Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

How an Abstinence Pledge in the ’90s Shamed a Generation of Evangelicals

leave a comment »

Clyde Haberman reports in the NY Times:

To the uninitiated, Christianity’s evangelical movement can seem like a monolith that brooks no dissent on certain core issues: Same-sex relationships are sinful, men’s spiritual dominance over women is divinely ordained and, on the political front, Donald J. Trump was an improbable but nonetheless valued protector of the faith.

Not everything is what it appears to be. The movement is in fact rife with division, a reality reinforced last month when Beth Moore, an evangelical writer and teacher with a huge following, formally ended her long affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention, principally because of its tight embrace of the licentious, truth-challenged Mr. Trump.

It was a rupture several years in the making. As Ms. Moore told Religion News Service, disenchantment took hold when Mr. Trump became “the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America.” But the former president’s behavior is not the only issue buffeting the evangelical movement. White supremacy, male subjugation of women, a spate of sexual abuse cases, scandals involving prominent figures like Jerry Falwell Jr. — all have combined to undermine the authority of religious leaders and prompt members like Ms. Moore to abandon the Southern Baptist Convention.

Retro Report, which examines through video how the past shapes the present, turns attention to an artifact of religious conservatism from the movement. This is the so-called purity pledge, taken in the main by teenagers who pledged to abstain from sex until they married. Some swore to not so much as kiss another person or even go on a date, for fear of putting themselves on the road to moral failure.

Devotion to this concept took hold in the early ’90s, when fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases bolstered the evangelical movement’s gospel of teen abstinence. It was a view put forth as God-commanded and had the support of like-minded political leaders, from the White House of Ronald Reagan to that of Mr. Trump.

Many people certainly found lifelong contentment because of having waited for the right mate. But for others, as the Retro Report video shows, the dictates of the purity movement were so emotionally onerous that their adulthoods have been filled with apprehension and, in some instances, physical pain. They are people like Linda Kay Klein, who embraced the movement in her teens but left it in disenchantment at 21, two decades ago.

She described the trauma and the shame she felt this way: “I would find myself in tears and in a ball in the corner of a bed, crying, my eczema coming out, which it does when I’m stressed, and scratching myself till I bled, and having a deep shame reaction.” Ms. Klein found she was far from alone. She collected tales of enduring anxiety in a book, “Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free” (Touchstone, 2018). “We went to war with ourselves, our own bodies and our own sexual natures,” she wrote, “all under the strict commandment of the church.”

It was under the aegis of the Southern Baptist Convention that the vow of virginity took distinct form, in True Love Waits, a program begun in 1993. As the movement grew in the ’90s, estimates of teenage adherents reached as high as 2.5 million worldwide. Youngsters wore purity rings, signed purity pledge cards and attended purity balls, with girls dressed in white and escorted by their fathers.

The fundamental message, inspired by a verse from Paul the Apostle’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, was this: “I am making a commitment to myself, my family and my Creator that I will abstain from sexual activity of any kind before marriage. I will keep my body and my thoughts pure as I trust in God’s perfect plan for my life.”

Separate from religious imperatives, American teenagers in general have become warier of premarital relations — and certainly of unprotected sex. According to the federal government, there were 61.8 births in 1991 for every 1,000 young women in the 15-to-19 age group. By 2018, that figure had dwindled to 17.4, a decline that cut across racial and ethnic lines.

Among those who regarded purity in terms of spiritual enlightenment, few in the ’90s came to be more celebrated than Joshua Harris, a young man who preached that even sex-free dating was a dangerous first step on the slippery slope of a compromised life. His 1997 book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” sold roughly a million copies. In his writings and speeches, Mr. Harris advocated courtship under the watchful eyes of a couple’s parents.

His message back then, he recalled for Retro Report, was that one should avoid conventional dating just as an alcoholic ought to steer clear of a bar. “It was, like, if you don’t want to have sex,” he said, “then don’t get into these sorts of short-term romantic relationships where there is an expectation to become intimate.”

Controlling teenage hormones, however, is easier said than done. Mr. Harris, who lives in Vancouver, eventually pulled his book from circulation, and has apologized for the role he played in causing anyone feelings of shame, fear and guilt. Today, he no longer considers himself a Christian.

Part of the problem for some critics of the movement is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2021 at 7:49 pm

The decline in religious affiliation and its impact

leave a comment »

Eric Levitz has a very interesting column in New York, which begins (and charts are omitted):

For the first time on record, a majority of U.S. adults do not belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque.

Since 1939, Gallup has been surveying Americans on their religious affiliations. From that year until the turn of the millennium, church membership in the U.S. never dipped below 68 percent. But over the past two decades, that figure has steadily declined — and now, the emerging churchless majority has arrived.

[chart]

This is not a story about the rise of “remote worship.” Declining church membership has been driven primarily by rising godlessness. On the eve of the 21st century, 8 percent of Americans identified with no religion in Gallup’s polling. Today, that figure is 21 percent.

Pew Research believes the ranks of the “nones” are even larger. In its polling, 26 percent of the U.S. public prostrates itself before no deity.

In assigning culpability for this trend, one could assemble a long list of plausible co-conspirators. The ascendance of the Evangelical right likely damaged Christianity’s brand with social liberals by associating the faith with theocratic politics, while pedophilic priests and their enablers surely drove no small number of American Catholics from the pews. In Gallup’s polling, the decline in church membership has been especially steep among self-identified Catholics, falling 18 points since 2000, compared to 9 points among Protestants.

But in all likelihood, these contingent developments only expedited America’s atheistic drift. Secularization is a secular trend. In both Gallup and Pew’s data, the main engine of ascendant faithlessness is generational churn. Two-thirds of Americans born before 1946 belong to a religious institution, according to Gallup. That drops to 58 percent among baby boomers, 50 percent among Generation X, and 36 percent among millennials (the pollster’s limited data from zoomers indicates that they are roughly as irreligious as their cooler, wiser immediate predecessors).

Pew shows a similar pattern on the question of religious identification: Each new generation is less religious than the last, while the drop-off between Gen X and millennials is especially sharp:

To be sure, one might attribute American millennials’ disaffection with religion to the fact that the Christian right (and/or Catholic church sex abuse scandal) loomed especially large during their formative years. But declining religiosity is not limited to the United States. Rates of religious-service attendance are falling in nearly every Western country. And the United Kingdom — whose Conservative Party endorsed same-sex marriage before Barack Obama did — has witnessed a remarkably similar trend to the U.S. in religious identification, with the percentage of Britons who subscribe to no religion rising 12 points since 2000.

Given that religious identification has been declining continuously with each new generation, across a diverse array of national contexts, the fundamental cause of the phenomenon is likely structural (as opposed to contingent). I can’t tell you with much authority what this macrohistorical cause is. But I’m inclined to think that industrial development inherently undermines tradition and cultivates individualism, qualities that render it an adversary of faith-based, communitarian institutions. It also seems to me that late capitalism has robbed the church of its monopoly on a wide range of social functions: The welfare state provides social insurance; the universities, metaphysics; Marvel movies, community-binding myths (what are MCU Reddit forums but Bible studies persevering?). [Emphasis added – LG, and I’ll add that it strikes me that capitalism has gone too far toward individualism, and we need to develop some communitarian institutions that are not faith-based — perhaps an appeal to the importance to health of social relationships and contacts that are not moderated by money.]

Regardless, my point in emphasizing the deep-seated, structural nature of declining religiosity is simple: It suggests that this trend will not be drastically reversed, absent some kind of social cataclysm.

And that poses a major challenge to the Republican Party.

America’s loss of faith may have won Biden the presidency.

Everyone knows that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s thoughtfully written and offers many interesting insights.

I’ll add that Stephen Covey, interestingly enough, viewed “independence” merely as the prerequisite for the highest level of being, “interdependence.” See this post.

Later in the article:

Whatever its impact on the GOP, the implications of creeping secularism are more dire for social conservatives. The Republican Party can ultimately retain political power by bringing its policy commitments into slightly closer alignment with public opinion. That is not an option for the Christian right’s true believers. As a result, the movement is becoming forthrightly anti-democratic. On the one hand, the moral minority hopes to impose its will on the nation by judicial fiat. On the other, it aims to disenfranchise the heathen majority.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2021 at 4:27 pm

Fantasy and the Buffered Self

leave a comment »

Alan Jacobs writes in The New Atlantis:

When asked by the editors of the website The Immanent Frame to summarize the key concerns of his vastly ambitious book A Secular Age (2007), Charles Taylor wrote,

Almost everyone can agree that one of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in a much less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed.

As Taylor makes clear, the shift from a porous to a buffered self involves a complex series of exchanges. But to put that shift in simple terms, a person accepts a buffered condition as a means of being protected from the demonic or otherwise ominous forces that in pre-modern times generated a quavering network of terrors. To be a pre-modern person, in Taylor’s account, is to be constantly in danger of being invaded or overcome by demons or fairies or nameless terrors of the dark — of being possessed and transformed, or spirited away and never returned to home and family. Keith Thomas’s magisterial Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) specifies many of these dangers, along with the whole panoply of prayers, rites, amulets, potions, chants, spells, and the like, by which a person might seek protection from the otherwise irresistible. It is easy, then, to imagine why a person — or a whole culture — might, if it could, exchange this model of a self with highly permeable boundaries for one in which the self feels better protected, defended — impermeable, or nearly so.

The problem with this apparently straightforward transaction is that the porous self is open to the divine as well as to the demonic, while the buffered self is closed to both alike. Those who must guard against capture by fairies are necessarily and by the same token receptive to mystical experiences. The “showings” manifested to Julian of Norwich depend upon exceptional sensitivity, which is to say porosity — vulnerability to incursions of the supernatural. The portals of the self cannot be closed on one side only. But the achievement of a safely buffered personhood — closed off from both the divine and the demonic — is soon enough accompanied by a deeply felt change in the very cosmos. As C. S. Lewis notes in The Discarded Image (1964), the medieval person who found himself “looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music” gives way to the modern person who perceives only emptiness and silence. Safety is purchased at the high price of isolation, as we see as early as Pascal, who famously wrote of the night sky, “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me”).

In these circumstances, one might expect people to ask whether so difficult and costly an exchange is in fact necessary. Might it not be possible to experience the benefits, while avoiding the costs, of both the porous and the buffered self? I want to argue here that it is precisely this desire that accounts for the rise to cultural prominence, in late modernity, of the artistic genre of fantasy. Fantasy — in books, films, television shows, and indeed in all imaginable media — is an instrument by which the late modern self strives to avail itself of the unpredictable excitements of the porous self while retaining its protective buffers. Fantasy, in most of its recent forms, may best be understood as a technologically enabled, and therefore safe, simulacrum of the pre-modern porous self.

Before pursuing my argument, I must make two clarifications. First, fantasy itself is not a recent development but rather an ancient form (though not under its current name). What we now call “fantasy” is something closer to “realism” in the pagan world, which is populated by many powers capable of acting upon “porous” human selves. In the pagan world, success in life is largely a matter of navigating safely among those powers, which are unpredictable, beyond good and evil, and often indifferent to human needs. (Such indifference means that they can help as well as hurt, but also that their assistance can never be relied upon.) In this environment, fantastic creatures are at the very least personifications or embodiments of powers genuinely believed to exist. The realism is not strict, in that the writers and readers of earlier times did not necessarily believe in the existence of precisely such creatures as were described in their stories — perhaps not Apollo or Artemis any more than Dante’s Geryon or Spenser’s Blatant Beast, though such questions are necessarily and notoriously vexed. But at the very least the pre-modern world is one in which powers like those hold sway and cannot be safely neglected; a world in which what we would call the fantastic is an intrinsic element of the real.

Second, some of the most celebrated practitioners of modern fantasy share with their pre-modern predecessors this belief that the fictional apparatus of fantasy is a relatively close approximation to the way things really are for human beings. J. R. R. Tolkien may not have believed in Sauron, but he surely believed that there are in human history people who sell themselves to the Enemy and find themselves as a result of that decision first empowered and then destroyed. And when, at the beginning of Lewis’s Perelandra (1944), the protagonist Ransom’s progress toward a friend’s house is impeded by invisible forces who fill him with fear, Lewis was describing the work of spirits whom he truly believed to exist, though under a slightly different description, just as he probably believed that some forms of scientistic rationalism are the product of demonic influence. In short, these writers sought to present their readers with an image of an enchanted world, of selves fully porous to supernatural forces. But because they did so in genres (fantasy, science fiction) known for the imaginative portrayal of the wholly nonexistent, readers confident in their buffered condition can be delighted by those stories without ever for a moment considering the possibility that the forces portrayed therein might correspond to something real. Indeed, the delight of the stories for such readers consists primarily in their perceived unreality.

Concentrating Spiritual Power

The Judeo-Christian world is alien to the pagan one primarily in its concentration — in most of its versions — of all power in the hands of an omnipotent God, from whom everything else has only derivative strength, virtue, and indeed existence. People who do not accept this account of things commonly perceive it as comforting, though a reading of the first chapter of the book of Job — with its bland explanation that the Satanic torments of a righteous man occur at the explicit permission of the Almighty — should be enough to complicate that view. On the other hand, people fully shaped by this account of the world, with its emphasis on explaining why there is something rather than nothing, will necessarily find paganism insufficiently curious about where the powers that afflict human lives come from. After all, many pagan mythologies have no creation stories, or thin, minor ones. The powers of the pagan world just are: to reckon with them — to appease or evade them, to thwart them with some greater power, to swear fidelity to them — is a full-time job; there can be little energy left over to speculate about their origins.

So radical monotheism, though it does not alter the condition of porosity, and does not disenchant the world, forcefully concentrates charisma. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2021 at 12:13 pm

Don’t Discount Evangelicalism as a Factor in Racist Murder of Asian Spa Workers in Georgia

leave a comment »

An article in Religion Dispatches is worth reading:

Today, America is still reeling from the news of the mass murder of eight people at massage parlors in Georgia. Many are rightly calling the shooting spree an act of white supremacist terrorism, as the victims targeted were Asian women. The moment I read that the man who confessed to the murders was the son of a youth pastor who told police he had a “sex addiction,” however, it struck me that we must not ignore the specifically evangelical Protestant contours of this story.

I want to be clear. As Joshua Grubbs, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University who has published research on religion and attitudes toward sex told RD, “Sex addiction is simply not a credible defense for mass murder.” One of the most significant conclusions Grubbs’ research points to, however, is that conservative Christian men are prone to believe that they have pornography or sex “addictions,” even when they do not. Before he was apprehended by police, Robert Aaron Long was reportedly on his way to target the porn industry in Florida for violence similar to what he perpetrated in Georgia.

According to Grubbs, “There’s a large and growing body of research that shows that conservative religious values are strongly linked to feelings of sex addiction. We find that men in particular are likely to interpret normal sexual urges as pathological and then act on them in ways that they find to be problematic.” As Grubbs told me in a previous interview, while some people do exhibit compulsive and dysregulated behavior with respect to pornography, “There are also quite a number of people who report feeling out of control even with minimal use.”

If Long is telling the truth about his desire to “eliminate” the “temptations”—that is, women—that he claims exacerbated his “sex addiction,” it’s likely that he learned to think of himself this way, and to objectify women, in church. In evangelical institutional environments such as churches and Christian schools, discussions of sex are usually steeped in purity culture, that is a complex of beliefs and practices associated with an unhealthy fear of sexuality and intense pressure to remain “pure”—that is, sexually inexperienced—before marriage. I am among the many ex-evangelicals who were essentially coerced into signing “purity pledges” in the 1990s, which is just one of the many manipulative practices associated with purity culture.

According to Grubbs, “Purity culture places heavy emphasis on temptation and evil. Pornography is considered evil and something to be eliminated. Given that framing, it’s not surprising that someone might view all sexual ‘temptations’ as evil and needing to be eliminated.” Speaking of Long, Grubbs elaborated, “I would not call this person a ‘victim’ of purity culture, but it is possible that he is a product of it.”

The flip side of more secular rape culture, purity culture teaches boys that they are “lust monsters” and girls that it’s their duty to protect their purity by being “modest.” In evangelical culture, youth pastors are among the primary purveyors of these messages, and thus key figures in socializing white evangelical youth in evangelicalism’s version of toxic masculinity. As a result, victims of child sex abuse and of sexual assault in evangelical communities are often blamed for “tempting” the perpetrators, while the latter, particularly if they’re white men with an important role in the church, are protected from what should be the full consequences of their crimes. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2021 at 3:56 pm

Like Sheep: On Translating a Literary Plague in a Time of Pandemic

leave a comment »

This is probably a good time to read the literature of pandemics — surprisingly vast (or not so surprisingly, given that pandemics have plagued humanity (literally) from time immemorial (thus one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rides the pale horse of plague)). A.E. Stallings writes in the Hudson Review:

Plagues, real and imaginary, spread like viruses through literature. The Iliad starts with one. It’s right there in line 10, a disease sent by far-shooting Apollo, god of music and medicine, plague and archery, because Agamemnon has snatched the girl Chryseis from her father, Chryses, one of Apollo’s own priests. The god shoots his arrows of contagion, striking first at the mules and dogs (it is interesting that the poet seems to be aware of zoonosis, pathogens that jump from animals to people), and then at men, so that the funeral pyres are crowded and burn without ceasing. The first deaths of the poems are not from war, but disease. Agamemnon, compelled to give the girl back to her father, takes Achilles’ “spear-bride” Briseis instead, setting in motion all of the tragic events to follow.

It is a plague too, this time in the city of Thebes, that sets Oedipus on the path to knowledge that will reveal the enigmatic and devastating truth of his birth and his marriage. When Oedipus asks the priest of Zeus what is wrong with his people, he answers (Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, lines 25–30, translation by Sir Richard Jebb):

A blight has fallen on the fruitful blossoms of the land, the herds among the pastures, the barren pangs of women. And the flaming god, the malign plague, has swooped upon us, and ravages the town: he lays waste to the house of Cadmus, but enriches Hades with groans and tears. . . .

Notice it is the crops and the herds that are first affected. The priest concludes dryly with the sentiment, as Jebb has it, “Neither walled town nor ship is anything, if it is empty and no men dwell within.”

Mythological plagues are often indications that something is very wrong, an invitation to look more closely at assumptions and injustice, a judgment. It is worth remembering that Sophocles’ famous play debuted in 429 BC. The plague of Athens had broken out the previous year, and 429 saw a second wave. The references to a plague, in combination with a criticism of state leadership, would have been eerily topical and resonant for the audience in a time of war and pandemic, for all that the play is set in a legendary past and another city.

Thucydides’ prose account of the Athenian plague in his history of the Peloponnesian Wars describes not legend, but events Thucydides had experienced firsthand: the first outbreak of plague in 430 BC, when nearly one in three residents of Athens perished. (A mass grave of plague victims was excavated by archaeologists in 1994 in the Kerameikos, the potters’ quarter, of the city.) Thucydides is a survivor and describes the symptoms both as an eyewitness and a former sufferer. Even Pericles, the leader of Athens, will succumb to the disease. According to Thucydides, the contagion arose in northern Africa and entered Athens by the bustling port of Piraeus. The symptoms begin with fever and red eyes, a swollen and bloody tongue, but go on to include a cough, and an assortment of other effects: the genitals can be affected, and sometimes a sufferers lose their extremities, their eyesight or even their memory. In describing the horror of mass civilian deaths, Thucydides uses the phrase “dying like sheep.”

Thucydides’ plague has a moral dimension: some people are afraid to do the right thing by caring for the sick (it is the health workers, in fact, who are hardest hit); worship of the gods falls by the wayside as prayer proves ineffectual, and people immerse themselves in pleasures, vices and crimes, excesses of the moment, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, and confident they will not be brought to justice. The proper disposal of the dead—religious observations as well as cremation—one of the most sacred aspects of ancient life, is abandoned. People toss a corpse on top of funeral pyres already in progress or set fire to a pyre painstakingly arranged by others to cremate their own dead. The plague becomes a symptom for a societal breakdown, a society with a weakened immune system that is slipping into decline and will lose the war as well as its hegemony and status.

Lucretius, the 1st century BC Roman poet who would be such an important model for Virgil in turn takes up Thucydides’ plague. In his didactic epic, De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of Things,” a poem about life, the universe, and everything, that lays out tenets of the atomic theory and Epicurean philosophy, Lucretius ends the poem—at least as the version of the poem has come down to us, supposedly edited by Cicero—on a Latin versification of Thucydides’ prose eyewitness account of the Athenian plague. Some of it is almost straight translation. Consider (translation mine):

At no time did the greedy disease let up. It caught and spread
From one man to another, as though they were so many head
Of fleecy sheep and cattle. . . .

Yet here as elsewhere Lucretius elaborates, inventing more lurid detail about the disease itself—not only are the genitals affected, for instance, but desperate victims even castrate themselves—and also expanding on the suffering of animals, such as noble dogs. In a 7,000-plus-line poem whose purpose is purportedly to free its readers from the fear of death, there is something counterintuitive about ending on this terrifying plague, on death coming alike to sinner and saint, weak and strong. The poem ends on the scene of people coming to bloodshed over funeral pyres, where others might try to throw random corpses:

Squalid Poverty and Sudden Disaster would conspire
To drive men on to desperate deeds—so they’d place on a pyre
Constructed by another their own loved ones, and set fire
To with wails and loud lament. And often they would shed
Much blood in their struggle rather than desert their dead.

That is the poem’s unsettling conclusion. Because of the nature of Latin syntax, the whole poem ends, or perhaps is abandoned, on the verb “desererentur.”

***

Virgil’s Georgics is his poetic masterpiece (John Dryden famously called it “the best Poem of the best Poet”), composed between his debut Eclogues and his grand epic project, the Aeneid; Virgil would die before the last was finished, and supposedly ordered it to be burned. The Georgics hits a sweet spot in both effervescent accomplishment and achieved ambition, the poet at the apogee of his powers. In four “books,” it purports to be advice to the Italian farmer, with a chapter on ploughing and crops, a chapter on vines and orchards, a chapter on animal husbandry, and a chapter on apiculture; but these topics seem to be pretexts for a discursive poem of natural history, learned allusion, the beauties of Italy, philosophical explorations of man’s essential condition, and exploration of the nature of civilization. Somehow the section about tending bees culminates in an exquisite retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The plague section comes at the very end of Book Three, the one on animal husbandry. After elucidating how to deal with common ailments of sheep, the poem goes on to recount a plague from some previous era that wiped out cattle, sheep, and even wild animals. This is  . . .

Continue reading.

I found the essay quite interesting, and I hope you do as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2021 at 7:31 pm

How to be an Atheist in Medieval Europe

leave a comment »

While it’s unlikely that you will encounter that situation, the lecture itself is quite interesting. For one thing, it shows how cultural memes tend to remain inchoate until the currents of cultural evolution move them into a definite shape/voice/role. Moreover, this is one of a collection of interesting lectures from Gresham College, which has offered free public lectures for over 400 years. From Wikipedia:

Gresham College is an institution of higher learning located at Barnard’s Inn Hall off Holborn in Central LondonEngland. It does not enroll students or award degrees. It was founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, and hosts over 140 free public lectures every year. Since 2001, all lectures have also been made available online. . .

The seven original Gresham College Professorships that date back to the origins of the college are as follows:

Astronomy  
Divinity  
Geometry 
Law
Music  
Physic 
Rhetoric 

These original endowed chairs reflect the curriculum of a medieval university (the trivium and quadrivium); but as a place for the public and frequent voicing of new ideas, the college played an important role in the Enlightenment and in the formation of the Royal Society. Early distinguished Gresham College professors included Christopher Wren, who lectured on astronomy in the 17th century and Robert Hooke, who was Professor of Geometry from 1665 until 1704.[6]

The professors received £50 a year, and the terms of their position were very precise, for example:

The geometrician is to read as followeth, every Trinity term arithmetique, in Michaelmas and Hilary terms theoretical geometry, in Easter term practical geometry. The astronomy reader is to read in his solemn lectures, first the principles of the sphere, and the theory of the planets, and the use of the astrolabe and the staff, and other common instruments for the capacity of mariners.[7]

Today three further Professorships have been added to take account of areas not otherwise covered by the original Professorships:

Commerce, established in 1985.[8]
Environment, established in 2014.[9]
Information Technology, established in 2015.[10]

The great seal of my alma mater, St. John’s College, Annapolis MD, shows seven books, which represent the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic — the language arts) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music — the mathematical arts), along with a balance (representing the sciences), with the device “Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque.” (“I make free men from children by means of books and a balance,” though in fact the college has been co-ed since 1951.) The curriculum (which has no electives) centers on those disciplines, which students learn through reading closely and discussing the canonical works of the Western canon. (“Reading closely” becomes “listening thoughtfully” in the case of music, drama, the weekly Friday night lecture, and of course in the discussions.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 10:21 am

‘This Crap Means More to Him Than My Life’: When QAnon Invades American Homes

leave a comment »

Anastasia Carrier reports in Politico:

For months, Emily has been married to a ghost. The trouble began last summer, when her husband Peter, the man who once showered her with affection and doted on their kids, started to spend all of his free time online, watching videos and reading message boards. He skipped the family activities they had once enjoyed, like watching football and playing outdoor sports. The couple, she recalled, stopped laughing together; everything suddenly turned serious with him. The pandemic had forced Peter to work from home, but it didn’t feel like he was there.

Before long, there were further turns. Peter started saying things that bordered on “bigoted and xenophobic,” Emily told me. Most shocking to her, Peter made her feel like an enemy for disagreeing with him. When she pushed back on his new strange ideas, like Tom Hanks being a pedophile, he answered her with disdain and treated her as if she were stupid.

“I was told that I buried my head in the sand and couldn’t see the ‘real’ problems,” said Emily, who shared her story under the condition of anonymity because she fears Peter’s retaliation and feels disloyal for speaking up. (Emily and Peter are not their real names.) Sometimes he undermined her this way in front of their kids.

Emily knew her husband was wrapped up in something called “QAnon.” She had heard the term before—Peter, prior to his conversion, had once dismissed it as “nuts”—but she didn’t fully grasp what QAnon was until early October, when she watched a few of the videos Peter kept talking about. That was when she learned that her husband had been consumed by a complex and false conspiracy theory that accuses “deep state elites” of running a secret pedophile ring. By then, it was too late to pull him out.

That month, Emily read an article online about “QAnonCasualties”—a Reddit forum for people like her, whose loved ones had also been drawn in by the bogus conspiracy theory. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so alone. For the next four days she watched the forum closely until she gathered the courage to post about her husband. “It’s exhausting loving someone and watching them get sucked into this cycle you can’t break,” she wrote.

“Thank you all for responding. Just knowing others are going through this disaster is relieving,” Emily replied.

Emily is just one of thousands who have found their way to r/QAnonCasualties. Started in 2019 by a Reddit user whose mother was a part of the “Qult,” the subreddit has ballooned in popularity over the past year, growing from less than a thousand followers in February 2020 to more than 133,000 in February 2021. The group’s followers more than doubled in the weeks following the Capitol riot alone. And as QAnon continues to spread—about 30 percent of Republicans have favorable views about the conspiracy theory, according to a January poll by YouGov—so does the forum’s reach.

As American politics scrambles to deal with this fringe ideology and its followers—a set of people seemingly impervious to facts, some committed enough to assault the U.S. Capitol—the country might learn a few things from the people who have to grapple with QAnon in their very homes, and who live with it every day. And what their stories tell us is unsettling. In post after post on r/QAnonCasualties, fathers and daughters, wives and husbands, best friends and colleagues describe their inability to get through to the people they are closest to. There are stories of marriages and friendships torn asunder, estranged siblings, parents and children severing ties. There are occasional accounts of success. But more often the stories end with people giving up trying to reach their radicalized loved ones. Sometimes, they walk away entirely.

After Emily found the board in October, the tone of her posts quickly went from hopeful to defeated. She began to accept that she might have to leave her husband. One day she wrote: “I would have never married this person, yet somehow, I am [married to him]. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Peter has stopped treating the pandemic seriously, and Emily, who is in a high-risk group, can’t understand. They are both in their early 40s, and over the two decades that they’ve known each other Peter has always been protective of her fragile health. Now he thinks the pandemic is a hoax and doesn’t wear a mask, putting Emily in danger.

So Emily continues to avoid talking about politics and opts to do all of the house chores like groceries herself because she can’t trust Peter to be careful. As she wrote in one post: “This crap means more to him than my life.”

The QAnonCasualties subreddit came to life on July 4, 2019, when user Sqwakomodile shared a story about their mother being consumed by QAnon.

“The ignorance, bigotry, and refusal to question ‘the plan’ have only gotten worse over time,” Sqwakomodile wrote. The user barely talked to their mother anymore, but felt guilty about it. “It only seems to make me feel terrible and feeling like it’s my responsibility to try to lead her back to reality. Having a loved one involved in QAnon is an exhausting, sad, scary, demoralizing experience.”

At the time, QAnon had already made its way out of the far-right chat rooms where it was born and begun to spread via mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The conspiracy could be traced back to 2017, when  . . .

Continue reading. Needless to say, there’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 7:18 pm

Dante: Our Medieval Contemporary

leave a comment »

Michael Glover writes at Hyperallergic:

Want a sure bet this year? Here’s one. That a medieval Florentine poet called Dante Alighieri (born 1265) will be news that stays news throughout 2021. Thanks to the sheer staying power of a great poem in three parts called The Divine Comedy, which he wrote in exile in the last years of his life, we will be commemorating the 700th anniversary of his death.

And this is in spite of the fact that so much about this work seems to work against him: a cosmology, a teleology, and an intricate belief system that, at first glance, seem as remote from us as the outer limits of our very own galaxy.

And yet Dante the Florentine is still present with us, this poet who has been translated again and again and again. Why?

Consider the storyline. The poem is a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Each of its three books consists of 33 cantos. An introductory canto to the entire work brings the whole up to exactly 100. The poem abounds in intricate examples of such orderliness and symmetry.

Dante is at the fiery center of the work from first to last. It is he who tells its story; it is he who dramatizes and reflects, often quite obsessively, upon his own predicament as a lost pilgrim exactly halfway through his life, who, having gone astray in a dark wood, is seeking guidance. The poem’s time-frame is three days: from Good Friday to Easter Sunday of the year 1300.

Luckily, the ombra (“shade” in Italian, i.e., ghost or soul) of a second poet comes to his aid, the Imperial Roman maestro Virgil. Dante is in awe of Virgil, whose great work, The Aeneid, Dante has studied intimately. Virgil accompanies Dante on his journey down through the nine circles of Hell, where they witness the sufferings of different categories of sinner. He stiffens Dante’s resolve, chides him for his fears, gives him courage, backbone, hope.

The lower the circle, the greater the suffering. The final circle, the ninth, is the miserable domain of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2021 at 2:52 pm

Combating Misinformation When A Loved One Is Caught In A Web Of Conspiracies

leave a comment »

Sarah McCammon reports at NPR (and there’s a 5-minute audio of the report at the link):

On Jan. 6, Hilary Izatt was watching TV when she began to worry.

“My husband and I are both political scientists; we’re kind of nerdy; we watch C-SPAN a lot,” Izatt says. “And when we were watching C-SPAN is when the rioters started breaking into the Capitol.”

Izatt, 39, is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Michigan. She says her dad, who lives in Utah, had told her he was traveling to Washington, D.C., to join the massive pro-Trump rally planned for that day.

What she saw unfolding on the screen scared her.

A different — dangerous — reality

“I was mostly worried for his safety and I texted him and he got back to me and he just said, ‘Don’t believe everything you’re watching on TV,’ ” she says. “So I don’t believe like C-SPAN? I’m not sure what he meant by that.”

“But it was this realization that I think we’re coming from two very different realities.”

Izatt’s father declined to comment, but Izatt says she believes he was not among the group that stormed the Capitol. Still, she’s uncomfortable with the idea that he was there that day at all.

Like Izatt, many Americans are feeling like they’ve lost loved ones to a web of conspiracy theories and false information circulating online. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, for example, found that only 1 in 5 Republicans accept Biden’s victory.

Ideas have consequences

“Beliefs are real in their consequences,” says James Hawdon, director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech.

He says the widespread acceptance of disinformation is not only divisive but also dangerous for the country.

“We act on our beliefs. If you truly believe the country is under attack … if this, of course, is not true … obviously it poses a threat,” Hawdon says.

People often latch onto pieces of misinformation that align with their worldview and gradually begin to accept even bigger lies, he says.

“You can get people to step, take small steps off the path of truth or reality or whatever you want to call it, more easily than taking a big leap,” Hawdon says. “But once you’ve gone several yards off that path, then the big leap’s pretty easy to make.”

Those ideas often are appealing because they validate part of a person’s belief system or identity, Hawdon says, and they’re difficult to shake.

Lost in “La-La Land”

Dennis, a retiree from Maryland — who asked that we use only his first name for fear of his safety in the current climate — has grown increasingly worried about his daughter’s embrace of false ideas about the election.

“She’s talked about the election being stolen and I’ve pushed back on that — you know, the standard, ‘Where’s your proof? And how do you suppose this happened?’ ” Dennis says.

His daughter, Paula, lives near Baltimore and works as an office manager. In an interview with NPR, she says her father told her she was “in La-La Land, but I really don’t feel that I am.”

Paula says she has been a conservative all of her life. She says she distrusts elected officials and cannot believe Biden won — despite what many courts and elections have repeatedly confirmed — and regardless of what her dad said about her grasp of reality.

“I was a little bit irritated, but my response is, ‘Well, I’m there with 70 million other people, then,’ ” she says.

Getting to the root cause

Hawdon, the violence prevention researcher at Virginia Tech, says one long-term solution could involve better education in data literacy to help young people learn how to sort through fact and fiction. In the short term, if a loved one is spouting misinformation, he advises pushing back kindly — and trying to understand what led to that belief.

“I don’t really believe people started off believing that there are pedophile rings under a pizza place,” he says. “Something got them down that rabbit hole and you have to understand what that root cause is.”

Just as people often take small steps toward conspiracy theories, Hawdon says, they may need to gradually move away from them, too.

Deen Freelon, an associate journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill specializing in politics and digital media, says a heavier hand is necessary in some situations.

“People don’t understand that they have a problem,” Freelon says. “A light touch is really not going to do it here; we really have to pull out all the stops because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t.”

Freelon says that may mean withholding contact for a while or prohibiting grandparents who are condoning insurrection from spending time with grandchildren.

“People lost their lives,” he says. “So this is really serious.”

“Crazy ideas” with consequences

Hilary Izatt says she’s unsure how to talk to her dad, but she anticipates some tough conversations.

“I think a lot of Americans are. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2021 at 12:42 pm

‘The Capitol Insurrection Was as Christian Nationalist as It Gets.’

leave a comment »

Thomas Edsall writes in the NY Times:

It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.

Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, professors of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Oklahoma, describe Christian Nationalism in their book “Taking America Back for God”:

It includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious. Understood in this light, Christian nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively ‘Christian’ from top to bottom — in its self-identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values and public policies — and it aims to keep it this way.

In her recent book, “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” Katherine Stewart, a frequent contributor to these pages, does not mince words:

It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy, but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.

This, Stewart writes, “is not a ‘culture war.’ It is a political war over the future of democracy.”

While much of the focus of coverage of the attack on the halls of the House and Senate was on the violence, the religious dimension went largely unnoted (although my colleagues Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham made the connection).

I asked Perry about the role of the religious right, and he replied by email: “The Capitol insurrection was as Christian nationalist as it gets.”

Perry elaborated:

Obviously the best evidence would be the use of sacred symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves sign, etc. But also the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory.

Together, Perry continued, the evidence

reflects a mind-set that clearly merges national power and divine authority, believing God demands American leadership be wrested from godless usurpers and entrusted to true patriots who must be willing to shed blood (their own and others’) for God and country. Christian nationalism favors authoritarian control and what I call “good-guy violence” for the sake of maintaining a certain social order.

The conservative evangelical pastor Greg Locke, the founder of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tenn., epitomizes the mind-set Perry describes. In his Sept 2020 book, “This Means War” Locke writes, “We are one election away from losing everything we hold dear.” The battle, Locke continued, is “against everything evil and wicked in the world.” It is

a rallying of the troops of God’s holy army. This is our day. This is our time. This means something for the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, THIS MEANS WAR.

On Jan. 5, Locke tweeted:

May the fire of the Holy Spirit fall upon Washington DC today and tomorrow. May the Lamb of God be exalted. Let God arise and His enemies be brought low.

Along similar lines, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a leading figure among conservative evangelicals, was asked in a 2018 Politico interview, “What happened to turning the other cheek?”

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins replied. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

Robert Jones, the founder and C.E.O. of P.R.R.I., a nonprofit organization that conducts research on religion and politics, argues in his book “The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” that Christianity in America has a long history of serving as a cloak for a racist political agenda.

“The norms of white supremacy have become deeply and broadly integrated into white Christian identity, operating far below the level of consciousness,” Jones writes. “The story of just how intractably white supremacy has become embedded in the DNA of American Christianity.”

On Jan. 7, the mainstream Baptist News published comments from 21 Baptist leaders, including Steve Harmon, professor of theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity:

Minister friends, we must confront directly the baseless conspiracy theories and allegations that our own church members are embracing and passing along. They are not just wrongheaded ideas; they have consequences, and to tie these falsehoods to the salvation of Jesus is nothing less than blasphemy.

Charles Kimball, a professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma-Norman, shares some of Jones’s concerns. In his 2002 book, “When Religion Becomes Evil,” Kimball wrote:

History clearly shows that religion has often been linked directly to the worst examples of human behavior. It is somewhat trite, but nevertheless sadly true, to say that more wars have been waged, more people killed and these days more evil perpetuated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.

In an email, Gerardo Marti, a professor of sociology at Davidson College, described a fundamental strategic shift among many on the religious right toward a more embattled, militantly conservative approach:

Today’s evangelical conservatives have given up on spiritual revival as a means of change. Even in the recent past, conversion — a change of heart and mind that is the fruit of repentance and spiritual regeneration — was thought to be the means by which America would become a morally upright nation: change enough individuals, and the change on a personal level would result in broad change on a collective level.

Marti contends that

the accumulated frustrations of not being able to ease their sense of religious decline, their continued legal struggles against abortion and gay marriage, and the overwhelming shifts in popular culture promoting much less religiously restrictive understandings of personal identity have prompted politically active religious actors to take a far more pragmatic stance.

As a result, Marti continues, revivalism has largely

been abandoned as a solution to changing society. Their goal is no longer to persuade the public of their religious and moral convictions; rather, their goal has become to authoritatively enforce behavioral guidelines through elected and nonelected officials who will shape policies and interpret laws such that they cannot be so easily altered or dismissed through the vagaries of popular elections. It is not piety but policy that matters most. The real triumph is when evangelical convictions become encoded into law.

I asked Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology at Yale and the author of the book “American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion From the Puritans to the Present,” if supporters of Christian nationalism were a dominant force in the Jan. 6 assault on Congress. He replied:

Many observers commented on the jarring mixture of Christian, nationalist and racist symbolism amongst the insurrectionists: there were Christian crosses and Jesus Saves banners, Trump flags and American flags, fascist insignia and a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ hoodie. Some saw apples and oranges. But it was really a fruit cocktail: White Christian Nationalism.

Gorski described the Christian nationalist movement as a loose confederation of people and institutions that share

a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on “biblical” principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience.

The narrative is propagated through a network of channels, Gorski wrote:

The history curricula used by many Christian home-schoolers are organized around a Christian nationalist perspective. Christian Nationalist activists also seek to influence the history curricula used in public schools.

In addition, Gorski said,

Some evangelical pastors have made national reputations by preaching Christian Nationalism. Robert Jeffress of Dallas’ First Baptist Church is a well-known example. In recent years, some Christian Nationalist pastors have formed a network of so-called “Patriot Churches” as well.

It should be noted that Jeffress went out of his way on the afternoon of Jan. 6 to dissociate himself from the attack on the Capitol.

In a discussion of religion published at The Immanent Frame — a forum of the Social Science Research Council — Gorski drew a sharp distinction between Christian nationalism and traditional religion doctrine:

Christian nationalists use a language of blood and apocalypse. They talk about blood conquest, blood sacrifice, and blood belonging, and also about cosmic battles between good and evil. The blood talk comes from the Old Testament; the apocalyptic talk from the Book of Revelation.

In contrast, according to Gorski, the American version of civil religion

draws on the social justice tradition of the Hebrew prophets, on the one hand, and, on the other, the civic republican tradition that runs from Aristotle through Machiavelli to the American Founders. One of the distinctive things about this tradition in America is that it sees Christianity and democracy as potentially complementary, rather than inherently opposed.

Paul D. Miller, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, reasons along parallel lines:

Christian nationalism is the pursuit of tribal power, not the common good; it is identity politics for right-wing (mostly white) Christians; it is the attempt to ‘own and operate the American brand,’ as someone else wrote; it is an attitude of entitlement among Christians that we have a presumptive right to define what America is. I oppose identity politics of all kinds, including the identity politics of my tribe.

Christian nationalism reveals what Benjamin Lynerd, a professor of Political Science at Christopher Newport University and the author of “Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals,” calls “the tragedy of evangelical politics, a tragedy that the unrestrained loyalty to President Trump lays bare, but which stretches well beyond this moment in American history,” when “political theology serves merely as cover for the more pragmatic agenda of social empowerment.”

There is a difference, Lynerd writes,

between searching out the implications of the Christian gospel for politics and leveraging this gospel to advance the social position of American Christians. When evangelicals disguise the latter in the robes of the former, not only do they engage in dishonesty, but they also give fuel to the cynical view that there really is no difference — that the theological is nothing more than a cloak for the political.

Jones, the founder of P.R.R.I., made a related point in an email:

While many media outlets focused on decoding the myriad white supremacist signs and symbols, they too easily screened out the other most prominent displays: the numerous crosses, Bibles, and signs and flags with Christian symbols, such as the Jesus 2020 flag that was modeled on the Trump campaign flag.

Those religious symbols, Jones continued,

reveal an unsettling reality that has been with us throughout our history: The power of White supremacy in America has always been its ability to flourish within and be baptized by white Christianity.

Many of those I contacted for this column described Whitehead and Perry’s book, “Taking America Back For God,” as the most authoritative study of Christian Nationalism.

The two authors calculate that roughly 20 percent of adult Americans qualify, in Perry’s words, as “true believers in Christian nationalism.” They estimate that 36 percent of Republican voters qualify as Christian nationalists. In 2016, the turnout rate among these voters was an exceptionally high 87 percent. Whitehead wrote that “about 70 percent of those we identify as Christian nationalists are white.”

A small percentage of African-Americans qualify as Christian nationalists, but Perry pointed out that “it’s obvious Black and White Americans are thinking of something completely different when they think about the nation’s ‘Christian heritage.’ ”

To ask white Americans about restoring America’s Christian character, Perry continued,

is essentially to ask them how much they want to take the country back to the days when they (white, native-born, conservatives) were in power. To ask Black Americans about America’s Christian past is more likely to evoke thoughts of what we’ve traditionally thought of as “civil religion,” our sacred obligation to being a “just” nation, characterized by fairness, equality, and liberty.

Samuel P. Perry, a professor of communications at Baylor — and no relation to Samuel L. Perry — argued on Jan. 15 in an essay, “The Capitol siege recalls past acts of Christian nationalist violence,” that the confrontations with federal law enforcement officials at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 involving white supremacists and Waco, Texas in 1993 involving an extremist Christian sect, together marked a key turning point in uniting white militias with the hard core Christian right:

Christian fundamentalists and white supremacist militia groups both figured themselves as targeted by the government in the aftermath of the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco. As scholar of religion Ann Burlein argues, “Both the Christian right and right-wing white supremacist groups aspire to overcome a culture they perceive as hostile to the white middle class, families, and heterosexuality.”

In an email, Perry followed up on this thought:

“The insurrection or assault on the Capitol involved unlikely coalitions of people in one way. You do not necessarily think of religious evangelicals and fundamentalists being in line with Three Percenters or Proud Boys,” but, he continued, the

narrative of chosenness and superiority made for broader group of support. I would not attribute Jan. 6 to Christian Nationalism alone, but I would not underestimate the involvement of the contingent of Christian Nationalists and the way the rhetoric of Christian Nationalism became a standard trope for Trump.

The emergence of Christian nationalism has in fact prompted the mobilization, in 2019, of a new group, Christians Against Christian Nationalism. The organization has lined up prominent religious leaders to serve as “endorsers,” including the Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK and Tony Campolo, founder and leader of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.

More than 16,000 ministers, pastors and parishioners have signed a statement that reads in part:

As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy.

In contrast,

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

There is evidence, Robert Jones argues, that even though both Christian nationalists and, more broadly, white evangelicals, are in decline as a share of the electorate, the two constituencies may become more, not less, assertive. Jones noted that his data suggests that the more a group believes it is under siege from the larger culture, the more activated it becomes.

Some of the clearest evidence of this phenomenon lies in the continually rising level of Election Day turnout among white evangelicals, even as they decline as a share of the electorate.

Jones wrote:

The trend among white evangelicals Protestants — declining numbers in the general population but stability in the proportion of voters in the exit polls — is basically what we found over the last decade. Compared to 2008, white evangelical Protestants have declined from 21 percent of the population to 15 percent of the population. But the “white born again or evangelical” category has remained stable over this period at approximately one quarter (25 percent) of all voters.

Even more worrisome, in Jones’s view:

It’s also worth noting that even AFTER the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, PRRI’s final favorability poll showed white evangelical Protestant’s favorability toward Trump remained at 62 percent — double the level of Trump’s favorability rating among the public (31 percent).

Unsurprisingly, the assertiveness of white evangelicals, and especially of Christian nationalists, is activating their adversaries in the traditional moderate religious mainstream. The rise of the Christian right is also feeding a tide of secularization that steadily thins the ranks of the religiously observant.

David Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame, further elaborates on Jones’s argument, writing in a June 2020 article, “The Perils of Politicized Religion, that

It is not just that the United States is becoming a more secular nation. It is that Americans’ secularization is, at least in part, a backlash to the employment of religion for partisan ends. The widely held perception that religion is partisan has contributed to the turn away from religious affiliation.

. . .

Continue reading. I have quoted the column liberally, since it makes liberal use of quotations.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2021 at 6:43 pm

The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage

with 2 comments

Josh Hawley, like many on the Christian Right, have the attitude toward belief that Henry Ford had toward car color: Ford said that you could have a car in any color you wanted so long as you wanted black, and Hawley and his ilk say you can believe anything you like so long as you believe as they tell you to.

Katherine Stewart reports in the NY Times:

In today’s Republican Party, the path to power is to build up a lie in order to overturn democracy. At least that is what Senator Josh Hawley was telling us when he offered a clenched-fist salute to the pro-Trump mob before it ransacked the Capitol, and it is the same message he delivered on the floor of the Senate in the aftermath of the attack, when he doubled down on the lies about electoral fraud that incited the insurrection in the first place. How did we get to the point where one of the bright young stars of the Republican Party appears to be at war with both truth and democracy?

Mr. Hawley himself, as it happens, has been making the answer plain for some time. It’s just a matter of listening to what he has been saying.

In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.

The most eloquent summary of the Pelagian vision, Mr. Hawley went on to say, can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Mr. Hawley specifically cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words reprovingly: “At the heart of liberty,” Kennedy wrote, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The fifth century church fathers were right to condemn this terrifying variety of heresy, Mr. Hawley argued: “Replacing it and repairing the harm it has caused is one of the challenges of our day.”

In other words, Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right. Mr. Hawley is not shy about making the point explicit. In a 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project, he declared — paraphrasing the Dutch Reformed theologian and onetime prime minister Abraham Kuyper — “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.” Mr. Kuyper is perhaps best known for his claim that Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life.

“We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm,” Mr. Hawley said. “That is our charge. To take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”

Mr. Hawley has built his political career among people who believe that Shariah is just around the corner even as they attempt to secure privileges for their preferred religious groups to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove. Before he won election as a senator, he worked for Becket, a legal advocacy group that often coordinates with the right-wing legal juggernaut the Alliance Defending Freedom. He is a familiar presence on the Christian right media circuit.

The American Renewal Project, which hosted the event where Mr. Hawley delivered the speech I mentioned earlier, was founded by David Lane, a political organizer who has long worked behind the scenes to connect conservative pastors and Christian nationalist figures with politicians. The choice America faces, according to Mr. Lane, is “to be faithful to Jesus or to pagan secularism.”

The line of thought here is starkly binary and nihilistic. It says that human existence in an inevitably pluralistic, modern society committed to equality is inherently worthless. It comes with the idea that a right-minded elite of religiously pure individuals should aim to capture the levers of government, then use that power to rescue society from eternal darkness and reshape it in accord with a divinely-approved view of righteousness.

At the heart of Mr. Hawley’s condemnation of our terrifyingly Pelagian world lies a dark conclusion about the achievements of modern, liberal, pluralistic societies. When he was still attorney general, William Barr articulated this conclusion in a speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, where he blamed “the growing ascendancy of secularism” for amplifying “virtually every measure of social pathology,” and maintained that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.”

Christian nationalists’ acceptance of President Trump’s spectacular turpitude these past four years was a good measure of just how dire they think our situation is. Even a corrupt sociopath was better, in their eyes, than the horrifying freedom that religious moderates and liberals, along with the many Americans who don’t happen to be religious, offer the world.

That this neo-medieval vision is incompatible with constitutional democracy is clear. But in case you’re in doubt, consider where

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 3:31 pm

I have to agree with Baruch Spinoza

with one comment

The brief video summary gives the reasons I agree, and I further would say that the only appropriate prayers are those of praise or gratitude. Asking God to make your football team win is (IMO) so misguided that one doesn’t know where to begin — it’s on a part with asking God to make Lima the capital of Boliva because that’s the answer you gave on the mid-term. Petitions to God are, in my view, never appropriate — at least for those who believe that God is all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful. The only petitionary prayer that makes sense is, “Thy will be done. Amen”

So far as Spinoza’s omissions, I don’t see them as significant. So far as rituals are concerned, one can celebrate any number of things — obvious examples are the winter solstice, when the celebration is the turn toward longer days; the vernal equinox, when daylight lasts longer than night; the summer solstice, the peak of the sun and the beginning of the sumer; and the autumnal equinox, when harvest celebrations might begin. And of course one has rituals to recognize births, marriages, deaths, and anniversaries (such as birthdays or Bastille Day or the like). In fact, the equinoxes and solstices are often co-opted by religions, which time religious rituals to (roughly) coincide with those natural demarcations.

And belonging to a group does not require religion — one’s family is a start, and there are groups based on shared enthusiasms (sports fans, game players, literary discussion groups, bowling leagues), shared experiences (classmates, veterans organizations), shared location (neighborhood groups, civic organizations), shared outlooks (political parties and organizations, environmental groups).

At any rate, I was struck by Spinoza’s view of the world in which we find ourselves.

The video is from an Open Culture post by Josh Jones, which begins:

The so-called Enlightenment period encompasses a surprisingly diverse collection of thinkers, if not always in ethnic or national origin, at least in intellectual disposition, including perhaps the age’s most influential philosopher, the “philosopher’s philosopher,” writes Assad MeymandiBaruch Spinoza did not fit the image of the bewigged philosopher-gentleman of means we tend to popularly associate with Enlightenment thought.

He was born to a family of Sephardic Portuguese Marranos, Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism but who reclaimed their Judaism when they relocated to Calvinist Amsterdam. Spinoza himself was “excommunicated by Amsterdam Jewry in 1656,” writes Harold Bloom in a review of Rebecca Goldstein’s Betraying Spinoza: “The not deeply chagrined 23-year-old Spinoza did not become a Calvinist, and instead consorted with more liberal Christians, particularly Mennonites.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including links.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2021 at 11:43 am

Tibetan Monks Use Meditation to Raise Their Peripheral Body Temperature 16-17 Degrees

leave a comment »

I can’t embed the 7-minute video, which leads an Open Culture article by Josh Jones, a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. (See also this article in Aeon.)

Tibetan monks in remote regions of the Himalayas have long claimed near miraculous powers through yogic practices that resemble nothing you’ll find offered at your local gym, though they may derive from some similar Indian sources. One such meditative practice, a breathing exercise known as tummotum-mo, or g-tummo, supposedly generates body heat and can raise one’s peripheral body temperature 16-17 degrees—a distinctly advantageous ability when sitting outside in the snow-capped mountains.

Perhaps a certain amount of skepticism is warranted, but in 1981, Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson was determined to take these ancient practices seriously, even though his first encounters with western practitioners of tummo produced results he deemed “fraudulent.” Not ready to toss centuries of wisdom, Benson decided instead to travel to the source after meeting the Dalai Lama and receiving permission to study tummo practitioners in Northern India.

Benson’s research became a 20-year project of studying tummo and other advanced techniques while he also taught at the Harvard Medical School and served as president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, where he believes the study of meditation can “uncover capacities that will help us to better treat stress-related illnesses.” The claims of monks who practice tummo have been substantiated in Benson’s work, showing, he says, “what advanced forms of meditation can do to help the mind control physical processes once thought to be uncontrollable.”

In his own experimental settings, “Benson found that [Tibetan] monks possessed remarkable capacities for controlling their oxygen intake, body temperatures and even brainwaves,” notes Aeon. Another study undertaken in 2013 by Maria Kozhevnikov, cognitive neuroscientist at the National University of Singapore, “corroborated much of what Benson had observed, including practitioners’ ability to raise their body temperatures to feverish levels by combining visualization and specialized breathing.”

In the short documentary film above—actually a 7-minute trailer for Russ Pariseau’s feature-length film Advanced Tibetan Meditation: The Investigations of Herbert Benson MD—we get a brief introduction to tummo, a word that translates to “inner fire” and relates to the ferocity of a female deity. Benson explains the ideas behind the practice in concise terms that sum up a central premise of Tibetan Buddhism in general:

Buddhists feel the reality we live in is not the ultimate one. There’s another reality we can tap into that’s unaffected by our emotions, by our everyday world. Buddhists believe this state of mind can be achieved by doing good for others and by meditation. The heat they generate during the process is just a by-product of g Tum-mo meditation

Perhaps centuries-old non-European practices do not particularly need to be debunked, demystified, or validated by modern scientific medicine to keep working for their practitioners; but doctors have significantly benefited those in their care through an acceptance of the healing properties of, say, psilocybin or mindfulness, now serious subjects of study and clinical treatment in top Euro-American institutions. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2021 at 2:53 pm

The Vatican’s Latinist

with 2 comments

John Byron Kuhner wrote in The New Criterion in 2017:

I1970, the Procurator General of the Discalced Carmelite Order, Finian Monahan, was summoned to the Vatican for a meeting. The subject of the meeting was a promising young American priest by the name of Reginald Foster. The head Latinist of the Vatican’s State Department had tapped Foster to write papal correspondence, which was at the time composed entirely in Latin. Foster wanted the job but was bound by a vow of obedience, and the decision would be made by his superiors. Monahan intended to resist. Foster, thirty years of age, had proven himself to be both supremely intellectually gifted and utterly reliable—a precious thing at a time when the Catholic Church’s religious orders were hemorrhaging priests. Monahan thought Latin was a dead end. He didn’t want to lose one of his best to a Vatican department that would only get less and less important every year. He said Foster would go to the Vatican “over my dead body.”

Foster remembers the meeting vividly. “So we arrive there, and we’re ushered into this office, and who do we find there but Ioannes Benelli,” Foster says, using Benelli’s Latin name, as was customary at the Vatican at that time. He continues:

Benelli was Paul VI’s hatchet man—whenever he wanted something to get done, he called on Benelli. He was very energetic—got things done, and no nonsense. Everyone was terrified of him. I was too, and now here we were in the room with him, and he turns to Monahan and says, “This is Foster?” The General said yes. Then Benelli said, “Thank you very much, we won’t be needing you anymore.” And he took me by the hand and brought me down to the State Department and that was the end of that. Monahan didn’t say a word. I was now working for the Pope, and it was like I was more or less out of the Carmelite Order. A lot of the time the Order didn’t even really know what I was doing.

Foster would spend the next forty years at the Vatican, part of a small team of scribes who composed the pope’s correspondence, translated his encyclicals, and wrote copy for internal church documents. His somewhat unique position between the Carmelite Order and the Vatican bureaucracy meant that in fact he had a great deal of freedom for a priest. Later in his career his loose tongue—some in the church called it a loose cannon—would attract the notice of journalists looking for interesting copy. “Sacred language?” he said when asked about Latin as the “sacred language” of the church. “In the first century every prostitute in Rome spoke it fluently—and much better than most people in the Roman Curia.” The Minnesota Star Tribune quoted him as saying “I like to say mass in the nude,” which caused a small Curial kerfuffle (Foster claims he was misquoted). He appeared in Bill Maher’s movie Religulous, which featured him agreeing with the proposition that the Vatican itself was at odds with the message of Jesus, that the pope should not be living in a palace, and that hell and “that Old Catholic stuff” was “finished” and “gone.” Foster says the pope received complaints from bishops and cardinals about his appearance. “They said ‘Who is this Latinist of yours and what the hell is he doing?’ They would have fired me for sure. But by the time the film came out I was sick and a few months away from retirement anyway. So they just waited it out and let me go quietly.” He had already been fired from his post at the pontifical Gregorian University for allowing dozens of students to take his classes without paying for them.

Besides being the Pope’s Latinist and “one of the Vatican’s most colorful characters” (as the Catholic News Service called him), Foster has been a tireless champion of Latin in the classroom. Indeed, Foster’s greatest legacy may be as a teacher. “The most influential Latin teacher in the last half-century is Reggie Foster,” says Dr. Nancy Llewellyn, professor of Latin at Wyoming Catholic College. “That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. For decades, he had the power to change lives like no other teacher in our field. I saw him for an hour in Rome in 1985 and that one hour completely changed my life. His approach was completely different from every other Latin teacher out there, and it was totally transformative.”

A humanist par excellence, Latin for Foster was not something to be dissected by linguistic analysis or serve as the raw data for a theory of gender or poetics: it was a language, a medium of human connection. I first met Foster in 1995, at his summer school, and couldn’t get enough: I returned seven times. No one on Earth was reading as much Latin as he and his students were, but he was more like an old-school newspaper editor than an academic: he wanted the story. But for that you actually had to know Latin, and know it well. Foster was ruthless about ignorance, and equally ruthless about anything that to him looked like mere academic posturing. “I don’t care about your garbage literary theory!” he barked at his students one day. “I can tell in about ten seconds if you know the Latin or if you are making it all up.” “Latin is the best thing that ever happened to humanity. It leaves you zero room for nonsense. You don’t have to be a genius. But it requires laser-sharp concentration and total maturity. If you don’t know what time of day it is, or what your name is, or where you are, don’t try Latin because it will smear you on the wall like an oil spot.” The number of Foster’s students runs into the thousands, and many of them are now themselves some of the most dedicated teachers in the field. “When I was in college I asked people, ‘Hey, we all know Latin is a language. Does anybody actually speak it anymore?’ And they told me there was one guy, some guy at the Vatican, who still spoke the language, and that was Fr. Foster,” says Dr. Michael Fontaine, a professor of Classics at Cornell University. “I said to myself, ‘I have to study with this guy.’ And that changed everything for me.” Dr. Paul Gwynne, professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the American University of Rome, said of Foster, “He is not just the best Latin teacher I’ve ever seen, he’s simply the best teacher I’ve ever seen. Studying Latin with the Pope’s apostolic secretary, for whom the language is alive, using the city of Rome as a classroom . . . it changed my whole outlook on life, really.”

Time seems to bend around Foster, and past and present intertwine. When I wrote to Fr. Antonio Salvi, the current head of the Vatican’s Latin department, for comment about Foster, he responded entirely in Latin, beginning with four words that sounded like an old soldier praising Cato—“Probus vir, parvo contentus.” An upright man. Content with little. And in many ways Foster’s resembles the life of a medieval saint: at the age of six, he would play priest, ripping up old sheets as vestments. He entered seminary at thirteen. He said he wanted only three things in life: to be a priest, to be a Carmelite, and to do Latin. He has spent his entire life in great personal poverty. His cell had no mattress: he slept on the tile floor with a thin blanket. His clothes were notorious in Rome: believing that . . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: The Younger Daughter teaches Latin and Classical Greek.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 8:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Religion

Tagged with ,

Buffalo Diocese Accused of Yearslong Cover-Up of Sexual Abuse

leave a comment »

See the previous post: when you have a strongly hierarchical structure that emphasizes respect for authority and in-group loyalty (cf. police, the church, the military), you tend to get an authoritarian organization that becomes corrupted via power, with overt determination to hide misconduct and wrong-doing.

Liam Stack reports in the NY Times:

The New York attorney general, Letitia James, on Monday accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and three bishops connected to it of engaging in a yearslong cover-up of sexual abuse by priests in violation of church policy and state law.

The lawsuit is the first state legal action against the Catholic Church in New York since a new wave of abuse investigations began in 2018, and it is the culmination of just one of eight inquiries, one for each Catholic diocese in the state. The other seven inquiries are ongoing and could yield further lawsuits.

The lawsuit represents what prosecutors believe is a novel legal strategy: The state will attempt to use civil laws, in particular those governing religious charities and their fiduciaries, to sue a Catholic diocese for failing to follow church policies enacted in 2002, after a series of investigative reports by The Boston Globe thrust the sex abuse scandal into public view.

It also may also raise questions about religious liberty: In addition to restitution and changes in the way the diocese handles sexual abuse claims, the lawsuit seeks to ban two bishops from management roles in any charitable organization — a demand that may draw pushback from those who believe this encroaches into church autonomy.

The attorney general said its investigation found that the diocese and its two former top leaders, Bishop Richard J. Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz, used bureaucratic maneuvers to shelter more than two dozen priests accused of harming children.

Ms. James said in a statement that the prosecution aimed to right both a breach of trust and “a crisis of faith.”

“For years, the Diocese of Buffalo and its leadership failed to protect children from sexual abuse,” she said. “Instead, they chose to protect the very priests who were credibly accused of these atrocious acts. Individuals who are victims of abuse deserve to have their claims justly and timely investigated and determined, and the Buffalo Diocese refused to give them that chance.”

Greg Tucker, a spokesman for the diocese, said it was reviewing the lawsuit and was committed to working with the civil authorities to investigate “alleged crimes and complaints.”

“In the meantime, we wish to reiterate that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or of sexual harassment of an adult in the Diocese of Buffalo by any member of the clergy, employee or volunteer,” he said. “The diocese has put in place rigorous policies and protocols governing required behavior as well as a code of conduct which all clergy are expected to abide by.”

David Gibson, the director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, said the lawsuit “represents a real sea change” in the way New York approaches clergy sex abuse.

“Even as recently as 2003 the state showed great deference to Catholic leaders,” said Mr. Gibson. “They did not want to be seen as attacking the Catholic Church because that was politically dangerous. Now in 2020 it is considered a political plus to try to hold the bishops accountable.”

The Buffalo diocese, which includes 600,000 Catholics, careened from crisis to crisis in recent years under the leadership of Bishop Malone, who held a senior position in the Diocese of Boston when its sex abuse crisis became public in 2002. He resigned from his position in Buffalo in December after a Vatican investigation into his mishandling of the abuse crisis there.

The Buffalo diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in February, citing a deluge of lawsuits filed by people who said they were sexually abused by priests as children. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2020 at 2:47 pm

Sex, Lies, And Regret: Giancarlo Granda Reels From Eight Years With The Falwells

leave a comment »

Josh Kovinsky reports at TPM:

Giancarlo Granda first noticed that something was off about Becki Falwell while in bed with her.

It was around three or four in the morning, Granda recalls, when he woke up and noticed Becki staring at him without blinking.

It’s what he’d later come to call “the look” — something that, eight years later, still creeps him out.

But Granda is neither squeamish nor skittish. And nor was he, as a 21 year old, primed to let something a little odd like Becki’s “dark, black eyes” fixating on him in the night give him pause.

After all, he was waking up at Cheeca Lodge, an exclusive resort on the Florida Keys’s Islamorada, just weeks after having first met Becki poolside at Miami’s glitzy Fontainebleau hotel.

Becki and her husband Jerry Jr., who, Granda recalls, was sleeping on the couch that night, had invited Granda to the resort for a good time. Granda was only dimly aware of who he was with: education administrators at a Christian university.

But where others saw bible thumpers with an axe to grind against modernity, Granda says he saw a “hot cougar,” an outlet for his own business idea, and, eventually, a second family. Across days of in-person interviews outside Washington D.C., over weeks of phone calls, and through dozens of supporting documents, Granda provided TPM with the most detailed account yet of his entanglement with the Falwells, which would contribute to Jerry losing his position as president of Liberty University and leave Granda feeling besieged by embarrassing articles, wanting to change his name.

Born to a family of first generation Cuban and Mexican immigrants, Granda, with his chiseled jaw and rigorous workout schedule, projects masculinity. It wasn’t always that way. Late in high school, Granda went through a period in which his personal, athletic, and academic lives collapsed due to an obsession with gaming, leaving the school baseball team to spend all his time on first-person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty.

But Granda found redemption from that period by working out and working hard as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau, which allowed him to study part-time for a bachelor’s degree at Florida International University. It also gave him the physique that, according to Granda, Becki Falwell snapped pictures of as he worked poolside in March 2012, before she invited Granda back to her hotel room, pouring him a glass of Jack Daniels as she asked if it was okay if her husband Jerry watched.

That brief triptych of his life, from baseball infielder, to gamer, to pool attendant, had given him a business idea: Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but for gamers. He shared his plan with the Falwells.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Granda recalls Jerry telling him over breakfast at Cheeca Lodge. The evangelical scion then suggested he “partner up with Liberty University.”

Granda was elated. He and the Falwells made plans for a trip to New York City later in April — one full month after their first meeting. Granda told his buddies at the Fontainebleau what was happening: he had befriended a wealthy, well-connected couple who were going to take him to New York and introduce him to deep-pocketed investors, giving his business idea — and separate real estate ambitions — legs.

Granda had told his sister about the relationship from the beginning, who remembers asking her brother, months into their relationship, if Jerry was “the pastor guy who is super conservative?”

“And he’s like, ‘No, it’s the son,’” she recalls.

It was Jerry, the tall, good ol’ boy son of the famous televangelist, who stoked Granda’s business ambitions while Becki, the dark-haired daughter of millionaire donors to Liberty, flirted with Granda and drew him away for private liaisons.

But as the chance encounter turned into a years-long relationship, Granda’s sense of good fortune wouldn’t last. Granda would come to see these early meetings not as encouragement, but as “grooming.” Publicity around their arrangement was not a useful link to someone well-connected, but “psychological torture.” Two jaded, middle-aged evangelicals taking advantage of someone decades younger, simply out of ennui.

“I’m standing up for my 20-year-old self,” Granda, now 29, reflects.

Carnival ménage à trois

The Falwells have a dramatically different narrative.

In a lawsuit filed against Liberty University in late October, Jerry alleged that Granda carried on a sporadic affair with Becki from 2012 to 2014 in which he was not involved. The couple befriended the 20 year old, the lawsuit says, because they were “impressed” by his “entrepreneurial attitude and ambition.” Later, the lawsuit claims, Granda sought to extort the Falwells.

The Falwells responded to initial inquiries from TPM, and appeared willing to discuss their relationship with Granda. But after Jerry filed his lawsuit against Liberty, the Falwells stopped replying to TPM’s requests for an on-the-record interview.

Granda shared records with TPM that he said back up his version of events. And other reporting suggests that Granda may not be alone in his account. Politico reported earlier this month that Becki told a neighbor about a separate liaison she had had with a Liberty student, saying that Jerry would only be angry about the encounter if he didn’t get to watch. In a statement to Politico, the Falwells called the story “completely false.”

But in 2012, Granda knew none of that. He was seduced by New York.

In Manhattan, the three stayed at the trendy Gansevoort Hotel, sharing drinks on the hotel’s rooftop by a year-round pool with a giant mosaic of Marilyn Monroe at the bottom.

The Falwells squired Granda around Manhattan, taking him to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2020 at 9:50 am

Trump or No Trump, Religious Authoritarianism Is Here to Stay

leave a comment »

Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, writes in the NY Times:

Will President-elect Joe Biden’s victory force America’s Christian nationalists to rethink the unholy alliance that powered Donald Trump’s four-year tour as one of the nation’s most dangerous presidents? Don’t count on it.

The 2020 election is proof that religious authoritarianism is here to stay, and the early signs now indicate that the movement seems determined to reinterpret defeat at the top of the ticket as evidence of persecution and of its own righteousness. With or without Mr. Trump, they will remain committed to the illiberal politics that the president has so ably embodied.

As it did in 2016, the early analysis of the 2020 election results often circled around the racial, urban-rural, and income and education divides. But the religion divide tells an equally compelling story. According to preliminary exit polls from Edison Research (the data is necessarily rough at this stage), 28 percent of voters identified as either white evangelical or white born-again Christian, and of these, 76 percent voted for Mr. Trump. If these numbers hold (some other polls put the religious share at a lower number; others put the support for Mr. Trump at a higher number), these results indicate a continuation of support for Mr. Trump from this group.

The core of Mr. Trump’s voting bloc, to be clear, does not come from white evangelicals as such, but from an overlapping group of not necessarily evangelical, and not necessarily white, people who identify at least loosely with Christian nationalism: the idea that the United States is and ought to be a Christian nation governed under a reactionary understanding of Christian values. Unfortunately, data on that cohort is harder to find except in deeply researched work by sociologists like Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry.

Most pollsters shoehorn complex religious identities into necessarily broad labels, so they fail to separate out the different strands of Mr. Trump’s support. There are indications that the president in fact expanded his appeal among nonwhite evangelical and born-again Christians of color, particularly among Latinos. Mr. Biden, on the other hand, who made faith outreach a key feature of his campaign, appears to have done well among moderate and progressive voters of all faiths.

Conservative voters of faith “came in massive numbers, seven and a half million more above the 2016 baseline, which was itself a record,” Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a longtime religious right activist, said at a postelection press briefing. “We believe they’re the reason why Republicans are going to hold the Senate.”

In their responses to the election outcome, some prominent religious right leaders have enabled or remained true to the false Trumpian line of election fraud. Michele Bachmann, the former Minnesota congresswoman and 2012 presidential candidate, said, “Smash the delusion, Father, of Joe Biden is our president. He is not.” In Crisis Magazine, a conservative Catholic publication, Richard C. Antall likened media reporting on the Biden-Harris ticket’s victory to a “coup d’état.” Mat Staver, chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, added, “What we are witnessing only happens in communist or repressive regimes. We must not allow this fraud to happen in America.”

Even as prominent Republican figures like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney slowly tried to nudge Mr. Trump toward the exit, leaders of the religious right continued to man the barricades. The conservative speaker and Falkirk Center fellow David Harris, Jr. put it this way:

If you’re a believer, and you believe God appointed Donald J. Trump to run this country, to lead this country, and you believe as I do that he will be re-elected the President of the United States, then friends, you’ve got to guard your heart, you’ve got to guard your peace. Right now we are at war.

Others stopped short of endorsing Mr. Trump’s wilder allegations of election fraud, but . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. (Or read her book.) Her column concludes:

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Christian nationalist response to the 2020 election is that we’ve seen this movie before. The “stolen election” meme won’t bring Mr. Trump back into the Oval Office. But then, the birther narrative never took President Barack Obama out of office, either. The point of conspiratorial narratives and apocalyptic rhetoric is to lay the groundwork for a politics of total obstruction, in preparation for the return of a “legitimate” ruler. The best guess is that religious authoritarianism of the next four years will look a lot like it did in the last four years. We ignore the political implications for our democracy at our peril.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2020 at 1:52 pm

How to Tell the Story of a Cult: NXIVM in soft focus and NXIVM analyzed

leave a comment »

Sophie Gilbert writes in the Atlantic:

Not 20 minutes into the vowHBO’s enthralling-then-ultimately-gasbaggy docuseries, things started to feel concerningly familiar to me. Sarah Edmondson—an engaging Canadian actor with big valedictorian energy who had joined the Albany-based organization NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um)—was describing how she was first drawn into a group that she would later expose as a sex cult. Edmondson’s career had stalled, and she was looking for a sign from the universe. A chance meeting on a cruise with a documentarian named Mark Vicente led her to her first five-day NXIVM seminar, where, between clunky taped interludes with ’80s fitness-video graphics, Edmondson says, she had a revelation.

The part that grabbed her came midway through, when NXIVM’s co-founder Nancy Salzman theorized that people with low self-esteem let their “limiting beliefs” curb their potential. “I thought that was just the way that I was,” Edmondson says. “And then all of a sudden, like, I could systematically evolve to be the ideal version of myself. To write my own character.” The jargon comes thick and fast in The Vow: “disintegrations,” “possibilities,” “human-potential program.” To the uninitiated, this might read like so much innocuous psychobabble. But during an intensive self-development workshop, when you’re sleep-deprived, isolated, and being love-bombed by peppy idealists who speak in emphatic cadences, these kinds of ideas can feel like the secrets of the universe are being unlocked.

Reader, it happened to me. In 2006, when I was floundering after college and my father was dying of cancer, my mother enrolled me in a personal-development program she’d recently taken and couldn’t say enough good things about. Edmondson’s description of suddenly awakening to the idea of profound personal change tracked with what I found on day three, having identified my own limiting beliefs and witnessed dozens of fellow attendees “transform” emotionally onstage. Pepped up on possibility, I decided to apply to journalism school. During one of the breaks, compelled by the session leader, I called my dad and told him I loved him. (Because we were both English and therefore hopelessly emotionally repressed, this was the moment my stepmother decided I was in a cult.) For years afterward, I told people how much the course had helped me, and encouraged them to consider it. My interpretation of the program was, until recently, colored by the immersive experience of the whole thing—of being surrounded by joyful, trippily tired people committing themselves to being better human beings. What could be so bad about that?

The storytelling in The Vow can be both similarly open-minded and similarly blinkered. From the outset, the show’s directors, Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, appear intent on countering the reductive “sex cult” portrayals of NXIVM with a persuasive portrait of how intelligent, empathetic people became so swayed by the promise of infinite human potential sold by NXIVM’s Executive Success Programs that some ended up agreeing to be branded with a cauterizing iron. As Edmondson publicly revealed in 2017, NXIVM wasn’t just running self-improvement seminars. Within the larger organization was a smaller cult of personality in which some female members (including the Smallville actor Allison Mack) reportedly recruited other women into sexual servitude for NXIVM’s co-founder Keith Raniere, a soft-spoken, unprepossessing volleyball enthusiast.

“We didn’t join a cult,” the NXIVM member turned whistleblower Mark Vicente says in one scene, frustrated. “Nobody joins a cult. They join a good thing. And then they realize they were fucked.” Much of The Vow’s footage is taken directly from the propaganda videos Vicente made as he abandoned his directing career to climb higher in the NXIVM ranks, which may explain why the show feels curiously defensive. It dreamily weaves ex-members’ reminiscences through abundant scenes of Raniere working his schtick—expounding vaguely on topics such as integrity and trauma. The emphasis is always on understanding, not judgment.

Some crucial context is missing, though. Amer has said that he and Noujaim are filmmakers, not journalists; according to Noujaim, their mission was to document a crisis of faith, not tell the comprehensive story of NXIVM. (Noujaim enrolled in a few NXIVM workshops herself and has spoken about being swayed by the group’s supposedly idealistic mission.) But The Vow’s fly-on-the-wall approach to capturing how NXIVM unraveled means it treats both its apostates and Raniere himself—sentenced last month to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and other crimes—with a dubiously soft touch.

It’s easier to see the series’s blind spots when it’s viewed as a companion piece with a new Starz series on the same subject, the finale of which airs tonight. Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult undercuts The Vow’s approach. Its directors interview cult experts in tandem with former NXIVM members to better understand Raniere’s tactics. The Starz series also includes information so pertinent to understanding NXIVM that it seems inexcusable for The Vow to omit it. Before watching Seduced, I had seen the particulars of the workshop I took (14-hour days, no alcohol, no snacking, no painkillers for headaches) as quirks designed to impress upon participants the importance of self-discipline, rather than coercive techniques to make them more psychologically and emotionally pliable. My own account of the course was incomplete, because my ability to interpret it critically had been fundamentally manipulated and impaired. The same thing is true of The Vow. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2020 at 11:14 am

The illusion of truth

leave a comment »

This video helps explain how President Trump, QAnon, and cults do their work.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2020 at 2:19 pm

Posted in GOP, Politics, Religion, Video

How Ayn Rand Destroyed Sears; or, The Folly of Capitalistic Competition.

leave a comment »

Alfie Kohn wrote a good book worth reading: No Contest: The Case Against Competition. (He wrote a second good book worth reading, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, but that’s not the one I’m talking about.) In it, he describes research findings that demonstrate the drastic costs of competition.

Of course, Libertarians will have none of this, and blinded by Ayn Rand they insist that the free market, unhindered by any restrictions save the laws enforcing contracts, will solve any problem efficiently, and commonsense observation and history of what actually happens when corporations and companies operate free of regulation and oversight is something simply must be ignored.

Sometimes, though, the effects of untrammeled competition are not so easily ignored, as when those effects result in the destruction of a once-towering company.

Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski wrote a book, The People’s Republic of Walmart: How the World’s Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for Socialism, that argues that centralized planning on a vast scale can work, an idea that gives Libertarians the heebie-jeebies, they include a description of what happened when free-market forces were released within Sears.

An extract from their book:

While companies like Walmart operate within the market, internally, as in any other firm, everything is planned. There is no internal market. The different departments, stores, trucks and suppliers do not compete against each other in a market; everything is coordinated.

It is no small irony then, that one of Walmart’s main competitors, the venerable, 120-plus-year-old Sears, Roebuck & Company, destroyed itself by embracing the exact opposite of Walmart ’s galloping socialization of production and distribution: by instituting an internal market.

The Sears Holdings Corporation reported losses of some $2 billion in 2016, and some $10.4 billion in total since 2011, the last year that the business turned a profit. In the spring of 2017, it was in the midst of closing another 150 stores, in addition to the 2,125 already shuttered since 2010—more than half its operation—and had publicly acknowledged “substantial doubt” that it would be able to keep any of its doors open for much longer. The stores that remain open, often behind boarded-up windows, have the doleful air of late-Soviet retail desolation: leaking ceilings, inoperative escalators, acres of empty shelves, and aisles shambolically strewn with abandoned cardboard boxes half-filled with merchandise. A solitary brand-new size-9 black sneaker lies lonesome and boxless on the ground, its partner neither on a shelf nor in a storeroom. Such employees as remain have taken to hanging bedsheets as screens to hide derelict sections from customers.

The company has certainly suffered in the way that many other brick-and-mortar outlets have in the face of the challenge from discounters such as Walmart and from online retailers like Amazon. But the consensus among the business press and dozens of very bitter former executives is that the overriding cause of Sears’s malaise is the disastrous decision by the company’s chairman and CEO, Edward Lampert, to disaggregate the company’s different divisions into competing units: to create an internal market.

From a capitalist perspective, the move appears to make sense. As business leaders never tire of telling us, the free market is the fount of all wealth in modern society. Competition between private companies is the primary driver of innovation, productivity and growth. Greed is good, per Gordon Gekko’s oft-quoted imperative from Wall Street. So one can be excused for wondering why it is, if the market is indeed as powerfully efficient and productive as they say, that all companies did not long ago adopt the market as an internal model.

Lampert, libertarian and fan of the laissez-faire egotism of Russian American novelist Ayn Rand, had made his way from working in warehouses as a teenager, via a spell with Goldman Sachs, to managing a $15 billion hedge fund by the age of 41. The wunderkind was hailed as the Steve Jobs of the investment world. In 2003, the fund he managed, ESL Investments, took over the bankrupt discount retail chain Kmart (launched the same year as Walmart). A year later, he parlayed this into a $12 billion buyout of a stagnating (but by no means troubled) Sears.

At first, the familiar strategy of merciless, life-destroying post-acquisition cost cutting and layoffs did manage to turn around the fortunes of the merged Kmart-Sears, now operating as Sears Holdings. But Lampert’s big wheeze went well beyond the usual corporate raider tales of asset stripping, consolidation and chopping-block use of operations as a vehicle to generate cash for investments elsewhere. Lampert intended to use Sears as a grand free market experiment to show that the invisible hand would outperform the central planning typical of any firm.

He radically restructured operations, splitting the company into thirty, and later forty, different units that were to compete against each other. Instead of cooperating, as in a normal firm, divisions such as apparel, tools, appliances, human resources, IT and branding were now in essence to operate as autonomous businesses, each with their own president, board of directors, chief marketing officer and statement of profit or loss. An eye-popping 2013 series of interviews by Bloomberg Businessweek investigative journalist Mina Kimes with some forty former executives described Lampert’s Randian calculus: “If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly, he argued, they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance.”

He also believed that the new structure, called Sears Holdings Organization, Actions, and Responsibilities, or SOAR, would improve the quality of internal data, and in so doing that it would give the company an edge akin to statisti- cian Paul Podesta’s use of unconventional metrics at the Oakland Athletics baseball team (made famous by the book, and later film starring Brad Pitt, Moneyball). Lampert would go on to place Podesta on Sears’s board of directors and hire Steven Levitt, coauthor of the pop neoliberal economics bestseller Freakonomics, as a consultant. Lampert was a laissez-faire true believer. He never seems to have got the memo that the story about the omnipotence of the free market was only ever supposed to be a tale told to frighten young children, and not to be taken seriously by any corporate executive.

And so if the apparel division wanted to use the services of IT or human resources, they had to sign contracts with them, or alternately to use outside contractors if it would improve the financial performance of the unit—regardless of whether it would improve the performance of the company as a whole. Kimes tells the story of how .  . .

Continue reading.

In my view, Libertarians love logic but fail to recognize its imitations. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed with respect to the law, “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” Logic can readily take you to a place or conclusions that experience shows is bad, that doesn’t work. Generally this happens because the logic is using false assumptions, of which Libertarians have an abundant supply — cf. the Sears story above, a tragic clash between logic and experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2020 at 4:45 pm

%d bloggers like this: