Archive for December, 2010

Why a Republican Congress means little for gay rights

Since they do useful work sometimes, I’m on the Human Rights Campaign’s mailing list. But the HRC disproportionately engages in political pandering over doing useful work, so I’m not a paying HRC member. Consequently, I receive one or two e-mails from them a week merely soliciting donations. (Even the ACLU only hits me up every month or so.)

If you’re familiar with the computer industry and how certain companies market themselves, I bet you know the term FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. HRC knows gay-rights FUD better than the TSA knows airport security theatrics. They tell the freeloaders on their e-mail list (emphasis mine):

[Your name] – we’ve got only four weeks to prepare for the next twelve months of attacks from right-wing groups and lawmakers alike. Extremists are emboldened across the country – and now there will be even more of them in Washington. They’re likely to go after marriage equality in multiple states, to introduce new bans on adoption rights, and to fight tooth and nail to roll back the anti-discrimination laws we’ve already passed. Your membership gift will serve as a clear response to the urgent threats we face. …

The Republicans are coming! They’re pushing homophobic family-values platforms and trying to undo all our hard work! Without well-funded HRC lobbyists it’s back into the closet for us!

Okay, Republicans have regained some clout in Congress. Point being…? It’s stupid to conflate party affiliation with support for queer rights, and tie the composition of Congress to progress in general. Although competition for Senate seats has been neck-and-neck for the past decade, the passing 111th Congress is the first where the Democrats have held a clear majority since the 103rd (1993 to the beginning of 1995). Likewise, House Democrats were in the minority in the 104th through 109th Congresses (so 1995 to early 2007). Numbers may be found here.

In the four years since, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act has continued to languish, the Matthew Shepard Act finally lends federal protection against LGBT hate crimes, and Congress finally repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell just days ago. These are valuable accomplishments, but most progress in the past 15 years has come at the state level. Let’s look at just one example: Same-sex partnerships, unions, and marriage from 1995 through 2006, the year the Democrats regained the House.

1996 saw the federal Defense of Marriage Act pass overwhelmingly, with “yea” votes from 32 of 47 Senate Democrats, and 118 of 198 House Democrats. Gallup polls said only 27% of Americans supported gay marriage.

1997: Hawaii started registering “reciprocal beneficiaries” who are otherwise prohibited at the state level from marrying.

1999: California created the first state domestic partnership registry.

2000: Vermont introduced the first US civil unions.

2002: After 10 years, Republicans in Congress ceased blocking the implementation of District of Columbia domestic partnerships.

2003: The Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated laws in 14 states treating sodomy as a crime. (The first state sodomy law to fall was Illinois’ in 1962; Nebraska got rid of its own law in 1978.)

2004: Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. New Jersey and Maine enacted domestic partnership laws.

2005: Connecticut introduced civil unions.

2006: New Jersey passed a law allowing civil unions. Gallup reported that 42% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. However, in 2004, Gallup analyzed their questioning methodology and found that respondents were more likely to support civil unions over marriages, but also, the order in which respondents were asked about each option affected their responses. In 2004, 54% supported civil unions, but as in 2006, only 42% supported marriage.

Sure, most states ban same-sex marriage, lots of them won’t recognize marriages or other legal partnerships from other states, and many votes have failed. But partnership laws and bans alike weren’t even there before the mid-90s; and since then, there has been a powerful shift in public opinion, state legislatures, and state judiciaries. I think the momentum on the state level is what will eventually motivate Congresscreatures to do what they’ve failed to do in the past four years: overturn DOMA, pass ENDA, and so on.

Take heart and carry this cause over onto your 2011 New Year’s resolutions: “equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”

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Merry Christmas!

So I’ve flaked on my promise to deconstruct the Christmas story. What can I say? It’s vacation.

On a related note, though, I worked a brisk shift at OfficeMax today, and after a brief internal debate — quick, what do I say? — I wished everyone a merry Christmas as they left my register. There’s nothing wrong with well-wishing, particularly on a holiday of generosity and cheer and whatnot. Let my lack of concern for the “true reason for the season” be my contribution to the War on Christmas: I think “merry Christmas” is just as appropriate as “happy New Year” or “happy Fourth of July.”

Of course, I might think differently if I had been raised by Jewish parents. For now I leave the debate — and all those infernal Christmas cover songs —  ’til next year.

And one more thought from Penny Arcade

 

Penny Arcade Christmas 2010
But there’s a difference! If you’re good all year, you get presents from an omniscient man with inexplicable yet unlimited gifting resources. If you’re good all your life you get endless life from an omniscient God with inexplicable but unlimited…oh.

 

Merry Christmas, blogosphere.

DADT: It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, so long as you can shoot straight

Following in the House’s footsteps, the US Senate today overrode the Republican filibuster of the latest bill to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The cloture vote passed 65-31, including 6 Republicans who got over the whole party line thing. That means the bill itself will go to a vote in the next couple of days — and obviously, President Obama is more than willing to sign it into law:

“It is time to close this chapter in our history,” said President Obama in a statement. “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly.”

The bill actually sets the stage to phase out the policy. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates must agree that ending DADT doesn’t harm military readiness. Then there will be “‘a sequenced implementation’ of the new policy for different units in the military.” But it’s a short matter of time before LGB servicemembers in the US can be as open about it as soldiers in most other first-world countries. We won’t be lumped in with North Korea and Iran anymore, yay!

Gays have been defending us professionally, honorably, but quietly since the Revolution, and it’s time their whole persons are recognized. The majority of the American people knows this, the majority of the military knows this, and even the stand-your-ground party in Congress is beginning to admit it.

To my friends who are closeted in the military or who have held back from signing up:  thank you for your patience.

There can be only one…Christmas story.

Tis the season that a full one-third of the world celebrates the birth of their god to a virginal human. In the spirit of keeping Christ in Christmas (and brushing aside Hanukkah, Buddhists’ Bodhi Day, pagan solstice celebrations, and Festivus), it’s time to brush up on the Christmas story. Only, which Christmas story are we talking about? In the next week or so, I’ll be delving a lot deeper than your average holiday special.

Actually, I thought about getting a tree of just about that size for my dorm room.

Jesus, son of David, not really the son of Joseph

Of course I’m talking about the Christmas story where Joseph, descendant of King David, is essentially Jesus’ stepfather. But are we talking about Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar, son of Eliud, son of Achim, etc.? (Matthew 1:15-16) Perhaps I should be thinking of Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of Janna…oy vey. (Luke 3:23-24) I guess it doesn’t matter, seeing as there couldn’t be a drop of David’s blood (via Joseph) in Jesus.

Surprisingly, the Catholic Church has no doctrinal objection to the idea that Jesus’ genealogy is contrived:

In an essay carrying the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur (official declarations by the Catholic Church that a book is “free of doctrinal or moral error”), [Father Raymond E.] Brown admits that the apparent contradiction in records of the post-resurrectional appearances is real.

…Brown observes that “the lists of Jesus’ ancestors that they [the Gospels] give are very different, and neither one is plausible.”[5] Brown takes the surprising position that “because the early Christians confessed Jesus as Messiah, for which ‘Son of David’ was an alternative title, they historicized their faith by creating for him Davidic genealogies and by claiming that Joseph was a Davidide.”

(Emphases are mine.)

Jesus, born of a virgin, like all the others

Moving on, one big piece of the Christmas story is that Mary conceived Jesus while a virgin, by God’s power. The angel Gabriel explains it beforehand to Mary in Luke 1:26-38. But Luke doesn’t tell us whether Mary told Joseph. Matthew doesn’t even mention the revelation to Mary, but says that Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, and intended to leave her (Matthew 1:18-21). Granted, Matthew says Mary was “found with child of the Holy Spirit.” However, the text doesn’t read like Joseph didn’t believe her, but that she didn’t even explain the nature of her pregnancy to Joseph. An angel had to tell him in a dream that it was God at work. I can only imagine what he thought about Mary keeping the virgin conception a secret, especially knowing that God made sure he believed it.

Mary’s virginity is a pretty important part of the Christmas story, particularly to the Catholic Church (which I’m focusing on because I was raised in that church, and half of all Christians belong to it). When a Catholic mentions Mary, half the time they call her the Virgin Mary; and her virgin status seems to inform the whole complex that Catholics have as regards human sexuality. Virginity’s (bogus) association with purity of being, to a lot of people, means it’s essential that the pure Jesus was born of a pure woman. And early writers may have added the virginity story to bring more people to the[ir] truth, because supernatural births were sure to impress:

  • The Egyptian mother-goddess Isis impregnated herself to birth the sky-god Horus.
  • Perseus was born after Zeus impregnated the human Danae via a shower of gold.
  • Hercules was born to mortal Alcmene thanks to Zeus (who kind of got around).’

The “virginity as a plot device” explanation makes the most sense to Fr. Brown, too:

“Virginal conception was a well-known religious symbol for divine origins,” explains Brown, citing such stories in Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Greco-Roman and ancient Egyptian theologies. He proposes that early Christians “used an imagery of virginal conception whose symbolic origins were forgotten as it was disseminated among various Christian communities and recorded by evangelists.”

Alternatively, Brown also considers the possibility that Christianity’s founders intended to create the impression that an actual virginal conception took place. Early Christians needed just such a myth, Brown notes, since Mary was widely known to have delivered Jesus too early: “Unfortunately, the historical alternative to the virginal conception has not been a conception in wedlock; it has been illegitimacy.”

Illustrating that even the oldest and biggest Christian denomination finds it hard to be internally consistent, the above excerpt was also written under a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, even though the virgin birth is one of the biggest “love it or leave it” sticking points for Catholics. This article affirming the virgin birth also has official clearance, calling as evidence a non-canonical gospel written in the 2nd century, “when memories of her [Mary’s] life were still vivid in the minds of many.” Because we all know how reliable human memory is about a person who died decades earlier, and what her mother said, too.

To begin with, the Protoevangelium [or Gospel of James] records that when Mary’s birth was prophesied, her mother, St. Anne, vowed that she would devote the child to the service of the Lord, as Samuel had been by his mother (1 Sam. 1:11). Mary would thus serve the Lord at the Temple, as women had for centuries (1 Sam. 2:22), and as Anna the prophetess did at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:36–37). A life of continual, devoted service to the Lord at the Temple meant that Mary would not be able to live the ordinary life of a child-rearing mother. Rather, she was vowed to a life of perpetual virginity.

The fact-finding mission becomes more futile the further we go back. At least we only have to reconcile two accounts of the virgin birth story. Neither Mark, nor John, nor Paul in his letters, thought that Jesus’ being born of a virgin was important (or realistic, or convincing?) enough to mention it somewhere in their works. But come on, guys, what’s a hero without an origin story?

The story of Jesus Christ, Superhero is to be continued… In the meantime, feel free to read ahead: My inspiration this week comes from Paul Carlson’s New Testament Contradictions over in the Secular Web Library.

Amusingly enough, the 2011 Rapture theorists ripped off this design for their own billboards.

Silence the bells and hold back the hipsters

It’s that time of year again. Every time you go shopping you can hear that little bell in the background, and when you walk out of the store (if you paid cash) you don’t even need to pocket your change. Just drop it in the bucket and smile knowing you’re “doing the most good.”

If, of course, good means donating to a multi-billion dollar evangelical organization, touted as a charity but with its finances shielded by church status, that says the only route for homosexuals is abstinence — oh, and has done things like threatening to close its New York soup kitchens to avoid paying domestic partner benefits.

While they aren’t as vocal about their positions as, say, Focus on the Family, I’m surprised it never occurred to me that an evangelical Christian denomination that happens to engage in massive amounts of charity, might take the opportunity to proselytize and discriminate. That they also aren’t subject to nearly as much financial oversight as dedicated charities makes it even harder for me to take them at their word. I’m not dropping a penny in a red kettle again, and I hope you don’t, either.

I might, though, donate my three dollar bill. It’s hard to get queerer than this:

Don't tell me you've never heard the idiom "queer as a three dollar bill."

I’ll admit, I’m also going to miss shopping the Salvation Army just up the street from my house for records and old suit jackets. Salvation Army is such a hipster fashion haven it’s almost mainstream. But maybe I’ll give my business to Goodwill, which has several locations around Omaha, is nonreligious, and does nice things like employing lots of trans people in their Castro store.

As for the homeless and the hungry? There are several local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. I’m not sure which of them require you to take spiritual nourishment with your actual nutrition, but I intend to find out, and I’ll post any findings or your info on this blog. I encourage religious organizations that engage in aid to continue to do so, as long as they don’t use the opportunity to evangelize to and discriminate against the vulnerable. And I prefer any standalone charity, because they’re more financially accountable than a church like the Salvation Army, which doesn’t have to file a certain important form.

More broadly, here’s a list of secular charities, a list that needs to be a lot longer. Consider donating to one of these groups if you’d really like to spread some cheer, during the holidays and year-round.

Omaha Atheists adopt a highway

Friendly Atheist tells us that — why didn’t I know this? — Omaha Atheists has adopted a highway, like so many other atheist groups.

Just think of how often we “godless liberals” — as if the two must go hand in hand — are accused of being coldhearted Scrooges. I’m reminded of a recent episode of The Atheist Experience (I can’t remember which) in which one of the hosts noted that charity isn’t institutionalized in the atheist community. There’s no Atheist Church (except for this one), and as such, we aren’t constantly getting messages from above regarding charity, tithing, and — oh yeah — massive, unjustifiable capital campaigns like a $115 million megachurch and basically every cathedral ever.

There’s nothing holding atheists back, though. Even though organizing atheists must be like herding cats, there’s promising news like the apparent highway-cleaning fad, and the growth of the Foundation Beyond Belief, which collects for secular or non-proselytizing religious groups (and you can choose if your money goes to religious groups at all). Oh, and Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are atheist billionaire philanthropists. Hmmmmmmm.

I think our current reputation will be short-lived.

Finals

Just to let you all know, I’m not dead. 🙂 Rather, I have two weeks of studying and final exams until I can enjoy a long holiday. I’ll try to find time for a couple entries in the meantime. See you on the other side.