An interesting contrast

I readily acknowledge that there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between my worldview and that of Movieguide. But there’s a recent article on their site that puts this difference in worldview into stark focus.

I’m sure most people are aware of the terrorist group that arose after the United States deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and which has sought to gain a stronghold in the power vacuum of Iraq and its neighbor, Syria, which is currently the focus of a brutal, multi-sided civil war. Their Wikipedia page provides a complex history of their actions and influence since they first organized in 1999.

Over and above the history, translations from Arabic into English have given this group multiple monikers and acronyms. Are they Daesh? The Islamic State? The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? (Note to those who don’t understand the geography and history, the nation of Levant and the nation of Syria are basically the same place and the preferred name of the nation varies depending on who you ask… So ISIL and ISIS are basically the same acronym.)

For some reason, the American news media have taken to calling this group ISIS. And I absolutely hate this fact. After all, in Egyptian mythology, Isis was a figure of beauty, the goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom. It sullies the literature and the mythology of this figure to equate her with a terrorist group. I should think that it would be roughly comparably offensive to Christians if a hate group ended up with the name Journey to Everyone’s Skintone with Unsullied Supremacy (JESUS).

So I’d like to see the name Isis reclaimed from the terrorist group. I think some media outlets have started to get the message as the group is now commonly referred to just as the “Islamic State”.

Which brings me back to Movieguide. In this recent article, they take the D.C. Comics show Legends of Tomorrow to task for having the audacity to name a character “Isis”, because that’s the same as the terrorist group.

Yeah, if that doesn’t illustrate the chasm between their worldview and mine, I don’t know what does.

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Movieguide’s New Low

I've written before about the Christian movie review site Movieguide. I've come to expect dishonesty if it furthers their worldview but they've got a new article that's appalling even by their standards.

Entitled "Wake Up Google," I first thought (hoped?) that maybe they'd take a stand for simple human decency and condemn the so-called Google manifesto that's been circulating on social media for about the past week. That manifesto is the stuff of another essay, but I'll just say that diversity is almost always a good thing and you look stupid if you try to argue otherwise.

No, Movieguide is up in arms about the supposed hypocrisy of Google for simultaneously supporting The Equal Justice Initiative while lobbying congress in opposition to changes to the controversial Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Let's ignore, for a moment, that whatever lobbying is done by Google's parent company, Alphabet, is completely unrelated to its social outreach. But the CDA is problematic on simple first amendment grounds. If any right guaranteed by the constitution is sacrosanct, it's the freedom of speech. No matter how outrageous the speech is, it is protected. It's why we have the right to protest outside of military funerals with signs reading "god hates fags." If that kind of speech is legally protected, I can't imagine what wouldn't be.

Certainly not pornography. And the CDA is thinly veiled censorship. When you hear people say things like "what about the children?" you know they don't know how to protect their children from some of the less desirable aspects of the world and/or things the children are not yet old enough to see and hear. Google is right for not wanting to expand the CDA.

Movieguide then goes on to list six murder victims in defense of their position that we need to get violent pornographic images off the internet. Since they didn't provide any links to their stories, I decided to google their stories (ironic, I know…). And damn, did they mislead its readers about what happened in their cases.

What do the six victims have in common besides being female? First off, they were all citizens of the UK, which means that nothing related to changes to American law would have made a difference in their cases. Five of them were strangled, and the sixth we simply don't know how she died because her body was never found and the killer isn't talking. Of the other five killers, only one could claim to be influenced by violent pornography he found online. But even he said that he was interested in erotic asphyxia before he found the porn of it. And the sex was consensual with his girlfriend/victim as he choked her. He went too far and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He was convicted of murder anyway.

I get that sites like Movieguide are big on censorship and they have no use for sexually charged imagery. But let the truth get in the way of a good narrative when the lie serves your purposes much better?

Appalling Dishonesty

I hate the term “pro-life” as it is used in the ongoing political debate about abortion.  Even though I don’t share this belief, there may be legitimate reasons to disapprove of abortion as a practice.   That’s fine, just like there are legitimate reasons to think taxes might be too high, or that efforts to curtail gun violence come too close to impeding our right to bear arms.   

But to shroud an opposition to abortion under the moniker “pro-life” or “right to life” is, if I’m being overly generous, an outrageous oversimplification that none should take seriously.  Yes, a clump of cells might technically be alive, but then again, so is your hair before you cut it.   So is your grass before you mow the lawn.  So are the limbs of the trees you prune.   So are the diseases you fight.  

While this is far from universal, a large percentage of people who claim to be pro-life also support the death penalty and are opposed to allowing the elderly and infirm to die with dignity.   They clearly regard death as a punishment and little else.  “Right to life?” They mean their right to decide who gets to live and who gets to die.  (Thank you George Carlin for that line…)

And that’s not even getting into the implication that those on the other side of the debate might somehow be anti-life.   Those who support the legality of abortion call themselves “pro-choice”. Pro-choice does not mean “anti-life”, but pro-life certainly means “anti-choice”.

For the reasons I stated above, I have for years thought that pro-life was the single most intellectually dishonest term in all of politics.   

I think I might need to walk that claim back, though.  There’s a relatively new political issue that, on its surface, has little in common with abortion, although many of the people who proudly bear the label “pro-life” are also adopting this label.  

Before I reveal more details, I should add that the majority of opinion with regard to opposing abortion is not based upon evidence but rather upon adherence to religious scripture, or at least the cherry-picked parts of scripture they use to justify their positions.  The same thing is true for this issue, even if there isn’t much overlap between the passages of the Bible.  

The issue is about the rights of transgender people.   In recent years, there has been a lot of press about the needs of transgender men and women, how being transgender isn’t a mental illness, how difficult it is to be trapped in a body that’s not really you, and about how, despite a binary with regard to the plumbing, there really are more — a LOT more — than just two genders.  (And I’m not even convinced that the plumbing is that binary…). 

The most visible backlash to transgender rights is in the “bathroom bills” that require a person to use the gendered bathroom that corresponds to his or her birth certificate.  (Think about the stupidity of enforcement.   You either carry a birth certificate or allow people to peek into the stall where you’re peeing.)

The Obama administration rightly saw that transgender issues are huge in schools (because adolescence is when people first come to realize if they’re transgender) and so issued guidelines on how to manage it.  And of course there’s been biblically-based opposition to this as well.   

And that’s where the dishonesty in labels comes in.  The people opposed to it — at least some of them — actually have the gall, the nerve, the chutzpah, to call themselves Pro-Privacy.    That link is to just one example of this but it takes either massive guts or massive dissonance to support positions that are an extreme violation of privacy and call it “Pro-Privacy”.  

Sorry, pro-lifers.    You’re no longer the most dishonest.   

Who knew?

I’ve written before about how I like to read the writings of those with whom I disagree.  I actually started doing this in the late 90s when a friend of mine told me about the “review” of the South Park movie on a fundamentalist Christian movie review site called CAPAlert.  In casual conversation, I would describe it as a family filmgoer guide (like what you see in many newspapers to help parents understand, beyond the ratings, whether a movie is appropriate for young children), on steroids and with a fundamentalist Christian spin.  To the point that the Star Wars series is inappropriate because it embraces a religion that doesn’t have Jesus.   

CAPAlert has been dormant for more than four years now.   Stepping in to take its place is a website called Movieguide.   Apart from being a bit more generous in its assessments of movies (any movie with a clearly defined hero, is a metaphor for Jesus by their standards) it seems a decent heir apparent to CAPAlert.   

One thing that Movieguide does, that CAPAlert didn’t, is write essays regarding other matters of pop culture.  Such was the case when they wrote a short article on a recent instagram feud between Candace Cameron Bure, former child star from the TV show Full House and sister to the comparably insane Kirk Cameron, and drag queen Bianca Del Rio.  

The exchange went like this: Bure posted a picture of herself wearing a t-shirt that reads NOT TODAY SATAN.  Del Rio, who first used that phrase in a public setting, responded politely (if moderately sarcastically) by saying “If only, this homophobic, republican knew….”

Bure went on the defensive and questioned Del Rio for being “so nasty to me”.  She went on a tirade about how “loving Jesus” doesn’t automatically imply “hat[ing] gay people” (typical for people of this ilk.   She doesn’t hate them.  She just thinks that they’re just second class citizens and don’t deserve equal rights…) and accusing Del Rio for sending others to her page with equally hateful messages.  

Movieguide was effusive in its praise of her response.  I’m sure that some people were less polite than Del Rio in their comments but that goes with the territory of being famous and expressing an opinion.   Don’t you just love that they hate political correctness up until the point when someone makes a comment that they personally consider offensive?

All of that said, it’s good to know that both Bure and Movieguide are in agreement that calling someone a “republican” is apparently an insult.   

A robo-call

This past Saturday, I came back from a nice day out with my kids, to find a call waiting for me on the answering machine, transcribed verbatim herewith:

Hello, this is Jerry Falwell Jr, calling to urge you to go to the polls on November 8 or better yet, vote early by mail or absentee ballot. I believe Jesus was instructing us all to be good citizens and to vote when he said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” I hope you will elect candidates who will defend the right to life, our religious liberties, the second amendment, and the state of Israel. The stakes could not be higher with the balance of the Supreme Court for the next generation at risk. Please urge your friends and family to vote as well. Thank you and god bless you.

Paid for by Faith and Freedom Coalition. Callback number 770-622-1501.

I have no idea how this group got my phone number, so I’m acting on the assumption that they just called everyone. I consider Mr. Falwell’s father one of the most repulsive people to ever walk this earth, and, as far as I can tell by the public pronouncements of the man whose voice graced my machine, he himself isn’t much better.

I question whether anyone actually believes that that particular passage in Mark 12:17 actually meant for people to go out and vote. Yes, I know that a lot of Christians have used this particular chapter and verse to justify the notion that separation of church and state is somehow biblically sanctioned (despite scores of contradictory passages). But even that interpretation is more reasonable than what Mr. Falwell said in the recording in question.

If we take the Biblical reference here to be a statement of fact, then Jesus was telling his followers that he wasn’t there to overthrow the Roman occupation. Jerry (if I may call him that) conveniently left out the “Render unto God what is God’s” from that same chapter and verse.

I do defend a right to life. It’s why I’m pro-choice and vote for pro-choice candidates when I can. I think I’ve written enough on that topic that I don’t need to rehash it here. I do think it would be interesting to know, though, the reasons why women who have abortions, have chosen to have them. That ought to humanize the decision a little bit more and maybe cause those who would insist on an absolute ban on the procedure to realize the wrongheadedness of their position. (Especially in a climate that offers neither preventative measures nor post-birth assistance.)

I also defend religious liberties. I must draw the line, though, on things that Mr. Falwell and his ilk try to do, when they seek to impose their religious viewpoints on others. It’s why I have been saying since 2004, when Pat Toomey challenged Sen. Arlen Specter for his senate seat in Pennsylvania, that I can’t in good conscience vote republican until such time as the party exorcises itself of the demons of the religious right.

I recently wrote about how the second amendment seems to hold a unique place in the American fringe right in terms of their adherence to the constitution. Without downplaying its importance on a grander scale, it’s nowhere near as important as the rights guaranteed by the first, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, and fourteenth amendments to the constitution. And it’s the right enumerated within the constitution that actually requires a person to purchase something in order to exercise that right. (Unless you count the right to an attorney a “purchase”, and a strong argument can be made that it is, at least in the current environment and the way it actually works, rather than the idealized theory behind it.)

And yes, I support the state of Israel and its right to exist, but, much like the religious liberty point above, there is definitely room for criticism of the state when it oversteps its bounds. And I have no qualms whatsoever about say that Benjamin Netanyahu may be one of the most dangerous people currently living. (I think he might be competing with Vladimir Putin for the title, and I think Kim Jong-un might be gunning for that title, but he’s not quite there yet.

The Supreme Court can always make good and bad decisions. We’ve seen how the conservative-dominated court has given us some very bad decisions. In recent years, Greece v Galloway, Burwell v Hobby Lobby, and Citizens United v FEC are all laughably ridiculous rulings on their face. We need justices who would, in the event of a new challenge, overturn them.

It’s funny. Sometimes I’ve asked myself if my current (low) opinion of the Republican Party is somehow analogous to the ridiculous sentiment expressed a few months ago on the Christian film review site Movieguide, when they reviewed the Dinesh D’Souza hack piece Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, when they spoke of the documentarian’s “battle to find out how the Democratic Party became so evil.”

I’m not a fan of the word “evil”. It has connotations and implications that do little to further rational discourse. I do not consider the Republican party “evil”. Just misguided for providing a voice to those whose opinions belong in the dustbin of history. It’s not a new phenomenon; indeed, we can point to Ronald Reagan in 1980 for first allowing the party to have a platform that comes from the Religious Right and the natural descendants of the John Birch Society. Back in the 1960’s, their views were rightly ridiculed. Now in 2016, they are attending Donald Trump rallies.

Messrs Falwell, D’Souza, and scores of other individuals need to be reminded that their ideas are so regressive, so anachronistic, so incongruent with both what America should be and is, that the only path forward is a complete repudiation of what they stand for. And the best way to do that, is through our votes.

So, I agree with Mr. Falwell about one thing: get out there and vote on or before November 8. And show him and his ilk that his brand of hatred, tribalism, and morality have no place in the America of 2016.

Here’s the recording of that call if you’re interested in hearing it.

If you can stand yet another essay on it…

I’m hesitant to add to the mountain of words being written and spoken about Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis, who now sits in a jail cell on contempt of court charges for her unwillingness to sign marriage licenses for same sex couples.   According to her, doing so would be tantamount to her approval of the union, which, in turn, would violate her “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

Never mind that signing a marriage license for an otherwise lawful marriage is no more a statement of approval of something, than paying your monthly cable bill is approval of any channel you don’t actually watch.   Why bother with facts when it comes to your sincerely held religious beliefs?

It’s what enabled the Hobby Lobby retail chain to refuse contraceptive coverage because they believe — incorrectly — that some oral contraceptives induce abortions.  This is what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has wrought: the right to look away from actual facts or evidence because of beliefs.

But even more interesting than that, though, is Mrs. Davis’s résumé.  She has worked in this office for nearly three decades and only sought the elected office in the November, 2014 polls.   Her job is to uphold the law in carrying out her elected duties.   And that’s one thing I haven’t seen much written about: laws change, sometimes through local venues, sometimes statewide, and sometimes on a federal level.  Sometimes the changes are the result of legislation and sometimes he changes are the result of courts interpreting existing laws.

Obergefell v Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held that same sex couples have the same right to marriage as opposite sex couples, was on the docket for the 2014-2015 court season.    And it was announced that it would be part of the docket in August, 2014.   (Oral arguments were in March, 2015.)  The very fact that it was on the docket meant that a change to marriage law at the time of last November’s election — while by no means a certainty — was certainly a possibility.

If Mrs. Davis is that steadfast in her beliefs about same sex marriage (or as we now should call it, “marriage”), why did she even seek the elected office?  If she feels that strongly about it, shouldn’t the possibility of having to sign licenses for same sex couples have at least given her pause about running?

They Lack Simple Human Decency

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to vote in an online poll thereby skewing the expected results of the organization that hosted the poll. The group that hosted it, the Minnesota Family Council, asked whether same sex marriage ought to be legal and I, along with many other people online, voted that it should be. This is, of course, despite the stated goals of this group.

Side note: I resent the fact that so many organizations that use the word “family” in their names teach hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and scare tactics, which are most certainly not values I teach my children.

The cost of voting in the MFC’s poll, was my email address, and I have been receiving emails from them with some regularity ever since. In recent years, as same sex marriage has become legal throughout most of the United States (and with cautious optimism that the Supreme Court later this month will overturn the remaining laws later this month), they have shifted their rhetoric to opposition of other worthwhile topics, such as transgender rights, legalization of marijuana, and surrogate motherhood.

About a week ago, on June 11, 2015, I received an email that solidifies the notion that the people who communicate on behalf of their organization, have absolutely no human decency or any compassion. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: if the ideas they express are in any way reflective of mainstream Christianity, I can not possibly ever picture myself calling myself a Christian.

The email exists on their website, and I recommend that you read it here.

(Note that this came out before the Rachel Dolezal scandal, and they have since sent out a mea culpa not knowing that transracial is a thing.

But even before we get to their hypothesizing about other “trans{blank}” attitudes, we can see how disgusting they really are.

Without even getting into the issues that the transgender community has to deal with, here’s a little thought experiment: whether we like it or not, society asks us all to play certain roles in our lives. Some of those roles are a result of the accident of our birth, others happen with the normal passage of time, and others still are ones we find ourselves playing by virtue of choices we actively make.

That explains how we are given the roles we play. How much we feel those roles fit who we really are can vary from one role to the next. And some of the roles we might even be bold enough to say don’t apply to us, despite society’s expectations.

As specifically pertains to gender, there are no shortage of expectations that society places upon those of us who are considered “male” and others for those considered “female”. Very few, if any, of us, meet all of these expectations without regard to the gender assigned at birth.

So can you really blame someone — anyone — who might identify primarily as the opposite gender?

So when the MFC says this:

The push for “transgender rights” is based on the false ideas that you can divorce your mind and feelings from your body, and that however you feel you are or should be–that’s what you really are, regardless of the physical reality. And you should receive social recognition, honor, and legal rights based on your perception of who you are.

Or when they say this:

All along the way people who disagree will see their religious freedom rights trampled upon, people who truly need compassionate help and counseling won’t receive it and instead face greater turmoil and in some cases even fatalities, and the privacy and legal rights of others will be taken advantage of.

Or when they offer this advice:

Stand firm on the Truth, and be ready to run towards the cultural, media, political, and societal bullets boldly sharing the Truth and Hope you have in Christ, in love. Our darkened culture needs the Light YOU have so fear not!

They’re demonstrating how repulsive they really are. The LGBT community has asked for little more than tolerance of the fact that they’re different from the mainstream.

Tolerance is an exceptionally low bar if you think about it. All it really takes to be tolerant of something is to acknowledge its existence and not try to wish it away. It’s not acceptance of the concept and certainly isn’t embracing the idea or the people seeking tolerance. And you certainly don’t have to like it or even agree with it.

When you tolerate people, really all they’re asking is that you not want to destroy them.

These people are so completely devoid of human decency, it makes me angry. People can be excused for not understanding some ideas and concepts when they’re far enough outside of our own experience. But when the information becomes available to them and they cling to what they thought they understood, that’s when they need to be cut loose.

I’m glad I get those emails. It reminds me that there are truly awful people out there. And however much I’m reluctant to use the word, maybe even “evil” might be appropriate for — if not them, then at least their attitudes.

But I will be shocked if they ever take a position with which I agree.