Monday, January 16, 2017

Song for the Inauguration Follies, Jan. 20, 2017

A Song  for Inauguration Day (to the tune of Springtime for Hitler)
by Beth Bilynskyj, with apologies to Mel Brooks

‘Murika was having trouble
What a sad, sad story
Needed a new leader to restore
Its former glory
Where, oh, where was he?
Where could that man be?

We looked around and then we found
The man for you and me

Springtime for Donald and ‘Murika!
Congress is happy and gay!
We're marching to a faster pace
who cares if it’s a HUGE disgrace?

Springtime for Donald and 'Murika!
Winter for Mexico!
Springtime for Donald and 'Murika!
C’mon Conway, go into your dance!

(I was born in Punxsutawney
that is why they call me Ronnie
Don't be stupid, be a smarty
Join the Republican party)

Springtime for Donald and ‘Murika!
All news is fake news today
Putin’s got lots of spies again
Trumps telling lots of lies again!

Springtime for Donald and ‘Murika!
China is flexing once more
Springtime for Donald and “Murika,
Means that soon we'll be going--
We've got to be going--
You know we'll be going
 To WAR!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

How American conservatives might have ushered in the post-truth mess of the Trump era:

How did defenders of absolute truth become post-truth ideologues?

Alex Jones (Brent Humphreys)
A crucial part of my conservative evangelical upbringing was learning about the difference between “absolute truth” and “relativism.” We were taught that conservative evangelicals believed in truth, while liberals believed that each person gets to make up their own “truth.” So I thought that conservatism was defined by loyalty to the truth. To be a conservative meant to believe and tell the truth even when the whole world around you is telling lies.
What eroded my conservative evangelicalism more than anything else over the past two decades was to see my fellow defenders of absolute truth turn into peddlers of fake news and post-truth ideologues. I think it started in the nineties with their vehement opposition to Bill Clinton. I remember in particular the Clinton Chronicles, a 1994 fake documentary funded by Jerry Falwell that was filled with outrageous, unsubstantiated charges against the Clintons. In the nineties, it became okay to spread lies about a morally sleazy politician, simply because his immorality justified it. There was no accountability or remorse when conspiracy theories were proven false; new ones were cooked up immediately to take their place. And there was always the assumption that even if 95% of the conspiracy theories are proven wrong, 5% of them must be right because there are so many.
The right-wing outrage industry got its start as a reaction to Clinton, and it’s become as lucrative and morally devastating as the porn industry. The false witness epidemic in our culture today is no less a specimen of porneia than our culture’s sexual immorality. And where are the preachers speaking out against false witness the way they do against porn? There is no one who embodies the permissibility of lying in our culture like Donald Trump, who won the presidency because of his support from 81% of evangelicals. Sure, it’s true that many evangelicals made the same kind of lesser-of-two-evils choice that people did who voted for Hillary Clinton. But the way that Trump beat out so many morally superior candidates in the Republican primary field precisely because he played dirty exemplifies the moral crisis that has resulted from decades of normalizing false witness in conservative media.
I’m not sure whether conservative evangelical youth groups today talk about absolute truth the way they did in the early nineties. It seems like the cognitive dissonance would be unbearable. So how did the defenders of absolute truth find it so easy to become the very relativists they defined themselves against? I’m not saying that all or even most conservatives have made this move, but somebody has been buying Dinesh D’Souza and Ann Coulter’s books or else they wouldn’t be millionaires. Not every plant in the garden is toxic, but the ground sure is caked in rotten fruit.
I think it’s a question of how we define absolute truth. Being committed to absolute truth can mean two very different things. On the one hand, absolute truth can signify that the universe has a single reality despite the fact that we perceive it from billions of vantage points. In this sense, absolute truth means the universe around me is not a dream that’s all in my head. The objective facts that surround me in the world matter. I don’t get to make up my own facts. There are universal laws and principles that exist independent of my subjective, culturally conditioned position.
When I was indoctrinated with absolute truth as a young evangelical, this first definition was how I was taught to understand the concept. However, I came to learn that, for evangelicals, absolute truth was not as much about the existence of universal truth as it was about obedience to an infallible authority. For conservative evangelicals, the authority to obey is of course the Bible, or more truthfully, their particular doctrinal superstructure within which they encase their interpretation of the biblical text. When you’ve made the decision to define truth as obedience to doctrine, then you’re not actually committed to the notion of a single, universal reality, because reality is whatever makes your doctrine work.
I’ve seen conservative evangelical leaders like Tim Keller and Michael Horton admit this much when they discuss their need for the Garden of Eden story to be an actual historical event. The reason they need for Adam and Eve to be historical figures and not allegorical representations of humanity is because otherwise their Calvinist system for understanding original sin doesn’t work. The slippery slope to a post-truth reality starts with defining truth as whatever makes your doctrine work.
The reason why conservative evangelicals have to believe that climate change is a myth is not because they’re being cynically dishonest out of ideological or fiscal investment in fossil fuels. It’s because if humans can destroy the world with our pollution, that poses a tremendous threat to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. And after a century and a half of battling evolution, conservative evangelicals have been trained to dismiss hostile science as a secular humanist ideological agenda. Because truth is whatever makes the doctrine work.
But the biggest problem is not with biblical inerrancy’s clash with science. More problematic is how conservative evangelicals have been socialized to respect authority itself as infallible. Sure everyone says that the Bible is the authority, but the real authority figure is the interpreter, whether it’s the small group leader or the megachurch pastor or the movement leader. What happens when this obedience to infallible authority and doctrine is transferred from the Bible to a partisan political platform? What happens when people apply their training in authoritarian church environments to their allegiance for a populist demagogue?
Fascism is what happens when a large enough mob of people are so radically committed to the infallibility of their leader and his cause that believing the leader’s lies becomes a moral imperative, when truth is whatever makes the leader right. I don’t think fascism will take over our country because there are too many factions. We have too many secular humanists and people of color, but if we were a homogeneous nation of conservative white evangelicals, it would be very easy to create fascism by converting biblical infallibility into the infallibility of the leader.
The biggest mistake conservative evangelicals make is to extol obedience for its own sake. Obedience is the lifeblood of fascism. It is the primary way that sin reproduces, because obeying the crowd is a lot easier than critically thinking for yourself. Most of the time when obedience happens in our world, people are not obeying God; they are obeying an idol whether it’s a political hero or the forces of the market or a sinful lifestyle goal. To actually obey God in a world filled with liars, narcissists, and conmen both inside and outside of the church requires constant vigilant disobedience. That’s what cruciform resistance looks like. Obedience in and of itself is not a virtue.
1 Peter 1:22 says, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” Obedience to the truth is what we should all be striving for. But you cannot be obedient to the truth unless you start with the humility to recognize that obedience to the truth is a freaking infinite mystery. It’s not simply a matter of willfully resisting clear and obvious lies; actually discerning the truth is the hard part. The Bible is a huge resource for our journey into God’s mystery, but we’re setting it up for failure if we expect it to be a self-explanatory, all-encompassing answer book for every question of biology, cosmology, sociology, etc. Obedience to the truth is way more involved than simply scanning our Bibles for a chapter verse proof-text to apply to every life scenario that confronts us. While Christians should certainly use scripture as a primary means of interpreting our lives, that doesn’t excuse us from handling the facts of our world with cautious, sober integrity.
Being obedient to the truth means courageously facing the inconvenient realities that completely screw up your doctrine and force you back to square one. It means being willing to change if the truth compels it but also willing to hold on for dear life to the truth even if all of your friends hate you for doing so. It means trying to understand people who radically disagree with you, but also resisting the temptation to disown all your beliefs for the sake of agreeability. It’s the perfect balance of being able to say both “I might be wrong” and “I think this is right.” It means being willing to contradict the crowd but also willing to recognize that you can’t figure it all out on your own.
My greatest hope for the next four years is that Donald Trump’s presidency will create such an ideological Chernobyl for Republicans that the end result will be a complete reinvention of conservatism so that it becomes synonymous with integrity again. Alternatively, if Donald Trump himself has a Damascus Road encounter and becomes an honest man, I’ll take that too.
I believe in absolute truth. That’s why I refuse to accept easy explanations or mass-produced bumper-sticker doctrines. It’s why I’m very distrustful of people who valorize blind obedience. It’s why I work out my salvation with fear and trembling like the Bible tells me to do (Philippians 2:12).

Dean James Ryan's 5 Essential Questions In Life.

Dr. John Wickersham was that kind of teacher for me. I pray that I have been faithful to pass on what he gave me.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Another Christmas (or Easter) Carol; THe Crown of Thorns by Tschaikovsky

I just heard the most amazing carol on Pandora:

When Jesus Christ was yet a child
He had a garden small and wild
Where-in he cherished roses fair
And wove them into garlands there

Now as the summertime drew nigh
There came a troop of children by
And seeing roses on the tree
With shouts they plucked them merrily

"Do you bind roses in your hair?"
They cried in scorn to Jesus there
The boy said humbly "Take I pray
All but the na-ked thorns away"

Then of the thorns they made a crown
And with rough fingers pressed it down
Till on his forehead fair and youngRed drops of blood like roses sprung

Monday, December 05, 2016

Mit hjerte altid vanker: A Christmas Carol by Carl Nielsen

A beautiful  Danish Christmas carol; the words are as wonderful as the melody.

My Heart Always Lingers

My heart always lingers in the birthplace of Jesus
My thoughts gather there as their main sum
There my longing has its home, my faith its treasure
I can never forget you, blessed Christmas night

Oh come, I will open my heart and my mind
and sigh with longing, yet come in Jesus
It is not a strange home, you have bought it yourself
So I will remain faithful, wrapped here in my heart

I will gladly spread palm branches around your manger
for you, for you alone I will live and die
Come, let my soul find its right moment of joy for you
that you were born here in the deep of the heart

Friday, November 25, 2016

Advice for Difficult Days: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century

Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder writes:

"Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so."
Snyder's a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (which includes former Secretaries of State), and consults on political situations around the globe. He says, "Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today."

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don't protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of "terrorism" and "extremism." Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it.
6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don't use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps "The Power of the Powerless" by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.
7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.
16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it."
ETA: Feel free to share, but please copy+ paste into your own status or else it will not be viewable to all of your friends."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Election of 2016: "Rising to Heaven in a Secular Rapture"

Evangelicals are no less prone to constructing and worshiping idols than the ancient Israelites. Combine the American fundamentalist religious impulse with the Enlightenment promise of heaven on earth (cf. Carl Becker's  The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers) and you get the election of 2016.

Rising to Heaven in a Secular Rapture: Trump’s Golden Promises

Speaking in broad and angry terms about entire classes of citizens, Trump repelled as many people as he rallied to his cause. By the eve of the election, those who loved Trump seem to be living in an entirely different reality from those who didn’t. And now we know just how divided the country is, in hard numbers.
For five years, as part of a study whose results could not be more timely, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild traveled the bayous of southern Louisiana, meeting with Tea Party conservatives and trying to understand their thinking about life, hope, faith, and American politics.
Her book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, tells the story of that experience. It has been nominated for the National Book Award.
Just a few weeks before the election RD’s Eric C. Miller spoke with Hochschild about her project.
Eric Miller: What motivated you to try to empathize with the Tea Party?
Arlie Hochschild: In 2011, when I began researching the book, I was increasingly concerned about a growing divide in America between liberals and conservatives, left and right. Congress was at a standstill and I felt it was time to get out of my bubble in Berkeley, California, go to an equal and opposite enclave, and turn off my alarm system—to permit myself a full curiosity as to why very good people come to such very different conclusions about what is true and good.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Arlie Russell Hochschild
The New Press
August 2016
You talk a lot about your struggle to make sense of the “great paradox” of Tea Party thinking. What is it, and why is it such a roadblock to empathy?
Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a roadblock to empathy. It is rather how the world actually looks on one side of the empathy wall. That is, from where I stood, things didn’t make sense. On the whole, in the United States, the red states are poorer, they have worse education, worse medical care, more family disruption, more accidents, more alcohol and substance abuse, worse health, lower life expectancy—all of those problems. Red states also receive more in federal aid than they pay in taxes. And yet, they are politically conservative and take a very dim view of the federal government.
So the paradox is this—if you had that many problems, wouldn’t you want help to get rid of them?
In Louisiana, where I chose to do my research, this is a super paradox. In 2014, it was the poorest state in the union, and 44% of its state budget came from the federal government. But the citizens there heavily favor the Tea Party, and now heavily favor Donald Trump.
None of this got in the way of my empathy, but it did present me with a problem to try to understand—how it all made sense to the people of the state.
What I discovered was that they knew about the paradox, but it was less important to them than what I came to call the “deep story.”
What is the deep story?
We all have a deep story—a story that we tell ourselves about the world, what it is, and how it came to be the way it is. For Tea Partiers, the story imagines America as a long line of people waiting for their shot at the American dream. They see themselves waiting patiently in that line, but up ahead they see people cutting in front of them. Some are black, some are Latino, some are women—and the government seems to be helping them do it.
A deep story is a story that feels true. You take the facts out of it, you take the moral judgments out of it, and you are left with a feeling. That, in a way, is the goal here. That is what the book leads to—the discovery that, on the other side of the empathy wall, this is what people feel. So to empathize with it is to imagine the feeling of being pushed back in line, disrespected, and ultimately, humiliated.
So that’s how I came to empathize with the people I studied. It’s not to say that I agree with them, but I did my best to understand that this is how they feel.
Many of the people you got to know during this experience were religious people. To what extent is their deep story religious?
I don’t think the deep story is religious. But I think religion factors indirectly in that people felt that the church was a source of great comfort to them, and they didn’t think they needed government because the churches often did offer a great number of services. They were tithed, members gave ten percent of their income to sustaining the church, and whatever problem they had, they could take it to the church. It was very central to their lives.
At the same time, they sensed that they were Christians in an America that was becoming increasingly non-Christian, so I often heard them say things like, “You can’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore—you have to say ‘Happy Holidays.’” They felt that even their language was becoming marginalized and needed defending. Many of the meetings I went to began with prayer, a practice that they felt was dying out in the country.
So they felt that they had to be on the defensive in their religiosity, and that their beliefs—that the earth was 5000 years old, that heaven was a cube in the sky—were ridiculed by liberals and Democrats.
One discovery that I made about religion without really looking for it occurred as I was trying to understand how Donald Trump, the most irreligious of people, could win the devotion of deeply religious people.
The guy’s on his third marriage, was propositioning women while his third wife was pregnant, he can’t name a favorite verse or book of the Bible, says he’s never asked God for forgiveness. There are many reasons why, you would think, especially evangelical believers would turn away from him as a candidate.
But I think religious belief opens a way for a charismatic leader like Donald Trump. I actually wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe on this. I think Trump is offering people the promise of rising to heaven in a sort of secular rapture. There is this belief in a rapture—that the world will come to a sudden end, that believers will rise to heaven, that bad people will be stuck in a world turned to hell, and that God will make the determination which direction you go.
Trump is pitching himself in the role of that God-like figure who is making the determination. He’s often in a judging posture, making quick decisions—“You’re fired,” he says on The Apprentice, or “You’re hired.”
So he fits into the iconography and narrative of belief. If I were to compare some of the pictures of heaven that people have given me—in which everything is golden—and then look at the pictures of Trump Tower, there is a suggestion that I will take you up with me and it speaks to an anxiety people feel about what happens when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and where we all fit and what hopes we can have for the future. It’s a religious impulse, but Trump speaks to the secular side of it.
I went into your book genuinely hoping to achieve empathy with Tea Partiers and Trump supporters, and there were moments when I felt very close, but ultimately I’m afraid the great paradox is too off-putting for me. Many of the claims your subjects make are based on misunderstandings or bad assumptions or are just factually incorrect, and that feels like a wedge between us. Do you still feel that way?
Well, there is a difference between empathizing and agreeing. People have asked me if, after five years and coming back and writing the book, if my politics have changed. The answer is no—not at all. I still believe in the reality of man-made climate change, the importance of government regulation, etc. I do not now believe the things that the people I studied believe. But I understand how they got to believe the things they believe, the sources of tension in their lives that have made them anxious and fearful, and the sources of information on which they are relying.
At the end of the book I have included an appendix in which many of the beliefs espoused by the subjects are fact-checked against reliable sources. Are 40 percent of Americans working for the federal government? No, it’s 1.9 percent. Do black women have a much higher birth rate than white women? No, it’s about the same. Is everyone on welfare not working? No, most of the people receiving government aid do work, but at such low-paid jobs that we can actually see those welfare benefits as government subsidies to the companies that are under-paying their workers.
I include all of that so that we can be clear about what’s true and what’s not. But that doesn’t mean that we should beat people over the head with the facts or that we should go loggerhead to loggerhead. What I mean to say in this book is that we need a kind of respectful conversation as a nation in order to pull the two sides closer. Climbing the empathy wall is just an initial stage, a first step, toward getting into the right frame of mind to discuss our differences and find some common ground. In my research I did find some common ground, but it feels relatively unexplored at this time.
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that respect is essential to persuasion. If I don’t respect you, I can’t persuade you, and vice versa. Based on your experience in the South, do you see a way out of this? Is there a way that people from different political persuasions can better communicate with each other?
Yes, I think there is actually a movement started by Joan Blades, co-founder of, called “Living Room Conversations,” in which left and right get together, break bread, have respectful conversations, and then see if there are some things they can agree on. They know the intention of the conversation, and they come to it hoping to achieve that goal. They commit to it for a while—maybe six sessions.
We know we have differences, but there may be some common ground. What is that common ground?
I would love to see a national movement, a grassroots movement, of people getting out of their enclaves and agreeing to the new rules of reversing the respect deficit. Then, at the level of local leadership and then further on up, let’s see if we can get candidates who are respectful of our agreements and differences. We are one country.
The kinds of issues I found crossover on were things like getting money out of politics, protecting the environment, reducing prison populations, and others. The more specific you are about a particular problem, the more likely you are to find common ground. So a respect-rich context, in which specifics are discussed carefully—I think that’s the way to go.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

BBC VIDEO: Illuminations Treasures of the Middle Ages BBC

saving to watch at a later time:

Illuminations Treasures of the Middle Ages BBC