Just Keep Swimming. ..


It’s official:  America has elected the most unqualified, racist,  sexist demagogue in recent memory. 

White supremacy reigned last night, add the man with the KKK endorsement took the Presidency. 

So what do we do? 

Don’t panic (I’m working on that one myself). There are chances every day to build back the bridges Trump’s supporters are trying to burn,  to make this a country for all of us, not just straight white Protestant males and their wives.

In the words of Dory, “Just Keep swimming.”

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Theory Thursday: Moral Foundations

I’ve been reading and thinking about moral foundation theory, and it’s really been eye-opening. It helps to explain and understand the reasons people hold different political and social positions and beliefs.

I’ll be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but I thought I’d start with an overview.

The five primary moral foundations are

  1. Care (vs. Harm)
  2. Fairness/Reciprocity
  3. Authority
  4. In-Group Loyalty
  5. Purity

Typically, Liberals and Progressives focus on the first two. Conservatives favor all five, typically putting that last three (Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity) above the first two (Care/Harm and Fairness/Reciprocity).

There’s a sixth one, Liberty, that is gaining traction. Libertarians value that above all others, though everyone values it to some degree.

Caring about Care/Harm and Fairness is obvious – we don’t want people to be hurt. We don’t want people to be cheated. And every side of the political fence cares about these two.

But why care about the other three? Order tends to decay unless effort is put into maintaining it. Just like houses and engines and our bodies. In times of chaos, everybody gets hurt. Thus, it makes sense to put some effort into maintaining order. Thus, Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity.

Why do progressives reject these, then?

Because Authority is power. Not only does it corrupt, but it is sought by the most corrupt. Accepting authority with little or no questioning means signing your name to all its abuses. Voting to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 meant giving your sanction to Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and the Patriot Act. Voting to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012 meant giving your tacit approval to his ongoing an unaccountable uses of drone strikes on civilians in countries we weren’t even at war with, like Pakistan.

Because In-Group Loyalty inherently leads to the marginalization (or worse) of those who do not fit into the group, and the destruction of those who threaten the group. I suffered through enough bullying in K12 to never trust a clique, team, or identity fully, and what I went through was nothing compared to what some of my LGBT+ friends experienced. Nothing at all. This sort of mindset leads to people cheering and dancing in the street when a terrorist leader is killed. This sort of mindset leads to people covering for their fellow cops when an unarmed 12 year old is killed. This mindset is at the heart of racism and homophobia.

Because Purity usually means men controlling women’s lives and sexuality, blaming them for our lusts and our bad actions. Jesus said “if your eye offends you, pluck it out,” not “if your eye offends you, tell whoever you’re leering at to wear thicker clothes.” Purity drives male domination of women across the world.

There are benefits to the moral foundations of Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity, but progressives look at the harm that has been done in their name to ethnic minorities, to women, to gender and sexual minorities, and the harm that is still being done, and figure we’d all be better off sticking to Care and Fairness.

But the question comes about: how do we then create a stable society, especially during a crisis?

It’s no wonder that progressive movements tend to have their greatest gains not during times of crisis, but during times of stability. This is especially true during times when the prosperity is not shared anywhere close to equally between groups: the Gilded Age, the Post WW2-Boom, the last thirty years. During times of crisis (WW2, immediately post-9/11/01) people take a more conservative (or even hardline) turn. This ebb and flow may be a natural part of society’s life cycle, but it’s important to keep an eye on it, to prevent it from giving rise to a violent mass movement (like the Nazis, Al Queda, or the Islamic State).

To learn more about Moral Foundation Theory:

Moral Foundations website

Moral Foundations on Wikipedia

Moral Foundations and Political Backgrounds Quizzes

Here is Johnathan Haidt’s TED talk about Moral Foundations in Politics.

 

 

 

First Sin: Worshiping Rome (Repenting in Sackcloth and Ashes Part 2)

Roman logo: SPQR

Lord, I come before you now to repent of the sins I have participated in, specifically the corporate sins of American Evangelicalism. Forgive us, for we have desecrated your name in the eyes of the world. Forgive us, for we have made a mockery of your salvation.

Those outside our faith say we are immoral, and, Lord forgive us, they are often right.

Today, I repent of worshiping Rome. Not the Rome of the Catholic Church, but the new, democratic Rome of America.

I repent of tying myself so closely to today’s political parties that I put my hope in Washington D.C.

I repent of  ignoring terrible injustices, even atrocities (torture, willful killing of civilians) and voting for “God’s chosen party” anyway.  That I let myself by infiltrated by the world’s “the ends justifies the means” mentality, and became little more than a lapdog for opportunistic, pandering power-mongers.

I repent of internalizing corporate-sponsored attitudes toward the poor. I hear Christians talk contemptuously about “welfare queens” and people who are “too lazy to work,” and I know this is an insult to You, oh God. Yet I have to admit that I have said the same words.

I repent of letting pro-life lip-service suffice. The nations with the lowest abortion rates in the world are those in Western Europe, where a social safety net shelters pregnant women from the fear of not being able to raise the child. Is it really pro-life to say “outlaw abortion,” in one breath and “cut welfare” in the next?

I repent of all past militarism. I gave my support to the Iraq war, despite being advised to caution and discernment by a very wise WWII veteran. I know first hand from my own past cowardly stupidity that it’s very easy to be gung-ho for war when you know you’re not going to have to go and fight. I repent of being generous with the blood of my countrymen, and stingy with my own.

But most of all, I repent of confusing America (a country I love) with Christianity. America is a great country. I still believe that. I think I will always believe that. But it is not God’s Chosen Nation. Americans are not God’s Chosen People. America is not The City on the Hill. And I repent of ever letting that creep into my subconscious.

I repent of all these things in myself, and for those things done in my name by religious organizations I have been affiliated with. I bear blame for both, directly and by association.

Words for the Sandy Hook Massacre

Grieving angel statue

Angel of Grief by Timothy Valentine, Creative Commons

Yesterday I wrote that I had no words, only prayers and mourning for the victims of the shooting in Colorado.

That wasn’t entirely true. As I watched my Twitter feed scroll by, as I browsed through Facebook, as I read comments at blog posts like this one (Rachel Held Evans’ painful yet beautiful post about grieving together), I found that I had many, many words.

Sterile, unhelpful words about the effectiveness of various gun control measures and the appropriateness of bringing politics up so soon.

Resentful, self-righteous words about the massive outpouring of public grief at the death of 20 American children and the collective silence and apathy over the death of 170 Pakistani and Yemeni children at the hands of our Predator drones.

Suspicious, disbelieving words about the President being overcome by emotion at the death of children, despite his culpability in the drone strikes.

Cynical, jaded words speculating as to just what rhetorical use politicians, preachers, and media personalities will put this to.

None of these words is worthy. None of these words is righteous. These words must not be said, must not be written, while the blood is still fresh, the wounds are still raw, and the bulk of the details are still unknown.

And being right is never an excuse for using someone else’s tragedy as a soapbox. They did not live and die so you or I could hammer our righteous talking points home.  The killer already mortally assaulted their humanity. We should not further degrade it.

And so I urge you to cast aside these words, or at least defer them. Take time to respect and share in the victims’ grief. Compassionately suffer with them.

If you can, imagine the inner torment of the killer. Consider what forces, psychological or spiritual, may have driven him to such violent, murderous madness.

Listen, and experience the sorrow. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. And forgive those who fail to do the same. Please forgive me if I fail.

And pray, please pray.

Powers and Principalities

Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun by William Blake

Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun by William Blake

I’ve been reading Tony Campolo and Brian McLauren’s Adventures in Missing the Point, and a line from Campolo’s part of chapter one really got my attention:

“The Bible makes it clear that he [Satan] is a seductive beast that raises havok in our personal lives as well as being incarnated in the principalities and powers (i.e., the political and economic systems, the educational and familial systems, and the media), with which we must wrestle every day.” (Emphasis added).

Campolo is referencing Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (NASB)

And that hit me like a rocket. You see, I’ve been forcibly denying the degree of unhealth and corruption inherent in our systems for a long time. Mostly because I didn’t want to give in to cynicism and despair.

But the problem is, these systems are far too big for any one person to change … even the President of the United States. These systems, however well-meant they were in the beginning, have become instruments for the powerful to consolidate, protect, and expand their power and privilege.

Government “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” (thanks, President Lincoln) can bail out the banks and corporations that created this mess, sure. But bail out a family that lost their jobs, and is in danger of losing their home? We don’t have enough money for that.

Education can provide six-figure salaries (in Mississippi, that’s a lot of money) for superintendents and consultants, but the kids and the teachers? Expendable. We’ve got test scores to game.

Soldiers struggle to support their families, but big defense contractors get $154 million per jet fighter, plus tens of billions for research.  Taxi cab drivers in New York work long hours, but can’t afford a half-million dollar license to go into business for themselves. Why is the license so expensive? It benefits the powerful.

I could go on, but I’d only get angry. You see, it’s not the people that are the problem, per se. It’s the systems. The labyrinths of written and unwritten rules that govern their interactions. It’s invisible, and bigger than any one of us.

But this passage, and Campolo’s response to it, got me thinking. There are plenty of pieces of the puzzle that are small enough for one person, or one congregation, to affect.

Financially, I can make a difference, especially in the lives of people in lesser developed nations, where even $25 goes a long way.

Physically, I can volunteer. I can get my hands dirty in my local community.

Socially, I can talk to people and try to find ways to help.

Authorially, I can write here, journaling my own efforts and drawing attention to other worthy causes.

Spiritually, I can pray, I can study, and I can step out bravely in faith. And given my default level of social anxiety, there’s going to have to be a lot of stepping out in faith if I’m going to do anything at all.

The greater structures, the systems, the powers and principalities are beyond our reach, true. But there is a lot within our reach, a lot that can be done to create a more just and merciful world.

We just have to have the guts to do it.

We Will Get Fooled Again

Every election cycle, complaints rise about how divided America is. Many bemoan the incivility (which is a problem), others, like Matthew Yglesias, argue that division is a sign of a healthy democracy.  I think I’d feel better about our democracy’s ‘health’ if the divisions were actually real.

Four years ago, my conservative friends and family were beyond worried what would happen if Obama were elected. The pundit-verse was alive with conspiracies, Jeremiads, and dire warnings of socialism, a dismantled military, and persecution of all Christians. A guy with a chalkboard explained how it all traced back to George Soros and Josef Stalin. Clearly, the sky did not fall.  Sure, the economy crashed, but it did its face plant in late 2008, before Obama was even sworn in.

This year, my liberal friends were having similar concerns about Romney. If he was elected, he’d find a way to outlaw contraception, set feminism back 50 years, invade Iran, barbecue the poor and feed them to the rich (ok, maybe they meant that one metaphorically).

We’ll never find out whether Mitt Romney was secretly a misogynist christofascist theocrat or just a big-money businessman who thought he could run his campaign the way he ran his businesses. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

The truth is, Obama’s first term has largely been George W. Bush’s third term. The “indefinite detention without trial” prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open. Granted, he’s stopped waterboarding prisoners, but our Nobel Peace Prize-winning President has replaced that practice with constant drone strikes with massive civilian casualties, and without any outside oversight as to his kill list (ahem, “disposition matrix”).

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is congruous with Bush’s new prescription drug benefit for seniors (way to court the AARP vote, there W. And it only cost $400 billion a year). Oh, yeah, and Obamacare was written by Mitt Romney, before he ran for president and had to pretend it was unconstitutional and evil.

Both Bush and Obama are both are military interventionists (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya). Both are corporate-approved. Both signed massive bailouts to big banks and corporations. Both have done almost nothing about immigration, abortion, or gun control.

Obama has distinguished himself in two areas, however. He’s deported more people than Bush, and he’s done far more raids against medical marijuana growers in California. The nerve of that dirty hippie socialist, deporting illegal immigrants and raiding pot-smoking cancer patients!

Seriously, we will survive. We survived eight years of Bush. Okay, twelve, really. We’ll survive four more. And, if things go as they have been, we’ll survive eight more, probably from a Republican (your turn!) but possibly from “the other” Clinton (tag team!).

Move to Canada if you want, but don’t think you have any real reason to go (except for Vancouver’s Richmond Night Markets. Those are fabulous).

Nothing’s really changed that much, nor will it change anytime soon. As The Who said … “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” But Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey had one thing wrong: We Will Get Fooled Again. And that’s okay.

It’s not like our Hope is in Washington D.C., anyway.

Are Pacifists Cowards?

White Flag. Photo by Jan Jacobsen, Creative Commons

White Flag. Photo by Jan Jacobsen, Creative Commons

One argument I’ve heard against pacifism (or total nonviolence) is that it is a disguise for cowardice. And maybe there was a time when this was true.

Maybe, in World War I or World War II, there were people who claimed conscientious objector status on the basis of pacifism who really weren’t opposed to war, but didn’t want to fight. After all, those wars involved widespread conscription, and people tried a lot of things to avoid the draft.

I’ve got two responses to that argument. The first is that you can’t rightly judge actual pacifists by those who claim pacifism just because they’re scared. This should be obvious.

More importantly, we aren’t in World War II anymore.  Nobody is being drafted into the U.S. Military to go and fight the Taliban. In fact, we’re in process of transitioning from our all-volunteer, professional military fighting a war to unmanned drones targeting “militants” via a Presidential kill list.  Nobody’s claiming pacifism to avoid going to war.

I would argue that right now, in America, it takes more courage to be a pacifist than to not be.  Patriotism is a cardinal virtue here in America, and it seems that patriotism almost always gets wrapped up in militarism.

To support America is to support our troops. To support our troops is to support whatever war congress and the President have sent them to. And to support whatever multibillion dollar weapons system congress is trying to fund this week.  If you don’t support the “$154 million dollar per plane” F-35 jet fighter program, you don’t really love America.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Jet Fighter - for $154 million, it should turn into a robot

Never mind whether it’s true or not. Never mind whether our troops might be better supported and loved by being judicious and critical about sending them off to die. Never mind that the Joint Chiefs don’t even want all the weapons systems congress is throwing at them (or rather, at their friends in the defense industry).

It doesn’t matter if it’s true. This is our narrative. Our politicians may squabble over the details, but precious few want to change the basic storyline. It’s not just embraced by the secular culture, but by the majority of Christians. I’ve even heard it preached from the pulpit.

Pacifism flies in the face of this narrative.

Pacifism says “America is not Jerusalem, and it’s certainly not the City of God.”

Pacifists call us to awareness of the dangers of America, how it can easily become Rome, crushing all those who get in its path, abusing its own people, even while proclaiming the great rights granted to it “citizens”.

Pacifists say things the wider culture, including American Christians, don’t want to hear.

That’s not cowardly. Far from it.