Evangelicals Embrace Mockery of Transcendent Faith

Three years ago, I had the pleasure to interview Terry Kemple, who (by the way) will be on the ballot this year for Hillsborough School Board District 7. Back when I interviewed him, Kemple had helped organize a series of billboards1 around Hillsborough with misleading quotes about the religiosity of America’s founding fathers. Kemple rebutted my point that no historian I had spoken to agreed with the context Kemple’s billboard’s were promoting. “The United States was not founded as, nor was it intended to be, a secular government,” Kemple argued. This disease of America’s evangelical religions makes a few fatal flaws, notably for one, the above assertion that America ought to have a theocratic government. 2 But, Kemple is just a symptom of a larger disease in American evangelical Christianity. A disease that seeks to overturn the Separation of Church and State or, as Kemple said, there is no Separation of Church and State.3

Yet, litigating the constitutional principle of separation and church and state has developed into a fringe movement, not unlike radical animal rights groups (ALF, PETA) or 9/11 truthers. These anti-separationists have self-sustaining forums and websites that aggregate news and re-distribute it through a filter that always argues against the validity and the existence of Separation of Church and state. Behold, this typical gem from SpeakUP, a church rights group:

The Johnson Amendment, upon which [Americans United for Separation of Church and State] bases its letter, is blatantly unconstitutional.  Under the First Amendment, the pastor has the right to determine what is said from the pulpit, not the IRS.

It’s ironic that an organization committed to the “separation of church and state” is arguing for more governmental monitoring and control of churches and pastors.

This is the territory this fringe group wants to carve out. Defend your rights by insisting upon the unconstitutionality of limiting a pastor’s speech. Attack the other side by insisting that by fighting you they are undermining their own pro-separationism. Hold on, you’ll soon see the problem with their argument.

I heard about the Pulpit Freedom Sunday event on the Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert summarizes the Johnson Amendment here and then rips Kemple-clone Jim Garlow a new prayer hole. It turned into a character-breaking moment around 2:57 for Colbert when he attacked Garlow from a pro-religious and pro-separation angle. Its pure gold. Although, I will tackle this issue differently. Just keep Garlow’s words in mind.

The anti-separation fringe takes two points that I find hilariously silly. First, they argue that for 166 years before the Johnson Amendment, pastor’s had unrestricted free speech from the pulpit. Garlow indicates the arbitrary nature of the 50 year old Johnson Amendment is a point against it. Essentially, Johnson wanted to punish two Texas businessmen who manipulated tax-exempt organizations to politick against him.. That’s pretty interesting to me. Because another relic of the Soviet era, the legislation of God onto our paper currency, came out of that same period. At nearly 48 years old, its in some ways an even more nonsense government intrusion into religious affairs. Yet, atheists are regularly rebuffed by similar Garlow and Kemple types when they make that very same argument about the ludicrous national mood that gave us “In God We Trust” on our bills.

Additionally they claim that if the Johnson Amendment were enforced, if churches had taxed status forced on them for their politicking, then the IRS would be violating the Separation of Church and State4. Yet they simultaneously argue that the free speech of pastors ought to be subsidized by the government’s bestowed tax-free status. Essentially, that in addition to their tax-free status, Churches ought to go beyond the stated nature of taxed-free organizations “to promote the common good” and shift into the territory of a political action committee.

However, it’s obvious that both moves compromise the integrity of the speaker and violate separation in its purest form. Either a church is punitively taxed for endorsing a candidate, thus having the government’s hands in its coffers and losing separate status or it speaks freely in favor of candidates with tax-free subsidy, thus having transformed into a tax-free political action committee. Both of these options are having your cake and eating it to.

The only pure Separation argument, if religionists really care about being separate from govermnet interference, results from the status quo this whole event means to undermine: taxed-free status and non-involvement in government. No other option is logically possible. This is what Colbert was getting at in the first place. For many Americans, religion offers the only non-secular refuge from the bombardment of politics into every facet of the American experience. It offers the only place for the average American to seek out the transcendent, a necessarily non-Earthly concern. But, by lumping spiritualism with earthy affairs, Colbert thinks, and he’s not wrong, that these Evangelicals are cheapening not just their faith, but capital-f Faith at large.

References:

http://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx

http://blog.speakupmovement.org/church/churches-and-politics/americans-united-for-separation-of-church-and-state-tries-to-scare-churches/

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/09/23/more-than-1000-pastors-plan-to-challenge-irs-by-endorsing-presidential-candidate/

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57526079/the-message-behind-pulpit-freedom-sunday/


[1] Billboards stating: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. –George Washington” “…we all agree on our obligation to the moral precepts of Jesus. – Thomas Jefferson.” “God who gave us life, gave us liberty. – Thomas Jefferson”

If that last one reads funny to you, it’s because it has a hidden ellipses that Kemple’s group left out of the billboard. The full quote in the originating text reads: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” Notice how the imposition of “the” changes the meaning from a specifically Abahamic God to a probably more Deistic God, or even god in forbidding lower-case.

[2] Can a government not be secular and avoid becoming actively and specifically religious? Wouldn’t it be secular if it were not religious, even if this was just an accident and not a stated fact of the Constitution, for example?

[3] Then why argue about it? If its not there. This seems to be a consistent problem with this group. They both argue against the Separation of Church and State and that the Separation of Church and State doesn’t exist anyways in the Constitution.

[4] (which, you don’t think even exists, so does it or doesn’t it? It can’t well be violated by the IRS if it’s not an actual violable constitutional principle, right?)

Masterful Bait and Switch

Rolling Stone did a profile on Rachel Maddow a few issues back. The thing about Maddow is that she’s a polemicists polemic. She utilizes thought-judo like a good Socratic thinker, realizing that bludgeoning political enemies won’t help your cause. If you really want to convince someone, you walk them all the way over to your side with small points that they all agree with. Cognitive dissonance studies suggest that while that method does not immediately sway a person’s opinion, it plants seeds that eventually grow into very disruptive tumors of cognitive dissonance (this is because a lot of cognitive theory suggests we personify our ideas, that is, we don’t have ideas, we meld our selves with our ideas, so that changing an idea about, say, climate change, involves more than just accepting facts, it has to do with self-image as an anti-climate change truther, for example). For more on that, read Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”, I couldn’t pull the exact quote because I only have the audio book version. (FN1)

Here’s how RS summed up Maddow’s style:

Bill O’Reilly, on Fox News, is a combatant and a champion. Maddow is a guide. O’Reilly’s show says, Look at me. Maddow’s says, Picture this.

The perfect Maddow segment, he says, begins with some obscure image from the fringes – “a bird covered in oil in 1979,” say – and then slowly winds its way into the heart of the political debate. “Eventually, you realize that the story of that bird is all about Mitt Romney,” he says, “and it fucking blows your mind.”

This kind of indirection – starting with the obscure and working toward the headlines – goes against the most basic rules of television, but for Maddow it can have a rare seductive power. “It’s really important that in the top third of the segment you don’t say ‘Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,’ or ‘military tribunal,’ or ‘Guantánamo,‘” Maddow says. “Because as soon as you say those things, people think they know what the story is. If you don’t edit mercilessly to keep out all of the words that make people leap to conclusions about what you’re going to say, you’ll never persuade people that you’re going to tell them something they don’t already know.*

I personally had my head blown right off this morning. This clip is worth your time. It’s an opening segment, a long political essay in RS’s words, and unconventional for televised punditry. If you haven’t been seduced by Maddow’s inimitable style, this will surely do it:

Video: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/49309746#49309746

(FN1) Although, of course, if you found it disagreeable that I told you to read Sam Harris’ book because of your own opinions about Sam Harris, you’ve just proved my point and really don’t need to bother going to read Sam Harris anyhow. Since you don’t disagree with him on this point at least.

*My emphasis.

False Narratives of an Atlas Shrugged Variety

“I manage a mid-size company here in Dallas. We have weathered this recession pretty well. And actually, we’re looking to expand now. We have the capital to invest in a new manufacturing center to employ about 65 people and we’re looking at hiring at an average of about $43,000.00 a year. Now, we’re holding on making this expansion because of the Obamacare. The regulations, the costs on insurance for our employees is making us hold back. Otherwise we’d be putting these people back to work.”*

That’s a story you hear a lot if you have any interest in politics. Sometimes this pitch goes so far as a business manager threatening to shutter his shop if President Obama wins reelection.  We can disregard those as just as solipsistic and childish as the quadrennial oaths to flee to Canada or France by some self-righteous liberal Hollywood type.

The narrative, however, of a business too timid to expand sounds like a lie, even when it can avoid the accusation of base politicking. A business is selfish. Period.

If a businessman sees the opportunity to make an investment that will make him more money, he will make it. No capitalist will skip expanding their business and increasing their profit. No more than they would seriously entertain the idea of shuttering their business to spite the American people for allowing Barack Obama’s reelection.

Various callers to public radio shows and talking heads filling time on television make the seemingly more reasonable argument. They do not see it as profitable to expand, given the regulations by Obamacare. That is where it stops. There are too many regulations in Obamacare to expand manufacturing or hire more than 50 workers. No more specific than that. Just the vague governmental threat of having to pay for healthcare for your lower-middle class salaried workers causes these titans of industry to shrivel with repulsion. Where’s the true capitalist response to this? It seems obvious.

These people are not capitalists. There’s nothing capitalist about avoiding a profitable move.

Guess what, if paying a pittance for your workers to have basic healthcare coverage ruins your business plans, then you really didn’t have serious plans, did you? This is bluster and we have seen it before.

Recall Joe the Plummer – the unlicensed contractor who would have owned his own company if it weren’t for vague regulations and that same 3% increase in taxes that he wasn’t even in the tax bracket to have to suffer. The lie of Joe the Plumber unfurled too late after it broke. We now know that he was not a licensed plumber. He did not have enough money to buy the business he was swearing then-candidate Obama would prevent him from buying. He was not even really middle class. He was a working-class dreamer with a common case of Lotto Brain.

My suspicion is that all these would-be tycoons are suffering the same disorder, telling themselves that the one thing keeping them back are the machinations of the proposed (key word) center-left policies of one individual. They overlook their lack of capital, or lack of qualifications to even have that type of business in the first place.

I call bullshit on these news makers. Put up or shut up, let’s see these business plans. Let’s see your actuarial tables and how the President’s proposals make it impossible for you to make investments. This is opportunistic bluster at its worst. It’s happened before with Joe the Plumber, and until we call these people to account, they’ll continue to get away with making the claim that vague regulations are preventing a monumental recovery spear-headed by America’s famed business community. A community who apparently are in an Atlas Shrugged-like hibernation to punish the Looter -in-Chief and his cadre of parasitic supporters.

Bollocks.

*A paraphrase of a caller to the Diane Rehm show at the 10 a.m. hour on Sept. 10, 2012.

Ayn Rand’s Subversion of the GOP

The discussion about the face of modern conservatism during this week’s Republican National Convention will inevitably avoid the looming problem of Ayn Rand. The vice presidential nominee, up until his consideration for that position, praised Ayn Rand. He credited her ideology with spurring him into politics and required his staff to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Curiously, it seems Rand’s masterpiece has a habit of drawing in younger conservatives, as it did for Paul Ryan. Like communism for college liberals, Rand’s trumpeting prose comes off as revelatory. This message often appeals to misguided anarchists and conservatives trying to find real answers that America’s two parties fail to provide. Yet, in drawing in such audiences, Rand devotees often put themselves in danger of obvious conflicts of interest.

When Randist-Republicans like Paul Ryan abandon Rand’s atheism and her contempt for America’s two parties, they make a mockery of what Rand’s brand of conservatism really embodied. Rand summed it up like this: “There is no party, are no voice that offer a pro-capitalism, laissez-faire, economic freedom and individualism [sic].”

One philosophy Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand considered evil to her system of politics and economics was altruism. The one redeeming value of Christianity is its message of love, charity, forgiveness and its inescapable message of caring for the poor. Rand was crystal clear in Atlas Shrugged that Christian ethics had no place in her society. Modern Republican interpretations opportunistically shift this outright rejection of altruism towards an argument against legislating altruism: food stamps, subsidized healthcare, and so on. But in her words, Rand hates even the private act of giving where the motive is not self-interest, or to be less circuitous, one’s own personal monetary gain.

The RNC is missing the opportunity to have a debate about whether we as a people will continue to care for our poor. Does the Republican Party want to stand with altruism? It seems problematic for Ryan, a Christian, to advocate abandoning state-sponsored altruism. Imagine a Catholic trying to make that argument to the American people. This might not be a problem if Ryan was not a member of the flock of Christians who have ignored the American tradition of keeping religion and politics separate – which his views on the female body indicate.

It seems like a fatal case of cognitive dissonance. Christ was nothing if not an altruist. Yet Ryan’s budget relies on heavy reductions in altruism. I assume Ryan has America’s Christianity in mind based on his record. Yet, he’s either lost himself in his mutually contradictory views or is utterly insincere about either his Randian conservatism or his Catholicism. But, his proposed budget gives him an alibi for his sincere attachment to Ayn Rand and his social views do the same for his Catholicism.

Attempts for Randists like Ryan to hold on to their Christianity have already led to embarrassing exposes of this fatal cognitive dissonance. During an early Republican debate, fellow Randist and Christian Ron Paul, when asked what the role of the state was for an uninsured man dying in a hospital, was essentially to let the man die.

Ayn Rand was and will continue to be an albatross in the Republican Party. She had no place in either party and she knew it. Yet, in their desperation, the Republican candidates are setting themselves up for more embarrassing examples of their utter insincerity, or worse, their blatant idiocy.

Food: Well, it appears you really thought about this

Can’t say it’s all good thinking though. I don’t really feel like hashing out the problems with some of Joel Salatin’s logic in this space. But, if you do happen to go to the below link and watch the hour long talk with local food legend and compost revolutionary, Joel Salatin, feel free to engage in a discussion and I’ll bring my problems to the front.

Otherwise, please, give it a listen, there’s plenty of good information here mixed in with some very dumb logic.

Video (Fora.tv)

Hint: The guy thinks everyone should abandon cities and the internet and TVs. No joke.

Two Terms

An excellent pondering on the president, the GOP and the coming election battle. What will it be about? Which side can win on each issue? How can the president cut a path to victory and where are the landmines?

Here: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/06/obama-and-the-future.html

Consumer Consolidation

There’s a lively debate going on in the comment thread of this article. A lot of “industry insiders” are commenting that basically the article’s author, Farhad Manjoo, isn’t smarter than the TV execs and Manjoo’s pipe-dream is never going to happen. I think we can all understand the likelihood that TV will never end up user-driven and streaming online. It’s roughly zero percent. Consumer will stay tethered to cable only until the older generation dies out. The current generation of TV-watchers are moving more towards Netflix and Hulu (and some other smaller providers) and pirating the premium shows they may still want to watch. Though, to undercut my own argument, I doubt the piracy problem is very big.

Nevertheless, the threat of a streaming revolution is very real. HBO seems to somewhat acknowledge that because if you have a cable subscription, you can use it to log on to HBO.com and stream HBO content. Manjoo takes that idea and the vapid, vaguely dystopic*, internet campaign for HBO to go full streaming a la Netflix/Hulu and he comes up with a questionably mathematic argument for HBO’s inevitable slide away from cable networks.

It seems to come down to just really badly wanting that to happen. Also, some pretty strong rhetoric in favor of it:

…instead HBO is dithering, playing chicken with an unyielding future. How disastrous will this course prove? When HBO finally, inevitably decides to offer non-cable subscription plans, will it be just fashionably late, at a point where it can salvage its future? Or will it be so perilously tardy that it can’t catch up?

Still, if you think about it, it just makes sense. Cable will have a home for some people, but why pay $50-100/month for only a handful of shows? Hulu and Netflix and $8/15-20 per month and you get tons of movies and TV shows, mostly the ones you actually want. So, just think about it, what makes more sense? Hundreds of channels you don’t want at all and feel vaguely embarrassed about even having access to – OWN maybe? Certainly Lifetime. Alternatively, you can have the Criterion Collection, new blockbuster releases, huge blocks of basic cable content and for a whole lot less.

Source (If you’re still interested, the Economist did this up in 2011)

*I think tele-netting and spontaneous dissemination in Infinite Jest. Or wall-watchers in Fahrenheit 451.

Serious Terrorist Threat

The report from Reuters mentions the “mocking” nature of this threat. From that, its obvious Reuters has been subverted from within by a series of high placed moles. Al Qaida is striking back. We take out their leader and top brass and they manage to take over one of the three remaining real news sources left! Think about it! Newspapers don’t have reporters anymore. They just license out to Reuters, AP or McClatchy. Control Reuters and ostensibly you control 1/3 of the news Americans get. This is dastardly stuff. Cue image of dastardly.

Al-Qaida has put out a press release through their puppet media company, Reuters. The terrorist organization/media empire has offered a reward of chickens and camels for information on the whereabouts of the president and his senior staff. The press release goes on to say that Al Qaida feels anti-Obama mid-westerners are only a lifetime supply of chicken away from turning their president over to the terrorist network.

The reward of camels is puzzling and some experts have theorized about its intent.

Steve Doocey of Fox News postulated, “a reward of camels may be targeting Hollywood executives with free props for the never-ending stream of Middle East war movies that Hollywood seems to be churning out these days. The industry has made no secret of its practice of using camel gore as a stand-in for dead Arab-types.”

The state department responded with:

…a reward of $5 million each for the whereabouts of Khalaf and three associates, as well as $7 million for information about al-Shabab founder and commander Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed. A bounty of $3 million was offered for the location of two other officials of the organization.

Reuters responded that such promises of cash rewards will never have any effect in the camel and chicken-based economies of every Middle Eastern country.

Source

Trash

The Paramount movie company is scrambling because of dismal movie turnouts and expectations for Dark Shadows, the aborted GI Joe and the mega-flop John Carter. It looks like this might finally be the gut check to the industry us lapse movie-goers have been waiting for.

Last month Paramount postponed the sequel to G.I. Joe until March 2013 to add 3-D – a cynical ploy studio execs described as “we’ve seen how it can better box office internationally.” [sic]

An understood theme of the summer movie season is the big budget blow’em’up movie. However, it looks like this lazy diversion might finally be losing its intended effect.

I’m sure this shake-up is transient and everyone is just waiting for the next Hangover movie or the next Marvel comics thing or Batman flick. Basically, if people are going to spend their increasingly ridiculous ticket fare on a boom-boom movie, it’s going to be a reliably familiar explosion fest. The gaming industry has been dealing with this for the last few years. Gamers now seldom see new titles from major studios. It’s just the next iteration of Star Wars, Modern Warfare, Halo, Bioshock, Metal Gear, Zelda, Mario, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Lego Presents (blah’blah), et cetera.

Video game studios figured out a long time ago that sucking consumers in to a new franchise or concept is increasingly risky unless your studio produces gold no matter what – think: Blizzard and their upcomming new IPO.

The failure of John Carter* or Dark Shadows and the murder of the GI Joe sequel means a new wind for the movie industry. But it also means churning out more sequels to reliably successful franchises and only adapting familiar intellectual property for the screen – who the hell even knows Dark Shadows was a TV show way back when? Finally, this wine-drunk Caligulan decision-making  has started to bite the studios in the ass. I just doubt it will result in better, different or more interesting movies for us, the consumers.

Source

*A film title bereft of absolutely any meaning because Disney chopped off the two words from the Edgar Rice Burroughs book the film is adapted from. Two words that would have, probably, completely changed the financial stakes of the, now, $200 million flop.

Ryan’s Budget: It’s Evil And Actually Kinda Dangerous

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

Paul Krugman* labeled the plan a “fraud” on the Sunday talkabouts:

The plan is a big bunch of tax cuts, some specified spending cuts, basically for poor people, and then a huge magic asterisk which is supposed to turn into a deficit reduction plan, but, in fact, if you look what’s actually in it, it’s a deficit-increasing plan.

That covers dangerous (e.g. painting a deficit cutting plan as a deficit increasing plan).

Where it gets evil comes from Ryan’s backtrack on his inspiration for his fiscal ideals, which I think I neglected to mention in this forum.

Paul Ryan is quoted saying, and audio exists at the above link:

“It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.”

Follow that with a quote in National Review saying

“I reject her philosophy.”

In the first instance, Ryan is referring to the book Atlas Shrugged and in the second instance Ryan means Ayn Rand‘s philosophy. The above link also has several quoted instances of Ryan getting elbow deep in embarrassingly effusive praise for the meth-addicted comic book reader**, Madam Rand.

The point of all this is just to paint Ryan as a fraud and it seems the only reason he’s made this pivot was to  appear more likeable as a potential vice president.

To wit, Ryan is clearly too inconsistent to be leading much of anything besides a fitness class for pillow-shaped Congressman. The man is deeply religious, but an avowed objectivist, despite Rand’s persistent insistence that magical belief is counter-intuitive to her entire philosophy. Ryan also jams out to the band Rage Against the Machine, apparently completely unaware of the lyrics, which paint people like him as worthy of murder.

What a fucking leader for America. Inconsistent and totally not bothered one bit.

Source

*I realize a lot of you don’t even listen to anything the Nobel Prize-winning economist says because of his liberal nebbish-ness. That’s fine. Just move along.

**Her close followers essentially have confirmed the only books Rand read after publishing Atlas Shrugged were comic books and the equivalent of grocery store paperback mystery books. I make this stab because of the amount of praise this intellectually uncurious person receives.

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