The Sad State of Affairs in the GOP

Today is Saturday, February 27, 2016

 

Politics as usual? Not anymore. The Republican Party is in serious trouble and the CNN non-debate the other night illustrated all too uncomfortably just how serious their problems are. The GOP leadership has lost control of their ideals and message to the extent that their Speaker, John Boehner, gave up and resigned, and their more traditional and more electable Republican, Jeb Bush, has left the presidential race, leaving two freshman Senators and a non-politician and former Democrat-turned-obnoxious-foul-mouthed-demagogue in the lead. It is a very sad state of affairs for the Party and it does not bode well for them in this year’s election.

But this is something of their own making and we have seen it coming for at least six or seven years since the Tea Party formed back in February and March of 2009 and the mid-term elections of 2010. At that time, in reaction to the economic collapse and the failures of the G.W. Bush administration that led to the collapse and its policies to try to stop it, fiercely ideological, anti-politics, and anti-Federalism elements within the party attacked the mainstream Republicans and the party leadership, and in coalition with the radical Christian right hijacked the party’s processes and put a stop to ‘politics as usual.’ They allowed no more consensus, no more compromise, no more politics and no more discussion. They dug their heals in and obstructed all political process in the Congress. They blamed ‘government’ and ‘politics as usual’ for the country’s problems, echoing the radical ‘John Bircher’ mentality of the mid-20th century.  But then, that mentality has existed in the GOP since the mid-1960s, albeit kept fairly marginalized by party leadership who believed in the political process.

This anti-political element in the GOP started in 1965 in reaction to their 1964 loss to President Johnson and his liberal social and economic agenda. The Vietnam War destroyed Johnson’s presidency, and in 1968, Richard Nixon courted those radical voices in the GOP and in a strategy known as ‘The Southern Strategy’ successfully courted former conservative Southern Democrats who hated Federalism and the new era of civil rights, integration and social equality. Reagan followed the strategy in 1980, but he expanded his base by allowing a radical Christian right-wing a place at the GOP table. Reagan, however, with Party leadership, was able to keep that radical element from exercising too much influence. In anger, the radical Christian right wing devised a strategy of their own to infiltrate local and state political offices, essentially creating a socially conservative Christian political movement throughout the Midwest and the South. Gradually, over the next twenty-plus years they exercised their political muscle well enough to make serious gains in Congress in 2010. Those freshman congressional Christians found an opportunity to attach themselves to the coattails of the new Tea Party who came in at the same time. Their collective status as ‘outsiders’ and their incredible lack of political experience or understanding of politics as the art of consensus and compromise created havoc in Congress and seriously undermined the effectiveness of government. The more ineffective it became, the louder the people screamed for outsiders to come in and fix it.

In addition to this political history, conservative media expressed the same quasi-Christian, anti-politics and anti-Federalism attitudes through Beck, Huckabee, Hannity, Limbaugh, et al, and Fox News with their intense propaganda efforts to attack the political process and denounce ‘consensus and compromise’ as inadequate and a failure in fixing the country’s problems. This added to the din and desire for outsiders to come in and do something.

Much of this is also in reaction to Obama’s election and re-election as the first partly African-American president and an avowed liberal whose policies to address the Bush Administration’s global economic mess were anathema to the new breed of anti-politics and anti-Federalism Republicans. Obama’s election unveiled the barely disguisable neo-Confederate nature of the Tea Party and the new wave of Republicans in Congress and those who supported them. Their insistence on a strict interpretation of the Constitution ‘as it was written and literally meant by the Founders’, their resistance to federal Court rulings regarding American society and social equality, insisting social policy is a Tenth Amendment States’ Rights issue, their rejection of the principle of Judicial Review of existing laws, their view of the Second Amendment as a right to defend themselves against ‘government’, and their view that the Fourteenth Amendment only applies to African-Americans and no one else, are all clear echoes of the Confederacy’s complaints against the federal government in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The old slogans, ‘The South Shall Rise Again’, and ‘Forget, Hell!’ are no longer historical relics of a previous century, but they have become, ironically, yet, in fact, revived sentiments within the GOP since 2008 when Obama was elected.

These anti-politics, anti-Federalism, anti-judicial, quasi-Christian, socially conservative ideals are now dominant among those in Congress, the Party, and among the rank and file. Their confederate, un-American mentality and insistence that outsiders, especially ‘business leaders’ come in and run the country like a corporation instead of a political system, has led to the current state of affairs. And it is, therefore, no surprise that they support someone like Donald Trump. Trump is, perhaps, more apolitical than anti-political, but his refusal to accept consensus and compromise; his direct, often vulgar, retrogressive and bombastic style and rhetoric regarding Hispanics, Muslims, and women appeal to these confederates in the Party. His disdain for politicians and the political process, preferring instead to bully, punch and insult his way through it appeals to the confederate mentality in its frustrated inability to feel heard in a Federal system that doesn’t take a fundamentalist stance on the Constitution and States’ Rights.

And thus, this is where the GOP is today. These anti-politics and anti-Federalist (a.k.a. neo-Confederate) voices are having their day and they have their outsider, champion demagogue in Donald Trump, who uses force and intimidation in order to get himself heard, yet offers nothing of substance to the American people, and he is enough of an egotist and narcissist to enjoy and wallow in the adulation and media attention, whether positive or negative.  However, he is probably unelectable as a presidential candidate should he get the nomination. Mainstream Republicans will be making a concerted effort to bring him down before the nominating convention this summer, but even if they cannot, the old GOP is no more. Their self-undoing over the last few decades and especially since allowing the Tea Party and radical Christian right to take control will lead again to failure at the polls in November. They are probably facing another eight years of a Democrat in the Oval Office, which is stomach-wrenching for them. They will have to figure out finally who the GOP is and what they really stand for, because if they maintain this ‘anti-politics and anti-Federalist’ ideology, they will not find any traction with the younger generation or the growing racial and ethnic minorities, and they will cease to exist as a political party fading away like the Whigs of old. It is a sad state of affairs.

The Christian Right’s Agenda with ‘Religious Liberty’ Laws

Today is Thursday, October 29, 2015

This week there is the World Congress of Families (WCF) being held in Salt Lake City. It is primarily an anti-LGBT gathering of religious organizations and anti-gay activists from around the world who promote the notion of ‘natural’ marriage. There are about 3000 attendees from sixty different countries this year. The WCF was formed out of a meeting between Allen Carlson of the Illinois Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, and two professors from Moscow State University in Russia. Initially, the impetus was a concern for the demographic changes in the U.S. and Russia, that were leading to a population decline and a growing movement for homosexual inclusion in mainstream society.  The congress was first organized as a pro-‘natural’ family event to promote one-man-one-woman marriages and families around the world. Their work has been instrumental in the success of some of the anti-gay legislation in Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia. The WCF, however, denies any ‘anti-gay’ agenda, yet they allow very extreme people and organizations to participate. One such extreme organization is The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) represented by it’s leader, Brian Brown. Brown really tipped his hand regarding his organization’s agenda In his address to this world congress. This is what he said:

” The Supreme Court didn’t change the definition of marriage, it “put a lie into the law” — just like slavery and the Dred Scott decision.” Brown said that there’s no time for activists to be depressed. Citing the history of Christian martyrs, abolitionists and civil rights activists, he criticized believers in his anti-LGBT cause who don’t want to reveal themselves publicly because some of their Facebook friends might think less of them. “Instead of being depressed, we should savor the fact that we live at a point in history, like those times before, in which we can stand for the truth, make a difference, and God has put us here for some reason. This fight is not over. It has just begun.”

In his address, Brown proposed four goals for the anti-marriage equality movement:

1. Affirm continually and publicly that marriage is by nature a union of a man and a woman.

2. Reject the Supreme Court’s decision as illegitimate

3. Overturn the decision, perhaps through decades of struggle or perhaps with new Supreme Court justices appointed by a Republican president elected in 2016

4. Contain the damage in the meanwhile by passing laws that allow public officials and businesspeople to refuse to have anything to do with gay couples’ marriages and families.

     This agenda is, on its face, absurd, especially number four. Brown now makes it perfectly
clear that these religious freedom laws that NOM supports and promotes in states around the
country have nothing whatsoever to do with protecting ‘faith’ or anyone’s religion. It is a straight
forward attack on the humanity, dignity and families of gay people.
     They can believe whatever they want about LGBT and their families, but to attempt to create
a legal framework to marginalize, persecute and discriminate against gay people should be a
frightening proposition for everyone and a clarion call for everyone politically to fight against
their agenda.
     Although the WCF itself doesn’t advocate any level of  violence, there are those at this world
congress who advocate imprisonment or death for gay people, and there are many so-called
Christians here in this country who agree with that. The fact that NOM, Brian Brown, politicians
like Carson and Kansas Governor Brownback, and other U.S. religious organizations are
participating in this world congress with people who advocate violence against LGBT, gives tacit
if not overt approval of this disgusting, medieval, puritan attitude. These people who advocate
imprisonment or death for homosexuality  are sociopaths with no level of empathy  with their
fellow human-beings whatsoever and they hide their sickness behind the veil of ‘religious
freedom’. Rational, intelligent, humane people, whether religious or non-religious, are not
fooled by this deception. NOM, Carson, Brownback, Huckabee and Cruz need to be publicly
criticized for their participation and/or support.
     Brown’s stated agenda and his participation in this ‘congress’ sends the message to all
Christians that it is good to target any group of people worthy of Christian hatred.  The
message is very transparent that they want to impose their beliefs on the whole country.  The
message is not meant just for Christians, but for all of America.  The intention is to remove
the barriers between Church and State, establishing state-level religious laws to oppress and
suppress homosexuals and homosexuality ‘in the name of God’, and in the guise of ‘protecting’
believers from prosecution for exercising their First Amendment right to ‘freedom of religion’.
But Brown’s fourth agenda item makes it quite clear that protecting freedom of religion is NOT
the underlying motive in their support for religious freedom laws. Rather, the motive is to target
LGBT and render them legally and politically inferior within the American body-politic. That
item is a clear statement of bigotry and not religion.
     They obviously don’t care one bit about the US Constitution or the rule of law. In their
agenda, they make it perfectly clear they have no respect for the Constitution or the Supreme
Court. Asserting ‘God’s’ law and forcing it on American society is what they’re after, which
makes them essentially no better than ISIS or conservative, authoritarian Muslim governments
when they imprison or  execute gay people. Just because NOM and the WCF do not openly
advocate such tactics, does not mean they do not sympathize with the attitude. Their ignorance
is so frightening, it is hard to imagine anyone who can still  think in these archaic, medieval
religious terms–but they do.
     They also have their politicians who are participating–Ben Carson’s PAC is there as well as
Kansas Governor Brownback, who is giving a speech to the congress. Other presidential
candidates like Cruz and Huckabee also support the WCF and NOM.  The Southern Poverty Law
Center has identified NOM as a hate group based on their agenda and activities. Of course, they
object to the label, but truth is truth. The very fact that Brown’s fourth agenda item singles out
and targets LGBT for open discrimination makes the hate group label a reality. Conservative
politicians who align themselves with NOM and the WCF do so at their political peril. It does not
matter what anyone believes about gay people and their families, but it does matter that they

are being targeted for open discrimination and persecution by groups like NOM and the WCF.

As Americans, whose basic mission statement includes the fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, whose Constitution guarantees equal treatment and equal access to all levels of society for everyone, this anti-LGBT agenda has to be rejected as both irrational and un-American.

The Kim Davis Controversy As I See It

Today is Saturday, September 5, 2015.

The whole world is watching the controversy in Rowan County, Kentucky and the recent imprisonment of Kim Davis due to contempt of court charges after she refused the court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She is claiming the right to her religious freedom to disobey the law. Because the Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples have the right to marry in the United States and state laws denying this right are unconstitutional, the federal judge is claiming she violated her oath to uphold constitutional requirements in her role as an elected civil servant. Even as she was escorted away from the court room, she refused to issue the authorization for her staff to hand out marriage licenses. Five members of her staff, after being threatened with the same contempt of court charges, agreed to issue the marriage licenses and those licenses were handed out beginning Friday morning. In spite of this, the controversy and argument are not over.

What is really going on here? In this specific situation, Kim Davis is being punished for not doing her job and violating the law. Her religious views were not considered as relevant by the judge. Yet, for Kim Davis, it is the only thing that is relevant. She is getting plenty of support from social conservatives and most of the Republican presidential candidates, as a result. They are claiming she was jailed for her religious beliefs. The judge denies those allegations.

I think what is really happening here is a deep-seeded change in American culture, probably due to demographic changes, that is dismantling previous Protestant Christian privilege. A glimpse into American History makes it pretty clear that, although there is a constitutional mandate for separation of church and state, and the government may not endorse any religion, the reality is Protestantism has always held a superior place in the culture and enjoyed an obvious cultural privilege. The way I see it, that has been changing and Protestants know this and feel this. There is, in fact, no war on Christianity. Kim Davis was not jailed because of her beliefs. She was jailed because she violated her oath and the law. She is still allowed to believe in her ‘Apostolic Christianity’; she is still allowed to believe, with all her heart, marriage is only between and man and a woman and she can preach that in her church. But what she cannot do is use her elected civil position to discriminate against people because she does not believe in what they are doing.

In the past, Protestant social values were often the basis for community laws and prescribed behaviors. That was a result of their cultural privilege–they were just accepted as our American cultural values. Ever since the mid 1960s, however, that cultural privilege has slowly eroded as a result of Supreme Court decisions regarding abortion, women’s rights, interracial marriage, civil rights, and now the rights of LGBT to be full participating members of the society. Marriage equality was the final blow to that privilege and I can imagine it must feel demoralizing for those Christians who feel they are increasingly marginalized in the culture. There is a problem of perception here though. They, as people and citizens, are not being marginalized at all. They have every right to believe what they believe and that has not changed. What has changed is the unwillingness of the majority of Americans and the judicial system to continue to allow them a privileged status complete with laws and community values that reflect and support their beliefs at the expense of others.

Christians adamantly adhere to the belief that the United States, its government, laws and culture are ‘Judeo-Christian’ in origin and that tradition and history should not be abandoned. However, as it stands now, only one in five Americans actively engages in a religious community or congregation. The younger generation is less religious than any previous American generation, and as they come of age, they do not tolerate the rigid religious social rules of behavior and identity that impinge on their freedom of expression. They simply do not understand how romantic and sexual love can be limited by biological gender and prescribed by a church or religion. It leads, obviously, to the question, ‘What about the civil rights of those who are not practicing Christians?’  And this is the crux of the conflict.

Kim Davis has become a hero or martyr of sorts to these Protestant Christians, which was expected. The wave of support for her is all about the last dying gasp of a privileged religious denomination that has dominated American culture for more than two centuries, but has lost that status over the last fifty years. The Republican Party is dominated by these believers and their field of presidential candidates makes that clear. But their privilege and cultural dominance will no longer be a reality and sending Kim Davis to jail is emblematic of their situation. The Republican Party and its believers, as they are now, will never be able to succeed in the current cultural, social and political landscape as long as they push for a return to the old White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant America of yesterday. Protestantism will still be the dominant American religious sect, but it will never again be allowed to dictate to the rest of us how we live our lives, whom we love, or how we plan or arrange our families. Those days are gone.  It is sad that they are feeling marginalized when that is not really the case. It is even more disturbing that they are now taking to ‘civil disobedience’ in order to stop the erosion of their influence and privilege, because it is a futile, quixotic tilting at windmills. We are a nation of laws based on the Constitution and that includes the 14th Amendment that guarantees all of us equal treatment and equal access to all levels of society, not just Protestants.

Does Same-Sex Marriage Really Redefine the Institution?

Today is Sunday, May 3, 2015.

After reviewing the Supreme Court’s arguments this last week regarding the constitutional questions of marriage equality and state recognition of married same-sex couples, I pondered over one of the statements of a Supreme Court judge suggesting to allow and recognize such marriages would ‘redefine the institution’ that had been between a man and a woman for ‘millennia’. Something didn’t ring true in that statement. I remember in graduate school, I studied medieval culture and epic poetry, which expressed for the first time in the culture something that would be called ‘romantic love’ as the basis of relationship. However, in the literature it was portrayed in conflict with traditional values regarding marriage as a social, political and economic contract between families.

In Gottfried’s 12th century ‘Tristan and Isold’, for example, the romantic love between the two main characters ran afoul of the arranged marriage between King Mark and Isold. The fact that it took a ‘magic potion’ to bring Tristan and Isold together, in part, suggested that this romantic love between people could not be helped. The heart knows what the heart wants and the power of this romantic love trumps the traditional notions of relationship and marriage. The romance between them, however, ultimately led to tragedy in its interaction with the existing rules of social interaction and arranged marriages.

This idea of romance and courtly love had its origins in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s efforts to lessen the brutish behavior of her knights at court by encouraging her Ladies-in-Waiting (who were married) to flirt with the knights and thereby get the knights to fall in love with them, in hopes these feelings of romantic love would ‘civilize’ the brutes. If ‘God is love’, then any man who felt this love for a woman was experiencing God. Love was the divine manifestation of God in the human heart and being in a ‘state of love’ was a spiritual experience that would in itself civilize the brutish, martial behavior of the men. Of course, any sexual unions from such flirtations (called ‘courting’) were severely punished and crazy measures to circumvent any such unions were taken. One such measure was the ‘chastity belt’, usually demanded by a lady’s husband.

The Aquitaine Court became the model throughout Europe and this romantic love became a new cultural value during the High Middle Ages. Yet there was a significant cultural lag between the advent of this romance, experienced equally by men and women, and an improved role for women in society and especially in marriage as a social contract. Courtly love was apparently still a male prerogative. The reality was, women were still property and objects of trade between families and kingdoms. In lower classes, marriages were often arranged for men and women by their local royalty and, in large part, were for the purpose of procreating and establishing alliances. Until the High Middle Ages, marriages, whether among the nobility or in the peasantry, had been strictly a civil matter. It was only after this new ‘courtly love’ appeared that the Church demanded that marriages become an ecclesiastical convention performed by a priest in a church with two witnesses.  This form of marriage continued through the 18th century, but with a growing acceptance of the two involved people to determine for themselves whether to enter into the contract. By the 19th century, although marriages were still often arranged, many people entered into marriage as an act of free will, but it was still not often based on romance. Love and commitment were considered desired developments over time. It is quite clear that there was a very significant shift in cultural values regarding love and marriage in the 11th-13th centuries and it shifted again in the 19th century. So, this idea that marriage has looked the same for ‘millennia’ is, on its face, false and misleading.  Not to mention, marriage in pre-Christian cultures was entirely different and did not look at all like marriages of the medieval period.

Romantic love did not become a standard for the basis of marriage until the 1890s, but even then it was within the social practice called ‘courting’. Prior to the 1920s, people ‘courted’, which was mostly a supervised prelude to marriage. ‘Dating’ was not a social practice until the advent of the automobile, which allowed for unsupervised, private ‘courting’ away from the family. This new ‘dating ritual’ gave young women more autonomy as individuals in their own right and gave us love and romance as the primary impulse for marriage. But emotionally, there is a fine line between love and hate, as the adage goes, and divorce rates began to increase, even if it meant you had to go to Nevada, which for a while was the only state that had legalized divorce. This gave women a modicum of freedom within a marriage, but there was a level of social backlash to this ‘modernism’. By the end of World War II this backlash had become a ‘cult of domesticity’ that forced women through propaganda and advertising to stay barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. It peaked in the 1950s when America experienced a frightening degree of conformity in an effort to slow the rate of social change.

The fact is, we cannot separate the definition of marriage from the role of women in society, even if we think of it as primarily love and romance. The changes in women’s roles as a result of a vibrant civil rights movement over the last two centuries led to a complete redefinition of traditional marriage by 1980.  Wives in the 18th and 19th century America had no right to their own property or even their own children. There was no such thing as ‘marital rape’ well into the 20th century. Any property or assets they had prior to marriage transferred to the husband. A married woman could not even get her own credit card until the mid-1970s. These inequities were not corrected until women began using the U.S. Constitution to make their case for equality in marriage, as well as for themselves as autonomous individuals. Although women are still not constitutionally enfranchised by an Equal Rights Amendment, court rulings have placed women on a much more equal footing with men and many of those rulings have to do with the role of women in marriage. As a result of their efforts, marriage now is completely different than it was forty years ago. So marriage has already been redefined many times in Euro-American culture since the Church took over the institution in the High Middle Ages.

Now in the 21st century we still accept that love and romance are the basis of modern marriage but previously prescribed roles for husband and wives no longer exist. There is no longer a requirement to have children, for example. Today people don’t question a couple’s decision not to have children. I can remember a female friend of mine who got married in 1972 and, in a conversation with her, she expressed concern that I might judge her as selfish and ‘unwomanly’ because she and her husband had agreed, at least for the foreseeable future, that they were not interested in having children. I seriously doubt any woman would say anything like that today.  If children are not the overriding reason to get married, then we have already redefined traditional marriage. If married women can own their own property and have their own assets, then we have already redefined traditional marriage. If we no longer need a minister or priest, opting for a civil servant to perform the ceremony, then we have already redefined traditional marriage. If wives have the same rights as their husbands within the marriage contract, then we have already redefined traditional marriage.

Because we have already redefined marriage in ways that loosen the social and legal bonds of the partnership (it’s relatively easy to get a divorce), and extend the same rights to wives and husbands, it has become important for society to find other ways to support these marriages, rather than relying on traditional roles and customs. We have done this through financial and social benefits bestowed upon us by the state and federal governments. It makes financial and social sense to get married and there are supports in place to maintain that relationship. Yet, there have not been any social or financial supports for gay people who fall in love and form a permanent bond. Of course, historically, since the advent of a Christian Euro-American culture, homosexuality has been demonized as a pagan ‘behavior’, a ‘sin of the Greeks and Romans’ and, according to (mis)interpretations of the Bible, is rejected by God and a violation of ‘Natural Law’. The resulting repression and persecution of homosexuals in Christian cultures are well-documented, but like women and racial minorities, gay people have stood up and begun to fight for their rights in a free, pluralistic society by applying constitutional principles to their situation.

Their horrific persecution through forced sterilization, electro-shock treatments, criminalization and imprisonment, and social and economic discrimination and marginalization is finally becoming socially and politically untenable. As we learn more about human sexuality and gender, and as gay people bravely ‘come out’ to reveal to us all that they are everywhere (and always have been), as a society we are gradually becoming uncomfortable with their past treatment and we cannot help but have some level of empathy (that is, if we are not sociopathic). The social, political and cultural changes in America since 1965, one of the most important of which was the redefinition of marriage and the role of women within the institution, and therefore within society, inevitably lead to marriage equality, where, for all people, marriage will be based on love, romance and commitment, and nothing else. Since a spouse can no longer be considered ‘property’ or subordinate in any way, is by all legal standards equal to the other spouse, and procreation is no longer either a social or cultural requirement, there is nothing standing in the way of allowing two people of the same gender to get married.

Marriage equality does not redefine marriage away from ‘traditional marriage’ any further than we already have. It merely expands who can participate. Religious prejudice and bigotry are the only impediments to this equality, when they need not be. There is nothing stopping believers from holding to their anti-gay beliefs. But it is unacceptable, and obviously unconstitutional to force the whole of society to believe as they do, and politically shape policy in America to conform to their religious dogmas.

In reality, creating marriage equality is a very conservative move, if we hold to the idea that marriage is a stabilizing force in society. It expands the definition of family as a basis for social order, reduces promiscuity, and thereby protects us all from disease and increases social stability. It also provides a pathway out of a forced, insular gay subculture and its resulting ghettoization. We saw what can happen in such insular subcultures, and inevitably to society as a whole, when the AIDS epidemic struck. If society had supported and promoted especially committed male-to-male relationships, we could have avoided the deaths of millions. Those who religiously believe that homosexuality, as a ‘sin’, should be suppressed, have nothing behind their views other than outright bigotry. That bigotry proved harmful to society with the unconscionable slow response to AIDS. According to Scripture, all people are ‘sinners’ and as a society and culture, we do not and should not marginalize each other for our sins, unless those sins are hurtful and harmful to others.

In my view, none of this is really about redefining marriage, per se, but rather it is about overcoming prejudice to extend to LGBT their constitutionally guaranteed civil rights and the human right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To allow John to marry Jane, but not Tom to marry John, or Jane to marry Lucy, seems to me to be outright gender discrimination that impedes Tom and John or Mary and Lucy from living their lives as they are and as they choose, freely and openly.

The Supreme Court , I think, has no choice, therefore, but to judge the cases before them as a form of gender discrimination (and therefore bans on same-sex marriage would be unconstitutional based on current law) and also inconsistent with our traditional constitutional values, especially regarding the Fourteenth Amendment.

 

Religious Freedom Restoration Acts

Today is Friday, March 27, 2015.

As I understand it, there is a federal law signed by Bill Clinton called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allegedly makes sure there is no religious discrimination within the federal government and its agencies. The Supreme Court ruled that the law only applies to the federal government, and as a result, since 1997, there have been 19 states that have passed these RFRAs. However, what is happening at the state level is a cynical attempt to remove discrimination protections for LGBT in the face of the expected Supreme Court ruling coming in June regarding marriage equality.

The most recent state to pass such a law is Indiana. Governor Pence signed the law earlier this week. Others are moving through state legislatures in Utah, Arkansas and Georgia. The problem with these current laws is that they are specifically targeting the LGBT communities. The Indiana law makes it clear a merchant may refuse service to a gay person simply out of ‘religious conscience’. That was never the intent of the federal law, nor was it the intent in a number of the earlier state laws.  As the anti-gay religious communities realize they are losing this battle in the courts, their anti-gay organizations are hemorrhaging money and losing credibility, and marriage equality seems certain to become the law of the land, they are seeking legislative assurances that they will not have to treat or deal with gay people if it violates their ‘religious conscience.’

In other words, they are seeking legislative rights to discriminate, but they are wrapping their discrimination in religion and tying it with the bow of bigotry. It is one thing to refuse service to someone for specific unsocial behavior–intoxicated, high, inappropriately dressed for the type of business, being accompanied by a pet, or any other singular reason for one specific person. However, to allow a merchant to refuse service to an entire group of people based on their identity and social status seems to me a blatant violation of the 14th Amendment.

I realize this is a slippery slope argument, but what if a Christian refused service to a Muslim? Or what if a gay merchant refused service to a Christian, or say, a Republican, by using the argument that it violates his/her conscience and belief system?  I doubt the religious communities and social conservatives would accept that as legal.  Yet, these new state laws are loosely written enough to allow such scenarios. In the end, this will turn into a litigation nightmare and an economic boon for lawyers. And given precedents over the years, there is no doubt the Courts will rule such laws are unconstitutional.

We know, though, that someone in Indiana, for example, will push a merchant not to serve him/her because of their sexual identity, then sue them and the state for redress. It will take a couple years to go through the system, but the ACLU, Lamda Legal, and the HRC will certainly take these cases all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

So what is in it for Indiana and the other states who are now passing these so-called ‘religious protection’ laws? Since Governor Pence signed the law into effect this week, there have been calls for boycotting the state and petitions circulating to remove major sporting events, conferences and conventions from venues in Indiana. Salesforce, a multiple billion dollar cloud computing company, has canceled all employee work-related trips to Indiana and has begun limiting investments in the state.  The CEO of Salesforce has also warned other corporate CEOs that they need to scrutinize the situation in order to protect their employees and Indiana clients from discrimination.  In addition, there are now calls for removing the regional college football championships from Indianapolis and the NCAA has issued a statement saying they are concerned about their players and fans who could face potential discrimination. GenCon, the largest comic convention in the country has a contract with Indiana to hold their event there, but has now stated they will re-evaluate their relationship with the state.

From my perspective, there is not much in it for any state to pass such a law that specifically targets the LGBT community for discrimination by packaging the law in ‘religious conscience’.  UPDATE: Utah just now passed a similar RFRA as I am writing this blog. I suppose it is par for the course.  You can’t force people to like or support you, but you can challenge bigotry and discrimination where you see it.  I suppose it is now my civic responsibility to cross these states off my ‘to visit’ list. And should I ever have to drive through them, I will certainly not spend any money there or as little as I have to.

Conversations with a Russian

Today is Wednesday, February 25, 2015. I have not been blogging in the last few months because of a sudden change in my work schedule temporarily back to full time, then three weeks in Europe, and then the need for a vacation from my vacation.

But in the last week or so, I have been having a conversation on social media with a couple of Russians in Russia about gay rights, marriage equality and homosexuality, in general. I have heard reports of extreme homophobia and have posted before on the 2013 Russian ‘Anti-Gay Propaganda Law’.  I didn’t expect the opinions and points of view expressed in my conversations with them. It is really a lot worse than I imagined.  Here’s an example of one adult male Russian’s interpretation of my support for marriage equality and equal rights under the law for homosexuals, in general.

“Let me summarize your answers to my questions:  1) First question was answered affirmatively – redefinitions of ‘the family’ are possible since “The nature of family changes over time–it’s not a constant.”
2) Second question was also affimatively answered so that there shouldn’t be _any_ barriers for such a redefinition. “It’s a matter of social evolution. Nobody writes down a plan, a schemata or graphic and says this is what family should look like.”
3) The main principle is that “Everyone should have the right to live according to how they identify as long as they pose no harm to others.”

First of all thank you for such complete answers.

Having those answers, I can make some conclusions. I understand that for Gary any change of family redefinition is possible, especially in the light of recent achievements in biology. You guys are not alone in your fight with constants. There is a Dutch Pedophilia Party that seeks to legalize pedophilia. 

That is moving in the same direction as you do with gay marriage and homosexual rights.

As far as I understand you don’t see anything wrong in pedophilia if a child ‘loves’ his adult ‘partner’ and they both ‘make no harm’ to each other and people around. That is a direct conclusion from the answers that you give.

You also shouldn’t be against any form of sexual deviation if it follows principle, which you defined when answering question #3. Any type of ‘family relations’ is possible if we start following that principle. Everything, including zoophilia (taking into consideration recent achievements in biology).

It is absolutely obvious that once you start ‘redefining’ the family (which is constant), there won’t be _any_ stop. Any ‘redefinition’ of the family or ‘extension’ of that definition is regressive, leads to promiscuity and, in the end, to degeneration/extinction.”

My response to this was as follows:

“Once again you seem to equate homosexuality with pedophilia. Your ‘slippery slope’ argument that leads to bestiality and zoophilia is stupid. Christian conservatives make the same claims here in the States. It’s nonsense. There’s nothing good in pedophilia! It should never be allowed! And it has nothing whatsoever to do with two adults of the same gender who are in love with each other. There’s no equation here between same-sex adults in a consensual relationship and adults who take sexual advantage of children. It’s a nonsense argument. I don’t support pedophilia–I don’t support or even suggest that zoophilia is something to allow, because there’s nothing consensual in it. It harms the animal and that’s wrong. An animal can’t rationally decide its ‘life and pursuit of happiness.’ If it’s abused by a human, the animal is not ‘free.’ So, it simply shouldn’t be allowed. It’s not humane.

The most important part of this is that the two adults agree to the relationship. If there’s no consensual agreement, then there’s no relationship. To develop a sexual relationship with a child is not consensual–even if the child should ‘want’ it. The child doesn’t have the emotional and psychological maturity to understand the nature of the adult-child relationship. The adult does–or should have. So, the adult is taking advantage of the situation and the child and that’s wrong, and in my opinion criminal.” 

His response to me went like this:

“I am not talking about your personal relation to kids, I am talking about principles that you described. Pedophiles are exactly following your steps and have exactly the same argument (why would you change anything that works?)

Several decades ago nobody could imagine homosexual marriages. I am convinced that that change had been done deliberately by slow media brainwashing. Shaded windows work all the better the more people become disoriented where Good and Evil are.

How can you tell the good from the evil if you don’t have morality and everything is relative? In the world that you describe moral is dynamic, so, basically, it allows multiple interpretations that allow an escape from any kind of responsibility and the role of morality in this case diminishes to near zero values.

In this situation, when taboos are lifted, I am pretty sure that soon some ‘new scientific evidence’ will come out which proves that sex with children is health-giving for adults and psychologically favorable for children.

The argument will be the same: family has no constant definition. Society develops and recent scientific findings prove…(whatever you want to say here.)
And the last argument will be: are you against children’s happiness? Are you against children’s mental health? You don’t believe solid facts (and the facts will be presented as almost absolute truth and with all the authority)? Then you are retrograde person, a pedophilophobe and more than that – you don’t have a heart!

Destruction of the family and lifting barriers started from the madness, called ‘homosexual marriage’. But this blow is not the only one. There are numbers of them, that are impacting society simultaneously, which adds some credit to their artificial origin.

I am talkig about juvenile justice and sexual education in the first place. Though such factors are a social narcotic which breeds inane people and moral mediocrity. And the most dangerous result of this mediocrity is the rise of neonazism, which inane people will be able to accept.

What we see is the end of classic modernity which stands on family, private property and the government (state). All these three major institutions are under attack with gay rights and gay marriage.

And you are the part of the army that does that attack.”

My response to this (gulp!) was really total shock. Extending human and civil rights to LGBT amounts to an attack on ‘family, private property and the State’, the three core principles of ‘Modernity.’  We all need to think about this allegation for a minute.  His argument does not make any sense to me. OK, yes, pedophiles try to make the same argument for acceptance, but they have no grounds for their point of view–in fact, an adult sexual relationship with a child is ‘unequal’ from the beginning and therefore the child is always disadvantaged in the relationship and suffers one way or another. Two adults of the same gender who agree on their relationship is a completely different thing. He continues to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia.  Yet any rational person knows there’s no relationship or connection between the two. There are many more hetero pedophiles than homo, according to available crime data. No gay person wants to have sex with a child any more than a straight person does–and in either case, if they do, meaning they’re pedophiles, they are criminals if they act on their impulses. That isn’t going to change, so it’s hard for me wrap my brain around this Russian’s argument.

Again, he is using a ‘slippery slope’ argument that is only speculation and has no truth or proof to it. The fact remains, homosexuality between consenting adults should never be illegal–and it isn’t in Russia, either. And if such a relationship should lead to a committed love between the two people, then they have the same inalienable rights as everyone else under the law to be who they are and live the way they do openly and without fear of persecution, prosecution, discrimination or humiliation by any majority or the government or any religion. But that has NOT been the case, and we have had to fight for the right to live freely without discrimination. Happily, the U.S., Canada, many European and South American countries have constitutional law that says the government may not discriminate against any minority group, and gay people have taken their case to the courts accusing government of prejudice and discrimination and we won. In some cases, states and countries voted to accept marriage equality. In the U.S., each state also had laws against same-sex marriage, but those laws have been deemed ‘unconstitutional’ and now 39 states must allow same-sex couples to marry.  And it looks like the Supreme Court will render marriage equality bans unconstitutional nation-wide by the end of June of this year.

In the end, I see no destruction of the family. There’s no impact on heterosexual marriage. Heterosexuals will still do what they do and form their families. Homosexuals will do the same. But now, according to the law, our families will hopefully be equal to heterosexual families and must be treated that way.

In regards to children and this thing called ‘gay propaganda’ in Russia, we have to socialize children  and if they are never told the truth about same-gender relationships, couples and their families), heterosexual children will never learn to live with the ‘other’, and homosexual children will be painfully forced to hide themselves to avoid discovery, threats and persecution. Young people need to know that two people of the same gender can fall in love and develop committed relationships with families. It is important for both straight people and gay people to be ‘out’ and in public, so that people begin to understand that gay people are completely normal, intelligent, friendly human beings, who only want to be a part of their communities, society and country. They want to contribute to their neighbors and cities like everyone else. They are not monsters or something to fear.  There is no such thing as ‘gay propaganda’–there is only open discussion, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and education in order for people to sort out the truth of the situation. Russia has laws now that censor any open discussion of homosexuality as ‘propaganda.’ It is outright oppression and I see it as no different than Nazi censorship of Jews in an effort to limit ‘Jewish propaganda.’ 

I can tell you, if I had known any gay people when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t have felt so isolated and alone. If I had seen gay couples and families, it would have made it a lot easier on me to accept myself and not hide myself away from people. Having to hide is extremely psychologically damaging and painful. All gay people ‘internalize’ the homophobia from the family and the society–we hide and hate ourselves as kids as much as society seems to hate us. Breaking through that ‘closet’ door and coming out, standing up for ourselves, not taking ‘no’ for answer from family and society, fighting for our rights to be who we are, making others see us as human, making people understand that this is a matter of human right as well as civil right–that is changing the world for the better. It is not an attack on the family, property rights or the government. 

If Russians think it is an attack on ‘modernity’, then modernity was cruel and unjust and it needed to be deconstructed. And I am very proud and thankful that those ‘modern’ inhumane attitudes–like this Russian’s attitude–are being swept away into the dustbin of social history. As we say these days, he is on the wrong side of history. And if the majority of Russians think like he does, then Russia itself is on the wrong side of history with this issue, and it will be increasingly difficult for Russia to adapt to social realities in the 21st century. 

What did Jesus Say About Marriage and Men Who Don’t Marry Women?

Today is Friday, October 10, 2014.

I blogged a few months ago about marriage equality and the problem many religious folks have with it and homosexuality, in general. This time I’ll just focus on the Bible, specifically the Book of Matthew, and re-post what I found there in Christ’s teachings about the subject. The country is in the throws of excitement for those who support marriage equality and those who oppose it are disgusted with the SCOTUS ‘non-decision’ earlier this week. I had an on-line discussion with someone who kept quoting from the Bible (mostly Paul’s letters) in which the word ‘homosexuality’ was used. I wondered how that was possible, since the word didn’t exist at all in any language until the latter 19th century and wasn’t used in the U.S. until the early 1900s. So, how could it show up in a Biblical quote? The answer is obviously a problem with translation. I looked into eighteen different translations of the Bible that are currently in use, and, although some translate Paul’s words as ‘homosexuality’, others refer to pedophilia, ritual sex at the alter, lust outside of committed relationships, etc. It seems all of these sexual behaviors are being lumped into the word ‘homosexuality’ in some translations.  This misleads believers to think that Paul was talking about same-gender sex in a general sense, but that is clearly not the case.

So, I decided to look further into the Bible to see what Christ actually said. I don’t have enough historical or theological background to tackle the Quran, so I decided to stay within the New Testament to find out what Christ said about the subject of love and sexuality. I was completely surprised to find that the Book of Matthew has Christ’s teaching on the subject!

But before I could really be sure I was reading things correctly, I had to go back and examine the multiple versions/translations and, boy, there is quite a difference from one to the other! I, therefore, decided to find a Vulgate Latin version to read something maybe a little closer to the original text. Then I looked at the German Luther version to read something not in English. All together, I examined 18 different translations of Matthew and discovered in Matthew 19 Christ’s view of male/female relationships, marriage, divorce and men who don’t associate with women. Oh, yes, indeed, He mentions the subject!!

The chapter starts out with Christ teaching the disciples about his view of marriage. They ask him about the issue of divorce, since they had heard He was against it. He said he was against it, in spite of Moses’ acceptance of it. He maintained that Moses only allowed divorce since men were so unteachable and emotionally unintelligent, there was nothing else he could do. But, in reality, it was never really meant to be, and in the new age He was going to ban divorce. The following are two translations of the conversation that followed, one Vulgate Latin and the other Luther’s German, and my analysis/commentary on them:

Vulgar Latin Matthew 19:10-12

10- dicunt ei discipuli eius si ita est causa homini cum uxore non expedit nubere 11- qui dixit non omnes capiunt verbum istud sed quibus datum est 12-sunt enim eunuchi qui de matris utero sic nati sunt et sunt eunuchi qui facti sunt ab hominibus et sunt eunuchi qui se ipsos castraverunt propter regnum caelorum qui potest capere capiat 

10-And then the disciples said to Him, “If that’s the situation between a man and woman, then it isn’t expedient (good, practical, appropriate) to marry. 11-He said to them in response, “Not just anyone can grasp (understand) this proverb (idea, teaching), but rather only those to whom were given the capacity to [be with women will understand it]. 12-That is to say, some men were born from the womb eunuchs, some become eunuchs because of other people, and some cut themselves off [from women] for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever has the ability to understand this, understands it.

The first thing that occurs to me is the use of the verb ‘dare’ in the perfect passive ‘datum’, which literally means ‘to give’ and ‘has been given’, but also means ‘surrender; give over to’ or ‘attribute or ascribe to’. In this context, it seems to be saying that the teachings about marriage and divorce are attributed to, ascribed to or meant only for men who are oriented to women and marry them. If a man is meant to be with women, then this teaching about divorce is meant for him.

However, Christ leaves open the possibility that not all men are destined or meant to be with women when he talks about ‘eunuchs’. Clearly, the word ‘eunuch’ is used here metaphorically. Christ does not appear to be referring literally to men who have been castrated, because in the third example in verse 12, He doesn’t use the word ‘eunuch’. In the Latin, it’s expressed in a passive reflexive verb form (se ipsos castrav.erunt): “are cut off by themselves”, i.e., for their own reasons, and specifically for spiritual purposes (for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven). This suggests the word ‘eunuch’, as used in the first two examples, is a metaphor for men who do not relate sexually to women. In researching castration in 1st century CE Roman culture, I found that there were two meanings for eunuch: one that described a man’s sexual behavior as celibate or not active with women, and one that described a man who had been castrated. That carried over into early Christian culture and continued well into late antiquity among Byzantine Christians who also used the term in those two ways. So, we can safely say this Matthew 19:12 reference indicates celibacy or a non-heterosexual or non-sexual orientation to women.

 In looking further into various translations of these verses, the German Luther Bible stays very close to the above Latin version—in fact, much closer in meaning than many early modern or modern English translations.

 Luther German Matthew 19:10-12

10- Da sprachen die Jünger zu ihm: Steht die Sache eines Mannes mit seinem Weibe also, so ist’s nicht gut, ehelich werden. 11- Er sprach zu ihnen: Das Wort faßt nicht jedermann, sondern denen es gegeben ist. 12- Denn es sind etliche verschnitten, die sind aus Mutterleibe also geboren; und sind etliche verschnitten, die von Menschen verschnitten sind; und sind etliche verschnitten, die sich selbst verschnitten haben um des Himmelreiches willen. Wer es fassen kann, der fasse es! 

10-And then the disciples spoke to him:  if such is the situation of a man with his woman, it is therefore not good to become married. 11-He spoke to them:  Not just anyone grasps the concept, but rather only those to whom it has been granted. 12- For there are some cut-off [from women], who were born that way from the womb; and there are some cut-off, who were cut-off because of people; and some are cut-off, who have cut themselves off, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept [what I’m saying], should accept it.

Luther takes the Latin verb ‘datum’ (literally meaning ‘have been given’) and translates it directly with the German ‘gegeben ist’, meaning here something like ‘to whom it has been granted’ by God. This seems to be echoing quite directly what is intended in the original Vulgate Latin, that is, the teaching is meant for those men who relate to women and want to marry.

 As for those for whom the teaching is not meant, Luther doesn’t use the word ‘eunuch’ at all in his translation. He uses instead the verb ‘verschnitten’, meaning to have been ‘cut off or cut away’, a direct translation of the Latin ‘castrav erunt’ used in the 3rd example in verse 12.  Luther seems to be translating verses 10-12 to mean ‘removed from or cut off from’ relating sexually to women, because the word ‘Eunuch’ as well as the verb ‘kastrieren’, to castrate, existed in 16th century German. If he meant literally a castrated man, one would assume he would have used ‘Eunuch’ or ‘kastriert’.

I looked at over a dozen English translations of Matthew 19:10-12 including the following versions: King James, Wycliffe, American Standard, Revised Standard, New Revised Standard, New Century, Good News, Complete Jewish,  Hebrew Names, Common English, English Standard, Bible in Basic English, Tyndale, Weymouth, New International and God’s Word.  It is rather astonishing to me the variety of meanings given in these various translations. Some actually translate the verses to mean ‘castrated men’, which in the context of the teaching, makes no sense. Some just say celibate or renounce marriage. One version suggested that Christ said in the first example in verse 12 that some men were born without desire for sex, but then translated the second example as ‘castrated’ and the third as ‘renouncing marriage’.  In the end, I studied the Latin and Luther’s German versions, reviewed all of the above versions and came up with my own translation that I believe clarifies the teaching:

10-And then the disciples said to Him, “If you require this kind of relationship between a man and a woman, then perhaps it’s best not to be married to a woman at all.” 11-He said to them in response, “Not everyone can understand this, but If you are oriented to be with a woman, then this teaching is meant for you. 12- That is to say, some men are born not to be sexual with women, some men are socially conditioned not to be sexual with women, and some men cut themselves off from relating sexually to women for their own reasons, for example, for spiritual reasons. If you have an open mind about this, you should be able to understand what I’m saying.”

Christ seems to be telling his disciples there is an orientation to be or not to be with women. You can’t just decide that you are or aren’t going to be with a woman because you won’t be able to divorce her. You have the choice if you’re choosing celibacy for spiritual reasons, but otherwise He seems to be saying, you follow your nature and accept the responsibility. What I find fascinating in these verses is the subtle but clear message that a man’s sexuality is not a spiritual issue, but if he’s oriented towards women, then he’s obligated to get married and remain committed to her and the relationship to protect her from potential abuse and harm from society. It becomes a spiritual problem for the man if he divorces her for selfish reasons, leaving his wife to suffer the social consequences. Based on verses 1-9, it’s obvious that Christ is trying to protect unmarried and/or abandoned women from being socially ostracized and abused, suggesting that it’s the man’s fault if anything happens to her once abandoned and on her own. However, Christ makes it abundantly clear that not all men are meant to be with women and that is not, apparently, a spiritual issue. It’s a matter of your genetics (birth), or it can be a matter of learned, conditioned behavior, or it can be a choice. It’s not important. What IS important is how a married man treats a woman and how committed he is to the marriage.

In Matthew 5, Christ also says that He fulfills the old Law, and that, as the Son of Man, he is the new archetypal man for the new age. He is the new model for a new spiritual culture and tradition. Then to back that up, in Matthew 15, He says we no longer have to adhere to Levitican Law to be ritualistically clean, for it is what’s in the heart and what comes out of your mouth that makes you ritually clean or unclean. It’s not the food that goes into your mouth or washing your hands that determines your level of cleanliness for worship, but rather the words, thoughts and ideas that come from the heart and come out of your mouth. He also criticizes people for being rigid  about following Levitican rules and not His ideas. Christ lays it out clearly in reference to this in Matthew 11, that even those communities previously destroyed by their own sin, for example, Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, will be forgiven before those who stick irrationally to old dogmas and don’t follow his new teachings. That’s a pretty shocking claim. Superficially, this often becomes interpreted as simply the punishment for turning away from Christ. However, there’s something deeper in the message. This is specifically about being dogmatic about Leviticus and the Old Testament rules for worship, and not just a general admonition for not following His teachings. 

The way I read it, the core message of Christ’s teachings has to become central to spiritual practice and we can now abandon the old ritualistic requirements for worship. The new standards still include some of Mosaic Law, for example, the Ten Commandments, but beyond that the only thing we need to pay attention to are the teachings of Christ, whose central message is ‘love’. In Matthew 5: 44-47, “ 44- But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45- so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. 46- Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! 47- And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!” (Good News translation)

So, it’s clear to me that all of the listed abominations in Leviticus are no longer spiritual issues for Christians. Christ did not adhere to those rules and clarified why. The only specifically worded rule against same-sex behavior, other than Paul’s admonition of ritualistic same-sex behaviors at the altar, pedophilia and random acts of lust, is in Leviticus, and it seems Christ didn’t have much use for those rules. That being the case, and considering Christ’s teachings on male sexuality and marriage, where is the problem with same-sex relationships when they are based on commitment and love?  It is obviously a problem within Christianity for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals to give oneself over to sexual lust without an emotional relationship and some level of commitment between the two people.  OK, I can accept the premise that it’s a ‘sin’ to have sexual relations without the benefit of an agreed upon commitment between the consenting adults. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I can accept the premise. But there is nothing in the New Testament and nothing in the teachings of Christ that would prohibit two adults of the same gender to commit to each other in a loving, long-term sexual relationship, for example, a marriage. In Paul’s letters, he talks about the sin of pedophilia or the sin of ritualistic sex at the church altar, or giving yourself over to lust randomly with someone of the same sex. But even Paul doesn’t say anything about a committed adult same-sex relationship.

So, where is this rigid, dogmatic fundamentalist anti-gay sentiment coming from within Christianity? Why are so many Christians not reading and following Christ’s actual teachings regarding such an attitude and such treatment of others, when the Good Book lays it all out quite clearly that such attitudes and treatment of others is, in Christ’s view, sinful? Certainly, there can be no confusion over the definition of marriage, since the only time Christ really focuses on marriage is when He says heterosexual men should be married to women and once they are, they must remain so for life. He does describe what the relationship should be like, but he doesn’t really define marriage at all.

My conclusion is that based on Christ’s actual words, a person’s sexuality is not a spiritual issue. It’s what one DOES with that sexuality that is or isn’t ‘sin’. Within a Christian context, a heterosexual shouldn’t be promiscuous, nor should a homosexual. A heterosexual should develop a durable, committed, loving relationship. A homosexual should theoretically do the same. It’s fascinating that in Christ’s teachings on love and marriage, He never once suggested that marriage’s primary purpose is procreation. His overriding concern was protecting women from societal abuse because of being unmarried or divorced.  I can only assume, our contemporary social problem accepting homosexuality as just another sexual orientation, and that same-sex marriage is somehow un-Christian, is a cultural tradition rooted in a long-standing homophobia and bigotry from the early Middle Ages, and it’s not specifically related to the teachings of Christ in the New Testament at all.

Foreword to the Queer Astrology Conference Journal

It has been a year now since the first Queer Astrology Conference took place in San Francisco and it is perhaps time to reflect on what happened there, how it came to be and where it will lead us into the future. There was an initial gathering of interested astrologers last spring in San Francisco, whose discussions and idea-sharing led to the planning of the summer conference. There was surprise expressed by many that there had not been a Queer Astrology Conference before 2013. After all, academic studies in Queer theory and Feminist theory have been part of mainstream intellectual efforts for more than thirty years now, and gays and feminists long ago found a kinship with astrology and astrological studies. So, why was there this cultural lag within the astrological community that has taken so long to bring Queerness and Feminism into mainstream astrological inquiry and criticism, at least to the degree that there could be a Queer Astrology Conference in 2013?

A thorough answer to that question is probably more complicated than what can be outlined in a foreword to these transcripts of last year’s Queer Astrology Conference. There probably needs to be a serious academic study of the history of feminists, gay people and their contributions to the field of astrology. However, there are rather common-sense suggestions for possible answers to the question based on the remembrances and insights of those older astrologers who began moving astrology in a new, humanistic direction in the late 1960s and 1970s, and who knew very well most of the gay and queer astrologers of the period. To that end, my conversations with Donna Cunningham, Alan Oken, Diana Stone, and Erin Sullivan helped me remember some of the queer and feminist astrologers who shaped the study and discipline of astrological practice. They reminded me that the struggle for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights of that period opened up the previous astrological community to hippies, a new generation of intellectual and well-educated astrologers, Blacks, young Feminists and Gay men. This new generation of astrologers began integrating their life-experiences and their education into astrological practice, and as a result, new astrological theories and ideas began influencing the world of astrology. New concepts like Marc Robertson’s ‘Cosmopsychology’ and Michael Meyer’s ‘Humanistic Astrology’, the influence of classical mythology and archetypes presented by Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung in re-interpreting planets and their roles in human behavior, as well as the continued work in depth psychology originally introduced by Dane Rudhyar in the 1930s (‘The Astrology of Personality’) and promoted and further developed by Liz Green, Howard Sasportas, et al, all served to bring a new astrological culture and a new body of literature into being. Part of this period of innovation included a large number of gay men and women who proved to be a driving force behind this new humanistic approach to astrology.

In spite of the queer and feminist influence in the new humanistic approaches, being openly gay was still problematic in astrological circles in the 1970s and 1980s. In spite of the very nature of astrology, most students and practitioners were not that open to knowing who was queer, much less having open discussions about it. Initially, all of the queer astrologers stayed quite closeted. This was reflected in the society at large, but when the AIDS epidemic began, it decimated the ranks of our gay astrologers. No fewer than fifteen gay professionals died during the epidemic and the initial impetus for a Queer Astrology died with them. Millions died across the country and queer people began to get angry at the lack of response and the general prejudice and ignorance. It became necessary to act up and act out—and that meant change the culture to accept ‘coming out’ as a part of the queer experience. This also began to happen in the astrological community. Gay astrologers began outing themselves, because it was clear that silence meant death. Open discussion, recognition and honest discourse were the goals for those of us who were still alive. Although things began changing in the country and around the world, within astrological circles coming out didn’t seem to make much of an impact. In the final analysis, we had simply lost too many of our most important queer astrologers to AIDS and there just weren’t enough voices left to bring the message home.

That does not change the fact that many gay men were behind the humanistic and psychological approaches to astrological interpretation and they were, in fact, the first phases of what we would now call the ‘queering’ of astrology. However, once we lost so many of our great astrologers in the ’80s-90s, we also lost the momentum in developing a body of openly queer literature, theory and criticism. Without their presence, inspiration and charisma, queerness in astrology simply languished. The global astrological community simply did not evolve any further in its understanding of queer people and their lives. Interpretations of the birth chart most often reflected the archaic, pathological view of queer sexuality as inverted, perverted, confused or simply willful rebellion. Astrologers were still telling people that their sexual identity could be found in the birth chart. Both gay astrologers and gay clientele were still being alienated by those so-called experts who had such answers for them. In fact, many astrologers still believe and maintain that they can find ‘homosexuality’ in the birth chart. This fact alone makes it clear that the process of queering astrology is not complete—we still have hard work ahead of us. However, there is now a new generation of astrologers that has been influenced by Queer and Feminist theory, and they are part of a larger cultural shift that includes and integrates queer and gay people into our mainstream, everyday life. They are open-minded, filled with empathy and new life and intellectual experiences that are beginning to change astrological attitudes, culture and practice, just as my generation did back in the 1970s. They have made it a goal in this postmodern world to deconstruct astrological interpretation and practice and renovate it with queer and feminist theory and criticism. They have begun anew where the older generations’ queer and gay astrologers and their efforts left off.

The Queer Astrology Conference of 2013 was a first step in bringing these new efforts into focus. Their influence is beginning to be felt at mainstream conferences where even the older generation has begun talking about sexuality and relationships in a new light that is colored somewhat queerly. So, I applaud and encourage their efforts here to continue the work that was begun decades ago, work that was influenced by queer and feminist theory, but that unfortunately was left incomplete after the tragic impact of AIDS in our astrological community. The challenge is to develop a new body of astrological literature that will reflect what has happened here and now, as well as fulfill the dream of the previous generation of queer astrologers. This current movement to queer astrology, to organize conferences, and to create a new mode of interpretation must result in the publication of these ideas in our collective body of astrological work. This book is clearly a first effort in creating our future and an excellent start in educating our colleagues as to the nature of the vision.
Gary Lorentzen

Is the West to Blame for Russia’s Actions in the Ukraine?

Today is Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A recent article by John J. Mearsheimer (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141769/john-j-mearsheimer/why-the-ukraine-crisis-is-the-wests-fault) blames the U.S. and the E.U. for Putin’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine. His basic theory is that the ‘West’ moved into Eastern Europe by allowing countries there to join the EU and NATO. This is a direct threat to Russia and when the pro-Russian president of Ukraine was ousted over developing closer ties to the EU and a new pro-West president took over, that was too much for Russia and now Putin has to set things ‘right.’ His first step to setting things right was to take Crimea. He has also made a concerted propaganda effort to discredit the new Ukrainian administration by calling them ‘fascists’ and saying the ouster of the pro-Russian president was ‘illegal.’ And now, of course, he’s launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine which could lead to a full declaration of war between the two countries. And all of this, according to Mearsheimer, can be blamed on the U.S. and the E.U.

Although I understand the point of view, and I think it’s true that Eastern European countries have wanted to join the EU and NATO, the crisis still comes down to Putin’s desired hegemony and a reconstituted Russian empire. And it’s probably true a handful of Ukrainian politicians are extremely right-wing, but that label coming from Putin merely means those politicians in Kiev are extremely anti-Russian.  I would submit that Putin’s cult of personality, inappropriate take over of the media, state assassinations of journalists, the collusion of the government with the oil industry, the desire to recreate a Russian empire and ‘golden age’, and the scapegoating of the Russian LGBT community with laws that read like the anti-Jewish laws of the 30s in Germany, all sound a helluva lot more ‘fascist’ than anything coming out of Kiev. 

Russia would have attempted to rebuild the Russian empire with or without instigation from the West–Putin made that clear in his first run for President. In fact, his announced desire to make Russia a world power again preceded any expansion of the West into E. Europe, which happened at the request of those E. European countries who wanted protection from Moscow’s reach and clearly articulated intentions. I’ve always questioned whether it was wise for the EU or NATO to expand in the region, but I think it’s a leap of logic and a misinterpretation of the history to lay the blame on the EU and NATO for the Ukrainian crisis. It is, after all, still Russia that is invading a sovereign nation that doesn’t want anything to do with Moscow. Some apologists for Putin are likening the crisis to ‘tough love’, which presupposes a familial bond. There has never been a familial bond between Ukrainians and Russians; the history between them is brutal and grievous. Ukrainians never accepted well their forced inclusion in the Soviet Union, the murder of 1.3 million Ukrainians under Stalin, and the cynical attempt to assuage their hatred by giving them Crimea in the 1950s. But now Russia, as a non-communist country, wants to continue this paternalistic treatment of the Ukrainians, and that is not the fault of the ‘West.’

Whatever sympathy I had for Russia’s situation vis a vis the West disappeared with Putin’s ‘reminder’ that Russia was still a major nuclear weapons power. That kind of asinine Cold War rhetoric is not helpful and reveals Putin’s immature emotional state. It makes everyone sit up and wonder what this loose cannon will do next. You can’t blame the West for this situation. If Russia hadn’t expressed the desire to rebuild its empire back in the 1990s, the Eastern European countries wouldn’t have sought refuge in the EU and NATO. If Putin hadn’t behaved so badly as President, his ‘sphere of influence’ would have stayed relatively intact. If Putin and the Russians hadn’t descended into their frightening nationalism, their neighbors may not have looked elsewhere for their international relations. Because Putin now decides to act like a paternalistic bully over his loss of influence in the region, is not a reason to blame the U.S. and the E.U.

Liberals, Conservatives and Confederates

Today is Friday, August 15, 2014

I’m sitting here this morning drinking my usual cup of coffee and perusing the headlines from across the nation and the world, thinking nothing has really changed much. I turn sixty-four this week and looking back in my life time, the world situation feels ‘same old-same old’. Same old conflicts, same old reasons, same old ignorance–and it isn’t just about the Middle East. This political nightmare in Ferguson MO resulting from the overreach of law enforcement, is nothing new, and even worse, the ideological nonsense that is now being spewed from conservative talk radio and Fox News that ultimately blames the victim and sides with local, out of control police force, is also not new.

As someone who majored in U.S. History at the university, thinking about 18th, 19th, and 20th century America, I realized, following that historical thread to the present, it is in some ways the same old tired history of conflict between political ideologies that are centered in sections or regions of the country. Historians call it ‘sectionalism’ when referring to 19th century America and it’s often identified as one of the root causes of the Civil War. It’s also about the very existence of free Blacks in American society that has historically been divided from the very beginning of the country by two fundamental mentalities: liberal and confederate–not liberal and conservative.

I realized back in 1979 living in Atlanta GA, that there was a white ‘confederate’ mentality that still existed in the body-politic of America. My very first teaching assignment as a history teacher was in suburban Atlanta and my text for U.S. History was called ‘The Nation’ and a supplemental history reader was called ‘The Natural Superiority of Southern Politicians.’ In these materials, there was no mention of the Civil War, but rather only ‘the War of Northern Aggression.’  Around Atlanta, you saw bumper stickers with the Confederate flag and the caption, ‘Forget, hell!’ There were KKK rallies conducted east of the city at Stone Mountain. There was a mayoral candidate, I.B. Stone, who ran on an openly racist ticket. (Thankfully, he didn’t win!)  With all of this, I realized, there was a ‘confederate’ mentality that still existed.

The North may have militarily won the Civil War, and we may have added the 14th, 15th, and 16th amendments to the Constitution to ensure that African Americans were full participants in American society, but the terrorism of the KKK and the general ‘confederate mentality’, ultimately led to the southern states rejecting those three amendments and finding legal means to reverse them. This ultimately led to Jim Crow and the Plessy vs Ferguson case of 1896 that created two completely separate racial societies and loss of civil rights for Blacks.

By the 1960s, this segregation became intolerable and the struggle for civil rights eventually turned the confederate culture upside down. These ‘confederates’ began losing their grip on America and, until recently, I thought we had succeeded in eliminating this primitive mentality, in spite of my experience in Georgia in the late 1970s. But the Tea Party, which originally was all about using taxes to bail out the big banks in the 2008 economic collapse, transformed into a political movement that seeks to re-assert the old ‘confederate’ mentality and agenda. This is not ‘conservative’ and don’t be fooled when they call themselves ‘conservatives’, because they are not. They have a very narrow political agenda that seeks to return women to a subordinate role to men by giving government the right to control women’s reproduction; by strengthening so-called ‘2nd Amendment’ rights to own and carry any weapon they want; by fighting against extending civil rights to gay people, and rejecting any change or action by the current ‘Black’ administration. The current situation in America is unacceptable to these ‘confederates’ precisely because it strengthens the impulses of the mid-1960s liberal political agenda to eliminate the confederate ‘culture’ that had succeeded in the latter 19th century through the 1960s.

The modus operandi of these confederates is to resist, stonewall, and obstruct whenever possible. They want to use the authority of law to impose their agenda just as ‘they’ did in the late 19th century in gaining control of the southern state governments and through the terrorism of the KKK after Reconstruction. They are democratic only when they are in control, and when they are not, they manipulate the authority of law to impose their agenda; they resist, obstruct and wield their ‘guns’ and Confederate flags in symbolic displays of ‘we the people’ and ‘don’t tread on me’ sloganism. This behavior is not ‘conservative’–it’s confederate. The sooner real Americans realize that this confederate mentality lies beneath the current political struggles in this country, and that it is just as traitorous now as it was in 1861, the sooner we can neutralize the Tea Party and eliminate the political gridlock inside the Beltway; the sooner we can deal with law enforcement that has become militarized for no good reason other than to perpetuate the inherently racist and undemocratic confederate mentality (as we now have seen in Ferguson MO), and the sooner we can apply the 14th, 15th and 16th amendments to the political process without interference from more primitive motivations to keep this country in a racially divided state.