Category Archives: Church and State

This is what I see this morning.

A quick impression for you:



With some exceptions (and God bless them), this appears to be the state of the electorate right now. Full disclosure: even though I’m apparently a one-percenter, I’m glad that Romney lost because I think a Romney presidency would have been slightly more disastrous than four more years of Obama, and the Republican Party has, in my view, pretty much been in the process of a slow-motion implosion for the better part of the last decade. (And what the Tea Party movement became was a contributor to that implosion, as opposed to the galvanizing revival, as many conservatives have painted it.) What I had hoped — but not expected — is that, after a Romney loss (not to be confused with an Obama victory, which isn’t quite what happened last night), Americans would wake up and realize that they actually have to work together to find common ground and goals once the dust settles; that they are not enemies, but mere opponents. Alan Jacobs put it brilliantly:

I have seen (we all have seen) more and more articles, blog posts, and comments premised on the assumption that the writer’s political enemies really are enemies — wicked people bent on the destruction of all that is good and right in the world.

As for me, I don’t think people who disagree with me — about abortion, politics, religion, literature, whatever — are, on balance, any more wicked than I am. I just think that on the points where we disagree they happen to be wrong. That shouldn’t be such a difficult distinction to keep in mind.

After the North won the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln was re-elected president, the United States was probably in the most fragile position in its entire history. Some historically ignorant partisans may wish to claim that we’ve almost never been so divided, but until states start seceding from the Union and booting federal employees from their borders by force of arms, I call B.S. any such sentiment. To say that political tensions still ran high at the time of Lincoln’s second inauguration would be a fundamentally idiotic understatement. To their credit, both Romney and the president struck conciliatory notes in their respective concession and victory speeches. I don’t think either one put it quite as succinctly and eloquently as Lincoln, for whom, and for whose country at the time, the stakes could not have been higher:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The United States hasn’t literally been at war with itself these last four years; the politics of this election cycle (or the last several) haven’t literally created widows and orphans, and the nation’s wounds are metaphorical. Yet to judge by the rhetoric I’ve seen on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and video clips this morning, you’d think that Obama had just kneecapped grandma with a tire iron, or that Romney’s evil minions had been dragging people out of their beds at night and slapping them facedown on the guillotine. This is not a war, people, and just as losing losing political ground in an election does not mean losing the soul of the country, winning ground in an election does not equate to a unilateral endorsement of a monolithic (partisan) vision of progress. What it means is that, for the next two-to-six years, this particular set of people has been elected to debate, discuss, compromise, legislate, administrate, and generally do the hard work of running this country on its citizens’ behalf. That’s it.

So if you’re out there gloating or sulking, put a cork in it. Put on your big boy/big girl pants, wipe the spittle from your mouth, shake hands with your opponent, and get back to the business of being good neighbors. If you can’t do that, then it means you’ve never been interested in democracy, but domination. Show a little charity, please. ☕


Epic Rap Battle: Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney

EAGLE!!! ☕

Love the sinner: a happy, belated Independence Day

Ken at Popehat related a moving personal story in which he witnessed the naturalization ceremony of Filipinos who fought in World War II as soldiers for the U.S. They had been promised citizenship, and it had been effectively and unconscionably denied to them for decades.

Without forgetting 54 years of injustice, they believed in an America that had the potential to transcend its injustices. I don’t know if these men forgave the Congress that betrayed them and dishonored their service in 1946, or the subsequent Congresses and administrations to weak or indifferent to remedy that wrong. I don’t think that I could expect them to do so. But whether or not they forgave the sins of America, they loved the sinner, and were obviously very proud to become her citizens. […] It reminds me that people have experienced far greater injustice than I ever will at this country’s hands, and yet are proud of it and determined to be part of it. They are moved by what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature to believe in the shared idea of what America should be without abandoning the struggle to right its wrongs. I want to be one of them.

Read the whole post here. It’s one of the most poignant reflections on citizenship and patriotism I’ve read. Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, I hope you all had a very happy, safe, and blessed Fourth of July.☕

The “virtues” of censorship, part 4: Do Americans have right to decency?

Read Jacob Sullum’s most recent column at Reason, in which he discusses a recent SCOTUS decision not to rule on airwave indecency fines. Things like the government’s willingness to continue or turn a blind eye to censorship makes my blood boil. Sullum also linked to the site of Morality in Media, an organization dedicated to abrogating free speech rights in the name of “decency,” and which commented on the non-ruling in a press release:

“Broadcasters do not have a right to turn network television into a cesspool at the expense of children and those who wish to avoid the foul language and pornography that is now so common on cable television,” said [MIM President Patrick A.] Trueman.“The FCC must now enforce our right to decency on the public airwaves.”

Things like that make my head explode. (Not literally, but it often feels like it.) I’ve already talked about censorship here, here, here, and here. There are instances when I would, in theory, support a limited restriction on First Amendment rights, but they are very, very few, and it would have to be shown that those restrictions provide a material, immediate protection of others’ basic human rights. By and large, I think groups like Morality in Media (and those who support them) are afraid and/or unable to engage in debate about the values they cherish, so they’d rather just use the law as a billy club to beat opponents into submission. And most of them would prefer to shirk their parental duties to their children, rather than take the time and effort to instill in their children strong values and the wisdom to make good choices. Obviously, they would disagree with my assessment. I’m glad that they have the right to disagree. Too bad most of them don’t value that right the way that I do.

Here’s some other things to consider, which echo things I’ve stated previously.

1.) Broadcasters actually should have the right to turn network television into a cesspool if they want to. That’s what free speech means. It means that people can be dirty, rotten jerkfaces who would rather wallow in representations of moral sewage than advocate higher ideals. We don’t have to like it, but they should have that right, just as we should have the right to condemn it.

2.) It’s not clear to me that a boobie flash or some cuss words constitute turning television into a “cesspool.”

3.) If children and those who wish to avoid foul language and pornography want to avoid such things, they are not forced to watch the programs that contain such things.

4.) It’s not clear to me that what appears on network — or even cable — television constitutes “pornography.”

5.) It’s not clear to me that foul language and pornography are “common” on cable television. Considering that cable television provides hundreds of channels — and satellite TV probably provides even more — it seems highly improbable that even a slim majority of it is genuine “pornography.”

6.) As Sullum beautifully illustrates in his column, the “right to decency on the airwaves” is a myth.

7.) This myth propagated by people who may want to enforce cultural hegemony, but their legal actions actually lay the groundwork to enable the government apparatus to enforce whatever cultural hegemony whoever is in power at the time would like to enforce.

8.) Giving up that kind of power is beyond stupid, incredibly dangerous, and runs directly counter to the principle of the First Amendment.

Two last things to consider. As of the time I published this post, MIM has more than 94,000 followers who “Like” them on Facebook. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s far too many, and that number can only grow. And the Supreme Court can only dodge the broader free speech questions related to the FCC for so long.☕

A trailer deconstructed: 2016 and anti-Obama prejudice

For the last several years, I’ve tried to resist the narrative that the conservative/Tea Party animus against the president is purely motivated by racism.  For the most part, I don’t think there’s overwhelming evidence for that narrative, though I know must still be a segment of the population that forms judgments based on racial bigotry.  By and large, I think the charge of racism is used as a catchall ad hominem by those who want to reframe the debate away from the actual political issues involved.  And then.  Then I see something like this trailer for the upcoming documentary, 2016.  Lest I fall into the pit that I just described, I’ll officially and explicitly state that I don’t categorically believe that these filmmakers are dirty, rotten racists.  With that out of the way, let me now question how anybody could see this trailer as anything but ignorant at best, or bigoted at worst. Continue reading

An Insidious choice

A teacher at an elementary school gave his fifth graders the chance to watch a movie in class as a “break.”  (Way to maximize class time, teach!)  The class chose to watch Insidious, a pretty decent old school fright fest by Saw‘s James Wan and Leigh Whannell.  One of the boys in the class went home so scared that he vomited until midnight.  This school has a common sense policy that any video to be shown in class must first get the administration’s approval; in this case, that approval was not sought, so the teacher is indisputably in the wrong on that score.

Perhaps the most salient point is that the class, as a whole, voted to watch Insidious.  This wasn’t something simply inflicted upon them by the teacher; they chose it.  One of the first questions I had was whether the kid who went home sick voted with the majority; that question isn’t answered in that story.  Let’s assume he didn’t, though.  Let’s say that, once everyone else voted for the scary movie, he had no choice but to go along with it.  Ten is a tender age at which to learn life’s harshest lessons, but one of them is that participating in a representative democracy, despite its advantages, sucks sometimes.  This is an election year.  We, the American people, are being offered a choice between two mainstream contenders for the presidency (and several outsiders that have virtually no chance whatsoever at winning the election).  I am opposed to both the establishment candidates.  The boy in this story — as well as his class — was apparently presented with a choice between a scary movie and a comedy.  The options were apparently preselected by the teacher.  Much like that class, the American public is being given the choice between a joke and a horror show.  It’s a wonder I don’t vomit through the night, too.

How to screw up Palm Sunday in one easy step

Build your entire liturgy around music from Jesus Christ Superstar.  Since this was the first time I’d had off on a Sunday morning in months, I wasn’t inclined to spend my first church service in ages subjecting myself to an amateur church choir’s renditions of songs I don’t really like to begin with.  Apart from disdaining Andrew Lloyd Webber in general, my wife and I had specifically chosen to attend what we thought was going to be a traditional service, because that’s what we were in the mood for on Palm Sunday.  After the first 90 seconds or so of “Heaven on Their Minds,” during which time my consultation of the bulletin confirmed that the entire service would be more of the same, we were outta there.  I only mention this because the aesthetics of worship can be a divisive, but interesting topic.  I’m not one of those who will outright condemn people who find that they are best able to worship God by participating in a staged recital of a 1970s rock opera, but I do wonder about the efficacy of it as an outreach tool and as a witness for the particular beliefs that congregations wishes to extol.

I enjoy contemporary worship services, but I also enjoy traditional liturgies and music.  Striking just the right balance between the two is incredibly difficult, and I don’t envy the ministers, worship planners, and hymnal editors who undertake to strike it.  At the same time, while I’m aware that I could take this opportunity to reflect on why, in particular, I wanted a traditional service on this particular day, or why I reacted with such disgust to what others might (quite validly) perceive as a creative approach to worship, I’m instead left wondering why people like me were left out in the cold by this particular congregation.  It appeared that both services yesterday were the same; anyone who wanted to attend a traditional service was out of luck.  In terms of the congregation styling its worship aesthetics to its own preference, that’s all perfectly fine and understandable.  If they all want to let Tim Rice (that august Christian poet) govern their expressions of praise, that’s certainly up to them.  But beyond catering to its members, I feel that the mission of a Christian congregation is also to reach out to others in the larger community and provide opportunities for them to honor Christ and receive spiritual nourishment in the smaller church community.

While I would not ask a congregation to sacrifice its theological principles for the sake of attracting strangers, it does seem odd to me that, at a time of year that is so strongly intertwined with church tradition, and on such a particularly noted church holiday, a congregation would be so willing — by design or by lack of forethought — to alienate potential worshippers who simply might not care for such an indissoluble blend of secular aesthetics with religious devotion.  This isn’t about doctrine so much as mindset.  I come from a very insular, conservative faith community that prides itself on making as few concessions to modernity as possible, leaving little to no room for diversity of thought or personality.  What I encountered on Sunday seems to be the flip side: a faith community so dedicated to a liberal embrace of modernity that “diversity” is reduced to meaning the exclusion of anything traditional.  I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but I do know that it wasn’t for us, and both my wife and I were very disappointed when we realized that it was too late for us to attend a worship service that would satisfy us.  Walking out of a church service not two minutes after it started because I had to choose between my personal aversion to glam rock as a worship device and worshipping at all was not the way I wanted to spend my Palm Sunday.

(Or am I just being a persnickety crank?)

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