Assholes For Jesus

I waited to see the outcome of the Arizona anti-gay bill before writing this.  I wanted to use that title for a post since I saw that whole insane debacle over Ted Nugent (and then got into a truly implausible argument with someone who insisted that there is nothing racist in the term “mongrel” not even when modified with “subhuman”), but since Nugent didn’t actually say anything of a religious nature it was a stretch to make it fit.

On the other hand, it would seem all of a piece with that insane bit of hate-mongering going on in the Arizona legislature.  Of course, here in Missouri—my home state, yay—something similar is wending its way through the committees.

I once had an unnerving conversation with a practicing Muslim who explained to me in very reasonable tones and with more than a dollop of sadness that while she had many gay friends and felt no personal animosity toward any of them, if she lived in a Muslim state then she would have to support the death penalty for them since that is what Allah decreed.  She even allowed that perhaps this would be wrong, but she could not deny the words of Allah.

Need I go into an explanation about compartmentalization?  People create rooms within themselves and put contradictory things in separate places.  So the Mafia enforcer can, in fact, appear to be a loving husband and father and even give generously to the poor, but when the boss says “kill this one” that room opens and a different set of ethical protocols comes into play.

Let me here offer a disclaimer:  in answer to a hypothetical WWJD question, I don’t for a minute think Jesus would give his blessing to any of this stuff.  This isn’t about him or even really about Christianity, which surely is being thoroughly mangled in all this.  Much of this nonsense would make it appear as though Jesus is the above-mentioned mob boss sitting in a dark, heavily leather-appointed office somewhere, pointing and saying “kill that one.”

What this is about is people taking advantage of some very old (presumed) sayings in an allegorical book in order to foist their own intolerance onto a world they see changing in ways that make them very uncomfortable.  It’s obvious that the general ethical direction of the country, possibly the world, is moving away from the limited and limiting strictures of a worldview that is no longer viable.

In Uganda a law has been enacted that will criminalize homosexuality in the extreme.  Even a cursory look at it shows that it has been written and enacted out of fear. Abject fear.  The fear of someone who may well have nightmares about being forced to engage in homosexual activities.  The sheer terror evident in the law should cause anyone with a modicum of rationality to back up and look at the fear rather than what it’s about.

Insofar as this has anything to do with Christianity as we find it in the New Testament, this is about fear of losing power.  It’s fear of sex in its most inappropriate manifestation, as an exercise of power.  In the case of Uganda, all one need do is look at its history since Idi Amin to see that it has suffered terribly through practices of warfare that include rape as a normal tool of state oppression and more than a little child abuse in the form of child soldiers.  Idi Amin himself died of syphilis.  Sexual abuse would seem to have been institutional in Uganda.  Fear must be rampant.

So they pick a representative victim onto which all this fear can be projected and try to vitiate their pain by inflicting even more.

What’s our excuse?

Governor Brewer, yielding to pressure from within and without Arizona, has vetoed senate bill 1062.  Even if her sentiments inclined her to support it in essence she must realize the damage such a thing would do to her state.

But what about the sponsors of it and all those in the state legislature who voted for it?

The freedom to refuse service to gays due to religious conviction.

Why this should have to be explained to anyone, that it is wrong, astonishes me.  Why anyone thinks this has anything to do with religion dismays me.  Why anyone would adhere to a set of beliefs that promoted this kind of hatred and bigotry saddens me.  Why other people keep putting these hatemongers into office baffles me.

I wrote about this several years ago during Missouri’s attempt to establish a constitutional amendment regarding gay marriage.  I won’t rehash my arguments here, but if you wish, they’re here.  Cherry-picking the Old Testament is common enough and automatically discredits any argument based on biblical principles that asserts literalness and infallibility.  It just does.  For those of you who think otherwise, think harder.  It’s hypocrisy.  Plus, as I’ve said before, we live in a Post Levitical world.  Most of the people supporting Bill 1062 wouldn’t for a second consider selling their daughters or charging someone for deflowering them.  Nor would they stone them or any woman for the “crime” of being raped.

But some might.

This is an example of trying to do something odious and making it seem moral by wrapping it in a shroud of piety.  Change the parameters and ask these folks if they would support a law that allowed them to discriminate against blacks or Hispanics on religious grounds.  If they look at you funny, you can point out that most hate groups who regularly refer to minorities as “mud people” and, ahem, subhuman mongrels do so based on a notion of racial purity proferred by god.  They take the whole notion of “chosen people” very seriously, while of course completely failing to understand anything at all about the history, the mythology, or the use of that term.  They are generally very vocally pious and think because of their devotion to a crack-brained notion of WWJD they have a good bead on what is or is not morally acceptable.

I suspect a great deal of the fear expressed in all this goes directly to an erroneous yet powerful concept of ownership.  They’re afraid something they think belongs to them is about to be taken away.  Maybe not even the same thing, but I’m willing to wager that it is something within the same compartmentalized space of preconceived and misconstrued assumptions about what is “naturally” theirs.

But maybe it’s something simpler.  Maybe it’s just a consequence of exhaustion.  Thinking back, I can tell you that the world in which I came of age is in so many ways just not here anymore.  Every year, every decade has brought massive changes that for many people seem utterly confusing, destabilizing…frightening.  Maybe their only defense, in their view, is to build a wall and shout “No more! I can’t handle anything else!”  After dealing with being told to think differently than their parents and their grandparents for all this time, they’ve latched onto anyone or anything that tells them they don’t have to change.

However.

If Jesus were going about today, preaching, and he encountered the young man who kept nagging him about what more he could do to serve, I doubt Jesus would tell him to give up his wealth.  Not today.  Today, I think he would turn to him finally and say “Give up your fear and hatred.  Stop being afraid of people who are different.”  “Wait—can’t I just write you a check?”  “No.  You have to change.”  And that young man would step back, eyes wide, and for a few moments look at the vast store of things he has grown afraid of.  He would then lower his head and walk away.  He might give away his wealth then—to a group working to ban gays (or minorities, or women) from equal rights.

But he might cling to the forms he had been following all along which had brought him to tag along after the coattails of the Man from Galilee.  He’d become an asshole for Jesus.  Because giving up wealth would be easier than facing fear and defeating it.

It Hurts

By now, I’m sure, many people know about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  Bill Nye, he of the bow tie, the science guy, stepped up to the podium to have it out, toe-to-toe, with Ken Ham, erstwhile champion of creationism, founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky which has been the subject of continual mirthful derision by anyone with even a scintilla of understanding about science.  They were to debate evolution versus creationism, which in my mind is like debating the similarities between Einstein and Sasquatch.  Other than the assertion by certain folks that they are somehow (a) equivalent and (b)…well, really, there is no “b” in this formulation.

Apparently even a poll conducted on Christian Today shows that Bill Nye pretty much mopped the floor with Ken Ham, who answered not one single question put to him by Nye in any useful way. Only 9% of respondents apparently saw Ham as the winner.  Of course that won’t be the end of it.  After the debate, a number of self-styled Christians presented questions for Nye which they, presumably, thought would stump him.  Buzzfeed posted several.  Go take a look, then come on back.  (You can also see the entire debate there.)

What’s that phrase? “The stupid…it hurts.”

Was that unkind?  Sorry.  (Not really.)   But while any single one of these can be dismissed as, oh, lack of attention, missed something in biology class (or astronomy), didn’t see that special on NOVA, collectively this amounts to willful ignorance at best.

“If humans came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”  Seriously?  Do you really not know how dumb that is?  You came from your parents—we all did—so why are there still parents?  Sorry, that was flip, but it does, actually, point up the problem, albeit in a rather crude and simplistic way.

And noetics?  That isn’t part of any segment of this debate, so…?

There was a time I would get mightily energized by this kind of thing.  I admit I had a deep-seated interest in being on the “right” side of this debate.  I still do, but it hardly gets me out the door anymore because I realized somewhere along the way that what we’ve been witnessing in the efforts of people like Ken Ham, as strenuous and perhaps sincere as they are, is the death spasm of a world view that doesn’t work.  It never did, but there was a time that understanding that didn’t make much difference, except to a few intellectual outliers here and there.  The fever pitch of condemnation coming from them is the sound of panic as the world prepares to leave them behind.

No, I’m not talking about the death of religion.  I do not believe that is possible.  I’m only talking about a very public formulation of a view of religion that has as its primary purpose nothing more than the regimentation of the faithful and the casting out of the new.  I’m talking about a narrative that seeks to impose and deny.  Impose its substance and form and deny any countervailing view.  I’m talking, really, about style.

Style is about identity.  When we talk about it that way, as style, it seems insignificant in the larger scheme of things.  Fashion.  And much of it is ephemeral.  But shift it to something else, as in artistic expression, and it takes on a bit more meaning.  The style of a writer is that writer’s voice, personality—identity.  There is something so deeply personal about style in this sense and we all recognize it.  We instantly recognize a musician with whom we are familiar by the style of playing.  Unknown canvases by painters declare identity in the manner of brushstroke or photographs betray their creators by the particular angle, frame, contrast.  Style at this level is inextricably linked to identity and when that style is declared no longer valid, a kind of death attends.

Because this is æsthetics, something utterly vital and intrinsic to our sense of self, yet so rarely discussed when any list of what makes us human gets trotted out for debate.  How we see the world and how we react to what we see, this is æsthetics in action and it defines us.  It defines us culturally, historically, and individually.  You can see it in that list of questions, in many ways so pathetic, when the question is framed in terms of awe and wonder.  A sunset, the amazingness of the world—even that fey reference to noetics—these are questions of reaction and interpretation to sensory experience, filtered through a value system that provides us with a quality of self grounded in our relation to the matrix of reality through which we move:  æsthetics.

Ken Ham’s museum displays exhibits showing humans coexisting with dinosaurs.  At some level, this is a world he wishes to have as real.  What kid doesn’t love dinosaurs at some point?  It’s inexplicable.  I’m continually amazed at what seems to be a persistent fascination across generations.  Part of us really wants there to be dinosaurs.  Not only that, but dinosaurs in our midst, at least at some point.

Dinosaurs aren’t in the Bible.  In fact, I know of no holy book in any culture that mentions them unless you want to see dragons as some neolithic abstraction of dinosaurs.   (They’re not, they emerge out of very different pools of myth, namely serpents, the Worm, but after the discovery and ultimate understanding of fossil dinosaurs dragons became more and more visually conforming to them.)  Yet even the most ardent of creationists are fascinated.  There is no mention of them in Genesis, they would never have fit on the ark, and there’s no mention in that story of any animals left behind (the song about the unicorn notwithstanding).  Had they been, we would have found much, much fresher bones, not buried nearly so deep.

At some point people like Ken Ham came to accept the reality of dinosaurs, not as deceptive deposits from Satan to worry our overly-curious intellects, but as species in their own right.  Intentionally or not, they had to accept science in order to make the effort to write them into their stunted history of the universe, which has opened them to eventual extinction as examples of mainstream thought, much less champions of any kind of reality.

In a way, the debate just passed was totally unfair.  Ken Ham kept pointing to his narrative as its own evidence, offering nothing beyond it to answer the evidence-laden arguments of his opponent.  He wasn’t even in the same debate, really.  He was there to insist that all these things Bill Nye represents should be ignored in favor of a story.  He insists that the story is sufficient and this other thing, this science thing, is nothing but an evil distraction from what he thinks is important.  The sad part is he probably doesn’t even know why that story is important.

It’s important because all wonder-based growth begins as a story.  We’re fascinated, entranced, and there’s magic in the narrative.  So much magic that we want to know more.  And so we go looking and if we look honestly we find so much else that transcends the modest confines of that first story.  We find universes of wonder, which we might never have looked for without first having been delighted by a story.  Ken Ham found a story that amazed him.

But then he stopped.  He stopped looking, because, it seems, he never wanted to leave that first moment of childlike wonder, wanting it to be everything.  It’s sad because while we can revisit it and we can experience the same sensation again and again and again, with new discoveries, if we try to freeze that moment and keep it, unchanging, it either fades…or rots…all on its own.  What some folks do then is build a museum in their hearts to preserve a memory that is no longer there, leaving us with the surrounding edifice and an echo.  Without new sounds, new sights, new growth, the museum calcifies and eventually becomes a fossil, never buried, bleached and empty.

At some point, Ken Ham built that museum out in the open for everyone to visit.

Apparently, fewer and fewer go.  It possesses novelty, but no genuine wonder.  And without wonder, what is there?

 

Upcoming Events

I have a couple of events coming up that I’d like everyone to know about.  Back to back, this coming Thursday and Friday.

The first one will be at the Missouri River Regional Library, Thursday, February 6th, at 7:00 PM.  I’ll be there with Tom Dillingham, good friend and educator.  Here’s the announcement on the MRRL calendar:

Contact: Madeline Matson   634-6064, ext. 250   matsonm@mrrl.org
 

What Science Fiction Can Teach UsThursday, February 6
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
MRRL Art Gallery

Mark Tiedemann, author of numerous science fiction novels and short stories, and Dr. Thomas F. Dillingham, retired professor of English, who has taught science fiction courses at Stephens College and the University of Missouri-Columbia, will take part in a “conversation” about science fiction as significant literature.

Location: MRRL Art Gallery

 

Tom and I will conduct a dialogue about science fiction and its implications, with a Q & A for the audience.

 

Next, the following evening I will be at the St. Louis Science Center for their First Friday event.  Again I will be paired with an educator, Mr. Keith Miller from UMSL.

Center Stage (Main Building, Lower Level)

8pm                Humans, Cyborgs, and Robots: Who Is a Person and Who Is Not?
Join in this conversation between scientist Keith Miller and science fiction writer Mark W. Tiedemann as they bring a historical context to the question of persons and non-persons and speculate as to how St. Louis will be different in the future, due to a new category of non-humans — robots.

– See more at: http://www.slsc.org/february-first-friday-st-louis-2264#sthash.uDo65pUN.dpuf

 

I’m jazzed about both and it would be cool to see some of my friends there.

Starting in March, I will be conducting a reading group at the Pulitzer Art Foundation once a month in conjunction with their newest exhibit, Art of its Own Making.  They have selected five classic SF titles to go along with the exhibit.  This is being done in cooperation with Left Bank Books.

As well, I’m conducting an ongoing reading group at Left Bank Books—Great Novels of the 22nd Century.  Here’s the FaceBook page.  I enc0urage those interested to like the page and come to the discussions.

That’s all for now.  Thank you.