Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don't you get between God and his favorite political party...

Pastor Wiley Drake, 2nd Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, has called down fire from heaven on a couple of staffers from the "watchdog" group Americans United for Separation of Church and State because the staffers called on the IRS to audit the reverend for endorsing political candidates from the pulpit--thus risking his church's status as a non-profit.

Because God loves Mike Huckabee and has chosen him to be president of the United States, Pastor Wiley heartily endorsed him on his radio show and in a press release, both as leader of his ministry and as representing his position as 2nd Vice President of the SBC.
Referring to his press release, Drake added, “I want to ask you to please pray for me and for a press release that we just put out this morning. And the press release is simply this: this comes from my office, pastor, First Southern Baptist Church and second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, etc., etc.”
This led to the call to the IRS for an inquiry against him, to which Pastor Wiley responded:
Drake responded to AU’s allegations in an Aug. 14 press release calling on Christians to join in offering imprecatory, or cursing, prayers. He called the complaint an “attack from the enemies of God.” Drake listed several biblical passages as examples of imprecatory prayers.“Please join us,” Drake added, “with Bible in hand, and let us do battle against the enemies of God.”

It got nasty:
In a section of his press release called “How To Pray,” Drake includes a long list of biblical citations that call on God to smite enemies. For example, the alleged enemies of God “shall be judged,” “condemned,” and “his days be few….” Additionally, supporters should pray that the enemy’s “children be fatherless, and his wife a widow,” and “his children be continually vagabonds, and beg; let them seek bread also out of their desolate places.”
Of course, AU was appalled. Too bad, according to Drake:
“If they think it’s ‘outlandish,’ it doesn’t surprise me,” Drake stated. “They’re ungodly, un-scriptural, not even Christians.”“They have no reverence for the Word of God,” Drake continued. “And if they think it’s ‘outlandish,’ don’t blame me, I didn’t write it, God did.”
You get that? God told Drake Wiley to call for believers to pray for the death of a couple of staffers at a watchdog group for suggesting the IRS investigate the endorsement of a candidate God himself has chosen to be president because the endorsement violates IRS regulations for non-profits.

When the insanity of the religious entanglements of evangelicalism in right-wing politics ends--and I believe that it will--I can promise you I won't look back.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Get these guys on TBN!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Anne Rice, Catholic, Endorses Hillary Clinton

As some of you may know, Anne Rice--author of the notorious Vampire Chronicles novels--converted to Catholicism and has dedicated herself to "write books for the Lord." The first, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, I reviewed when it came out back in November of 2005. She recently published this letter on her website:
I repeat: I am a Christian; I am a Democrat. I support Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
I recall mentioning before that once upon a time, when I identified myself as a "card-carrying member of the vast right-wing conspiracy" that I expressed befuddlement that anyone could be both a sincere Christian and a Democrat. I think that in this essay Anne Rice makes as good a case as any but it seems to boil down to this:
Though I deeply respect those who disagree with me, I believe, for a variety of reasons, that the Democratic Party best reflects the values I hold based on the Gospels. Those values are most intensely expressed for me in the Gospel of Matthew, but they are expressed in all the gospels. Those values involve feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, and above all, loving one’s neighbors and loving one’s enemies. A great deal more could be said on this subject, but I feel that this is enough.
I certainly can't and won't argue with the sentiment except to say that I'm not convinced that expecting government to express the principles of the gospel is what's expected of us as believers, but I'll leave that for another day.

As an interesting aside, given her public conversion a lot of readers have been asking her why she has not (or believing that she had, why she did so) renounce the Vampire Chronicles novels. The entire posting is worth reading, but here's what I believe is the most important point she makes:

For me, the entire body of my earlier work, reflects a movement towards Jesus Christ. In 2002, I consecrated my work to Jesus Christ. This did not involve a denunciation of works that reflected the journey. It was rather a statement that from then on I would write directly for Jesus Christ. I would write works about salvation, as opposed to alienation; I would write books about reconciliation in Christ, rather than books about the struggle for answers in a post World War II seemingly atheistic world.

My books reflect now, as they always have, what I see and feel and struggle to understand.

Viscerally fearful and ignorant evangelicals will no doubt continue to look at her work as a spawn of Satan. Be that as it may, literate and thoughtful men and women such as Anne Rice hold out hope that belief in Christ in America will in the future look less and less like today's angry, reflexively right-wing evangelicalism.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gay Marriage: What was I really afraid of?

I'm not sure what images are conjured up when evangelicals contemplate the dangers of gay marriage. Which is odd, because I used to be one of them. But for the life of me I can't remember what, when I opposed gay marriage, I was actually afraid of.

I suppose the opposition was visceral. I've heard and repeated the usual arguments, but at the risk that I might restate them in a way that's unfair to those who still hold them, I turn to nonpartisan
  1. Most religions consider homosexuality a sin.
  2. It would weaken the definition and respect for the institution of marriage.
  3. It would further weaken the traditional family values essential to our society.
  4. It could provide a slippery slope in the legality of marriage (e.g. having multiple wives or marrying an object could be next).
Please just read the story below and tell me whether any of the arguments above still hold weight with you in the reality of what happens in this world without gay marriage (I quote this post from Andrew Sullivan in its entirety):

Some people seem to think that because gay couples have the right in a free country to live together, the legal protections of civil marriage are unnecessary. They don't understand the legal power that homophobic families can have over sons and daughters - even adult ones in long-standing relationships. In Indiana, a couple who lived together for 25 years saw their lives turned upside down when one of them had an aneurysm and a stroke. His parents, who disapproved of his relationship, swooped in and barred his spouse from custody. The story is here. Money quote:

Conrad traveled to the Atlanta hospital to be with Atkins but was soon denied access by the family. Hospital staff defied the family's wishes and let Conrad visit Atkins during off-hours.
Atkins eventually was moved to a nursing facility in Carmel, where Conrad would arrive after regular visiting hours so the Atkinses would not see him.

He filed his guardianship request in June 2005. That November, the Atkinses moved Patrick into their home and have since refused to let Conrad visit. They also have refused his phone calls.

Atkins is in no mental state to defy his own parents. The law is on their side. Without marriage, it always will be. If a heterosexual who had lived with her spouse for two and half decades was barred from even seeing her husband after a stroke, no one would doubt the law needed to be changed. It is just as evil when it is done to a gay couple. Yes, there are some contracts that can be drawn up to provide more protection than Conrad is getting. But in states which have passed marriage and civil union bans for gay couples, those protections are vulnerable to legal challenge from other kin. Gay couples are human beings. To have our families ripped apart and have no legal recourse is institutionalized cruelty - designed for no other purpose than to stigmatize and marginalize a small minority. We need and deserve full equality now. Nothing short of civil marriage will ever suffice.

What if the person you lived with and loved for 25 years was taken from you as soon as they were no longer able to make their own choices in life? I shudder to think what my life would be like if someone prevented me from seeing my wife when she was at her greatest hour of vulnerability.

I would just suggest to my evangelical friends that if you want to continue to throw your consent behind a system that results in this kind of injustice, you at least might want to be clearer than I ever was about why that makes sense.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gay Marriage: What it's Really About

My apologies for posting on this issue yet again but here's another real-life story that sums up perfectly why our current resistance to formalizing gay relationships creates what anyone would have to consider to be true injustice.

Take the case of Buffalo police officer Patricia A. Parete, shot in the neck by a criminal while on duty almost one year ago. Since the time of the shooting, Officer Parete has been working to recover the use of her body after severe damage to her spinal cord. Her gay partner has been with her every step of the way:
Since Buffalo Police Officer Patricia A. Parete was shot in the neck, Maryellen Opalinski has been by her bedside on all but about five of the 257 days.

“As soon as this happened, it was just automatic, like a reflex,” Opalinski said. “I’ve been by her side the whole time. I have never given it a second thought.”
This kind of behavior demonstrates the deepest kind of love and commitment, true "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health" devotion. Those who oppose gay marriage on the grounds that homosexuality is "perverted" or "abnormal" or who say that gay relationships can't demonstrate the same kind kind of elevated love, where two halves become one whole, simply aren't cognizant of reality.

If you oppose gay marriage, get clear on two things: why you actually oppose it, and what the cost of that opposition is in the lives of men and women like Patricia Parete and Maryellen Opalinski, and Brett Conrad and Patrick Atkins.

Quote of the Day

“Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.”

-Billy Graham

Monday, August 13, 2007

Peace be with you...

For some reason, my mind conjured up this morning a memory of the portion of the Catholic mass where we would "offer one another the sign of Christ's peace." This would involve shaking hands with one another and saying "Peace be with you... and also with you." A very simple ritual, without compare in the evangelical realm.

I say this because in the evangelical realm it felt... so much more forced to me. Like a concerted effort to break the ice before the sermon. And they were never so forced as when you were supposed to "Turn to your neighbor and tell them 'x'!", x being something like "I'm glad you're here today!", or "Isn't it great to be in the house of the Lord!" or some such other exclamation-pointed pablum.

I must say, while I almost never think about the old Catholic mass, I sure miss that simple handshake.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Noise cancelling addictions

My thus-far faithful iPod Mini gave up the ghost without warning yesterday morning. Given that this little unit has been my almost constant companion, lulling me to sleep and filling my commutes and workouts with songs and the spoken word on a daily basis for two and a half years, my first reaction was total dismay. No more iPod?

Damn. Lameness.

Then I began to reflect on why this was such a big deal for me, especially when it comes to going to sleep. I should mention that while in general I don't sleep terribly well on any given night, the summer heat makes it even worse. And when I am troubled in my thoughts, sleep can be very elusive.

But the iPod helped with that. I came to realize that the iPod was often acting like a kind of white noise generator. This is sort of what noise cancelling headphones do, by the way. Just generate more noise to help tune out some other noise. In this case, the chattering in my skull.

Can anyone else relate to this?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Am I (still) a conservative?

Over the last few years, concurrent with my dissatisfaction with and departure from organized religion, I've been laying a number of presuppositions to bare in my life. Where once I strongly identified myself with conservatism, I wouldn't do so readily today.

So when The Conservative Principles Poll showed up on Andrew Sullivan's blog today I figured I'd take it for a spin and see where I ended up. Here's the ten conservative concepts that one is asked to agree or disagree with in taking the poll :
  1. Enduring Moral Order: A good society depends upon citizens who have a strong sense of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and honor.
  2. Custom and Convention: The devil you know is better than the devil you don't.
  3. Principle of Prescription: We stand on the shoulders of giants; the collective wisdom of those who came before us is superior to our own individual reasoning. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise.
  4. Prudence: Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.
  5. Equality Before the Law Only: The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.
  6. Human Imperfectability: Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created.
  7. Private Property = Freedom: Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all.
  8. Community and Federalism: Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.
  9. Balance Authority and Liberty: The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
  10. Balance Progression and Permanence: Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world.
You know, that's not a bad list. It's foundational as opposed to topical; I can see that one could hold to all ten of these and still oppose much of what the current administration is up to.

But where do I come down? I'll take them one by one.

Enduring Moral Order
No question about it: what distinguishes good people from bad people are the values they live out in their lives. Not all values are created equal. One culture holds that men and women should choose their mates; another kills women for choosing in opposition to their families' desires. This one's a no-brainer. Check.

Custom and Convention
On this one I've done a one-eighty. I recognize that customs and conventions evolve for a reason, but I think it fair to say that many of them have grown out of ignorance, prejudice, and the preservation of power. I say, Question Authority.

Principle of Prescription
Not entirely distinct from Custom and Convention, I would say that one should pause to examine why we have arrived at where we are before we abandon a path, but I wouldn't just assume that prior wisdom dictated the path. The path could have been blazed by selfish assholes for all I know. Feudalism, anyone?

Well, duh. For the record, I do actually think that prudence is a good thing but I don't suspect that many liberals would say that prudence is a bad thing. Check.

Equality Before the Law Only
While I definitely believe that in principle we should not try to achieve an equality of result, I do believe that society benefits from an equality of opportunity as long as it's strived for rationally and sensibly, recognizing that a great many people don't better themselves because they don't have hope and motivation even in the presence of opportunity. Because when the rubber meets the road I would probably be considered by most in-the-main conservatives to be left of center on this issue, I'll not check this one off.

Human Imperfectability
I'm no utopian. Check.

Private Property = Freedom
While I think libertarians easily go overboard on this one, I am a firm believer that the three-legged stool of liberty rests on political, personal, and property rights. Check.

Community and Federalism
Federalism and decentralization works because those closest to the problem are the best ones to solve it. Check.

Balance Authority and Freedom
This one's a lame one. Everybody, even Hitler, would agree that there should be a balance between authority and freedom. I say when in doubt liberty should prevail, but in the current national security climate many conservatives would lean heavily towards authority... so I'll pass on this one.

Balance Progression and Permanence
Given that I don't believe in the Inevitability of Progress (take a look around the world: see much progress these days?), I would agree that reforms should be undertaken with caution and an understanding that to the extent a reform's success relies on people to be on their best behavior and acting in the best interest of society as opposed to their own narrow interests, then that reform is doomed. Many liberals fail to understand this, so I'll identify with conservatives on this one. Check.

Final score: 6 out of 10, or 60%. So yeah, I guess I am still conservative by principle if not by politics these days.

Friday, August 03, 2007


The longer I live, the more I realize that there are few things more powerful or more central to leading a quality, impactful life than pure hope.

Selections from Wikiquote on hope:

The essential thing is hope, loss of hope makes for desperate people and desperate people do desperate things’’ ~ Lord Michael V. Bacon

There is no worse death than the end of hope. ~ Pelagius

A leader is a dealer in hope. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

All human wisdom is summed up in two words — wait and hope. ~ Alexander Dumas

Beware how you take away hope from another human being. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Everything that is done in the world is done by hope. ~ Martin Luther

Hope is the poor man's bread. ~ George Herbet

Hope is a waking dream. ~ Aristotle

Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness and captivity would, without this comfort, be insupportable. ~ Samuel Johnson

Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible. ~ Anonymous

If it were not for hopes, the heart would break. ~ Thomas Fuller

Strong hope is a much greater stimulant to life than any single realized joy could be. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. ~ Barbara Kingsolver