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Archive for the tag “catholic”

Zoning For “Houses of Worship” Does Not Include Homeless Services Site

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“The Albany Times-Union reports that a New York state trial court judge last week overruled the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals decision that would have allowed the non-profit group Family Promise of the Capital Region to use a building in an area zoned to include “houses of worship” to provide services to homeless families.  The site– a parsonage of the Bethany Reformed Church– was used to provide daytime child care, access to computers, career and life counseling and a place to pick up mail and make phone calls.  The Board of Zoning Appeals held that the outreach services were part of Bethany’s religious mission.  However the court disagreed, saying that a “house of worship” is a place set aside for for some form of religious devotion, ritual or service showing reverence. Critics of the court’s decision say the ruling could create problems for all sorts of congregations that make their basements and meeting rooms available for social programs they deem part of their missions.  Family Promise can still apply for a zoning variance to allow it to continue its operations. ”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Denial of Permit For Muslim Cemetery Was Arbitrary and Capricious

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“The Farmington (MN) Independent reported yesterday on a decision last month by a Dakota County, Minnesota trial court judge holding that the Castle Rock Township board of supervisors’ decision to deny a permit for a Muslim cemetery was arbitrary and capricious. The Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association sued after the township said the cemetery would cause a loss of tax revenue and expressed concern that the cemetery would not be maintained and would not be open to the public.  It is estimated that the 73-acre cemetery site will accommodate 35,000 burials– enough to serve the growing Minnesota Islamic community for 200 years. ”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Atlantic which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.
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It was the fifth time that night that my Theology and Biblical Greek professor was calling. And, like the previous times, no way was I answering the phone. I knew why he was calling. Earlier that day, I emailed all of my professors to tell them I’d made the difficult decision to withdraw from school. As my cell phone went to voice mail, I crawled into bed under my covers, dreading the next morning when the rest of my professors would get my email, when the university would call my parents, when my roommates would ask me why I wasn’t waking up for class. “Why did I come here?” I asked myself. “Out of all the colleges in the world, why did I pick this one?”

After a few minutes, I got out bed to get a drink, and there in the kitchen, I found my roommate Jake looking into the open refrigerator, buck naked.

“Oh, hey, man,” he said when he saw me. “Midnight snack?” he asked.

“Yeah, I just can’t sleep.”

“I hear ya,” he said, and bent over to grab some jelly from the bottom shelf.

And as I looked at his perfectly formed, muscular ass, I closed my eyes and asked myself, “Why would I, the world’s most hypersexual fag, come to Jerry Falwell’s university?!”It’s a typical story, really. Boy meets girl. Girl goes to college. Boy follows her to college. Girl decides to date other boys. Boy decides that’s a good idea, and also dates other boys. Like I said, typical.

No one in my family is a college graduate, so when my girlfriend announced she was going to Liberty, it was just understood that I’d go there, too. My parents were extremely religious, so they liked that Liberty was a Christian school. My dad was actually a pastor. We went to one of those obnoxious churches where people pray in tongues and parade around the sanctuary carrying banners that said “Maranatha.” Because this church marched to the beat of its own drum-driven worship music, we thought we were liberal Christians. The irony, though, was that the congregation was incredibly legalistic and nitpicky. If you smoked, you were going to hell. If you drank alcohol, you were going to hell. If you listened to secular music…well you weren’t necessarily going to hell, but you were backslidden. You can imagine, then, that even if I felt same-sex desires, I was scared to act on them, let alone think about them. And anyway, I wasn’t free to think about my sexuality because I was dating the girl God sent me to marry.

Of course, that all changed when we got to Liberty and broke up. I was on my own, away from my parents, away from my church, and surrounded by charming Southern gentlemen. Everywhere I turned there were hot guys: in the dorms, in the showers, in the pool, in the gym. They ate with me, and studied with me, and wrestled with me during “Man Games” on Thursday nights. But I wasn’t about to make a move on any of them. After all, this was Liberty.Liberty was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist minister often known for homophobia, bigotry, and the Moral Majority. My New York friends know that Falwell’s the guy who blamed 9/11 on the gays. He said something about pointing his finger in their—our—faces and saying, “You! You helped this happen!”

“So you went to Liberty…” and they let the last syllable of that word trail off.

“Ya, I went to Liberty,” I say, preparing myself for the next two minutes.

“So…how was that?” And then they smile.

Even though I have the reply down to an exact science, I still ask them what they mean.

“You know, because you’re… well, I’m assuming…” and they do this gesture with their hands which, I think, means “gay.”

“Well, Liberty is very different from what you might think of it. It gets a bad rap because of a few of Falwell’s soundbytes, but all in all, I really enjoyed it.”

That, apparently, isn’t a satisfactory enough answer for them, and they want to know the real juicy stuff.

“No, I’m talking about being gay.” They exaggerate that word as if, maybe, I am gay-deaf, or gay-slow. But really, I’m just gay-annoyed.”Oh,” I say, pretending that only now have I realized what they have been not-so-subtly implying with their sign language and smiles.

“Well, you know, I’m not a very gay person,” I say, which causes their smile to grow even bigger. I know this smile because it’s the one my friend Mary gave me when I told her I was gay. She smiled and said, “Of course you are, honey.” She was the first student I came out to at Liberty.

“I mean, I’m not a parade-and-politics type of gay,” I continue. “I’m gay, sure, and most people know it. But I don’t really work it into conversations unless it naturally comes up. So at Liberty, most people probably figured I was gay, but most people kept that suspicion to themselves.” Most people, that is, except for Dr. Prior.

After I made an ambiguous and slightly off-color remark about Oscar Wilde during her British Literature class, Dr. Prior (who writes for The Atlantic from time to time) asked me to come talk with her during her office hours the next day. I agreed to stop by because, well, she was fabulous, and I couldn’t imagine having an awkward conversation with someone that fashionable. After all, her daily mantra—which she borrowed from her beloved Wilde—is, “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.”

“So what did you want to talk about?” I asked her.”We can talk about anything you’d like, Brandon.” This answer made me loathe her. Come on, lady! We both know why I’m here. You just want me to admit I’m gay so you can perform an exorcism on me!

“Well,” I huffed, “You asked me to come in…” to come out, I thought to myself. My wit shines in tense situations.

You wanted to come in and talk, Brandon,” she said, and she reclined back in her chair. You liar, I wanted to scream. You know very well you asked me to come in and talk to you because of the gay joke I made about Oscar Wilde. And because of the clippings of naked Abercrombie men that fell out of my bag. And because I literally drool over the hunky history major who sits next to me.

So we sat. And sat. And stared at each other. And every now and then mentioned something trivial (for instance, my turkey sandwich) that, for some inexplicable reason, made us laugh uncontrollably. Finally, she told me she had to get going because her next class started soon.

“Ok, ok, wait,” I told her, and she cocked her head.

“Yes?” she asked me, and the tone of her voice calmed me down. It was as if she was saying, Brandon, I already know what you want to tell me. Please, just say it.

And I did: “Alright… for the last few months… well, really, for years, I’ve felt… ok, who knows how long? I mean, anyway, it doesn’t matter.” She just nodded and made mm-hmm sounds.

“I’ve been… struggling“—I made sure to use this word, since it implied that I was not fully a homo, but only dealing with the evil temptation—”with… with the idea… with thoughts of…” and the word got trapped in my throat. I couldn’t bring myself to say the word. That word was so powerful and scary.I looked at her as my eyes welled up with tears. And when I saw that her eyes were welling up, too, I realized I was safe and that she could handle my secret.

“Homosexuality!” I blurted. “I’ve been struggling with homosex…” and I broke down. Here I was in the English chair’s office at the world’s most homophobic university, and I’d just admitted to her I was gay.

She got up from her chair, and rushed over to me. I braced myself for the lecture I was going to receive, for the insults she would hurl, for the ridicule I would endure. I knew how Christians were, and how they clung to their beliefs about homosexuals and Sodom and Gomorrah, and how disgusted they were by gay people. The tears fell more freely now because I really liked this teacher, and now I ruined our relationship.

“I love you,” she said. I stopped crying for a second and looked up at her. Here was this conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage woman who taught lectures like “The Biblical Basis for Studying Literature,” and here she was kneeling down on the floor next me, rubbing my back, and going against every stereotype I’d held about Bible-believing, right-leaning, gun-slinging Christians.

When I heard her sniffle, I looked up at her. “It’s going to be ok,” she said. “You’re ok.” She nodded her head, squeezed my shoulder, and repeated, “I love you.”There’s a story in the Gospel of John that I’ve always liked. Some of the Pharisees who have it out for Jesus try to catch him in a trap. They bring to him a woman who was “caught in the act of adultery,” and they ask Jesus what he thinks they should do with her. They tell him that, as any good Jew knows, a woman committing adultery must be put to death, according to the Law that Moses gave them. After a mysterious episode of writing something unknown in the sand, Jesus both agrees and challenges the woman’s accusers. He says, in effect, “Alright, this is what the Law says, and it is very noble of you to want to honor the Law by stoning her. So we will do that. And we will start with the one of us who is blameless and perfect. Who’s first? Pick up your stone.” Apparently, this really aggravated and bested all of the religious accusers because, according to the gospel account, all of them left, leaving Jesus and the woman there alone. It’s at this point Jesus utters one of his more famous sayings. “Neither do I condemn you,” he tells her. “Go, and sin no more.”

The story centers around Jesus’ declaration that he does not condemn this woman. This is something that really resonates with me. Many of the same passages of Scripture that condemn adultery as abominable also condemn homosexuality. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with Torah or the Book of Romans would have to admit that both activities are regarded as sinful. Jesus, a first-century Rabbi, would have also held this belief. And yet, when the abstract sin is given a human face, Jesus responds with acceptance and mercy, proving the truth of Alexander Pope’s adage, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” It’s easy to despise an idea. But give that idea a human body, beat her up, and toss her down on the sand in front of you—do this, and then try to hate her. It’s not that easy.

Before I moved off-campus I lived with the coolest group of guys in perhaps the coolest and most esteemed hall on campus: E-6. When we weren’t jumping off the James River Bridge naked, we were four-wheeling naked. And when we weren’t playing naked “Man Games” on Thursday night (which were a two-hour series of homoerotic slap-and-tickle games), we were sneaking into the East Campus pool after hours… naked. Everyone on campus loved our guys because they were cool; I loved them because they were constantly naked.

One of my favorite stories to tell about my ex-boyfriend, Eddie, is how we met. I was very good friends with the guys in his quad, and they wanted me to move in with them. Eddie’s roommate moved out, and so he had an open bed in his room. My friends went to him and asked if I could move in with him.

“The kid from room C?” Eddie asked. “Isn’t he gay?”

After being convinced by my friends that I was straight, Eddie allowed me to move in. Eddie wasn’t gay, and he still isn’t, but we were together. Shortly after I moved in with Eddie, we started bonding over our mutual annoyance at the bureaucracy that had come to define Liberty University. We would raise questions to each other behind closed doors that we would never have thought to ask in class. Emotional intimacy soon gave way to physical intimacy, and before we knew it we were snuggled together in bed complaining about the Liberty Way. The Liberty Way was our student code of conduct which outlined the rules for everything from our campus dress code (tucked shirts, no jeans, men’s hair kempt above the ears) to our moral code (no mixed sexes in dorms, no massaging the other gender, and absolutely no alcohol, even for the professors). I’ve heard from friends still affiliated with Liberty that the regulations have become very lax on the post-Jerry campus; though, lax to Southern Baptists means open-toed shoes and five o’clock shadows.According to the Liberty Way, homosexual behavior was strictly prohibited, as were all sexual relationships outside of marriage. The consequence of spreading one’s seed wasn’t excommunication, but was of a financial nature: Sex, or any violation of the Liberty Way, earned a student a certain number of demerits. To remain in good academic standing, you had to get these demerits off of your record, and the only way to do that was to pay. When I was there, I think the fine was $10 per demerit on any over four. So the price wasn’t steep. But the real consequence—and the administration knew this—was having to put up with classmates who knew about your transgression. Not that they would judge you (not all of them) but they would pray for you, usually publicly: “I don’t really want to say who and embarrass him, because he’s my roommate and brother in Christ, but please remember him in prayer, because he’s struggling with homosexuality.”

What’s worse is sometimes they would ask if you wanted an accountability partner: “You know, just a brother to meet up with once a week to share your heart with. No judgments. Just love.” But they’d be sure to make it clear what kind of love. “Just a healthy, godly form of brotherly love.” I always took this to mean the not gay kind.There was only one time I was found in major violation of the Liberty Way. There were times I didn’t have my bed made by room check, and so I was given a demerit. There was also that time I got one for rolling up my jeans, and was given a warning for “almost cross-dressing”—I was told my pants looked like capris, which only women could wear. But my major violation was when Eddie and I were found in bed together. We weren’t having sex, we were just lying there together.

“The Dean of Men wants to see you,” I was told by my RA, a guy that I didn’t really care for. When I was moving in to the dorm, he saw my collection of Will & Grace DVDs, then quickly explained to me our three dorm rules: “No pink. No Friends. No Will and Grace.” He then told me about the time he got so disgusted by a showing of Brokeback Mountain that he left. Apparently, he’d had no idea what the movie was really about. Apparently.

“Why does the Dean want to see me?” I asked.

“Well… he just wants to check in with you.” Then he left my room as quickly as he entered. Right away, I texted Eddie to find out where he was.

“Ugh… Dean of Men. WTF?” When I read his text message, I knew we were in trouble.After I came out to Dr. Prior, she told me about her friend from church, Dr. Reeves, who talked to one of her other gay students. She told me he was a counseling professor, and had a clue about life.

“You want him to cure me?” I asked.

“No,” and she rolled her eyes, “just to talk with you. If you even want to talk.”

I definitely did want to talk with someone about being gay. The secret was boring a hole inside me. “Sure,” I told her, with only a hint of hesitation.

My meeting with the Dean of Men was very short. He told me that someone had told my RA that Eddie and I were in bed together in our underwear, and he wanted to know if that was true. When I told him it was, he asked what we were doing. I told him we were sleeping, which led him to ask why we were sleeping in our underwear. I asked him what he slept in, and he blushed and admitted that he also slept in his underwear. I then gave him my lecture on heteronormativity, to which he simply listened and nodded his head in a way that told me he didn’t agree with me but that he heard me. I told him that we as a society were conditioned to believe our categories of sexuality and gender are rigid and absolute; but that we forget how constructed and even arbitrary those categories can be. I went on and on about David and Jonathan, and Naomi and Ruth, and about how some boys really like the color pink and doing laundry. After that awkward mess of three minutes, he asked if he could ask me a question.

“Brandon, is there anything you’re struggling with?””Sure,” I said as nonchalantly as I could, “I’m human. I struggle with all kinds of things.” I was being a smartass, but the worst kind of smartass. I was being a saintly smartass.

“Yes, you’re right,” he chuckled in agreement. “We all fall short of God’s intentions, don’t we?” I said “Amen” or something like that, because I thought it might persuade him to end our little meeting.

“Brandon,” he asked, and focused his eyes intently onto mine. “Have you ever struggled with anything… else?”

“Ok,” I said in a way to let him know I was confiding in him. “For the past few months I’ve been questioning my sexual identity, and I’ve been working through those questions with Dr. Reeves. He’s a professor in the counseling department.”

“Yes,” he said, lighting up. “I know Dr. Reeves, and he’s a great man.” And then he leaned in a little closer to me, and said, “I would just encourage you to keep meeting with Dr. Reeves, and talking with him. And keep asking questions, Brandon. Every question you can think of.”

I told him I would do that, and asked if I could go back to my dorm to work on a huge paper. He agreed that I should attend to my studies, and then stood up to shake my hand, and dismiss me. As I was leaving his office, I texted Eddie and told him I was on my way back to the dorm, and that when I got there we should look into moving off campus. That night, we both posted on Facebook that we were looking for a place to live, and the next day in choir, a cute curly-haired poli-sci major told me that he had two open rooms in his apartment. Of course, we only needed one room, but I didn’t think it was the right time to say that.

“You guys moving out?” Peter asked me one night over video games.

“Yup,” I answered.”Just so you know,” he confessed, “Davis is the one who ratted you guys out.”

“For real?” I asked. Davis was one of our roommates, and one of my closer friends on campus.

“Yeah, he said he was just uncomfortable with you guys sleeping in the same bed naked.”

“We were in our boxers,” I said.

“Still, some people don’t like it. I mean, I don’t mind it cause I’m from Boston. But you gotta respect other people’s feelings. If he don’t like it, he don’t like it.”

“What’s not to like? We’re not a couple!”

Peter laughed. “Ok. Sure…”

“I’m serious,” I said, “Eddie isn’t gay.”

“Nobody’s buying it. You guys are practically married.”

He was right, though—no one believed Eddie and I were just friends. But for some reason, we believed it. Or at least we pretended to. Even though our relationship started out with late-night cuddling and commiserating, it certainly didn’t end there. Before I knew it, we shared our first kiss. Then… well, there were lots of firsts that we shared. But through them all, Eddie remained convinced that he was straight.

I remember four things about Dr. Reeves’ office: his degrees, his coat rack for his cardigan, his books, and a poster that hung on the back of his door which contained the words of Proverbs 20:5—” The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

After spending ten seconds with this guy, I knew I liked him. But what was cooler was I knew he liked me. And that’s why I kept going back to talk to him.

During our first session, he asked me why I wanted to talk with him. “What would you like to get out of our discussions, Brandon?””Well… I’m not sure, really,” I answered.

“OK. That’s fine, too,” he said. “We can just talk.”

“Perfect,” I said. “I love talking.” When he told me he could tell, we both laughed. Nothing about Dr. Reeves was insincere or put-on. He was the most gentle, patient, loving man I’d ever met, and I grew to trust him with the deepest secrets of my heart. He let me say the word “fuck” in front of him. I’ll never forget when he raised an eyebrow about something I’d told him. “Two words for you, Brandon,” he told me. “Bull Shit!” I realized I wouldn’t be able to get anything past this old man.

One of the most emotional conversations I ever had with him began when he uncrossed his legs, put his elbows on his knees, cocked his head to the left, and asked me if I liked myself. Immediately, I started sniffling and rocking back and forth, trying to keep from crying. It didn’t work. I started crying. Sobbing, really. Then Dr. Reeves asked me again, “Do you like yourself, Brandon?”

I wanted to tell him to shut up, to run out of his office, but all I could do was cry and shake. Finally, I managed to answer him, “Yes.”

He didn’t buy it. He exhaled and asked me, as quietly as he could, “Then what are the tears for, Brandon.” He swallowed a lump in his throat, then asked me again, “Why the tears?”

This moment was one of the most painful moments of my life, but also one of the most revealing. I learned that I did not like myself, and that is a tough truth to face.When people find out I underwent therapy at Jerry Falwell’s Christian college, they assume I went through something like gay reparative therapy. But that isn’t what happened. I saw two counselors at Liberty—Dr. Reeves also had me meet with Ryan, one of his grad students, once a week—and neither of them ever expressed an interest in “curing” me. Did they have an agenda? Yes. Their goal, which they were very honest about, was to help me to like myself, and to find peace with the real Brandon. I remember one time telling Dr. Reeves I felt like I was being a different Brandon to each person in my life. Dr. Reeves raised his eyebrows and asked, “Isn’t that exhausting?” Dr. Reeves and Ryan knew I was tired of hiding and lying, and living in fear and subjection to others’ opinions; and so they told me that I should try liking myself because, after all, I was a likable guy and they enjoyed spending time with me.

I ended up sitting under Dr. Reeves and Ryan for three more years. Most gay people couldn’t be paid to attend Christian counseling. But me? Well, those sessions were the highlight of my week. Not only did I get to spill all of my juicy sex gossip (which I always did, usually just to try to gross them out… which never worked!) but I got to talk openly with two men who loved me for no other reason than being Brandon.

I’m still friends with both of my counselors. Just yesterday, Ryan told me that when my partner and I come to visit, we’re always welcome to stay at his house.

Am I trying to convince the world that Liberty is really a gay-affirming school, and that any LGBT student who goes there will have as easy a time as I did? Not at all. For every few really cool students on campus, there’s always that one jerk who regularly posts statuses on Facebook about how great Chick-Fil-A is, and how that Muslim Obama wants to turn everyone into a Sodomite. But that student isn’t the majority at Liberty, and he certainly didn’t feature much into my career there.Well, what about Jerry Falwell himself? After all, he did blame 9/11 on the gays. He did make that remark during service about “even barnyard animals knowing better than that.” He also did make certain to ban Soul Force, a gay-affirming Christian ministry, from stepping foot on our campus.

But what about when he opened the Liberty Godparent Home to take in unwanted children? Or when he hosted a forum on campus about homosexuality, and invited 100 prominent gay leaders to take part in the discussion? Or when he would drive around campus every night at lights-out to blow his horn and wave goodnight to all of us students?

When I think of Jerry Falwell, I don’t think about him the way Bill Maher does. I think about the man who would wear a huge Blue Afro wig to our school games, or the man who slid down a waterslide in his suit, or the man who would allow himself to be mocked during our coffeehouse shows. I think about the man who reminded us every time he addressed our student body that God loved us, that he loved us, and that he was always available if ever we needed him.

I never told Dr. Falwell that I was gay; but I wouldn’t have been afraid of his response. Would he have thought homosexuality was an abomination? Yes. Would he have thought it was God’s intention for me to be straight? Yes. But would he have wanted to stone me? No. And if there were some that would’ve wanted to stone me, I can imagine Jerry Falwell, with his fat smile, telling all of my accusers to go home and pray because they were wicked people.Many of us view the world as an ugly place with a few beautiful redeeming characteristics. Unfortunately, that’s also how we view humans. But what I learned at Liberty was that this idea is the exact opposite of reality: The world and the people in it are really wonderful with just a smidge of ugliness about them. I think the really vocal anti-gay Christians display this smidge, but I also think the really vocal anti-Christian gays display it as well. Not tolerating someone for his narrow-mindedness is perhaps the epitome of intolerance. I learned from my time at Liberty that this bigotry happens on both sides: not only were there some Christians who wanted to stone some gays, but there were even some gays who wanted to stone a few Christians. Just the other day, I saw a man driving a car with two bumper stickers. One was a rainbow. The other showed a picture of a lion, and contained the caption “The Romans had it right.” Just another open-minded gay man, I suppose.

I ended up dropping out of school less than 30 credits shy of my degree for a few different reasons. One major reason was because of the internal conflict that was tearing me into two people: the guy who liked Jesus, and the guy who liked guys. For a long time, I thought these two parts were irreconcilable; and so, unable to process this identity conflict, I withdrew from my classes to try to get my mind around what was going on inside me.

And that’s when I wrote my teachers that very difficult email coming out to them, and explaining that I could no longer sit in their classes because of my… I think I vaguely called them “issues.” I summed up my entire life’s story in eight concise paragraphs, the last of which explained my decision to withdraw from school.Five of my professors emailed me back very encouraging responses. In general, their emails contained their pledges to pray for me, and their favorite Scriptures. Dr. Prior, who knew this was coming, snarkily emailed me back, “I had no idea!” One teacher told me he had a lesbian family member (which is kind of like finding out a coworker is Jewish and then telling her that just the other day you found out there’s a Jew who lives in your building. “As a matter of fact, I think she might live on my floor.”)

I was waiting for only one more response, and then I could go cry myself to sleep. I was just calming myself down when I saw Dr. Borland’s name flash on my phone (I had all my teacher’s numbers programmed in my cell… I was that student). Really? I thought. We really have to talk about this? The ringing stopped and then almost immediately started again. And then again. Dr. Borland decided to call me five times before finally leaving me a very urgent-sounding voicemail asking me to call him right away. Not wanting to seem more cowardly than I already did, I decided it would be best to return his call, which I did the next morning.

“Dr. Borland, this is, uh, it’s Brandon.” And I braced myself.”Brandon, hello. I would like to invite you over my house.”

What’s Greek for “shit?”

“Oh… OK, that would be… nice,” and I tried to imagine what that might be like. A group of ten Religion professors, all in white robes, tying me to a wooden chair in the backyard and carving 666 onto my queer little forehead.

“Great. Then what about tomorrow at 2 pm? Does that work?” he asked. I told him sure. After I’d hung up the phone, I began to cry. This guy was in his 60s, and was one of Jerry Falwell’s close friends. He was a biblical fundamentalist, and a systematic theologian. I was sure he and I had very different ideas about religion. I was also sure he knew a thousand more anti-gay Scriptures than I did, and that he would effortlessly recite them to me in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and Egyptian Hieroglyphics. But in spite of the Bible-KO I knew he’d deal me, I figured going over his house was something I had to do. Not only was it respectful to oblige him, but it was also like an initiation of sorts. I was passing on from a cushy, closeted life at the world’s holiest university to—well, who knew what was next?

About a year after I left school, I sent Dr. Reeves an email update. I told him I was doing well, and that I was planning on finishing my degree. I told him I was taking life one day at a time, but wasn’t really sure what the future would bring. I also apologized that I didn’t have a fairytale ending to share with him about the closure of my bout with homosexuality.

I did, however, thank him. I told him that because of him, I liked myself. His response?” that makes me happy, brandon… I like u 2 🙂 ”

I always grew up hearing God loved me, that God loved everyone, even the really terrible sinners. But I had this idea of love that it’s something you just do because it’s something God just does. In other words, it was a sort of automatic behavior, and God just loved people because he had an obligation to—that was the requirement for being God. That was also the requirement for being Christian: You had to love people, no matter whether or not you liked them. I’ve actually heard some Christian friends say something like, “I mean, OK, I love him because I have to, but I totally do not like him at all!” I’ve never really understood this idea. It just seems like a way to satisfy both divine mandate and personal resentment with slippery semantics.

When I finally came to terms with being gay, I questioned if God loved me. I came to the conclusion that of course God loved me because he was God and he had to, but probably he was disappointed in me, and therefore didn’t really like me.

Eventually, though, I decided that if Jesus met me some time, and if he got to know me, and hear my ideas, and listen to me laugh, then he would like me. What made me come to that conclusion? Meeting people like Dr. Prior and Dr. Reeves. All these people—including Jerry Falwell—helped teach me about Jesus, and I figured that if they liked me, then maybe Jesus might, too. Gandhi once said that he liked Christ, but not Christians because they were so unlike their leader. But the people I met at Liberty… well, Gandhi would have liked them.

My afternoon with Dr. Borland was very enjoyable. He took me on a tour of his house, showed me his enormous collection of antique books, and took me outside to chop some firewood. We had tea together, and discussed some theological concepts from class, like predestination and the difference between eternity and timelessness. When his wife came in, he introduced me to her, and then apologized to me for what he was about to do, which was grab her and kiss her on the mouth for about seven seconds.

When I told Dr. Borland that I had to leave, he got up from his rocking chair and came over to me. We were both standing face to face, and I was now scared shitless. His brow furrowed a little bit, and I assumed he was going to tell me he was disappointed with my decision to drop out and come out.”Well,” he said, and then he thought some more. He took one step closer to me, and cleared his throat before continuing. “I got your email, Brandon.”

He paused again, as he searched my face for who knows what.

He spoke again, this time quieter than before. “I just wanted to let you know that you’re my friend and I love you.” And with that, he nodded his head and then gave me a bear hug, before walking me to the driveway and telling me to make it home safely.

I climbed into my car almost in slow-motion. I was shocked. I was expecting Dr. Borland to act differently towards me. I was expecting him to be… well, a homophobe. But as I put on my seatbelt, I realized that all that time, I was the one who was afraid. Not him. I’d been warned my whole life about homophobia, but no one ever said anything about homophobiaphobia.

I put my car in reverse and backed out of his driveway, still watching as he smiled and waved. I thought about the story of the whore, about her walking away from Jesus. How did the two of them part ways? Did he smile at her? Did she smile back? Or did she possibly distrust his smile and run? If I were her, I would have just stood there speechlessly, staring in astonishment at the empty hands of the bearded Rabbi who’d just gone against an entire religious community and tradition for my sake.

As I pulled out of Dr. Borland’s driveway, I glanced back at him one more time. He was still there waving to me, this time with both hands. And as I made a left onto a winding country road, I looked down at the gravel path under his feet, and saw the only stones that had come my way.

By Brandon Ambrosino and published in The Atlantic on April 4, 2013 and can be found here.

 

 

Title VII Suit Dismissed Under Ministerial Exception

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Moreno v. Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16543 (ED NY, Jan. 20, 2016), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a Title VII action brought by an African-American Episcopal pastor who claimed that his dismissal from his position was the result of racial discrimination.  The court held that the ministerial exception doctrine applied, saying:

The Supreme Court clarified that the purpose of this exception is “not to safeguard a church’s decision to fire a minister only when it is made for a religious reason. The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful — a matter ‘strictly ecclesiastical,’—is the church’s alone.”

 

Major New Research Finds 40% of US Kids Are Poorly Attached–Middle Class Families Included.

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Patheos which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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New study reveals why parenting is THE social justice issue of our time.–

In a study of 14,000 U.S. children, 40 percent lack strong emotional bonds — what psychologists call “secure attachment”

Written by researchers from  Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, the report uses data collected by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001. The researchers also reviewed more than 100 academic studies.

Their analysis shows that about 60 percent of children develop strong attachments to their parents, which are formed through simple actions, such as holding a baby lovingly and responding to the baby’s needs. Such actions support children’s social and emotional development, which, in turn, strengthens their cognitive development, the researchers write. These children are more likely to be resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Additionally, if boys growing up in poverty have strong parental attachments, they are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school.

The approximately 40 percent who lack secure attachments, on the other hand, are more likely to have poorer language and behavior before entering school. This effect continues throughout the children’s lives, and such children are more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training, the researchers write. Among children growing up in poverty, poor parental care and insecure attachment before age four strongly predicted a failure to complete school. Of the 40 percent who lack secure attachments, 25 percent avoid their parents when they are upset (because their parents are ignoring their needs), and 15 percent resist their parents because their parents cause them distress.

Susan Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said insecure attachments emerge when primary caregivers are not “tuned in” to their infant’s social signals, especially their cries of distress during infancy. “When helpless infants learn early that their cries will be responded to, they also learn that their needs will be met, and they are likely to form a secure attachment to their parents,” Campbell said. “However, when caregivers are overwhelmed because of their own difficulties, infants are more likely to learn that the world is not a safe place — leading them to become needy, frustrated, withdrawn or disorganized.  The researchers argue that many parents — including middle-class parents — need more support to provide proper parenting….  READ THE REST HERE.

Detachment is the atomic level of the Culture of Death.  We cluck about the immorality of our culture, about poverty, crime, violence, and porn.  And these are all horrible things.  But we fail to see the foundation for all these social evils that Satan is building right under our feet and in our own homes. It’s easy to fuss about “the media” and “the culture” etc.  But it is hard, genuinely, really, really hard, to go pick up that crying baby when we already feel drained. And yet this the great spiritually transformative work that lies at the heart of The Corporal Works of Mommy and Daddy.

Am I saying that exhausted mothers should torture themselves to meet everybody’s needs all by themselves?  Absolutely not.   Every person needs help and has a right to get whatever help they need to be their best selves.  That should go without saying.

Attachment: The Root of Social Transformation

But every time Satan convinces a mother or father to remain consistently deaf to the cries of their children because it is somehow “bad” or even “unnecessary” or “ridiculous”  to respond to those cries, he is laying the foundation for all these other social evils. As Catholics, if we want to evangelize the culture, if we want to beat poverty, make children resilient against the evils of our fallen world, decrease  the crime rate, drug usage rates,  incidence of promiscuity, and pornography rates,  the single most important things we can do are 1) respond to our babies cries promptly, generously, and consistently, 2) shower our children with extravagant affection, and 3) use gentle guidance approaches to discipline that teach our children how to behavior virtuously instead of simply punishing bad behavior and crossing our fingers that they’ll figure out how to do what’s right on their own through the process of elimination.

Oversimplification?  Survey says…

I realize that this strikes some people as a ridiculous oversimplification.  I remember the editor of the new edition of Beyond the Birds and the Bees saying to me, incredulously, “It’s like you’re saying that the way to make our kids more moral is to hug them more.”  And, although that is a bit of an exaggeration, yes.  That is more or less exactly what I am saying.  Or rather, that is, more or less, what hundreds of studies of tens of thousands of children over the last 60 years are saying.  Over and over and over again.

And why should this come as such a surprise to us?  Our Church tells us over and over–and especially in Pope St John Paul’s theology of the body–that we were created for communion.  The family is the “icon of the Trinity” the most intimate communion that ever existed!  And we are made in the image of that intimate communion. Relationship IS the very essence of our being.  When we try to escape that reality, or ignore it,  limit it,  or tamp it down, bad things happen–to our kids, our families, and our world.  We think that having children need us is somehow crippling.  The exact opposite is true. Creating communion with our children is the most liberating thing we can do both for ourselves and for them.

Want To Change The World?

Are there lots of social ills?  There sure are.  But the cure really is pretty simple.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta put it, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your families.”   It turns out,  there’s a lot of research to support that pithy, but powerfully world-changing, sentiment.

If you want to discover more ways parents can change the world through love, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids and Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 3 Years of Parenthood.

By Dr. Gregory Popcak and published in Patheos on September 15, 2016 and can be found here.

 

 

 

Suit Over Religious Themed Donor Plaque Dismissed After School Removes All Plaques

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

Last year, Michael Lucas, an alumnus of the Colorado School of Mines, filed suit against the school after it rejected the text he chose for a donor plaque. The school’s fundraising campaign for a new Athletic Complex allowed donors to purchase a personalized plate to be placed in the new football locker room. However the school rejected Lucas’ proposed inscription “Colossians 3:23 & Micah 5:9.” (See prior posting.) According to an ADF press release, Lucas yesterday moved to voluntarily dismiss the suit because the school has now removed all donor nameplates from the locker room. In a letter to donors (full text), the school’s President said:

The purpose of the football locker fundraising program … was to solicit donations and honor Mines’ student athletes…. Unfortunately, an individual who participated in this fundraising program mistakenly viewed our new football locker room as a public space for free expression.

The letter invited donors to transfer their gifts to a new program that would replace their old plaque with a new one

You can learn more about this issue here.

Masculinity and Femininity in Christianity

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Art of Manliness which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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Last week we began a series which which is exploring the relationship between masculinity and Christianity — mainly, why it is that the more a man embraces the former, the seemingly less likely he is to adopt the latter.

In our first article, we laid out statistics which show that all around the world, and in almost every Christian church and denomination, women outnumber men. Women are far more likely to be involved in the Christian faith, to participate in church, and to feel that their religion is important to them. In addition, we demonstrated that this disparity is not rooted in the fact that females are simply more religious than males overall, as Christianity is the only major world religion where men are significantly less committed than women.

One of theories as to why this is, is that the gender gap naturally arises from a theology and ethos that was inherently feminine from the start — that the issue is “baked-in,” so to speak. Today we’ll examine the basis of this assumption, as well as how Christianity could be thought of as primarily masculine.

The Code of Manhood & the Femininity of Christianity

As we have documented in numerous articles on AoM, the traits and qualities that are considered “manly” have been consistent for thousands of years, and universal to cultures around the world. While a boy was born a male, he had to earn the title of man, and he did so by proving himself in tests of skill and self-control, developing his autonomy, self-reliance, and toughness, embracing risk, struggle, and conflict, and competing with his peers to earn status. Physical strength was valued, along with other martial virtues like courage; battlefield prowess has always been central to the code of masculinity. Overall, a male had to excel in the “3 P’s of Manhood” — Protection, Provision, and Procreation — in order to be considered a “real man.”

Manhood was never a private affair — a boy was initiated into it by his community and it had to be repeatedly re-proven in the public arena thereafter. A man was thus primarily concerned with his honor — with having a reputation worthy of the respect of his fellow men. To maintain that reputation, if he got pushed, he pushed back.

Finally, a man’s primary identity came from his membership in a tribe, and his primary social unit was the gang — a small, close-knit honor group. Honor groups were exclusive in nature — not every man could belong — and were suffused with an “us vs. them” dynamic. A man’s loyalty was intense — the willingness to sacrifice, to bleed, and even die for one’s people has always been central to the ancient code of masculinity — but such loyalty only extended to a man’s comrades and kin.

It is little wonder then that some have seen the Christian religion as positively antithetical to the central components of traditional masculinity.

From this perspective, Jesus is the paragon of the “soft,” gentle virtues traditionally associated more with women than men, like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, caring, chastity, and humility. This is the Jesus who walks beside you on the beach, and carries you through trials.

Rather than committing violence and seeking to triumph over one’s foes, he asks followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies. Rather than glorying in competition and status, Christians are to beware of pride, to avoid comparing themselves to others, and to seek complete humility.

The body is seen as less important than the soul and earthly status is meaningless in the kingdom of God; worldly success doesn’t make you “better” than other people, as all are alike unto God. Not only will the strong be saved alongside the weak, power and wealth are, if anything, a hindering block to salvation, rather than an advantage. Jesus promised that the meek and poor would be exalted, while the rich and mighty would be brought low.

The Christian way is open to all — it is universal, rather than exclusive. It asks believers to overcome their inherent propensity towards tribalism in order to embrace the brotherhood of man. Strangers are to be loved as much as kin, as much as oneself.

The opinions of others matter little in comparison to the judgment of God. A man’s honor is thus primarily private rather than public in nature; it doesn’t come from the approval of peers, but arises from the possession of inner integrity and a clean conscience.

Finally, Christianity is based on submission — dependence on a martyr king; followers of Jesus must kneel before their savior and rely entirely on his merits to be saved.

An argument can be made for many of the above imperatives constituting the components of human excellence, but it would be difficult to say they’re distinctly related to manly excellence. In fact, one would be hard pressed not to view such tenets as direct contradictions of the ancient code of manhood.

Christianity, seen this way, might make you a good man, but it won’t make you good at being a man.

Christianity as Slave Morality

“The Christian faith is from the beginning a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s for this reason that some philosophers, most notably Friedrich Nietzsche, have dismissed Christianity as a weak, repressive religion, unbecoming of any man who wishes to truly “say yes to life.” While Nietzsche had some respect for Jesus as a unique individual who created his own values, the philosopher derided the fact that he denied reality in favor of looking to a kingdom to come, and went to his death without a fight. And Nietzsche had full contempt for the religion Jesus’ teachings developed into, arguing that Christianity was a faith developed by slaves who begrudged the power of masters.

Nietzsche wanted to resurrect the Homeric values of ancient Greece, and revive an aristocracy where might makes right. Humanity is inherently hierarchical, Nietzsche contended: some people are demonstrably better than others. At the top of the heap were the masters, the noble ones — unabashed egoists who asserted their will on the world and took what they wanted through strength, courage, and excellence. They had a will to power and the desire to rule. Masters loved struggle and risk-taking and approached life with vitality and energy. They heroically strove to be the very best and gloried in their individual successes and the accolades that came their way.

Those at the bottom of the totem pole were slaves — timid and spineless beings who weren’t able to exert their will, and resented those who could. From this resentment of “master morality” was birthed “slave morality” — the underlings’ attempt to turn the code of the powerful on its head. Slaves asserted that the values of the master class were not only offensive to God, but that it was actually more righteous and excellent to be weak, humble, and submissive.

Nietzsche believed that slaves eschewed risk and struggle, and played it small, safe, and mediocre — they didn’t embrace this mortal existence with true vitality and drive, because they were too busy dreaming of their mansions above.

Slave morality, he asserted, was a naked attempt by those who lacked the will to power and the ability to conquer to feel better about themselves and justify their weaknesses as strengths. Their whole identity and worldview was a mere delusion, and a truly pathetic one at that.

The Masculinity of Christianity

The inherent femininity and weakness of Christianity posited by Nietzsche and others has not gone unchallenged. Defenders of the masculinity of Christianity don’t deny that many of the tenets of the Christian gospel are “soft” in nature, but argue that they are joined by an equal, if not greater number, of “hard” virtues and strenuous requirements that align with the code of manhood in many respects. In fact, there are those, like Catholic scholar Leon J. Podles who argue that the way of Christ is primarily masculine in nature — that “Women can participate in this spiritual masculinity, but men could be expected to have a greater natural understanding of the pattern.”

Podles and others say that while the loving, merciful, nurturing, gentle side of Jesus represents one part of his character, he has another, often ignored side — a lion in contrast to the better-known lamb — marked by traits like justice, boldness, power, and self-mastery. This is Jesus the carpenter, the desert camper, the whip-cracker.

The man who said to “judge not” roundly condemned his critics.

The compassionate healer who championed children, cleansed the temple in a righteous rage.

The gentle sage who spoke of lilies and sparrows, rebuked his friend as Satan incarnate, and declared he had not “come to bring peace but a sword.”

The teacher who admonished his followers to “love thy neighbor as thyself” called Gentiles dogs, and at first reserved the teaching of his message for his own people. And while those “others” were eventually able to fully adopt his message, the Christian gospel hardly disavowed its “us vs. them” ethos; Jesus had no problem drawing lines between the sheep and the goats — those who were part of his tribe, and those who had no place in it. All would be welcome, as long as they lived a strenuous code of ethics.

Sharp of tongue, deft in debate, and unafraid of conflict, challenging the status quo, or causing offense, Jesus was anything but safe and predictable. Far from hiding in private solitude, and playing it small, Jesus was a public figure, a revolutionary who rigorously confronted the establishment, and who preached such a confrontational and audacious message that he was ultimately killed for it.

In fact, during his life critics called him a lestes — a word that meant an insurrectionist, rebel, pirate, bandit. Though the label was often associated with violent thievery, Jesus practiced what anthropologists call “social banditry” — groups of men operating on the margins of society who refuse to submit to the control and value system of the ruling elite, and who fight for the justice, independence, and emancipation of the common people. While the existing power structure considers them criminals, the exploited see these outlaws as their champions.

Like all bandits of the time, Jesus hung out with a gang — twelve comrades — and he invited others to share the same risky, subversive, challenging life with him — to become brothers in suffering and the fight against oppression and sin. Taking up one’s cross wasn’t for the faint of heart; physical courage was at times needed, and moral courage was required in spades.

While Jesus went to his death as a martyr, the ethos of laying down one’s life for one’s friends fits with the code of manhood, as does the way he bore that death (and its prior torture) with an ironclad stoicism.

While Jesus does not directly charge his followers with fighting human foes (though there have been those who have found an implicit justification for such in the name of a righteous cause), many of the faith’s adherents have seen the gospel as a call to continue Christ’s cause by engaging in another kind of warfare — one waged on the spiritual plane. The Bible is full of references both to contest — what the ancient Greeks called agon — and to war. Individuals wrestle with God (both metaphorically and literally), and the apostle Paul refers to believers as “athletes” who must “train” their souls and run the race set before them. Believers are to gird themselves about with spiritual “armor,” and wield the “sword of the spirit” in battling unseen forces and directly confronting the conflict between good and evil.

C.S. Lewis thought that Christians should conceive of the world as “enemy-occupied territory,” and of themselves as sort of secret agents. “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

St. Ignatius de Loyola, a Spanish knight who converted after being wounded in a physical battle, founded the Society of Jesus for “whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God” and organized the Jesuits around a martial ethos. Ignatius saw, in the call to the discipleship, something very similar to the summons of an earthly king who is assembling an army for battle, and is looking for those who will be willing to live hard and die hard in service to the mission ahead:

“Whoever wishes to join me in this enterprise must be content with the same food, drink, clothing etc. as mine. So, too, he must work with me by day, and watch with me by night, etc., that as he had a share in the toil with me, afterwards, he may share in the victory with me.”

This kind of battle summons, Ignatius felt, was just like the call of his heavenly king, who extended this herald:

“It is my will to conquer the whole world and all my enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of my Father. Therefore, whoever wishes to join me in this enterprise must be willing to labor with me, that by following me in suffering, he may follow me in glory.”

By, as Podles puts it, embracing “the inner life as a spiritual combat” and submitting to the discipline of the gospel as a soldier submits to the discipline of the military, a follower of Jesus gains greater power, can experience and do more, and attains a greater reward than he could have alone, or by giving free rein to his desires. By following the way of the ascetic warrior, he can become not just a soldier for Christ, but a hero like his king.

The Christian Way as a Hero’s Journey

“I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort, but it does not begin in comfort…In religion as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.” –C.S. Lewis

Part of the case against the effeminate or enslaving nature of Christianity can be made by showing how the religion and the life of its founder overlay with the components of the “hero’s journey.” The hero’s journey refers to a narrative pattern that has underlaid many of the world’s stories, rituals, and myths from ancient times to the present.

Different scholars have lent a different order, and more or fewer steps to the journey, but its three big stages are separation, initiation, and return, and these are some of the basics contained within those stages:

  • Hero receives a call to adventure
  • Leaves his ordinary life
  • Receives supernatural aid
  • Crosses a threshold that separates him from the world he has known
  • Gathers allies for his quest
  • Faces test, trials, and challenges
  • Undergoes an ordeal
  • Dies a physical or spiritual death
  • Undergoes transformation and apotheosis (becoming godlike)
  • Gains a reward or magic elixir
  • Journeys back home
  • Shares the reward and wisdom he’s gained with others
  • Becomes master of the two worlds he’s passed through
  • Gains greater freedom

The pattern of the hero’s journey manifests itself in the rites of passage that tribes around the world used to initiate a young man into manhood: a boy would separate himself from the comfortable world of his mother, gather with male mentors, undergo a painful test of skill and/or toughness, die to his immaturity, rise to his manhood, and return to the tribe both with greater responsibilities — committed to serve and to sacrifice — and with new freedoms.

The story of Jesus also fits the pattern of the hero’s journey. A son descends from heaven, and with the supernatural aid of his heavenly father, becomes a mortal on earth. He gathers allies for his mission, faces tests and trials, undergoes a sacrificial ordeal, dies and resurrects, returns to the earth to announce that the power of sin and death has been conquered, and then ascends back into the heavens.

The journey of Jesus’ followers can be seen to fit this pattern as well. A man receives a call to adventure in becoming a “soldier of Christ,” leaves behind his ordinary life for the path of discipleship, and ventures into an unknown world — discovering another reality and plane of existence he previously did not know existed. He is empowered in his quest both by the brothers he meets along the way, and by the Holy Ghost, a fiery force Podles compares to thumos, and which theologian Rudolf Otto describes as “vitality, passion, emotional temper, will, force, movement, excitement, activity, impetus.” He faces tests and challenges, suffers for and with his Savior, dies to self to live in the spirit, and is progressively transformed. He begins a journey back home, offering the “magic elixir” he now possesses to those he meets along the way, and becoming a savior with a small S onto others. In learning to balance the spiritual and material, and to conquer himself, he becomes master of two worlds, and gains greater freedoms — the freedom from death, and the freedom from slavery to his passions and physical desires. Ultimately, he will make his way to his heavenly home, and receive his final reward — eternal life as a joint-heir of Christ, and in some traditions, like the Eastern Orthodox, even theosis — full union with God. As the second century bishop St. Irenaeus explained: “God became man so that man might become god.”

Podles argues that “For all human beings, life is a struggle, but men know that it is their duty in a special way to be in the thick of that struggle, to confront the hard places in life and strive to know, in the fullest sense, what the mysteries of life and death are all about.” Christianity then, in his view, offers precisely the kind of epic, heroic struggle that appeals to the masculine soul.

Conclusion: Is Christianity a Masculine or Feminine Religion?

So is the Christian religion more feminine or masculine in nature? Is it inherently better suited for men or women? Is it the faith of slaves or masters? Milquetoast or heroic?

Well, that depends on how you look at it, and who you ask.

Clearly, there are two sides to the coin. Indeed, Christianity is like that optical illusion where if you look at it one way, you see a woman, and if you look at it another, you see a lamp.

Its emphasis on kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, and humility represent those traits traditionally associated with femininity.

Its requirements of suffering, sacrifice, self-mastery, conflict, and contest represent those traits traditionally associated with masculinity.

Most Christians would say that setting up a masculine/feminine contrast creates a false dichotomy, and believe that Christ represents the perfect synergy of soft and hard qualities — that in fact this harmonious blend of all that constitutes human excellence is part of what makes him a god worth worshipping.

(As a side note, that the standard of that excellence is too lofty, or goody-goody to be appealing to men can’t be the cause of Christianity’s gender gap, as a religion like Islam shares the same high standards of virtue ethics — including the elephant in the room, the requirement of premarital chastity — but does not evidence the same disparity between men’s and women’s commitment.)

The real question then, is not whether the Christian gospel is inherently more feminine or masculine, but why the former characterization has been privileged over the latter. It’s unarguably true that in congregations, in artwork, in media, in political debates, and in popular culture as a whole, the image of the “softer,” more accepting, more huggable Jesus prevails. There is not much talk either inside or outside the church, of his judgments, or his anger, or the hard, bracing nature of his way. Certainly, it’s rare to hear Christianity referred to as “heroic.”

Hypothetically, this might have been different — the lion thread of Christianity might have been ascendant, or equally yoked with its lamb side. And for a time, it was. To the forces that shifted the narrative of Christianity, creating an ethos which appealed more to women, than to men, is where we will turn next.

By: Brett and Kate McKay and published on August 8, 2016 and can be found here.

Catholic Social Teaching and Conventional Economics

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

Anyone who has spent much time trying to promote Catholic social teaching has probably met with a response something like this. “What you say is very fine and certainly evidence of good will.  But, you see, most of what you are asking for is simply impossible. Society would break down.  For there are economic laws which it is as foolish to try to circumvent as those of gravity.  We certainly ought to try to eliminate poverty and all that.  But this can only be done if we obey the laws of economics.  If you study economics a bit, you’ll soon see why you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

And it is easy to understand why economists or those who have studied economics say this.  For mainstream economics does teach a simple yet powerful approach to all of the multifarious questions arising from man’s relations of producing, buying and selling, lending and borrowing, and so on.  Everyone wants to maximize his welfare, the desire to produce and sell can be matched against the desire to buy and consume since there are market forces which balance these two exactly, and even if they do not always result in what Christians would call justice, to interfere in their workings is to bring about (ultimately) inefficiency, waste and poverty.

According to this conception, then, economic activity works more or less according to a few simple principles, which can be applied over and over again with great sophistication to analyze a wide variety of behavior.  And to try to escape from the inexorable working of these economic principles is to court disaster.  For example, one might think that some workers are underpaid, and that this problem could be easily solved by passing a law requiring that all workers be paid a minimum wage.  But, no, that would result only in more unemployment.  It may be a shame that some get paid so little, but there is nothing that can be directly done about it.  Certainly passing minimum wage laws is the last thing we would want to do.

Economics, therefore, describes what will happen if you do a certain thing.  It is a predictive science, able to tell you that if you do A, B will result.  It is thus reduced to something like mechanics, a sort of mechanics of human behavior.  This approach is well illustrated by Milton Friedman in his famous 1953 essay, “The Methodology of Positive Economics.”

I venture the judgment, however, that currently in the Western world, and especially in the United States, differences about economic policy among disinterested citizens derive predominantly from different predictions about the economic consequences of taking action – differences that in principle can be eliminated by the progress of positive economics – rather than from fundamental differences in basic values…. An obvious and not unimportant example is minimum-wage legislation.  Underneath the welter of arguments offered for and against such legislation there is an underlying consensus on the objective of achieving a “living wage” for all, to use the ambiguous phrase so common in such discussions.  The difference of opinion is largely grounded on an implicit or explicit difference in predictions about the efficacy of this particular means in furthering the agreed-on end.  Proponents believe (predict) that legal minimum wages diminish poverty by raising the wages of those receiving less than the minimum wage as well as of some receiving more than the minimum wage without any counterbalancing increase in the number of people entirely unemployed or employed less advantageously than they otherwise would be.  Opponents believe (predict) that legal minimum wages increase poverty by increasing the number of people who are unemployed or employed less advantageously and that this more than offsets any favorable effect on the wages of those who remain employed.

According to this conception of economics, economists must chiefly engage in manipulating graphs, mathematical formulas and the like to predict the results of actions.  Things either happen or they do not. Though it may be more difficult to discover what will happen because of the multiplicity of variables, in principle there is no more room for discussion then if it were a matter of asking what happens when we drop a ball of a certain height and weight or project something with a certain force against some obstacle.

Friedman’s discussion of the minimum wage that I just cited is a good entry point to begin to unravel such economic dogmas.  It is easy to understand the logic behind Friedman’s argument.  Like most arguments in the economic tradition descending from Adam Smith, the notion that “minimum wages increase poverty by increasing the number of people who are unemployed or employed less advantageously” by increasing employers’ costs has an obvious plausibility.  But yet one may question it on several grounds.  Aside from the fact that there is little recognition here that in something as complicated as human affairs it is unlikely that one can pronounce once and for all about something such as the minimum wage, more importantly there is an assumption of a certain legal structure which is simply accepted as given.  For whatever side of this question mainstream “positive economics” may eventually take, such a judgment presupposes a specific legal and social framework.  The distribution of income and economic power that mainstream economics apparently accepts as a given depends more on human law and custom than on any immutable laws of economics.  What I mean can be illustrated by the well-known story of the Antigonish cooperatives in Nova Scotia in the 1930s, as recounted in B. B. Fowler’s 1947 book, The Co-operative Challenge.

But the most forlorn picture lay in northeastern Nova Scotia and the island of Cape Breton.  Along the coast lived the fishermen.  Their catch of fish and lobsters was handled by local dealers who in many cases kept the fishermen in a state of peonage.  While Maine fishermen were getting about fifteen cents a pound for lobsters, the Nova Scotian fishermen were receiving as little as two cents a pound.  All other prices were scaled down in the same ratio.  For everything they bought, however, from their scanty food purchases to nets and lines, they paid top prices, with the result that they were invariably bowed down with a load of debts.  Appalling poverty, illiteracy, poor health and the worst possible housing conditions existed throughout this section.

After priests from St. Francis Xavier College had begun to educate the fishermen and others in the philosophy of cooperatives, a

few lobster fishermen got together and made up a crate of lobsters which they shipped express to a commission agent in Boston.  When the mail brought a check the group sat around, afraid to open it.  So much depended upon that check; upon its size rested their hopes for better prices and better living. Probably there had never been a more momentous moment in all their lives than that moment when one of the boys finally opened the envelope and took out the check.  After all shipping charges and commissions had been paid, there remained fifteen cents a pound for their shipment.

The point of this story is that the distribution of income follows the distribution of economic power, which in turn depends in large part upon the legal and social structure.  Doubtless one could have found economists who would have said that the penury of the fishermen while they were at the mercy of the middlemen of their province simply reflected the inevitable laws of economics and that the price they received for their lobsters faithfully reflected the economic contribution they made and therefore the two cents per pound was simply the equilibrium toward which they were forced as if “by an invisible hand.”  But this obviously was not the case.  Rather, it faithfully reflected certain economic and legal arrangements and structures, which, as it turns out, could be changed.

This same argument can be made about the question of minimum wages.  As long as the employer/employee relationship, the essential note of capitalism,[1] is the common method by which labor is engaged, then the desire of employers to reduce costs can and probably sometimes will conflict with their ability to hire more workers at a statutory minimum wage.  But this reflects not unchanging laws of economics drawn from the nature of reality or human society, but rather certain legal, social and cultural arrangements which are by no means immutable.

The unequal power of employer and employees, especially of unorganized employees, our societal ideals which deny that there is any just or reasonable amount of profits with which an employer or firm should be satisfied, our general incorporation and limited liability laws – all these create a situation where Friedman’s dilemma, or rather the dilemma he sets up for society, has some plausibility.  But how if some or all of these legal and cultural norms were changed?  How if, as in the case of the Antigonish fishermen, the framework in which these economic transactions occur were changed?  For example, how if employees themselves became owners, as so often recommended by the Popes?[2]

These types of considerations should lead us to see that perhaps the framework that conventional economics presupposes is not the only possible framework.  That is, with a different legal system, different cultural and societal norms, different personal goals and expectations, many of the so-called laws of economics would appear not as universal laws of human behavior, but as limited by place and time, as taking for granted certain institutions, incentives and motives which are far from being universal principles of human society or action.

My thesis is that Catholic social principles will often seem at odds with economic facts as long as we accept mainstream neoclassical economics as descriptive of how the world actually operates.  But as soon as we begin to question orthodox economics, then all this can be looked at in a new light.  And there are in fact many reasons to suppose that orthodox economics is not descriptive of how the real world operates.  Let us look at a few more examples.

The notion that economics can be based on market forces, such as a more or less constant tendency toward equilibrium, etc. seems to depend on the prior notion that people are motivated primarily by economic motives, that is, by the desire to buy cheap and sell dear, to increase their material wealth as much as possible.  But it seems to me that history, as well as our own experience, tells us that reality is much more complex.  Often people or firms do not strive to maximize their profits or income, as even such conventional economists as Laurence Miners and Kathryn Nantz, associates of the late Paul Samuelson in preparing introductory economics texts, admitted in their 2001 Study Guide to accompany Samuelson’s textbook.  Sometimes this is because it is too irksome to do so, other times because people prefer leisure to increased wealth and are content with simply a sufficiency.  Sometimes habit and custom dictate a standard with which people are satisfied. They may shop in the same store even though it is more expensive because they are accustomed to do so.  To say, as Samuelson might, that this is an example of imperfect competition because the two stores differ in some way, is to try to prove too much, because then everything becomes a matter of economics.  Certainly people are always motivated by a desire for their happiness, but to say that this human striving for happiness is always an example of economic behavior and ought to be analyzed according to economic criteria, would be to make economics, rather than ethics, the architectonic science of human behavior.

One example of the way that habit often makes us satisfied with customary gain is mentioned by Max Weber in his classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Until about the middle of the past [i.e. nineteenth] century, the life of a putter-out was, at least in many of the branches of the Continental textile industry, what we should to-day consider very comfortable.  We may imagine its routine somewhat as follows:  The peasants came with their cloth, often…principally or entirely made from raw material which the peasant himself had produced, to the town in which the putter-out lived, and after a careful, often official, appraisal of the quality, received the customary price for it. The putter-out’s customers, for markets any appreciable distance away, were middlemen, who also came to him, generally not yet following samples, but seeking traditional qualities, and bought from his warehouse, or, long before delivery, placed orders which were probably in turn passed on to the peasants.  Personal canvassing of customers took place, if at all, only at long intervals.  Otherwise correspondence sufficed, though the sending of samples slowly gained ground. The number of business hours was very moderate, perhaps five to six a day, sometimes considerably less; in the rush season, where there was one, more.  Earnings were moderate; enough to lead a respectable life and in good times to put away a little.  On the whole, relations among competitors were relatively good, with a large degree of agreement on the fundamentals of business.  A long daily visit to the tavern, with often plenty to drink, and a congenial circle of friends, made life comfortable and leisurely.

It would seem that the constant desire to maximize income or output simply does not exist without a cultural imperative to that effect.

Another area in which we may question the descriptive nature of conventional economics concerns the role of market forces in allocating income.  The allocation of economic rewards does not always come about because of market forces, rather, whoever holds economic power generally receives more economic rewards, as in the conspicuous example of CEO compensation.  The remarkable fact about CEO compensation in the United States in recent years is that certain CEOs have received large compensation packages even though the companies they headed were losing money or going into bankruptcy.  Why then did they receive these salaries and benefits?  Because of market forces?  Hardly.  It was because they were able to appoint their cronies to the compensation committees of their boards of directors.  Their salaries and other compensation were almost entirely insulated from the market forces of supply and demand for executives.  Let us look at a few specifics.

As described in The Washington Post, April 22, 2003, while Apple Computer’s “shareholders’ return declined by 34 percent” CEO Steve Jobs received $78 million, and while Lucent’s “shareholder return declined by more than 75 percent” Pat Russo received $38 million (Carlson 2003:C1).  Even more striking is the case of Disney’s Michael Eisner.  Eisner, “after he failed to clear his bonus hurdle two years running, his board lowered the performance bar, and then…he finally cleared it.  An Olympian effort worth $5 million”

An April 2003 article in Fortune magazine explained another method by which much CEO compensation is hidden from shareholders, the legal owners of the corporation.  Delta Air Line’s CEO, Lee Mullin, after the company lost $1.3 billion and laid off thousands of workers, in response to criticism, grandly announced that he was going to give up 25% of his salary and other compensation.  But what he did not mention was his pension plan.

You see, Mullin has been employed by the airline for only five years and eight months.  But a special pension plan that Delta’s board created for top executives has credited him…with another 22 years of service.  Thanks to those phantom years, the 60-year-old CEO could walk away from the airline today and be entitled to receive a payout of about $ 1 million a year, starting at age 65, for the rest of his life.  And if the airline goes bankrupt, no problem:  Special Delta-funded trusts protect the pensions of Mullin and 32 fellow executives from creditors.

(This by the way while Delta’s workers’ pensions were being cut.) This same article details many more examples of CEO’s receiving exorbitant pensions while their companies went bankrupt, lost stockholder value or cut workers’ pensions.  And the article goes on to ask the reasonable question:

So why, you may wonder, aren’t investors up in arms over these jaw-dropping retirement giveaways?  The answer is that hardly anybody knows about them.  The complex details surrounding executive pensions are typically buried deep within a company’s SEC filings, far removed from the salaries, bonuses, and stock options that dominate the headlines.

Both the example of Disney’s Michael Eisner, whose board kindly made it easier for him to get (I will not say “earn”) an extra $5 million, and the fact that boards hide the details of CEO retirement so that shareholders will have trouble finding out about them, illustrate my point:  Market forces are not the only or even the most powerful forces operating in the economy, and moreover market forces always work within a legal, socio-cultural and technological framework.  It is a CEO’s cronies on the compensation committee of the board of directors that determine his compensation, not impersonal market forces.  If we changed the law so that CEO salaries were decided by a free vote of the stockholders, not many of them would get these huge salaries and retirement packages, especially when their companies were failing and stockholders were losing the value of their investments.

This principle of the importance of non-market factors is true throughout the economy.  Without labor unions workers received low pay and had poor working conditions and benefits.  Unions helped them to achieve gains in all these areas.  This was because it helped to give the workers power to offset that of their bosses, not because the law of supply and demand had been changed.

All of these instances of economic behavior presuppose certain norms, generally both cultural and legal.  Without limited liability laws, for example, corporations could not exist, at least in their present form.  Without patent, trademark and copyright laws, the provision of inventions and other kinds of intellectual property would doubtless be very different.  Moreover, the kind and degree of taxation, technology, the physical infrastructure – all these affect to a great degree the workings of the economy.

Markets and market forces, then, are always embedded in social, legal and cultural systems.  Economic forces, such as the equilibrium of supply and demand, are certainly real, but seldom if ever the most important forces operating in an economy.  Thus the objection to Catholic social teaching based on the notion that it violates the assured findings of economic science is not valid.  Rather, economic outcomes depend on power, cultural and legal institutions, and other factors.  Since laws and institutions can be changed, there is in fact ample room in economics for a consideration of ethics.  Thus those who seek to promote Catholic social doctrine should acquaint themselves with those economic schools, chiefly the German historical school and the institutionalists, whose conception of the economy recognizes that it does not operate like clockwork, but is chiefly determined by who holds economic power, which in turn is chiefly determined by law and custom.  Clarence Ayres wrote with regard to institutionalism in a discussion in 1957 in The American Economic Review:

…the object of dissent is the conception of the market as the guiding mechanism of the economy or, more broadly, the conception of the economy as organized and guided by the market.  It simply is not true that scarce resources are allocated among alternative uses by the market.  The real determinant of whatever allocation occurs in any society is the organizational structure of that society – in short, its institutions.  At most, the market only gives effect to prevailing institutions.  By focusing attention on the market mechanism, economists have ignored the real allocational mechanism.

As soon as one considers this, its truth should be obvious:  the human desire for happiness certainly very often includes the desire to maximize material gain and minimize loss, but this desire is channeled through existing customs and institutions, and to a great extent even shaped by them.  So that a conception of “economic man” which isolates him and posits certain things about him which are then universalized, is erroneous.

Similar criticisms were made by the German historical school.  As described in the well-known reference source, The New Palgrave: a Dictionary of Economics, this school of thought faulted the

classical school’s deductive method…as being too abstract [and] puts the emphasis on the inductive method.  Historians point out that economic development is unique, so there can be no `natural laws’ in economics…. Instead of searching for generally applicable laws, the historical school therefore tried to describe the particulars of each era, society and economy.

Since the human institutions within which economic activity occur undoubtedly vary widely over time and place, and to some extent, even the human desire for gain takes on different forms according to custom, it would seem rational to include such historical factors in economic analysis, and further, that any economic analysis that omits or downplays them is not dealing with the real world.  Conventional neo-classical economics, however, largely does just that.  If its defenders regard it as the only acceptable scientific form of economics, we must point out to them that any economic science that strives more for mathematical precision and consistency than conformity with the real world has deeply misunderstood its task. Thus there is a simple way out of the intellectual trap that is set for Catholic social teaching.  We do not have to abandon our intellectual rigor or scientific orientation.  Rather we can retort that it is our critics who are unscientific.  But above all we should begin to bring the insights of heterodox economics into the debates over social doctrine.  Without them, the critics of Catholic social teaching will always claim that they alone understand economics.  For to attempt to defend Catholic social teaching while explicitly or implicitly accepting conventional neo-classical economics is not only to allow one’s adversaries to set the terms of the debate, but it is to adhere to an economic methodology which distorts facts and attempts to compress reality into a straitjacket.

Notes:

[1] This way of characterizing capitalism comes from the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931).  Pius speaks of “that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production” (no. 100, Paulist translation).

[2] Those papal documents which recommend widespread property ownership include Rerum Novarum, nos. 4, 10, 26, 35; Quadragesimo Anno, nos. 59-62, 65; Mater et Magistra, nos. 85-89, 91-93, 111-115; Laborem Exercens, no. 14. ”

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I May Have Found My New Political Party: The American Solidarity Party

Coming from a family of union tradesmen, I have always identified with and, when I got old enough, registered as, a Democrat.  Since high school, or maybe even middle school, I looked at President Harry Truman as someone who closely embodies my views toward politics and policy.  Despite being “socially conservative” (e.g.: pro-life and against the recent the recent social engineering of family, sexuality, and gender) I, for a variety of reasons, have never, and possibly could never, identify as a Republican.

Although I have identified as a Democrat for virtually my entire politically aware life, the party has, over the past 15 years or so, slowly moved away from where I am and where it has been historically.  Instead of advancing traditionally democratic principles, it has gone on to embrace a post-modern “progressive” worldview, become obsessed with identity politics and so-called “social justice warriors,” and abandoned its historic focus, even to the point of courting “Wall Street.”  Indeed, just this week, the official Chair of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez, in an apparently aggressive attempt to narrow the democratic tent, made the bold and unprecedented statement that pro-life people have no place in the party and ought to leave it (see here).

As I am, apparently, no longer welcome in the party in which I have been registered for twenty-two years now, I have been thinking about alternatives and, suddenly and perhaps providentially, someone, without any provocation from me, introduced me to the American Solidarity Party (see here).

I took at look at its platform (see here) and some questions are answered here.  This party seems to lineup almost where I am politically.  I need to look into it more and do a little more investigation, but this party seems to be where the future of my political support will go.  As a practical matter, I live in Philadelphia, and, as the city is overwhelmingly Democratic (currently about 80%), the meaningful election votes are in the primaries as opposed to the general elections.  As a result, as long as I live in the City, I likely would not change my registration no matter how I personally identified as it would take away my vote in the meaningful City elections, yet this party may be my political focus otherwise in the coming years.

Tennessee Appeals Court Invokes Ecclesiastical Abstention In Church Property Dispute

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Church of God In Christ, Inc. v. L.M. Haley Ministries, Inc., (TN App, Jan. 27, 2016), a Tennessee state appeals court in a 2-1 decision held that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prevents civil courts from adjudicating a dispute between a local congregation and its parent body over ownership of assets– including real property and a bank account with a balance of over $150,000.  Sometime after Gospel Center Temple’s founding pastor died, the Jurisdictional Bishop for the Tennessee area of the Church of God In Christ (“COGIC”), David Hall, invoked a provision in COGIC’s Official Manual that vacancies in the pastorate of local churches would be filled by the Jurisdictional Bishop until a new pastor was appointed. When Hall attempted to actively manage the local church and transfer its bank account into his name, some members of the local church threatened him and prevented him from getting access to the church’s liquid assets. The local members also formed a new corporation to take title to the church’s real estate, and voted to remove themselves from Bishop Hall’s jurisdiction. However they remained member of COGIC. This led to a suit by COGIC. The majority rejected jurisdiction, saying that it could not adjudicate the real property dispute as long as the congregation had not withdrawn from the parent body.  And as to the dispute over the church’s bank account, the majority said in part:

Bishop Hall’s alleged authority regarding Gospel Center Church’s personal property, including its bank accounts, derives from Bishop Hall’s alleged place as the lawful leader of the church. This Court, however, has no subject matter jurisdiction to declare that Bishop Hall is the lawful leader of Gospel Center Church….

Judge Goldin filed a dissenting opinion.

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