The Privileged Cruelty of Religious Right Sex Rules

caption not required
caption not required

Source:valerietarico.com

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

Sexual intimacy and pleasure are some of humanity’s most cherished experiences. The so-called “best things in life” include natural beauty, fine dining, the arts, thrilling adventures, creative pursuits and community service. But love and orgasms are among the few peak experiences that are equally available to rich and poor, equally sweet to those whose lives are going according to plan and to many whose dreams are in pieces. (N.B.: in 20th century America African Americans utilized human sexuality to compensate for what was denied them elsewhere.)

Religious conservatives think that these treasured dimensions of the human experience should be available to only a privileged few people whose lives fit their model: male-dominated, monogamous, heterosexual pairs who have pledged love and contractual marriage for life. Some true believers—especially those in thrall to the Protestant Quiverfull Movement or the Vatican—would further limit sexual privileges even within hetero state-licensed, church-sanctified marriages to only couples who are open to intimacy producing a pregnancy and a child. Take your pick: it’s either reproductive roulette or no sex—although you might be able to game God by tracking female fertility and then bumping like bunnies during the low risk times of the month.

Why Christianity is Obsessed with Sex

To be clear, I’m not saying that Christianity’s sex rules are only a function of patriarchal Christian privilege. During the Iron Age, from whence Christianity’s sex rules got handed down, society was organized around kin groups, and the endlessly-warmongering clans of the Ancient Near East were more at risk of extinction than overpopulation. Legally-enforced monogamy created lines of inheritance and social obligation, clarifying how neighbors should be treated and who could be enslaved.

Also, hetero sex necessarily carried the risk of pregnancy, which made it adaptive to welcome resultant pregnancies. Children do best in stable, nurturing families and communities, and in the Ancient Near East, “No marriage? No sex!” may have served to protect the well-being of mothers and children as well as the social power of patriarchal men. But in today’s mobile, pluralistic societies with modern contraceptive options and social safety nets, God’s self-appointed sex police have little credible excuse save their own compelling need to bully and boss and stay on top.

It should come as no surprise that Church authorities want an exclusive license to grant “legitimate” sexual privileges. Over the centuries, religious authorities have sought to own and define virtually all of the experiences that touch us deeply: the birth of a new person (christening, bris), art (iconography), music (chanting and hymns), eating, morality, mind altering substances, community, coming of age, family formation, and even our dying process. In each case religious authorities seek to legitimize some forms of the experience and denigrate those that don’t fit their model. Powerful people and institutions want to control valued assets so they can leverage those assets to get more power. And controlling sex is powerful!

The Egotism and Cruelty of God’s Self-Appointed Messengers

Religious authorities like Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan or Evangelist Franklin Graham or Religious Right icon Pat Robertson quote the Bible and talk as if their self-righteous sex rules came straight from God, which of course is hooey. Set aside for the moment the fact that declaring oneself a spokesman for God is stupefyingly egotistical. Anyone who claims to know the mind of God is simultaneously making a rather bold claim about the superior infallibility of his own mind. The same can be said for anyone who boldly declares that the Bible is literally perfect and that he knows what God was trying to say.

But beyond egotism, telling people they can’t have sex based on Iron Age rules collected in the Bible or medieval rules pontificated by some kiss-my-ring Pope is just plain mean. It’s cruel and selfish and heartless, because the sex rules that served Hebrew patriarchs 2500 years ago and that helped the Vatican breed more tithing members 500 years ago deny sex to a whole lot of people who would otherwise find sexual pleasure and intimacy precious.

No Sex for the Weary

Who would men like Dolan, Graham and Robertson (or their predecessors like the Apostle Paul, Augustine, or Martin Luther) exclude from the privilege of sexual intimacy? Most of humanity—including, probably, you and a lot of people you love. The list is limitless:

  • College students who face long years of study before being ready for partnership and parenthood.
  • Parents who want to commit their finite emotional resources to the children they already have.
  • Young singles whose bodies are at peak libido, but who aren’t ready to form families.
  • Queer folk.
  • Those who, whether married or not, want to commit their lives to some form of calling that isn’t parenthood.
  • People who perceive balance within the web of life as moral or spiritual imperative, whose conscience guides them to limit childbearing for the sake of other species and future generations.
  • Poor people who want to get a step ahead instead of (or before) having a child.
  • People who are saving up for marriage.
  • Cohabiting couples who don’t buy into the traditional marriage contract.
  • Empty nesters who are rediscovering why they like each other.
  • Travelers whose mobile lifestyle makes it impossible to offer a child a stable nurturing community and whose opportunities for intimacy flit past.
  • Unmarried soldiers.
  • Loners and eccentrics whose personal qualities or desire for solitude make partnership and/or parenthood a poor fit.
  • Puppy lovers.
  • Elderly widows and widowers for whom remarriage doesn’t make sense.
  • Famine-plagued women whose hungry bodies can ill sustain the risks of pregnancy or demands of incubating a healthy child.
  • The ill or those at risk of illness, who must navigate love in the time of chemo or love in the time of Zika.
  • War zone civilians and refugees who may not know whether they’ll survive or how, but know there is comfort in each other’s arms.

I could go on but I suspect there’s no need. Under what set of delusions is the world a better place because people like these are denied the pleasures of intimate touch, or the respite of a sexual interlude, or the acute pleasure of orgasm?

What The Sex Police Really Want

Wait a minute, a reader might say. Don’t overgeneralize. A minority of lay Christians believe that married couples must give up sex if they don’t want a(nother) baby —even if that is the official word from the pulpit for Catholics and some Protestants. So, this fight is really about people who want sex without marriage.

True. Well, partly true.

It goes without saying that conservative Christians want above all to deny sexual intimacy and pleasure to people who are single—especially girls and women. That is because the Bible’s Iron Age Sex Rules were meant, first and foremost, to ensure that females, who were economic assets belonging to men, produced purebred offspring of known paternity, who were also economic assets belonging to men. The Bible sanctions many forms of marriage and sexual slavery but all converge on one point: they guarantee that a man can know which offspring are his. That is why, after the slaughter of the Midianites in the book of Numbers, only virgins can be kept as war booty. It is why, in the Torah’s legal code, a rapist can be forced to buy and keep the damaged goods.

The Old Testament prescribes death for dozens of infractions (you yourself probably belong on death row). But when it comes to sex, the death penalty is for females who voluntarily give it up (or who don’t scream loud enough when they are being raped). The meanest, sickest part of this archaic and morally warping worldview is the idea that, for women, sex itself should be a death penalty—or at least a roll of the dice. It’s simply divine justice that sex should sooner or later lead to the pain and potential mortality of childbirth, because that’s the punishment God pronounced on uppity Eve for eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” Genesis 3:16 NRSV.

There you have it. Female sexual pleasure and intimacy without the risk of labor pain and death is cheating God—as well as the male who rules over her.

Control at Any Price

The ways in which God’s Self-Appointed Sex Police try to obstruct intimacy and orgasms are legion. Denying young people information about their bodies, promoting sex negativity, fostering a cult of virginity, spreading lies about masturbation—and above all shaming, shaming, shaming anyone who might dare to have sex without their approval. But the surest way the sex police can stop single females from cheating their way out of Eve’s curse is by making sex risky, which is why the religious right is obsessed with denying women access to birth control and abortion.

Globally, today 215 million desperate women want modern contraception and are unable to get it, thanks in part to American Religious Right politicians who explicitly excluded fertility management services from international HIV prevention. Church induced hang-ups about sex mean that reproductive empowerment gets left out of conversations where it is fundamental to wellbeing: family prosperity, early childhood development, mental health—even education of girls and career advancement of women.

At home, the U.S. squandered almost two decades and 1.5 billion dollars on abstinence-only “sex ed” that was an abject failure. Over the last three quarters of a century, conservative Christian obstruction of sexual literacy and family planning programs has driven humanity to the verge of collapse and has devastated families, condemning desperately poor people—like those who trusted Mother Teresa (who in turn trusted the Pope)—to lives of even deeper desperation.

Righteous men with access to the halls of power thwart sexual agency and then make criminals of women who abort the resulting ill-conceived pregnancies—all for the sake of maintaining their own authority and that of their institutions. And if the campaign to stop single women from having sex makes things hard for some married folks—the refugee couple, for example; or the poor parents trying to take care of the kids they already have; or those facing the prospect of a Zika baby with calcified and deformed brain structuresso be it.

The Small and Large of It

Think of the suffering as collateral damage— a form of collateral damage that is relatively benign by the standards of ecclesiastical history.

During the peak of Christianity’s political power, the Dark Ages, the Vatican launched a crusade against a sect of French Christians, the Cathars, who the Pope had declared heretics. When the crusaders arrived and began their slaughter, local people fled into churches, and sorting out who counted as a real Christian got confusing. So an inquiry was sent to the abbot, asking who should be killed and who spared. He replied by messenger: “Kill them all, God will know his own.”

By contrast with medieval butchery, collateral damage in the form of intimacy denied, or lives burdened with shame and stigma, or unwanted children born into the world with the odds stacked against them, seems minor.

But that is the only standard by which denying people sexual intimacy and pleasure is trivial. As I said, these are among humanity’s most treasured experiences. There are few freedoms that we value more than being able to form the love bonds and families of our choosing. In Islamic theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—and even among immigrant Muslims in the West—young people risk and lose their lives for love.

Going for Broke

Religious authorities fight to maintain monopoly control over sexual privileges precisely because these privileges are so valuable—so to the heart of who we are as human beings. Sexual pleasure sweeps over us; it can bring us to our knees. Sexual intimacy allows us to transcend the boundaries of time and space, body and psyche—to lose the self in the other.

If these seem like religious terms, they are. It is no accident that vocalizations during carnal ecstasy sounds a lot like prayer or that erotic music often has religious overtones: Take me to church; I’ll worship like a dog. . . . In your temple of love . . . halleluja (Hozier; Rod Stewart; Leonard Cohen). Or vice versa: You hold my hand and hold my heart; I give it away now, I am on my knees offering all I am (Parachute Band).

The Church hierarchy’s determination to define and control “legitimate” sex may be cruel and transparently self-serving. But it is smart. Sex endlessly attracts and compels us, making sexual guilt the perfect currency for institutions trafficking in sin and salvation. When religious authorities hold exclusive power to forgive sexual transgressions and then dole out (or deny) sexual privileges, they can redirect sublimated love and loyalty and yearning and passion into the kind of peak experiences that religion itself has on offer—experiences like spiritual ecstasy, selfless service, or mystical union with the Divine—all scripted and doled out by the very same religious institutions and authorities, of course.

But God’s self-appointed spokesmen are losing their grip. If their proclamations seem crazier and their political maneuvers seem transparently cruel—as in recent bullying of transgender kidsthat is because they are desperate. People are noticing that the cage door is open and that the world outside offers a rainbow of possibilities.

Sex and love that are not controlled by the Church compete with the Church. If individuals who are young and elderly, stable and transitioning, queer and straight, partnered and single, parenting and childfree, claim the right to pleasure themselves and each other and to form intimate bonds based on no authority save their own mutual consent and delight, the Church is screwed.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

 

See:https://valerietarico.com/2016/05/27/the-privileged-cruelty-of-religious-right-sex-rules/

Women Are Fleeing the Church, and It’s Not Hard to Understand Why

Source: AlterNet

Author:Patrica Miller/Religion Dispatches

Emphasis Mine

new Pew Research Center analysis of General Social Survey data confirms a long-simmering trend in U.S. religious observance: While attendance at religious services has declined for all Americans, it has declined more among women than men.

In the early 1970s, 36 percent of women and 26 percent of men reported attending church services weekly, a ten-point gap that reflected the long-standing trend of women being more religiously committed than men.

The gap reached its widest point in 1982, when it hit 13 percent, but then it began to shrink. By 2012, 22 percent of men reported attending church weekly, as did 28 percent of women, reflecting a “worship gap” of only six percent, an historic low.

Pew’s David McClendon gives several possible reasons for women’s declining levels of religiosity as measured by church attendance. One is the increase in the number of women in the workforce, which could theoretically decrease their leisure time and force them to cut back on activities like church. But as McClendon himself notes, “the fastest increase in women’s full-time employment” actually “occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during which time the gender gap on religious service attendance actually widened somewhat.”

If women aren’t too busy with work to go to church, maybe it’s because they’re becoming too well educated. Higher rates of educational attainment are correlated to less church going, except McClendon notes that both more educated and less educated women are going to church less.

Finally, McClendon notes that the growth of the “nones” appears to having contributed to women’s declining church attendance, as “the rate of growth in the unaffiliated has been slightly more rapid for women than men,” which has “helped narrow the gender gap in weekly attendance.”

But it seems likely that more women becoming unaffiliated is part and parcel of the same trend of more women staying away from church. It still doesn’t explain why this is happening.

What McClendon overlooks is that the years that women’s church attendance began to decline are the very years when religious leaders in the Catholic Church and the evangelical movement fused religion with the culture wars, with overall attendance for women taking it’s first steep drop in the 1980s.

This drop in church attendance for women coincided with the period when the Catholic bishops began making abortion a litmus test for Catholic politicians, as in the 1984 election when Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro was attacked for being pro-choice.

And Pew’s own numbers appear to back this up. According to Pew, women are slightly more likely than men to say that churches should keep out of politics (55 percent vs. 53 percent), and overall 60 percent of Catholics say church should keep out of politics.

Women’s church attendance did recover somewhat in the early 1990s, but then began a long slide in the mid-1990s that continued to 2012, when the GSS data end. While the GSS numbers don’t break out attendance by religion, church attendance for both men and women appears to have bottomed out around the time the sex scandals broke in the Catholic Church in 2001. Other studies have a found “a significant decline in religious participation as a result of the scandals,” and it’s possible this decline was large enough to affect overall church attendance.

But while both men’s and woman’s attendance recovered somewhat after the early 2000s, women’s attendance dropped noticeably between about 2004 and 2012, while men’s remained fairly stable. This period saw evangelicals taking an increasingly hard line about traditional “Catholic” issues like birth control, which may have alienated some women.

And in 2004, the Catholic Church released a controversial document by soon-to-be Pope Benedict that was critical of feminism and said women’s characteristics were “Listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting.” The following years of Benedict’s papacy were particularly unwelcoming to progressive women in the church.

If McClendon is right and the trend of growing disaffiliation correlates to women’s decline in attendance, it’s also worth noting that Catholics make up the largest portion of the nones exiting a religion. Almost one-third (28 percent) of nones are former Catholics, which is the single largest share of any religious group.

Why have women stopped going to church? It isn’t because they’re too busy or too well educated. Maybe they stopped going when conservative politics took over the pulpit.

Patricia Miller is the author of Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church.

See:http://www.alternet.org/belief/women-are-fleeing-church?akid=14323.123424.W5XUWf&rd=1&src=newsletter1057755&t=24

Church More Dangerous For Kids Than Transgender Bathrooms

got it?
got it?

Source:Patheos.com

Author: Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

A child is more likely to be molested at church than a transgender-friendly bathroom.

As the transgender bathroom hysteria rages across the nation, it is important to remember where the real danger is for children. And despite the hysteria, a church is much more dangerous for a child than a public bathroom.

Earlier this week a gay Alabama lawmaker discusses the fact that church is a greater threat to children than transgender-friendly bathrooms. In a touching op-ed post, state representative Patricia Todd discussed the difficulties of being transgender, and the myths surrounding the transgender community.

As for “the bathroom issue” Todd notes:

No evidence has been uncovered showing that fears of transgender persons and “the bathroom issue” are warranted. Several states, school districts and corporations have adopted their own policies affirming transgender people’s right to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and have not reported problems.

As for the plight of transgender people, Todd reports:

In a study from UCLA’s Williams Institute, nearly 70% of transgender people said they had experienced verbal harassment in a situation involving gender-segregated bathrooms, while nearly 10% reported physical assault.

As for the safety of children, Todd observes:

Most child predators are male (The National Center for Victims of Crime) and The Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute notes that 90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends, and the majority are men married to women.

In other words, the real danger to children is not strangers in a public bathroom, but people they know, and are taught to trust.

Indeed, anyone who pays attention to the news recognizes that youth pastors are often associated with the sexual abuse of children, and of course there is always the despicable, ongoing, and never-ending sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church.

American News X reports in 2014 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) came out with a report on sexual abuse in the Catholic church. The report indicates that from 1950-2013, 17,259 victims made accusations and 6,427 clerics had been counted as “not implausibly” or “credibly” accused. In addition, it should be noted that these numbers do not account for underreporting, or include the unusually large number victims who came forward in 2003 in the wake of the Boston Globe‘s eye-opening report on sexual abuse in the Catholic church by their Spotlight team.

American News X also reports evangelical leaders have grown concerned enough about sexual abuse in their ranks that they have launched the “Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment” (GRACE) to train, educate and help faith communities prevent the rampant child sexual abuse in America’s churches.

A presentation titled “Offenders Within The Church: Who Are They And How Do They Operate?” gives an ominous indication of the grave threat facing children in American churches, including the fact that reported child abuse accusations against US protestant churches average 70 per week (GRACE also acknowledges that the actual number is probably much higher due to under-reporting.)

In fact, GRACE even has a name for this phenomenon that contributes to sexual abuse in churches: The Five Exploitations:

  1. Exploitation of “religious cover”: Child molesters’ apparent embrace of religious practices and doctrine gives them access to children while providing cover for their behavior.
  2. Exploitation of faith: “The victim’s own analysis of religious doctrine may result in confusion and silence.”
  3. Exploitation of power: Children are taught to submit to authority “from the earliest age.”
  4. Exploitation of needs: Churches are always in need of volunteers and don’t always have the resources to thoroughly vet everyone. On top of that, churchgoers often come in need of support and spiritual solace.
  5. Exploitation of trust: Churches foster a trusting environment, especially for families with children, and children are taught to trust in God and those whom they see as His representatives.

As for the big myth that transgender people using public bathrooms pose some sort of threat, a report issued by Media Matters cites experts from twelve states – including law enforcement officials, state human rights workers, and sexual assault victims advocates – who debunk the myth that transgender non-discrimination laws have any relation to incidents of sexual assault or harassment in public restrooms.

Bottom line: Children are much more likely to be molested at church than in a transgender-friendly bathroom.

 

See:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/05/church-more-dangerous-for-kids-than-transgender-bathrooms/?

How Limiting Women’s Access to Birth Control and Abortions Hurts the Economy

Source: AlterNet

Author: Michele Gilman/the Conversation

Emphasis Mine

Reproductive health isn’t just about abortions, despite all the attention they get. It’s also about access to family planning services, contraception, sex education and much else.

Such access lets women control the timing and size of their families so they have children when they are financially secure and emotionally ready and can finish their education and advance in the workplace. After all, having children is expensive, costing US$9,000 to $25,000 a year.

And that’s why providing women with a full range of reproductive health options is good for the economy at the same time as being essential to the financial security of women and their families. Doing the opposite threatens not only the physical health of women but their economic well-being too.

The Supreme Court acknowledged as much in 1992, stating in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey:

The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.

However, it seems that state and federal legislators, certain politicians running for president as well as some conservative Supreme Court justices have forgotten the meaning of this sweeping language.

As a consequence, the right to control their reproductive health has become increasingly illusory for many women, particularly the poor.

The Economics of Contraception

With some conservative politicians dead set on limiting access to abortion, you’d assume that they would be for policies that help women avoid unintended pregnancies. But conservative attacks on birth control are escalating, even though 99 percent of sexually active women have used some form such as an intrauterine device (IUD), patch or pill at least once.

In addition to its widely recognized health and autonomy benefits for women, contraception directly boosts the economy. In fact, research shows access to the pill is responsible for a third of women’s wage gains since the 1960s.

And this benefit extends to their kids. Children born to mothers with access to family planning benefit from a 20 to 30 percent increase in their own incomes over their lifetimes, as well as boosting college completion rates.

Not surprisingly, in a survey, 77 percent of women who used birth control reported that it allowed them to better care for themselves and their families, while large majorities also reported that birth control allowed them to support themselves financially (71 percent), stay in school (64 percent) and help them get and keep a job (64 percent).

Still, there is a class divide in contraception access, as evidenced by disparities in the 2011 rate of unintended pregnancies. While the overall rate fell to 45 percent (from 51 percent in 2008), the figure for women living at or below the poverty line was five times that of women at the highest income level (although also decreasing).

One reason for this disparity is the cost of birth control, particularly for the most effective, long-lasting forms. For instance, it typically costs over $1,000 for an IUD and the procedure to insert it, amounting to one month’s full-time pay for a minimum wage worker.

These costs are significant, given that the average American woman wants two children and will thus need contraception for at least three decades of her life. Unfortunately, publicly funded family planning meets only 54 percent of the need, and these funding streams are under constant attack by conservatives.

Not surprisingly, health insurance makes a difference, and women with coverage are much more likely to use contraceptive care. The Affordable Care Act is responsible for part of the drop in unintended pregnancies—it expanded contraception coverage to around 55 million women with private insurance coverage.

Yet this coverage is also at risk for millions of employees and their dependents who work for employers claiming a religious objection. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court concluded that a for-profit company cannot only profess religious beliefs but also impose those beliefs on their employees by denying them certain forms of contraception. The Obama administration has issued regulations allowing religious employers to opt out of offering contraceptive coverage. Affected employees are then covered directly by their insurers.

This is not enough for some. In March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Zubik v. Burwell, in which several religious nonprofits assert that even the act of seeking an accommodation from the law burdens their religious consciences.

These religious groups argue in part that women can get their birth control from other sources, such as federally funded family planning centers. Yet at the same time, conservatives are on a mission to slash that funding, particularly for Planned Parenthood, which provides sexual and reproductive health care to almost five million people a year.

This makes no economic sense. Publicly funded family planning programs help women avoid about two million unintended pregnancies a year and save the government billions of dollars in health care costs. The net savings to government are $13.6 billion. For every $1 invested in these services, the government saves $7.09.

Sex Education and the Economic Ladder

Another key to reproductive health—and one that isn’t discussed enough—is sexual education for teenagers.

For years, the public has spent over $2 billion on abstinence-only programs, which not only fail to reduce teen birth rates but also reinforce gender stereotypes and are rife with misinformation. Low-income minority teens are particularly subject to these programs.

Teens without knowledge about their sexual healtare more likely to get pregnant and less likely to work, spiraling them to the bottom of the economic ladder.

President Obama’s proposed 2017 budget would eliminate federal funding for abstinence-only sex education and instead fund only comprehensive sexual education, which is age-appropriate and medically accurate. However, Congress has rejected the president’s prior proposed cuts and the same result is likely for 2017.

Access to Abortion

Then there’s the issue of abortion. Let’s start with the cost.

Half of women who obtain an abortion pay more than one-third of their monthly income for the procedure.

Costs rise significantly the longer a woman must wait, either because state law requires it or she needs to save up the money—or both. Studies show that women who cannot access abortion are three times more likely to fall into poverty than women who obtained abortions.

In addition to the financial burden, many states are enacting laws designed to limit abortion access. These laws hit low-income women particularly hard. From 2011 to 2015, 31 states have enacted 288 such laws, including waiting periods and mandatory counseling sessions.

Moreover, 24 states have enacted so-called TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), which medical experts say go far beyond what is needed for patient safety and impose needless requirements on doctors and abortion facilities, such as requiring facilities to have the same hallway dimensions as a hospital.

In March, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging a Texas TRAP lawWhole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. If the court upholds the law, the entire state of Texas will be left with only 10 abortion providers.

lower federal appeals court stated in the Texas case that travel distances of more than 150 miles one way are not an “undue burden” and are thus constitutional. This, I would argue, shows a complete lack of understanding regarding the difficulties that poverty—especially rural poverty—imposes. Traveling long distances adds additional costs to an already expensive medical procedure.

The court’s decision is expected in June. Observers fear that the court could split 4-4, which would leave the Texas law intact.

The Hyde Amendment

Another way in which U.S. policy on abortions exacerbates economic inequality, especially for women of color, is through the ban on federal funding—which some aspiring politicians seem to have forgotten is still in place.

It has been so since the 1976 enactment of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal Medicaid funds from being used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. The Affordable Care Act does many wonderful things for women’s health, but it also extends the Hyde Amendment through its expansion of Medicaid, and it allows states to ban abortion coverage in their private exchanges.

Denying poor women coverage under Medicaid contributes to the unintended birth rates that are seven times higher for poor women than high-income women.

Economic and Reproductive Health

Politicians cannot promise to grow the economy and simultaneously limit access to abortion, birth control and sexual education. Our nation’s economic health and women’s reproductive health are linked.

And as Hillary Clinton correctly noted recently, it’s an issue that deserves more attention in the presidential campaign—and hasn’t received enough.

Michele Gilman is a venable Professor of Law, University of Baltimore and is affiliated with the ACLU of Maryland and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland.

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/gender/how-limiting-womens-access-birth-control-and-abortions-hurts-economy?akid=14217.123424.vApA3m&rd=1&src=newsletter1055746&t=18

Does the beauty and effectiveness of math in understanding the world prove anything?

Source: why evolution is true

Author: whyeveloutionistrue

Emphasis Mine

One of the disadvantages of shopping for food early Sunday morning is that Krista Tippett’s “On Being” program is on National Public Radio at 7 a.m. And, of course, I have to listen, cursing to myself for an entire hour. Why do I do it, you ask? I could say that I need to keep my finger on the pulse of America, and that’s one reason, but it also serves as an Orwellian Sixty Minutes of Hate. (“Hate” is too strong; I think that Tippett and her followers are pitiable, though she’s very well compensated.)

Today’s show, actually, wasn’t so bad (I heard only about 40 minutes), as it featured a man who resisted all attempts to couch his thoughts as woo: Frank Wilczek, an MIT professor who, along with David Gross and H. D. Politzer, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004 for work on the strong interaction.  Tippett being Tippett, the topic, of course, wasn’t really physics per se but, as you can see from the show’s title (“Why is the World So Beautiful?“), the “spiritual.” Wilczek has also written several popular books (I haven’t read them), one with the unfortunate title of A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design. I doubt that it’s teleological or osculates faith, but I wouldn’t have used the word “design”, which of course implies a Designer.

At any rate, Wilczek tackled an interesting topic: the beauty of mathematics and how well “beautiful and simple equations” describe the structure of the cosmos through physical laws. Why are such simple and “beautiful” theories so useful in describing the laws of physics? The wonder that Wilczek evinced resembled that expressed by Eugene Wigner in his famous 1960 paper, “The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.” Here’s a quote from that paper:

It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here, quite comparable in its striking nature to the miracle that the human mind can string a thousand arguments together without getting itself into contradictions or to the two miracles of the existence of laws of nature and of the human mind’s capacity to divine them. The observation which comes closest to an explanation for the mathematical concepts’ cropping up in physics which I know is Einstein’s statement that the only physical theories which we are willing to accept are the beautiful ones.

I doubt that most physicists would consider this a “miracle” (Wilczek didn’t come close to using that word); and, as I discuss in Faith versus Fact, there are anthropic reasons for the laws of physics being constant rather than variable (our bodies wouldn’t function, and no organism could evolve, if the laws varied wildly), as well as for mathematics being able to describe the laws of physics.

This leaves two questions: why are the laws of physics described with such simple—and, to physicists, beautiful—equations? And why, as Wilczek maintained, has beauty served physicists so well as a guide to truth? In fact, at one point Wilczek said that, when deriving an equation to explain physical phenomena, “It was so beautiful that I knew it had to be true.”

As a working (or ex-working) scientist, I recoil at such statements. To me, beauty cannot be evidence of truth, though it may be a guide to truth. If so, how does that work? But I even wonder how often mathematical beauty itself, which, after all, doesn’t come out of thin air but builds on previous equations known to describe reality, guides the search for truth completely independent of empiricism.  I’m not qualified to answer that question, nor the questions of whether even more beautiful equations could be wrong, or whether it’s all that surprising that the effectiveness of math in describing physics is “unreasonable.”

Of course Tippett tried to turn all this toward spirituality, and at one point asked Wilczek if this beauty was evidence for Something Bigger Out There that others have called God, but he batted away the question. The woman tries to force everything into her Procrustean Bed of Spirituality. But leaving that aside, I have three questions for readers to ponder, and—especially for readers with expertise in math and physics—to give their take in the comments:

  1. Aren’t there “ugly” theories that describe reality? What is a beautiful theory, anyway?
  2. Are there beautiful theories that physics has proposed that turned out to be wrong?
  3. Is it even worth pondering the question (if the proposition is true) about why physical reality is explained by such simple and “beautiful” equations? My own reaction would be “that’s just the way it is,” but clearly people like Tippett want to go “deeper.”

*********

By the way, at the end of the show, Tippett announced the major donors to the show, and the first of these was—surprise!—the John Templeton Foundation (JTF). I hadn’t heard that before, and the JTF isn’t listed among the “funding partners” on the show’s main page:

See:https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/does-the-beauty-and-effectiveness-of-math-in-understanding-the-world-prove-anything/

Is Penis Worship at the Root of the Bogus Notion of Fetal Personhood?

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

I’m slow sometimes, but after years of writing about abortion rights it finally occurred to me that “life begins at conception” is one more version of a multimillennial infatuation with the penis as symbol and proof that manliness is next to godliness.

On the surface, conservative Evangelical and Catholic insistence that life begins at conception appears to be aimed at elevating the status of fetus over woman. But just beneath the surface, what it elevates is the status of the penis—and anyone who has one.

What creates the wonder of a new person? Forget about the maturation of germ cells, and the nine-month labor of a woman’s body, and painstaking parental nurture. It’s a sperm, a penile projectile shot forth by the ultimate organ of demi-divinity. Sperm penetrates egg, and voila! A person! A new soul! All the extraordinary and unique value we accord to human life is created instantaneously.

Three Millennia of Penis Worship

Once noticed, the pattern is inescapable. Our ancestors thought that the penis was literally divine. Dharmic cultures worshiped it by whacking stalactites and stalagmites out of caves and air-roots off of trees and carving phallic shapes out of granite by the thousands. Abrahamic cultures took the opposite approach and insisted the penis was so precious and powerful that it couldn’t be seen, even in art, and had to be chiseled off of statues or at least covered with fig leaves.

They also insisted that a man’s magic wand could permanently transform a female from one kind of being to another, from a prized “virgin” into a worthless “whore.” In medieval Catholicism’s recipe for sexual hangups, the prior touch of a penis (or lack thereof) became the most defining aspect of a woman’s identity, economic value and moral virtue. Penis penetrates female, and voila! No longer a whole person! The same magic wand that made her valuable could also do the reverse.

Same Old, Same Old

Fundamentalists who are anchored to the Iron Age by sacred texts and patriarchal traditions still hold to this archaic view, though they may use updated terms like “licked lollypop” or “chewed gum”—and some do offer second chances through “born-again virginity.”

But at least in the West, millennials finally are catching on to how ridiculous the whole virginity thing is. As one Facebook meme put it recently, “I don’t believe in virginity. Why? Because nobody’s penis is important enough to change any part of my identity.”

The idea that a penis can permanently change a woman’s value and the idea that a penis can instantaneously create a new soul both derive from the idea that men uniquely, were made in the image of God and that the penis (circumcised, of course) is the supreme symbol of man’s divinely anointed headship. And once they are packaged together, the idea that life-begins-at-conception starts sounding as transparently male-aggrandizing and silly as the idea of virginity.

No, You Didn’t Build That

Yes, the occasional sperm does end up inside an egg rather than a towel. And yes, sperm-penetrates-egg is a necessary—if insufficientstep in person formation. But the incredible process of making a new person begins long before conception and continues long after. To the trained eye, conception is no more or less magnificent—or critical—than the creation of the egg or the sperm itself, or of the many stages of transformation that come after.

In the subconscious of a patriarchal male or religious institution intent on preserving privilege, the claim that a penis can create a new person—or better yet, a new soul, almost ex nihilo—may flow naturally and logically from man’s god-like qualities and “rightful” dominance. But from an outside vantage the men making such claims seem rather like puffed-up architects who scribble partial plans and then claim they build buildings. Nice fantasy, but in the real world both buildings and people get made one step at a time. Construction is slow and hard and takes teamwork.

Everything’s a Project

In the case of forming a new person, two bodies produce germ cells that independently hold half of a biological blueprint. If each half works well enough and they meet, then a woman’s body starts the structural engineering to determine whether the design actually works. For very good reasons, the answer usually is no; the engineering team rejects the project and dumps it into the porcelain circular file. Most embryonic humans get booted out so fast that nobody even knows they existed. If and when engineering gives the preliminary go-ahead, a woman’s whole body gears up to start building a person. Her circulatory system pumps up blood flow. Her bones and teeth transfer calcium to the construction site. Her digestive system demands enough food for two.

Not only is the process slow and costly—like any construction project, it’s dangerous. Eight hundred American women die every year from pregnancy. Around the world, it’s that many every day. Most of us survive the project, but we do endure nausea and swollen ankles and fatigue, and irreversible wear and tear. When we women choose to incubate a child, which we often do quite gladly, we do so knowing our bodies and lives will never again be the same.

So, patriarchs, love your orgasms all you like, but don’t fall for the weirdly puffed-up idea that they make babies. Penis power is solely limited to fertilizing eggs. And a fertilized egg is a fertilized egg—no less, no more.

Real Fatherhood

Silly-willy worship aside, many men deserve real credit for making children, because they take on the actual parenthood project in a deep and devoted way. Wanting to be good parents of healthy children, they wear condoms till the time is right, put their lives in order, bring home prenatal vitamins and make peanut butter sandwiches in the middle of the night.

When pregnancy ends, they endure labor vicariously (yes, vicarious pain hurts), anxiously awaiting the slimy little creature that will spill out in a puddle of blood. Labor over, they gingerly hold a sweet-smelling, flannel-wrapped burrito and look into eyes that are seeing the world for the first time and fall in love.

Back in the home they have helped to create, they wipe spit-up off shirts and go to work bleary-eyed when illness strikes and a child can’t sleep. In better times, they get down on the rug and play pretend and read stories even though maybe—just once in a while—they’d rather be playing video games or reading the Times. They understand that making something as wonderfully complex as a fully fledged, thriving person takes everything a parent can give for decades, and they give it.

Name It

Conception worship is willy worship. It diminishes fatherhood by trivializing the many other parts of themselves that men can and do bring to the process of creating a new person—heart and mind, labor and love. And it diminishes all of motherhood.

So, if you’re one of the guys who either is or intends to be a real father—please call out posers who think themselves endowed with some divine instrument that can turn an egg into a precious little person. And if you would, while you’re at it, you could do us women a favor by calling out the equally ludicrous conceit that the touch of a penis turns a female from one kind of being into another. Men don’t have magic wands in their pants—just body parts, and exaggerating the power of your dick just makes you one.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington, and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at valerietarico.com.

See:http://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/penis-worship-root-bogus-notion-fetal-personhood?akid=14206.123424.iljA1A&rd=1&src=newsletter1055467&t=8

We Could Be Witnessing the Death of the Fossil Fuel Industry—Will It Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It?

Source: AlterNet

Author:Nafiz Ahmed

Emphasis Mine

It’s not looking good for the global fossil fuel industry. Although the world remains heavily dependent on oil, coal and natural gas—which today supply around 80 percent of our primary energy needs—the industry is rapidly crumbling.

This is not merely a temporary blip, but a symptom of a deeper, long-term process related to global capitalism’s escalating over consumption of planetary resources and raw materials.

New scientific research shows that the growing crisis of profitability facing fossil fuel industries is part of an inevitable period of transition to a post-carbon era.

But ongoing denialism has led powerful vested interests to continue clinging blindly to their faith in fossil fuels, with increasingly devastating and unpredictable consequences for the environment.

Bankruptcy epidemic

In February, the financial services firm Deloitte predicted that over 35 percent of independent oil companies worldwide are likely to declare bankruptcy, potentially followed by a further 30 percent next year—a total of 65 percent of oil firms around the world. Since early last year, already 50 North American oil and gas producers have filed bankruptcy.

The cause of the crisis is the dramatic drop in oil prices—down by two-thirds since 2014—which are so low that oil companies are finding it difficult to generate enough revenue to cover the high costs of production, while also repaying their loans.

Oil and gas companies most at risk are those with the largest debt burden. And that burden is huge—as much as $2.5 trillion, according to The Economist. The real figure is probably higher.

At a speech at the London School of Economics in February, Jaime Caruana of the Bank for International Settlements said that outstanding loans and bonds for the oil and gas industry had almost tripled between 2006 and 2014 to a total of $3 trillion.

This massive debt burden, he explained, has put the industry in a double-bind: In order to service the debt, they are continuing to produce more oil for sale, but that only contributes to lower market prices. Decreased oil revenues means less capacity to repay the debt, thus increasing the likelihood of default.

Stranded assets

This $3 trillion of debt is at risk because it was supposed to generate a 3-to-1 increase in value, but instead—thanks to the oil price decline—represents a value of less than half of this.

Worse, according to a Goldman Sachs study quietly published in December last year, as much as $1 trillion of investments in future oil projects around the world are unprofitable; i.e., effectively stranded.

Examining 400 of the world’s largest new oil and gas fields (except U.S. shale), the Goldman study found that $930 billion worth of projects (more than two-thirds) are unprofitable at Brent crude prices below $70. (Prices are now well below that.)

The collapse of these projects due to unprofitability would result in the loss of oil and gas production equivalent to a colossal 8 percent of current global demand. If that happens, suddenly or otherwise, it would wreck the global economy.

The Goldman analysis was based purely on the internal dynamics of the industry. A further issue is that internationally-recognized climate change risks mean that to avert dangerous global warming, much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel resources cannot be burned.

All of this is leading investors to question the wisdom of their investments, given fears that much of the assets that the oil, gas and coal industries use to estimate their own worth could consist of resources that will never ultimately be used.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative, which analyzes carbon investment risks, points out that over the next decade, fossil fuel companies risk wasting up to $2.2 trillion of investments in new projects that could turn out to be “uneconomic” in the face of international climate mitigation policies.

More and more fossil fuel industry shareholders are pressuring energy companies to stop investing in exploration for fear that new projects could become worthless due to climate risks.

Clean technology and climate policy are already reducing fossil fuel demand,” said James Leaton, head of research at Carbon Tracker. “Misreading these trends will destroy shareholder value. Companies need to apply 2C stress tests to their business models now.”

The end of cheap oil

Behind the crisis of oil’s profitability that threatens the entire global economy is a geophysical crisis in the availability of cheap oil. Cheap here does not refer simply to the market price of oil, but the total cost of production. More specifically, it refers to the value of energy.

There is a precise scientific measure for this, virtually unknown in conventional economic and financial circles, known as Energy Return on Investment—which essentially quantifies the amount of energy extracted, compared to the inputs of energy needed to conduct the extraction. The concept of EROI was first proposed and developed by Professor Charles A. Hall of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York. He found that an approximate EROI value for any energy source could be calculated by dividing the quantity of energy produced by the amount of energy inputted into the production process.

To read more, see below…

See:http://www.alternet.org/environment/we-could-be-witnessing-death-fossil-fuel-industry-will-it-take-rest-economy-down-it

How much does it matter whether God exists?

Source:aeon.com

Edited by:Sam Haselby

Emphasis Mine

Two rooms, in two different cities, but pretty much the same scene: one man stands before a few dozen supporters, many of them middle-aged white males, plus a smaller, precocious cohort in early adulthood. As the man speaks, they interrupt him with good, earnest, detailed questions, which he ably answers more or less to their satisfaction. These crowds crave the intricacies of arguments and the upshots of science. The only thing that seems beyond their ken is how their counterparts in the other room could be convinced of something so wrong.

One of those rooms was in New York City, high in an office building overlooking the ruins that then still remained of the World Trade Center; the man was Richard Dawkins, the Oxford zoologist and ‘New Atheist’ polemicist. The man in the other room was his arch-rival, the evangelical Christian philosopher and debater William Lane Craig, speaking in a classroom on the sprawling campus of his megachurch in Marietta, Georgia. If one were to attend both events without understanding English, it would be hard to know the difference.

Whether such a thing as God exists is one of those questions that we use to mark our identities, choose our friends, and divide our families. But there are also moments when the question starts to seem suspect, or only partly useful. Once, backstage before a sold-out debate at the University of Notre Dame between Craig and Sam Harris, Dawkins’s fellow New Atheist, I heard an elderly Catholic theologian approach Harris and spit out: ‘I agree with you more than I do with that guy!’

During the heyday of the New Atheist movement, a few years after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, I was in the wake of a teenage conversion to Catholicism. One might think that my converts’ zeal would pit me squarely against the New Atheist camp. But it didn’t. Really, neither side of the does-God-exist debates seemed to represent me, and the arguments in question had little to do with my embrace of my new-found faith. I had been drawn by the loosey-goosey proposition that love can conquer hate and death, expressed concretely in the lives of monks I had briefly lived among and members of the Catholic Worker Movement who shared their homes with the homeless and abandoned. I actually agreed with most of what the New Atheists wrote about science and free enquiry; what I disagreed most sorely with them about was their hawkish support for military invasions in Muslim-majority countries.

Still, I became fascinated with the question of God as I tried to wrap my head around it for myself. I travelled around the world to meet God debaters, and studied the historical thinkers from whom their arguments derive. I found that I wasn’t alone in doubting the pertinence of the question.

The thinkers who crafted the classic proofs for the existence of God – from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, for instance – were writing to audiences for whom the existence of divine beings was uncontroversial. The purposes of these proofs had more to do with contentions about what we mean by God, and how far into such matters human reason can really take us.

Consider, for instance, Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th-century monk who devised his proof in a fit of early morning ecstasy. His claim, which has been debated strenuously from its first publication until now, was that the very concept of God contained in it the proof of God’s existence – which, to Anselm, was a testament to God’s omnipresence and love. For centuries, his fiercest critics objected not to Anselm’s God, but to his reasoning. Centuries later, the Jewish apostate Baruch Spinoza employed a very similar argument in 17th-century Holland: he took the reasoning but mostly put aside the God.

Today, Spinoza stands as a progenitor of the modern, scientific worldview. The atheist philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein considers him ‘the renegade Jew who gave us modernity’. Yet at the centre of his system is a proof for God, one very much akin to that of the Christian monk Anselm. Where Anselm saw the Christian God, Spinoza saw the totality of the universe. He insisted that this was indeed God, that he was not an atheist. In his devotion to reason, Spinoza became famous for his piety; the German Romantic poet Novalis would later call him the ‘God-intoxicated man’.

Spinoza and Anselm both passionately believed in God, and adopted a similar way of thinking; the difference was in the kind of God they had in mind.

In the 20th century, the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch would take up their basic argument again. She saw in it neither Anselm’s God the Father nor Spinoza’s God of Nature, but the Good – the underpinning of morality and beauty in a post-religious world. When we compare her to Anselm and Spinoza, the question of God-or-no-God seems far less interesting than the argument they shared and the ways in which they tweaked its meaning. I wonder what Anselm and Murdoch would say to each other if they were to somehow meet.

What are we really talking about when we debate the existence of God? I think it can become a shortcut, a way of side-stepping more necessary and more difficult questions. Denouncing others as atheists, or as believers in a false God, can become an excuse to treat them as less than human, as undeserving of real consideration. When terrorists attack in the name of a certain God, it can seem easier to blame their religion than to consider their stated grievances about foreign military bases in their countries and foreigners backing their corrupt leaders. When religious communities reject scientific theories for bad reasons, it can seem easier to blame the fact that they believe in God, rather than to notice that other believers might accept the same theories for good reasons. Good ideas and bad ideas, good actions and bad actions – they’re all on either side of the God divide.

Pope Francis’s provocations in recent years have been palpable reminders of this. When Francis released his recent encyclical on ecology, many non-religious environmentalists received it more warmly than some of my fellow Catholics. Francis himself addressed the document not merely to Catholics, but to ‘all people’, and he has welcomed secular activists to the Vatican to discuss it. (The journalist Naomi Klein was so enthusiastic upon returning, she told me, that she had to remind herself ‘not to drink too much Kool-Aid’.) Meanwhile, the conservative Catholic blogger Maureen Mullarkey dismissed it as an ‘extravagant rant’. Catholic friends of mine found it depressing, while I read it by a lake with tears of joy. The fact that we share a belief in the God that Francis calls upon was, for better or worse, beside the point.

I believe in God, but I often find more common cause with those who say they don’t than those who say they do. I’ve come to care less whether anyone says they believe in God or not, and to care more about what they mean by that, and what they do about it.

 

See:https://aeon.co/opinions/how-much-does-it-matter-whether-god-exists?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=3784398b57-Saturday_newsletter_26_March_20163_24_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-3784398b57-68915721

The strange, short career of Judeo-Christianity

Source: Aeon.com

Author: Gene Zubovich

Emphasis Mine

President Barack Obama insists that the United States defines itself by civic principles rather than by religious affiliation. In an otherwise unremarkable press conference in Turkey in 2009, he said: ‘[A]lthough… we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.’ A torrent of conservative criticism followed, alleging that Obama had abandoned the country’s founding Judeo-Christian values. In recent months, most of the Republican candidates for their party’s nomination have called on the US to return to ‘the Judeo-Christian values that built this great nation’, as Senator Ted Cruz put it. Defenders of Judeo-Christianity believe that they are invoking timeless principles. In fact, Judeo-Christianity is a very recent invention.

The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ supposedly recognises the deep and ancient common heritage of Protestants, Catholics and Jews. The idea would have sent shivers down the spine of Puritans, who saw a diabolical Catholic ‘Papism’ lurking around every corner. Such a shared heritage would have been news to the authors of Pennsylvania’s 1776 Constitution, which required office-holders to ‘acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration’, and which effectively banned Jews from public office.

The phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ first became popular in the late 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt began trying to mobilise Americans against Nazism. So Judeo-Christianity was actually popularised to oppose the anti-Semitism of another predominantly Christian nation. FDR’s repeated recourse to religion in public addresses set him apart from his predecessors, who preferred civic principles. So too did Roosevelt’s willingness to move beyond his own Protestantism and embrace Jews and Catholics. ‘We who have faith cannot afford to fall out among ourselves,’ he told radio listeners in 1936: ‘Religion in wide areas of the earth is being confronted with irreligion…. [Y]ou and I must reach across the lines between our creeds, clasp hands, and make common cause.’

In the 1930s, Roosevelt worked in concert with the National Council of Christians and Jews, for example, an organisation that fought popular anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. Roosevelt and other liberal Protestants took the lead in promoting Judeo-Christianity. In the works of liberal Protestant theologians, the term Judeo-Christianity began to appear here and there without a thorough defence or justification. During the Second World War, a spirit of national unity finally made the notion of Judeo-Christianity common, as Jews and Catholics were publically welcomed as junior partners in the country’s national life.

Only following the Second World War did someone stop to try to elaborate what ‘Judeo-Christian’ might actually mean. In his book Protestant – Catholic – Jew (1955), the sociologist Will Herberg extolled the virtues of Judeo-Christianity. He argued that Judeo-Christianity stemmed from ‘the collapse of all secular securities in the historical crisis of our time [and] the quest for a recovery of authenticity’. Judeo-Christianity ‘is a religiously oriented civiccooperation of Protestants, Catholics and Jews to bring about better mutual understanding and to promote enterprises and causes of common concern, despite all differences of “faith”. [Judeo-Christianity] is thus the highest expression of religious coexistence and cooperation within the American understanding of religion.’ As Herberg saw it, Judeo-Christianity arose because secularism had failed and three vibrant faiths stepped in to fill that vacuum.

Evangelicals, meanwhile, resisted the encroaching pluralism. In 1947, and again in 1954, working with political allies, the National Association of Evangelicals introduced the Christian amendment into Congress: ‘This nation devoutly recognises the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of all nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.’ Out of step with the burgeoning postwar pluralism, the Christian amendment was not passed.

By the 1960s, when the inclusion of Catholics and Jews seemed to be on safe footing, the liberal Protestant pioneers of the term moved on to consider how a broader range of religious groups could be included in the US nation. The Harvard scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith urged ‘all Christians to love and respect the faith of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and the others if necessary without waiting for the theologians’. Some theologians in the 1960s began going beyond religious pluralism and encouraged Protestants to embrace secularism. In the process, they left Judeo-Christianity behind.

But others, who emphasised Judeo-Christianity’s anti-secularism, rededicated themselves to the term. Herberg’s insistence in Protestant – Catholic – Jew that secular thought was bankrupt led him to align himself with the burgeoning conservative movement. He joined the conservative journal National Review in 1961 as its religion editor.

At the moment when liberal Protestants and others left Judeo-Christianity behind, fearing the tri-faith model was too narrow to capture the world’s diversity, evangelical Protestants seized on the idea of Judeo-Christianity. As they came to slowly accept the legitimacy of Jewish and Catholic faith, Judeo-Christianity became a way to withhold legitimacy from others. Abandoning their earlier commitment to a ‘Christian Nation’, evangelicals now accepted Catholics and Jews as important allies in the fight against abortion, feminism and gay rights.

In its very brief history, the concept of Judeo-Christianity has taken on several meanings. Originally it denoted a cultural and theological pluralism, meant to unite Americans against Nazism. For this reason, it was widely celebrated by liberal advocates, many of whom ignored Judeo-Christianity’s anti-secular implications, and gave little thought to their relation with Islam and other world religions. Once the implications became clear, many liberals abandoned the term.

Today, the religiously unaffiliated make up about a quarter of the US population and Muslim Americans are becoming an increasingly visible and vocal community. The notion that the US is a nation bound together by civic principles enjoys a more distinguished history than the recently coined idea of the Judeo-Christian nation. It is also obvious that the US is more than a nation of many faiths. No wonder, then, that today Judeo-Christianity has few defenders apart from members of the Christian right, who use it to undermine the legitimacy of Muslims and the rapidly growing body of religiously unaffiliated Americans. The short career of Judeo-Christianity has already lasted too long.

See: https://aeon.co/opinions/the-strange-short-career-of-judeo-christianity?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=fec6fd14ae-Daily_Newsletter_22_March_20163_21_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-fec6fd14ae-68915721

Off-beat Zen

Source: Aeon.com

Author:Tim Lott

Emphasis Mine

Ever since I was a child, I have been acutely sensitive to the idea — in the way that other people seem to feel only after bereavement or some shocking unexpected event — that the human intellect is unable, finally, to make sense of the world: everything is contradiction and paradox, and no one really knows much for sure, however loudly they profess to the contrary.

It is an uncomfortable mindset, and as a result I have always felt the need to build a conceptual box in my mind big enough to fit the world into. Most people seem to have a talent for denying or ignoring life’s contradictions, as the demands of work and life take them over. Or they fall for an ideology, perhaps religious or political, that appears to render the world a comprehensible place.

I have never been able to support either strategy. A sense of encroaching mental chaos was always skulking at the edges of my life. Which is perhaps why I fell into an acute depression at the age of 27, and didn’t recover for several years.

The consequence of this was my first book, a memoir called The Scent of Dried Roses (1996). While I was researching it, I read the work of the psychologist Dorothy Rowe, a quiet, almost secret, follower of Buddhist philosophy. Secret, because Rowe knew what the term ‘Buddhist’ implied to the popular imagination (as it did to me) — magical thinking, Tibetan bell-ringing, and sticking gold flakes on statues of the Buddha.

Truth is not to be found by picking everything to pieces like a spoilt child

It was through Rowe’s writing that I first came across Alan Watts, and he sounded like an unlikely philosopher. His name evoked the image of a paper goods sales rep on a small regional industrial estate. But through Watts and his writing, I was exposed directly to the ideas of Zen Buddhism. I was suspicious at first, perceiving Zen Buddhism to be a religion rather than a philosophy. I wasn’t interested in the Four Noble Truths, or the Eightfold Path, and I certainly didn’t believe in karma or reincarnation.

All the same, I read a couple of Watts’s books. They made a significant impact on me. The Meaning of Happiness (1940) and The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951) are striking primers to his work, and they underlined what Rowe was already teaching me: that life had no intrinsic meaning, any more than a piece of music had an intrinsic ‘point’. Life was, in Zen parlance, yugen — a kind of elevated purposelessness.

Watts, like Rowe, showed me how we construct our own meanings about life. That nothing is a given and, since everything is uncertain, we must put together a world view that might fit roughly with the facts, but is never anything other than a guess — a working fiction. This, too, is a typical Zen understanding — that life cannot be described, only experienced. Trying to see all of life is like trying to explore a vast cave with a box of matches.

Impressed though I was, I more or less forgot about Watts after I finished his books, and pursued my career as a fiction writer. I was weary of introspection. Then, years later, a bad spell in my life propelled me back into a chasm. In 2004, three close friends died in sudden succession. One died in front of my eyes. Another was murdered. A third succumbed to cancer. My depression — and that original sense of meaninglessness — resurfaced. I turned to Watts again. This time, it was as if I was reading for dear life.

No time for received wisdom: a young Alan Watts (L) and friends reading haiku poems written for a contest. Photo by Nat Farbman/Time Life Pictures/Getty

Alan Watts had been prolific in his 58 years. He died in 1973, after producing not only 27 books but also scores of lectures, all of which were available online. They had intriguing titles such as ‘On Being Vague’, ‘Death’, ‘Nothingness’ and ‘Omnipotence’. I stopped writing novels and worked my way through every one of them instead.

I found a DVD of an animation of Watts by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame). I discovered that Van Morrison had written a song about him, and that Johnny Depp was a follower. But he remained largely unknown in Britain, even though he was English, albeit an expatriate.

Watts was born in 1915 in Chislehurst, Kent. His father had been a sales rep for the Michelin tyre company and his mother was a housewife whose father had been a missionary. In later life, Watts wrote of mystical visions he’d had after suffering fever as a child. During school holidays — while he was a scholar at King’s School in Cambridge — he went on trips with the Buddhism enthusiast Francis Croshaw, who first developed his interest in Eastern religion.

With penetrating eyes like Aleister Crowley’s, he described himself as a ‘spiritual entertainer’

By the age of 16, Watts was the secretary of the London Buddhist Lodge, which was run by the barrister Christmas Humphreys. But Watts spoiled his chances of a scholarship to Oxford because one examination essay was judged ‘presumptuous and capricious’. And, despite his obviously brilliant mind, Watts never achieved a British university degree. This, perhaps, is another of his qualities that chimes with my own spirit — I too left school with only two A-levels, and am, like Watts, an autodidact.

As a young man, Watts worked in a printing house and then a bank. During this time, he hooked up with the Serbian ‘rascal guru’ Dimitrije Mitrinović — a follower of the Armenian spiritual teacher GI Gurdjieff and the Russian esotericist PD Ouspensky — who became a major influence on his thinking.

At the age of 21, in 1936, he attended the World Congress of Faiths at the University of London. There, he heard the renowned Zen scholar DT Suzuki speak, and was introduced to him. Later that year, Watts published his first book The Spirit of Zen.

That same year, he met the American heiress Eleanor Everett, whose mother was involved with a traditional Zen Buddhist circle in New York. He married Eleanor in 1938 and they moved to America, where he trained as an Episcopal priest, before leaving the ministry in 1950, thus separating once and for all from his Christian roots. From then on he concentrated on the study and communication of Eastern philosophical ideas to Western audiences.

I felt powerfully attracted to Alan Watts. Not only to his ideas, but to him, personally. Watts was no dry, academic philosopher. With eyes hooded and penetrating like Aleister Crowley’s, he was a jester as well as a thinker, describing himself as a ‘spiritual entertainer’. Aldous Huxley described him as ‘a curious man. Half monk and half racecourse operator.’ Watts wholeheartedly agreed with Huxley’s characterisation. He carried a silver cane ‘for pure swank’, he hung out with Ken Kesey and Jack Kerouac (he is even parodied in On the Road as Arthur Whale). His English public school-educated voice was rich and deep, like a prophet’s, and his laugh juicy and contagious.

But it was his thinking that most excited me. He was, if not the earliest, then certainly the foremost translator of Eastern philosophical ideas to the West. In some ways, his interpretations were radical — for instance, he dismissed the core Zen idea of zazen (which meant spending hours seated in contemplative meditation) as unnecessary. ‘A cat sits until it is tired of sitting, then gets up, stretches, and walks away,’ was his forgiving interpretation of zazen. Slightly less forgiving was his comment on Western Zen enthusiasts, whom he mocked as ‘The uptight school … who seem to believe that Zen is essentially sitting on your ass for interminable hours.’ It was a great relief to read this for someone like me, who found the idea of excessive meditation as unhealthy as the idea of excessive masturbation.

Watts also rejected the conventional ideas of reincarnation and the popular understanding of karma as a system of rewards and punishments carried out, lifetime after lifetime. It was this radical approach that made his ideas so fresh — he had no time for received wisdom, even from those who claimed to know Zen inside out.

The idea of walking around with a metaphorical stick to whack yourself with is foreign to a Zen master

Many Zen ideas have become debased into ‘new age’ philosophy, basely transmuted into wishful thinking, quasi-religious mumbo jumbo and the narcissistic fantasies of the ‘me generation’. But before the beatniks and the hippies got hold of it, Zen philosophy, as described by Watts, was hard-edged, practical, logical and, in some ways, oddly English in tone, as it had deep strands of scepticism and humour. (You’ll never see Christian saints laughing. But most of the great sages of Zen have smiles on their faces, as does Buddha.)

Zen and Taoism are more akin to psychotherapy than to religion, as Watts explained in his book Psychotherapy East and West (1961). They are about finding a way to maintain a healthy personality in a culture that tends to tangle you up in a lot of unconscious logical binds. On the one hand, you are told to be ‘free’ and, on the other, that you should follow the demands of the community. Another example is the instruction that you must be spontaneous.

These kinds of snags, or double binds, according to Zen writings, produce inner tension, frustration, and neurosis — what Buddhism calls dukkha. Watts saw his job, via Zen philosophy, to teach you to think clearly, so that you could see through conventional thinking to a place where your mind could be at peace inside a culture that could have been designed to generate anxiety.

But, although he was an entertaining writer who presented his ideas with a brilliant clarity, Watts had a difficult job on his hands — mainly because Zen and Taoism are so fundamentally counter-intuitive to the Western mind. Western philosophers and laymen find Eastern thinkers frustrating because Buddhist sages don’t have the same emphasis on the power of language, reason and logic to transform the self or to ‘know’, in the way Westerners think of the word.

The riddles, or koans, that Zen thinkers speak in are intended to trip you up and make you realise how inadequate words — either spoken or inner dialogue — are in making sense. Zen emphasises intuition and mushin, that is, an empty mind, over planning and thought. The ideal is that your mind can be unblocked from maya (which means both illusion and play) and thus acquire a kind of resonance or instant reflection, or munen, which translates awkwardly as now/mind/heart.

This makes it alien to Western philosophical traditions, which tend to distrust spontaneity, since it supposedly clears the way for the dominance of brute animal instincts and dangerous passions. But the idea of walking around with a metaphorical big stick with which to whack yourself if you make a mistake, or get carried away by your emotions, is foreign to a Zen master.

Zen, after all, was used by the Samurai warriors, who had to strike immediately without reflection or die. Intuition, in a healthy soul, is more important than conscious reflection. Millions of years of evolution have made the human unconscious wise, not reckless. You can find similar ideas in modern books such as Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, which emphasises the value of gut reactions.

Zen started as a reaction against the highly conventionalised and ritualised Japanese society from which it emerged. This must have struck a chord with Watts, who grew up at a time when British society — hidebound, introverted and conventional — was not so different from the self-controlled, ‘uptight’ world of the Japanese. In such a society, spontaneous behaviour becomes impossible.

The word Zen is a Japanese way of pronouncing chan, which is the Chinese way of pronouncing the Indian Sanskrit dhyana or sunya, meaning emptiness or void. This is the basis of Zen itself — that all life and existence is based on a kind of dynamic emptiness (a view now supported by modern science, which sees phenomena at a subatomic level popping in and out of existence in a ‘quantum froth’).

In this view, there is no ‘stuff’, no difference between matter and energy. Look at anything closely enough — even a rock or a table — and you will see that it is an event, not a thing. Every ‘thing’ is, in truth, happening. This too, accords with modern scientific knowledge. Furthermore, there is not a ‘multiplicity of events’. There is just one event, with multiple aspects, unfolding. We are not just separate egos locked in bags of skin. We come out of the world, not into it. We are each expressions of the world, not strangers in a strange land, flukes of consciousness in a blind, stupid universe, as evolutionary science teaches us.

The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps Zen’s most distinctive characteristic. In our Western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment.

It tries to have you understand, without arguing the point, that there is no purpose in getting anywhere if, when you get there, all you do is think about getting to some other future moment. Life exists in the present or nowhere at all, and if you cannot grasp that, you are simply living a fantasy.

For all Zen writers life is, as it was for Shakespeare, akin to a dream — transitory and insubstantial. There is no ‘rock of ages cleft for thee’. There is no security. Looking for security, Watts said, is like jumping off a cliff while holding on to a rock for safety — an absurd illusion. Everything passes and you must die. Don’t waste your time thinking otherwise. Neither Buddha nor his Zen followers had time for any notion of an afterlife. The doctrine of reincarnation can be more accurately thought about as a constant rebirth, of death throughout life, and the continual coming and going of universal energy, of which we are all part, before and after death.

Another challenge for Western thinkers when struggling with Zen is that, unlike Western religion and philosophy, it has no particular moral code. The Noble Truths are not moral teachings. Zen (unlike Mahayana Buddhism with its ‘Eightfold Path’) makes no judgment about good or bad, except to say that they are both necessary to make the universe dynamic.

Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, there is no idea of ‘good’ out to destroy ‘evil’, or vice versa. Evil cannot be destroyed, any more than good can, because they are polar opposites of the same thing, like poles of a magnet. Destruction is as necessary as creation. Chaos must exist if we are to know what order is. Both aspects of reality, in tension with one another, are necessary to keep the whole game going: the unity of opposites.

This can lead to some fairly shocking moral reasoning. When the American composer and Zen follower John Cage was asked, ‘Don’t you think there’s too much suffering in the world?’, he answered, ‘I think there’s just the right amount.’ This encapsulates, and yet somewhat satirises the Zen world view — that the dark and the light, the negative and the positive, the yin and the yang, are all necessary parts of the overall whole.

Behind this thinking is the idea that, for the accomplished follower of Zen, moralists are dangerous because they will destroy everything in pursuit of their vision of ‘the good’. Straightforward greed might result in the destruction of the local village to get their wealth and their women — but that won’t be too bad because it will preserve the wealth and the women.

A ‘cutting-up’ attitude to life gives us dead knowledge, not live knowledge

However, if you are on a moral crusade, you will destroy everything in your wake. And who can deny that the history of the 20th century bears out this view, with Nazi and Communist ideologies causing such havoc? After all, Hitler was an idealist, too. So Confucius — who was not, admittedly, part of the Zen tradition, though he influenced it — puts the greatest value not on absolute good, but on ‘human-heartedness’, or jen. If you are human-hearted, you are unlikely to want to do any great ill, even without a great moral vision to guide you. And, even if you do, the damage you cause will be limited by your own self-interest.

This lack of a clear moral code is perhaps why Zen is not a philosophy wholly appropriate for the young or immature mind. In the 1950s, Watts critiqued the Beatnik appropriation of Zen in his book Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen (1959). The apparent fatalism of Zen seemed to open the door for an individual to do ‘whatever they like’. Watts thought the Beats were childish, although he did suggest that their behaviour also revealed a clever paradox: that absolute fatalism implies absolute freedom. Again, you can look at it both ways.

In fact, Zen isn’t fatalistic. Rather, it accepts something that Western philosophy finds hard to grasp — that two contradictory truths are possible at the same time. It just depends on which way you look at it. The world is not a logically consistent one, but a profoundly paradoxical one. Again, this is illustrated in science, which shows that two things can be one at the same time — light, for instance, acts as both a particle and a wave. The Zen masters say the same thing about human life. Perhaps you are doing ‘it’. Perhaps ‘it’ is doing you. There is no way of knowing which is which. It is like a formal dance so deft that you cannot tell who is leading, and who is following.

While it is refreshing that Zen philosophy is supported in many ways by present scientific knowledge, it is also a critique of scientific thought. The scientific tradition requires things up to be cut up — both mentally and physically — into smaller and small pieces to investigate them. It suggests that the only kind of knowledge is empirical and that the rigid laws of scientific method are the only kind that are valid.

Zen implies that this is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater — scientific thinking might be immensely useful, but it also does violence to a meaningful conception of life. It tends to screen out the essential connectedness of things. We live in an imprecise world. Nature is extraordinarily vague. Science promotes the idea of hard, clear ‘brute facts’ — but some facts are soft. A ‘cutting-up’ attitude to life gives us dead knowledge, not live knowledge.

The fundamental nature of the world is not something you can get too precise about. The basis of one’s life and thought must always remain undefined. Some ideas — such as the Tao, the ‘way of things’ — come to us, we can’t just go out and get them. They are mysterious and unknown.

This kind of thinking is anathema to the modern scientist who thinks that everything can be known and finally will be known. But, Watts argued, it is impossible to appreciate the universe unless you know when to stop investigating. Truth is not to be found by picking everything to pieces like a spoilt child.

It is impossible, of course, to summarise Zen in a few thousand words. In fact it doesn’t ask to be summarised. The first principle of Zen, voiced by the philosopher Lao Tzu, is ‘Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.’ Zen is not proselytising, quite the reverse. It asks you to come to it, in supplication, and to tease it out. Another Zen saying is, ‘He who seeks to persuade does not convince.’

But it convinced me. After spending nearly two years studying Zen, Taoism and the works of Alan Watts, I think I genuinely achieved a sort of satori — a freedom from the inner weights and contradictions of ordinary life. When a student asked Watts what enlightenment felt like, he said if felt very ordinary — but like walking slightly in the air, an inch above the ground. And that is exactly how I felt — every day.

I don’t know how long the experience lasted. Perhaps as long as a year, perhaps even longer. All that time, Watts and the Zen idea were there in my head, informing my thoughts and actions. The background noise, the static of worry and gabble that informed my old life had disappeared. My head was clear. The philosophy entirely permeated me. My life was truly more joyful than it had ever been. Nothing bothered me. I felt full of energy and optimism.

Then one day, I lost the vision. I don’t know how it happened. A period of stress and clinical depression took me under and, when I surfaced again, Watts and the Tao had left my thoughts. I was alone again, puzzled and conflicted. I knew the words, but I couldn’t hear the music anymore. The old thoughts and habits I had been conditioned into since birth reasserted themselves. Once more, I worried about things pointlessly, and got lost in the past and the future instead of existing in the dynamic present.

But then, I shouldn’t have been surprised. What Alan Watts taught, above all else, is that everything is transitory. Everything comes and goes. Watts himself did not exist in a perpetual state of spiritual bliss. He died an alcoholic. He had been a lifelong heavy drinker. His later life was not easy — in the last years, he cut a Dickensian figure, working desperately to support his seven children and, presumably, his two ex-wives (by the time he died he was on a third). But he was by no accounts an ‘unhappy’ drunk. He never expressed guilt or regret about his drinking and smoking, and never missed a lecture or a writing deadline.

If Watts’s own example is to be taken into account, being ‘enlightened’ doesn’t always make you happy. Yet it is still something worth attaining. It brings clarity and peace, even if it doesn’t protect you from all of life’s vicissitudes.

My personal ‘enlightenment’ came and went — but I hope it might return. Perhaps this article will be the first step in that direction. It feels like it is. It might be in my hands or it might not. But if I can find the path again, then I will stay on it — until I lose it. And, as the Zen saying instructs, if I see the Buddha, I will kill him. Because the moment you start thinking of yourself as ‘enlightened’, you are not.

t

 

See:https://aeon.co/essays/alan-watts-the-western-buddhist-who-healed-my-mind