Donald Trump, the Men’s Rights and Pick-Up Artist Movements, And Our Degenerate Gender Discourse

N.B>: Throughout this post, when I quote MRA and PUA websites, I will NOT be linking to the original posts. I have no desire to swim in cesspools. I will, rather, be using the website We Hunted The Mammoth as my main source for such quotes. If you have never read it, I highly recommend it as a source for all sorts of information on the seedier side of American “manliness”.

If you ever wanted to know why I’m not a conservative or a Republican, this craven pandering to women pretty much sums it up. I’m not sickened by Trump’s locker room talk. I’m sickened by the fact that weak little gamma males like Ryan … have any influence in Western society at all. The only correct response to this “scandal” should have been a single question: “so the f*ck what?”

Never trust a moderate, a Churchian, or a cuckservative. Never. They will stab you in the back in order to virtue-signal every single time. – Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, quoted in “Theodore “Vox Day” Beale defends Trump’s “Alpha talk about women””, We Hunted The Mammoth, October 8, 2016

“I think it’s locker room banter,” the younger Trump said. “I think sometimes when guys are together they get carried away, and sometimes that’s what happens when alpha personalities are in the same presence.” Jenavieve Hatch, “Eric Trump: Bragging About Sexual Assault Is ‘What Happens’ When Alpha Males Are Together”, The Huffington Post, October 11, 2016

On the blog of the rabidly racist pickup artist James “Heartiste” Weidmann — you may recall his recent attacks on Paul Ryan — one of the regular commenters has a rather creative new theory about Hillary . . .

Hillary wants to send your sons off to war so your daughters will get their jobs. It’s a deliberate attempt to kill off large segments of the male population.

Maybe it’s conscious on her part; maybe it’s unconscious, but the end result is that lots of men will be pulled from the labor force making way for women. I’m surprised no one else has picked up on this. To me it perfectly explains why she’d be gunning for a war with Russia before she’s even in office. Has she been pushing for a female draft? No. Therefore, a large-scale war would be the ultimate “full employment” program for women.

The final solution for feminists, so to speak. – Hillary wants to kill men and give their jobs to women, Alt-Right Trump fans charge”, We Hunted The Mammoth, October 11, 2016

Men's Rights Activist, rape-promoter, and self-proclaimed Alpha Male Roosh Valizadeh.

Men’s Rights Activist, rape-promoter, and self-proclaimed Alpha Male Roosh Valizadeh.

I first learned about the whole Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) and Pick-Up Artist (PUA) movements a couple years back, at the depth of the Gamergate  controversy. For those who have never heard of it, Gamergate actually occurred in two stages. First, game developer Zoe Quinn had a game she produced reviewed favorably in an online magazine. Some people thought the game was receiving more attention than it deserved, apparently; for some reason this turned into a concerted attack upon Quinn, including emailed rape and death threats, doxing (publication online of personal information, including telephone numbers and addresses). In August of 2014, one of Quinn’s former boyfriends published a very long blog post in which, for all intents and purposes, he claimed the initial good press Depression Quest received was due to a personal relationship between Quinn and gamer journalist Nathan Grayson. At this point, many started carrying on about “journalistic ethics” as the root cause of “Gamergate” rather than simple sexual harassment and threats of violence. An early vocal supporter of Quinn, game developer Phil Fish, was attacked so viciously he quit the industry and sold his company.

Media critic Anita Sarkeesian produced a YouTube video about the controversy and soon came under attack, facing the same rape and death threats, doxing, and other harassment. Through it all, a particular vocabulary among MRA/PUA folks emerged, including using the epithet “Social Justice Warriors” (SJW) as an insult and attack. It became clear to me as I followed these goings-on at a distance (I’m not a gamer, and I don’t follow gamer discussions online; I am, however, someone interested in things like the whole MRA/PUA movement and its utter degeneracy), it became clear the attacks were coming from seriously sick individuals.

It wasn’t long after I discovered the website We Hunted The Mammoth, a kind of clearinghouse for those interested in learning about MRA/PUA culture without having to dirty oneself too much. Blog writer and editor David Futrelle keeps tabs on the Alt-Right in general (white nationalism), Neo-Nazis, and the vocal MRA/PUA movement. A typical article, “Do women really enjoy sex, men who hate women ask”, from September 16 reads in part:

Ladies! Do you feel a bit twitchy? Is the hair on the back of your neck standing up? Don’t worry — that just means that Reddit’s MGTOWs are talking about you again.

On the Men Going Their Own Way subreddit the regulars are trying to figure out whether women enjoy sex as much as men. Or at all.

The general consensus? Women aren’t really into sex  — unless it’s with the mythical Chad Thunderc*ck.

There follows C&P’d comments from a subreddit for “Men Going Their Own Way” (MGTOW; men who have given up on dating women because they insist women don’t actually want relationships with good, decent men such as themselves, proving that lack of self-awareness leads people to some pretty strange palces) that make it clear most of the men writing on this subreddit have never spoken to, let along kissed or had sex with, an actual human female. As the post concludes, “The MGTOW subreddit really is one of the saddest places on planet earth.”

Part of the MRA/PUA vocabulary and worldview is the nonsensical “Alpha Male” trope. To these men, they are actually “Alpha Males” who have been dismissed by women (usually women who are attractive by conventional standards) because of feminism. Somehow, feminism seem to have taught these women they no longer need the physical and financial protection of “Alpha Males” like themselves, allowing them the opportunity to pursue quickie, no-commitment sexual relationship with “Betas”, men who treat these women solely as sexual objects. There is something sad and desperate about all this. Clearly men who think this way have been hurt by life, perhaps even a woman, in their lives. It might have been a mother, it might have been an unrequited teenage crush, or perhaps these men never escaped the general angst and low self-esteem of adolescence. In any case, while certainly nonsensical, and often a projection of their own beliefs about women combining with their own massive insecurities, it is this particular bit of MRA/PUA discourse that suddenly rose to the top of the sewer with the release last Friday of a tape in which Donald Trump spoke with a casualness and comfort of sexual assault.

I already wrote about this a bit. Having given this background and context, I think it’s important to understand the source of all this “Alpha Male” talk. Besides being nonsense of the first order, it seems to me pretty obvious that self-proclaimed “Alpha Males” are anything but, given their own descriptions of the type. Is Donald Trump an Alpha? I think the answer to that is clear enough: A man who believes he has both the ability and the right, given his financial and social status, to sexually assault random women is no more an “Alpha Male” than are the sad “MGTOW” who insist they are giving up trying to date women because women seem only to be attracted to “Beta” men. The characteristics of “Betas” is a disregard for the women as people; they treat women as sexual objects only, sometimes going so far as to physically or emotionally abuse the women with whom they form attachments. The Alphas consider themselves the “good guys” women are always complaining they can’t find: men who appreciate women for who they are, will treat them well and properly, as a man should, offering both physical and financial protection, which is what women really want. That their entire approach to women is highly sexual; their major complaint that women won’t have sex with them; that the men they call “Betas” are more attractive, successful, and desirable than they are; that they presume to know what women want rather than listening to women and finding out what it is they want; all this demonstrates pretty clearly the whole “Alpha Male” nonsense is little more than a complex psychological defense against their own sense of their lack of self-worth, and their basic belief that women are nothing other than sexual objects.

Please recall the many times Donald Trump has said that no one respects women more than he does. Regardless of the emerging parade of women coming forward accusing Trump of unwanted attention and even sexual assault, I’m convinced that Trump himself actually really believes he respects women. Like the sad MGTOW men, his entire campaign has been an object lesson in how all sorts of personality disorders present themselves, whether it’s narcissism, megalomania, or the kind of lack of self-esteem that has men preoccupied with the size of their penises and their ability to seduce women. The particular traits with which I’m concerned here aren’t unfamiliar to anyone whose been or spent time with teenage boys. Part of figuring out what it means to be a man is spending time jostling one another not so much for a place near the top of the pack as much as going through a phase in which each one really is a man. Most of us leave this nonsense behind us after the age of 16 or so; some, alas, never emerge from adolescence, for any number of reasons. These men tend to post on MGTOW subreddits, declare themselves Alphas who aren’t recognized for their greatness, and Republican candidates for President in 2016. Rather than the “real men” somehow both powerful yet victimized by an over-feminized society, these guys are sad, pitiable individuals who occasionally engage in deplorable, even violent, behavior to make up for their own inadequacies.

I will be so glad when November 9 comes.

Election Worries

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at Sunday night's town-hall-style debate.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at Sunday night’s town-hall-style debate.

As the Trumptanic splits in two and sinks, the only question before us is how much of the Republican Party it drags to the bottom. It is extremely possible the Democrats could take control the United States Senate. While I doubt the Republicans will lose their House majority, I’m quite sure that majority will shrink. Precisely because Paul Ryan has played Hamlet just a bit too much with his political relationship with the party’s nominee, I figure his Speakership might well be in doubt. The institutional structure of the Republican Party will be in dire need of a major overhaul. Hazarding a guess, while the post-election season might well give us a respite from the worst excesses of the campaign, I am quite confident a new President Clinton’s (first?) term will be every bit as contentious as has been both of President Obama’s.

It is still kind of shocking to me there are so many young people eligible to vote whose memories of the events of September 11, 2001 are hazy at best. The brief time between President George W. Bush’s inauguration on January 20th and that horrible day is, I think, largely forgotten by most. I think because our younger daughter was born that summer, my memories from that time are pretty clear. One of my clearest memories is thinking, sometime in July as the corn was tall behind our house in LaMoille, President Bush was heading for the history books as a single-term President. Elected with a bare majority of Electoral College votes and fewer popular votes than his opponent, from his first day in office Bush seemed to be taking advice on his governing style from his primary political adviser, Karl Rove. Rove’s “genius” was creating a campaign that aimed less at stitching together a voting coalition large enough from which to govern than simply winning an election. Receiving 50%-plus-one of the vote was enough for a win; in the end, that’s what Rove desired.

That bare majority however – reflected most of all in the United States Senate, in which the Republicans had a one-seat majority – did not stop Rove from announcing to the world his advice to the new President: govern as if you won a landslide and governing mandate. While perhaps not the best advice, it certainly created a framework within which observers could understand some of the more egregiously stupid things the Bush Administration did. Early on, Vice President Cheney held a closed door meeting with leaders from energy companies. When reporters demanded to know who attended the meeting and what was discussed, Cheney essentially told the reporters to pound sand. Declaring Executive Privilege, a hazy enough legal doctrine at the best of times, the Bush Administration insisted it had to operate in secret in order to get the best possible advice. It was unprecedented; it was unAmerican; and yet we came to know that “arrogance” would be a part of the Bush Administration (along with a kind of heavy-handed manipulation both of the press and the Executive Branch bureaucracy, something for which Cheney was well-known).

That summer occurred two seminal events that, it seems to me, sounded the real death knell for a second Bush term. First was what became known as “The Hainan Island incident” . An American spy plane and a Chinese J-8 fighter collided mid-air, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the Aries to make an emergency landing on the Chinese Island Province of Hainan. The crew of 24 was released after 10 days, being under intense interrogation much of the time, when US Ambassador Joseph Prueher delivered a letter to the Chinese apologizing both for the death of their pilot as well as the violation of Chinese airspace. While the Bush Administration insisted it was an “apology” apology, part of the Bush campaign had included tough talk on China. While perhaps not “humiliating”, and certainly necessary both to bring home our service members in Chinese custody and prevent this incident from spiraling out of control, the end-game was interpreted by many as a sign of weakness.

In May of that year, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. Prior to that the Republicans had a one-seat majority; with VP Cheney providing any tie-breaking vote toward the Republicans, they had control of the upper house. After over a month of tense negotiations between Jeffords, then working on a bill regarding special education and insisting it have adequate funding in order to be effective, was not only treated poorly by his more conservative Senate colleagues; for all intents and purposes the White House treated Jeffords more as a back-bencher than a three-term Chair of the Health, Education, Welfare, and Pensions Committee. Again, Bush Administration arrogance resulted in an unneeded loss of power, with political ramifications that, again had 9/11 not occurred, would have neutered much of Pres. Bush’s legislative agenda.

That history is important to remember. My hunch is that next month’s Presidential election is going to be a sizable win for Hillary Clinton. The Democrats will most likely win back control of the Senate. The Republican leadership will be in such turmoil they will be unable to work effectively as a legislating Party. Should the Democrats come to believe that such a result flowed from the superiority of their candidate and that candidate’s legislative agenda, I believe they will be in for a rude awakening.

For all her strengths, Hillary Clinton has always been a poor campaigner. Had she faced another, real, candidate – I’m thinking right now of Ohio Gov. John Kasich – not only is it possible Secretary Clinton might have lost the Presidential race; it is possible such an event might well have prevented a Democratic win in the Senate. Certainly the turmoil we’re seeing in the Party’s inner workings would be absent. Certainly we wouldn’t be listening to people defending sexual assault on national news programs under the umbrella of Presidential campaign coverage.

My fear is that a Hillary Clinton Administration, seeing an overwhelming victory and a new Democratic US Senate, might well repeat the Bush Administration’s mistake: they may well try to govern as if they had a governing mandate. I have no desire for Mrs. Clinton to end up doing the same stupid things George W. Bush did prior to 9/11 (not to mention the extremely stupid thing he did after: invading Iraq). Power, however, is a narcotic. Narcotics reduce the ability to think clearly, resulting in impulsive actions that usually turn out very badly. It would be far better if, on Nov. 9, a President-elect Hillary Clinton acknowledged her debt to her opponent in this race for providing the margin of victory, promising to govern with respect to a plurality of Americans who will continue to be wary of her.

How To Read The Bible Or Why Creationists Aren’t That Bright

Perishing with commencing time, in the light which was created by God, by the second day, the infinite waste of waters is revealed as the absolute antithesis of the ordered world of “heaven and earth,” as an enemy of all life, as the death of every possibility of life. It is this power as such which is radically broken by the creative work of the second day. What is basically secured by thisw ork is the theatre of life, and therefore of man. In precise correspondence to the announcement made in the creation of light, it consists in the establishment of a boundary. The delineation of this boundary will be continued in the work of the third day. Its commencement consists in the radical crushing of the sovereignty of the element of chaos; in the liquidation of its finality, form and structure; in a division in to “waters above” and “waters below” in which it can no longer speak a fina linimcal and moral word, but can only be a last threat which cannot make man and his world impossible and thus destroy them. It is separated. It can exist only in this separation. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol III, Part 1, p.133.

St. Jerome receiving some Divine assistance translating the Bible to Latin

St. Jerome receiving some Divine assistance translating the Bible to Latin

The other day I mused on the possibility – or even the need! – for a so-called “theology of the natural sciences”. My reason for these thoughts are my current reading of Vol III, Part 1 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, in which the great Basel doctor pays careful attention to the two creation stories in Genesis. It occurred to me today, after reading Barth’s careful work on Gen. 1:6-8, the work of the Second Day of Creation, that a careful look at how Barth reads just these two little verses should be a demonstration both in how to do theology (Biblical exposition), and how different are the questions it asks and the answers it offers from those of the natural sciences. This is an object lesson in why Christian Doctrine, particularly the doctrine of Creation, have nothing at all in common with astrophysics, cosmology, or quantum mechanics. It also demonstrates just how stupid creationists really are.

By way of some general observations, Barth’s strengths moving forward are a focused dedication both to the text as text and his prior methodological principle of the priority of such a focused reading always being done through the lens of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the real revelation of who God is and what God has done and is doing. I doubt such a careful and thorough theological hermeneutic will or could exist in the future; relying as it does on a certainty that the particular narrative of the Christ-event defines how we approach the entire canon of Christian Scripture, living in a time when such meta-narratives, even as a functional device, are no longer tenable, such dedication and clarity and thoroughness are no longer either possible or desired.

This particularity of focus, however, gives Barth the power and authority to declare both that the events in the first two chapters of Genesis are real history and to set aside any conflict with a scientific account of the creation of the Universe as a primary misreading of the texts in question. Yet it is precisely here at his boldest that Barth’s weaknesses become most apparent. He spends an inordinate (to this reader at least) amount of space trying to define the Creation-event both as historical and outside the ability to research using proper historical (or one could add scientific) methods (pp.59f). Part of the confusion here stems from the tortured use of a weird German distinction between two kinds of history, reflected in the development and growth of meaning of two different words English translates as “history”. One refers to History with a capital “H”, History as meta-history, the overarching movement of forces – either metaphysical (Hegel) or theological (Barth) – that determine, define, and provide meaning for what most of us think of as “history”, that ebb and flow of events, of names and dates and places and events we usually consider history. Even knowing all this, even vaguely, Barth’s attention to this point is both labored and tortured and – dare I say it? – smacks of more than a little bit of apologetics.

The other weakness, and here we encounter Barth in discussion with his contemporaries in Old Testament studies regarding literary styles, is a curt discussion of “saga” (pp. 42f). By attempting to define an understanding of the text by defining the literary style, Barth is yet again – gasp! – sneaking an apologetic concern through the back door, as it were, of his stated disdain for apologetics. Which is not to say that our reading of the Bible should ignore matters of literary form and style. It is only to suggest that, in this particular instance, Barth’s arguments are both rather weak (which is rare enough) and seem, in the end, to be beside the point. Historical or just historical, saga or myth or something else entirely, Barth’s focused discussion on each word, each line, each phrase, each day of Creation sets these matters aside almost completely.

In any event, it is the event of Day 2 – the setting of the firmament in the heavens to separate the waters above from the waters below – that, for me, show both how powerful and distinct a theological reading of the Bible can be as well as how little any of it has to do with contemporary scientific questions regarding cosmology. It is also precisely here that creationists – ideologues who use the Bible as a hammer against others – show themselves to be very poor exegetes. First, those “waters above” and “waters below” were once unseparated, those waters over whose face the Spirit shone just before the first creative act. While both the Church Fathers as well as Protestant Dogmaticians of the 16th and 17th century claimed these “waters above” were clouds and mists, Barth uses evidence both from other parts of the Bible as well as the particular description of these “waters” from the opening lines of Genesis to show this is not at all what the author of Genesis had in mind.

On the contrary, the “waters” over which the Spirit hovered is the primordial chaos against which God’s good creation stands both opposed and victorious. Like the darkness that is broken by the creation of light (not a pre-scientific description of the Big Bang), the setting of a firmament separating the waters below – rivers and seas and rain and clouds – from the waters above – the primordial anticreation – these first two events of creation, by setting specific barriers against and separation from those forces and things (darkness and the primordial chaotic waters), creates the space and time and conditions under which the rest of the creation called “good” can proceed. Only by splitting darkness with the creation of light, which creates day, and the First Day, is that darkness that opposes the light created by God defeated and set in its proper place. Only by separating the waters with a firmament, keeping away from God’s ordered creation the chaos whose depths reflected the Spirit and are defeated by it.

The first two days of creation, rather than talking about particular specific acts that can be dated and fixed upon a timeline, offer a theological view of what creation entails: It is the defeat both of darkness and chaos, their subjection to the creative love of the God who wishes ours to be a world both of order and  fitting for God’s very good creation, man and woman. We are not in the realm of “saga” (always a poor word choice to describe the literature of Genesis 1) or “history” at all. Barth’s setting aside such matters once he picks up the cudgels of theological exegesis demonstrate how little such discussions and definitions have to do with understanding the events of Genesis 1. While it is certainly true enough it is possible to read in Genesis 1 an account of events that actually took place on particular dates that can be discovered a la Bishop Usher, such a reading strips the text of their meaning and import. Anyone using this particular part of Scripture to defend a particular ideology robs them of the richness and fullness they actually contain.

Ours is a God of prodigal love who has chosen not to be alone but rather to create an Other to love that would seek God’s glory in return. Ours is a God who saw the original darkness and chaos and banished them, forcing them either to become part of God’s good creation or separating them entirely from Creation because their very existence as what they were posed a threat to the creation God was even then beginning. Ours is a God who would not have us creatures face the terror either of endless darkness or all-powerful chaos. Rather, ours is a world of order, discernible and discoverable, an order that provides space and time not just for survival, but for life, abundant life. We learn about our God, first, and our world and what kind of world it is God has created for us, second. Anything else the text might or might not say is less than unimportant.

As for Creationists who would continue to insist these texts give us a “real” history of “real” events that took place at a particular time, all I can say is by stripping the text of its theological depth and import, they have left nothing behind from which a reader can learn about God, or about the kind of creation in which we live, or any relationship between these events and the Christ event, the light that shines back offering the believer a particular perspective from which to understand the God of love who is the Father of Jesus Christ. Creationists aren’t really concerned that much with Christian faith as much as they are with having power over others by forcing a particular unBiblical and certainly unChristian reading upon others.

Donald Trump And Our American Culture Of Violence Against Women

[Y]ou are not ashamed of your sin [in committing adultery] because so many men commit it. Man’s wickedness is now such that men are more ashamed of chastity than of lechery. Murderers, thieves, perjurers, false witnesses, plunderers and fraudsters are detested and hated by people generally, but whoever will sleep with his servant girl in brazen lechery is liked and admired for it, and people make light of the damage to his soul. And if any man has the nerve to say that he is chaste and faithful to his wife and this gets known, he is ashamed to mix with other men, whose behaviour is not like his, for they will mock him and despise him and say he’s not a real man; for man’s wickedness is now of such proportions that no one is considered a man unless he is overcome by lechery, while one who overcomes lechery and stays chaste is considered unmanly. – St. Augustine

Does a rake deserve to possess anything of worth, since he chases everything in skirts and then imagines he can successfully hide his shame by slandering [women in general]? – Christine de Pizan, Der Sendbrief vom Liebesgott

A man who thinks it's OK to grab a strange woman, without her stated consent or wish, isn't really much of a man, now, is he?

A man who thinks it’s OK to grab a strange woman, without her stated consent or wish, isn’t really much of a man, now, is he?

I think it’s important to begin with, well, a little confession of sorts. Like pretty much most adolescent males of my generation (late baby-boomer), the high school locker room was a place for bragging, usually making up stories to make oneself look a better “guy” than you actually were. I participated in that no less than any other adolescent, and truth be told I wish I’d had a better sense of who I was and what it meant to be a real man, rather than “a guy”. I don’t carry this around as a huge weight, because, let’s be honest about something else: I was a stupid kid, with marginal self-esteem at best like most of my peers.

The point of this little confession isn’t so much about my own stupidity as it is the ease we all felt when speaking casually about girls and young women, sexualizing their every act, their dress, congratulating one another when one or another of us reported sexual success. This nonchalance regarding the humanity of the young women around us shocks me now. It’s difficult, I think, for those who may not have gone through such rites of passage – and I’m guessing there are some men, at least, who did not act this way – to understand just how little we thought of the young women in our lives.

I got thinking about this when I read a story about one man who defended Trump’s “Grab them by the pussy,” comment by calling it “guy talk”. Because, dear men everywhere, can we all be honest enough to admit that even if we were never as brazen as Trump to talk like this outside the safe-spaces of a man’s only world, whether or not we said such things, we heard them said and didn’t attack the person who said it? This is so because, yes, this is indeed “guy talk”. It is, however, “guy talk” of insecure, immature adolescents who, afraid both of women and their own inability to act properly and appropriately around them, create scenarios that make them look both far more sophisticated and experienced than they are. It is indeed locker room banter. And it’s banter like this that deserves to stay precisely where it originates: in junior high and high school boys’ locker rooms, providing object lessons in how not to speak or think about women.

In 2005, the World Health Organization conducted a multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women, following on the United Nation’s adoption both of particular definitions of violence against women and creating guidelines for member states to use when combating the problem. Among the findings highlighted at the link above:

  • between 15% of women in Japan and 71% of women in Ethiopia reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime;
  • between 10.3–11.5% of women reported sexual violence by someone other than a partner since the age of 15 years
  • the first sexual experience for many women was reported as forced – 17% of women in rural Tanzania, 24% in rural Peru, and 30% in rural Bangladesh reported that their first sexual experience was forced.

A fact sheet on the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) website offers some sad, sobering numbers on violence against women in the United States.

  • In 2005, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner.1 That’s an average of three women every day. Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.
  • According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.4
  • According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which includes crimes that were not reported to the police, 232,960 women in the U.S. were raped or sexually assaulted in 2006. That’s more than 600 women every day.6

According to The Gale Group, while all states had outlawed “wife beating” by 1920, it was only in the 1970’s that domestic violence became a category in criminal law in the United States. According to a March 2014 article in the UK edition of Cosmopolitan, “domestic violence” is not specifically outlawed either in England or Wales; all the police and prosecutors can do is act against specific acts of violence rather than patterns of behavior. Considering just the stories and experiences from my own life, I cannot think of a single woman I know who has not in one way or another, experienced everything from lewd and harassing comments through some kind of unwanted physical attention to rape. I think it’s important to remember these facts and figures going forward.

Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is a uniquely violent place. Our history of the casual acceptance of violence as part and parcel of life is something we are only now, early in the 21st century, trying to change. That change is achingly, painfully slow. State-sanctioned violence against women and minorities continues to be routine, with police departments refusing to consider changing either oversight regimens or even to hear criticisms of entrenched bias. While the military services are sexually integrated, sexual harassment and violence within the ranks of service-members is both rampant and a scandal civilian leaders of our military continue to struggle both to understand and control. Even the casual sexism we read and hear through the media, such as attacking women (both prominent and not) for their looks or dress; rape victims continually harassed by attorneys and even judges for their dress and actions before, during, and after rapes to insist what occurred was consensual in some fashion; various online scandals involving the harassment of women, from this past summer’s attack on actress Leslie Jones by tech editor, serial fat-shamer, and all-around young-sociopath-about-town Milo Yiannopoulos to the long-running GamerGate; all this shows that far too many men still believe it more than acceptable to treat women as less than human.

All of this is to suggest both that there is little that’s surprising about Trump’s actual comment and I’m bemused by the Capt. Renault-like shock, shock! that a powerful man whose entire Presidential campaign is rooted in a kind of barely repressed violent hatred of the Other, and whose every unscripted comment seems to be the bragging of a deeply insecure, frightened, immature boy, would say that he feels it acceptable for him to commit sexual violence. Ours is a nation whose misogyny is deep, institutionalized, supported by legal statute and custom, and rampant. As the quote from a sermon by St. Augustine shows, the prerogative powerful men have always felt toward women is both ancient and not limited to the United States. Hearing yet another powerful man casually endorse violence against women, and a obsequious younger man remain both passive, endorsing such behavior by silent consent is neither surprising nor worth so many acting so “shocked”.

I know there are pundits and political commentators who are so upset that the Trump campaign has seemingly “mainstreamed” some of the worst attitudes and behaviors in our land. I disagree for this simple reason: To me it almost feels like a wound is being cleansed, as if all this horrible ichor from deep  within our national psyche is being purged. That some, including the otherwise insightful Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, insist there is something new about Trump’s mainstreaming racist and misogynyst language and violence, I think it’s important to remember that our founding document was only considered acceptable when it endorsed chattel slavery and reduced the human worth of African-Americans to 3/5ths that of a white man; that on the eve of the Civil War, Chief Justice of the United States Roger Taney declared that even free blacks had no rights in the United States; that women not only couldn’t vote until 1920, but for the majority of our country’s history couldn’t own property in their names, sue for divorce even for adultery, couldn’t attend colleges, couldn’t enter professions, and that many faced horrific violence at the hands of family members knowing there was neither recourse to the law nor to the churches, who endorsed such violence. Unless we somehow manage to forget our entire social, legal, and political history, there is nothing that surprising about Donald Trump endorsing violence against women. The difference now, however, is that the (public) expression of such attitudes is no longer acceptable; while there continue to be (and always will be) supporters who dismiss Trump’s words, the vast majority seem to be running from him as fast as their little legs can carry them; those whose support for Trump in the midst of all the hubbub are no longer offered any safe space or time from which to defend either Trump or his particular remarks. That is to say, like Trump’s statements regarding Mexicans being rapists and African-Americans all living in poverty and under conditions that are worse than war zones in Afghanistan, his casual misogyny is no longer acceptable rhetoric; those who support and defend racism, white nationalism, and violent misogyny are being both exposed and shunned.

Our history is violent. Our attitudes and our words and our actions and our institutions and our public policy are all deeply rooted in a bias against women and people of color. Trump’s campaign, for all its small-minded vulgarity, is showing us and the world that we actually are a better people than we might otherwise believe. We are struggling to be better neighbors to our Latino immigrants; we are struggling to push forward for better relations with African-Americans, including defending their rights; we are struggling to end our culture of violence against women. Trump and his campaign and its most heinous and vocal supporters are the shadow side of America, a shadow that, when inspected closely enough, seems to be receding much further and much faster than we previously thought. These are good things.

Trump is a horrible person. Of that there can be no doubt. Because of that very horribleness, however, we can see just how much better the vast majority of us and our fellow Americans really are.

And the election is now less than a month away, so it will all be over soon.

Is A “Theology Of The Sciences” Even Possible?

However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philisophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God. – Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 175

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.  Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. – Sam Harris, “An Atheist Manifesto”

[Creationist Ray] Bohlin managed to recruit state board members to join in his quest, even going so far as to claim that removing any mention of creationist opinions in science would somehow prevent students from being able to ask questions in classes. (A false claim). He further claimed the majority of the committee was engaged in “a quick and concerted effort by the majority of the committee to remove the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).”

“I don’t advocate for any kind of creationism to be taught in the school. That does not belong in the TEKS. I’m simply concerned about the fair representation of the evidence for evolution,” said Bohlin. – Sarah K. Burris, “Creationists attack Texas education board for trying to eliminate junk science from school textbooks”, Raw Story, October 5, 2016

The theological principle which I accept without a rival has made it almost compulsory that I should first present the doctrine of the work of the Creator as such in the old-fashioned form of a radical exposition of the contents of the first two chapters of the Bible. This exposition is the kernel of the present book. I realise that it is in many ways strange, for I had not myself expected that this would be the result of a closer consideration of these passages and the problems involved. It will perhaps be asked in criticism why I have not tackled the obvious scientific question posed in this context. It was my original belief that this would be necessary, but I later saw that there can be no scientific problems, objections or aids in relation to what Holy Scripture and the Christian Church understand by the divine work of creation. Hence in the central portion of this book a good deal will be said about “naive” Hebrew “saga”, but nothing at all about apologetics and polemics, as might have been expected. The relevant task of dogmatics at this point has been found exclusively in repeating the “saga”, and I have found this task far finer and far more rewarding than all the dilettante entanglements in which I might otherwise have found myself. There is free scope for natural science beyond what theology describes as the work of the Creator. And theology can and must move freely where science which really is science, and not secretly a pagan Gnosis or religion, has its appointed limit. I am of the opinion, however, that future workers in the field of the Christian doctrine of creation will find many problems worth pondering in defining the point and manner of this twofold boundary. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine Of Creation, Part 1, pp. ix-x

Michaelangelo's The Creation Of Adam, detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

Michaelangelo’s The Creation Of Adam, detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

The central faith-claim of the Christian Church is the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. This particular claim is perhaps the most radical statement ever made: It says everything there is to know about God, who God is, what kind of God this God of Jesus Christ is, the state of humanity in its relationship to God and its mutual interrelationships, how best to live one’s life, and whether or not death is to be feared or considered part of our broken yet healing creation. The claims of the Christian Church are, quite literally, life and death for those who make them. Far too comfortable in our middle-class “religion” of reassurance, we forget that, in the words of the late Rev. Dr. William Homes, “to live is to risk”.

The bulk of the Christian proclamation should remain focused upon this particular point. It must stress the grace and love that is the beating heart of that proclamation. That this is both confessional and pastoral should be obvious; it is confessional because this is the God to whom we give testimony, and it is pastoral because this beating heart gives new life to those who hear it and believe. The whole liturgy of the Church focuses upon grace and love, and we who go forth from worship have this new heart beating within us.

And yet . . .

Buried within the central proclamation is the confession that this “world” – really everything from quasars to elementary particles, gas giants circling other stars and your pet cat – is the product of the creative act of love of our prodigal God. This faith statement – God created the heavens and the earth – seems both pretty simple and straightforward. Alas, as the natural sciences have pushed further and further what is theorized concerning both the beginnings of our Universe and its constituent properties, that simple faith claim sounds as if it is in direct conflict with our best theories concerning cosmology and the origin and development of life here on Earth.

And yet . . .,

Here in the United States (of all places) scientific knowledge is under attack on an unprecedented scale. Everything from medical science, genetics and food science, through the physics and chemistry of the earth’s atmosphere and climate, to those perennial arguments over the theory of evolution is questioned, has groups organized to protest both the reality of scientific understanding and the growth both of that understanding and various technological benefits from genetically engineered foods and vaccines to the teaching of evolution in public schools. The nation that has both pioneered and benefited from scientific research and the application of that research to technologies that benefit us routinely ridicules basic research, denies scientific theories that have yet to be disproved even in some small detail, and now even has an anti-science advocate – “Dr.” Jill Stein – running for President. These attacks upon the most successful method we humans have yet developed for figuring out how the world works and helping us live better, healthier lives should be of concern to anyone who continues to benefit from all that science and technology has offered us as a species.

We in the Christian churches should be as concerned as the rest. One of the first things we should acknowledge is that the ability to figure out our world and how best not just to survive but thrive on it is indeed a very good gift from a loving God. Just as we recognize the entirety of Christian Doctrine exists within the central proclamation of the churches, we should also acknowledge that “good gift” of understanding is part and parcel of the particular Universe in which we find ourselves. A Universe capable of the kind of relatively stable biochemistry capable of becoming alive would, it should be obvious, endow that life with the ability to understand that Universe and so survive within it. Our rationality, that particular habit of considering evidence in order to grasp particularly important information regarding our world, is a direct result of the kind of Universe in which we live.

For there to be some kind of conflict between science and Christian faith, one would have first to deny that we are creatures endowed with the ability not just to understand but to act upon an understanding of the world so that we can thrive and grow in it. To deny scientific theories, whether it’s about global climate change, the Big Bang, the chemical theories regarding mental illness that have produced successful drug treatments, or the theory of evolution, is to deny that God has made us as we are – as creatures able to learn stuff and use that learning. A denial of science at any level is, at heart, a denial of faith in the God of Jesus Christ.

And yet . . .

Science’s success has led some scientists (and non-scientists) to come to accept it not just as the best method yet of figuring out our world and how best to live in it; they believe the very existence of science both as a method and as a body of knowledge excludes other ways of understanding. Not just religion in general and the Christian faith in particular (because both Christianity and science are European phenomena what points of contention exist between the sciences and “religion”, by and large, involve Christianity), but a  kind of scientific reductionism across all sorts of human activity from patriotism through individual behaviors and deviance to romantic love can be encountered. Which isn’t to say that science doesn’t have something to say about why it is we human beings prefer the company of those more like us than not, say, or why it is we not only fall in love but some cultures persist in enforcing life-long pair-bonding over and against what seems a far more likely serial mating among the best candidates available. It does have things to say, and should say them.

The problem is, they aren’t the only things that can and should be said about these and other phenomena. When it comes to religion in general, and the claims of any particular faith, science should recognize, first and foremost, that the claims of believers are not and by their nature cannot be addressed as science addresses such matters. This isn’t just a question of “falsifiability”, as only those questions to which a negative answer is at least potentially possible were the only questions worth asking. It is precisely because science and religion, in fact, do not inhabit the same sphere at all. They do not address the same specific questions; they do not attempt to answer them using the same tools; they do not offer answers that can be stated interchangeably in the vocabularies of science and religious faith. At heart, the efforts of some scientists and some people of faith to fan the flames of conflict is fundamentally to misunderstand that we are dealing with two distinct vocabularies developed to address distinct issues and problems and offer solutions to those problems in terms that exist wholly within the distinct vocabularies used.

The Christian faith has nothing much to say at all about “the reality” of the Big Bang, biochemistry, or the evolution and development of life. Science has nothing much to say about the revelation of the God revealed to the world in Jesus Christ, the salvation of our broken Creation, and the promise of New Life and New Creation to come. In the first case, the only thing Christian theology should do is give thanks to God both for a Universe in which scientific knowledge is possible and that we are creatures so endowed in order to grow and thrive. The only thing science should say about Christian proclamation regarding Creation is that it answers questions that have nothing at all to do with what science teaches us. To do other than this is, in the end, to devolve into arguments that are, for all intents and purposes, like one German speaker and one Danish speaker arguing with one another in their own languages over which language is better.

So is a “theology of science” even possible? I’m not so sure it’s as much a question of its possibility – for surely we humans are ingenious enough to come up with all sorts of things that sound convincing – as a question of its scope and place within the larger concerns of Christian proclamation. At best it is and should always be considered a peripheral matter, sitting at the edge of the proclamation of creation. Recognizing both that science both as a body of knowledge and a way of coming to that body of knowledge exist should be yet more reasons for praising our good and loving God. Beyond that, however, I guess I’m not sure what more can or should be said.

How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?

Twelfth Night services at Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, Jan. 6, 2012

Twelfth Night services at Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, Jan. 6, 2012

It’s Sunday morning, 11:00, and I know I should be in church, worshiping. I’m not, however, and I haven’t in a few weeks.

I’d love to blame being down from all the recent losses. Except, of course, that should mean that I would be attending services with a vengeance. I could, were I trying to be oh-so-self-assured, claim that I have lost my faith. The truth is my faith has only deepened over the past year. I have found myself drawn deeper in to the mysteries and joys of grace. I am more grateful now than I have ever been that ours is a God first and foremost of love. I’ve never been more convicted that love means that this life, for all its toil and pain, is also filled with joy and laughter and light, and these are gifts from God to be celebrated each and every day.

The reason I’m not in church is far more prosaic. Probably, it’s also not sufficient for me to be keeping my distance.

This year, the United Methodist Church broke my heart. In a moment calling for courage strengthened by hope, we saw cowardice emboldened by fear. In a moment requiring defiant love, we saw servile exclusion. In a moment we should be celebrating the triumph of real grace, real love, real inclusion, we are instead seeing schism, the snail’s pace of “doing the same thing the same way” and wanting a different result, and little more than confusion.

The United Methodist Church has been my spiritual home all my life. Baptized, confirmed, educated, and married all within the walls of the United Methodist Church, it is the place that, when I went there, I knew I would be taken in. Now, however, I no longer feel I have a place within its proverbial and actual walls. I also feel that at my age, I’d be ill-suited to move to another denomination. Because of my family ties, that would also be more than a little awkward. So here I sit on a Sunday morning, feeling homeless and more than a little lost.

I have always had an ecumenical spirit. I see in other faith-expressions different facets and faces of what it is to be a Christian, and I celebrate them all. Even some with which I have serious problems. None of us have the entirety of the human experience of faith, individually or collectively. It would be a good thing, I suppose, to experience again the sense of deep time in an Orthodox service; perhaps taste and see within the sacramental structure of the Roman Catholic Church; hear the proclamation of the Word within the words at any of the various Reform-influenced churches, whether Presbyterian or the UCC. Perhaps sing with their founders gusto the hymns of the Lutherans. I could even venture into a charismatic church and see and feel and hear the power of the Holy Spirit moving within a people open to that limitless, creative power. I could do all these and I believe I might be filled for a bit.

Yet it is Wesley who speaks to me most clearly. It is from him that I have learned that “disciple” and “perfection” and “sanctification” are words of deep theological and existential import: Human life depends upon how we follow in the Spirit the example offered us by Christ. The depth and breadth of  both the peril and possibility of the Christian life exist within the teachings of Wesley; we who are supposed to follow in his footsteps should know that ours is not a calling to timidity or fear. Except that is who we have become.

Overwhelmed by the demands of a vocal but shrinking minority attracted to a kind of facile enculturated “Christianity” or “religion” that demands moral purity rather than faithful obedience; that insists upon works rather than grace; that would rather divide the Lord’s garments yet again rather than rejoice at the empty tomb, the United Methodist Church no longer believes what it claims to believe. It no longer sees a world in need of holiness of heart and life. Instead, it sees a world in which the voice of the church is becoming ever softer and would rather rest within walls that were comfortable fifty years ago rather than challenge itself to leave all those walls behind and risk losing everything for the sake of the Gospel.

Within what is left of the United Methodist Church is only a cacophony of voices running around toppled Babel’s tower. We no longer even seek to understand one another. We no longer desire to live together in peace. I want no part of this ridiculous exercise in maintaining a facade of faithful obedience to our God of grace.

I’m jut not sure what to do. So here I sit on a Sunday morning, feeling faithful but no longer welcome within the spiritual home that has nurtured me, and not yet ready to try out other spaces. The hurt, I think, is too fresh, too new.

Surrealism And The Death Of The Republic

Lord knows we didn't want a President who looked goofy riding in a tank! AP Wire photo, 1988

Lord knows we didn’t want a President who looked goofy riding in a tank! AP Wire photo, 1988

I’ve voted in eight national elections since 1984. To my recollection, exactly two of them – 1992 and 2008 – had somewhat cursory brushes with actual issues (the deficit in ’92; how to pick up the pieces W tossed all over the floor in ’08). By and large, our Presidential campaigns are little more than . . . what?

In the aftermath of the ridiculous 1988 campaign, in which then-VP George H. W. Bush promised to defeat the ACLU and make sure Willie Horton didn’t rape anyone else, political journalists Jules Witcover and Jack Germond wrote what may well be one of the best books on American politics, ever. Entitled Whose Broad Stripes And Bright Stars, the subtitle – The Trivial Pursuit Of The Presidency – captured the totality of that year’s Presidential campaign. Whether it was “Read My Lips” or whether or not Michael Dukakis would want to kill the man who raped and murdered his wife (I do so hope Bernard Shaw spends quite a bit of time in purgatory being asked this question over and over and over . . .); whether being a card-carrying member of the ACLU was a sign of being unAmerican or how one looked in a photo-op riding in a tank; that fall was a real graduate course in the politics of surrealism. That absolutely nothing that happened over the ensuing four years had anything to do with any of this is not only beyond dispute; I do believe the whole purpose of the campaign was to avoid talking about things that really were important.

Since then we’ve had reporters bashing Al Gore because he was smart. We had John Kerry’s on-the-record war record besmirched. In 1996, Bob Dole didn’t really get much of a fair shake, although I do think legitimate questions about his health were dealt with a bit too gingerly. And four years ago, alas, Mitt Romney stepped on his own a dick a few too many times, what with his binders of women and 47%-takers business. Poor Mitt got, “Please continue, Governor”‘d by Pres. Obama as Romney tried to claim Pres. Obama didn’t say something he actually had said (there was even videotape evidence). It got even sadder on election night when it became clear poor Romney actually believed the whole unskewed polls business. Viewers could see the utter disbelief on his face as the numbers starting coming in.

This year, however, we are faced with an actual choice with real consequences. Obviously there are always consequences to an election; just as one fer-instance, consider had John Kerry won in 2004 how much better off the people of New Orleans would be. Anyway, this real choice this year, qualitatively different from any of the previous 8 Presidential elections in which I’ve participated in one way or another, is between an admittedly Establishmentarian, status quo, middle of the road Democratic candidate and a man so unfit in so many ways to execute the office of the Presidency it would be a joke were it not all so real. Mrs. Clinton, with years of private and public service behind her, continues to be painted as a dishonest crook while Donald Trump, with decades of grift, bankruptcy (how many times can you bankrupt a casino? I mean, reall?!?), and leaving creditors and contractors with millions in unpaid bills, somehow doesn’t have “CROOK” attached to him in every article. Mrs. Clinton’s years of service for minorities apparently counts for nothing, being the real racist as opposed to Donald Trump, whose years of racist blathering is still out there for anyone interested in finding it, all the while surrounding himself with some of the worst America has to offer.

Part of the reason for this is we just don’t have the tools – journalistic, institutional, political – to confront the reality that’s plain to everyone except those who are only recently tuning in: There’s only one candidate this year who’s fit to sit in the Oval Office in January, and unfortunately she may well lose to the most dangerous man in American politics since George Wallace, or perhaps going as far back as Huey Long. The real test come January 20, 2017, should the American electorate be so foolish as to force Barack Obama to surrender the keys to the White House to Donald Trump, will be whether the American experiment, always a shaky prospect, will survive. Since there are military personnel who have already made it clear that under certain conditions they would not obey a President Trump’s order to use nuclear weapons, we are already facing a Constitutional crisis of the highest importance. Of course, we’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s coughing and the rating for Morning Joe on MSNBC. It’s clear enough Trump bought himself out of a state investigation in Florida with an illegal campaign contribution, yet the fact that the Clinton Foundation and Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State dealt with some of the same people is far more important.

Thus it is that our Republic might not survive the second decade of the new century.