Sunday, June 01, 2008

Gawd Times Three

Three curious stories about religion in the news ...

Texas and the baby stealers: The great Texas baby theft is a precious case of the interface between sexual panic and religious mania. As we all know by now, someone received a call from someone who claimed to be a 16-year-old girl who was about to be abused. So the Texas authorities moved into a religious compound and rounded up all the children and started shipping them off to foster homes. Overreaction? Of course. Justified? Depends on the viewer, but the Texas Supreme Court didn't think so.

Now let's be clear ... the polygamous Mormons are a bunch of whack-job religious nuts who are bound and determined to cloister their unfortunate offspring in a sterile world vaguely modeled on some halcyon past. In fact, of course, like all hyper-traditionalists, their notion of the past is simply the most recent thing that they have invented as being from the past.

But I would assert, as will surprise no one who reads my religious opinions, that the notion that women are godly only if they wear sack-like ankle-length gingham is no more ridiculous than the notion that the leader of the "only true church" proves his holiness by wearing ruby slippers and an expensive white frock. It is curious that the one true church defends the notion of priestly abstinence which finds absolutely no biblical support but the American state rounds up believers in polygamy which has extensive biblical support. Hmmm. When is theology not theology? ... why when it disturbs 'publican lawmakers.

Snideness aside, that is precisely the issue that the stolen children of the Silly Mormon sect piques (they are the Silly sect because they didn't get the memo a hundred odd years ago): why is it that the state is called upon to resolve religious questions? Way back in 1648, the Peace of Westphalia established the principle of cuius regio, eius religio (whose province, his religion, which is to say that the residents of a given prince's realm are obliged to follow his religion) ... and all of us for whom religion is the dread of repression must never forget this essential statement of the state's interest in religious control. But tolerance and constitutionality, not to mention the frequently ignored American Revolution, established that cuius regio, eius religio was a torment of the past. The state's only interest in religion is to guarantee its free expression, never to pick sides.

The theft of the Texan children is rarely compared with the fight for gay marriage, but the issues are precisely the same from the religious point of view. If marriage is a holy institution, then the state's only interest is in guaranteeing the free expression of that institution for any religious point of view. In that sense, gay marriage is non-controversial since there are churches who perform the rite. (Don't get me wrong, I think that religion is a secular institution conferring certain secular rights, and by that same logic as above, the state cannot discriminate according to a particular religious point of view.) So the state is enjoined from favoring one religious point of view over another ... it cannot say that pagans in Berkeley are forbidden from celebrating the union of two dykes, and it cannot say that a bunch of Texan maniacs are not allowed to marry more than one woman.

Now, a 14-year-old girl should be free to decline to marry her cousin ... but that is not a religious argument. It is a constitutional argument about the autonomy of the individual. (The neo-communitarians of the atheist left should take note that their collectivist arguments are more in the scope of cuius regio, eius religio than they are in the tradition of Jefferson or Lincoln ... but I digress.) Such an argument should not be confused with religion.

The religious principle of the secular state is this ... you are free to believe whatever madness you choose, but you cannot impose it on anyone else.

In that sense, though, the stolen children of the polygamists have a tremendous opportunity ... for the first time they will see the real world, the world outside the sterility of the tiny minds of their dictatorial elders. How many will find in these few moments the inspiration to make a better life than one provided by religion. The girls might get the strength to flee as soon as they can. The boys might get the sense to realize that only 1 in 10 of them are slated for heaven ... the rest will be dumped like human detritus. Notwithstanding all the breast beating of the shallow press, the boys are victims too.

Cry me a river: Obama's other shoe has fallen and he has left the church of the ego-maniacal "reverend' Wright who, having been caught out with a bunch of left-wing prattle disguised as religion, decided to suck up every bit of attention he could garner from the zombie press. Obama's statement was all about saving others, but this was a calculated move that frees up political space. I am not opposed to that ... pretty much all politician religion is about stance and perception and not about belief ... Jimmy Carter being the exception ... so it would be disingenuous to hold Obama to a higher standard. He is now free to be gawdly but church-free until mid-November when the president-elect can pick a more ecumenical and presumably Washington-based clean (read white) church that will be happy to have him. His present troubles mean that he will probably be the most publicly christian President since Carter, but it will liberal and happy and smiley rather than reactionary and glowering and hate-fulled as we find with the sanctimonious supporters of the current incumbent.

But none of this should obscure the embarrassing fact that the Presidency of this country is being held hostage to religious shibboleths. Moreover, we cannot hide from the fact that the enforcer of these shibboleths is the "liberal" press, most particularly the news channels, even more pointedly the increasingly craven Anderson Cooper. Andy, baby, have some balls ... step away from the sulphurous pit, and speak the truth. Rev Wright is just another loud-mouthed pastor berating the faithful and endeavoring to torment the non-believers. He is nothing. Obama is the man ... ask him what he thinks about health care.

I think Obama is the next prez. I'll write out my rationale for that soon enough. He might even be a great president, but to do that he will have to inspire Americans to overcome their worst instinct which is the primacy of greed in the face of disaster. It's a tall order. But he is so superior historically to the wizened and washed-up McCain creature that I think he has the edge. The fact that Cooper and the hordes of "commenters" who do not rise to his unimpressive heights can find only a rev Wright from which to dump on Obama is a signal of his strength, not his weakness. When he wins in November, no one will be calling on the old reverend.

Hamas and Porn: The New York Times reports that Hamas, presiding over the more or less total collapse of civilized life in Gaza, takes a little time out of its rocketing duties to censor porn on the Internet lest anyone, gawd forfend, see a little flesh.

I cannot imagine how hellish life is in Gaza. But no matter how hellish things are, theocratic rule cannot help but make them worse. The Times reports that opponents of the regime are tortured ... how touching that a regime that cannot find a way to feed its citizens can at least gather its forces to tear at their flesh.

Religion is always concerned about control before relief. When it focuses on relief it is either because control is assured or because control is beyond its grasp. Here in San Francisco some earnest souls have managed to build a new church on Polk Street, right next to a restored building that houses some Citicorp office ... two vipers side-by-side, offering not services in the proper sense but blood-sucking instead. What was once a lively block of lowlifes is now a dead zone. The christians in question will no doubt vacuum up sundry street folks in support of whatever state contributions they can acquire. They'll thump their breasts and pose as natives in a city in which their only legitimacy is the real estate they control. Nauseating.

How nauseating it must be for rationalists in Gaza. They must know that their future prosperity lies in some kind of accommodation with the enemy, and they must know that their present overlords are retrograde in any sense. They cannot win for losing, and they lose for winning. But, meanwhile, they are deprived of even a moment's diversion looking at a little flesh on the 'net. What a curse are the gawdly.

Photos by Arod. The top two from murals on Hayes Street, the bottom from a window display on Castro Street (I think) ... meant to display our fabulous public pornography by the rather loose standards of the eastern theocrats.

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