Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I'm angry now:
The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a 30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial."
The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that — like Jesus — the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.
According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples — among other minority constituencies — and is, therefore, too "controversial."
"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."
Apparently, NBC has rejected the spot for similar reasons.
I'm doubly mad. First, the ads — which I've written about before — are exemplary, direct statements of the UCC's theology. It's who they are trying to be. Isn't it amazing that one of the country's most venerable mainline denominations can't even buy the right to share its understanding of the Gospel? Second, it boggles the mind that the White House's grandstanding about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage could be invoked by a TV network as a reason to exclude any advertisement that even indirectly hints that gay people are welcome to go to church. Think about that for a second. A bit of constitutional law that hasn't so much as made it out of the House of Representatives and is years away from even potentially becoming the law is driving the network's advertising decisions now.
If you're curious about the limits of acceptable public discourse these days, here's the phrase you can't utter on national television: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." CBS and NBC, however, do.
Here's how to contact the networks, via Timoteo, who cribbed them from Focus on the Family:
The Boston Globe headline (over a Los Angeles Times story) did not please the Philocrites household: "US Church Urged to Repent." Midway through his article about the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent letter to the leaders of the world's Anglican churches, Larry B. Stammer writes:
[The Windsor Report] merely invited the US [Episcopal] church to express "regret" that its actions had caused consternation in many parts of the Anglican Communion. It also invited the church to undertake a self-imposed moratorium on similar ordinations in the future.
But Williams said yesterday that apologies were not enough, taking up a stand expressed earlier by several irate African bishops, who demanded that the US church repent.
Williams did not spell out whether he hoped the US church would cease ordaining gay men and lesbians as bishops. However, in church theology, repentance is understood to mean more than an apology. It means endeavoring to change direction and not to commit the same offense again.
"An apology may amount only to someone saying, 'I'm sorry you feel like that,' and that doesn't go deep enough," Williams wrote in a letter to the world's Anglican primates to mark the beginning of the Advent season, the period of repentance before Christmas.
"If it is true that an action by one part of the communion genuinely causes offense, causes others to stumble, there is need to ask, 'How has what we have done got in the way of God making himself heard and seen among us?" Williams wrote. "Have we bound on other churches burdens too heavy for them to bear, reproaches for which they may suffer? Have we been eager to dismiss others before we have listened?"
Stammer gives no indication at all that Williams also addressed African bishops, conservative Anglicans, and others. No repentance for them! It's as if Williams, who used to be known as a liberal orthodox theologian, had somehow decided that Archbishop Akinola is simply right when it comes to doctrine and biblical interpretation.
And yet other news coverage picked up a very different angle of the story, which Stammer doesn't mention at all. Reuters, for example, heads its story, "Anglican Leader Warns Churches on Gay Hate Message." The lede:
Anglican Church head Rowan Williams has warned church leaders that criticism of gay people could make them vulnerable to persecution or suicide.
Wow! That's a different angle! The story goes on to quote Williams:
"Remember that in many countries such people face real persecution and cruelty; even where there are no legal penalties, they suffer from a sense of rejection," Williams said in a copy of the letter released by his Lambeth Palace office.
"Young people are driven to suicide by the conviction that no one will listen to them patiently; many feel that they are condemned not for their behavior but for their nature," he added.
"Any words that could make it easier for someone to attack or abuse a homosexual person are words of which we must repent."
Huh! So repentance isn't just for liberal Americans who believe gay people have a legitimate place in the church. It's also for hatemongers in high places. But before the story settles into one news niche or the other — liberals wrong! conservatives heartless! — it would be extremely wise to take a step back.
I'd urge you to read Williams's pastoral letter itself, rather than depend on secular news summaries that arrive a bit quickly at political conclusions. Whether Williams is siding with conservatives or liberals is not, in the end, the most important question about this story; the really interesting question is whether he is providing theological language and reasoning that could help the church stay together. A further question is whether the Anglican Communion — a very loose federation in the first place — needs to "stay together" at all.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Over Thanksgiving, a few of us took up the really important question of which photo of yours truly belongs on the front page here at Philocrites. If you haven't had your say yet, please cast your vote!
What a way to start the week, especially when it's not "Poetry Month"! Slate has three articles about poetry today: Adam Kirsch says Derek Walcott is the greatest living English-language poet; James Longenbach says Richard Wilbur is an "overlooked master"; and Dan Chiasson says Anne Winters is both baroque and devotedly Marxist. I have never heard of Winters before, but I have loved Wilbur's poetry for many years.
As for Walcott: He was one of three poets Mrs Philocrites and I went to see at a panel discussion and reading at Boston University earlier this fall. (The others were poetry rock star Robert Pinsky and visiting poetry demigod Adam Zagajewski.) We were embarrassed not to have purchased a copy of Walcott's new book yet, especially when we saw that everybody who wasn't chatting with Pinsky was standing in line for Zagajewski's signature. But The Prodigal was my birthday present last month, and so I am finally getting up to speed with Walcott, too.
Who's your favorite poet? I'm partial to Wislawa Szymborska; Mrs Philocrites has been on a Robert Lowell and George Herbert kick lately.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Driving home from New Jersey yesterday, Mrs Philocrites and I heard a wonderful, inspiring story on NPR. (You can listen to it on-line.) The pediatric ward at Boston Medical Center brought a team of lawyers onto their staff when they realized that many of the health problems that afflict low-income children are caused or exacerbated by social problems that low-income parents can't address without legal help.
The young, idealistic lawyers spend their days in the pediatric ward, essentially on-call to identify ways to apply legal solutions to some of the patients' problems. One case — which involved almost 1,000 hours of legal work over many months — ended up suing the landlord of a grossly unhealthy apartment, followed by legal intervention on behalf of the family when the apartment was condemned and the family was evicted, and then by further legal intervention when the two parents (who both work long hours as janitors) turned out to make a few hundred dollars too much to qualify for a homeless shelter. In the end, the pediatric lawyers had to fight creatively and persistently for the family's access to all sorts of services that the law says are their right — but which almost no poor families can access on their own. The girl whose serious health problems launched the whole cycle of legal intervention is now healthy, and her family lives in a much better apartment. The doctors succeeded because lawyers intervened as well.
I thought it was one of the most inspiring news stories I've heard in a very long time. What especially struck me was the creative thinking of one of the pediatricians, who first recognized that an unlikely partnership with lawyers could help solve specific health problems by addressing a broader range of social problems. Other city hospitals are now trying to establish similar programs, and although the lawyers' salaries are low, the chance to make a real difference in the lives of people in need clearly appeals to many new lawyers.
Programs like this need several things: Funding, obviously, from government programs and charitable foundations; creative thinking from several different sorts of professionals (doctors, lawyers, and medical administrators, in this case); and government services for poor people (like the Section 8 housing the family qualified for in the end, the homeless shelter that accommodated them when they were evicted from their apartment, and the emergency medical care that the hospital provided the young girl at the very beginning of the story).
There may be ways that you or people you know could bring together diverse talents and expertise to make a real difference in people's lives. My church's Jericho Road Project is another inspiring example of such creative thinking, bringing upscale Concord's professionals into partnerships with nonprofit groups and small businesses in Lowell, a nearby economically struggling city. I'd love to hear other stories of similar partnerships.
As noted in my Scrapbook back in October, the Catholic bishop of Vermont is spooked by the flu. He has formally asked the priests in his diocese to withhold the communion chalice from their congregations until Easter and to discourage people from shaking hands during the peace. The New York Times catches up with the story today, and adds some medical analysis:
Dr. Arnold S. Monto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said there was no evidence that the ban would actually stop transmission of the flu. Sitting in a pew with a sick person for an hour is probably riskier than the kind of contact covered by the edict, Dr. Monto said.
Bishop Kenneth Angell is apparently the only U.S. Catholic bishop to urge such precautions. ("Bishop Acts to Keep the Flu From the Flock," Katie Zezima, New York Times 11.28.04, reg req'd)
Saturday, November 27, 2004
I've got to hand it to Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches, James Forbes of the Riverside Church, and C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance. They have rather consistently been attracting media attention for the last month or two, even though the story they are telling hasn't really changed or generated actual news: The religious left is finding its voice again. That's a welcome message, but even more welcome is the fact that they keep finding ways to get yet another journalist to put it into print.
("From Left, Religious Figures Make a Push," Glen Johnson, Boston Globe 11.27.04)
Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of politics and media at the American University in Washington, writes that the new "silent majority" in American culture is made up of baby boomers and their kids: people who have largely adopted the live-and-let-live liberalism of the sixties. The resurgent and triumphant Christian right, he says, is not really resurgent but is actually waning in numbers and influence. On religion, for example:
"The Great Indecency Hoax" is classic Frank Rich. How is it, he asks, that no one complained to ABC or the FCC about Monday Night Football's skanky promotional spot for "Desperate Housewives" until fully 24 hours had passed? Sure, it may be that Rush Limbaugh was so "stunned" that he couldn't find words for his outrage until Wednesday. But it almost makes you think that people weren't actually outraged by what they saw, but by what they were told they saw. More on that in a moment.
First, however, this gem:
The hypocrisy embedded in this tale is becoming a national running gag. As in the Super Bowl brouhaha, in which the N.F.L. maintained it had no idea that MTV might produce a racy halftime show, the league has denied any prior inkling of the salaciousness on tap this time — even though the spot featured the actress playing the sluttiest character in prime time's most libidinous series and was shot with the full permission of one of the league's teams in its own locker room. Again as in the Jackson case, we are also asked to believe that pro football is what Pat Buchanan calls "the family entertainment, the family sports show" rather than what it actually is: a Boschian jamboree of bumping-and-grinding cheerleaders, erectile-dysfunction pageantry and, as Don Imus puts it, "wife-beating drug addicts slamming the hell out of each other" on the field.
Ah, Bosch for the masses! But here's the serious news in Rich's column:
But there's another, more insidious game being played as well. The F.C.C. and the family values crusaders alike are cooking their numbers. The first empirical evidence was provided this month by Jeff Jarvis, a former TV Guide critic turned blogger. He had the ingenious idea of filing a Freedom of Information Act request to see the actual viewer complaints that drove the F.C.C. to threaten Fox and its affiliates with the largest indecency fine to date — $1.2 million for the sins of a now-defunct reality program called "Married by America." Though the F.C.C. had cited 159 public complaints in its legal case against Fox, the documents obtained by Mr. Jarvis showed that there were actually only 90 complaints, written by 23 individuals. Of those 23, all but 2 were identical repetitions of a form letter posted by the Parents Television Council. In other words, the total of actual, discrete complaints about "Married by America" was 3.
Outrage is an entertainment industry, too.
Friday, November 26, 2004
Here's an important article in the Times profiling Phil Burress, the Ohio anti-pornography crusader who led the state's rapid and extremely effective campaign to put a gay marriage ban in the state constitution. Note two things: His persistence and his focus on organizational development. Obviously the article advances Burress's view of his own importance, so add a grain of salt, but it nevertheless offers a good "know your enemy" tale.
Mr. Burress became a Paul Revere for the movement against same-sex marriage, not only sounding warnings across the land but also laying the groundwork for a church-based conservative movement that he hopes will transform Ohio politics for years to come.
By January 1996, he had helped organize a meeting of Christian conservatives where a program to combat same-sex marriage was devised. By that fall, they had persuaded Congress and President Bill Clinton to enact legislation defining marriage as between a man and a woman. [What we don't learn here, however, is what that program involved, how much money it required, and what sort of organizational structure it needed to put enough pressure on Congress to pass this bill.]
Within four years, more than 30 state legislatures had followed suit. And on Election Day this month, voters in 11 states, including Ohio, overwhelmingly passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.
Mr. Burress's organization gathered 575,000 signatures to put the Ohio measure on the ballot in fewer than 90 days, then helped turn out thousands of conservative voters on Election Day. [That's the story I want to know more about.] Their support is widely viewed as having been crucial to President Bush's narrow victory in that swing state. . . .
Just days after their thundering victories in the fall elections, Mr. Burress and other Christian conservative leaders met in Washington to discuss next year's constitutional amendment battles, which will focus on about 10 states, including Arizona, Florida and Kansas. They hope those fights will be the prelude to their real goal: amending the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, which could take years.
Beyond that, Mr. Burress plans to take his grass-roots movement in Ohio to a new level, using a computer database of 1.5 million voters to build a network of Christian conservative officials, candidates and political advocates.
He envisions holding town-hall-style meetings early next year in Ohio's 88 counties to identify issues, recruit organizers and train volunteers. With a cadre of 15 to 20 leaders in each county, he says he believes religious conservatives can be running school boards, town councils and county prosecutors' offices across the state within a few years.
"I'm building an army," Mr. Burress said. "We can't just let people go back to the pews and go to sleep."
Make sure to read the rest. ("After Victory, Crusader Against Same-Sex Marriage Thinks Big," James Dao, New York Times 11.26.04, reg req'd)
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
What shall we do to while away the time over Thanksgiving? I know: Let's pick a picture of Philocrites to add to the site. Plus: A caption contest!
I'm exploring the Hartford Institute for Religion Research Web site — as I know you'll want to — and just have to cheer for a stray tidbit that warms the hearts in the Philocrites household. In David A. Rozen's three-year-old report, "Four Mega-Trends Changing America's Religious Landscape," I'm pleased to read that "we find higher levels of vitality among the more expressive denominations (e.g., Episcopal and Unitarian Universalist with old-line Protestant) than among the more cognitive (e.g., Presbyterian and UMC with old-line Protestantism)." We could spend a lot of time unpacking the meaning of the various distinctions in this observation, but since it's Thanksgiving Eve, I'll just give thanks that Mrs Philocrites (the household Episcopalian) and I (the household Unitarian) are plugging for the dynamic old-line Protestant groups. Alleluia! (You may now be seated.)
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
I will not be God-whipped. For a start, it is not at all clear that the "values" analysis of George W. Bush's reelection is correct . . . Moreover, the "faith" that is being praised as the road to political salvation, the Bush ideal of religion, is a zealous ignorance, a complacent renunciation of proof and evidence and logic and argument, as if the techniques of reason were merely liberal tools. . . .
The faith fetish, the belief in belief, is an insult not only to the mind, but also to the soul. For there are many varieties of faith, and the "faith" of the Republicans, which does not grasp the old distinction between fideism and faith, represents only one of those varieties. Not all religion in America is as superstitious and chiliastic and emotional and dogmatic and political as this. And not all religion in America is as Christian as this. When the spokesmen for Bush's holy base call for the restoration of religion to a central position in public life—for the repeal of the grand tradition of mutually beneficial separation that began with Roger Williams's heroic alienation from the theocracy of Massachusetts—they are usually calling for the restoration of their religion.
. . .
The liberal conscience is not a human failing. It is another kind of conscience. It has reasons. It is a thing of principle, not a thing of taste. The religious right complains of liberal condescension, and often properly; but then it condescends to liberalism by reducing it to class or to culture, and by regarding it not as a moral creed but as a moral corruption. The offense that religious conservatives regularly take from secular liberals is a little ridiculous. Why do they care so much about our disapproval? They are also in the business of disapproval. The truth is that this kind of conservatism is sustained by its feeling of victimization. Grievance makes it glad. It allows the right to combine the power of a majority with the pity of a minority.
. . .
The belief in God does not guarantee the knowledge of God's wishes. This is the most elementary lesson of the history of religious faith. The believer lives in the darkness more than he lives in the light. He does not wallow in God's guidance, he thirsts for it. And when God's guidance comes, it does not take the form of policy recommendations, unless he has created his God in the image of his desire. What deity is this, that has opinions about preemption and taxation and Quentin Tarantino? In this regard, there is no more ringing refutation of the religion of George W. Bush than the religion of Abraham Lincoln. "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other," Lincoln proclaimed at the beginning of his second term, and in the middle of a war. "The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully." For Lincoln, his party was not God's party; or rather, the other party was as much God's party as his party was. And he explained this repudiation of human certainty this way: "The Almighty has his own purposes." He did not know what they were, he knew only that they were. Beware the politicians, and the politics, that know more.
See also editor Peter Beinart's column, "Morally Correct" (11.29.04).
If someone (say, the editorial director for one of the country's largest newspaper chains) should happen to suggest that conservative Christians are being unfairly persecuted and called hateful things like "the Christian right" (Gasp! Has it come to that? The indignity!), well, I'd just like to point out that those of us over here in Gomorrah are partly responding to things like the aggressive chauvinism of self-proclaimed Christian bulldogs like radio host, jock theologian, and shark master Doug Giles:
As I see it, a Christian without a Pit Bull Attitude is a Poodle Christian. What a terrible fate, to be a poodle Christian. A pit bull Christian is a hero and a champion, braver than the bravest, one who laughs at difficulties, dangers, and death.
The poodle Christian runs to his air-conditioned doghouse when it starts to get “hot in the kitchen.” Sweetie poodle Christians fear they might lose the curl in their hair if they get too close to the flame . . . too close to the front of the major spiritual and moral battles of the day. Therefore, the poodle Christians choose to hang out within the stained-glass-tinted windows of the Church instead of going out into the real world to confront secular monsters. Yes, the call to battle always seems to find them at covered-dish dinners. . . .
It’s time to put down our pusillanimous poodle proclivities and start taking onboard a pitbull-esque tenacity . . .
(Ha ha ha! I bet the poodles love organ music and choirs, too. I can't wait until the great and terrible day of the Lord when Superjock Jesus kicks the meek in the ass. That will be awesome! And don't you just love conservative alliteration?)
You're right, Scripps Howard editorial policy director Jay Ambrose: "Evangelicals can be liberal and they can be conservative, and even the conservatives are not all of one mind about political issues, although most certainly believe in assisting the poor and probably none wants a theocracy." When I condemn the "Christian right," though, I'm not thinking of you and your poodle friends ("who could be described as literalists on such matters as the virgin birth of Christ and who are also extremely well-read and sophisticated"); I'm talking about the pit bulls — and the national political party that sends flyers to several states claiming that liberals want to ban the Bible. The world has surely never seen people as marginalized and oppressed as conservative Christian white guys. Poor babies. If we had known how easily your feelings could be hurt, we would never have called you Christians in the first place.
Monday, November 22, 2004
In the latest 24-hour period here at Philocrites Enterprises, we have recorded 217 separate comment-spam incidents. All but 30 or so were blocked right away by the ever-vigilant MT-Blacklist program. The others I caught in three separate waves and banned manually. The spam rate was so intense early this morning that my host company shut down all scripts for a while (which I learned while trying to comment unsuccessfully on my own site).
One thing this means for you, dear reader, is that the growing Blacklist database — with its 2,492 miscreants — is slowing down the site's speed. When you try to comment, you may notice a considerable delay between the time you click "Post" and the time the screen refreshes with your comment published for all the world to see. Please be patient. I may explore some new technologies for the site during my Christmas break, but I don't really have the patience for learning a whole new system. I have changed one thing, however: From now on, clicking "Comments" won't open a pop-up window; you'll be taken to the individual entry page where you can make your comment. (I understand this can help discourage the spam robots.) Thanks for your patience — and your thoughtful comments!
It's membership reporting season for Unitarian Universalist congregations! The numbers are slowly trickling in, and regular Philocritic RevThom has joined the crew at Coffee Hour to review the numbers as they come in. With five — count 'em, five! — congregations reporting, membership is up by eight. Don't say I never brought you good news.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Massachusetts state senator Jarrett Barrios — my senator! — is quietly marrying his partner Doug Hattaway this afternoon at an undisclosed church in Cambridge (last item). Congratulations!
Thanks to GetReligion, I now know about the O.C.-inspired holiday Chrismukkah. Merry Mishmash, everybody! Bonus chalice points to anyone who finds a Unitarian Universalist congregation that plans to celebrate the season using this new name. Super bonus points to the congregation that finds a way to squeeze "kwan" or "zaa" into the name, too. Triple super bonus points to the congregation that shoehorns "sol" or "stice" in as well. And the grand prize will go the congregation that finds a way to do all this and hold a Chrismukwankahstice Eve candlelight service that never once uses the scaaary word "Jesus." Entries must point to congregations that are apparently not making fun of their attempt to be all things to all people; the congregation must be mishing and mashing in earnest. Entries may be submitted any old time.
Will it be Boston's own Arlington Street Church? I attended the worship service there two years ago tomorrow: Rabbi Berman preached a really fascinating sermon about the Jewish influence on the Pilgrims' feast day we now call Thanksgiving; weirdly, the choir performed a complete mass that day, with the "Credo" sandwiched between two halves of the Jewish sermon about Puritanism. In my experience, ASC is a UU church where the whole is somehow less than the sum of the parts, but your mileage — as in all things Unitarian Universalist — may vary.
American Christianity finally has something the British have enjoyed for a while now: Ironic evangelism! Ship of Fools, meet your American cousin, The Holy Observer. Think of it as The Onion on a mission for the Lord.
I bring The Holy Observer to your attention because it currently features an backhanded compliment to Thomas Jefferson, patron saint of Unitarian Universalist biblical criticism. The November "Church Sign of the Month" shows a photograph purportedly of a church sign in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rutland. The sign says:
BIBLE STUDY 7 PM
BRING BIBLE, SCISSORS
Ha ha! Oh those crazy liberals, picking and choosing from among the passages of Holy Scripture unlike true believers who weigh each and every verse with exactly the same measure of inspired profundity and contemporary applicability!
What does Thomas Jefferson have to do with this sign? He thought the New Testament had gotten a little contaminated over the years, and filled with Enlightenment common-sensical zeal, he set out to separate the "diamond from the dunghill." (He really did use scissors.) You can buy a copy of his ethics-only New Testament, edited by Forrest Church. Or you might read this essay, by yours truly, about Unitarian biblical interpretation in the nineteenth century, or this briefer essay, about William Ellery Channing's view of scripture. Or, after you finish laughing at the Church Sign of the Month, you can simply notice that the orthodox do exactly what the liberals do: They weigh one part of scripture against another in service to what their tradition and personal experience tell them is the heart and soul of the gospel. But liberals will admit it.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Speaking of anniversaries: The Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, minister of All Souls Church in Manhattan and perhaps the best-known Unitarian Universalist minister currently serving, appeared on "Good Morning America" today. Why? you ask:
One-hundred-twenty-five couples said "I do" all over again during "GMA's" vow renewal special in New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom. Those couples — who have been married for a total of 2,409 years and have 277 children between them — stood before members of the clergy and their family members and said they'd marry each other all over again.
Love isn't the only thing that brought 125 couples together to renew their vows, however. "While the couples were more than happy with just the opportunity to renew their vows, they knew a few would also win a second honeymoon on the Norwegian Dawn, one of the world's most luxurious cruise ships," ABC News reports. Because it's television and anything is possible on TV, they all won! After the crowd "went wild," Michael Bolton sang. It brings a tear to the eye, don't it?
Exactly a year ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court opened the way to civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples. The Boston Globe reports that Cambridge — my "fair city" — has granted marriage licenses to 577 same-sex couples since May 17, when the first licenses were granted; 310 of those licenses were granted in the first week. More:
In Boston, gay or lesbian couples made up 491 of the 2,365 couples who have applied for licenses since May 17, or 21 percent of the total. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, the percentage of gay and lesbian adults in Boston is probably no more than 10 percent, according to Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., and the author of the "Gay and Lesbian Atlas."
Some Boston marriages probably involve people coming to the city because it offered an accepting environment. Gates said the relatively high number of gay and lesbian couples getting married probably reflects pent-up demand. . . . [Probably?]
In Provincetown and Northampton, same-sex couples made up the majority of people who received marriage licenses in the last six months.
In Provincetown, 912, or 97 percent, of the 937 couples who have applied for licenses since May 17 are same-sex couples. In Northampton, 325, or 66 percent, of the 494 couples who got licenses were gay or lesbian.
In Provincetown, 225 of the same-sex couples applied for licenses during the first week after May 17, and in Northampton 114 did. Other cities and towns also had relatively high percentages of same-sex couples applying: In Somerville 32 percent of the applicants were gay or lesbian couples, and in Springfield the percentage was 12 percent.
Best wishes to all of you!
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Two unusually good posts on the Interdependent Web in the last 24 hours: For all my fellow politically disappointed city-dwellers, "America's Blue Urban Archipelago" (My Irony). For Unitarian Universalists involved in ministry with teens, "Adolescent (Denomi)nation" (Phil's Little Blog on the Prairie). And don't forget Chalicechick's ongoing blog reviews at Coffee Hour.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
During the Republican National Convention, literature and cultural studies professor Michael Bérubé put on his ironic participant-journalist hat and went native among the Republican fat cats in New York. (What better way to explode conservative mythology than parody?) Now that the Christian Right has coronated itself America's values czar, Bérubé has decamped to Colorado Springs, home of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, for some more ironic journalism. Be sure to note the distinction he discovers between Christian and CHRISTIAN.
Monday, November 15, 2004
James Carville on the Democrats' problem:
[B]y and large, our message has been we can manage problems, while the Republicans, although they will say we can solve problems, they produce a narrative. We produce a litany. They say, "I'm going to protect you from the terrorists in Tehran and the homos in Hollywood." We say, "We're for clean air, better schools, more health care." And so there's a Republican narrative, a story, and there's a Democratic litany. . . . We need to produce a narrative. We need to be more about solving problems as opposed to managing them, and I think it's going to be interesting to see how it comes out.
Mike Andreski writes in the comments to an earlier post:
Where can a UU who is almost in agony over the election get a UU perspective on dealing with this? I would like a dialog on how we can talk to fundies and move them back to the loving side of religious dialog, using their own language.
That's a tall order! But let's talk about it. We could start with Jake's discussion, "Liberalism Reframed," or we could share sermons and other materials that have helped us find new ways to seek dialogue in our divided culture. (My own caution would be that religious liberals have very limited prospects for persuading "fundies": I would recommend finding somewhat more moderate dialogue partners first.) Let's not dwell in agony, friends: How do you engage in real dialogue with politically conservative Christians in your families, workplaces, and communities?
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Jon Pareles reviews U2's new album and interviews Bono, who has always let religion course through his lyrics. (It goes without saying that Philocrites is a U2 fan.) Some religion highlights:
U2 is almost alone now among rock bands in its determination to merge lofty ambition and pop impact. With songs that determinedly blur divine and earthly love, seeking grace as often as romance, the band doesn't pander to vulgar impulses. Yet U2 has no interest in being a hipsters' cult band; it has always aimed for audiences that can fill arenas, where its music is most at home. "At our very best, at anyone's very best, the great rock bands could always make a pop 45," Bono insisted. . . .
"There's cathedrals and the alleyway in our music," Bono said. "I think the alleyway is usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and you're slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there's somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was somebody following you: It's God." . . .
Speaking just days after the American presidential election, which might have hinged on the votes of evangelical Christians, Bono said: "I don't talk about my faith very much, because the people you might want to talk with, you don't want to hang out with.
"To have faith in a time of religious fervor is a worry. And, you know, I do have faith, and I'm worried about even the subject because of the sort of fanaticism that is the next-door neighbor of faith. The trick in the next few years will be not to decry the religious instinct, but to accept that this is a hugely important part of people's lives. And at the same time to be very wary of people who believe that theirs is the only way. Unilateralism before God is dangerous."
"Religion is ceremony and symbolism," he added. "Writers live off symbolism, and performers live off ceremony. We're made for religion! And yet you see this country, Ireland, ripped over religion, and you see the Middle East. Right now, unless tolerance comes with fervor, you'll see it in the United States."
("U2: The Catharsis in the Cathedral," Jon Pareles, New York Times 11.14.04, reg req'd)
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Kevin Drum starts out by offering a simple, almost indisputable observation about the mainstream media's difficulty covering conservative American Christianity:
Whether or not the national press has a liberal bias in its actual reporting, it's indisputable that most of the reporters themselves are standard issue social liberals. Thus, while they may or may not approve of, say, radical environmentalists, they write about them anyway. Why? Because they're aware of them. They are, roughly speaking, part of their social circle. They are comprehensible. They make good copy.
For the most part, though, they don't write about radical Bible Belt Christians. Sure, there's an occasional piece when a judge smacks a two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments on his courthouse lawn, but that's about it. Why? I don't think it's so much a conscious decision, as Bob suggests, but rather that most reporters are barely aware they exist. Christian extremists are decidedly not part of their social circle, and writing about them is more akin to anthropology than reporting.
Then he offers what I find to be a terrifically useful insight into how it is that a group most of us hear almost nothing about turns out to be so much more powerful than, well, all the activist groups we do hear about:
But there's a bit more to it than that. Lefty extremists actively crave attention. They organize marches in cities, they chain themselves to redwood trees, they toss buckets of blood on women in fur coats. They want the national press to write about them.
Bible Belt Christians, by contrast, don't. For the most part, they are an insular group, sending their newsletters to each others, attending each others' conferences, and mobilizing voters in their own churches.
The result of all this is that most Americans are well aware of lefty extremism, even though the actual number of lefty extremists is fairly small. And to a lot of people, they look pretty scary.
But most Americans aren't well aware of Christian extremism. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson occasionally show up on morning chat shows, and sometimes they slip up and say something scary, but not often. Thus, when something like this screed by Frank Pastore shows up in the LA Times, readers are shocked. What they don't realize is that within their own fire and brimstone circles, this kind of talk is commonplace among Bible Belt Christians. And there are way more of them than there are members of the Earth Liberation Front.
Why are there more hard-right Christians than left-wing activists? One group concentrates on building a movement; the other concentrates on attracting the media. (Wait! Haven't I heard a version of this idea before?) Religious liberals and others who want to exert a long-term effect on American society should take note: The real challenge isn't generating a news story every now and then about the "religious left." The challenge is building a base.
Rich Barlow interviews Katherine Paterson, author of the marvelous children's book Bridge to Terabithia, about her faith — she is a Presbyterian — and the repeated efforts by conservative Christians to ban her book. (She'll speak here in Cambridge at a round-table discussion on religion in children's literature on Wednesday and at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square on Thursday.) I especially appreciated these observations:
An English writer, Jill Paton Walsh, is a good friend of mine and self-proclaimed atheist. And yet the spiritual passages of her books are so powerful that I doubt her atheism. I think she betrays a conviction that she does not consciously own.
What bothers me is how narrowly we define what is religious. We've been talking about the moral values of the past election. They were gay marriage and anti-abortion — "I'm [against] these two things, and therefore I'm a moral person." I just think that's tragic.
One law Jesus laid down is that we would love our neighbor as ourselves. I think loving your neighbor means believing that not one of those [estimated] 100,000 Iraqis who died was disposable. I believe that prolife means you do not believe in executing anybody for any crime. The abuse of children and the fact that children have no health insurance or not enough food — where are our moral values when we look at that picture?
("Culture War Grips Children's Literature," Rich Barlow Boston Globe 11.13.04)
Two illuminating paragraphs from a great letter to the editor in today's Boston Globe, by Kevin J. Morris of St. Albans, Vermont:
When Senator Kerry said during one of the debates that he didn't like to "wear his religion on [his] sleeve," he wasn't alone. Millions of Americans feel the same way. However, it has become a self-fulfulling prophecy — the more that believers from mainline churches shrink from talking about their faith in public and confine their "God talk" to their own churches on a Sunday morning, the more the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the world come to dominate the public face of religious discourse in the U.S. The more this happens, the more their numbers grow. And the more that happens, the easier it is for the media and a large segment of the public to think of them — and the Republicans they support — as the only ones concerned with faith and morals.
To say that Democrats have to learn to speak the language of faith is not to say that they need to become Republicans, any more than mainline churches need to become fundamentalist. Nor should they use the language of faith if they don't believe it. What it does mean is that if they do believe it, they shouldn't be afraid to talk about it.
Read that last paragraph again. If you're a religious person, gather a few people in your congregation to talk about expressing what's so important about your faith. Even if your faith — your fundamental commitments — aren't conventionally religious, practice talking about it. Write a letter to a friend or relative about it. Ask religious professionals for help. Join a community group or social justice organization where you can work with people who aren't from your religious community — and be willing to represent your values not only in your actions but also in your words. Subscribe to magazines and read books that give you new ways to think about and talk about your faith. But do not remain content to stand quietly by. Speak up for your beliefs; let people know why you live the way you do. If you believe it, don't be afraid to talk about it.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Dr Bruce Prescott, executive director of the Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, explains how the Southern Baptist Convention has been transforming its missionary work from preaching the gospel to seeking political power (via Jesus Politics):
For the past fifteen years many Baptists around the country have been sending a tithe of their tithes to the SBC to support missionaries who have dedicated their lives to sharing the gospel around the world. Throughout that time the Fundamentalists have been methodically dismantling the system supporting professional, career missionaries that made our work effective. They've been micromanaging missionaries until they resign in frustration, firing missionaries who could not conscientiously support their bibliolatrous theology, and selling off/closing down the system of schools and hospitals in foreign lands that we created to earn a hearing for the gospel. In place of the former system, the Fundamentalists have created a system designed for short-term evangelistic work by a workforce with rapid turnover. In brief, our mission boards have become a placement center where SBC seminary graduates receive a brief internship before being dumped back into our churches. SBC Seminaries and Mission Boards have become little more than Ferris wheels that indoctrinate our churches in Fundamentalist theology and political ideology.
Missions is the bait that keeps money flowing to the SBC, but the money has been systematically switched to efforts to oil a machine that can control the secular political life of this country. To see this happening, all you have to do is look at the size of the increases for the past fifteen years in the budgets of the SBC's Executive Committee and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
In a starring role: Jerry Falwell! Wouldn't it be something to have him back on the national stage again? The 21st century is something wondrous to behold.
Isn't it now obvious that the Christian right has been framing the election as a tribute to its own strength? And that the data don't really show what the Christian right wants the rest of us to believe? The AP's Will Lester writes:
Many Christian conservatives have sought to portray the election as validation for their emphasis on morality and the reason for President Bush's re-election. While it's true voters who picked Bush were more apt to cite morality as the reason, political analyst Thomas Mann said it's too simplistic to say that issue determined the winner.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Must read: Alan Cooperman's Washington Post article about the results of a new survey of American values sponsored by Pax Christi, Res Publica, and the Center for American Progress, "Liberal Christians Challenge 'Values Vote'" (11.10.04, reg req'd; via Tapped). Plus, some great suggestions for how liberal Christians can get more involved in the public conversation. For example:
Battling the notion that "values voters" swept President Bush to victory because of opposition to gay marriage and abortion, three liberal groups released a post-election poll in which 33 percent of voters said the nation's most urgent moral problem was "greed and materialism" and 31 percent said it was "poverty and economic justice." Sixteen percent cited abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage. . . .
Tom Perriello, an organizer at Res Publica, said the poll shows that "while there may be a solid 20 percent who are very focused on abortion and gay marriage, for most Americans of faith, there are other moral issues of greater urgency, and that's where the religious middle is." . . .
The answer to this "God gap," Perriello said, "is that progressives need to embrace the deep moral critique that people are looking for and make that case on poverty and Iraq, and not just try to talk more about God or outpace the Republicans on gay marriage or abortion."
This is so much smarter than the op-eds in this morning's Globe, where Stephen Prothero suggests the Democrats need only speak a different "vernacular" "shot through with biblical idioms." (Ah, calculated conversion!) Meanwhile, Robert Kuttner says it's still the economy, stupid, although maybe the "stupid" part will have to go. (Democrats, he says, simply need to "do a better job articulating pocketbook issues as values issues.") Both Prothero and Kuttner are responding to Thomas Franks's book, What's the Matter with Kansas?, but I think Prothero is closer to the mark when he acknowledges: "As anyone who has ever hugged an evangelical can tell you, red-state Americans are not confused about their economic interests. They are simply subordinating them to what they believe are more important matters."
The issue is not that Democrats should drift to the right or that presidential candidates should be (or pretend to be) Evangelicals. The issue is more substantial: It's the ability to present a deep moral critique of American society in terms people can grasp. Democrats would need to present a vision of American society, a whole that is larger than the sum of the Party's program proposals.
The new issue of the Christian Century quotes a rather extraordinary pledge of allegiance by June Alliman Yoder and J. Nelson Kraybill, president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary:
I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ,
And to God’s kingdom for which he died—
One Spirit-led people the world over, indivisible,
With love and justice for all.
That may be the shortest affirmation of Christian faith I've heard. Although I'm sure I'd have to spend some time explaining to my fellow Unitarian Universalists what each of the highly complex symbols in this statement mean to me — a task that will have to wait for another day — I nonetheless affirm all of it.
Tuesday, November 9, 2004
My friend Jake makes me think that the following post can easily be misunderstood as suggesting that liberals can calm down now about "moral values" and the need for a renewed conversation about religion on the left. Far from it! I've dashed off a clarification. As always, thanks for your comments!
The conventional wisdom has been amended. Here's E.J. Dionne Jr:
John Kerry was not defeated by the religious right. He was beaten by moderates who went — reluctantly in many cases — for President Bush. This will be hard for many Democrats to take. It's easier to salve those wounds by demonizing religious conservatives. . . .
Bush won not because there is a right-wing majority in the United States but because the president persuaded just enough of the nonconservative majority to go his way.
And here's some data that suggests that the Christian right — the highly politicized Evangelical movement — didn't really turn out for Bush in greater numbers than other groups this year. Catholics, however, did:
There was indeed a flood of evangelicals to the polls—but it now appears that the shift in the Catholic vote was just as important and, in crucial states, probably more so.
In addition, Bush also made gains among the moderately religious—and the secular—not just the heavy-duty religious voters who attend religious services weekly or more.
Bush’s strong performance among Catholics, it turns out, was crucial to his victory. Bush won Catholics 52%-47% this time, while Al Gore carried them 50%-46% in 2000. If Kerry had done as well as Gore, he would have had about a million more votes nationwide. According to Gallup Polls, only one Democrat since 1952 (Walter Mondale in 1984) lost the Catholic vote by this large a margin.
The Catholic impact was starker in key states. In Ohio, Bush got 55% of the Catholic vote in 2004 compared to just under 50% of them in 2000. That means a shift of 172,000 votes into the Republican column. Bush won the state by just 136,000 votes this year.
In Florida, Catholics made up 26% of the electorate in 2000. This year, they made up 28%. In 2000, 54% of Catholics went for Bush; in 2004, 57% of them voted for him. The combination of those two factors meant a gain of 400,000 voters in the Sunshine State—about Bush's margin of victory.
If you're looking for a silver lining to last week's eleven-state constitutional amendment bonanza banning gay marriage (with a vengeance), here's GLAD civil rights director Mary Bonauto and MassEquality campaign director Marty Rouse:
It's entirely too simplistic to pin Tuesday's national results on the fight for marriage equality. Even President Bush, obviously concerned about the moderate middle, came out in support of civil unions in the final days. Most significant, 62 percent of Americans left the polls favoring some sort of relationship recognition, from marriage to civil unions to domestic partnership. Many split their vote — voting for Bush but also favoring some recognition. Most of them came to that conclusion without the benefit of a deep and real dialogue on marriage. One could argue that they came to that decision in the midst of an onslaught of antigay rhetoric.
What we did learn from this election is that if voters have the opportunity to really explore the issue, they move toward marriage equality, not away from it. At a minimum, once they see how ending marriage discrimination affects their family, friends, and neighbors, they don't turn their backs on candidates or incumbents on this single issue.
Did the voters cite "moral values" as they left their polling places? Yes, but abortion and guns were cited more often than marriage, and it appears that those voters were equally troubled by the Viagra ads that play during "Everyone Loves Raymond." Cable television and its programming also took a big hit. Is it any surprise, then, that simplifying the results to marriage makes it easier if you happen to be an industry lobbyist in Washington or work with a right-wing institution?
And Paul Freedman explains that the gay marriage amendments probably had only a small impact on the presidential race, since the conservative groups that sponsored the amendments picked their fights carefully (just as, I might note, GLAD picked Vermont and Massachusetts carefully). Check out these numbers:
The evidence that having a gay-marriage ban on the ballot increased voter turnout is spotty. Marriage-ban states did see higher turnout than states without such measures. They also saw higher increases in turnout compared with four years ago. But these differences are relatively small. Based on preliminary turnout estimates, 59.5 percent of the eligible voting population turned out in marriage-ban states, whereas 59.1 percent turned out elsewhere. This is a microscopic gap when compared to other factors. For example, turnout in battleground states was more than 7.5 points higher than it was in less-competitive states, and it increased much more over 2000 as well.
It's true that states with bans on the ballot voted for Bush at higher rates than other states. His vote share averaged 7 points higher in gay-marriage-banning states than in other states (57.9 vs. 50.9). But four years ago, when same-sex marriage was but a twinkle in the eye of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Bush's vote share was 7.3 points higher in these same states than in other states. In other words, by a statistically insignificant margin, putting gay marriage on the ballot actually reduced the degree to which Bush's vote share in the affected states exceeded his vote share elsewhere.
Why did states with gay-marriage ballot measures vote so heavily for Bush? Because such measures don't appear on state ballots randomly. Opponents of gay marriage concentrate their efforts in states that are most hospitable to a ban and are most likely to vote for Bush even without such a ballot measure. A state's history of voting for Bush is more likely to lead to an anti-gay-marriage measure on that state's ballot than the other way around.
("Moderates, Not Moralists," E.J. Dionne Jr, Washington Post 11.9.04, reg req'd; "It Wasn't Just (or Even Mostly) the 'Religious Right,'" Steven Waldman and John Green, Beliefnet 11.9.04?; "Gay Marriage Is Not To Blame," Mary Bonauto and Marty Rouse, Boston Globe 11.9.04; "The Gay Marriage Myth," Paul Freed, Slate 11.5.04)
Timothy Noah notices the rebranding of the political-religious movement we used to know as the "Christian right" (and before that as the "religious right"). The politically right-wing Christian movement is now, voilá, the "conservative Christian" or "evangelical Christian" movement. But Noah writes:
The trouble with "conservative Christian" is that it confuses the question of whether an individual is conservative in his religious practice with the question of whether that person is conservative politically. (Much of the black church, for example, is conservative in the religious but not the political sense.) Similarly, there are politically liberal "evangelical Christians," and there used to be quite a lot more of them. (In Elisabeth Sifton's book The Serenity Prayer, a memoir of her father, the politically liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Sifton points out that Niebuhr was an evangelical Protestant.) Even fundamentalists (an evangelical subgroup whom Jennings, incidentally, conflated with the broader Christian right) have some political liberals among them. In ditching the term, "Christian right," Green summed up, the Christian right chose to associate itself with the pool of Christians from which it hopes to draw, not the folks who already belong.
I find it interesting that even among the "highly orthodox white evangelical Protestants" that Beliefnet calls the "religious right" (12.6% of the electorate; 70% are registered Republican; 44% live in the South), 9% call themselves politically liberal. Odd but true: There are probably a few progressives even on the Christian right! Equally intriguing: One-fifth of Beliefnet's "religious left" (also 12.6% of the electorate; 51% registered Democratic) consider themselves politically conservative.
Monday, November 8, 2004
Former Senator Gary Hart packs a lot into his New York Times op-ed, so I'm pulling out two themes that are woven through his essay:
- Hypocrisy: "[O]ne's religious beliefs — though they will and should affect one's outlook on public policy and life — are personal," he says, but when people in politics tells us what standards they hold themselves accountable to, we should hold them accountable:
Having claimed moral authority to achieve political victory, religious conservatives should be very careful, in their administration of the public trust, to live up to the standards they have claimed for themselves. They should also be called upon to address the teachings of Jesus and the prophets concerning care for the poor, the barriers that wealth presents to entering heaven, the blessings on the peacemakers, and the belief that no person should be left behind.
If we are to insert "faith" into the public dialogue more directly and assertively, let's not be selective. Let's go all the way. Let's not just define "faith" in terms of the law and judgment; let's define it also in terms of love, caring, forgiveness. Compassionate conservatives can believe social ills should be addressed by charity and the private sector; liberals can believe that the government has a role to play in correcting social injustice. But both can agree that human need, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and sickness must be addressed. Liberals are not against religion. They are against hypocrisy, exclusion and judgmentalism. They resist the notion that one side or the other possesses "the truth" to the exclusion of others.
- Idolatry: "America is a secular, not a theocratic, republic," he says. The problem with finding religious meaning in the nation-state is idolatry, although Hart calls it by the less theological term "theocracy": "There is also the disturbing tendency to insert theocratic principles into the vision of America's role in the world. . . . Neither Washington, Adams, Madison nor Jefferson saw America as the world's avenging angel." Casting the nation-state in such a role is idolatrous because it usually abandons self-criticism and humility in the process:
The religions of Abraham all teach a sense of personal and collective humility. It was a note briefly struck very early by Mr. Bush and largely abandoned thereafter. It would be well for those in the second Bush term to ponder that attribute. Whether Bush supporters care or not, people around the world now see America as arrogant, self-righteous and superior. These are not qualities of any traditional faith I am aware of.
If faith now drives our politics, at the very least let's make it a faith of inclusion, genuine compassion, humility, justice and accountability. In the words of the prophet Micah: "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good. What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" And, instead of "O man," let's insert "O America."
And now for something completely different: "The Gospel According to Disney." Mark I. Pinsky asks if there is "a consistent canon that constitutes a 'Disney gospel.'" Yup!
It is deceptively simple. Good is rewarded and evil punished. Faith is an essential element — faith in yourself and, even more, faith in something greater than yourself, some nonspecific higher power. That is, faith in faith. Optimism, combined with the Calvinist paradigm of hard work, is unfailingly rewarded with upward mobility.
Hmm, that's certainly not my faith — but I also don't have children, and haven't yet figured out how I would try to convey the "critical faith" of liberal Christianity to my kids through, say, animated films. But Pinsky says this Disney gospel does reflect another American religious perspective:
To some, the Disney gospel sounds a lot like secular humanism, a term that has become a pejorative in America's recent decades of culture war. For good reason. A 1954 Time magazine cover story on Walt Disney described him as "the poet of the new American humanism." Since 1937, viewers of the studio's animated features have been receiving a message with recognizable, if watered down, values. I call this Disney gospel "secular 'toonism."
Ironically, Walt's "godless" theology is conveyed through a manifestly theological vocabulary: words such as faith, believe, miracle, blessing, sacrifice, and divine. Evangelist Tony Campolo sees in Mickey Mouse an almost biblical presence, "a purely innocent creature. And he's never done anything sinful in his life. He's Adam before the fall."
("The Gospel According to Disney," Mark I. Pinsky, Boston Globe 11.8.04)
So, my Humanist readers, how does this presentation of "secular humanism" comport with your life philosophy?
Sunday, November 7, 2004
Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor of the left-wing Jewish magazine Tikkun) has been a front-row observer of the Left's religion problem for many years:
The hostility of the Left to spirituality is so deep, in fact, that when they hear us in Tikkun talking this way they often can't even hear what we are saying — so they systematically mis-hear it and say that we are calling for the Left to take up the politics of the Right, which is exactly the opposite of our point — speaking to spiritual needs actually leads to a more radical critique of the dynamics of corporate capitalism and corporate globalization, not to a mimicking of right-wing policies.
He urges progressives to build a "spiritual Left" by recognizing the power of religion in people's lives:
Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that "looking out for number one" has become the common sense of our society, but they want a life that is about something more — a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have material needs, and that they worry about adequate health care, stability in employment, and enough money to give their kids a college education. But even more deeply they want their lives to have meaning — and they respond to candidates who seem to care about values and some sense of transcendent purpose.
Many of these voters have found a "politics of meaning" in the political Right. In the Right wing churches and synagogues these voters are presented with a coherent worldview that speaks to their "meaning needs." Most of these churches and synagogues demonstrate a high level of caring for their members, even if the flip side is a willingness to demean those on the outside. Yet what members experience directly is a level of mutual caring that they rarely find in the rest of the society. And a sense of community that is offered them nowhere else, a community that has as its central theme that life has value because it is connected to some higher meaning than one's success in the marketplace.
It's easy to see how this hunger gets manipulated in ways that liberals find offensive and contradictory. The frantic attempts to preserve family by denying gays the right to get married, the talk about being conservatives while meanwhile supporting Bush policies that accelerate the destruction of the environment and do nothing to encourage respect for God's creation or an ethos of awe and wonder to replace the ethos of turning nature into a commodity, the intense focus on preserving the powerless fetus and a culture of life without a concomitant commitment to medical research (stem cell research/HIV-AIDS), gun control and healthcare reform, the claim to care about others and then deny them a living wage and an ecologically sustainable environment — all this is rightly perceived by liberals as a level of inconsistency that makes them dismiss as hypocrites the voters who have been moving to the Right.
Yet liberals, trapped in a long-standing disdain for religion and tone-deaf to the spiritual needs that underlie the move to the Right, have been unable to engage these voters in a serious dialogue. Rightly angry at the way that some religious communities have been mired in authoritarianism, racism, sexism and homophobia, the liberal world has developed such a knee-jerk hostility to religion that it has both marginalized those many people on the Left who actually do have spiritual yearnings and simultaneously refused to acknowledge that many who move to the Right have legitimate complaints about the ethos of selfishness in American life.
So what's to be done? Lerner has a lot of suggestions, but I want to emphasize the key point — the spiritual core of his recommendations:
Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil. Its time they got over that elitist self-righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the Right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson — that our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the earth — a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the center of a revived Democratic Party.
Amen to that. I would also add that for many of us, this work cannot be done outside of a commitment to a community of faith. Too many liberals feel like they're bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, and they would be immeasurably helped by finding a religious community that welcomes them and helps ground their commitments in a tradition and a face-to-face community.
There's good news and bad news. The good news — as I'll explain below — is that there's never been such traffic at Philocrites. Visitors and readers and new Philocritics galore! The bad news is, well, you know what the bad news is, so let's just say that Monty Burns is a very happy man.
Thanks for new links in October from Dissent into the Mind of a Teenage Pseudo-Intellectual (by "a 17-year-old Puerto Rican dude in the Bronx"), LDS Blog ("a latter-day blog dedicated to the standard of truth," chaired by my junior-high and high-school mate Brian Duffin), Living to the Left ("a heretical left-leaning political news blog"), and The Rational Radical ("Let justice be done, though the heavens fall," says this liberal Catholic with a moderate political bent; hmm, is the blog title ironic?). The Philocritics are all over the map, as you can see.
And now for the poll . . .
Saturday, November 6, 2004
Here are some lengthy excerpts from the liberal Mormon political scientist Russell Arben Fox's much longer assessment of the Democrats' religion problem. His central question — "What if what is necessary is not translating liberal political imperatives into an evangelical or culturally conservative idiom, but rather taking such faith seriously as a legitimate basis for thinking about politics, and drawing progressive concerns from it?" — seems exactly right to me.
Ought the Democratic party try to compete with the Republicans in being a "moral voice"? For many, to invite any sort of immersion in the ethics and habits of the red states is to poison the progressive cause entirely; it is to shake hands with the Ku Klux Klan, apologize to the Confederacy, wink at anti-gay bigotry, hand power over the inbreeds from Deliverance, and generally ruin everything civilization stands for. It is demographic talk like this that leads so many secular progressives to find great comfort in Ruy Teixeira's thesis (which I've never liked, and which doesn't seem to be panning out, so far anyway) that, eventually, all those blue-collar, rural (racist, moronic) Jesus freaks will die out, leaving the future to the secular, urban, multicultural, self-employed, high-tech (enlightened) creative class. (Either that, or it leads them to engage in fantasies about how much nicer America would be if only General Sherman had been more thorough in his march through the South.)
I couldn’t disagree more, though I recognize that the odds of such disagreement being heard when we have only two major parties to choose from, with no Christian socialist or culturally conservative social democrat option in sight, will be a long and difficult haul. And admittedly, the burden is primarily upon religious progressives like myself; one cannot reasonably expect secular liberals and desperate Democrats to take seriously as a ground for argument and actions the particularist beliefs and perspectives of a region of the country, and a class of the population, which has just thoroughly rejected them. . . .
First: there are, there have always been, there will always be, Christians whose beliefs lead them to be social conservatives and economic progressives. (For evidence, look here and here.) We exist, and we have no party to represent us. (The Democratic party once did, back in its working-class heyday, but respect for that kind of traditional authority has been declining ever since the 1970s.) What we need to do is work for the transformation of America’s political and party system, so that more venues can open up, and the death-grip which a warped, half-statist, half-libertarian, decidedly non-communitarian "conservatism" holds over "moral values" in America can finally be loosened. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it's something worth working for, and praying for. Second, and of greater relevance to this discussion: in the meantime, we need to continue to work towards making the Democratic party remember the lesson of Carter and Clinton, the lessons of respect.
After the way Kerry flogged his "faith" to no end on the campaign trail, it might be easy to dismiss this as a lost cause: the Republicans have grabbed religion, so let them have it. (After all, all that fire-and brimstone crap is just for the weak and superstitious, right?) One can point to the example of Amy Sullivan as evidence that there’s nothing new to be said here. I admire the hell out of Amy’s work, and have nothing but praise for it...but, if one honestly wishes to ask what sort of thinking could lead the Democratic party to start putting forward an agenda that shows some respect for the unavoidable fact that they live in a socially and culturally conservative country, then I think it may be worth noting that her primary campaign—to open up religious voters to progressive causes by helping progressives learn to make their case in religious language—may be backwards. What if what is necessary is not translating liberal political imperatives into an evangelical or culturally conservative idiom, but rather taking such faith seriously as a legitimate basis for thinking about politics, and drawing progressive concerns from it? It won’t be a liberalism which gives you abortion rights–but maybe it’ll give you health care. Isn’t that worth something?
Think about Bill Clinton. . . . he didn’t think religion was something he needed to condescend to. He shared that context. The lack of follow-through in legislative content can be forgiven if it at least begins with recognition and respect. Clinton certainly didn't outlaw abortion, and the dedicated anti-abortion professionals in America today certainly never gave him an inch of credit. But consider what happened at the margins, in the provinces, when Clinton declared when he accepted the Democratic nomination that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Rare. Meaning: it's a bad thing, aborting an unborn child; we ought to do less of it. The people who have or make it seem easy to have abortions when there's no call for abortion are in the wrong. That's called moral judgment, using the power of the office to define and order what American life ought and ought not be about. That swayed people—a few of them, anyway, enough to unite with the (not incidentally often socially conservative) African-American population of the South and thereby pick off a few states—because it showed some respect for how they had constrained and disciplined and thus made difficult their own lives, and thus allowed them to hear what this liberal politician had to say about taxes and medical care, because they knew it was out from someone who was willing to put themselves where they lived.
There's a lot more to ponder at In Media Res.
Ellen Goodman writes:
[I]f this is a cultural war, the Democrats came to it verbally unarmed. There was no larger moral framework for the war; just the promise to fight it better and smarter. The environment never made it onto the screen as central to the progressive "culture of life." Kerry voted for abortion rights but framed his support weakly. He sided with opponents of gay marriage, who opposed him anyway.
The economic language of "two Americas" that John Edwards had used was dropped like a hot liberal potato. The cultural reality of "two Americas" helped keep Bush in office.
It's not a news bulletin that progressives are often tongue-tied in talking about values. Thomas Frank went home to ask "What's the matter with Kansas?" and came back with a book explaining how economic populism had been replaced by cultural populism. George Lakoff's "Moral Politics" has become a handbook for progressives who need to understand the worldviews of right and left, the connecting threads of family and morality, and to reframe the debate on shared terms.
The blue candidates will never convert people who believe that homosexuality is a sin, or that the fertilized egg is a human being, or that evolution is a scam taught by secular humanists. But among the not-so-red voters are those who believe in legal protection for gay couples, who value a child with diabetes over a frozen embryo in a fertility clinic. They regard poverty as a moral issue and tolerance as an American value. They don't want their country racked by the fundamentalist religious wars we see across the world. And they need to hear the moral framework for these views.
Friday, November 5, 2004
A lot of liberals are really overreacting to the proposals being made by us "pro-religious" Democrats. The goal is not in any way to yank the Democratic Party over to the right. Nor is it a misbegotten attempt to convert hardened Evangelical activists into liberal Democrats. (As the Mad Hatter says to the White Rabbit, "Don't let's be silly!") The people we are trying to reach are simply church-going Americans who pay an average amount of attention to the political process and who have managed to pick up the impression that the Democrats are indifferent to or hostile to their faith commitments.
Maybe this seems obvious to a lot of people, but I think it can't be emphasized enough: Many moderate voters — who share Democrats' concerns on a wide range of issues — have been led to believe that good Christians don't vote Democratic. Those voters are the people the Party needs to reach.
From a religious perspective, of course, there are other things we religiously committed Democrats need to do — especially because some of us look for all the world like we have mistaken the Democratic Party platform for the gospel. But that's a subject for another post. For now, let's just be clear about the fact that the Democrats — and especially their fired-up brighter-than-thou activists — have not yet learned to communicate sympathetically with a lot of Democratically-inclined churchgoers. We're talking about millions of people here.
And before anyone complains that the world is sharply divided into enlightened secularists and benighted fundamentalists, please first review Beliefnet's "Twelve Tribes of American Politics."
(Posting will be light this weekend; I'll be attending the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship's "Revival 4" conference in Worcester.)
Thursday, November 4, 2004
My friend Jake, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Tennessee, posted the following essay in the comments. It deserves a place here on the front page:
I've never blogged before, but what started as a pastoral letter to my congregation has turned into what can only be called a rant. To spare them, I'm putting it here instead, and will start over with something gentler for them in the morning..... So, here goes...
I find great hope in what we hear from the election. Of course, my candidate didn’t win. And Bush’s radical agenda and strengthened political power strike me as dangerous. Here, in Tennessee, as the old blues song goes, “I feel like a stranger in my own home town.”
But here’s where I find hope: one in five voters cited “moral values” as the decisive factor in his/her vote. These voters were, yes, overwhelmingly, cultural conservatives. But still, they understood themselves to be acting morally. Where there’s an active conscience, there is hope. But liberals are a long way from being heard by these moral actors.
Conservatives often complain that liberals are contemptuous of them. From what I’ve seen, they’re right. In the liberal circles I’ve known, I mostly hear bafflement about conservatives—“why would they vote against their economic self-interest?”—followed by scorn. Too often, liberals consider conservatives “selfish” on taxes, “backwards” on religion, and “stupid” or “blind” on the facts. Is this contempt worthy of half of our fellow Americans? Skipping from bafflement to scorn strikes me as intellectually lazy and politically ineffective.
What if liberals followed bafflement with honest curiosity? What if we really wondered how a conservative understood his vote, or her values? Painful as it is, maybe this election will summon the humility needed to seek understanding.
This year, the best thinker to help me understand conservatives has been George Lakoff, a linguist at UC-Berkeley. To wade through his heavy stuff, read "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think." For an easier read, get "Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate." His thinking is also on the web, at the George Soros-funded Rockridge Institute.
For here, I’d like to sum up his thought, and then say where I see the opportunity for religious liberals.
Lakoff says that liberals and conservatives differ in two ways: how they address issues, and the family-model from which they find meaning.
First, how they address issues. Liberals use facts and policies; conservatives use “frames.” Frames are metaphorical ways of thinking about complex matters. For example, our vast, diverse nation is sometimes spoken of in terms of “family.” While not literally a “family,” the concept makes intuitive sense, and captures much of the complexity of our relationships to each other. Speaking in terms of frames works. Conservatives know this; liberals don’t.
For instance: taxes. Liberals can harp on about how the Bush tax cuts drive up the deficit, they can repeat that the “top 1% got tax cuts,” etc., till they’re blue in the face. But conservatives frame the issue in one phrase—“tax relief”—and win it in a cake-walk. Why? Because, says Lakoff, embedded in the phrase “tax relief,” is the immediate suggestion that there is an affliction needing relief. What is the affliction? Taxes. Once people start using the phrase “tax relief,” it becomes very difficult to argue why you would want to increase this affliction.
How could liberals metaphorically frame the issue of taxes? Well, says Lakoff, they could talk about taxes as investments, drawing social and economic dividends. Or, in terms of patriotism—everyone paying his or her fair-share dues.
The point is this: “frames” trump “facts,” “metaphor” beats “argument,” and “vision” beats “plan.” Concrete language is the expression of good thinking; abstract thinking loses listeners and voters. No pretense of objectivity here, or rational cost-benefit analysis; this is values-based, meaning-based politics. Straight to the heart.
Lakoff’s second point is that liberals and conservatives are both organized around the metaphor of family, but understand the ideal family differently. Lakoff calls the conservatives’ family model the “Strict Father.” The liberals’ model is the “Nurturant Parent.”
The “Strict Father” values obedience, moral order, discipline, self-reliance, punishment as a form of “tough love,” clear sense of “right” and “wrong,” and many other things that would strike you as intuitively "conservative."
The “Nurturant Parent” values empathy and responsibility, fulfillment, community, cooperation, and many things that seem familiarly "liberal."
In one debate, the asides between Bush and Kerry about their daughters illustrate the two models. Chuckling, Bush said something like, “Well, you have to put a leash on them,” and Kerry replied, “I’ve learned not to do that with mine.” Different parenting styles, different guiding values, different idealized family model.
Lakoff says that, while conservatives have been honing their message in well-funded think-tanks for three decades now, liberals are all over the map, without guiding metaphors or themes. It’s not that so many more U.S. citizens have the “strict father” mentality; it’s that the issues have been clearly and effectively framed from the conservative standpoint. Liberals need to articulate their values, says Lakoff. Incidentally, in his post-mortem today, Slate Magazines’ William Saletan encourages the Democrats to do this, as well.
So, we need to do two things. First, rather than heaping scorn upon conservatives who “just don’t understand,” as liberals, we need to understand that they mean it when they say they are voting their values. Understanding them, and taking them at their word, means living out our own value of empathy. It also means getting to know our neighbors, not holing up in some liberals-only enclave.
Secondly, we need to learn how to articulate our own values in metaphors, and then learn how to reframe the debate. Using conservative terminology and frames—"tax relief," "partial-birth abortion," etc—we’ve already lost it.
I don’t yet know the compelling metaphors that will give voice to our values the best. But the work is before us. This is where I find hope in the election. If it is true that people are thinking and acting morally—all of us, not just those who voted like us—then there is hope for persuasion, and change.
In the next four years, no doubt there will be cause to protest, to take to the streets. But perhaps a more important role for the liberal church will be to do the intellectual and soulful work of articulating and sharing our values. To do this effectively will mean using frames and metaphors. Being poets whose words move people’s hearts. Sad as it is to say, Bush and the Republicans have been such stirring poets. This is the lesson of the political landscape.
Luckily, the same work needs to be done in the religious sphere, too. It may be connected to Bill Sinkford’s “language of reverence,” and is definitely connected to the current Commission on Appraisal’s “Theological Unity Amidst our Diversity.”
Translating concepts into metaphors is the work of moving the liberal church into the post-liberal age. When and if we can do this, we will have found a voice that will resound through our cities—even in Tennessee!—and throughout the whole country.
This election is dispiriting, but it was one of our very own ancestors, Theodore Parker, who said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Friends, he was right.
Wednesday, November 3, 2004
Shall I pledge allegiance to the prez? Jeff Jarvis urges his fellow citizens to repeat after him in patriotic magnanimity:
I promise to... Support the President, even if I didn't vote for him..... Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him..... Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better.... Unite as a nation, putting country over party, even as we work together to make America better.
Hmm. I first read Jarvis's pledge when I thought Kerry might walk away with a solid majority, and didn't much feel like endorsing it then. I feel less inclined to endorse it now. Why?
"Support" is such a tricky word. I will certainly acknowledge Bush's victory and will recognize his legitimate occupancy of the White House. When I talk about President Bush, I won't type put "president" in quotes. He's president of my country. I accept that.
But a covenant goes two ways — and the pledge Jarvis offers us involves another party who also has a pledge to make. We citizens are bound by law and tradition to respect our elected leaders, and they are bound by law and tradition to respect us as citizens. That's a two-way street. So long as President Bush holds his constitutional office, he and I are bound to each other as president and citizen — and that covenant sets up conditions for our conduct toward each other. In a democratic republic, of course, his legitimacy as a leader depends on the trust he earns from the citizenry; he can fulfill the obligations of the covenant, or he can ignore them.
And this is where I have my doubts about Jarvis's pledge. I don't believe President Bush has honored his side of the deal over the last four years. I don't believe he has shown much interest in reaching out to his opponents or beyond his politically calculated base. I find it hard to imagine why he would start now.
And yet I fully intend to hold him to the pledge he made this afternoon:
America has spoken, and I'm humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens.
With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans. And I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as your president.
Reaching these goals will require the broad support of Americans. So today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us.
I will do what I can to support the president's ability to fulfill his pledge to "serve all Americans." I will criticize his failures to fulfill that pledge. That's the pledge I was planning to make to President Kerry. (And let me begin today! I do not support some of the goals Bush claims will require "the broad support of Americans," like his outrageous tax proposals. You want my support? Meet me halfway.) I will insist that our leaders remember that they serve us and our commonweal; we do not serve them or their agenda. And that, my friends, is the support I pledge to the president.
Consider this an open thread for reactions to Senator Kerry's concession speech and the meaning of the election for political liberalism and religious liberalism. If I have time, I'll post some of my own responses later this evening.
Eating popcorn and drinking Merlot — red state or blue state? you tell me! — just isn't absorbing my distractedness tonight, so it's time for additional amusements. So I'm collecting weird lines from Dan Rather's CBS election coverage: "As thin as November ice." "Does it make your fingernails sweat?" "As thin as carrot soup." "Like a swan: Every feather above water calm and in place, but underwater everyone paddling like crazy and worried about Ohio." What are your favorite Ratherisms?
Tuesday, November 2, 2004
Mark Shields, speaking on PBS about the richness of exit polling data, just described the fineness of the detail by saying you can identify "left-handed Unitarians against the metric system." Ha ha! I think I know those people . . .
This photo — along with one of pitcher Curt Schilling campaigning with President Bush — appeared on the front page of this morning's Boston Globe. Here in the Hub, if it ain't about the Red Sox, it ain't news!
1. Vote. Soon.
'Why?,' you ask.
Michael Bérubé puts Kerry's support in historical context:
Aside from LBJ and FDR, no Democratic nominee for President has taken office with more than 51 percent of the popular vote since . . . when?
Not even close!
C’mon, think back, think back, think hickory . . . yes, that’s right, it’s Andrew Jackson!
Unreal, no? But true. Clinton never cracked 51; neither did Carter, Kennedy, Truman, Wilson, or Cleveland, or of course Tilden, who didn’t take office for some reason. Pierce and Van Buren came close. To reprise:
Clinton 1996: 49.2
Clinton 1992: 42.9
Carter 1976: 50.1
Kennedy 1960: 49.7
Truman 1948: 49.7
Wilson 1916: 49.4
Wilson 1912: 41.9
Cleveland 1892: 46.1
Cleveland 1888: 48.8 (lost electoral vote)
Cleveland 1884: 48.5
Tilden 1876: 51.0 (lost electoral vote thanks to Katherine Harris)
Buchanan 1856: 45.3
Pierce 1852: 50.9
Polk 1844: 49.6
Van Buren 1836: 50.9
Jackson 1832: 55.0
The point should be clear: Kerry needs your vote, wherever you are. There are no safe states. Everything hinges on getting out every last damn vote in every last damn precinct in the land. We will take the Electoral College, folks, but we also need to do what no Democrat save for LBJ and FDR has done since the Democrats were the party of slavery.
Let’s get Kerry 51.5 or more.
Popular vote majority: it’s up to you!!