Monday, April 24, 2017

Ross Douthat's Sermon on Religions for Liberals And Echidne's Counter-Sermon

(This post consists of a coleslaw of thoughts.  I'm trying to write myself out of my blogger's block.)


Did you read Ross Douthat's advice in his Easter Sunday column to all those secular liberals (1)?  That they should go back to church, back to their Protestant roots, so that the so-called Mainline churches could be saved?

Our Ross would prefer all of us to join his type of extreme Guy-Catholicism, of course, because that's the only narrow door to salvation, according to him.  But if secular lefties cannot go quite that far, then they should go back to their wishy-washy loving-kindness churches which are currently suffering  from graying and diminishing congregations.

Why Ross would want that I don't know.  I'm guessing that he had a deadline and had to write something appropriate for Easter, because he also states this:

As a conservative Catholic, I have theories about how this collapse reveals the weaknesses of liberalism in religion.
Let me guess:  Ross likes the war or thunder god of the Old Testament and the types of religious rules which ossified the social hierarchies prevalent in Middle Eastern nomadic cultures a thousand or two thousand years ago.  He likes the idea of a ready-made fixed set of divine rules which inconvenience others a lot more than they inconvenience him.  He likes to be told what god wants, by intermediaries who are almost totally old men, both now and through history.

In that he shares with many other fundamentalists.

I have tried to understand the fundamentalist mindset, but mostly in vain.  I can  imagine what a relief it could be to have a rule book for one's whole life, with a guaranteed entry ticket to heaven or paradise at the end of it, but I can't stop myself seeing how human-directed many of the rules in the Bible or the Quran are, and how terrible they tend to be for women.  Once those rules are treated as divine commands, well, we are f**ked if we do and f**ked if we don't,  we wimmenz.

I was eleven when I read the Bible from cover to cover.  Much of it I experienced as great literature, some of it as wonderful poetry, many of the ethical and moral commands I felt were praiseworthy, and later I had some similar positive experiences when reading the Quran.

But the social rules about gender and homosexuality in both books are clear mirrors of pure human desires and intentions to maintain a certain pecking order inside the culture, and it's not hard to see (2) that they were influenced by the existing societal norms of that era, as was the acceptance of slavery as an institution.

Anyway.  Ross appears to be comfortable with the basic pecking orders of the three Abrahamic religions.  My eleven-year old self was not,  and that has not changed with the passing of the time.  As you may have noticed if you have read me before.

So should I join one of those Mainline churches?  The basic blueprint consists of the same book that Douthat uses, after all.

And what if my roots are not all in Christianity (3)?  What about all the other secular liberals whose roots are in other religions?

Douthat's main point is something more interesting than all my religious musings, however.  He argues that the old values of the Mainline churches have now become mainstream American values, and that may be the reason why liberals aren't that willing to sit in the pews any longer:  They won.

But be warned:

As the sociologist N. J. Demerath argued in the 1990s, liberal churches have suffered institutional decline, but also enjoy a sort of cultural triumph, losing members even as their most distinctive commitments — ecumenical spirituality and a progressive social Gospel — permeate academia, the media, pop culture, the Democratic Party. 

But this equilibrium may not last, and it may not deserve to. The campus experience of late suggests that liberal Protestantism without the Protestantism tends to gradually shed the liberalism as well, transforming into an illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor.
Fun stuff!  Ross talks to us from his illiberal version of Catholicism and warns us of the dangers of the illiberal excesses of "political correctness":  The no-platforming of all sorts of speakers in the UK universities, the angry protests against Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter on US college campuses.

I love that bridging leap, even though it's a bit illogical.  I can't see how the Mainline churches would fix those problems, but it's good filler for the column.

And would attending a wishy-washy Mainline church help with salvation after death?  Douthat seems to suggest that it would:

I know you don’t worry about hellfire. But you do worry, presumably, about death: Would some once-weekly preparation really hurt?
Do those churches rehearse death?  I've read on the value of meditating on one's death, so perhaps that's what he means.  Or he might just mean that those entry tickets to heaven are sold even in liberal churches.

This post should be finished with something more positive about religions.

I distinguish between religions as moral and ethical codes, crafted with a lot of cooperation by earlier religious powers, mostly men, and religions as spiritual sources of joy, comfort and support.  I also distinguish between the great institutional powers of religions which have been used and still are used for both bad and good, and the desires for individuals to believe in something vaster, something meaningful, to not feel that the universe is a random and unfeeling force.

And I understand those who humbly seek some higher meaning in their lives.  I'm just not very comfortable with those who firmly believe that they, and they alone, have found that meaning.


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(1)  I have to write "those," rather than "us," because I'm a goddess which in a weird way means I'm into religion, right?

(2)  For me, at least.  When I was eleven I read that the man is always the head of the woman in marriage, and I immediately asked myself why that would have to be the case.

What if he was a drunkard?  A wife-beater?  Incapable of making a living?  What if she was a lot wiser and more capable than he?  Why was a partnership not allowed?

Then I read about the pretty horrible treatment of women in the Old Testament, beginning with the stories of Jacob's wives who were essentially bought by Jacob in a deal from their father, together with their "handmaids (slaves)." 

And then I applied an alternative explanation to these stories, one which was based on the worldviews of men of that era.  It simply made more sense to assume that the Bible reflected the hopes and desires of believing men rather than some eternal rules by a divine (and arbitrary) power.  Thus, what the Bible now contains is the product of those who wrote it down and what it does not contain is also the product of religious men early in history who decided which writings were apocryphal.

My views on the Quran are similar.  Both the Bible and the Quran praise certain kinds of violence, accept slavery and impose a second-class status on women, and those are parts of the books which follow from the cultures in which they were written down, as well as from the war or thunder god era of religious movements. 

That there is so much good in these two books is, of course, a great achievement.  But the voices of women have not had much effect on how the three Abrahamic religions have developed.  For one example, check out which parts of the human body are supposed to be covered for men and women in certain interpretations if Islam.

(3)  Here's something fun for you to contemplate:  My father's paternal grandmother was the last shaman of her hereditary female line.  And no, I'm not appropriating someone else's religious beliefs by writing that down (heh)!   I'm appropriating my own religious ancestry.  Both the Lapps and the Finns used to have shamans.  Perhaps I should get my own drum and rattle?

Foxy Women, Again


 Fox&Friends anchor Heather Nauert has been named the spokesperson of the US State Department (I guess for when there is a State Department, with actual people in it).* 

This is a video compilation of some Fox discussions about the proper role of women in this world.  It is condensed, sure, but it also covers only a small fraction of these kinds of discussions on Fox (I know, because I have followed them!).  You know, the kinds where people earnestly debate the question:  "Are Women People?"

We know what the powers-that-be at Fox News thought about the proper answer to that question:  If those sluts aren't at home serving their children, then they are here to service us.  Or something slightly less nasty, but along the same lines.

I'm pretty sure that being the spokesperson of the State Department isn't the kind of job Fox News believes women should have, what with lacking ambition and having racks and so on.

It's good to keep in mind that Fox News was established in 1996.  We have had almost one generation's worth of arguments of this type, as a preparation for the Trump era where the president of the country can openly hold similar opinions about women, preferring to rank them by their looks and viewing their bodies as something automatically available to all powerful men who are "stars."

The invisible elephant in that history is the muted and scattered response from other media outlets to Fox News' racist and sexist views.  Initially they ignored Fox, the crazy uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner, then they normalized Fox as just one part of the overall media, and then we got the pussygrabber-in-chief.

But at least he is surrounded by pretty women now.
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* This post is not about Nauert herself.  She may be competent for the job, for all I know.  But she comes from the Fox stables where certain views are privileged.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Signs From The Science Marches


Today is the day when people march for science and against Trump's unreality views of the world.

I picked some of my favorite signs:













I don't have the photographer's credit for the top three.  The last one is from here.  More fun placards here.

And one more, added later:




And added even later, because who can resist this one:


Friday, April 21, 2017

Alex Jones. The Conspiracy Theorist Who Has Trump's Ear.







Alex Jones is an American far-right radio pundit and conspiracy theorist.  His website, InfoWars.com, is one of the central factories producing fake news for the white male supremacist movement, politely called the Alt Right.

It's a sign of these unsettling times that the current president of the United States, one Donald Trump,  called Jones's reputation "amazing" in a 2015 interview, promising not to let Jones down.  It's another sign of these troublesome times that Trump appears to get some of his "news" from Jones's fake news factory.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bill O'Reilly, Sexual Harassment and the Sound of Silence




Bill O'Reilly has been let go by the Fox News, not because he sexually harassed women and had to pay many millions in compensation, but because he got caught, all this became public, and advertisers started to withdraw their loot from Fox.

I'm joyous over the advertisers' boycott.  It shows that the times are changing for the better.  They are not changing fast enough, of course.  As evidence I point at the Pussygrabber-in-chief.

The O'Reilly case made me think of what it means that successful settlements of sexual harassment cases require the accusers to be silent about what has happened:
The end for O’Reilly was set in motion by a scathing New York Times investigation in early April that revealed that he and Fox had settled five allegations of harrassment brought by Fox employees over a 15-year period. The company and O’Reilly paid out $15 million in exchange for his accusers’ silence.
Because of that silence, every new post-settlements victim of O'Reilly could well believe that she was almost the only one, that if she came forward nobody would believe her but that her career would be over.  And because his tendency to sexually harass women was not something we were supposed to know*, new female employees at Fox News might not have been aware of the risks of, say, entering a room alone with Bill O'Reilly.

Indeed, requiring such silence as the price of compensation benefits the serial sexual harassers and hurts any future victims they may one day have.

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*  I don't know if older employees warned newcomers about O'Reilly's penchant for violating women's private space, but even if those warnings existed, the whole scope of his activities may well have been unknown, with the exception of the one earlier case extensively covered in the media.






Tuesday, April 18, 2017

More Pleasant Reading About Women


More pleasant than my usual topics, that is.  I am passionate in wanting to see a fairer world and that makes me focus on covering work that still needs to be done.  But sometimes it's good to sit back and enjoy the gains we have already won.  Yes, they can be lost, and vigilance in this context is as important as in the context of refusing to normalize Trumpistan.  Still, I hope you enjoy what follows:


1.  Kathrine Switzer participated in the Boston Marathon in 1967 and again this year:

Fifty years ago, a runner officially entered as K.V. Switzer participated in the Boston Marathon. On Monday, she did it again at age 70.
Kathrine Switzer’s marathon in 1967 became historic because she was the first woman to complete the all-male race as an official entrant — her registration as “K.V. Switzer” hid her gender. The race resonated far beyond a footnote in the record books when an official tried to force her from the course after a few miles.

2.  Mother Jones has put together a partial list of women's inventions or other deeds which history later erased or assigned to men.  I have not checked the validity of all of them, but it's a fun list to contemplate in these cold and dark days of the Trump-Putin-Erdogan-etc. era and among much religious fundamentalism.  Religious fundamentalism and dictatorships are not exactly conducive to independent female lives or general equality.


3.   The US women's national team (USWNT) has ratified a new five-year contract with US Soccer:

On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer announced that it had ratified a five-year collective bargaining with the U.S. women’s national team, ending a contract negotiation that’s been in overdrive for over a year, particularly since the USWNT filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging U.S. Soccer with wage discrimination last March.

The USWNT launched an “Equal Play, Equal Pay” campaign to highlight the pay discrepancy between the women’s and men’s national teams last summer, and while this new CBA doesn’t provide exact equality, it is a significant improvement over the previous deal.
The wage discrimination case that led to the new contract can be read in this Atlantic article.


4.   A 57-year old female astronaut made her eighth space walk last month. 

5.  Some interesting recent "firsts" for women: 

Parliament Square in London, England, will get its first female statue to go with the existing eleven statues of men.  It will be of Millicent Fawcett, a suffragette and a feminist, to celebrate the centenary of British women's right to vote.

Dr. Vera Songwe from Cameroon became the first woman to become the Executive Secretary for  the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Becca Longo became the first woman to win an NCAA football scholarship to play for a Division II team or higher.

Second Lt. Lillian Polatchek:

became the first female graduate of the Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course, and the first woman to lead a Marine tank platoon.

Cressida Dick will be the first woman to lead London's Metropolitan Police Force.









Trump and Erdogan, Sitting In A Tree


Our Dear Leader has congratulated the Dear Leader of Turkey on the latter's increased dictatorial powers:

Donald Trump has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his victory in Sunday's referendum that gave him sweeping new powers.
The US president's phone call contrasts with concern by European leaders who have pointed our how the result - 51.4% in favour of the changes - has exposed deep splits in Turkish society.
Mr Erdogan has rejected criticism from international monitors who said he had been favoured by an "unequal campaign".
"Know your place," he told them.

"Tyrants of a feather flock together?"  Or is Trump doing realpolitik?


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Weekend Reading 4/15/17: White House Easter Egg Roll, Trump as Horsefly And Other Topics



1.  The White House Easter Egg Roll event is really complicated.  Who knew it could be that complicated?

I disagree, however, on the person to be viewed as responsible for the success or failure of the event: the president's wife.  The "job" of the First Lady is a sticky relic from the traditional unequal marriage where the wife is expected to be her husband's employee, without any formal payment scheme, but still full responsibility for stuff like organizing an Easter Egg Roll.  Because it is for the children and children are the women's job?

It's Donald Trump's job.  If he can't do it, he can hire someone else to do it for him.


2.  An interesting take on the metamorphosis of one Donald Trump from a chubby pupa to something with wings.  Presidential wings now that he has dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever!  So presidential.  Though I suspect he is a horsefly. 

Anyway, Jonathan Chait argues that Trump has managed to shed everything that distinguished him from your usual Republican politician, except for his "ethnonationalist themes."*  That's courtesy-speech for white male supremacy, my friends, but with the adjustments it's that only for the top white guys.

3.  A few articles remind us of the relative dearth of women in literature and the cinema.  Worth pointing out when the usual conservative argument about women and the STEM fields is that women's interests and talents lie elsewhere.  In literature and the arts, for example.

The reasons for the under-representation of women are complicated and deserve a separate post**.

But the metaphor I think might apply here is that for some the trip to the top involves elevators all the way through the 200 floors, for others it means having to take the stairs between the fiftieth and the ninetieth floor, and yet for others it means having to use ladders on the outside of the building.  People learn about those differences in the relevant industries, so whether some are just not interested in making the climb to begin with is a moot point, because the climb is not the same for all equally talented folks.

4.  Our Dear Leader has privately signed

a bill on Thursday that allows states to withhold federal money from organizations that provide abortion services, including Planned Parenthood, a group frequently targeted by Republicans. 

Why a private signing?  President Trump adores public hullabaloo, after all.  Perhaps making it possible for red states to deprive poor women of reproductive health care isn't something that he wants to be remembered for.  But the Republicans-in-power love the idea of killing Planned Parenthood dead.  Dead as a doornail, even though Planned Parenthood says that only three percent of its services are abortion-related.  Still, who cares about poor women and their needs.

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*  Rick Perlstein makes a somewhat different argument which is also worth reading.

**  A very long post, actually, but I'd like to say a few words here about the second link in part 3 which asks why women so rarely seem to have written the "big books" of popular history.

Clears throat.

You cannot write a famous book if your book doesn't become famous.  You cannot be a path-breaker if nobody follows your path.  So the first problem here is the fact that audiences and reviewers do not regard women writing some gloriously simple and thought-provoking book about, say,  wars as inherently equally credible as a man writing such a book.

Still, there are women who have succeeded in that task of making big books, and even more can be found if we acknowledge the fact that readers have certain pre-existing biases about which topics are important.  Deaths?  Very important, especially if violent.  Births?  Women's stuff, not terribly important.

I may have exaggerated a little there.  But not much.

Then there's the expected reactions.  Mary Beard found out about them when she joined the online conversations and when all the woman-hating trolls found her.  Because sweeping and simplifying arguments are much easier to attack than detailed and carefully documented and nuanced arguments, women, who by now expect harsher criticism, are probably more likely to settle with the latter ones.  But, alas, that's not what "big books" are all about.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Cats


Because they are an Internet tradition.  But before that, here's a message from Franz Kafka:

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.

His books are a useful lecture series about how to live in a world which doesn't make sense, such as Trumpomania-land.

Drat.  This is supposed to be a cheerful post, so here are the two gentlemen who truly are not bothered: