A glimpse into a mindset

If you direct your web browsers to websites like Townhall, it shouldn’t take long to realize the agenda that they’re pursuing. If you don’t want to follow that link, just know that they feature articles by columnists like Ann Coulter, Todd Starnes, and Michelle Malkin, three people who, to paraphrase Will Rogers, never met an anecdote that couldn’t distort to serve their own agendas.

(Starnes is particularly gifted at this, since everything he sees is a form of Christian persecution. I’ve wanted to write a blog entry about him for some time but doing so would require a significantly greater time commitment than I’m prepared to dedicate…. There’s a reason why Ed Brayton refers to him as “Fox News’ resident hysteric”.)

But there’s an interesting article over at Townhall that I can’t look away from. Hence this essay. Columnist Scott Morefield, whose name is so far under the radar in the conservative movement, he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (unlike Coulter, Starnes, and Malkin, as linked above), has put forth an article that’s simultaneously frustrating and, in a perverse sense, validating.

Note that I readily acknowledge that I don’t have a Wikipedia page either. But I’m pretty sure that my tens of followers don’t mind that. I don’t have a national platform like Townhall (or a comparable liberal blog) from which to share my views.

The article begins with an unnecessary and snide remark that the phrase “Christian liberal” is not an oxymoron. Listen, Scott, (may I call you that?) I get that you’re a conservative and a Christian. Demonizing the other side doesn’t bolster your credentials. It makes you look petty. If you can’t back up your position with, you know, facts, maybe the issue is your position.

What’s the adage about being an effective lawyer? If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table. But I digress…

As is true for many phrases that come from the Bible, the title of Scott’s essay is a cliche, specifically derived from Isaiah 5:20, and the warning not to confuse good and evil. I always objected to this particular verse because of the plain black-and-white nature of it. Even assuming you know and understand the difference between the two, why can’t there be shades or degrees of them?

The concept of heaven itself illustrates this. Imagine two people going to the same place in the afterlife, where they’ll be treated as equals in a perfect paradise: the racist white supremacist and the black man he tried to keep down. To the black man, being treated with a respect he never felt in life, this place might be heaven. To the guy who oppressed the black man, this place would seem more like hell.

And that’s not even getting into psychology tests involving runaway trains where doing nothing will cause the deaths of multiple people while doing something will still kill someone, but save everyone else.

But this essay takes liberal Christians to task because they object to the way modern evangelicals, like Jerry Falwell Jr, for hitching their wagon so closely to Donald Trump. Indeed, evangelicals are the only people who are. And even if I haven’t explicitly said so before, I think it’s clear my opinion of evangelicals like that: at best, they’re hypocrites.

So the liberal Christians to whom Scott objects, are taking Jesus’s teachings about loving your neighbor seriously. They’re not as concerned about, say, abortion (which is not only condoned in some bible verses, an argument can be made that, if we hew strictly to verses in Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy, then it’s acceptable until a month after the baby is born) as they are economic inequality and opening your door to strangers in need. They don’t want Trump’s proposed wall between us and Mexico, they want bridges.

Now I will grant you: the Bible is so long and self-contradictory, it’s certainly possible to find biblical justification for just about any position you might hold on just about any topic. I mean, let’s face it: both sides of the United States Civil War justified their positions on slavery using completely valid biblical verses.

Both Scott and those he demonizes, justify their positions with their cherry-picked bible verses of choice. Scott clearly favors the verses that consider blacks and women as second class citizens and a generally prevailing tribalism. I get that. He can be a bigot all he wants.

And I can cite him as yet another example of how I agree with Isaiah about calling evil good and vice versa. That’s why the folks at Townhall shouldn’t object when I emphatically state that their website, and the Bible they so love, are evil.

Woe unto them for calling them “good”.


Religious Exemptions to Public Laws

On the dating website OKCupid, there’s a question that asks about religious exemptions to marijuana laws. Now on my profile, I not only answer the question with its multiple choices, but I often add my own comments and color to those responses. And this question begs for additional color no matter where you stand on the question of legalizing pot (assuming you can remember where you left the petition).

You don’t need to be a lawyer to look through all of the laws on the books in your city / state / country and see things that need to be changed, modified, repealed, or otherwise revised with changing times. Not everything needs to be changed, of course, but it shouldn’t be that hard to draw the distinction.

I genuinely don’t believe marijuana should be illegal to possess or distribute. If nothing else, given the size of the black market for it, it would be a great source of tax revenue. If tobacco and alcohol are legal — as they should be even though they’re significantly more dangerous than marijuana — then so too should marijuana. Feel free to place restrictions on where it can be smoked. And on the minimum age to buy it sell it. But don’t outright ban it.

For the record, I’ve tried it and it did nothing for me. I have no interest in trying it again.

Which brings me back to the OKCupid question. I said I am no fan of marijuana laws but at the same time, I’m also not a fan of hiding behind the fact that the first amendment protects “the free exercise” of religion as a means of subverting a law that was otherwise passed by the legislature, signed by the executive, and interpreted by the judiciary. If a law is unjust, it should be repealed, pure and simple.

Let me make it clear that I acknowledge that I’m treading dangerously close to making a slippery slope argument. The thing about slippery slope arguments is the plausibility of the end result. Letting gay people marry won’t (or doesn’t have to) lead to allowing people to marry their dogs. That said, if there weren’t some question of public good before we restrict the things that can be done in religious ceremonies, how long would it be before people tried to get around manslaughter laws because their “religion” advocated human sacrifice? There’s no shortage of religions — past and present — that do have this as a part of their tradition. (And yes, I do count Christianity as one that does even if they don’t do it any more. But the Catholics do encourage a form of cannibalism as a part of that same tradition.)

Which brings us to a case heard by the Supreme Court earlier this week. A Colorado bakery that specializes in wedding cakes refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, which ran afoul of the state’s anti discrimination law. Take a look at their web page. The first link in the top right corner is for wedding cakes, although if you click on it, they say they’re not currently accepting requests for new wedding cakes.

At the end of an article in the Washington Post a little over a week ago, the decision to stop doing wedding cakes has cost the Masterpiece Cake Shop 40% of its business. Think about that: if you’re earning $100,000 per year in your bakery, how bigoted do you have to be to be willing to cut those earnings down to $60,000 just because you don’t like the idea of two guys or two girls bumping uglies after they eat your food?

The fact that Masterpiece Cakeshop is still in business despite the publicity makes me weep for society.

Now before you ask why the gay couple couldn’t have gone somewhere else, I’ll answer that of course they could (and should) have, if for no other reason than to do some comparison shopping before choosing the baker who would ultimately make their cake. But what would have happened if the next cake shop also refused? Recall the story of Jessica Ahlquist, the Rhode Island high school student who got a religious plaque — which was also in violation of the first amendment because it constituted government endorsement of religion — taken down off the wall of her public school. After her victory, Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation tried to send her flowers, but three separate local florists refused to accept the order.

Finding the one bakery that actually abides by the anti discrimination law could test anyone’s patience.

I also want to draw the distinction between requesting offensive imagery or messaging on a cake and what happened here. A Nazi who requests a cake with a swastika on it would rightly be rebuffed. If the only difference between a cake for a same sex wedding and one for an opposite sex wedding is the apparent genders of the figurines on top of it, you should be laughed at for trying to draw a distinction between them. And I’d even support the cake shop if the customers asked for something truly inappropriate on it.

A lot of bigots complain that they don’t like being called bigots. There’s an easy solution to that one: don’t do things that make you look bigoted. Jack Phillips, the owner of the cake shop, is a bigot. And if he’s complaining that he’s being called a bigot, he’s a fragile little snowflake too.

Now there’s one thing I can think of that specifically pertains to the catering industry that I worry about, assuming the Supreme Court does the right thing and rules against the cake shop. (Not a given, considering a relatively recent ruling that I thought was equally obvious.). We’ve already seen bakeries risk their reputation because of the religious views of their owners to varying degrees of success. I would worry that they’d be willing to risk their reputation even further by tampering with the food they prepare. May it not come to that.

You don’t need to be a prophet

Chapter 38 of the Book of Ezekiel (and to a lesser extent, chapter 39) speaks of a war in which a man known as Gog, from the land of Magog, will threaten the land of Israel, but who will be destroyed by God itself. You don’t need to be a historian, theologian, or biblical scholar to read verse 8 of this chapter and see parallels with the conditions of the founding of the modern nation of Israel. Read it yourself (NIV translation, basically copied verbatim from the above link):

After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.

Many fundamentalist Christians see this war between Israel and Magog as a necessary prerequisite for the end of days described in the Book of Revelation.

Let’s ignore the obvious fact that there’s currently no country in the world known as Magog. And I’m not sure there ever was. A large-scale war between Israel and any of its neighbors has been a possibility since the founding of Israel in 1948. Call it Magog, or the Palestinian authority, or Iran, or Levantine, or whatever other group of people who don’t feel adequately compensated and protected might want to call themselves.

Which brings us to the unofficial announcement yesterday, and the likely official announcement today, that Donald Trump is moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Before we get into that, I want to make it clear: the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is located in Jerusalem. By that definition alone, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

What’s not so clear is what the true boundaries of Jerusalem actually are. By a declaration of the Knesset in 1980, it includes the area of East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel as a result of the 1967 Six Day War. The United Nations disagrees. There’s an excellent map on Wikipedia that illustrates the different parts of the city.

Jerusalem is an extremely important city for each of the three major monotheistic religions. And when you consider this simple fact, the claiming of this city in its entirety for any one of them — especially at the expense of either of the other two — is a recipe for disaster.

There are no other countries in the world that have an embassy in Jerusalem. If we want to have any hope for a lasting peace in the region, it is best not to antagonize either side. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem buys the United States nothing and only antagonizes the Palestinians.

Donald Trump sold himself as a great dealmaker during the campaign last year, and that he’d put America first. This latest decision is evidence that both of these statements are outright lies.

The only people truly celebrating this move are the ones who see Israel as a stepping stone to help us get to the Rapture.

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.

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.