Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Apologists for Religion are the Problem

Bill Maher, Reza Aslan, Richard Dawkins (Credit: HBO/Malin Fezehai/AP/Akira Suemori)
Throughout history religion has unleashed untold hate, misery and bloodshed.   Yes, some religious groups engage in charitable works, but even then many engage in proselytizing at the same time.  It's always about winning others over to their belief systems and often punishing those who don't yield - e.g., the Salvation Army's anti-gay policies and past rejection of gays needing shelter.  Meanwhile, we see ISIS demonstrating just who evil fundamentalist religion can be even as anti-Muslim Christians forget Christianity's own ugly past that has included the Inquisition, the extermination of the Cathars in France and many other acts of genocide against those deemed to hold heretical beliefs.  Yet despite this horrible track record we still see apologist defending religion, including Reza Aslan whose book (which I read) calls into question some of the main manufactured storyline of the Christian construct of Christ.  A lengthy piece in Salon looks at the refusal of apologists to open their eyes.  Here are excerpts:
Bill Maher’s recent monologue on “Real Time” about the failure of liberals to speak out about the routine atrocities and violations of human rights carried out in the name of religion in the Muslim world has unleashed a torrent of commentary, much of it from progressives advocating more, not less, tolerance of Islam.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who sided with Ben Affleck against Maher in a follow-up segment a few days later, calls ISIS rebels, in an op-ed, “barbarians” who “give all Islam a bad name,” and asks us to take into account the religion’s diversity, lest we slip into “Islamophobic bigotry.” Fareed Zakaria, in his Washington Post column, cautions us to recall that Islam, Christianity and Judaism once peacefully coexisted, but acknowledges that Islam suffers from a “cancer” – extremism that incites acts of terrorism. This he views, though, as a problem of “Islam today.”

One pundit in particular, though, has busied himself opining on Maher and nonbelievers in general — Reza Aslan, Islam’s most prominent apologist of late. Delivered via multiple media outlets, his remarks, brimming with condescension, tinged with arrogance and laden with implicit insults to thinking people, deserve special scrutiny for one main reason: among well-intentioned liberals who don’t know much about religion, his words carry weight.

Aslan accuses the benighted critics of religion of a far more grievous misapprehension: the assumption that words mean what they actually mean. Here I’ll quote him at length.
“It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives. . . .  After all, scripture is meaningless without interpretation.
 Aslan is essentially taking a postmodernist, Derrida-esque scalpel to “scripture” and eviscerating it of objective content. This might pass muster in the college classroom these days, but what of all those ISIS warriors unschooled in French semiotic analysis who take their holy book’s admonition to do violence literally? As they rampage and behead their way through Syria and Iraq, ISIS fighters know they have the Koran on their side – a book they believe to be inerrant and immutable, the final Word of God, and not at all “malleable.” Their holy book backs up jihad, suicide attacks (“martyrdom”), beheadings, even taking captive women as sex slaves.

Moreover, the razor-happy butchers of little girls’ clitorises and labia majora, the righteous wife-beaters, the stoners of adulterers, the shariah clerics denying women’s petitions for divorce from abusive husbands and awarding sons twice the inheritance allowed for daughters, all act with sanction from Islamic holy writ. It matters not a whit to the bloodied and battered victims of such savagery which lines from the Hadith or what verses from the Koran ordain the violence and injustice perpetrated against them, but one thing they do know: texts and belief in them have real-life consequences. And we should never forget that ISIS henchmen and executioners explicitly cite their faith in Islam as their motive. Tell that to Derrida – or Aslan.

Not just belief in the Koran leads to mayhem, though. Open the Book of Leviticus (in the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament) and read the prescriptions of death (often by stoning or burning) as punishment for, among other things, cursing your parents, committing adultery, practicing bestiality (with mandatory slaughter of the unwitting animal as well), engaging in prostitution or sodomy, worshipping another god or taking God’s name in vain, and being the (female) victim of rape. The New Testament is somewhat less vicious, but even gentle Jesus, meek and mild, warned in Matthew (10:34): “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” and preached “unquenchable fire” and damnation for sinners.

That the faithful have always been acting on the words in their holy books may not accord with how Aslan would like us to see religion, but it is hardly news.

[I]ntentionally trying to obscure cause and effect where faith is concerned, as Aslan does, is morally reprehensible, is insensitive to the victims, and provides cover for their butchers

The problem with religion lies not with, as Aslan would have it, interpretation – postmodern or otherwise – but with, for starters, the founding texts themselves. The canonical writings of Islam, Christianity and Judaism all contain a plethora of macabre fables and explicit injunctions for vile, sadistic behavior that no civilized person would or should accept, but which far too many do take as literal truth.

The so-called “New Atheists,” including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, have tried to do the opposite: get people to examine religion and help them understand it as innately backward, obscurantist, irrational and dangerous. Their aggressive secularism has, of course, stirred controversy and resentment. It was bound to do so. For millennia, the faithful have held the high moral ground virtually unopposed.

Aslan said much more in his interview worthy of refutation, but what transpires through all the rhetorical dodges, whitewashing and clever distortions of fact he (and others defending religion) have offered us since Maher delivered his anti-Islamic monologue is not that one faith is better or less violent than another, but that religion itself is to blame. Religion, in interfering with the free exercise of our critical faculties, in setting out an outlandishly untrue history of the cosmos and humankind’s position in it, and in purporting universality that some are willing to die and kill for, is more than just what the physicist Steven Weinberg called “an insult to human dignity;” it is, in our age of weapons of mass destruction and increasing global instability, a threat to us all.

[R]eligion must be dumped, ushered out of the public arena and back into the private, personal realm for those still inclined to harbor it or too weak to do without it. No thinking person need feel pressured into condoning or excusing faith-based brutalities out of well-meaning but incorrect liberal sentiments.

Nonbelievers need to approach faith as a subject like any other, one we can talk about and criticize without fear of causing offense – or, in the case of Islam, concern for our physical safety.

This is in fact our constitutional right. The First Amendment forbids Congress from establishing an official religion and protects free speech – including speech that offends the sentiments of believers. If we disbelieve what religion’s canon tells us, we need to say so openly, and in mixed company, pointing out that no rational person could believe it or accept it as true and valid, were it not for indoctrination, immaturity, willful abandonment of reason, fear, or simple feeblemindedness.
We can also cease displaying knee-jerk respect for those who propagate faith. 
There's more, but in sum, the piece makes a case that I have tried to make often: religion deserves no deference nor do its adherents regardless of their particular faith.  Logic, reason and intellect should hold the "godly" accountable for their atrocities and daily abuse and discrimination against others. 

Federal Court Could Rule On South Carolina Marriage Case By November 3rd

It has been several weeks since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit's ruling striking down Virginia's bans on same sex marriage was tacitly affirmed by the United States Supreme Court and by extension, the constitutionality of such bans in other states within the 4th Circuit were likewise invalidated.  Of the states within the 4th Circuit, only South Carolina has to date refused to concede that its state sponsored discrimination is headed to the trash heap of history.  This refusal to accept binding precedent may soon come to an end as U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel is poised to possible rule as early as Nov. 3, 2014, in a case filed in Charleston.  The Post and Courier has details.  Here are highlights:
A lawsuit filed by two Charleston women seeking to bring gay marriage to South Carolina will move more quickly after a federal judge on Friday denied an attorney's request for extra time to file responses and after attorneys agreed not to pursue hearings that could have delayed the case. 

That means U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel could rule as early as Nov. 3 in a lawsuit filed last week by Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon and her partner, Nichols Bleckley. They contend the state must allow them to marry following the U.S. Supreme Court's Oct. 6 refusal to review an appellate case overturning Virginia's gay marriage ban. 

Late Wednesday, Bleckley and Condon requested a temporary injunction prohibiting state officials from enforcing the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage. That would open the state's doors to same-sex marriages. 

Gergel denied a verbal request from a state Attorney General lawyer to extend by three days a Nov. 3 deadline to file responses to the couple's injunction request.  "The plaintiff in this case has asserted irreparable injury" due to being denied a marriage license, Gergel said.  "They are entitled to an expeditious review," he added.

If Gergel issues the injunction, it would override the S.C. Supreme Court's stay. "A decision by my court would rule here," Gergel said. 

Moving forward, Gergel requested that attorneys address any substantial differences between South Carolina and Virginia laws that they believe could make the Virginia challenge to its same-sex marriage ban - and, in turn, the U.S. Supreme Court's action - inapplicable here.

The U.S. Supreme Court then let that [4th Circuit] ruling stand, which in effect opened the doors to gay marriages in all five states under the appellate court's jurisdiction. South Carolina is the only one of those states still prohibiting gay marriages. 

Personally, I would argue that the attorneys representing the sate should face sanctions if they cannot differentiate the South Carolina and Virginia bans - something I doubt can be done.  The sole agenda of the Attorney General's office is to delay and impede the inevitable.

Another School Shooting and the NRA Shows No Remorse

It is frightening that we have almost become accustomed to shooting rampages in our schools.  This, of course, is precisely what the National Rifle Association - a front organization for gun manufacturers - wants.  The latest shooting spree was in Washington State just north of Seattle where an obviously troubled 15 year old killed one and wounded a number of others before taking his own life.  The New York Times summarizes what happened as follows:
A young classmate had opened fire in the cafeteria, killing a girl and striking two boys and two other girls in the head before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide. The students hit by gunfire were seriously injured.

[T]he four injured students were first taken, said that the wounded students suffered “very serious wounds” and were “critically ill.” The boys, ages 14 and 15, were transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle; one had been shot in the jaw, and the other in the head, she said. The girls, she said, had undergone surgery at Providence for gunshot wounds to the head.
Meanwhile, in a number of elections around the country the NRA is continuing its battle to fight any form of reasonable gun control.   A column also in the New York Times looks at the NRA's disgusting behavior and dangerous agenda.  Here are excerpts:

There’s a TV ad that’s been running in Louisiana:  It’s evening and a mom is tucking in her baby. Getting a nice text from dad, who’s away on a trip. Then suddenly — dark shadow on a window. Somebody’s smashing the front door open! Next thing you know, there’s police tape around the house, blinking lights on emergency vehicles.

“It happens like that,” says a somber narrator. “The police can’t get there in time. How you defend yourself is up to you. It’s your choice. But Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights. Vote like your safety depends on it. Defend your freedom. Defeat Mary Landrieu.”

Guns are a big issue in some of the hottest elections around the country this year, but there hasn’t been much national discussion about it. Perhaps we’ve been too busy worrying whether terrorists are infecting themselves with Ebola and sneaking across the Mexican border.

But now, as usual, we’re returning to the issue because of a terrible school shooting.

The latest — a high school freshman boy with a gun in the school’s cafeteria — occurred in the state of Washington, which also happens to be ground zero for the election-year gun debate. At least that’s the way the movement against gun violence sees it. There’s a voter initiative on the ballot that would require background checks for gun sales at gun shows or online. “We need to be laser focused on getting this policy passed,” said Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign.

Think about this. It’s really remarkable. Two years after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the top gun-control priority in the United States is still background checks. There is nothing controversial about the idea that people who buy guns should be screened to make sure they don’t have a criminal record or serious mental illness. Americans favor it by huge majorities. Even gun owners support it. Yet we’re still struggling with it.

The problem, of course, is the National Rifle Association, which does not actually represent gun owners nearly as ferociously as it represents gun sellers. The background check bill is on the ballot under voter initiative because the Washington State Legislature was too frightened of the N.R.A. to take it up. This in a state that managed to pass a right-to-die law, approve gay marriage and legalize the sale of marijuana.

The N.R.A.’s vision of the world is purposefully dark and utterly irrational. It’s been running a series of what it regards as positive ads, which are so grim they do suggest that it’s time to grab a rifle and head for the bunker.

The ad running against people like Landrieu makes no sense whatsoever. If that background-check bill had become law, the doomed mother would still have been able to buy a gun for protection unless she happened to be a convicted felon. And while we have many, many, many things to worry about these days, the prospect of an armed stranger breaking through the front door and murdering the family is not high on the list. Unless the intruder was actually a former abusive spouse or boyfriend, in which case a background check would have been extremely helpful in keeping him unarmed.

While we may not be able to stop these tragedies from happening, we can stop thinking of ourselves as a country that lets them happen and then does nothing.

The Toxicity of Internalized Homophobia

I've written on the topic of internalized homophobia and how it is soul destroying - it took me years of therapy, two failed suicide attempts, and years living out and authentically to get over the poison I had learned growing up - which is just what the Christofascists want.  They care nothing about the lives that are damaged (and sometimes lost to suicide) since their sole agenda is to stamp out anything that calls into question their myth and fairy tale based world view or impedes their ability to feel superior to others.  As LGBT individuals (or as LGBT straight allies), our task is to unlearn the untruths that church, family and society have indoctrinated into us.   If there is a God - something I question often given how evil his self-proclaimed followers are - he/she/it made each us as we are.  A piece in Gay News Network out of Australia looks at the struggle all of us face in letting go of internalized homophobia.  Here are excerpts:
It lurks, often imperceptibly, as an emotional backdrop in the lives of LGBTI people – and for this reason, it often remains unexamined. Unidentified even. It acts as our internal editor, vetting and judging our behaviours and mannerisms and it holds us back from truly loving ourselves for who we are.
I’m talking about internalised phobia. And just like the external variety LGBTI people face from others in the broader community, it can eat away at our self-esteem.

I would venture that there is no such thing as an LGBTI person who has not, at some point, struggled with an internalisation of the negative external judgments of our gender identity or sexual orientation. And it’s an understandable reaction.

From day one we’ve been socially conditioned by a society that privileges heterosexuality and cis-genderism, to the exclusion of all other ways of being. We’ve been sold a narrative by parents, teachers, peers, religious and political leaders and the media, which renders us invisible. And not only does the dominant culture fail to see us, it actively ostracises us.

Now tell me: What 13-year-old has the strength and self-conviction to stand against such a tidal wave of cultural proscription and state: “You’re all wrong, I’m happy just the way I am.”?

This is more often a sentiment that comes a good few years down the track, after considerable personal development. In short, it’s almost impossible for us to avoid our internal self-concept being informed by the external forces of homo/bi/transphobia.

Just like external bigotry, our internalised phobias can manifest in subtle ways: Reluctance to associate with other LGBTI people, feeling disgusted by expressions of same-sex affection or sexuality, disapproval of butch women or femme men, or refusal to show affection with a same-sex partner in public. In the extreme, internalised phobia can lead to self-harm and suicidality.

Working through feelings of internalised judgment with a counsellor who is experienced in such matters can be one way to gradually examine the distorted views of our sexuality or gender, that have been written into our evolving self-concept. In time, and with patience, it is possible for us to rewrite the internal narratives, freeing us to truly be the authors of proud new chapters in our story.

Letting go of  internalized homophobia is very, very hard.  I even know married gay couples who haven't fully let go of it as they avoid socializing with many other gays, especially those not "straight acting."  In the process, of course, they miss out of knowing and coming to love some very wonderful people.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Will the GOP Get the Message in Kansas?

Many of us are hoping that the GOP will get a much needed message in Kansas with the re-election defeat of Gov. Sam Brownback and Senator Pat Roberts (as well as other GOP elected officials).  Based on the Congressional GOP's economic agenda recently reviewed in a post on this blog, even if Kansas goes blue, one has to question whether or not the message will be received.  After all, part of being a Republican nowadays is to reject objective reality in every form and to blindly cling to ideology and one's Bible. A piece in The Daily Beast asks whether or not the GOP will get the message that its 30+ year old policies simply do not work.  Here are excerpts:
For many political observers, the question about Kansas these days is no longer, “What’s the matter?” so much as, “What the fuck?”

There was the unexpectedly close GOP Senate primary—three-term incumbent Pat Roberts wound up winning by 7 points—and the forced retirement of the Democratic Senate candidate; there’s the fact that Gov. Sam Brownback, whose average margin of victory in state-wide races is 23 points, is now fighting for his political life. Tom Frank made the state famous for illustrating how its citizens elected conservative candidates whose actual policies went against the voters’ economic self-interest; after one term of Brownback’s “Tea Party experiment,” Kansas voters seem to have enlightened their self-interest and want to undo the extremism that Brownback both promised and delivered. The question remains as to whether their Republican candidates will ever wise up to the same conclusion.

There’s no doubt that Brownback’s radically conservative economic policies failed. Schools closed, the deficit ballooned, highways crumbled, jobs disappeared—I imagine ruby slippers were hocked. That failure has the reddest state in the nation blushing blue.

Citing the state’s fiscal woes, moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans have flocked to Brownback’s opponent, Paul Davis, who trails by just 0.6 points. On the Senate front, independent candidate Greg Orman, who will likely caucus with the Democrats, is reaping the benefits of that Tea Party-weighted primary. “Traditional Republicans for Common Sense,” made up of 70 Republican moderates who served in the Kansas legislature, endorsed Orman and he is favored by independent voters by a margin of 30 points.

In the face of this, both Brownback and Roberts have chosen not to battle for the wide swath of Kansas voters who identify as moderate Republicans (47 percent, versus 38 percent “conservative Republicans”), but to move further to the right.

[O]ne has to wonder not just if the Republican leadership is shooting itself in the foot, but why it is. Is it misplaced, or at least short-sighted, cynicism, which might have them believe that their old white guy coalition (if you can call it that) will sustain them a few more cycles? (At least long enough to pass voting restrictions?) Or is it a form of psychosomatic blindness, a function of such deeply held, incorrect perceptions, that the party leaders literally cannot imagine the need to change their tactics, much less their policies?

In other words, are we dealing with cynics or zealots?  Obviously, one hopes for the former. Cynics respond to defeat, for one thing. Cynics and opportunists look at polls. Cynics are the lifeblood of representative democracy. Cynics will do anything to save their own skin, even change their minds.
Sadly, I suspect we are dealing with zealots who cannot grasp the reality that the nation is changing and pushing the same failed agenda is not the route to victory.   As for Brownback, he seems to think that attending every anti-gay rally is his ticket to reelection.

South Florida’s Desperate Secession Movement

Like here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, in South Florida anyone sentient knows that climate change and rising sea levels is a real phenomenon that is threatening both property and civic vitality.  And like here in Virginia, the main obstacle to addressing the problem is that Tallahassee is full of inland yahoos who when not thumping their Bibles and denigrating minorities and gays have their heads in the sand denying what objective observation would tell them is the truth.  So what does a region imperiled by ignorance embracing cretins do?  Some in South Florida believe that the answer is to secede from the rest of the state.  A piece in Slate looks at the situation which mirrors the problem in the eastern half of Virginia.  Here are highlights:
One way or another, South Florida is leaving the rest of the state. The Mayor of South Miami just wants to speed that process up a bit.
An unprecedented lucky streak of few serious hurricanes is lulling South Florida residents into a false sense of security. The threat from powerful storms, mixed with the now inevitability of 10 feet of sea level rise, means that Miami will likely be one of the first American cities to wink out of existence due to climate change.

Sooner or later, Miami will sink into the sea.

In a resolution passed by the mayor and city commission on a 3-2 vote earlier this month, the City of South Miami proposed that, because of the unique threat climate change poses to its part of the state, the region should immediately break away and form the 51st state:

Whereas, South Florida’s situation is very precarious and in need of immediate attention. Many of the issues facing South Florida are not political, but are now very significant safety issues; and

Whereas, presently, in order to address the concerns of South Florida, it is necessary to travel to Tallahassee in North Florida. Often South Florida issues do not receive the support of Tallahassee. This is despite the fact that South Florida generates more than 69 percent of the state’s revenue and contains 67 percent of the state’s population; and

Whereas, the creation of the 51st state, South Florida, is a necessity for the very survival of the entire southern region of the current state of Florida.

Mayor Philip Stoddard, quoted in the Orlando Sentinel—Disney World, by the way, would be part of the new state—didn’t mince words. “It’s very apparent that the attitude of the northern part of the state is that they would just love to saw the state in half and just let us float off into the Caribbean," Stoddard said. "They’ve made that abundantly clear every possible opportunity and I would love to give them the opportunity to do that.”
For the first time, a region of the United States is in a for-real existential battle, and its central government­—personified by Gov. Rick “I’m not a scientist” Scott—doesn’t seem to care.
The situation truly mirrors Virginia's problem: the rural western areas in Virginia are supported by the eastern and northern areas of the state, yet thanks to GOP gerrymandered districts, GOP extremists in the General Assembly block much needed legislation and infrastructure improvements.   Perhaps Southwest Virginia needs to break away and join West Virginia. 

GOP Congressman: Gays Are "Condemned To Hell"

I often say that no one is more full of hate and bigotry here in America than the "godly Christian" folk. And among the GOP elected officials there are few that hate more than Tea Party Republican Congressman Steve King who, when not being a flaming racist and blaming the poor for their own plight - as if small children picked the families into which they were born - is denigrating gays.  Like many in the extreme right of the GOP, King claims to be a devout Roman Catholic even though the policies he supports are diametrically the opposite of Catholic social gospel teachings.  Now, in the face of possible gay accepting statements from Pope Francis, King is lashing out at gays and openly disagreeing with the Pope.  The New Civil Rights Movement looks at Kings latest condemnation of gays:

Rep. Steve King is a devout Roman Catholic, but he really doesn't care what the Pope has to say about gay people, because he answers to a higher authority – his re-election campaign.

The Iowa Congressman has served in the United States House of Representatives since 2003, and knows a thing or two about getting re-elected: attack the gays – something he's been doing his entire congressional career, along with immigrants, women, abortion, stem cells, Hurricane Sandy victims,  King's never met a minority he liked, but bankers, well, that's different.

This week, King gave an interview to a local Iowa paper, The Jefferson Herald.

After discussing the Vatican's initial document that called for a more "welcoming" approach to gay people, King, the paper reports, suggested "gays won’t make it to heaven."

“I would say that what was a sin 2,000 years ago is a sin today, and we need to stick to that principle,” King said. “I’ll just say that what was a sin 2,000 years ago is a sin today, and people that were condemned to hell 2,000 years ago, I don’t expect to meet them should I make it to heaven. So let’s stick with that principle.”

Let's of course remember that this is the Steve King who just a few years ago declared same sex marriage to be a part of the socialist agenda to undermine "the foundations of individual rights and liberties."

If there is a Hell, I suspect that King has a reserved seat.  Like his Christofascists/Tea Party supporters, King is working hard to kill the Christian brand.  To say that the man is a modern day Pharisee is an understatement.
But on matters such as co-habitation and divorce, which the Vatican also discussed at the Synod, King was far more tolerant.