Sunday, June 3, 2018

Holy Crap

I have been pending writing this for quite some time as living in the Bible Belt the influence of religion is second only to money in the South.   The hierarchy of importance is Wealth, Religion, Tribe (where you are from or your people), Gender, Race, Children.  This is the how Southerners view themselves and their place in the world.  How much money you have, what Church you attend (for many think of the neighborhoods in which you live and how that figures in how you are assessed, Church is that). Then Women are valued as the South matriarchy is duly noted despite the problems with Domestic Violence, one's Mother is the Queen of all households.  Then the issue of race falls into the line but too is divided by Religion.  We have the varying divisions of Christianity that play a major factor, then we have the issues surrounding  Islam, which figures less as a Religious component and more of an ethnicity issue - Arab Muslims vs Jews, vs Christians.  You can tell which trumps which (pun intended).  Then lastly on the list of import - Children.  They are utterly disposable, invisible until needed.  And again they too are largely defined by one's economic class and that affects their place  but otherwise children are ignored, poorly disciplined and  poorly educated regardless.

I have a problem with all of it.  I see it clearly and in private discussions frequently my observations are perceived as fairly on point.  The debate over children often seemingly puts them above race but again race is not ignored, not ignored in the least.  But it is not as overt nor as deliberate as one would believe.  There are many who seem to want to do the right thing but the way and manner on how to do such seems to be negligent and patronizing via housing projects and charity donations.  There is little about education, social services and health care that would include addiction treatment and mental health.   The issue surrounding the transit bill was another example of how divided that was with regards first to class then race.   The perception that poor people walk and ride is heavily indoctrinated here and the fear that with such infrastructure there would be a crossing the line where said people could live and work.  Again is is about money first race second.  And many of the advocates for transit were all white, highly educated and not from here so understanding the history behind transit seems to be associated with Rosa Parks and the 1950's not the 1970s when the true issues of busing regarding schools and the move to desegregation took hold.  Many faces of color, one of whom was an Activist in the 60s was an anti transit spokesperson and short term Mayoral candidate who played on the financial costs - the half cent sales tax addition - in which to manipulate many of the poor and faces of color to vote against that which would serve them most.  It was perhaps the most ham fisted badly handled campaign on its own rights and that too was also affiliated with the former Slattern so it was not going to pass by the time it reached the ballot box.

Religion is the most powerful player here in the city run largely by State and Municipal Government, the largest employer in the region and in turn the one dominated by Affirmative Action policies that have enabled many of the Black Community secure jobs. The jobs in the private sector are largely hospitality and those are largely employed by the Latino and White community.  These are jobs often viewed as beneath the social hierarchy but of late even many are beginning to realize that desegregation destroyed the black community so now many young entrepreneurs are trying to dip their hand into this field and remaining in the same communities by employing those within what - walking distance.  Again getting to and from jobs is a challenge here without cars and the issues regarding shared rides and the like are not used in these communities for even taking a bus to go to the grocery store is thought of as difficult and challenging.   It is about economics first, race second.

So the pulpit generates the information train. The Church is the core and is on every corner and along every block even taking up shared spaces on weekends in which to serve and minister the community.  I am amazed how they support themselves to the level they do given that according to free market there should be some closures and there have been but those still are fewer than one would imagine.  Church is essential and I cannot stress that despite the loathing of the Immigrant community these are individuals who are very active in Church with equally conservative values that there Southern white native share.

The last week The New York Times shared a story about Franklin Graham's mission and political agenda, ripe on hate and desperate for relevance as the evangelical movement is finding its moment in the sun with the Trump Administration.

This was followed by an article about another type of Evangelical (the Anti Trump kind) that has a more classical Christian element to its beliefs and are appalled, frustrated and in direct protest to the more political oriented evangelical movement of those like Graham and his ilk.

This was all at the same time another Evangelical Minister was soliciting money for a Gulf Stream jet to attend to his far flung flock that apparently few commercial airlines serve.   Was the EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, tagging along.

And this followed the resignation of the President of the Southern Baptist Church whose ministries about handling women's issues, his own relationships with women as wells as  those issue surrounding rape and domestic violence finally came to roost.  As well as their own Spotlight moment where the Church has its own sexual predators.  Heavy is the hand. they say.

Today in the paper was this editorial about Sex and Gender on Religious campuses:
Sex and Gender on the Christian Campus

By Molly Worthen
Ms. Worthen teaches American religious history at the University of North Carolina and frequently reports on contemporary developments in Christian life.

June 2, 2018
The New York Times

The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago seems like the last place in which to expect a scandal over Title IX.

Moody is one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the country, and Title IX’s authority is diminished these days. Last year, the White House rescinded the Obama administration’s stricter enforcement of the federal law against sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal financial aid. Moreover, under President Trump, the Justice Department seems disinclined to challenge conservative Christians’ insistence that the First Amendment exempts their institutions from the full force of anti-discrimination laws.

Yet recent events at Moody show that religious freedom does more than protect the dissenting views of minority groups — it encourages members of those groups to fight vigorously among themselves. In January, a former Moody communications instructor named Janay Garrick filed a suit in Federal District Court. She accused Moody of “discrimination and retaliation,” charging that the school fired her for such insubordinate acts as helping female students file Title IX complaints about the pastoral ministry program, which was then restricted to men and still excludes women from some parts of the major. She also counseled lesbian and transgender students and collected the testimonies of female students who reported sexual assaults and harassment, according to court documents. (Moody declined to comment.)

Moody, like many evangelical and fundamentalist schools, adheres to a “complementarian” theology of gender — meaning that God created men and women for separate, complementary roles in family and church life. “If a church or parachurch organization has no watchdog and will do as it will under religious freedom, and women are pulled down a slope, and told they can’t understand or handle religious texts, and they’re being harassed and raped, then our Christian liberty has gone too far,” Ms. Garrick told me.

Conservative critics have charged that Moody’s decision to hire someone like Ms. Garrick — who had said in her job interview that she is a gender egalitarian as well as an ordained minister — reveals broader theological confusion. Audrey Belcher, a recent graduate of Moody and one of the few women to major in theology there, said that some male professors encouraged her to pursue an academic career, although no women serve on Moody’s theology faculty. “They said, ‘If you want to teach, you should do that.’ I pointed out to one of my teachers that I couldn’t teach at Moody even if I was qualified,” she told me. “He had the view that this was something they were working on.”

The tumult at Moody reflects a larger pattern in evangelical higher education. Internal turmoil — over sex and gender as well as racial justice — continues despite every sign that government pressure on these schools has abated. White House policies cannot halt the undertow of generational change, and may even accelerate it, because a modest but meaningful resistance to evangelical support for Mr. Trump is brewing on many Christian campuses.

Such turmoil does not herald a wholesale reversal of white evangelical politics. But something is happening: Last week, the board of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth voted to remove its longtime president, Paige Patterson, after revelations that he made lewd comments about a teenage girl’s appearance and advised women to remain with husbands who abused them.

A culture’s institutions of higher education are canaries in the culture war coal mine: They struggle with ideological shifts before these changes are apparent in the broader community. These controversies at Christian schools reveal the further fracturing of white evangelical consensus. They remind us that top-down intercession by government agencies and the courts often lags behind, and depends on, grass-roots change.

Despite lawsuits like Ms. Garrick’s, the court system does not present the greatest challenge to evangelicals who govern their institutions according to traditional doctrines of sexuality. American courts have generally opted for a broad interpretation of the religious freedom exemption from anti-discrimination laws. The major exception was the 1983 case Bob Jones University v. United States, in which the Supreme Court found that the First Amendment did not prevent the Internal Revenue Service from revoking a Christian fundamentalist school’s tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating and marriage.

Are rules that prevent gay students from dating, or block women from enrolling in some programs, the legal and moral equivalent of racism? “All these questions come down to the big question of whether traditional views about sexuality are going to be equated with views about race in the Jim Crow South,” said John Inazu, a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. “If the answer is yes, that’s an equation that holds, then religious liberty protections, no matter how they are framed, will not be successful.”

Evangelicals themselves are far from settled on this question. Today, many evangelical campuses are diverse assemblies of Christians from a range of cultural, ethnic and theological backgrounds. Some students are experimenting with a new politics, a middle way between secular progressivism and the Moral Majority worldview of their parents’ generation.

It’s this steady escalation of grass-roots dissent that will have the greatest consequences, just as it did in the dismantling of segregation. The courts played a crucial role in ending segregation, but Jim Crow ultimately collapsed because black Americans themselves decided they would not tolerate it anymore.

By contrast, until recently, sex discrimination has remained relatively acceptable in evangelical culture because so many evangelical women embrace complementarian theology. “There are women who assert their own agency to be in gendered, hierarchical organizations, and there is a liberal norm underlying their right to be in these organizations,” said Mr. Inazu.

But the terms of debate are shifting. In February, a small group of conservative professors and staff members at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., published an anonymous newsletter lamenting the “permissive views of human sexuality, hostility toward creationist perspectives, rejection of the rule of law (especially on the immigration issue) and uncritical endorsement of liberal-progressive ideas” on campus. Students reacted furiously, and the university president condemned the authors for “hurting members of our community.”

Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has responded to students’ desire to discuss topics that were once taboo with a “sexuality series” that includes lectures and discussions on the Me Too movement, homosexuality and feminism. “Many young people have a different perspective than that of their parents,” said Julia Smith, who directs the series. “They’ve grown up at a time when it’s far more accepted to be out as a sexual- or gender-minority person, and it’s less of a hot-button issue because it’s about their friends.”

Historically, evangelical colleges have often been sites of generational conflict and ideological strife. Many have evolved over the past half-century to become more theologically and culturally inclusive, and more open to mainstream academic inquiry, even if they still police its boundaries. Sometimes external forces, like government policy and secular accreditors, have hastened change, in part because they coincided with pressure within the institutions themselves — particularly pressure from tuition-paying students having hard conversations about their beliefs and their relationship to secular culture.

Ashley Brimmage graduated last month from Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., where she was an editor at the campus newspaper and covered campus controversies over race, sex and Title IX. Ms. Brimmage told me that she became more progressive in her time at the conservative evangelical school. When she entered Biola, “I don’t think I had an opinion about anything — I was concerned about making friends, what boys were in my class,” she said. “But I’ve prayed to the Lord to give me convictions, passions and wisdom to navigate the politically charged times in which we live.”

She lamented the close association of white evangelicalism with Donald Trump. “The one good thing about our current administration is that it’s causing people to learn about themselves, what they believe, what they’re angered by, and it has served that purpose for me,” she said.

Ms. Brimmage is not a typical Biola student, but she is not unusual either. There is a small but increasingly vocal progressive community on campus, including L.G.B.T. organizations. When Biola applied for an exemption from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX in 2016, students protested.

I asked Ms. Brimmage how she came to her views on gender and racial justice. Did she encounter a new theological argument in a book or a class? “The biggest answer is relationships with others, not working through these things on paper,” she said. Female mentors and friendships with gay and nonwhite students compelled her to revise her theology (almost half of Biola’s students are now nonwhite or international).

But she went on to cite formative encounters with books, too, like Sarah Bessey’s “Jesus Feminist,” which helped her interpret her experiences. “Jesus intentionally chose women,” Ms. Brimmage said. “He chose Mary as the first person to see him after his resurrection. There was intention behind his choosing women to minister to men in ways that maybe men couldn’t minister to one another. It doesn’t make sense that gender is something that keeps someone from becoming a pastor, that because of the body parts you’re born with, you’d therefore be disqualified from leading in ministry.”

How do people change their minds? How does a culture shift? Ideological debate, it seems, evolves in a fitful relationship with personal experience. Christian colleges are fertile ground for political ferment because they include students of all sexual and racial identities, enrolled in theology classes, attending chapel together and grappling with traditional interpretations of scripture rather than cordoning off its claims, as a secular education might encourage them to do.

Title IX should be the least of conservatives’ worries — because some of their own students are prepared to change evangelical culture even when court cases fail.
As I have come to learn when it comes to Jesus it is a very unclear line on WWJD.  The ability to manipulate scripture, people and in turn the media as they are very effective in using all forms in which despite their protestations about fake media, they manage to make their fake-ness seem quite authentic.  And while I am about faith and having the idea that something outside of yourself that you believe and trust and are wiling to suspend disbelief or at least question every decision and accept that there are those who have a willingness to do right for the whole versus the individual is a good quality.   This could be for Teachers, Doctors, Police, Scientists or even Farmers as they are trying to serve the greater good and see the tree in the forest despite it all.  As we know that is not always true and at times their interest take precedence but on the whole there is an idea that overall the good trumps the evil and that is the basic foundation of religion.  But today that means an entirely different thing and in turn it means condemning those who do fit into the neat little box that defines Congregant.  And that person is whatever the Church defines so until you go and see and are willing to join you probably are not it.  Tantamount to cult which I think Scientology is not it is in fact a religion and is no different than any branch of religious sects - Jehovah, Seventh Day, Christian Science and the like.  Sorry but God doesn't sit down and go, "Hey Methodists are one step above Baptists who are above Presbyterian and so on."  If that is the case who wants anything to do with that!  You dance with the one who brung you and you are still at the dance so dance!

I see today's Church as a social setting and the loneliness and isolation of the current world has led people to find their tribe via Social Media and for others it is their work and for some it is Church. I observed in the one Church of which I was invited (vs just walking in) intense community that centered on that day, in that hour, in that moment.  It was not less genuine or authentic it was what it was - communion.  We have so few places where community gathers we have found that the "safe" space is Church.  But outside the door is an armed off duty Officer so really is God's house that safe? Or is it about feeling that way?  So for an hour or two you have friends and family and community and that may extend outward to brunch or lunch or dinner following with a promise for next week and then it is back to the real world which seems filled with disappointment, regret and frustration. Funny how that now I am not Teaching in the dumps they call schools I have slept well, eaten less, drank less, worked out more and overall been happier, no Church required.  But for some they need it and I can understand that but my life is my own and the Bible is fine tucked in a drawer in a Hotel as long as it is one I don't plan on staying.

What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t)

By Stephen T. Asma
      Mr. Asma is a professor of philosophy.

June 3, 2018
The New York Times

It’s a tough time to defend religion. Respect for it has diminished in almost every corner of modern life — not just among atheists and intellectuals, but among the wider public, too. And the next generation of young people looks likely to be the most religiously unaffiliated demographic in recent memory.

There are good reasons for this discontent: continued revelations of abuse by priests and clerics, jihad campaigns against “infidels” and homegrown Christian hostility toward diversity and secular culture. This convergence of bad behavior and bad press has led many to echo the evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson’s claim that “for the sake of human progress, the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths.”

Despite the very real problems with religion — and my own historical skepticism toward it — I don’t subscribe to that view. I would like to argue here, in fact, that we still need religion. Perhaps a story is a good way to begin.

One day, after pompously lecturing a class of undergraduates about the incoherence of monotheism, I was approached by a shy student. He nervously stuttered through a heartbreaking story, one that slowly unraveled my own convictions and assumptions about religion.

Five years ago, he explained, his older teenage brother had been brutally stabbed to death, viciously attacked and mutilated by a perpetrator who was never caught. My student, his mother and his sister were shattered. His mother suffered a mental breakdown soon afterward and would have been institutionalized if not for the fact that she expected to see her slain son again, to be reunited with him in the afterlife where she was certain his body would be made whole. These bolstering beliefs, along with the church rituals she engaged in after her son’s murder, dragged her back from the brink of debilitating sorrow, and gave her the strength to continue raising her other two children — my student and his sister.

To the typical atheist, all this looks irrational, and therefore unacceptable. Beliefs, we are told, must be aligned with evidence, not mere yearning. Without rational standards, like those entrenched in science, we will all slouch toward chaos and end up in pre-Enlightenment darkness.

I do not intend to try to rescue religion as reasonable. It isn’t terribly reasonable. But I do want to argue that its irrationality does not render it unacceptable, valueless or cowardly. Its irrationality may even be the source of its power.

The human brain is a kludge of different operating systems: the ancient reptilian brain (motor functions, fight-or-flight instincts), the limbic or mammalian brain (emotions) and the more recently evolved neocortex (rationality). Religion irritates the rational brain because it trades in magical thinking and no proof, but it nourishes the emotional brain because it calms fears, answers to yearnings and strengthens feelings of loyalty.

According to prominent neuroscientists like Jaak Panksepp, Antonio Damasio and Kent Berridge, as well as neuropsychoanalysts like Mark Solms, our minds are motivated primarily by ancient emotional systems, like fear, rage, lust, love and grief. These forces are adaptive and help us survive if they are managed properly — that is if they are made strong enough to accomplish goals of survival, but not so strong as to overpower us and lead to neuroses and maladaptive behavior.

My claim is that religion can provide direct access to this emotional life in ways that science does not. Yes, science can give us emotional feelings of wonder at the majesty of nature, but there are many forms of human suffering that are beyond the reach of any scientific alleviation. Different emotional stresses require different kinds of rescue. Unlike previous secular tributes to religion that praise its ethical and civilizing function, I think we need religion because it is a road-tested form of emotional management.

Of course, there is a well-documented dark side to spiritual emotions. Religious emotional life tilts toward the melodramatic. Religion still trades readily in good-and-evil narratives, and it gives purchase to testosterone-fueled revenge fantasies and aggression. While this sort of zealotry is undeniably dangerous, most religion is actually helpful to the average family struggling to eke out a living in trying times.

Religious rituals, for example, surround the bereaved person with our most important resource — other people. Even more than other mammals, humans are extremely dependent on others — not just for acquiring resources and skills, but for feeling well. And feeling well is more important than thinking well for my survival.

Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve psychological health. When you’ve lost a loved one, religion provides a therapeutic framework of rituals and beliefs that produce the oxytocin, internal opioids, dopamine and other positive affects that can help with coping and surviving. Beliefs play a role, but they are not the primary mechanisms for delivering such therapeutic power. Instead, religious practice (rituals, devotional activities, songs, prayer and story) manage our emotions, giving us opportunities to express care for each other in grief, providing us with the alleviation of stress and anxiety, or giving us direction and an outlet for rage.

Atheists like Richard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson and Sam Harris, are evaluating religion at the neocortical level — their criteria for assessing it is the rational scientific method. I agree with them that religion fails miserably at the bar of rational validity, but we’re at the wrong bar. The older reptilian brain, built by natural selection for solving survival challenges, was not built for rationality. Emotions like fear, love, rage — even hope or anticipation — were selected for because they helped early mammals flourish. In many cases, emotions offer quicker ways to solve problems than deliberative cognition.

For us humans, the interesting issue is how the old animal operating system interacts with the new operating system of cognition. How do our feelings and our thoughts blend together to compose our mental lives and our behaviors? The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has shown that emotions saturate even the seemingly pure information-processing aspects of rational deliberation. So something complicated is happening when my student’s mother remembers and projects her deceased son, and embeds him in a religious narrative that helps her soldier on.

No amount of scientific explanation or sociopolitical theorizing is going to console the mother of the stabbed boy. Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson will not be much help, should they decide to drop over and explain the physiology of suffering and the sociology of crime. But the magical thinking that she is going to see her murdered son again, along with the hugs from and songs with fellow parishioners, can sustain her. If this emotionally grounded hope gives her the energy and vitality to continue caring for her other children, it can do the same for others. And we can see why religion persists.

Those of us in the secular world who critique such emotional responses and strategies with the refrain, “But is it true?” are missing the point. Most religious beliefs are not true. But here’s the crux. The emotional brain doesn’t care. It doesn’t operate on the grounds of true and false. Emotions are not true or false. Even a terrible fear inside a dream is still a terrible fear. This means that the criteria for measuring a healthy theory are not the criteria for measuring a healthy emotion. Unlike a healthy theory, which must correspond with empirical facts, a healthy emotion is one that contributes to neurochemical homeostasis or other affective states that promote biological flourishing.

Finally, we need a word or two about opiates. The modern condemnation of religion has followed the Marxian rebuke that religion is an opiate administered indirectly by state power in order to secure a docile populace — one that accepts poverty and political powerlessness, in hopes of posthumous supernatural rewards. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature,” Marx claimed, “the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Marx, Mao and even Malcolm X leveled this critique against traditional religion, and the critique lives on as a disdainful last insult to be hurled at the believer. I hurled it myself many times, thinking that it was a decisive weapon. In recent years, however, I’ve changed my mind about this criticism.

First, religion is energizing as often as it is anesthetizing. As often as it numbs or sedates, religion also riles up and invigorates the believer. This animating quality of religion can make it more hazardous to the state than it is tranquilizing, and it also inspires a lot of altruistic philanthropy.

Second, what’s so bad about pain relief anyway? If my view of religion is primarily therapeutic, I can hardly despair when some of that therapy takes the form of palliative pain management. If atheists think it’s enough to dismiss the believer on the grounds that he should never buffer the pains of life, then I’ll assume the atheist has no recourse to any pain management in his own life. In which case, I envy his remarkably good fortune.

For the rest of us, there is aspirin, alcohol, religion, hobbies, work, love, friendship. After all, opioids — like endorphins — are innate chemical ingredients in the human brain and body, and they evolved, in part, to occasionally relieve the organism from misery. Freud, in his “Civilization and Its Discontents,” quotes the well-known phrase, “He who has cares, has brandy too.”

We need a more clear-eyed appreciation of the role of cultural analgesics. It is not enough to dismiss religion on the grounds of some puritanical moral judgment about the weakness of the devotee. Religion is the most powerful cultural response to the universal emotional life that connects us all.

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