush's advocacy of a U.S. Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is a gamble he'll most likely lose. For one thing, "right-wing antigay activists are scarier than left-wing pro-gay-marriage activists":

[I]t's hard to imagine that having a couple of thousand Fred Phelps clones running around the country agitating for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage is going to win Bush a lot of swing voters. Give your average American a guy screaming "God Hates Fags" versus a gay couple in business suits hoping to get married and grow old together, and I think the gay couple wins most of the time. Not all, or even most, social conservatives who oppose gay marriage are as virulent as Phelps. But Bush would obviously rather not have the Phelpses of the world coming out of the woodwork, and now they will.

So much for "compassionate conservatism."

Posted by Philocrites, February 26, 2004, at 06:25 PM | 1 comments

That 14th-century religion.

[Editor's note: It won't always be Mel Gibson Week here at Philocrites, but then again one must answer the door when opportunity knocks.]

Time religion writer David Van Biema tries to figure out what has made Mel Gibson "go medieval":

[T]he film's true shock lies in Gibson's vision of what is most important in the Jesus story, in the relentless, near pornographic feast of flayed flesh. . . .

Western Christianity has seen this treatment before, although not before about A.D. 1000. The stunning concept of divine self-sacrifice — "Jesus Christ and him crucified," as Paul put it — is the faith's heart, bound inextricably with his glorious rising three days later. But the grisly specifics of his mortification before then were of little interest to most Christians until the turn of the second millennium.

It was starting in the 1300s that the Passion truly bloomed. Scholars located details of Jesus' suffering in allegedly prophetic verses in the Old Testament. Mystics built devotions around his scourging after a Cardinal returned from the Holy Land bearing the pillar to which he said Christ had been chained. Flagellant lay groups clogged the streets, seeking bloody identification with the flayed Christ. So dominant grew the Passion, writes Catholic historian Gerard Sloyan, that believers felt "meditation on [it] alone could achieve unity with Christ and yield some share in the work of redemption he accomplished." It came to overshadow not just "the Incarnation, but even the Resurrection."

This unprecedented focus on Jesus' suffering makes some sense if you think about life in early 14th-century Europe, where plague, religious war, and grinding poverty — not to mention a crisis of authority in the church — led many people to think they were living in the end-times. Van Biema draws out Sloyan's argument that the new Passion cult "derived in part from the everyday misery and terror facing average believers. However badly they suffered, they thought, Jesus must have suffered more." The Man of Sorrows had been through worse.

But what kind of misery and terror requires a catharsis as excruciating as the one Mel Gibson has created? Who really thinks all the previous versions of the Crucifixion were so, well, timid that no one could adequately imagine Jesus' suffering until this week? I don't need to see the movie in order to be profoundly disturbed by the Crucifixion.

It will be very interesting to see if a contemporary cult springs up around Gibson's movie, treating its brutal depiction of Jesus' suffering as some sort of genuinely religious event. How many people are going to see it a second or third time? Will people make it part of their annual Holy Week vigil? Will the film become the altar-piece in some new multimedia shrine? Just think: The Chapel of the Dolorous Vision of St. Mel could offer four daily showings of the film, an Imax liturgy. (It already has its first martyr.)

And yet I find it hard to imagine that Christians living in 21st-century America need such a scathing spirituality. Is this film a trauma that lots of Christians are willing to subject themselves to once before reverting to modes of reflection on the Passion that are less aggressively cruel?

Posted by Philocrites, February 26, 2004, at 05:40 PM | 2 comments

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Other Jews on Roman crosses.

Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe's resident conservative op-ed columnist, rarely sees eye-to-eye with James Carroll, but they both really disliked Mel Gibson's Passion. Jacoby's column, however, is the more compelling:

Mel Gibson's movie about Jesus' last day has to be the most graphic and brutal death ever portrayed on film. It is being described as a masterpiece — soul-stirring and beautiful. I found it stomach-turning and deeply troubling. I am not a Christian, but I tried to view "The Passion" the way a Christian might view it. I tried to experience it as a message of God's love and mercy, as a depiction of self-sacrifice so complete and all-embracing as to transform human history. I tried to imagine believing that all that blood — and "The Passion" is drenched with blood — was shed to wash away my sins. I tried to understand this grim nightmare as an enactment of mankind's redeemer being tortured and killed, to accept that this was the purpose for which he was born, to feel that I, no less than the howling mob on the screen, was responsible for — and the beneficiary of — his death. I tried — but I failed.

I failed in part because I am not a Christian but a believing Jew. I don't believe that Jesus was God come to earth in human form — I believe that God is one, incorporeal and indivisible. To me, the Passion is not a manifestation of divine love but a vicious and evil ordeal inflicted on a victim who didn't deserve it. As a Jew I cannot look at the savage murder of an innocent man as anything but a grievous sin. And as a Jew, I could not watch a movie about the crucifixion of Jesus and not be aware of all the other Jews, scores of thousands of them, who also died on Roman crosses.

Read the rest.

("Is 'The Passion' anti-Semitic?" Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe 2.24.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 24, 2004, at 09:16 PM | 0 comments

The kingdom of heaven is like...

. . . a Lego castle! Mrs Philocrites helped her congregation of very young children visualize the word "kingdom" this past Sunday using her husband's much-neglected but favorite childhood toy, which usually sits high up on a bookshelf at home gathering dust. Letting her take it to church to show a bunch of 5-year-olds was an act of faith on my part, but the kids were very good and didn't pocket a knight or knock the whole thing to the floor. And now my castle is a parable, too.

(Mrs Philocrites leads the weekly "children's chapel" at the Episcopal church where she directs the children's ministries. The very young children go downstairs with her during the readings and sermon for more age-appropriate stories, songs, and prayers. My favorite children's chapel incident so far — and remember, these are really little kids — was Mr Potatohead as Paul's metaphor of the "body of Christ." The kids really grasped that one right away: "If your nose is running, can you just leave it home?" "No!" "If your eyes are sleepy, can you just put them to bed while you go outside?" "No!" Very clever.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 24, 2004, at 09:13 PM | 0 comments

'Scriptural fidelity as fetishism.'

Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr says The Passion of the Christ is "brutal almost beyond powers of description." Attention parents:

[A]ny parent — no matter how devout and well-intentioned — who takes a child to this movie is guilty of abuse. Period.

But you're wondering about the theology of the film:

This is scriptural fidelity as fetishism. But how can it be otherwise? To Gibson, each drop is holy, so the more of it the better. Each chunk of flesh dug out by the lash is Christ's sacrifice in all its beauty, so bring it on. The cumulative effect, however, brings only numbness.

Much has been written and said in the past six months about what Gibson should do and what his film should say. But it bears reminding that art, or storytelling, or the profession of one's faith (or lack thereof) isn't about should. As with other controversial religious works — and in that sense "The Passion of the Christ" ironically stands shoulder to shoulder with Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" — it is Gibson's obligation only to make the thing as true to his conscience as he can. For better and for worse, he has done so: This is the record of what he believes.

It's not your Unitarian grandma's tea-cosy religion; for one thing, Christian forgiveness seems in short supply. Toward the end of "Passion," the surreal touches that the director has salted throughout the film — evil dwarf children and Bosch-ian extras, mostly — come together in an earth-shattering big bang of cracking temples, bursts of flame, and torrents of blood out of a samurai movie. It's what tent-show revivalists used to call a Grand Finale, and while the faithful stand to be awed, as filmmaking it's somewhat silly.

We've heard some of Christ's Sermon on the Mount by then, and his exhortation to the disciples to love one another "as I have loved you." But the naked, risen Jesus who strides forth from the tomb in the last shot of the film, to the solemn thrum of martial music, does not seem very interested in love. Why should he be? He's off to war.

("'Passion of the Christ' is a graphic profession of Mel Gibson's faith," Ty Burr, Boston Globe 2.24.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 24, 2004, at 08:16 AM | 2 comments

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Hutton Gibson smackdown.

The head of the National Council of the Churches of Christ — the leading ecumenical organization in the United States, representing 36 mainline Protestant and Orthodox denominations — blasts Mel Gibson's father, whose anti-Semitism is sadly beyond dispute:

Speaking on behalf of the National Council of Churches, I condemn in the strongest terms the recent anti-Semitic remarks of Hutton Gibson, father of film producer Mel Gibson, including his bizarre assertion that the Holocaust did not occur. The Holocaust is a tragic historical fact.

The elder Gibson’s comments are offensive in the extreme, not only to Jews, but also to all persons of good will. I understand that Hutton Gibson has made similar remarks in the past. However, the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” now has attracted substantial media attention to his father’s vitriolic tirade and it must not stand unchallenged.

The leadership of the Council’s 36 member denominations, who are the spiritual leaders of some 50 million U.S. Christians, deplore hate speech of any kind. Along with them I work toward a nation in which interfaith harmony and understanding among all our people may grow and flourish.

The National Council of Churches has also prepared a list of resources to help congregations talk about anti-Semitism, the Passion, and Mel Gibson's movie. But if you're somehow sitting around in a fog about what the fuss and bother is about, I urge you to start with Newsday's transcript of a Feb. 16 talk-radio interview with Hutton Gibson, scheduled for broadcast tomorrow night. Obviously the man is off his rocker, but his opinions aren't caused by senility: He was making these outrageously offensive and classically anti-Semitic statements years ago.

From the Philocrites archives, here's some past coverage of Mel Gibson's controversial film:

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 22, 2004, at 07:04 PM | 2 comments

Screenplay by the Paraclete?

Stephen Prothero has written a very helpful overview of the basic problem with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:

Even if we take the Gospels as gospel, we simply do not have enough information to squeeze out anything close to a two-hour movie. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not screenplays, or even treatments of them. To make a Jesus film based on the Bible you have to go outside it (as Gibson reportedly did, consulting the visions of a female mystic recorded in "The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ"). You have to make millions of idiosyncratic choices about dialogue, sequence, action. You have to choose this line from John rather than that line from Luke. And you have to make things up.

Among the most monumental choices Gibson made was to restrict himself to Jesus's final 12 hours — in other words, to make a passion play. Having made that choice, Gibson inherited an unholy host of genre-specific conventions not only from medieval European anti-Semitism, but also from the ancient thirst of drama for conflict. There is conflict in the Gospels themselves, but they are not dramas intended to entertain. So while the temptation to crank up the violence against Jesus and turn the Jews into bad guys can be justified by the Bible (for example, the "blood curse" in Matthew where the crowd cries out, "His blood be on us, and on our children"), it is really inspired by Dionysus.

But Gibson is committed to the silly notion that his movie is more accurate, more faithful, more realistic, and more true than any other depiction — and he has taken special delight in contrasting his vision with that of scholars and historians. For more on Gibson's passion play, read "Honest to Jesus" (entitled "Troubled Passion" in the print edition), Boston Globe 2.22.04.

P.S. For a definition of "paraclete" and lots of other New Testament vocabulary, click here.

Posted by Philocrites, February 22, 2004, at 09:03 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, February 21, 2004

This little Nader went to market...

A question for people who feel drawn to Ralph Nader's candidacy: If he didn't run, what would you do? 1) Vote for the Democratic candidate. 2) Vote for George W. Bush. 3) Vote for another third-party candidate. 4) Move to Canada. 5) Stay home.

A follow-up question: If Nader does run as an independent candidate (as the ever-reliable Fox News reports he will), and you vote for him, which of the five options above will your vote most closely resemble?

Posted by Philocrites, February 21, 2004, at 07:11 PM | 6 comments

Jesus in the mirror.

The Times has a good article this morning on the history of depictions of Jesus in art and on film. "Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings (1961) is commonly referred to as 'the Malibu Jesus,' while Willem Dafoe's celluloid savior was a perfectly credible love match for the lusty Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). And Max von Sydow was a handsome — and distinctly Aryan — Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)." Find out what Origen and Tertullian thought about depictions of Jesus, but this is my favorite part of the article:

Trying to run back through the gantlet of images and icons built up over the centuries and rediscover the true face of Jesus is no mean feat. While filming a new documentary about the historical Jesus ("The Mystery of Jesus" on "CNN Presents," tomorrow night at 8, Eastern time; 7, Central time; and 5, Pacific time), our production team sought the most accurate idea of what Jesus might have looked like. We chose a retired British medical artist, Richard Neave, who has made a career out of reconstructing the faces of famous historical figures from scant archaeological traces. Mr. Neave had worked with the BBC on a similar project a few years before, making a composite cast of three Semitic skulls from first-century Palestine and using them as the basis for fleshing out the face of a contemporary of Jesus, if not Jesus himself.

The facial overlay that the BBC then put on Mr. Neave's work didn't please him or many others, however. He wasn't upset that some thought that the face made Jesus look like a New York taxi driver. Rather, he didn't like the eyes and the mouth, and what the historian Robin M. Jensen, writing recently in Christian Century, called "a particular dumbfounded — one might say stupid — expression."

Hoping to rectify the problem, we hired a New York artist, Donato Giancola, and reworked the portrait, using Mr. Neave's skull and information from other experts. The results, to my mind, were a more noble, even soulful, Jesus, and yet historically believable — I hope something closer to the itinerant Galilean of history. Even so, the results looked uncannily like Mr. Giancola himself, which was part coincidence — he actually resembles the face Mr. Neave produced — and part inevitability. Artists are always painting themselves, just as believers are always making themselves the models for the divine.

("What did Jesus really look like?" David Gibson, New York Times 2.21.04, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, February 21, 2004, at 10:33 AM | 0 comments

'Friends' gets religion.

My friend Dan handed me the title for this post in the message he sent me a few days ago about the New York Times article, "Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer," which unlike everyone else I've only just read. (Very busy week!) I'm not quite sure what to make of it: I was never cool to begin with and can't imagine wanting to go to church almost exclusively with guys with soul patches or Matrix-style leather jackets, like the Southern Baptist missionary to Manhattan mentioned in another Times article last week. (What distinguishes "emerging church" women, by the way? Would I recognize them walking to the "cultural creatives" church on Prospect Street?)

I'll be honest. When I was 14, I was excited about pipe-organ recitals in honor of J.S. Bach's tricentennial. In fact, I joined the Unitarian church in Salt Lake City when I was a college student in part because the organist frequently played Bach preludes. I'm hopeless. Somehow I doubt "Spirit Garage" is up my alley. But I admire the willingness of these overly self-conscious "emerging churches" to experiment, to speak in a language that seems to reach a lot of young people with a fresh immediacy, and to reach beyond the presentism of American evangelicalism (and religious liberalism!) for connections to ancient and Orthodox practices.

I have simply never wanted to stick with my generational cohort at church. I know I'm weird on this point, but church is one of the places where I've felt liberated from being or acting my age. When I was in college, teaching Sunday School was important because I missed being around young children. Adult religious education classes were important to me because I missed being around older adults. Helping to organize a young adult group was one of the most important things I did in that church — because there weren't any other college students there at all, and that was a problem — but I don't think I'd ever join St. Monica and St. Chandler's Church.

Posted by Philocrites, February 21, 2004, at 10:25 AM | 0 comments

It's a small world.

At lunch on Friday, I was seated near the front door of the newly opened Scollay Square restaurant on Beacon Hill. (Boston history buffs will love the pictures of the old "entertainment" district that was torn down to make room for City Hall and Government Center.) And since Beacon Hill is a small world, it's a great place to watch the famous and infamous gather. One of the lead plaintiffs in Massachusetts' gay marriage case, Hillary Goodridge, came in and sat down at a table near me — in the left side of the restaurant, of course — and not five minutes later, who should walk in but Tom Finneran, the speaker of the House and anti-gay marriage legislator-in-chief! Yes, he headed over to the right. (Finneran, who was unsuccessful in blocking gay marriage in the first consitutional convention, now says he is willing to accept civil unions.)

Meanwhile, on the other side of Beacon Hill, the Secret Service is now keeping an eye on John Kerry's mansion. (Bonus points for Episcopalians: The mansion was an Episcopal convent before it sat vacant and then was renovated by Kerry and his wife.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 21, 2004, at 10:13 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

I hate Internet Explorer for Mac.

I'm completely stumped, dear geekish readers. This site looks just fine on most browsers on most operating systems, but whenever I try using Internet Explorer 5.2 for Mac, paragraphs — especially block quotes — run into each other in an almost unreadable mess. The sidebars look okay, but the main entries themselves on the main page and in the individual archives look awful.

If any of you read this site using IE 5.2 for the Mac, you're my hero. You endure unimaginable suffering. I salute you. I have no idea how you tell the difference between what I write and what I quote. Please download Mozilla or Safari right away. (Noted: Dan Kennedy writes that the new version of Safari won't work on my Mac or on yours — unless we shell out for the super-duper latest version of OS X, which I'm not planning to do.)

If any of you understand cascading style sheets and think you know what I'm doing that makes my site so ugly on IE 5.2, please let me know. You'll be my geek god!

Posted by Philocrites, February 18, 2004, at 05:57 PM | 7 comments

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Martin & Hannah: The movie!

Simon Blackburn writes a screenplay — er, book review — about Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt:

Autumn, 1925 

Wide shot: the little university town of Marburg an der Lahn. November. Gables, students, frothy steins of beer, oompah band. Julie Andrews, mountains in the background, Marty Feldman, peasants. Cut to a book-lined, wood-paneled, dimly lit room: 

Martin (Russell Crowe, professorial, mustachioed, monocled, wedding ring, looking up from an old volume of Hölderlin, pulling up his lederhosen): You have lost your "disquiet," which means you have found the way to your innermost, purest feminine essence. Someday you will understand and be grateful—not to me—that this visit to my "office hour" was the decisive step back from the path toward the terrible solitude of academic research, which only man can endure—and then only when he has been given the burden, as well as the frenzy, of being productive. 

Hannah (Scarlett Johansson, in braids, fiery, intense, ready for more): Perhaps this change from longing to fear brought about by the destructive desire for power, this slavish-tyrannical self-violation, might seem clearer, more comprehensible when one considers that, at least in part, an age that was so depraved and hopeless also created opportunities for monstrousness, all the more as a naturally fastidious and cultivated taste more fiercely and consciously resisted the loud, extreme, and desperate efforts of an art, literature, and culture that were basely and mindlessly pursuing their illusory existence in extravagance that verged on shamelessness. 

(Then softly, to herself: I can do it, too!) 

Martin: The demonic struck me! The silent prayer of your beloved hands and your shining brow enveloped it in womanly transfiguration. Nothing like it has ever happened to me.... You saucy wood-nymph! 

Hannah: Whooeee!  

Dissolve to gathering war clouds. Hannah flees to New York. Martin in uniform makes Nazi speeches. Stock footage: kaleidoscope of Hitler, tanks, bombs, concentration camps, D-Day, ruined cities. Hannah's wedding (to the one person in the story who comes out of it with decency intact). 

Ah, philosophers in love! ("Lights! Camera! Being!" Simon Blackburn, The New Republic 2.23.04, sub req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, February 17, 2004, at 09:23 PM | 1 comments

Why did we give up fasting for Lent?

Once upon a time, Unitarians and Universalists fasted — you know, took a break from the normal routine in order to refocus the spirit and put themselves back on the right path. But they apparently gave up fasting one year for Lent and then lost track of time. These days, Unitarian Universalists amble on without any of the encumbrances of self-denial, renunciation, or confession that make every other religion so darn melancholy. (Irony alert: I am gently mocking my tribe here, folks. I like melancholy in my religion.)

But Matthew Gatheringwater has been to the library, and reports (2.16.04):

Unitarians used to keep a holiday called Fast Day, kind of a spring bookend to Thanksgiving Day. As I understand it, it was a time of repentance and renewal of purpose and the Fast Day sermons I've read usually offered a religious response to the sins of the nation. Universalists, too, addressed the religious need for self-examination, repentance, and resolve. Recently, I've come across a whole series of Lenten manuals published by the Universalist Publishing House in the first part of the twentieth century. They are fascinating to me. I've never seen anything like them.

So he extends an invitation: From February 25 (Ash Wednesday) through April 11 (Easter), he's going to lead an e-mail meditation group through Horace Westwood's 1939 Universalist Lenten meditation manual, The Great Avowal. It's part of Matthew's UU Books ministry. Go ahead: Give Lent a chance.

Posted by Philocrites, February 17, 2004, at 06:12 PM | 0 comments

Monday, February 16, 2004

Progressive Protestant: No dupe!

Chris Tessone writes:

The Nation has asked Ralph Nader not to run for President again. The reaction is rather typical. I especially love how the “Kerry is Bush lite” meme is already starting up. That was the meme that duped me into voting for Ralph in 2000, and I bet it works wonders on yet another generation of gullible college freshmen this time around to get Nader his usual 1% spoiler vote.

But Chris is redeeming himself this year in Wisconsin (so to speak), volunteering with the John Edwards campaign. While he is away from his blog, the fine Progressive Protestant, a regular commenter has been elevated to the post of guest blogger — and Kenneth Vendler has some great things to say about the meaning of progressive Protestantism. (Mrs Philocrites and I refer to point 3 as "evangelical liberalism" — the gospel's work of human liberation.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 16, 2004, at 06:29 PM | 0 comments

The blog of common prayer?

Dear Episcopalian readers: The editors of Anglicans Online have looked at Anglican blogs . . . and yawned. What Web sites do you suggest they take a second look at? (Don't mind me: I'll just listen in. I've got my hands full tracking Unitarian Universalist blogs.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 16, 2004, at 06:03 PM | 4 comments

Sunday, February 15, 2004

I Can't Believe It's Not Marriage!

In Europe people are getting kinda, sorta married. The French call the legally recognized but definitely second-tier union a pacte civil de solidarité. Instead of getting married, some straight couples are getting "PACS'ed." The not-quite-married option began as a way to give some legal rights to same-sex couples, but was expanded to include heterosexuals who wanted a less binding legal status than the one you get by vowing to stick with each other "till death do us part." The New York Times reports:

The civil solidarity pact that they signed confers some stability and legal rights. It means, for instance, that Mr. Antar can remain in his civil service job in Marseille, living with Ms. Ramirez, secure that he will not be transferred to another area. It means that the couple share property rights and, after three years as official partners, will get the same tax breaks as married people.

But it also allows either member to dissolve the relationship, with little legal complication, on three months' notice, a source of some comfort to this skittish couple.

I Can't Believe It's Not Marriage is available in all sorts of European countries, although some restrict it to homosexuals. Perhaps now is a good time to mention Unmarried to Each Other, a book by two (Unitarian Universalist) advocates of conscientious cohabitation without tying the knot.

("In Europe, lovers now propose: Marry me, a little," Sarah Lyall, New York Times 2.15.04, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, February 15, 2004, at 03:06 PM | 0 comments

Howard Dean's playhouse.

How counterintuitive of the Howard Dean campaign to open an official campaign headquarters in the heart of Central Square this weekend. I popped in for a minute yesterday afternoon on my way to buy some fancy Valentine's Day wrapping paper at Pearl Art & Craft. The Cambridge office is a hive of just-out-of-college activity and has all the marks of an actual campaign office, but since Howard Dean can't possibly expect to win any longer, it strikes me that he and his supporters have struck a peculiar deal: So long as people send money to Dean, he'll rent playhouses for them.

It's not as absurd as it might seem, since the longer the Deaniacs believe they have a shot, the less likely Nader will jump into the race. Dean will continue sponsoring his civics course for the Radiohead bloc, which I heartily endorse. (Less apocalypse, more get-out-the-vote!) And since Dean's most avid supporters seem hard to channel into mainstream politics, giving them a place to run and run and run until they finally run out of breath makes a lot of sense. Dean won't abandon them; they won't abandon him; and when the majority of voters finish ignoring them, they'll feel they gave it their best shot. Hopefully, when the playhouses finally close, the Deaniacs will help the rest of us knock Bush out of office using the bat the rest of the Democratic Party selects. Who knows? Maybe they will generate a more enduring political movement in the process.

Update: In comments below, I'm told that the Cambridge headquarters is an independent project of Massachusetts volunteers and has no official relationship to the campaign. Can you rent office space to campaign for a candidate with your own funds without it constituting a pretty sizable campaign contribution? Or without violating campaign finance laws? I'm actually asking, because I have no idea. As for a few of the commenters other concerns, I'll reply in the comments.

Posted by Philocrites, February 15, 2004, at 02:52 PM | 7 comments

Friday, February 13, 2004

God's lovers.

From the archives, just in time for Valentine's Day: A sermon on the Song of Songs (the Bible's great book of sex) and the nature of religious language.

The Song of Songs is about desire. Although some readers are tempted to see in it only the erotic, and although many have tried to read the sexual dimension of the poem away, the amazing feature of the book is that Jews and Christians have seen something profound about the love of God in the book — as well as something wonderful about human sexuality.


Posted by Philocrites, February 13, 2004, at 05:15 PM | 1 comments

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The view from (near) my window.

Boston Globe staff photo by John TlumackiI spent the day in a magazine staff retreat — away from my room with a view — which means that I didn't face the temptation of standing up every minute or two to peek outside at the media vans (shown here in a Boston Globe photo that must have been taken from the balcony above my office) or the crowds that have spent the day waving flags and holding signs and alternating choruses of "Amazing Grace" and "My Country Tis of Thee." At lunch, however, I did walk up and down the block to read the signs and shake some hands. The turnout seemed smaller than yesterday's rally, but the anti-gay marriage crowd had clearly set up camp near the State House entrance and the pro-gay marriage crowd had camped directly in front of the State House steps (which, since 9/11, have ceased to be a public entrance). Now that I have time to catch up on the day's news, I'll be reading the Boston Phoenix Massachusetts Constitutional Convention blog. Let the nail-biting begin!

Posted by Philocrites, February 11, 2004, at 05:40 PM | 5 comments

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Massachusetts voter alert!

If you want to vote in the Massachusetts primaries on March 2, tomorrow — Wednesday, February 11 — is your last day to register to vote (or to declare yourself a Democrat). You know you want to. Even the homeless people at the Pine Street Inn are signing up.

Posted by Philocrites, February 10, 2004, at 07:25 PM | 0 comments

Peter Gomes speaks truth to power!

The Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes :: REUTERS/Jim BourgI couldn't make it into the Massachusetts State House this afternoon — the building was filled to capacity for the 2:00 pro-gay marriage rally by 2:05, so hundreds of us ended up rallying merrily outside. Inside, Peter Gomes (shown here) apparently gave quite an address, but I can't find a copy of his remarks yet. (Do read his Boston Globe op-ed about civil marriage for same-sex couples.) Also among the inside-the-State-House speakers: Stephanie Spellers, a friend from Harvard Divinity School (she worked in admissions when I first applied and took me on a tour of campus) who now is a student at the Episcopal Divinity School. I wish I had heard them both.

If you haven't ever heard Gomes preach, you're missing out — but you can pick up copies of his excellent books: The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind, The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need, and Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living.

Posted by Philocrites, February 10, 2004, at 07:15 PM | 2 comments

Scenes from the end of the road.

From Ryan Lizza's report on Wesley Clark's all-but-final campaign sprint:

Reminiscing about the last five months, Clark sounds almost bemused by the absurdities of life on the campaign trail. As we talk, one of the embedded journalists from the television networks who follows Clark everywhere records our interview. Clark says he has finally figured out that the embeds only film him now just in case he dies. "They call it the death watch," he says. "She's taking those pictures to see if I'm going to have a heart attack while I'm talking to you. It's nothing that I'm saying that's particularly interesting. She's heard it all a dozen times. She just wants to see if I go, ohhhh, ahhhh." Clark holds his hands to his chest, stiffens his body, feigns a heart attack, and lets out a sound that recalls Howard Dean on election night . . .

I ask him what the low point of the campaign was but he insists, "I can't think of any." But a few minutes later I witness it. Up in the front of the bus Clark is standing near the bathroom door. He turns to the embed, smiling. "Did you want to turn off that camera so I can go in here?" he asks. She answers, "Can I come?" Clark's staff breaks up laughing. Someone teases the embed that she is known to like the handsome John Edwards more than Clark anyway. Clark just stands in front of the bathroom shaking his head and smiling. "She asked me to go into the bathroom with her. And I'm only her second choice! ... It's the lowest moment of the campaign."

("The end is near," Ryan Lizza, Campaign Journal, New Republic 2.10.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 10, 2004, at 05:48 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, February 8, 2004

Breaking up is hard to do.

Wesley ClarkI've spent all week putting off the inevitable. Hope and loyalty have kept me from acknowledging what is almost impossible to ignore: Wesley Clark, my candidate for president, stands no reasonable chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Sure, there are loyalists who imagine that a narrow victory in Tennessee will energize Democrats in, say, California, New York, and Massachusetts three weeks from now, giving Clark enough delegates in second- and third-place finishes to keep the nomination undecided right up to the convention, but let's get real. I can thoroughly appreciate Wes Clark Jr's frustration with the media's treatment of his father's campaign. But the fault doesn't belong only to the media. John Kerry and John Edwards seem to have caught the Clark campaign in New Hampshire almost completely off-guard with their huge victories over Dean in Iowa, and the campaign didn't turn quickly enough: Voters saw in both candidates the things that had drawn them to Clark, but Kerry and Edwards were winning — and if there's one thing Democrats want this year, it's a winner.

Edwards's "momentum" coming out of Iowa (which the media undoubtedly amplified while covering such trivialities as Clark's sweater!) has created a three-way tie for a distant second place. In the polls and in last week's primary voting, Dean was dropping fast, Clark was holding steady or fading slowly, and Edwards was gaining — but they each ended up too far behind Kerry to generate real momentum. And whether Clark's campaign is stalled because the media treated him unfairly or because he simply wasn't able to generate an enduring connection with voters, I can't see any way for Clark to break out of the media ghetto. He won't be perceived as a winner. Even a victory in Tennessee, his only realistic hope, would be extremely close at best — and a narrow victory in Oklahoma didn't do more than keep Clark in the race. William Saletan thinks John Edwards had the last chance to break out of the pack and challenge Kerry — but only if Clark faded out quickly. An unhappy thought. No matter how you look at it, Clark's chances have faded into oblivion.

But when you recognize the truth, what should you do? When should a supporter withdraw support from a campaign that is still bringing in money, when the candidate is still running all-out for victory in Tuesday's Tennessee primary, when people I've come to know and admire are still calling dozens of voters and making a heartfelt pitch for the candidate that I fell for, too? Rather than throw in the towel on Wednesday when Clark barely survived with a win in Oklahoma, I contributed money to the campaign. Breaking up is hard to do. But there comes a moment in political life when calculation has to kick in. That moment is now.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 8, 2004, at 07:33 PM | 7 comments

Peter Gomes vs. Archbishop O'Malley.

The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, minister of Harvard's Memorial Church, writes today's must-read op-ed.

There are always conscientious people of deeply held religious conviction who, alas, on the basis of those convictions find themselves on the wrong side of history, such as those in our own Commonwealth who hanged witches in the 17th century and embraced the fugitive slave laws in the 19th century; and those who in our own time find the support of custom, reason, and faith in their prejudices against Roman Catholics, Jews, and persons of other colors and ethnicities.

This resistance to extending not special rights but civil rights to homosexuals in marriage is but the most recent instance of this dubious legacy, and is not made any more palatable or respectable today by the support given to it by visible and highly placed clergy across denominational lines, from whom we have a right to expect better. . . .

To extend the civil right of marriage to homosexuals will neither solve nor complicate the problems already inherent in marriage, but what it will do is permit a whole class of persons, our fellow citizens under the law heretofore irrationally deprived of a civil right, both to benefit from and participate in a valuable yet vulnerable institution which in our changing society needs all the help it can get.

("For Massachusetts, a chance and a choice," Peter J. Gomes, Boston Globe 2.8.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 8, 2004, at 10:15 AM | 0 comments

Bigotry brings us together. Oh, wait!

Finally, something the churches, mosques, and synagogues can oppose together: gay marriage. The Boston Globe headline says "Top clerics join to support amendment". But wait! Aren't there churches and synagogues and religious leaders who support civil rights for gay couples and oppose the constitutional amendment?

The Globe's Michael Paulson downplays the religious leaders who oppose a constitutional amendment. After nine paragraphs about the coalition of religious leaders — Roman Catholic, evangelical, African American, Muslim, and orthodox Jewish — who want to amend the constitution to block gay marriage, there are only two paragraphs that mention another point of view:

[Roman Catholic Archbishop] O'Malley will headline a rally at the State House today in opposition to gay marriage; in response, the Religious Coalition for Freedom to Marry, which includes many mainline Protestant and Reform Jewish clergy, will demonstrate on the other side of Boston Common.

"Every denomination or faith community should decide on its own who they will marry or who they won't marry, but because civil rights of individuals are involved, civil marriage should be open to everyone," said Episcopal Bishop M. Thomas Shaw.

Coming at the end of the article, these two sentences don't quite make it clear that the largest Protestant denominations in Massachusetts — the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church — don't support the constitutional amendment. (Neither does the Unitarian Universalist Association or the Reform Jewish movement or most of the state's Jewish organizations.) But because Paulson tucks the liberal voices in a paragraph that begins with Archbishop O'Malley — the Big Wig among anti-gay marriage folks and the convener of today's bigotry rally — you might not notice them at all. You mean there's a rally today of religious people in support of civil rights for gay couples?! Don't you think the Globe could have mentioned that the civil rights rally will be held on the steps of the Episcopal St. Paul's Cathedral, and not just "on the other side of Boston Common"?

Elsewhere in the Globe, an article in the Ideas section is illustrated with two photographs (not on-line), including one of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry rally and press conference held nextdoor to the State House at the UUA on Thursday. But even though the coalition includes clergy from several denominations — and Bishop Shaw was the key speaker — the caption says: "Massachusetts Unitarians demonstrate in support of the SJC's same-sex marriage decision." Hey! For once we Unitarians aren't alone on this.

Posted by Philocrites, February 8, 2004, at 10:04 AM | 1 comments

Fonts in the news.

A new occasional feature here at Philocrites: News stories about typefaces! The U.S. State Department bids adieu to Courier New and embraces Times New Roman 14 as its standard font. ("Retired font seeks new opportunities," Lawrence Downes, New York Times 2.8.04, reg req'd.) How do type lovers respond? Check out the comments at Typographica.

Posted by Philocrites, February 8, 2004, at 08:55 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, February 7, 2004

Red Sox theology watch, Super Bowl edition.

Okay, it's not quite theology — but no celebration of the Patriots' Super Bowl victory would be complete without some eschatalogical hope for the Red Sox:

That New Englanders remain obsessed with the Red Sox, even during this week's post-Super Bowl euphoria, comes as no surprise. The oldest of the city's four professional sports teams, the Red Sox have enticed generations of fans. Unlike the Patriots, though, the last time the Red Sox won a world championship was in 1918, an 85-year drought.

"What I think it comes down to is that nobody's grandfather went to their grave cursing the Patriots," said Michael Rutstein, publisher of Boston Baseball magazine. "The Patriots just don't go that deep into New England's psyche. No one has ever tried to write about football as a metaphor for life. You can pick up hundreds of books that do it for baseball."

("Red Sox fans are not content with patriotism," Peter DeMarco, Boston Globe 2.7.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 7, 2004, at 10:03 PM | 0 comments

Memes: The idea whose time didn't come.

In my UU World review of Mary Midgley's excellent book, The Myths We Live By, I mentioned Richard Dawkins's concept of memes in a parenthetical observation:

For all the talk about Dawkins’s “memes,” for example—the pseudoscientific idea that human culture is made up of discrete units analogous to genes or atoms—there is no field of science that studies them.

Just in case my single sentence on the subject didn't adequately clarify why "memes" are pseudoscientific, take a look at H. Allen Orr's generally appreciative review of A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love in the latest New York Review of Books. (Orr has some incisive things to say about how badly Dawkins misunderstands and misrepresents religion, but for once I'll let others address that theme.) Orr writes about the failure of memes as a scientific concept:

But there's another problem, one that has little to do with the gene-meme analogy but that's at least as serious: unlike the selfish gene view, the selfish meme view hasn't led anywhere. Where are the puzzling phenomena that have been explained by memes? Dawkins provides no examples and I suspect there aren't any. The truth is that the meme idea, though a quarter-century old, has inspired next to no serious research and has failed to establish a place for itself in mainstream cognitive science, psychology, or sociology. Though laymen often have the impression that scientific ideas die in decisive experiments, far more often they die because they didn't suggest many experiments. They failed, that is, to inspire a rich research program. Though I could obviously be proved wrong, and while I have no problem with the notion that some science of cultural change may be possible, I'm far less confident than Dawkins that memes will play an important role in any such enterprise.

("A passion for evolution," H. Allen Orr, New York Review of Books 2.26.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 7, 2004, at 09:55 PM | 0 comments

Friday, February 6, 2004

Questions the UUA Principles don't answer.

In a conversation yesterday with a fellow parishioner about how the Unitarian Universalist Association's "Seven Principles" don't quite cut it as answers to religious questions — we were talking about the difficulty of shaping religious education curricula for adolescents around the Principles — I finally gained some clarity about the problem:

As many other people have pointed out, the Principles express ethical (organizational) commitments. They commit UU churches to affirm and promote the inherent dignity and worth of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; etc. But they don't really address basic religious questions.

The religious questions I'm thinking about include:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What sustains me?
  • What evokes my praise?
  • What stirs me to wonder?
  • What binds me to other people?
  • What tempts me to betray people?
  • What do I cling to at my peril?
  • Why don't things work out as I want them to?
  • What propels me to acts of moral courage?
  • What inspires me to regard others with moral imagination?
  • Where do I turn when I am at my wit's end?

Our religious practices and spiritual disciplines give us ways to respond to questions like these by embodying them in stories or behaviors that help us be grateful, joyful, penitent, reflective, sorrowful, courageous, sympathetic, faithful, and so on. Many of our non-religious practices and behaviors do, too.

But because we're such a brainy bunch, we don't always notice that we are acting out stories and doing things that address our religious questions. Our cerebral, discursive, "goin' to a discussion about heaven" chattiness is itself a belief and a story enacted: We seem to think we'll be saved by dialogue, that intellectuals are the chosen people.

Our Principles are thin, "wholesome abstractions" unless they happen to be embodied in practices and stories and ways of life. But somehow we keep trying to start with the Principles, writing stories with one of the Principles as the moral. The problem here is that almost nobody acts because the UUA's Principles promote "world community" or "encouragement to spiritual growth." More than we might care to admit, our principles are rooted in our interests, and transforming a person's interests is a daunting task. People don't learn the liberal values that draw them to a UU church from the church; our motivations and values are more deeply rooted. The Principles may enhance or strengthen values that already shape our lives, but they are fundamentally secondary.

We grossly misrepresent our own religious motivations when we concentrate on the ethical dimension of our faith. The ethical dimension is very important — please don't get me wrong! — but unless it is deeply rooted in other motivations and realities, it won't have much spine.

I think we ought to start with a richer survey of what we already do (in church and elsewhere), what stories we already tell about ourselves (in church and elsewhere), with an ear for the basic human questions that our actions and stories try to answer. We may not be especially happy with what we find. As novelists know, many of the stories we tell about ourselves are lies, and many of our actions are evasions. But we might discover some extraordinary answers to our most basic religious questions.

What stirs you to wonder? What binds you to other people? What tempts you to betray people? What do you cling to at your peril? What evokes your praise?

Posted by Philocrites, February 6, 2004, at 06:31 PM | 6 comments

Thursday, February 5, 2004

Moral credibility.

I'll admit that I'm torn about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court opinion yesterday, not because I oppose gay marriage — I happen to support it — but because the ruling so severely limits the legislature's opportunity to do anything that voters can hold them accountable for. The last thing we really needed was an incentive for people to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but in the real world, that's what the court has done.

Kristen Lombardi profiles Pulitzer Prize-winning Rutland Herald editorial writer David Moats, author of the new book Civil wars: A battle for gay marriage. (Moats attends a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Vermont, according to a Sep/Oct 2001 UU World news article.) Lombardi writes:

The Vermont Supreme Court focused primarily on the benefits that flow from civil marriage. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy said that the state was "constitutionally required" to extend those benefits to same-sex couples. But the court left it up to the legislature to figure out how to do so. Amestoy, in fact, designed his ruling so it became the job of legislators to choose between gay marriage or a "parallel domestic partnership." Before ascending to the bench, Amestoy had served as a long-time state attorney general and, as such, he was a seasoned, skilled politician. He believed that involving the legislature would put a stamp of democratic approval on the Baker ruling’s outcome. "Amestoy," Moats says, "thought if you get the state to go through this huge debate, the result will have greater legitimacy."

By contrast, the Massachusetts SJC treated Goodridge as a strict civil-rights case, and the four-justice majority ruled accordingly. Thus, Moats points out, individual privacy rights played a key role in the SJC ruling. "The Massachusetts case hinges on freedom-of-privacy law," he says, which grants people the right to make personal decisions without state interference. The SJC found civil marriage a right to which all Massachusetts residents, gay and straight, are entitled. As Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in her opinion, "Barring same-sex couples from ... the institution of civil marriage" — not simply from its benefits — "violates the Massachusetts Constitution." In short, the court spoke about gay marriage, and nothing else. Which has left legislators with little to debate aside from an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment. Unlike in Vermont, Moats says, "The legislature in Massachusetts doesn’t have as much freedom to decide what to do."

("Do the right thing," Kristen Lombardi, Boston Phoenix 2.5.04)

Two factors may help Massachusetts successfully adapt to this judicially-decreed new order, even though the legislature has almost no room to maneuver. First, as Mrs Philocrites pointed out last night as we watched the local Fox News broadcast about the ruling, the human face of this story is invariably a friendly lesbian couple with a really cute kid. It's hard to portray the opposition more favorably. What are you going to do, show a "traditional" family displaying hostility to gay people?

Second, the state's most active opponent of gay marriage — the Roman Catholic church — has much less moral credibility than it would like. Joan Vennochi writes:

"This is the most intense outreach by the church to the Legislature that I have ever seen. It is absolutely stunning," says [Marian Walsh, state senator from the Boston neighborhood of West Roxbury, a "prolife" Democrat], a lifelong Catholic, a lawyer, and a graduate of Harvard's Divinity School. "I really wish I had seen a fraction of this vigor when it came to the protection of children."

Ouch! But that's not all:

[A]s Walsh tells it, state lawmakers are being inundated by messages from those in opposition to gay marriage, some sent directly by the archdiocese. Priests she knows as friends and neighbors are being asked to contact her. She finds the extent of the effort perplexing: "The intensity, I really believe is to create a distraction from the sex scandal and closing of parishes," she says, referring to the clergy sexual abuse crisis that began in Boston two years ago and its aftermath.

Where was the Catholic Church, asks Walsh, when she took stands for social justice and against corporate welfare? "There was never this kind of outreach to me on the death penalty, even on abortion." Indeed, the first time she tried to get Cardinal Bernard Law to testify against the death penalty at a legislative hearing, she was told he did not want to ruffle prominent Catholics who support it.

("Legislator feels the heat on gay marriage," Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe 2.5.04)

The constitutional amendment is likely to fail — even though many of us in the middle would like to have seen some sort of compromise or at least some sort of legislative response — because when push comes to shove, fairness makes sense and no one really wants to hang out with a scold.

Posted by Philocrites, February 5, 2004, at 06:12 PM | 4 comments

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

We interrupt this program...

I'm at work, but I'm also aware of the spam attack on this site last night. The guilty IP is — which you'll want to ban from your Movable Type site, too. It will take a while to strip all the comments, so feel free to add your sympathetic comments to this message and push the spam off my front page. (And, yes, downtown Boston is a zoo right now.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 3, 2004, at 11:05 AM | 6 comments

Monday, February 2, 2004

At least the UU blogosphere is growing...

Scott Wells has been keeping tabs on membership growth in the churches that make up the Unitarian Universalist Association. As of last night, 938 congregations reported a total (adult) membership of 150,447 — an increase of only 60. (That's 0.06 new members per congregation!) [Update 2.4.04: Final numbers: "With 955 congregations certified, with 152,017 members, the UUA grew by 97 members."] Make sure to read Scott's six observations. He's been a busy blogger lately, and also reports on some of the factors that are contributing to the vibrancy of All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., where my friend Rob Hardies is senior minister; he calls it "ordered exuberance." And, while I was unimpressed by the soundtrack of the UUA's radio ads, Scott really doesn't like it.

Elsewhere on the Unitarian Universalist blogs:

Stentor Danielson discovers Marxist alienation in iTunes:

If we spent hours and hours working on a mix and lost it, it would be a big blow to us, whereas we'd hardly care if we lost a WinAmp playlist we slapped together in a few minutes. It's like Sauron in The Lord of The Rings, who invested so much in the creation of the One Ring that when the Ring was destroyed, he was too.

And David Soliday has discovered "anomy":

This is a marvelously packed little word, with family ties to lawlessness, distribution and nimbleness. One must be nimble to handle breakdowns of standards and values, what to speak of the personal affects of a lack of purpose in one’s own life. One must distribute oneself wisely in such circumstances, what the old Chinese curse refers to as “interesting times.” The question is whether anomy is the demise of old standards, values, purpose or ideals, the labor pains of new ones, or both.

Will Shetterly has started designing bumper stickers and license-plate holders for his congregation. Richard Hurst's Universalist Sundays was the Shareware Junkies Hot Site of the Week two weeks ago. Hmm: religious blogs as shareware . . . Congratulations! Finally, Warren Thompson posts a great quote by Sidney J. Harris:

A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past, he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.

I'll hold on to that one.

Posted by Philocrites, February 2, 2004, at 05:12 PM | 1 comments

Sunday, February 1, 2004

What? No Patriots theology watch?

Long-time readers of this site may wonder, after all the fun we had with the Red Sox Theology Watch last fall: Why no Patriots theology watch? I offer a simple explanation, as Mrs Philocrites and I prepare to head off to a Superbowl Party with a group of other clerical types: The Patriots will win. Theology requires at least a dark night of the soul or a passage through the valley of the shadow of death — something Red Sox fans know well — but it doesn't take anything but common sense to root for the Pats.

On the other hand, QB Tom Brady may have jinxed the whole thing by being a prop for the squinty-eyed POTUS. But John Kerry is in a forgiving mood:

"The first thing I'll do when I'm president," Kerry said, "is pardon Brady for going to that State of the Union address."

("Kerry says campaign is striking fear in GOP," David L. Greene, Baltimore Sun 2.1.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 1, 2004, at 04:02 PM | 2 comments

Episcopal schism watch, continued.

How is the schism faring? Not so well in North Carolina ("Diocese rebuffs dissenters," Raleigh News) or Virginia ("Virginia Episcopalians avert split over gay bishop," Washington Post). Some valuable advice from the bishop of Virginia: "If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy" (Washington Times).

In northern Florida, the Episcopal diocese voted against joining the quasi-schismatic Network of the Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, but its new bishop vows not to ordain "fornicators" or sexually active gay people or to bless same-sex unions (Miami Herald). However, one central Florida congregation bailed out of the denomination, giving up its building and properties and casting its lot with the Anglican Mission in America.

Posted by Philocrites, February 1, 2004, at 01:01 PM | 1 comments

Kucinich: 'New Age, vegan Catholic.'

Beliefnet's second interview with a Democratic presidential candidate is with Rep. Dennis Kucinich. The world may divide into people who groove on what I'm about to quote and people (like me) who simply don't:

KUCINICH: I'm meditating now.

BELIEFNET: What do you mean?

KUCINICH: I'm meditating now. This conversation with you is a meditation.

BELIEFNET: Hmmm. How so?

KUCINICH: In that it is a constant flowing in and flowing out of spiritual principles, connection to thought, which is derived from spirit. It's the way I live every moment.

Although I too "live every moment" — being dead is such a drag — I find people who talk this way profoundly distracting: I want to open a window to let the steam out.

Posted by Philocrites, February 1, 2004, at 10:11 AM | 0 comments

Clark the preacher.

The Boston Globe writes about Wesley Clark's religion-inflected stump speech. Two key quotes:

"Lots of people can quote Scriptures, and lots of people can preach," Clark told a crowd of about 300 supporters in Sierra Vista, Ariz., yesterday. "But not everybody practices what they preach in life." . . .

"If you're more fortunate and more favored in life, then you should help those that are less fortunate . . . and that's what this Democratic Party does," he said Thursday in Oklahoma City.

The Globe summarizes:

As Clark pounds the Bible Belt for votes in the days before Tuesday's primaries and caucuses, he is talking about religion in deeply personal terms, using it to explain the rationale for everything from his tax-cut plan to his belief that the environment should be better protected.

On the stump, Clark mentions his Jewish father and Methodist mother, recalls going to a Baptist church three times on Sundays as a child, and reminisces about Wednesday nights spent at church-run spaghetti dinners. He's saying he'll allow Republicans to join his campaign without having to repent, and is occasionally telling crowds that he "accepted the Lord as my savior" at age 9.

Curiously, his conversion to Catholicism seems to have vanished. (For more on Clark's religious story, read this.)

("Playing preacher, Clark hits stump," Rick Klein Boston Globe 2.1.04)

Posted by Philocrites, February 1, 2004, at 08:44 AM | 0 comments

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